Drupal North East: Drupal versus WordPress

One of the big questions of working in web design and development is what tool to choose. And when it comes to using a CMS, the question is often specifically “WordPress or Drupal?”

At this month's Drupal Northeast, Phill Brown took on the challenge of comparing their strengths and weaknesses.

The executive summary is that Drupal is best for

  • larger scale apps
  • integration with other systems thanks to its good API and loosely coupled modules)
  • multi-role sites WordPress just isn't good with it. 

WordPress is best for

  • blogs: which isn't surprising as that was its original use (and still is for many people today)
  • brochure sites as while it can only accomodate simple content types it is very easy to theme to a high standard. It also supports HTML5.
  • small shops: the WP Commerce module makes it easy to hook on a shop to a simple site, and the Woo Commerce module released today is drawing a lot of excitement.

The most interesting things for me (which I barely mention in my notes is the difference in approaches when it comes to theming best practices. I was suprised at how little information there was around at coding a plugin for making a custom post type, and found out from Phill's talk that in WordPress, it's encouraged to initialise post types in the theme rather than a plugin. (In Drupal, much is made of keeping structure and presentational markup separated). This makes sense in that it allows companies to sell magazine or shop like themes with custom post types included (though, as I found out working on a project, it makes life more difficult should you want to make structural changes).

Full Storify coverage below.


Newcastle Technology and Design Groups: the 2011 Edition

This is a follow up to a post I did on Newcastle technology and design events. Since I last wrote it, a lot of new events have appeared (funnily enough, most of them at the Post Office NE1 on Pink Lane). So, in no particular order, here they are….

Design and User Experience

There is a lot of design and UX stuff in Newcastle, but that hasn't as such translated to meetup groups (though a lot of the time Supermondays is appropriate for more than just coders).

UX Northeast

When? Varies, usually a Tuesday though
Where: Usually Post Office
UX Northeast has been only running officially for a few months, but officially runs the Newcastle branch of UX Bookclub (where professionals get together and discuss a UX related book — though 'related' can be pretty wide). Useful to come along to if you want to know who some of the user experience people in the Toon are.
Site: http://uxnortheast.org
Twitter @uxnortheast

Design Interest

When? First one is October 11, so may be second Tuesday of each month
Where: Post Office
This is going to be a designery get together: the group calls itself as  “like PHP-NE  for designers with a smidge of Geekest Drink (read below to see what that means). 
Twitter: @designinterest

Design Event

When: varies
Where: varies between Dance City, Live Theatre and the Baltic.
While Design Event is mainly focused around the October festival that happens all around town, they also have design talks and pecha kucha nights throughout the year.
Site: http://design-event.co.uk
Twitter: @designeventNE

Shipley Lates

When: Last Friday of the month
Where: The Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead
The Toon version of V&A Lates, the themes can be a range of art and design. October's is all about jewellery, fun!
Twitter: @theshipley
Site: http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/shipley/shipleylates

Codeworks Connect

When: varies
Where: Gateshead College (usually)
Codeworks is a trade association for Newcastle digital agencies, so the events may often also include business aspects (startups, being an entrepreneur etc).
Twitter: @connectTAAD
Site: http://connection.codeworks.net/category/events/

North East England Photographers Group

When: online 
Where: flickr.com! And whereever you take photographs
If you're into photography, you should check out the Flickr Groups. (I got this tip from Martin Cunningham's Barcamp4 talk). The official North East England Photographers group is huge, and even has a monthly competition. 
Site: http://www.flickr.com/groups/neepg/

Newcastle Photowalk

When: varies, seems to end up being on a Sunday a lot
Where: somewhere worth taking pictures (it involves walking)
This is basically an IRL (though also twitter-based) group where everyone goes and takes photos. I'm guessing there's usually coffee or beer involved afterwards. 
Twitter: @npwalk
Site: http://www.flickr.com/groups/newcastlephotowalk/

Culture Lab Lunchtime Bytes

When: every second Thursday
Where: Culture Lab
For a crazy mix of art and technology, Culturelab is a must. 
Site: culturelab.ncl.ac.uk/home

Northumbria University Design School

When: varies
Where: Northumbria Design School, CCE
There are often a whole range of designery talks form professors and visiting academics. (There are also school talks every second Thursday that aren't really advertised, so it's worth keeping an ear out from Northumbria people!)
Site: northumbria.ac.uk/sd/academic/scd/whatson/


For a relatively small city, Newcastle has a very active technology community, possible due to a lot of startups and EU grant money here. The -ish is because some of these talks after often more than just the latest progamming, and might be about weird and wonderful art or science pieces mixed with tech.


