Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 26, 2010
Will the future be an MMO?

Pangoria Fallstar sent me an interesting link to a video from DICE 2010, where Jesse Schell extrapolates from Facebook games to a future where every one of you actions comes with experience points: Brush your teeth in the morning, +10 points. Brush them for longer than 3 minutes for extra points, and of course further extra points if you brushed them all week. The action would be measured by a motion sensor in your toothbrush, transmitted via WiFi, financed by the company selling the toothbrush and toothpaste, and you could use the points for a rebate on toothpaste, or even on your dental plan.

I think this vision of the future as one big MMO with points everywhere is utopic. Just look how people complained here yesterday about having to be online to play Ubisoft single-player games; how would those people react to having to be online to brush your teeth? Jesse Schell mentions that because every one of our action in his utopia would be recorded, it would make us strive to become better people. But I'm afraid the whole thing smells too much like Orwell's Big Brother to most people.

Where I think he went wrong is in extrapolating too far, a common mistake in predictions. Because I think where he might have the right idea is that reward systems could be used more in real life. But I would guess that would be mostly limited to education and work. In the video there is an example of a game design professor already handing out xp instead of grades for homework. That is something which could work. And bonus systems at work tied to some point system could work too. But your shoes telling your health insurance how many miles you walked that day? Most people would find that too intrusive.
As generations go forward people are getting less and less concerned about big brother. Look at how much 20-30 year olds have videos on the net, youtube, etc. We are moving closer and closer to having anyone who is concerned with big brother being dead. I see this happening in about 70 years, when most of the current 40 year olds are out of the timeline.

At the same time, I recently heard about a school who gave laptops to students and then used the laptops to spy and take pictures of the students.

They were caught when they confronted a student about taking some "candy" (which they thought was drugs). Things like this will constantly push the fear of big brother on to people, but like Google said, if you're doing something that you don't want people to know about, maybe you shouldn't be doing it.

At the same time, I can see a movement to shy away from such things, and I think that most of this stuff would be optional. You can choose to have your healthcare monitor your steps, if only to get a reduction in rates. You can choose to drink a soda everyday to get a discount or rebate.

The big thing is, finding a solution. Maybe you don't need to be online with the toothbrush. Maybe it has a dock, and when you're done, and place it in the dock, in connects online then.
You must mean a dystopia.

But there's some good ideas in there. Insurance companies want to make sure that you eat well and keep fit.

It shouldn't be that hard to monitor how much you walk or how much you sport (can even do that today with a watch and heart meter). If you move enough they can give you a discount as you're less likely to get a heart attack.

But what he's proposing is to try and make it fun. Give out point if you sport. Sport three times a week? Bonus point! A big achievement system to be the carrot in front of the horse.
Insurance companies want to make sure that you eat well and keep fit.

Yeah, but what if the rewards you can get from McDonalds for eating a Big Mac every day are way cooler than the rewards your health insurance company is offering for eating your vegetables?
He takes it a bit too far with the details. But the point is something I think is correct. Games are a form of art, and when new forms of art are adopted by society they tend to disperse and become integrated with the fabric of ordinary life.

Paintings and engaging imagery can be found everywhere from advertisement to bathroom rugs and postage stamps. Music can be heard in the opera, at home or at the train station. Video is available at the movies, in advertisement and in "safety on board" procedures for airplanes.

Just as video contains music today we should expect that the "safety on board" procedure will be available as a game relatively soon. There are already touch screens on the airplanes (altho they are suffering from horribly poor interaction design). Using them to make flights more engaging while also reducing the cost of training a cabin crew at how to instruct passengers in matters of safety will force the market to react with product development given enough time.

Games is the art form which can convey and measure understanding. The only way to prevent games from becoming omnipresent is some surprising development of new technology which does the job cheaper and better. Perhaps that might be bio-tech, nano-tech or neuro science but I would not bet on this.
Most people would love it.
I'd put my toothbrush on a paintmixer when I go to work...or outsource it to China.
I have a feeling that the future is going to be free-to-play, with the revenue stream for entertainment providers coming in the form of advertising and data sales. In the coming decades, metrics and data are going to be one of the most valuable resources in the world – especially as just-in-time targeted advertising leaks off of the monitor and into the real world. The more you know the behavior of potential customers (the impact of advertising, their use habits for given products, etc), the more you’ll be able to influence their spending, and that’ll be more valuable to businesses than anything else.

