“It’s about ideas. Fuck, technique, I can get a monkey to do
this shit for me.” James Victore
There’s been much talk of the death of Flash in the last 2 years. Pundits have been making sweeping, sensationalist statements from both sides of the aisle – fuelled by emotion and agendas – that has made the majority of the discussion read like a particularly partisan tabloid.
I’m not going to rehash those tired old arguments here, but spending the last 3 days at the inimitable Flash on the Beach conference in Brighton, it’s impossible not to consider where it’s all going.
6 years ago, John Davey launched FotB as a conference with a difference. Rather than just technical sessions by designers and developers from the Flash community, there’s always been a mix of artists and inspirational figures that are often at best tangentially associated with Adobe Flash, or even web technologies at all. This year was no exception, with the likes of Jon Burgerman, James Victore, Bradley Munkowitz and Cyriak Harris providing inspiration through their passion and creativity.
For years the Flash community has driven the growth of the web – pushing the boundaries of what can be done online, creating a template for browser developers to catch up with. When it was first created Flash (or Future Splash as it was originally titled) was simply for animation and gradually interaction and increasingly sophisticated code was introduced. By its very nature, it has grown out of a hybrid of design and code, the visual and the interactive, which has always attracted programmers with a creative streak and designers with a hacker mentality.
And that’s why I’m not worried about the future of the Flash community. Obviously, the type of inquisitive and innovative minds that were drawn to Flash when it was the only game in town, will experiment with new tools like Processing, HTML5, mobile development etc. Many may never use Flash again. We may not all use the same software anymore but it’s the same passion that drives us all, and ultimately is what unites a community.
Davey may need to come up with a new name for next year, but for my money, he’s already nailed it with the new conference he launched in New York this year, “Geeky by Nature”. It’s not the tool we use that defines our work; it’s the passion that drives the craftsman to create in the first place. And that’s something that’s just in our nature.
20 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee published the world’s first website at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. The Internet had been around since 1969 and the original proposal was drafted in 1989, and you could also argue that it wasn’t really “born” until there was a second web-server online, in December of 1991, making the World Wide Web a distributed network. That said, today’s a pretty good day to mark as the tipping point in the development of our digital world.
What, no AdBlock?
On that day, the world found a new way of sharing information and connecting beyond borders and boundaries and with no barrier to entry. In twenty years, it’s grown to be the single most important innovation for civilisation since electricity. So important, Berners-Lee has called for it to be recognised as a fundamental human right: “It’s possible to live without the Web. It’s not possible to live without water. But if you’ve got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger.”
Big talk, but if anybody can claim to have shaped the 21st century, it’s him.
“A game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”
- Bernard Suits
We love to play games. From the day we’re conscious of the world around us to the day we die there’s an innate desire to play. Why? Well, it’s fun, isn’t it?
Gaming has long been one of the most active areas of the internet – growing with and pushing the development of technology. Flash gained widespread penetration through its suitability for web games, and the creativity of the game-developing community has driven advances in underlying technologies that make the web a more fun and engaging place to be.
And, true to form, many of tomorrow’s biggest advances in web technology are being pushed forward by a demand for games. Adobe’s latest Flash Player preview (codenamed “Molehill”) provides hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, meaning web games like MaxRacer and Zombie Tycoon will soon be the norm. 3D performance in a browser like that was unimaginable only a few years ago and the potential applications are endless. (Read more about Molehill on The Lab.)
The convergence of Facebook’s social graph and our natural social tendencies has created the perfect breeding ground for game growth. CityVille, for example, currently has over 90 million monthly users, 20 million of whom are active daily! The developer of CityVille, Zynga, has been so successful that recent investments have valued the company at as much as $10 billion dollars. To put that in context, Sainsbury’s is valued at $9.55 billion.
But Facebook isn’t the only place where games are big business. Angry Birds launched in December 2009 and now, less than 18 months later, it has sold over 12 million copies on iOS alone. It’s so popular the developers Rovio claim users play 16 years of Angry Birds every hour. The game has now been ported to Android, Windows, OSX, Playstation and is even coming to Facebook soon. On the surface, there’s nothing to Angry Birds – fling some birds, pop some pigs – but the numbers tell a different story. A simple game mechanic can make users devote countless hours to overcoming those “unnecessary obstacles”. And have fun while they do it.