When: last Monday of the month (unless Bank holiday, then Tuesday)
Where: Newcastle Beehive (usually)
Supermondays has just celebrated its third anniversary and was featured in Wired's list of top UK technology events. The topics can range from the geeky to the designery, and they have regular Flash nights with a load of different presentations.
Twitter: @supermondays
Site: http://supermondays.org

PHP-NE (PHP North East )

When: 3rd Tuesday of the month
Where: PostOffice NE1
This is what is says on the tin: a meetup of people that work with PHP. (It's at the edge of my knowledge but I go along because Drupal and WordPress run on PHP so it helps to understand it as a themer). It's usually pretty developer orientated, but they do have other topics such the a recent one on design frameworks.
Twitter: @phpne
Google Group

North East Bytes (Microsoft User Group)

When: 3rd Wednesday of the month
Where: Claremont Building at Newcastle University
Dealing with MS-ey things such as .NET, Sharepoint etc. 
Twitter: @nebytes
Site: www.nebytes.net/

Maker Space Drop In Sessions

When: 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month
Where: Maker Space, 1 Coquet Street, NE1 2QE
Not so much a meetup as a chance to work on making/hacking things and see other interesting projects. (I have to admit I haven't made it to one of their sessions as of yet, but mean to.)


When: varies
Where: Centre for Life (usually) 
Another I keep intending to get to but never make it, Dorkbot is an interesting mix of tech and science talks.
Site: http://www.makerspace.org.uk/dorkbot/

Ruby North East

When: last Tuesday of the month
Where: Post Office NE1
Formerly Newcastle Ruby (which was started in 2006). Talks about Ruby: apparently aims at newbies as well as advanced tech people. Pizza!
Twitter: @rubynortheast
Site: http://rubynortheast.com/

Drupal North East

When: last Wednesday of the month
Where: Salsa Cafe, Westgate Road
New but solid group (there are a number of Drupal devs and even Drupal shops in the North East) talking all things Drupal. Salsa Bar has cheap alcohol and good value food (note: the “light snack” options are only a light snack if you've been doing manual labour).
Twitter: @drupalne
Site: www.drupalnortheast.org.uk

Tyneside LinuxGroup

When: First Saturday (!) of the month
Where: Centre for Life
All things linuxey. I think they're very brave to have meetings on Saturday afternoons, but apparently they have a good turnout.
Site: http://www.tyneside.lug.org.uk

The Geekest Drink

When: a Friday night (varies, usually once every 2 months)
Where: a pub. Which one changes.
Rather than being about networking, the Geekest Drink is about geeks getting together and having beer. (Or whatever alcoholic or non-alcholic beverage takes your fancy). Usually has badges too.
Twitter: @geekestdrink
Site: http://thegeekestdrink.com

How to find other events.

Aside from word of mouth via Twitter, Lanyrd, Meetup, and Eventbrite are useful for finding out about local events. I also recommend looking at the UKUXEvents Calendar and, more locally, the calendar run by Makerspace (both Skeptics in the Pub and Bright Club sound interesting).

Know of any others? Let me know.

Programming Languages: Coldfusion, JS Server Frameworks and R at Supermondays

It was the old, the new and the obscure at tonight’s Supermondays. This was the second Supermondays talk on programming languages (the first was before my time in Newcastle), but this time around, rather than focus on everyday languages such as PHP and Ruby, it explored those that most programmers might have heard of but never had enough time to explore.

I shared an office in 2010 with a designer/Coldfusion developer (funnily enough, he had just moved over from England) who maintained that the language was very easy to use, despite it having falling out of popular favour that it had in the early 00s. (Back then it seemed like every other site on the web had the .cfm ending on it — and given that the only other real CMS option at that time was ASP, it probably did). That was one of the core themes of Stephen Moretti’s talk. As a Coldfusion veteran (he’s been using it since the mid 90s and developed some big sites on it), his favourite feature of it is its simplicity of code and wide feature set. In fact, he believes the biggest issue with Coldfusion is its features and ease of use … as it allows people to abuse it. (Even on Adobe’s site: he did notice Jeffery Zeldman’s recent complaints about Coldfusion and his adobe.com password).

