The Media Continuum
Qube founder Servan Keondjian offers up a feast of ideas on the future of games within the entertainment space
I have always been fascinated by games, not just because they can be engaging, exciting and even beautiful, but also because they are simply the deepest form of computer-human interaction.
I have spent the last 25 years building technology to support games. Along the way my contributions have included RenderMorphics' Reality Lab and the first few versions of Direct3D. I continue to find the space fascinating, and I believe our understanding and mastery of games will continue to give us an ever-larger role in media as a whole.
In this article I intend to show how all media types sit on a single continuum. This will let us view the media scene as one complete whole, and consider the game industry in relation to it. By providing some definitions and covering some of the key issues we can do a quick survey of where the wider media is today as well as considering some of the interesting changes that we will be dealing with in the near future.
A number of issues I touch on warrant articles in their own right but my aim here is to give an overview and so I have to touch on many things briefly and leave it to you to extrapolate some of the ideas.
As more media distribution moves to the internet our concepts of different media forms - and how we access them - will continue to converge. The ongoing merger of distribution, leaving us with one dominant network, will in turn allow for more integrated forms of content. That, along with the accessibility of further content, actually then becomes the media itself. This is traditionally very much the realm of games.
Games, Content and Access are Linked
In a game, the control system defines a large part of how the content in that game is crafted. So when you are talking about content with interactivity, the access to the content and the content itself are linked. It is this link between interaction and content that traditional media people struggle to understand, but it is what makes the experience of a game deep and engaging when done well.
The Media Continuum
A channel is understood as a content library delivered to a defined demographic over the internet. A channel can be a website, a casual game portal, an online movie library or an MMO. The more exclusive content that addresses the channel demographic well, the more users will stay with a channel. The media continuum is then simply the complete set of channels delivered to consumers over the Internet.
It's All a Game
In terms of technology, games for many years have required a combination of all media types: 2D and 3D animation, movies, music and real-time interaction. So technologically-speaking, games have already unified all content forms. Only the game development community really understands the complexities of how to design for and use technology to build quality interactive content.
Because games are superset of all media, you can view all traditional media as games with the some of the features cut out. Hence to really view all channels as part of a continuum we have to think about all channels as games, at least in technology and design terms, even if they don't look like typical games to most people.
A Standard Player
What breaks up the continuum today is the client-side software, tuner or box that receives the content. This 'continuum breaking' is not in the interest of consumers or content creators; hence my personal view that it is a matter of time, and standard-setting, before the receiver is unified, just as HTML unifies the web.
TV and film have both a standard linear form and linear playback; this makes it very easy for content to be developed. The form is now over 100 years old and it has become so well understood that all innovations are pushed into the nuances of the content itself. The game industry conversely is still evolving; the big drag factors on the industry are the lack of a standard for game content creation, and the lack of a standard playback format for creators to deliver to.
These challenges are due to the complex interactive nature of games and the rapid advances in 3D and CPU technology; but they are not insurmountable, especially as the hardware changes are now beginning to settle and are much better understood by developers. Over time more standardisation both in game development and in playback format will remove many of those drag factors that the game industry currently struggles against, freeing up more cash and creativity for the content itself.
Open and Closed Channels
Today many channels are 'closed', meaning that consumers can't add content. Open channels are where third parties can add or augment content on the channel. LittleBigPlanet, Second Life and YouTube are examples of open channels. Further support for business models for content creators in open channels will be another key step in the evolution of interactive content. The way open channels can work and are managed both in editorial and design terms is a critical space for further innovation and one that I can only touch on in this article. Sony's PlayStation Home is perhaps the first major foray into a managed open channel.