Fun - in diagram form
Paradoxically, the difficulty of making something fun is defining the simplicity. Game designers speak of what’s called “the flow” (don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Mr Miyagi on you). A game or a task is fun if it can strike a balance between difficulty and the skill required to overcome the obstacles. Players become more skilled at completing tasks with practice, so to keep those endorphins flowing, the difficulty should increase correspondingly. So you could say, learning is fun… your mum was right all along!
The rise of the smartphone means more and more people have a gaming device in their pocket and a recent survey found one in four US and UK adults are “avid mobile gamers”. But as technology advances, we’re continually finding new ways of having fun. Ubiquitous GPS chips and geo-location data have led to innovative new games such as SCVNGR and competitive game mechanics are at the very heart of the success of Foursquare, Gowalla et al.
The application of game design and thinking outside of “gamespace” is gaining wider recognition via the buzzword du jour: gamification. Expect to hear it a lot this year, as marketers fall over themselves to turn every task or consumer interaction into a game, but try not to get too cynical. Games are engaging, rewarding and addictive because of how we naturally respond to them. Understanding what motivates your audience isn’t just a fad.
Shane Casey is Head of Digital Innovation at Mason Zimbler
Here’s a run-down of what we covered last night. It’s link heavy so you’ll find lots more info if you go exploring a bit more. If it doesn’t make sense shout out in the comments and I’ll catch you up on anything you missed.
This changes everything. Again.
This week Adobe released their pre-beta (they call it an ‘Incubator’) release of what will eventually be Flash Player 11. Codenamed ‘Molehill’ it caused massive excitement at Adobe Max (see previous Lab post here) and it’s making waves all over again because now we can play with it ourselves. So if you’re feeling adventurous (this is pre-beta software remember, I’m taking no responsibility if your machine melts down), download the Incubator Flash player and join in the fun.
If you’ve already got Flash Player 10.2, you should already be seeing performance boosts on video sites such as YouTube and BrightCove thanks to the new StageVideo API. StageVideo hands off the processing of video to the GPU so there’s less strain on the CPU. Get it? If not, trust me on this, utilising hardware acceleration like this dramatically improves performance. PixelBender was a start, and 10.2 continues this approach.
Molehill is taking the focus on improving performance on to the next logical step, 3D. You can see the performance in this video with some pretty hardcore environment mapping and interactive reflective surfaces.
One of the areas that I’m expecting to see some really exciting innovation is in web-based gaming. The Max Racer demo that I featured in the previous post looks really incredible and I love this one… Zombie Tycoon.
3D gaming in the browser has come on loads in recent years, the main players being Unity3D and Shockwave (and possibly Virtools) but they’ve all struggled to gain widespread penetration. Others like Quake Live have developed their own bespoke browser plug-ins that have some pretty impressive performance but have stubbornly remained stuck in their niche. Flash has lagged behind with 3D performance but Molehill has changed all that. Combine that with Flash’s 99% penetration and super-fast upgrade adoption and you’ve got a perfect storm for game developers.
If you fancy playing with some more demos, check out Lee Brimelow’s collection of links to lots more cool Molehill demos. Hours of fun!
This is a part one of Show & Tell #7′s round up. Check part two here.
As Russell pointed out, we spend a huge amount of time at Show & Tell talking about Facebook. The truth is though, with a user-base of 500 million and some of the most aggressively pursued ambitions in the sector, it’s impossible to ignore the moves they make.
Last week Google announced they were cutting off Facebook’s ability to import Gmail contacts, calling Facebook’s system a one-way street of data – Facebook encourage users to pull contact lists from all the major email providers to find your contacts, yet they don’t allow you to do the reverse and export a list of your Facebook contacts. And Google have a valid point about Facebook’s hypocrisy; we’ve seen the exact same move when Facebook shut down Twitter’s ability to find contacts through your Facebook profile. Not only that, they do allow certain partners to access this data – just not their users.
All of this was precursor to Facebook’s big announcement at … that they’re rolling out @facebook.com addresses to their users. However, this isn’t just email – the new Facebook messaging combines email, IM & SMS communication into one conversation. The idea is that we shouldn’t have to try to figure out what communication method to use when there are so many available. Send a message through Facebook and the recipient can set their preferred mode and your message gets automatically routed to mobile phone or inbox for you.
Sound good to you? Me neither. This really feels to me like Facebook are solving a problem that doesn’t exist – except for them. More data = better advertising revenue for Facebook and they know that any communication out of their ecosystem is lost to them.