It is a lot easier to run on servers now than it used to be, and developers get a free account, but the pricing of Coldfusion servers (£100 for a single install, £800 for big rollout) definitely means I won’t be playing with it any time soon. That said, it sounds as if there is still an active and helpful community, even if it is a small one.

One aside: I had to give Moretti credit for being a true Adobe evangelist as his slides were done in Adobe Presenter (and as he later explained, initialised using Coldfusion).

It's an Adobe fest! (Stephen Moretti on Coldfusion)

We also had two new kids on the block known as javascript programming frameworks: node.js (presented by Ian Oxley) and backbone.js (by Phillip Poots). From what I can gather, the two differ in that node.js actually works as a server, while backbone.js works in the browser along with jQuery. 

Out of the two, I’ve heard the most buzz about node.js, and it does seem exciting — run javascript without the document model! It also is light on the server, and is an easy transistion for front end developers used to writing javascript.

Ian Oxley on node.js

When asked about whether the page requests were parallel or serial, he came up with the vivid (and hilarous) answer:

“Node.js is like getting a coffee from Starbucks rather than getting a pint from the pub”.

(While this could be taken many ways — I couldn’t help but worry about the lack of quality that that metaphor implies node.js has, it was actually a metaphor for loading schedules. While node.js does process requests in serial, it’s able to push them through a distributed system to serve them up so is still very fast).

I hadn’t heard of backbone.js, but it has a lot of good mobile apps to its name (Soundcloud, LinkedIn, and 37 Signals to name a few), and unlike node.js works in the browser. This means that it only needs to pull JSON data from the server and is so very fast. (If you run it with HTML 5 you don’t even need a database either). 

Look ma, no kludge! (Phillip Poots on backbone.js)

He also argued that the code is amongst the cleanest javascript he’s ever seen.

[Edit: I'd originally misquoted Poots' as saying backbone.js was amongst the cleanest code he'd ever seen. Not only did he email me to clear up the confusion, he also explained how backbone.js pulls a lot of its structure from Ruby on Rails:

You will be hard-pressed to find cleaner code than Ruby, which is what I program in everyday. In fact CoffeeScript was invented so that JavaScript would look like Ruby  (The guy who wrote Backbone.js is also the author of CoffeeScript).

Thanks Phillip for the information, half of the fun of the internet is how languages and systems are related to each other!]

The surprise of the evening for me was R. Never heard of it? I sure hadn’t (and was with most of the crowd on that one). As Colin Gillespe of Newcastle University explained, R is the de-facto language for data analysis.


The best thing about R is that it was developed by statisticians. The worst thing is that it was developed by statisticians. 

Bo Cowgill, Google.

While it’s been around since 1995, it’s been slowly gaining traction in the academic world as using open source products have become more acceptable.appealing, and is now used by big companies such as Shell, Google, Lloyds, and Facebook (Remember that Facebook mapping of connections? R.)

Because it’s highly specialised, it’s possible to create graphs with only a few lines of code.

Plotting in R
Code in R
Plotting with R … and the code behind it “only five lines” (Colin Gillespe on R)

There are also thousands of package repositories (CRAN) available (it’s expected to hit 10,000 in 2015), and, most excitingly, an easy connection to GoogleVis tools. (It is a pity that they couldn't put some of the Googlevis love on their own website — if you're a designer, ignore the bad feeling the site gives you!)

So, while this was definitely in the developer end of the Supermondays spectrum (and a little over my head at times), I'm glad I went along to find out more about languages I'd only heard — or not even heard — about. I now understand what the buzz is around these JS server frameworks, and were I not an incredibly broke student would be highly tempted by the R courses that Gillespe shamelessy promoted.

Notes from Improv: Week Three

Tonight's improv was all about trust, non-verbal communication and being able to quickly take on a changing dynamic. In other words, a lot of the stuff that people associate with improv.

We started off with trust activities such as leading and being led around the room with our eyes closed. As the leading was done with words and there were a lot of people to bump into, this was pretty nerve-wracking for a lot of people, and also a good sign about how easy it was to get disorientated. We also had games about

One wonderful game we played was Scupltor, Model, Clay, where three people play the parts of yes, model, scupltor, and clay. The model stands behind the clay and assumes a random position, and the sculptor has to attempt to 'mould' the clay to perfectly mimick the model. It sounds easy and is fun in terms of the large movements, but can be fiendishly difficult when it comes to indicating things like finger positions (and positions that the clay can't see such as hands behind their head or mouth movements are particularly hard). One of the participants pointed out that it serves as a good analogy to improv where you might have a wonderful idea, but can't communicate it.

