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    Playing to win

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    As new media converges with old media and traditional marketing intersects with web 2.0, new gaming technologies have become as ubiquitous as the mobile telephone. In fact, ask the average thumb-jockey (aka SMS enthusiast) and she will tell you that access to gaming technology has, in fact, exceeded that of the humble ‘mobey’, ever since Snake first slithered its way onto the handsets of the monochrome Nokia N70 in the mid-1990s. What’s the point? Gaming is no longer the domain of pimply teenagers. It is no longer dominated by semi-autistic programmers or socially-challenged hermits. It is big business, traversing social, marketing and communication landscapes. It is the way smart companies, big and small, are choosing to interact with customers, spread new messages and meet new target markets. And they will be the first to tell you… gaming has never been a spectator sport. By Jayde Lovell

     


    MOKET IN YOUR POCKET

    Ever been stuck waiting at a train station or reception area, bored and with nothing to do? Haven’t we all! Brisbane-based Moket is ending long-wait weariness by combining the needs of business with cool games in a format that fits in your pocket.

    Moket has already been noted for their “cool” status at Anthill’s 2007 Cool Company Awards, developing tiny games that are big on fresh content and new ideas. Forget Frogger and Tetris; Mocket‘s games utilise the Adobe Flash Lite development platform to create user-friendly, innovative programs that entertain for hours.

    “I believe we’ll start to see more companies making use of their marketing budgets to cross web and mobile with a common product,” said Moket CEO Dale Rankine, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald last year. “It’s giving them more bang for their buck – and getting their brand into people’s pockets as well as desktops.”

    Rankine identified the marketing trend towards mobile technology in 2004, using his existing knowledge of Flash to start his own interactive media studio.

    Moket currently produces game content from its creative in-house ideas team, or licenses content from external artists and famous characters. Recognising that creative game designer-types might not have the contacts to get their creations to market, Moket also offers a publishing service for game developers or artists who already have their product concepts or finished applications on the table.

    In a switch from traditional marketing ploys, the online accommodation company Wotif.com used Moket’s expertise to develop and distribute a downloadable Flash Lite game, which was released during the Rugby World Cup to raise internet buzz around the Wotif.com brand.

    “The campaign achieved over 1,000 games played within the first 24 hours, thanks in part to distribution features which enable gamers to quickly post the game to Facebook and blogs,” says Rankine.

    Using tiny technology, Moket is turning its mobile gaming into a big business, with licensing and distribution deals extending their technology into the US, Taiwan and Singapore. Is this the end of idle boredom worldwide?

     

     
    DANCING TO A DIFERENT TOON
     

    “Bugs Bunny dressed in drag‚ what’s not to like?” That’s the view of RedTribe CEO Chris Mosely, on why Looney Tunes games are still popular after all these years. And he should know. RedTribe’s most recent project, Loony Tunes: Acme Arsenal, has recently been released in the US, involving a ground-breaking licensing deal with Warner Bros worth an estimated $10 million.

    Mosely started RedTribe in Melbourne six years ago, bringing together some of the biggest names in game development from around the world to build one of Australia’s most experienced and talented game development teams. The studio now develops games for PlayStation 2, Xbox360 and Nintendo Wii, and became one of the first Australian developers to have released a next-gen game.

    So what convinced Warner Bros to give this new Australian start up the make-or-break licensing deal? In an interview with Screen Play, Mosely indicated that RedTribe’s decision to make Loony Tunes: Acme Arsenal its flagship game was the deciding factor.

    “We managed to demonstrate that we had a real affinity for the license that they had, that we really cared. We weren’t just going to churn out another Looney Tunes game. It was the first game we were going to make and very important to us.”

    RedTribe has developed a sophisticated business structure to give itself a competitive edge in a highly competitive industry. A dedicated team of ‘process engineers’ work diligently to capture the knowledge learnt through the trial-and-error process of game creation, so it won’t need to be re-learnt on the next project. According to Mosely, “We try and record as much of the process as we can‚ as accurately as we can. This is the future of game development.”

