Gaming the Book

12/14/2010

Looking at books through the digital looking glass

We know that people are open to discovering new forms of content publishing. Take books for example. In Japan, people are devouring books in the form of cell phone novels: novels that are created on cell phones simply by stringing together text messages. Looking in the App store, one can find 23,000 e-books. The projected market by 2018 for e-books is estimated to be $9.6 billion. Interactivity with books and e-books is also on the upward trend.  For example, the iPad version of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice for the iPad, allows users to tilt the device and watch Alice shrink or grow. Other titles allow parents to record their voices reading to their children, while digi-novels feature video clips that supplement or replace bits of text. Textbooks, too, are becoming interactive, with 3-D clips of a DNA molecule. Book apps are also making strides, especially in the children’s book and the comic book genre.

Courtesy of Flickr's Thyago - SORG|FX

Courtesy of Flickr’s Thyago – SORG|FX

Why does this interest me as a game designer (and might interest you as well)? I’ve recently come across articles or have had lengthy discussion with other game developers about whether or not books will cease to be just books in the future.

To cite an article by Alix Christie and Ludwig Siegle for the Economist, they say that while 2010 was the year of e-readers and tablet computers, 2011 will be the year that books will just become apps. They argue that technology is making the shift inevitable. While I would agree with them, I’d like to add to their argument and go a step further to say that books will become games; games that are played by like-minded people, some of who are the reader’s/player’s real world friends. I see the instructional, motivational and self-help genre of books making the leap to becoming book-games (we’ll have to coin a term for it soon) first.  I think that books that may help readers modify behaviours, teach something or serve as motivational materials lend themselves to socialization.

Ayogo has already made a game that straddles the boundary between book and game. Our HealthSeeker Facebook game takes content that would normally be presented in a booklet handed to patients and re-imagines it as an interactive, social program for individual achievement and engagement in a healthier life. All of the content was written by professional authors and nutritionists from the Joslin Diabetes Center at the Harvard Medical School. Ayogo was approached specifically to take information that had been presented in many documentary forms and turn it into a fun, social, interactive format: a game. Since the launch of HealthSeeker, we have been working to generalize this practice to any informational resource or program. We call this customizable, generalized game engine the “Goodlife Engine.”

To show how this engine could be further applied, we could take an example of a book that helps to run a small business. It could be played with others all over the world who are also running small businesses and the game could connect those on social networks and smartphones, in essence, to an interactive workbook that players could access online at any time. Business owners could compete to be on top of leaderboards within the game, they could get rewards for achieving certain sales and grow their business by creating new revenue channels through adding their products as part of a virtual gifts marketplace.

As game designers, we’re in the business of socialization. It’s easy to imagine the act of recommending a book and having the idea stick and spread much more effectively in a socialized environment. This notion of socialization is also aligned with Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s most recent messages. He seems to be convinced that every industry is going to be rethought in a social way. Why should content creators care?  First and foremost, because interactivity and social play are powerful pedagogic tools. Consider how business schools teach through case studies. Consider how the military instructs soldiers through war games. In addition, having a social layer allows authors and rights holders to build a bi-drectional relationship with their readers. They can obtain important player/reader data, they can monetize the book through in-game advertisements, offers and virtual goods and get the message out to massive audiences.

Based on our expertise in the psychology of game design, we know that games and play can help motivate the engagement of the reader, spread ideas both broadly and quickly (the so-called “viral meme”). Great game designers understand why a player would invite a friend to participate or recommend an idea to a friend. We believe this points the way to a new energy (and new revenue) for book authors and distributors – after all, few technologies are as information-rich, and as familiar across all demographics, as the book. What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. You can email me at michael [at] ayogo [dot] com.