Often ignored by more hardcore segments of the industry, are DVD games are a casual force to be reckoned with? In this opinion piece from Scope Seven general manager Brian Ring, he argues that not only do DVD games point toward an interesting future, but other video services like TiVo, YouTube, and the iPhone are ripe for gaming.
An Outside Perspective
My company, Scope Seven develops casual games on the DVD platform. If it’s been years since you’ve played a board game, that’ll sound pretty odd. If you’re a core gamer and under 25, it’ll sound odd and a little lame.
My response? As Chevy Chase put it in Spies Like Us, “We mock what we do not understand!”
Read on, and I think you’ll agree that the emergence and growth of the DVD Games business provides a useful perspective on the future of interactivity, digital video and brands. These are timely topics for entertainment executives, many of whom are searching for fresh approaches to interactive content and digital business strategies. More importantly, when designed well, these games can be fun!
My goal is not to bore you with details about our little corner of the video game world—the DVD Game business is slowly maturing and it’s unrealistic to expect that it will have legs in the way that, for example, PC games have. Instead, my hope is that as you digest a few of these thoughts and place them in the context of your own business—whatever the platform—you’ll generate an insight or two. If it’s an insight that’s innovative and actionable, all the better. (If that happens, send me an email. We can start a blog!)
Simply put, DVD Games are trivia, word, board and puzzle games that use video-clips and multimedia content as part of the questions, clues and rewards. The best-known DVD Games are the Scene It? games distributed by Mattel. In a video-clip trivia game, the question “Name this Actor” might be followed by a video-clip clue of one of Vince Vaughn’s hilarious rants in the film “Wedding Crashers”. Incorporating multimedia into the games is one of the genre’s greatest strengths.
DVD Games are easy to learn and play. They have simple game mechanics, low production costs and rapid development cycles. Also, since the DVD platform has no ability to render rich graphics in real-time, all the video in a DVD game consists of pre-produced content clips.
There are a number of consumer benefits to using the DVD as a games platform. First, everyone’s got a DVD player, so no additional equipment is needed. Second, DVD players are attached to the family room TV, where family & friends are used to having fun social experiences. Also, while DVD games have low production costs, they’ve got relatively high production values since DVD provides full-screen video and rich audio.
Finally, the most important fact: Consumers are buying! DVD Games are now a global business worth at least half a billion dollars at retail. Top branded products can easily sell over 500,000 units globally. In 2005, the category pioneer and leader Scene It? sold 5 million units, outselling every other board game brand worldwide.
Now, I’ve had the above conversation with enough random video gamers to know exactly what you’re thinking at this moment:
So what? DVD games suck.
Good point. (Not that DVD games suck—although you wouldn’t be alone in that opinion.) Despite all the good news, the reality is that there are many limitations in the DVD format that make the platform irrelevant for discussions about the digital future.
DVD is a slow, klunky interactive medium. It’s not connected to the Internet. And the ability to build robust gameplay AI or sophisticated multi-player scoring frameworks is non-existent. At its best, DVD gameplay is a fun, compelling enhancement to the traditional board game experience. At its worst, it’s an excuse to slap licensed brands onto a cardboard box.
All of which brings me to this:
If millions of consumers are currently enjoying the DVD game experience, and if the platform has so many obvious and important technical limitations, what would happen if we could improve and enhance the gameplay by using a platform other than DVDs?
What about Broadband TV? DVRs? VOD? The iPod or iPhone? Or the connected, graphically stunning platforms of HD DVD and Blu-ray?
Video-clip Games & Interactive Content
I’ve been exploring this question for several years. These musings have resulted in a detailed picture of what the digital universe might look like five years out if we could free DVD games from the shackles of the DVD format.
First, let me prep the canvas with a few important points about DVD Games. Then I’ll paint some details for you about the various ways in which the DVD Game user experience might fuse into larger hot-button topics in digital media, including video on demand, broadband, mobile and high definition.