We played around with this more with the Beep Game (think about how you train a dolphin using beeps and you have it), and giving offers of physical poses and coming up with situations for them.

We finished up “classic” situation improv through the wonderfully named Morman Tabernacle Game (or so it's apparently called, I have found no references for such a name and weren't given any by out tutor. I think it's because it, like the Big Love Morman, picks up extra partners). You start off with one person and slowly add more through freezes where the new person bringing in a new situation based on the body poses.

This is the third session, and while anyone can come in at any times, they are staggered in terms of difficulty. This has been the first time we've done true improv (or nearly true: we've been told to not try and be funny), and here one's ability to give in to the moment and run with it comes through the most. In other words, I'm not very good. Yet.

After the session, I was chatting with one of my design colleagues who came along, and he pointed out that the concepts of improv — make the other person look good, be in the moment and able to change — are pretty much central to design, but something that we don't explictly address. It's true, while I get everything that's being told to me, putting it into practice is a whole other matter. (On that note, I came across a fantastic article about how improv can help your career, which is worth a read, and was pointed to the Applied Improv network which is free to join).

Improv: Notes from Week Two

One week later, and sadly with none of my colleagues in tow (pikers!) it was time for improv again. This week’s session was based around being aware of others on a stage, and being able to act off whatever is happening even when there isn’t a specified leader..

To start off, we did a series of exercises of naming and then imagining things. This started off easy (point and name) and got harder (name the object one point back, and then name it anything but the thing you’re pointing at). People found that when it came to making things up, they fell into habits of making lists (toothbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush holder…) or just working off what they heard other people say around them (there was a ripple effect of objects being named ‘elephant’ for example).

We were also given a series of call and response exercises with random words, such as picking imaginary things up, and having words thrown at you and having to answer as soon as possible, without trying to be funny. People did struggle with this idea as they wanted to be funny rather than quick, but what came out was that responses could be funny, and often it came in the setup (pretty much asking anyone “shithole?” is going to get a funny answer). This idea of going with the flow and setting up someone else to look good has carried across both sessions and is perhaps one of the core fundamentals of improv along with the offer. (One experienced improv performer in the group did point out that he’d realised some of the random things he’d come up with such as ‘holograph’ would be wonderful to use as offers). People also played with different ways of generating imaginary objects, be it visualising something and pulling it out, or working from the shapes that your body made in the act of picking something up.

Another aspect of going with the flow we dealt with was learning to be aware of a wider group and react to and with it. We had to learn to start and stop as a group, as well as act out wider scenes. (I remember doing some of this stuff in high school drama classes, but had a very different take on it all back then). We got some hilarious frames.



Freeze frame exercises: bank heist (top — loved the dead person in particular), the last day of holiday (bottom)

We also did physical mirroring, where again the leader could change. This is the closest to contemporary dance we’ve ever got, and it did remind me of the work I saw dance students do, with learning to understand space and working with others. To add to the confusion, we had to compete with a jazz band downstairs. (And I was certainly aware of my lack of co-ordination).

We finished up with a verbal spin on this mirroring: where we had to pair (and later team) up and say things simultaneously, first with a defined leader, and later with no leader, only agreement. The latter had some bizarre results: “never look at the sky”, “you are a good looking woman” (to a pair of boys)? But the key of this was learning to lose control and go with whatever is given to you, specifically from letting the words emerge. 

This was far more group oriented than the first lesson, and did require wider awareness, and an ability to not think too far ahead: when you have a group of 15 people milling around, pretty much anything can happen. As a designer, this did make me think of our work: when you're co-creating, you need to be able to go with pretty much whatever happens and alternate between leading and following.

Startups and Gangsters: Refresh Edinburgh

When Kiwis talk about travelling, we use the term “overseas”, since for us, every trip out of our homeland involves a minimum three hour plane flight over seas. So, here in England, I still find it a buzz that I can jump on a train and be in another country. Last week I headed up to Edinburgh for their take on UX Bookclub (more on that later), and found out that there was another evening event going on that I could see before heading back home across the Scottish border home!

