Thoughts from the BBC Fusion Summit #FusionGames

I had the pleasure of attending the BBC Fusion Games Summit yesterday, at the University of Salford located in MediaCityUK, Manchester.

The day was tag-lined “Inform, educate and… Play?” and aimed to bring together the gaming industry, education and broadcasters to discuss and debate a range of topics exploring the relationship between the three sectors and the possible “fusion” of those under the one creative medium called “games”. It was also a chance to catch up with several people who had made such a difference to Games Britannia – Kate Russell, Jon Howard, Graham McAllister and Ian Livingstone.

Demand for tickets was high, and I’d managed to grab seats for a few panel discussions during the day:

Life Is A Game, Keynote – Ian Livingstone OBE

It was great to be able to sit and enjoy Ian’s autobiographical presentation from a relaxed perspective, rather than before as a hyper-ventilating, nervous and worry-ridden video game festival Director! Nostalgia was rampant, and the many photographs, press cuttings and video clips covering Games Workshop, Fighting Fantasy, Domark and Eios brought back happy memories. Unfortunately Ian was only allocated 45 minutes to fit his entire life’s work into his keynote, and he was sadly (and bravely) cut short by Kate. I suspect most of the people within the room were interested in the bits Ian didn’t manage to cover – his tireless work on the Next Gen campaign and what this meant for education and the future of games.

Conclusion: Give Ian at least 3 hours for his keynote, with an intermission and choc-ices. Better yet, someone film it and make it available to all in HD.

Kids & Games, Just Say No? – Jon Howard (Chair), Alice Taylor (Makies), Mark Owen (CBBC), Rachel Bardill (Cbeebies), Martyn Jones (Mind Candy)

The first session basically asked whether kids were playing too many games, and playing for too long. The simple result from the panelist was that they all consider games were a force for good and they were a form of inherent learning – backing up Ian’s earlier comments that we all learn through play from an early age. Several interesting points came from this discussion:

  • On first entering the BBC children’s portals, the majority of kids clicked “Games” (CBBC 60%, CBeebies 55%).
  • The more popular areas on the Moshi Monster website are those around brain training and puzzles.
  • The average play time on BBC games portals is between 10 – 25 minutes.
  • Moshi Monsters (60m+ registered users) seems to be the social networking site for kids.

There were other interesting points raised about the importance of narrative in games, and that storytelling and filling-in-the-gaps is something that really engaged children. Martyn from Mindcandy commented that the children “owned” the Moshi space, creating the folklore and worlds in which they lived. Alice backed this up and talked about the huge backstories kids had created for their Makie dolls on her website. She also made the point of the day, noting that “boredom is when the brain is not learning”.

Conclusion: Games are a force for good – though it would have been interesting, and probably healthy for debate if a panelist would have had a dissenting voice!

Where is the money? – Jo Twist (UKIE) Panel:  Tom Reding (BBC Worldwide), Patrick Healy (BBC Children’s), Chris Sizemore (BBC Knowledge & Learning), Colin Macdonald (C4)

The funding opportunities for games in the BBC. Probably the least relevant talk for me, but nevertheless a few points raised during the session:

  • The BBC targets children aged 2-16, though the average age of a gamer is 30+.
  • Channel 4 primary audience is between 18 and 34.
  • An “open gaming platform” is under development from the BBC allowing all kinds of pitches for funding.
  • BBC Connected Studio events allow games companies and indies to pitch their ideas for commission/prototyping.

Conclusion: Perhaps the biggest conclusion from this panel was the lack of credibility given to games from the associate broadcasters, both the BBC and C4 – on the broadcast side. Every game developed was on the back of a successful broadcast programme. There was no commissioning route to develop and produce original IP, starting its life as a game first, and perhaps other mediums later. Why is this? Why can the BBC commission original film and tv-making and not games? It invests heavily in radio too, but games are there just as a life support mechanism for TV it seems, and as admitted by several of the panel member exist solely to drive viewers back to their passive screens. The corporation is too risk averse, especially from the popular “Daily Mail Headline” theory. Isn’t it time this nonsense was confined to the dustbin and the lead was taken by someone with a bit of a backbone? The lack of recognition as games as a credible medium – one that stands alongside Art, Music, Literature, Film, TV, etc. I know Iain Simons feels strongly about this, so much so he created the wonderful GameCity Prize to open the conversation about what’s brilliant, interesting and meaningful about videogames. I commented last night, that the Culture Show on BBC2 covers a wide range of “arts”, but games are tellingly omitted.

