Beyond Zynga (and Twitter): Social Gaming With Purpose

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of game mechanics and social games – in fact one of the companies I’ve chaired (Creative Enclave) launched the first truly massively multiplayer social game on the Facebook platform in 2007. Back then, Zynga consisted of no more than a handful of staff. Back then people didn’t take social games that seriously.

Today, however, it is a totally different story. Social games are BIG business. Take a look at some of the stats emerging from the S-1 Zynga filed as it catapults towards an IPO: 38,000 virtual items are created within their game portfolio a second. Yep, you read that right – a second!

Zynga has 60 million DAUs (daily active users) and here’s the kicker for me: they conduct 2 billion minutes of play a day!!!

What is that telling you?

Some relatively privileged folks have a ton of idle time?

Play is really pivotal to the human psychi?

But are we at the point in our development as a species and as custodians for our planet where we can afford that much ‘down time’?

We still have people starving by their millions, we still have diseases that could be cured or prevented. Surely, we owe it to ourselves to focus on solving these issues before we embark on such wholesale frittering away of our time?

Yes and no.

YES, playing games like Farmville doesn’t progress humanity.

But also NO: I am not advocating that we do away with play altogether. Far from it. As I said at the outset, I am a huge fan of play.

What I am in favor of is social gaming with a purpose.

What if, in the course of having fun within a game, a user wasn’t only growing their capabilities as a mafia boss or trainmaster, but they were also (or instead) using their brains to help solve seemingly intractable disease puzzles?

Social gaming should help people come together to improve the world we live in. If we are playing games, let’s ensure they have a higher purpose. Let’s ensure they enable us to make greater insights into our pyschi, improving our understanding of our emotions, of our bodies and ultimately moving us to the point where we are not bounded by disease and scarce resources.

Aligned with this insight I want to draw your attention to the move by some of the Twitter co-founders back into The Obvious Corporation. I’ve written a fair amount about Obvious and product factories, but what is really interesting (especially in the context of this post) is the mission statement of the new Obvious:

The Obvious Corporation makes systems that help people work together to improve the world.The proliferation of technology can seem superfluous, but with the right approach, technology can benefit individuals, organizations and society.

It seems that others, like Ev, Biz and Jason are thinking along similar paths.

[As a footnote, I do recognize the great work Mark and the Zynga team are doing in supporting disaster relief. What I am advocating extends far beyond that focus.]

 

Kevin Rose, Evan Williams and the Rise and Rise of the Product Factory

Sarah Lacy has written a great post on¬†Kevin Rose’s new company. The former Digg founder is setting up Milk, a closed innovation shop that, counter to the current Silicon Valley driven incubator-trend, will focus internally on developing up a small number of big hairy audacious game changing products that use the mobile Internet as their enabler.

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Kevin – I believe he has hatched an awesome plan. Why? He isn’t reliant on bringing on board a steady flow of ‘quality’ entrepreneurs and then melding them to create winners, instead he is using his nous and that of a hand-picked team of coders, thinkers and innovators to quickly iterate ideas and test their viability, pivoting and repurposing when necessary, but always moving forward with a portfolio of potential winners.

Secondly, I’d like to highlight that Sarah has quite rightly picked up on the similarities between Kevin and Evan Williams.

A few years back, Evan and I were having a series of discussions (here, and here)  around product factories РI was infusing product factory magic into a major research lab in Australia and he had set up Obvious along similar lines.

Fast forward four years and his “side project”, Twitter, ended up subsuming everything else in the Obvious pipeline to the point where Obvious fell by the way side. Twitter achieved massive traction and in many respects has been a game changer.

In contrast, I managed to get a number of projects out of my factory – one of which, Open Kernel Labs, has achieved major traction with its virtualization software on 1.1 billion handsets around the world – and more to come. Although we both moved on from our respective organisations, Evan has come full circle recently and is again building up a product factory.

I look forward to seeing how both of them iterate on the product factory concept, how this influences a counter-incubator culture and what they both bring to market next.

Windows Into Time: Twitter reality meets beach Art

Yesterday morning I visited the 2010 Sculptures by the Sea event down at Bondi Beach. The video below is the result:

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