Refresh Edinburgh is a tech meetup community that has get togethers every month, and talks every three. Set in the very jazzy Voodoo Rooms (I mean jazzy in a cool underground kinda way) the theme of the night was learnings from local startups, with candid and entertaining talks from Colin Hewitt and Philip Roberts of cashflow forecasting app Float, and Sam Collins and John Sutherland of Bloop and Eventasaurus .

Float: Communication and Being Clicky

Float started from the Hewitt’s personal need to manage their finances. While he loved the “this is amazing” (and Toon-based) Free Agent, he still needed spreadsheets for projecting, so began Float.

He gave a number of tips of things to check when in a startup:

  • Validating assumptions — make sure your solution eases the pain. Float got a head start as Freeagent directed customers to them, but they still needed to make sure that people actually did what they needed.
  • These barriers are staggered do people like it, then will people pay for it? Float just got to the second stage (paying customers) in August
  • … And people can fail to get over the barriers for a number of reasons: they don’t get it (not getting enough out of their visit), don’t trust the site(perception of being secure etc), price, forget to return back, they’re too busy, confused by the features …
  • However, when you have limited resources, you have to prioritize while barriers you deal with.
    Hewitt raves about analytics tool Clicky (“the click is like someone going into a shop!”) — it uses sounds and visuals to make statistics meaningful. (Come to think of it, this might be one of the most practical examples of ambient interfaces I've heard).
  • Use various methods for constant communication, and find ways to be proactive, not just reactive. Yes, it is huge for one person to do, but there are ways to do it, again by prioritising.

Developer Phil talked about his perspective on being in the company. He considers himself a typical introverted developer but has loved doing customer support. And learned the following things:

  1. Customer support: helping people, has been fun. Some have bought since CS is so good!
  2. Asking for money: feels hard to do but people will usually pay when asked!


He suggests the key things to know when getting involved with a startup are:

  • It’s key (but hard!) to stay on course,
  • it truly is a rollercoaster (sometimes scary, sometimes awesome).

Bloop/Eventasaurus: Lean UX and Being a Gangster

The Eventasaurus team talked about some of the tensions that you deal with as digital craftspeople working in a Lean UX space. It is hard to deal with having to just get things out there when you want them to be perfect.

They also talked about failure: while Europe (more so than Europe) is critical of failure, and projects that don’t work can seem like an utter blow to one’s confidence, once you get a successful product, all the previous failures are just written off as practice. So don’t despair!

My favourite idea was that you have to be a gangster to work in the startup world I.e. Don’t follow the rules because there are none.

For example: press. The adage that “build a better mousetrap and they will come” is still false, even in the web age: while we’d like to think that journalists write about work based on its quality alone, they’re likely to focus on people they know and like. (One of my favourite social network bloggers Laura Roder has talked about this, and this was one of the stinks being kicked up by the recent TechCrunch/Crunchfund story). Sutherland told us that (I’ll admit I did spy a lot of dry humour here) that he got press coverage for Eventasaurus by sneakily getting to know a prominent journo and then later dropping the information about the product that he was working on.

Similarly, when it comes to the somewhat unsavoury prospect of spamming your users to encourage them to share, not only do you have to do it (once they started doing it they — surprise! — Got more users), you also need to tip the scales in your favour to make it as easy as possible for people to share information about your site, with tweet buttons, liking, and so on. (There was also a fascinating study of calls to action on this).

As with Float, tracking came out as being important (they use Mixpanel) as well as tracking errors.
We also know that being in a startup is a journey, but anyone who points out that it is a truly excellent (or bogus?) one deserves kudos.

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
It's Neo, but not as we know it 

I sadly wasn’t able to catch the Q&A that happened after the talks, but hear that it was equally enlightening.

Improv: Notes from my First Class

Last night I went to my first improv class. The group of around fifteen people ranged from experienced to the totally green. My two PhD colleagues and I were in the latter.

I’ve wanted to get into improv for a long time. Back in NZ one of my fellow UXers had done several classes and found it not only fun but useful in everyday life. I was on the point of doing classes in Auckland but then moved to the UK. I had initially thought that there was nothing similar in Newcastle, but finally found the classes at The Mixer Jesmond. (I thought this was new, but I was wrong: these had been happening for a while at The People’s Theatre, and the town boasts its own improv-comedy troupe The Suggestibles).