Learning to game, or gaming to learn? – Kate Russell (BBC CLICK) Panel: Mark Sorrell (Hide and Seek), Carlton Reeve (Play With Learning), Tom Kenyon (NESTA), Phil Stuart (Preloaded), John Milner (Bitesize, BBC Knowledge & Learning)

I was invited by Kate to take a more prominent part in this discussion about games in education. The gruesome description of the talk was “Join some of the finest minds in the field as they wrestle with the future of learning games and the controversial subject of gamification.”  They could have thrown every single phrase I hated into the mix – Games based learning, educational games, edutainment, serious games, games with purpose ….

Conclusion: My thoughts on games in education is summed up by what Games Britannia is/stands for. They’re a great tool for learning, and the use of games as a catalyst is powerful too at that. Regardless of this, to me, the greatest benefit to education, across the curriculum is creating games.

What Future For Games And Broadcasting? – Chair: Jo Twist (UKIE) Introduction: Professor Martin Wright (Gamelab UK) Panel: Tadhg Kelly (What Games Are), Rob Stevens (Microsoft), Si Donbavand (BBC)

Exploring the potential of future platforms and formats this talk again brushed upon the BBC’s forthcoming “open games platform” as an impetuous to bring more innovative and creative content to the BBC. Rob Stevens talked about the XBox and other games and consoles becoming a service rather than a product, and Professor Martin Wright gave an insight into his work with connected TV’s or Smart TVs and particularly the Yahoo! version of that platform.

Conclusions: I didn’t take many notes from this session for some reason, I suspect from feeling the effects of drinking too much coffee and eating too little throughout the day! It was disappointing that the Microsoft representative was bound by his corporation not to speak of any future technologies (why be on the panel?) and the notion of having a fully integrated and connected solution just in the TV and no-need for a console or other box (everything served from the cloud) was dismissed easily. Looking 10 or 20 years into the future you would suspect that the passive box will be replaced by an interactive media hub – hopefully an open-source one that won’t be tied to a single vendor. The “what if we had an interactive iPlayer?” question Professor Wright raised at the start of the debate will become reality.

Overall

I had an enjoyable day, though I was disappointed to have missed Graham’s talk and Richard Davey’s HTML5 session too. There was a really positive vibe around all day about how games can make such an impact on education and learning for all ages. What was disappointing was the lack of creativity – the focus being justification for playing games. It would have been great for a couple of sessions to look at making games, or perhaps even inviting attendees to join in – I’m sure Jon Howards wonderful game framework could have been used for everyone to design a level, or drop in their own character into a game that evolved throughout the entire day. That would have been something – though I’m sure Ian would have drawn a Zombie.

What is also apparent is the fight that still lies ahead on having games recognised as a mainstream and valid form of media. Its something I’ve tweeted about recently, and something that underlined the whole Fusion event – the broadcasters pump resources and money into games online, but doesn’t even validate them or pay them any kind of lip service (apart from reporting sensationalised scare stories) in their broadcast picture world. Education is the same. We use books, films, TV shows, music and art to inspire and nurture learning, but shy away from games because of this misconception. Hopefully through more Fusion events, the brilliant GameCity Prize and the success of Games  Britannia we can change that landscape.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts from the BBC Fusion Summit #FusionGames

  1. Great commentary and hopefully fuel for future events.

    If you or any readers want to have your say on BBC Online services, you can help the BBC Trust Review here: http://consultations.external.bbc.co.uk/bbc/online-redbuttonreview – it runs until January 2013 and is inviting all comments on the BBC’s Online services (except Children’s which have their own review, completed recently and detailed here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/services/television/service_reviews/young_people_tor.html).

    Do help the BBC Trust learn more about how you use BBC Online, what you expect and what you’d like to see more or less of. It is a great way to help them structure our service license and to help us make sure we spend the license fee wisely.

    (Disclaimer, I work for the BBC on games)

  2. Pingback: The Legacy of the BBC Micro | Mark James Hardisty

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