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Teaching the World to Sing

Paulina Bozek on SingStar, dancing and her new start-up, Inensu

Paulina Bozek rose to fame as the mind behind SingStar, Sony's at-home karaoke experience which spawned a thousand special editions and, arguably, the entire home music game genre. Since then she has worked at Atari alongside Phil Harrison and, in 2010, started her own studio, Inensu, working on social and casual projects.

On Wednesday, Bozek spoke at Evolve in London, about the history of the music genre, what happened when that bubble burst and what we can expect to take its place. Afterwards, caught up with her for a chat about all of these things, and more.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat can you tell us about your new, unannounced project - I understand that it's a music platform project. What sort of direction will it take?
Paulina Bozek

Well, we're very much focusing on a fan platform. That's our focus. It's going to be social network first - or at least heavily Facebook connected, definitely - and mobile as a sort of second stage.

We're just really interested in connecting fans with their music idols. Looking at that space, I guess that's broadly all we're saying for the moment. The angle is very much fans and I suppose the audience is very much teens.

GamesIndustry.bizAnd the other project you're working on now is the Closet Swap idea for Channel 4. There seems to be quite a large ethical aspect to that, it's not a purely commercial thing. How important is the social funding aspect of projects like that?
Paulina Bozek

Channel 4's education department spends money on games and online apps and platforms and websites, things like that. I think where that came from, the people who head that department up said that if they were going to reach teens with any kind of educational message, it made sense to make games. Online experiences.

That's how we ended up with that funding. I think that our angle with Closet Swap, the thing that's really important, is that it's about championing personal style over disposable high-street fashion. The ethical angle is really, 'stop buying mountains of cheap clothes'. Swap.

But we're really approaching it very much to engage the average high-street trendy shopper - teenage kids. We're not really preaching to the converted. We're very much making a popular, fun, cool app they'd use with friends. The positive activity of swapping has an underlying ethical message.

There will be ethical messages inside the experience, but we're really trying to make this fit into the average teenager's life, rather than having something that only appeals to those who already see themselves as ethical.

GamesIndustry.bizSo would you say that the ethical message is secondary?
Paulina Bozek

It's not secondary, it's very much a key focus, but the way we look at it is that it's a positive activity - the whole thing is positive. So rather than getting people involved with the negative side of ethical fashion or whatever, we want to make it positive.

So you can swap clothes with your friends, it's very much a local community app, it's not a public swapping site, it's very local. It's actually really interesting, there's a lot of innovation happening in the fashion space. I think when you bring apps and technology, or even social networks to the idea of fashion, which is a pretty old school industry - it's still reliant on magazines and TV programs and trends and stuff - we sort of see it as this new era of communities and recommending and sharing and curating, so it's really interesting.

It will be kind of gamified too, there'll be a game element.

GamesIndustry.bizMentioning Channel 4, they've funded a lot of these sort of projects over the years, but they've recently had to make some cuts. Also, Alice Taylor (previously Channel 4's educational software commissioner) has left to start her own company. Aside from the extra competition, is that a bad thing?
Paulina Bozek

I don't think it's going to have a bad effect, because she's leaving it at a point where it's very well established, it's had several good years of promoting and delivery really interesting experiences. She's won an award, or the department has won an award - lots of the games have been recognised. I think it's pretty stable, she's really established something that can grow.

Our commissioning editor is Jo Twist, and she has been from the beginning, so it's not a major change for us. All of the projects are underway, so I think she's leaving it in good hands. As far as going off to do her own thing - I think it's a personal choice and I think it's a great thing. I think she's actually done a start up before.

Perhaps being around lots of small companies was inspiring as well, you'd have to ask her. There are other people there who can carry on the work and if she's looking to start something new and build it, that's absolutely great. I totally don't see it as competition at all, it's great to have so many people doing start-up style companies in London because having a community of people working and doing their own thing is really supportive - there's a lot of knowledge exchange and help.

I think it's better to have more going on, it's better to be thriving and have more competition than less.

GamesIndustry.bizAbout a fortnight ago Bobby Kotick took a bit of a sideways swipe at casual and social gaming in a conference, saying that he didn't the space as compatible with quality titles and that there wasn't any room for Activision to make money in it. Is that the sour grapes of a man who's missed the boat?
Paulina Bozek

I saw that quote. I think it's surprising - and denial. [laughs] The evidence is there, the numbers are there, the revenue is there, for social and casual on web and mobile. 200 million people are playing games a month on Facebook - that's a published statistic - so it's not just down to opinions, at this point I think it's proven itself.

Consumers are moving to these networks and moving to mobile. It's fitting into their daily routines and their play patterns and their socialising. So you can't just imagine that it's all on your console, and only when you get home. That's not how things work anymore, I think it's a surprising comment.

Having said that, I have, since seeing that comment, been at an event where I saw Activision people. They were not Bobby Kotick, obviously, but they were actually really quite cutting edge with their opinions and commentary around the space. It seemed to me like they were really noticing, they were aware of bringing their business up to date so that it can embrace multiple platforms. But that's totally anecdotal observations from me. [laughs]

I just find it interesting, because I did hear that comment he made, and was like 'what'? But then I met other Activision people who were really on the ball - I don't know, maybe he's pulling a Steve Jobs, where he says "no we're definitely not working on iPad".

I don't know if you saw in my presentation, but Tapulous brought Guitar Hero to the iPhone and it was totally a limited part of what Guitar Hero is - Guitar Hero is about much more than just tapping along to notes - but people still loved it. People loved the rhythm action fun they could have tapping along to notes on the tube or whatever. I know that Rock Band has released a Rock-Band like Tap-Tap Revenge app on iPhone - I've heard really good things about it.