Here are some key takeaways about DVD Games:
One. DVD Games represent the first commercially successful electronic game experience that integrates Hollywood-style video-clip content as a key gameplay element. These games are simply interactive assemblies of linear video-clips. Hundreds or even thousands of video-clips, in fact. Some clips may contain moving and shifting text or collections of still images on screen, but great games move text, video, graphics, audio and images on the screen as beautifully as the best in TV broadcast design.
Two. DVD Games are social experiences. I’m not saying that because “social gaming” is now the buzzword du jour in Silicon Valley. The games just aren’t that fun when they’re played alone.
Three. Trivia and polling are two of the most pervasive forms of interactive entertainment. Everyone understands them, everyone enjoys them—at least in small doses—and they are relatively easy and cheap to build.
Four. Game show branded DVDs sell well at retail. In fact, the game show experience and the DVD board game experience have a fair amount in common. They are experiences that rely on the drama of multi-player competition and combine that with word and trivia gameplay.
So, I’ve laid some groundwork. There’s just one more thing to do before we move on…
I need to dump the category moniker of “DVD Games”. What a terrible nuisance! From now on, I will refer to this new casual game genre as “Video-c-clip Games”.
And now, finally, listed below are some ways in which we see video-clip games and digital media platforms mixing and mashing over the next several years.
Let’s start with DVRs, since this is the first place that we’ll be able to see examples of video-clip games freed from the shackles of DVD. This is an area that’s familiar to Scope Seven. For almost three years, we have been architecting a vision for video-clip games to be delivered directly to set-top DVRs. The beginnings of this vision will soon be a reality on the DIRECTV Plus DVR. I can’t speak about specific game titles, nor can I promise you a date when the premium game service will be launched. Instead I’ll speak to Scope Seven’s vision for ad-supported interactive DVR games and content.
One compelling scenario for video-clip games on DVRs is tied to the innovative telescopic showcase ads that TiVo pioneered years ago. Think about the last time you watched a sporting event. My personal passion is March Madness. Each broadcast of March Madness has at least three or four ongoing interactive promotions associated with it. Play of the day, player of the week, trivia question of the game, etc.
Now, imagine the opportunity to telescope into a two-minute video-clip trivia competition sponsored by Pontiac. Sounds a lot more compelling than watching a two-minute commercial, right?
There are a variety of additional ways in which DVR games can be integrated into existing broadcast programming. Kids video-clip edutainment, interactive video-clip highlights of the Olympics, even Choose Your Own Adventure style programming enhancements for major dramatic series.
Brightcove is one of the first and most aggressive pioneers building out a vision for broadband TV. If you haven’t seen Brightcove in action, go ahead and comb their site
right now. Otherwise, the rest of this won’t make much sense.
OK, so now you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. You’re on the bus. TV 2.0 is coming soon. So, what happens to the game show genre? Game show insiders speak about the desire for audiences to play along, guess along, and move with the drama of real people that win, risk and lose big.
Add a webcam, chat, and other social media technology to that mix and you’ve got Jeopardy-style gameshowsgame shows in which the rules rely integrally on a “play-along” element. The “mob” in “1 vs. 100”, for example, could become a community of online users. Or, a traditional game show could have a massive screen on set, like Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room”. That screen can show a wide range of video puzzles on half the screen. The other half might have other modules, maybe a webcam contestant or a chat room with SMS text flying up or high definition pictures of celebrities and their awful public gaffes.
The top three categories of videos watched online are news, music videos, and movie trailers. Each one can support a relevant, timely experience that could mix pop-up video with quizzes and quiz show elements. The timely nature of these assets could spawn wider adoption of shorter, more frequently played episodic games. I think it won’t be too far down the road before we’ll start to see a variety of short video-clip game “snack bites” created around a surprising range of brands. One of my favorites? GetTheGlass.com which was done for the California Milk Processing Board.
YouTube, MySpace & Wikipedia
The web is abuzz with social interactive platforms that are scalable across brands and can engage consumers longer and more frequently. These sites add several unique dynamics that make them quite interesting from a games perspective.