The fundamental concept of improv is the offer — one person offers something to another (be it a phrase or a prop), and the other has to take it. The offer requires performers to be focused and aware of others, something were were taught with a game where you have to ‘throw’ a clap to others (it’s harder than it sounds).

An offer can be accepted or blocked. We did games with this where we either always accepted an offer (e.g. Over the top excitement at whatever imaginary object was given to us) or blocked it (flatly denying that the object given to us was what it was). As you might guess, accepting helps move the action along than blocking, but what’s also interesting is the energy: excitement is infectious, while blocking can either be a real downer or have its own strange form of energy (depending on how you play it).

I found the verbal games, such as expanding on stories and playing expert, fairly easy. (I’d argue design school teaches to just go with something, and working as an interaction designer forces you to know how to sound like an expert.) One really interesting point that came out from some of the games was to go for the obvious (such as the ‘feather duster javelin’ expert’s “when you throw it in the air it cleans”) rather than the funny, and that ludicrous statements can sound even more convincing than plausible ones depending on how authoritative you sound.

The other element that we played a lot with was the physical aspects of improv: passing random objects to each other, acting like various things, taking on the role of an interviewer or audience. I’ve never been great at physical acting (or anything involving co-ordination), and my colleagues admitted to similar issues. It’s interesting to imagine the weight of the pretend giant peach that someone has given you, or the invisible door handle you’re supposed to turn. (Hubert Dreyfus has spoken about studies that show people can imagine a door handle and get their hand into approximately the right shape, but it’s not as close to the shape their hand makes just before a real one). As someone who’s looking into the way designers understand touch, it was a reminder that there are elements of it (namely prioperception) that I’m not too great at.

Still, if there was one overall theme, it was that there is no right or wrong in improv, only mistakes that can either just make you start again (the way to do it is to put your hands up and just say ‘Again!’) or run with. This is the first class of six, and I can’t wait to see what the other sessions hold.

SuperMondays: Games – The State of Play

If you follow the news in technology, you'll have seen that games (and specifically gamification) is a big thing right now. This month Supermondays (or Super MonTuesdays thanks to the Monday Bank Holiday) took the subject head-on with talks from various angles in the industry, ranging from Java-based gladiator cricket games, to running games at conferences.

[EDIT: Videos are now available on the Supermondays blog, who also link back to me … careful! Don't cross the streams!]

Gladiator Kricket — Andy Banks

Gladiator Kricket — Really!

Real life Gladiator Kricket. Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

If there was one thing to be taken from Andy Banks’ talk on Foof Production’s Gladiator Cricket game, it’s that taking the plunge may get you far farther than you ever dreamed. Fed up with the expensive (and hokey) mobile games that their kids downloaded, Banks and friend John Carnell decided to start creating mobile games. Their initial idea, Gladiator Cricket (yes, it really is gladiators playing cricket), went through a winding but ultimately rewarding process (they pitched to Durham Cricket club, who were interested but ran out of money during the initial development time, then had the luck of their India-based developer sitting at a networking dinner next to a high-up person in Disney India, who was, yes, looking for a cricket java based game).

Banks also talked about some of the challenges they’ve faced in a foreign market (Indian networks demand 75% of all download fees, astoundingly higher than the worldwide 27%), knockoffs (unfortunately Java isn’t very secure, so they know that over 40,000 copies have been downloaded from clone sites), as well as outsourcing developers (while the team had a bad experience with a South Korean company, the current one in India has been great for them, though they recommend vetting thoroughly).

Banks also brought up a wonderful rule of (literal) thumb — their game has apparently received great reviews from mobile gaming magazines because you can play it one-handed on a bumpy bus ride while you use the other hand to hold the handrail. 

For Play, lessons learnt from years of hard practice — Jeremiah Alexander

Jeremiah Alexander

Demonstrating some of the details of the every1speaks game

Jeremiah Alexander of Ideonic talked the concept of gaming and how it relates to gamification, as well as the work his company has done in the field.

