GamesBeat

Missive from TED: How wooly mammoths, consumer space travel, and reading minds play out for the game industry

Chris Carvalho is chief operating officer of San Francisco-based online game publisher Kabam.

I just spent a week at TED, the renowned conference focusing on technology, entertainment and design, where some of world’s most enlightened people question the unquestionable, empower “factivists,” and help make the seemingly impossible possible.

For more than 20 years TED has presented its members a whirlwind of ideas that have changed consumer behavior and even shaped global cultures. This year TED’s themes included Disrupt, Dream, and Create. I sat with and learned from such people as Elon Musk (SpaceX), Vint Cerf, Bono, and others who presented such thought-provoking topics as bringing wooly mammoths back to life, enabling consumer space travel, and communicating via reading people’s minds, all of which are apparent possibilities in the next 15 to 20 years. (If you think the Internet has privacy issues today, imagine when someone commercializes the capability to read another’s thoughts.)

I work for a video game company — arguably the poster child of industry disruption today – and I found so much of TED’s content to be dead-on relevant to our industry.

Traditional gaming, with its prepackaged discs and $60 upfront commitments to play a single game, is going the way of other packaged media like CDs, DVDs, and home-delivered newspapers. Not today. Not tomorrow. But the tide already has turned with a proven business model that has changed gamers’ playing behavior. It’s called “freemium.” Most consumers call it … awesome. Just like with LinkedIn or Dropbox, consumers try the service (games, in our case) and can continue for free as long as they want. If they want an enhanced experience, they pay for premium content. Free-to-play gaming equals disruption of the established $30 billion packaged games industry.

My company’s — and many others — goals don’t stop with enabling disruption. We are bringing all the genres of traditional gaming to a free-to-play mobile environment. Fans of strategy, role-playing games, racing, action, adventure, and more are experiencing an incredible entertainment revolution. I soaked up every bit of TED and imagined the possibilities for our industry. Some examples:

Think inside the box: Phil Hanson is an artist who had suffered nerve damage and had to completely rethink his art because his toolset (his hands) no longer had their former capacity. His doctor said he could not “fix” him and he should instead embrace his limitations. And he did, fueling incredible creativity – including designing art using Starbucks cups. By limiting his options, Hanson avoided the distraction of thinking through the endless tools he could use and his art became more singularly unique.

Application to games: Would game teams be better off if we limited such choices as tech stacks, business partners, or platforms and had them focus instead on making the most of known processes, partners and technology to create the most amazing and innovative games? Are we distracted by too much choice and too many options?

Five-senses design: Jinsop Lee introduced a design concept that measures value against a 10-point scale of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. The ultimate example is a product or an activity that scores highly across all five senses. For example, riding a motorcycle scores high on almost all but smell or taste. You can improve a product materially by applying this measure, even if you can only improve one of the five senses.

Application to games: Video games are visual and they have incredible sound. Could we make both better? Could we add “touch” to the game by enabling the smartphone or mobile device to vibrate when you hit a certain goal?

Overcoming the impossible: Jack Andraka was a 14-year-old boy whose uncle died of pancreatic cancer. Andraka’s uncle never stood a chance because there was no effective early detection test available to him. Detected late, pancreatic cancer takes 95 percent of its victims.   Using Google and Wikipedia, Andraka did his own research and contacted 200 professors in the field, seeking help in remembrance of his uncle. He was rejected 199 times. One professor finally said, “Let’s talk.” Together they built a lab and eventually created a very effective screen for pancreatic cancer (and eventually many other diseases) that costs almost nothing. It will save millions of lives.

Application to games: Every day we face roadblocks in what we do. Teams say some things are too hard. Or have to be delivered too fast. But we live in incredibly disruptive times. So I say to our industry, to the gamemakers: Keep dreaming, keep creating.

Think possible.

Image credit: Mammoth image via Shutterstock

Chris Carvalho is chief operating officer of Kabam, which he joined in 2009. Working with CEO Kevin Chou, he has helped grow Kabam to more than $180 million in revenue in 2012. Earlier, Carvalho spent a decade heading Lucasfilm’s business development efforts and driving the company’s digital media strategy and partnerships. Prior to Lucasfilm, Carvalho consulted with a range of companies, from startups to the Fortune 500 as a management consultant with Deloitte & Touche. He is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management and completed undergrad studies at University of California, Berkeley.


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