    Innovations like this won RedTribe the Business3000 ‘Business of the Year’ award in 2007. Just more proof that a pesky widdle Australian company can become a very big deal.

     



    BEYOND IMAGINATION
    Is the armadillo the only animal to suffer from leprosy?

    This is the sort of question that has made Imagination Entertainment a $180 million company and earned founder Shane Yeend the illustrious title of Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year 2007, this past November (see page 78).

    Yeend’s success hasn’t come easily. The 40-year old Adelaide-based entrepreneur had to rebuild his business several times to adapt to the ever-changing technology market, eventually crafting Imagination Entertainment from a humble wedding video business into a multi-million dollar gaming enterprise.

    In 1997, 1998 and 1999, Imagination’s Battle of the Sexes website was the most visited in Australia. But it nearly all ended in 2000 with the tech bust, forcing Yeend to fight back by, again, reinventing himself – this time building a multi-platform based gaming and entertainment business.

    ‘’We were broke in 2000 at the back of the dot-com-boom. From zero capital and an air ticket, in seven years we’ve built to $180 million market capitalisation,’’ says Yeend. ‘’And we are not going to stop until we are a billion dollar games company.’’

    Yeend toured various US cities to set up his company, staying on friends’ couches to save costs. Access to the hugely profitable US market helped Imagination survive and flourish during the dot-com crash, when many locally-focused businesses were going bust.

    The company has grown rapidly by diversifying its product range, with interests across radio and television, traditional games and puzzles, console games, mobile gaming and downloadable games (including the above referenced ‘FACT or CRAP’ series).

    In a tribute to its Adelaide roots, Imagination, in partnership with the Seven Network, created Monopoly: The South Australian Charity Edition. The game‘s success was proven by selling out within 24 hours and raising in excess of $300,000. It also spawned two AFL charity versions of Monopoly for the Adelaide and Port Adelaide Football Clubs.

    Imagine Entertainment gained worldwide attention by creating a whole new genre of gaming: DVD games. Today, Imagination is the category’s leader, with more unique products available in up to 85,000 retail outlets across 43 countries.

    In 2008, Imagination will release its first franchise created especially for the PS3 and Xbox, a console game that provides a socially entertaining experience. The console business is now experiencing massive growth from Imagination’s range of non-traditional games like Buzz, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

    For the record, armadillos do indeed suffer leprosy. We at Anthill were so intrigued by the question we had to buy a copy of ‘FACT or CRAP’ to check for ourselves.

     

    IT’S MY LITTLE BUSINESS

    It’s always difficult to take a company seriously when its main product is called ‘Pony Friends’. But don’t let the name deceive you. Tantalus Interactive’s Australian-made tribute to small horses has sold over one million units to tiny tots, who just can’t seem to get enough of their favourite virtual friends ‘Princess’, ‘Puddles’ and ‘Elvis’. Marketing to tikes has proven a profitable enterprise for Tantalus, which also utilised one of the biggest children’s licences in the world to create the best-selling SpongeBob SquarePants games.

    Tantalus began life in Melbourne as a conversion house, adapting coin-operated arcade games to home gaming consoles. In 2004, Tantalus completed one of the highest profile conversions of the year, converting the ‘Unreal 2’ PC game to Xbox. The title went on to become one of the year’s biggest sellers.

    Performing under pressure has proven to be a character building exercise, if not an addiction, for the team at Tantalus, including Tantalus CEO Tom Crago, who is also the CEO of Deft Creative, an international media consultancy specialising in video games, internet, film and television, and the founder of exercise ball company SmartBall, fashion labels Jessie Tucker and Katarzynkha, and has represented Australia in athletics.

    The success of this multi-talented entrepreneur would be annoying if he wasn’t also so darn nice. Crago’s an active campaigner for the promotion of the Australian gaming trade, and doesn’t mind sticking his neck out to get more recognition for the industry.