Customer acquisition is the most expensive and difficult part of running a business – which is why salespeople get paid so well to do it – and anything that makes that easier, cheaper, and more effective will, itself, sell like gangbusters. Google is a multi-billion dollar information broker – they deal in the selling of metrics, data, and advertising. In 10 years they won’t be the only one. Asia will produce a competitor eventually, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a South America (probably Brazil) produces one in that time frame as well.

The Hugo award winner from 2006, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, actually deals with a world that has some elements described in this presentation. Vinge deals with an extreme version of “always on” technology – hyperconnectivity taken to a logical extreme – and some of the ramifications it could have on society. Definitely worth a read if you like exploring this line of thought.
sci-fi books pretty much why this idea might happen.

Fun reads. Fairly scary if you can get how plausible they are.
Not sure about adults but maybe some applications for schools in there. The school I work in has the ethos of 4:1 reward:punishment ratio and already do things like sending txts to parents when their children do something exceptional or even when bad kids are better behaved. Anything that furthers the cause of kids behaving and doing what they're supposed to can only be a good thing imho.
His proposal is to view reality through the lens of MMOs. We went from Real worlds to constructing virtual worlds so now we are coming full circle.

Really though, the idea of using reward systems is well established. You stop and think about how many companies have point cards and preferred customer plans. The wave the proverbial carrot in front of our noses in an effort to alter our buying behaviours.

Would such reward systems work effectively outside of a consumer context? Probably not, since no one really cares if we brush our teeth or not unless they are selling toothpaste.
Re: the rewards for being healthy

McDonald's may offer neat short-term rewards (free fries, or a Happy Meal style of toy), but healthy behavior can be used to compare/compete against friends. A few years ago, some friends and I wore pedometers and competed against each other in the number of daily steps walked.
But I'm afraid the whole thing smells too much like Orwell's Big Brother to most people.

For you and I, that's true. But one of the things that is trending with the younger generations is that they don't care as much about privacy.

So ya, it seems far fetched to us old-timers who aren't even willing to share our real names on the internet. It's not as far fetched to the younger MySpace/Facebook crowd who are using the internet more and more frequently as a way to socialize.

Just remember to think of me when you are 80 and all those damn kids are gaining XP by brushing teeth you no longer have...
The purpose of his talk was to encourage experienced game designers and developers to take more notice to "gaming" slowly creeping into many elements of peoples lives, like the virtual tree in the hybrid car, and that this could be a potential new market that traditional game developers could tap into or help shape.

The purpose of the talk wasn't to propose that we turn reality into one giant video game, which is what I think a lot of people are interpreting the talk to be about.
>Brush your teeth in the morning, +10 points. Brush them for longer than 3 minutes for extra points, ... further extra points if you brushed them all week. ... you could use the points for a rebate on toothpaste, or even on your dental plan.

I love this idea.

It only approaches 1984 if it becomes a lawful requirement to brush your teeth.

Giving incentive for someone to do what you want them to do isn't Orwellian at all. Isn't that what we do for jobs? Someone wants you to answer their phone, schedule their appointments, and keep their files organized, so they say "Look, I'll give you $12 for every hour you do this for me."... In this case, the dental company wants you to brush your teeth up to 3 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day. They say "Look, I'll give you XYZ everytime you do this for me."

Really, is that so bad?
Wii Fit has been an extremely successful product by tracking what and when you did, even down to your weight. And it is quite useful to be able to do trends.

You do not need to be connected to the Internet to be connected. Put a $30 chip in your shoes and it literally monitors your every step. You then later connect the chip to the ipod application and the Nikeplus website. This is available now for $30 with an Apple/Nike brand on it. Extrapolate out 30 years, when Moore's law says chips should be about a million (2^(30/1.5)) times more powerful.
The future comes faster and faster...

Granted, it doesn't involved any electronic technology, just self-reporting, but still...

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