i believe in GAME

Pervasive Gaming…Seth Gerson's Personal Blog

My op-ed from Industry Gamers

One Avatar to Rule Them All

Did you ever sit back and think about how many times you’ve recreated yourself virtually? Me too. There’s Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, Farmville, Frontierville, our own Golden Nugget Vegas Casino – and that’s just a vague guess.

Well, I’d love to solve the problem overnight, but there are a lot of problems to solve. How do you handle 3D vs. 2D?  Games have a lot of different creative styles, so how do we create one avatar to do the job?  How do you log on?  Where is the data stored?  How is it shared?  How does a user pay?  How can a developer implement it? And so on and so forth. I’m biased, of course, because we’ve worked out how to fix the problem with AltEgo, but I’m not here to advertise.

For the sake of your sanity, I’ll concentrate on three main questions.

1) Why should a customer use their avatar across multiple platforms?

2) Why should developers support them doing so?

3) What other issues can be solved outside of gaming?

Deep down, what do consumers want?  Value. Why do players grind out achievement points on Xbox Live? Why has Openfeint become so popular that Apple themselves had to compete with Gamecenter? Players like a deep experience that they can take with them –and that’s what they pay us for. The convenient power to escape reality – even for a moment – has become so attractive that people are willing to spend real money to escape through their own Facebook page.

Now, bear with me – imagine if things were just a little different. Imagine if the axe you bought in Frontierville carried over to a Diablo-esque slasher, gaining your avatar experience that would then make cutting down trees easier. It’s hokey, but higher intrinsic value for virtual goods would make consumers pay more for them. People love versatility and utility – they want a good deal, and they want whatever they buy to be ‘useful’ on more than one level. Look at the success of personal media players – the iPod was once a music device, and has become a video player, a game device, a music player and a browser. Even the Nintendo DS – at heart a game device – now browses the internet and plays music, and it even allows people to read eBooks.

To summarize – people love to know they just solved a few problems at once.

Furthermore, they want to jump right into games that they play. They want a deeper emotional attachment to their avatar, which costs the most valuable currency – time. Think of World of Warcraft< as an example – players sink in hundreds of hours into one character – an investment of time and emotional energy. Wouldn’t it be great to take that and harness that across multiple platforms? I’m talking above and beyond the money-making element – wouldn’t it be better to take the concept of Gamertags and make it character-based?

Microsoft has tried it with avatar games, but the investment and achievement with said characters is lacking. When you do well at Kingdom for Kelflings you may get 20 gamerpoints, but what does that mean to my avatar? Nothing. I might get a t-shirt. I might get a pet for playing Deathspank, but that doesn’t mean squat for my connection to my avatar. The connection with WoW is the completion of tasks with the character – you journey with them, you see them grow and you connect to their tasks.

Now – think of this on the level of platforms versus games. Your character could travel from your social game to your Xbox 360, then right into a strategy game you’re playing. Sure it may interfere with more story-based games, but I – and we at AltEgo– are sure that it’ll improve the average gameplay experience for many titles.

Now, take it a step further. Imagine if your avatar can join you on websites, gaining experiences and rewards that carry over into games – like Glue, but with rewards across platforms. Better yet, a developer can make money off of it by giving a little kickback for making someone integrate with their game, their site, their app – anything, really.

This is all in its infancy, of course. Social games have proven that people want to integrate some level of persona into gaming, far beyond ‘avatars’ – it’s them. That isn’t to say the avatar is a broken concept – it’s just a radically underdeveloped one.

Okay, so that’s the consumer covered. What about the developers? Well, stupid as it sounds, they need to make money. And it’s getting easier to do so thanks to the virtually non-existent barrier to entry for independent developers – SDKs, App Stores, APIs and the like –the difference between a developer and a publisher has become basically semantics. The common thread, from a team of two people to a team of thousands is to lower development cost, and maximize ARPPU.

A universal avatar system lowers development cost, as you don’t need to re-create the character experience itself.  It also gives publishers and developers the ability to maximize ARPU, because digital goods that cross games have higher intrinsic value to consumers – people will pay more for something that does more, and one character that grows and functions within multiple titles can and will have a greater connection to them. Players aren’t buying goods in games anymore – they’re buying something for their character, it just happens to be in that game.

Developers. Check.

So who else can benefit?

If you’re a hardware manufacturer right now, you’re probably a little hot under the collar about the potential to connect via Google TV. Connecting the users deeper to the experience of the TV itself, after years of the connected devices being the main driver of user attention to TVs. You can tweet from your TV, access your Facebook friends, and so on – but what if your avatar went with it? What if watching the entire series of House M.D. could get you a boost to intelligence across five games? What if reaching a certain level unlocked a trailer that nobody else can access through the TV’s Google TV OS?

Furthermore, the avatar as a service also serves other industries – financial services and search. If the avatar is the user’s digital wallet, it becomes the de-facto tip of the spear for companies that are disconnected from their consumers – like, say, all of the credit card companies.  How many trees have been killed so that you could throw away that offer to make the San Jose Sharks your credit card of choice? Credit card companies desperately need you to have an emotional tie, so that you’ll not only apply for a card, but use it over the others you have.

By taking the process online, PayPal pushed further, but still failed to get an emotional connection. By making a deeper connection between the card and the avatar, the avatar could transform how we purchase and consume content over time, and personalize transactions on the level that has made hundreds of millions of dollars of social transactions happen. Whether you want your back-end to be serviced by a traditional merchant acquirer with a service like Visa, or American Express, or you want to use Facebook credits, if you use an avatar, all of your transactions could have a front end that provides more value for the consumer by connecting with something they’re invested in.

Avatars could even be the central feature for blogs, apps and most importantly search.  My avatar could hold personal data about my preferences, and over time be the first place I search, whether that search is real-time, based on Google, or using a social search like Facebook.  Your avatars could pick up on tags you use on networks like Quora and feed you content that is more relevant– and offers (hey, developers!) that you could actually use, kind of like Offermatic.

Thinking more broadly about how game mechanics and norms can be applied to real life actions could potentially open up a goldmine both for customer engagement and, hey, enjoyment too.  While I’ve focused on the logistical, I’ll follow up addressing the obvious issues of technical feasibility and creative issues in the future. It can be done, too – you can check out the first genesis of the project at apps.facebook.com/gncasino.  As for the technology and systems behind it, later this month we’ll start seeding developers, and have already started working with one publisher to make it happen.

For more info, shoot an email to info@altego.com.

Link to Industry Gamers article here:  http://www.industrygamers.com/news/industry-insights-one-avatar-to-rule-them-all/

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