Games for Health, morning

Today, I am at the Games for Health day in Seattle at the Hotel Deca on 45th and Brooklyn. I have a meeting early afternoon so will have to miss part of it, but here’s my relatively raw notes from this morning, at least. I might be able to make it back later this afternoon…

Before the conference I went to Tully’s which is connected to Hotel Deca’s lobby. While there, I saw a guy I coulda sworn I met before. But I just smiled and checked email and whatnot. πŸ˜›

When registration started, I went to the registration area and got my name card and saw the same guy sitting in a chair, so I introduced myself and said he looked familiar. We couldn’t figure out where from and thought maybe we had never met. Ah well… now we’ve met. Ted Howard at XNA Game Platform Extensions/Microsoft. πŸ™‚

While talking with him, this guy came up to me and said, “you look like someone who knows a lot about computers; you look like a tech guy,” which of course made me immediately think, ok, is it because I’m Asian or what??

Start time 9:20
Ben Sawyer gave the intro: Why Games for Health?

  • Gamers rejected streaming video 10 years ago, yet the games for health and education market still produces this type of stuff.
  • Four things feed into games for health: research, audience (gamers), web 2.0 (social networking stuff), and industry (trad simulations)
  • Two sides of games for health: personal treatment and professional practice

Ben and some U of Central Florida folk have done a serious games (and a games for health) taxonomy. Looks nice. Will check later if there is a version on the web. My initial search turned up nothing but mentions.

Some archives of previous presentations including Ben’s brief summary (ppt)

Something Ben said was that there is no mass game audience, just a mass audience of gamers. IE, stuff like 25 million people watching the same thing doesn’t exist, but the aggregate is important. I sort of disagree in that tons of people are playing the same game, but each instance is slightly different but they have a shared experience. (instances of watcher-movie are unique, too?) I feel connected to the mass of Japanese gamers who played Dragon Quest VIII for example. I would feel connected to the mass of Final Fantasy fans if I played FFXII, etc.

Also striking is that some ephemeral web games that last a minute can sometimes get millions of players, even if it’s just for a minute. Entryway into the meme stream? Can memes be an entryway to sustainable game design projects because by establishing a meme, does that mean you’re “known?”

Bad games happen in non-game industries all the time due to fundamental design errors. We’d like to see bad games be bad not for these reasons, so we need to get an understanding of fundamental game design. In other words, get *game* designers involved with projects. Five years ago, I would’ve said you have to pair a game designer with a content developer, but I wonder if in the future they will be more and more the same person since more and more people will be gamers…

Ben also announced the winners of the 1st annual Games for Health competition and presented a big ass check to the CEO of Morphonix the winner of the prototype category with Neuromatrix.

Ellen Lapoint of HopeLab announced Ruckus Nation (which is co-sponsored by Pioneer Portfolio), a public health event/competition–present an idea for products that will motivate middle school kids to become more physically active. [maybe I should think about some sort of activity that involves Web 2.0 stuff? registration due Oct, submissions due Nov]

She then introduced Dave Warhol of Realtime Associates: Designing Games for Health

Dave showed us:

  • Re-Mission-a cancer-themed shooter which has been shown to improve teen compliance with treatment–nice graphics!
  • Cool School-a Flash cartoony conflict resolution game for k-2–I gotta wonder if it is effective. Kids are rewarded for correct answers, and they seem motivated to get it right…
  • Ace’s Adventure-with USF hospital-preventative game about traffic safety and other modules about safety and preventable accidents and such–collect as much homework pages as possible while passing mini-games for events (like crossing the street, driveways and such)–I thought about a traffic game for driving using Mafia or GTA… kinda ironic. πŸ™‚

Some take-aways:

  • “Trojan Horse” design=create a game and embed content rather than create game around content.
  • Design using metaphors since literal isn’t always optimal.
  • Their design team was subject matter experts giving the info off to design team. This is how we did stuff at OMSI. Don’t need to have subject matter experts pass game mechanics specs down, but again maybe in the future that’ll happen alright. Or is it that game design experts will always trump other experts in terms of game design knowledge?
  • Once in production, changes matter.
  • Get an expert (5-10% of budget) to assess design work to make sure they are meeting your needs.
  • Takes more than being a game developer, but the developer needs to have an interest in this space to make it worthwhile.
  • If a game for health can save 5% of a billion dollar issue, it’s well worth spending $10 million on it.