The blogosphere has been full of the same ‘Gmail killer’ narrative that fits so conveniently with all of the recent clashes between Google & Facebook. Gmail is the most rapidly growing email services, mainly because it’s excellent. Google were the first to set virtually unlimited storage limits and threaded email conversations have spread from Gmail to other email systems the way tabs did to browsers. My problem with the notion that Facebook mail will damage Gmail is that they’re different user-bases – the average Gmail user is the more tech-savvy email user while Facebook’s demographic trends toward students, teens and “soccer moms”. Facebook does infringe on Google’s data monopoly but realistically I expect to see more of an impact on Hotmail and Yahoo!’s numbers than Gmail’s.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook can attract people to their system as their primary email provider but I’d predict the real market is the under-20s. If you haven’t left school or university yet, odds are that most of your communication will fit quite easily to the channels of your existing social graph through Facebook. But the real obstacle is the corporate perception of Facebook as a time-waster, not a productivity tool. Huge numbers of workplaces block Facebook and realistically that will make an @facebook.com email address unworkable for millions of people.
Personally, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’d have any sensitive information dependent on Facebook. How long will it be until Zuckerberg decides that email privacy is something only old people and squares worry about and exposes everyone’s inboxes to 3rd-party marketing?
Another regular topic for us is Apple’s iOS platform. This week we had a look at the Apple’s iAds system that allows full-screen, interactive, HTML5 ads right inside an app.
Launched with iOS4, the iAd platform is Apple’s first foray into the advertising market and yet another front in their ongoing war with Google (spotting a trend?). Check out this video to see what they can do…
Essentially you can build an app inside an app. iAds give huge scope to advertisers to do create interesting engaging content, capture data, play video and more, without having to kick the user out of the app to the browser.
So, where’s the catch? Well, first off there’s the 60:40 split with Apple. That’s right, 40% of all advertising revenue through their platform goes to Apple and the remaining 60% to the app developer. And as ever, Apple retain final control over the ads served on their platform and that’s ruffled a few feathers.
Last month Adidas cancelled their $10m campaign, with sources quoted as saying “Apple CEO Steve Jobs was being too much of a control freak.” Earlier in the year, Chanel also pulled a similar sized campaign from the network for similar reasons. Apple claim to have signed up over half of the top 25 of the top advertisers but it remains to be seen whether this the Adidases and Chanels they lose are worth losing to maintain that high-quality ‘Apple experience’.
“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
That was the tweet that (five days later by the way) was picked up by the authorities and led to the eventual arrest and trial of Paul Chambers in what’s become known as the ‘twitter joke trial’. The judge however, didn’t see the funny side and viewing it as “clearly menacing” has resulted in Chambers losing his job, a criminal conviction and fines and legal costs of over £3,000.
The twitterverse, predictably, has erupted in outrage over the ruling. 1,000s have retweeted and made their own similarly ridiculous threats using the hash-tag #IAmSpartacus in Kubrickian solidarity. Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers’ fine and numerous fund-raising efforts.
On a similar note, a Chinese woman who retweeted a satirical call to attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo was summarily snatched up by the Chinese authorities. She’s been sentenced to a year of ‘Re-education Through Labour’ by the Chinese authorities, which I’m sure is every bit as scary as it sounds. As if being sentenced to a year’s hard-labour without trial wasn’t bad enough, she was arrested on what was supposed to be her wedding day and no-one knew what had happened to her until this week. Let’s see how many tweets this story gets.
And finally, we watched this TED talk about Mr Splashy Pants the whale.
It’s a great story about the importance of realising you can’t control the Internet. The web is by its very nature distributed, anarchic and organic. Putting your message out online requires a certain amount of faith that your message will survive, no matter what social networks do with it. This is a scary prospect to any brand but it’s a core part of any viral success.
So how often do you reckon you’re updating Google about your online movements?
As part of Free Art & Technology’s FUCKGOOGLE week, Jamie Wilkinson has created a Firefox plug-in to alert you every time you do. And let me tell you, it’s an eye-opener.
There’s a whole host of anti-Google activity buzzing over there this week but this one really caugh my eye as a quick illustration of how much is going on beneath the surface these days. When every click is tracked and now even the “how-long-you-hover-over-a-link-even-though-you-don’t-click” is a measurable index, it’s hardly surprising there are backlashes like this.