  • Gaming is about … pleasure and pain.
    Above all, what you want to achieve is achievement giving pleasure, and not achieving (or not playing) some form of pain. One example of this was the game playf.es that Ideonic ran at two conferences. Part of the fun of the game was secrecy (they never officially announced it at any conference, so the pain for attendees was realising they were missing out), also later tangible rewards (badges etc).
  • The Law of Attachment — the more/time effort you've put in defines pleasure or pain.
    The more difficult it is to achieve a certain level, the more attached a person is if they gain it (or lose it). Their school game Every1speaks needed to encourage students to keep on playing, so points were given for being social and connecting. This later gave students certain privileges about how they could have input in school events and issues, so became more attractive to obtain.
  • Toys, Games and Doing It : they're all different.
    Alexander was pointed that many things described as games or game-like are actually just toys as they don’t have game rules associated with them. One example is the Fun Theory piano stairs — while it seems like a game, it isn’t really one unless you’re challenged to play a specific song or similar (which would turn it into musical hopscotch, come to think of it).
    That said, it doesn’t take much to turn something into a game, as the game mechanic just has to be a verb (running, moving, clicking, tweeting), in other words any word that you can put an -ing on can become a game mechanic.

To sum up: Reward + engagement + challenge = games

He finished up with a word of warning on those who’d like to ‘gamify’ one of their business offerings: don't gamify a boring process, strip it back to basics then consider very carefully how you might be able to add game mechanics to it.

The Future of the Gaming Industry — Andrew Willians

Third Time's the Charm, or something like that.

We have seen the future. And it has a lot of threes.

Andrew Willians of Ubisoft Reflections brought the big game angle to the evening (I had to Google what AAA game meant, to find out that depending on who you read, it’s apparently either the triple threat of being cutting edge, innovative, and expensive … or just the gaming equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster) with a combination of cynical and hopeful thoughts about the state of the industry.

  • This year’s Christmas Game Selection: Brought to you by the number 3.
     Willians noted a frustrating trend in AAA software titles — many of the highly anticipated titles for this Christmas also had a 3 tacked on the end. This can be frustrating as (again, like Hollywood films), it suggests the industry is busy keeping franchises going rather than innovating.
  • … Or the number infinity.
    Annual updates to franchises like FIFA (now on the 11 edition) may not bring anything new to the genre or platform, but help companies fund their new work.
  • The new guns and game releases took extra time to develop? Yeah right.
    One of the big issues that franchises have to deal with is keeping communities engaged between the annual releases, so the extra guns and paid unlocks staggered out can help retain interest. ( Willians was asked if this was fair, given players had already paid for the game. He felt they weren’t as objects such as guns are usually optional, though you may be pressured into buying it if you’re playing with your friends, and the money paid for the unlocks is an exchange for having to spend hours aiming at shooting a characters helmet or similar. I did think of the Oatmeal comic on gaming as a grownup here).
  • New franchises are often developed for new IPs to help franchise the latter. 
    New platforms require titles to encourage use — and often have different ways of playing. Examples of this include Angry Birds , Minecraft, Farmville, and CoverOrange.
  • A successful ‘simple’ game may still require a reasonably sized team to make. 
    Games like Angry Birds may appear deceptively simple, but a lot of work has gone into the quality of the experience. Many of what seem like simple games have large development team credits. So if you think you can make a simple iPhone game yourself that is a runaway hit, you may be in for a shock.
  • The Apple market is saturated with clones. 
    For every Angry Birds there is an Angry Farm. Again, just don’t do it. (The Android market isn’t so bad).
  • Mobile does not have to be cartoon. 
    The flipside of the success of games like Angry Birds is the assumption that mobile game need to be vector cartoons. The platform is highly capable of advanced graphics, and there are in fact a number of games with amazing rendering and effects.
  • It's all about balance.
    Balancing money (franchise releases) and inspiration (original ideas) can be key to both keeping game design teams sane and also helping the company. Double Fine Productions' “Amnesia Fortnight” where they made the most of time after a project ended by splitting the company up into four teams to come up with innovative game ideas, has been seen as an initiative that reinvigorated the company and also arguably saved the industry. While those involved with large game corporations don’t get much say on new ideas, it does suggest that allowing time for new ideas can help keep company morale and reputation in the market.

I had to snap the picture of the so-called pipeline. Who can't relate to this one?

Pipecurve … I mean pipe line. If you were really drunk. Or working on a project.

The course of projects, like love, never run smooth.

The night was also an unusually interactive one (perhaps taking from the spirit of the night), with calls to the floor about future topics people wanted to hear about. They ranged from Arduino to making money from ioS apps, so it looks as if the next year is going to be an interesting set of SuperMondays!