First is the idea of user-generated content or UGC. There are millions of users on the Internet that create their own songs, videos, contests, and more. How long is it before we see user-generated video--clip trivia games? Playing into this trend is the growth of mashups, in which users re-mix existing high production value assets in new ways. Mashups are important because they enable a much higher quality of content to arise out of the UGC world than would otherwise be possible. Right now, over 300 clips of the Star Wars movies are available to the public for mashup usage. Hasbro released a Trivial Pursuit DVD Star Wars edition a couple of years ago. Now, fans can create and distribute their own versions.
There are also important social media extensions of trivia that can be developed. The iPod comes standard with an innovative music trivia game that pulls clips of existing songs from one’s own iPod collection into a “Name that Tune” style game. It is a fantastic experience, if you haven’t played it. This could be extended in many different ways to take advantage of connected or shared playlists or groups, or even recommendation engines like Amazon.com. Adding video-clips on top of this type of experience creates something that is as much “Web 2.0” as it is “video game”.
One of my favorite ideas is a combination of all of the above items—a worldwide, open source edugames platform built Wikipedia-style. Kids across the globe could upload funny or entertaining video-clip games that also integrate interesting, fun information about their cultures and geographies and compete for prizes on a global basis.
iPod, or, As It’ll Soon be Called, iPhone
Of course, back to the iPod, Apple has recently released a new quiz game, iQuiz. I mentioned above that it would not be a huge stretch to add video-clips to that experience. Steve Jobs has said that the forthcoming iPhone is the best iPod Apple’s ever made. Imagine spontaneously connecting five people in a bar or club with separate devices and having them compete together. What a great way to spice up the tired bar trivia experience. Imagine watching a football game where players from one table to the next are using their iPhones to play along with the game by predicting plays and answering trivia questions that are directly synched to the live broadcast. Add a few too many beers to the mix for extra fun!
HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc
The next generation of high definition disc platforms are significantly more powerful than the existing DVD Video specification. Both HD and BD platforms will enable more robust game AI along with connectivity. In addition, they will be the best source of true 1080p high definition content, since even the cable and satellite operators are not providing the highest quality HD at current bit rates and resolutions.
In fact, Scope Seven recently completed a real-time strategy game on HD DVD that utilizes game AI in a way that no DVD Video product ever could. It’s an addictive casual game with gameplay that is similar to electronic versions of games like Risk. It also takes full advantage of cinematic, full motion video-clips and delivers added impact with stunning audio-visuals and graphics. (Funny—now I sound like a console guy!) I’m confident that the beautiful graphics and robust, connected format that next generation DVD players offer will open up new discussion and debate about where and how Hollywood and video games can mix.
A Call to Arms
Since the birth of radio, the history of the entertainment business has always been about the impact of technology on the relationship between content and consumers. Over time, entirely new genres of experience have been invented, reinvented, remixed and reinvigorated. The birth of electronic games and the continuing evolution of video games on various digital platforms is no exception.
Sometimes these new genres take off like wildfire and grow into multi-billion dollar businesses. Other times they take off and flame out quickly, like the CD-Rom business did in the late 90s.
But they always speak to the dynamism inherent in digital media markets and to the underlying nature of human beings to search out new experiences, new hobbies, and new ways to spend time. And they always offer great lessons for the future.
Right now, we’re living in one of those rare “moments in time” when companies and consumers are willing to seize on new ideas, to take risks and to innovate. As you do, think about the different ways in which video and games might converge next. I’ll be glad you did.
[Brian Ring is an experienced strategic business development executive with expertise in digital media, interactive TV, games and entertainment. As General Manager of Scope Seven's Interactive Content division, Ring has played a leading role in building the company's successful DVD games and iTV games businesses.
Ring architected the vision for Scope Seven's DVR Games service which seeks to improve DVD games by delivering them directly to consumer DVR set-top boxes. Scope Seven is now the preferred provider to DIRECTV, powering a first-ever DVR game service that will be launched in the second half of this year.]