PopCap Games-Greg Canessa

My question is, how does someone get a job with them? πŸ™‚

Greg presented a lot of stats from customer surveys. Basically another data point documenting that casual games are on the rise. The idea that they compete with TV is not necessarily true since multitasking could be happening. Attention economy–how much attention counts as “devotion?”

Majority of PopCap games isn’t web games but downloadable ones. The web games advertise the downloadable ones. Mostly done with Flash. Flash executables… neat.

Literally over 1500 different builds of Bejeweled out there for all the crazy cell phones. The mobile market is like the wild, wild west. If and when the market breaks through to the cell phone space it’ll be huge; people are doing it just for the hope of the break in the future. Companies in India and elsewhere (Dublin handles PopCap’s mobile stuff) are doing ports of games. Ports run from $200k to $1 million. PC runs about $750k, Xbox about $250k. Usually opt to not port to all phones or all carriers.

They spend 6, 12, 18 months on a game’s mechanic before even dressing it up. Sometimes they ditch the game if it just doesn’t work. They have the luxury of doing this because of their position inthe market, but they stay there because the spend so much time polishing the mechanics. The content then can be layered ontop of the underlying game mechanic.

The focus on making fun games, not so much on the health benefits to their games but are open to partnerships and such.

Jerry Heneghan
with Virtual Heroes

  • America’s Army and other “role-playing” simulation games. Included a few first responder scenarios in AA and a kid actually save his older brother from learning what to do in AA.
  • A new product called HumanSim for healthcare training and simulation is coming out soon. Case-based scenarios, real-time physiological responses, etc.
  • another game on how to manage and communicate during healthcare procedures for organizations to lessen the chance of mishaps.

People I met:

  • Ted Howard at XNA/Microsoft
  • Claudia Linh at Starlight Starbright from LA
  • John Flowers at VIP Properties (wants some engineer to help develop a game/external hardware thingie for stock options–the guy who just assumed I knew computers.)
  • Elizabeth (Liz) Bacon of Devise from Portland doing a medical home game thingie to make doing regimen engaging (they do design and development consulting work)
  • Janna Kimel at Intel in their Digital Health Group [thanks Liz for the correction!]
  • Dessa Dal Porto with–they’re hosting a $5k games-that-matter competition
  • Karen Michaelson with tincan from Spokane–did anthropology and wants to talk about research on collaboration in games

3 thoughts on “Games for Health, morning”

  1. Hi Mark! It was cool meeting you at Games for Health. It’s fascinating to read your take on the event! Having just discovered this intersection of two worlds, it looks to me that health & games are still in the early phases of coming together and establishing common ground. And something you said, about whether the game designer & content developer will eventually merge…I think it’s likely to go the opposite direction. Even though health-oriented folks may have increasing personal experience with games, that doesn’t equate to each of them becoming a designer. There’s an art and science to design, even though it’s true that in some ways all of us create solutions to problems we encounter. Games especially are an intensely technical undertaking. Similarly, medical professionals & health researchers & educators are all incredibly technically informed in their arenas. Why should people have to push their expertise out into the other realms? It seems more fruitful to come together, and synergize these elements to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

    A quick correction…I’m indeed the CDO of Devise, which is a design & development consultancy. My cofounder Mike McAulay and I are very interested to do innovative work at the intersection of healthcare & games which we hardly dared imagine was possible. But I attended the conference with Janna Kimel, who works at Intel in their Digital Health Group. She’s doing exciting top-secret stuff that we can hardly speculate about but I think you have a good guess! πŸ˜‰


  2. FWIW, I’ve gotten the “I could tell you’re a computer person” a few times. Someone I was sitting next to on a plane once asked me I knew how to fix a problem he was having with his laptop (and, yes, I did know how to fix it).

    BTW sorry about the “chinese gold farmer” crack last month… I still feel bad about that.

  3. Luckily, I don’t really remember it, so don’t sweat it Aaron! πŸ˜›
    And it was me who asked for blur correction software on your LiveJournal…

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