Profit from the failures of engagement

April 22, 2007

Have you seen/played this?

If you haven’t, beware, it’s massively addictive and you’ll spend 20mins on each game. For a Flash app it’s stunning – goes to show that the game play is everything. More videos here.

I picked up the link of kottke a couple of weeks ago and had to ween myself off it. Evil I say, evil!

But the thing that really stood out was the game publishes the maze maps that you generate, so you can see how the players tried to win (oh – did I mention – winning is futile).

Each of the ‘defense’ weapon is represented by a coloured square, it’s upgrades noted as little orange dots. Simple.

This making of media from playing a game is fantastic. UGC? puh. The sheer volume of these graphics, although useless outside the context of Desktop Tower Defense (DTD), shows the mode of production: it indicates that the game is a machine, churning out more and more media to view. Different media. Beautiful abstractions of trying, achievement and failure. Media to learn from. Media to admire. Media without having to be conscious of making it. Media that has an audience generated from it’s fans. It’s different ot the plethora of video recordings of the game: these are simulations of the experience. The maps are the simulacra, all ready to be enjoyed for what they are.

So this is no different from any real life conflict, after all this is a real time strategy game, and the basis to play is to win. But with DTD, the playing is to see if you can maintain a balance between the incoming creeps and your strategy. From a zero sum strategy, a non-zero result emerges, fruitfully and relentlessly. Smart.

Now, compare to Playstation’s Home.

Constructing your own crib is a start. Yes, all very Second Life without the collaboration. And you’re limited to customisation instead of construction. But the trophy room is more interesting. Not visually. But the concept that the trophys are the output of the games – a kind of simulated garden of achievement. But it’s so ‘clean’. I want to share my fucks ups, learn from my mistakes. Such luxuries are the refinement of failures. Without them, the output of participation is too shallow to be engaging.

As UGC and online video take even more grip on the global marketing departments, and worry about losing control, and worry about selling more units of wares, more attention needs to be given to the ability to profit from the participation of fans. Tools, not content is fundamental to successful engagement. Even if it’s 1% of the audience, the glee of play is addictive to peers. Once you have that form of recommendation, then you unfold the game to include a greater degree of diversity which evolves the media production of the tools.

This is the Google way. Through their deployment of functions the media production swells, with demands more functions, and so the spiral widens. For anyone outside large data acquisition and analysis game, erm, that’s every brand shifting products, the focus must be on participation to develop the core of the business, that is transactions.

Bring marketing into core product development affords opportunities to enhance the diversity of transactions. This is going to bring fear to most brand managers, tracking for qual and quant becomes futile. It’s like looking at the molecules of a Seurat painting.

Of course we are all trying to avoid creating an indifferent audience. Brand ideals is a smart way to avoid this. But making something that makes other things as marketing – this is product development.

Flickr achieved this for Yahoo! Moo achieved this for flickr. But this is a narrowing of opportunities. Moo’s introduction of a card for any event is still reducing the affordances. Each of the cards has to create new media, not just new engagements.

If brand attention is desirable, then building tools that expand the languages of expression which open new transactional models that your competitors can also use, brings your commerce into relevancy. Open licences enable the conduit of relationships whilst allowing scale and growth. Listening to the outputs of inventions and not defining the intent of manufacturing sounds like a freefall approach, but until the audience exploits you, you have nothing in common..

One Response to “Profit from the failures of engagement”


  1. [...] other people have suffered from my obsession with various games over the years. But while reading Zero Influence I discovered the imminent arrival of Playstation 3’s Home. We seem to be coming close to a [...]


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