    “At present, there are games in Australia that are being made with budgets of more than $10 million, but that money is coming in from North America or from Europe. It’s coming in on a fee-for-service basis. And where a game that’s developed for $10 million might return a profit of $100 million, only a very small fraction of that $100 million flows back into Australia,” said Crago during an interview on the ABC’s 7:30 Report, as part of his campaign for more Government support of the gaming industry.

    The rapid success of the Top Gear game after it’s publication by Nintendo skyrocketed Tantalus to the top of the handheld game space, with development budgets alone now approaching $1 million. With success like this, one thing is for sure: ‘Princess’, ‘Puddles’ and ‘Elvis’ will be enjoying some very green pastures.

     


    H2 WHOOOOAH!

    For a long time, the war on water wastage has involved recycled sewerage, unfairly short showers and heaving buckets of dirty bathwater out to wash the car. How uninspiring. But now, the Savewater Alliance is combining forces with Swinburne University’s’ Multimedia Design class to bring water conservation to the gaming world, encouraging schools and families to play their part in the water game.

    At the start of August 2007, a team of 80 third-year students and five lecturers from Swinburne University in Victoria began working on the Mission H2O project, creating a ‘pop-up-book-style’ game that teaches adults and kids of all ages how to optimise water usage in the home.

    “As a quip on the virtual gaming favourite, the project was originally called ‘Grand Theft Hydro’, but has since been changed to ‘Mission H2O’, to reflect the project’s water saving mission,” says Swinburne University multimedia lecturer James Marshall.

    The design team started project development by drawing multiple sketches of the logo and character designs, learning more about the gaming design trade as they went. Pouring in over 18,000 hours of research and development in under 12 weeks, the students collaborated with big players such as Computers Now, Swinburne Design Centre and DT Digital, to bring the project together. “At last count, the entire Australian gaming industry employed approximately 1,600 people in 2006, according to the Game Developers Association of Australia,” says Marshall. “The benefits and logistical problems of managing a team of 80 gaming design students were immense.”

    According to Nigel Finney, CEO of the Savewater Alliance, the launch of the project was a watershed moment for water conservation.”The game is the best we’ve seen anywhere in the world and brings a whole new dimension to conservation learning tools.”

    "By playing this animated game, young people can learn about water conservation in a fun way,” says Finney.

    The Savewater Alliance will release the Mission H2O game in an online competition for primary and secondary school students early in 2008 on www.savewater.com.au

    Now isn’t that a lot more fun than a dual flush toilet?

    EVOLUTION OF A CHARACTER

    Popular games spend time on character development. The students at Swinburne developed several families, each with their own set of personality traits, before settling on the Wilsons. The chracters were first illustrated, then rendered in 3D form. Physical moulds were also developed to assist with the process. 

     

    ENGAGING THE MIND

    Each room in the Wilsons’ home has its own game, designed to test hand-eye coordination or challenge strategic minds. Most importantly, each game offers a lesson about water conservation and management. 

      

    HUMOUR AS A WEAPON 


    Mission H2O employs a pop-up book format, inside a three dimensional computer game. Add a sense of fun and the kids will keep coming back. Check out the pixelated area, guaranteed to tickle the funny-bones of students and teachers alike. 

     
     


     
     
     
    WINNING EYEBALLS  

    The popularity and deeply immersive nature of games make them powerful marketing tools.   

    That’s why Sydney gaming company 3RD Sense has built its business model around the creation of games for branding and marketing purposes. In addition to popular online games, such the Swords and Sandals series, 3RD Sense creates ‘advergames’ for corporate clients including Emirates (to maximise its sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup) the National Geographic Channel (doubling its website traffic) and UK-based recruitment organisation IPS Group (to drive candidate registrations).   Recently, Australian underpants company aussieBum wanted to launch a fun marketing campaign to capitalise on the idea that superheroes wear their underwear on the outside. With the help of 3RD Sense, a hero for fashion was born: Wonderjock. His job? 

    To save the fashion victims from themselves. See: www.aussiebum.com.au 

     
     
     
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