Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Best Second Screen Experiences Will Be Social

Second screen, sometimes also referred to as “companion apps”, is a term that refers to a tablet or smartphone that allows a television viewer to interact with the content they are watching, such as TV shows, movies, music, or video games. Extra content is displayed on the second device and synchronized with the content being viewed on the television.
In the past decade the focus of interactive television has been on adding additional content and overlays to the television screen but these experiences largely fail because they clutter the viewing experience for all viewers.  However use of the second screen while watching television is exploding.

  • Nearly 40% of Super Bowl XLVII viewers used a second screen.  
  • The success of NBC’s The Voice has been largely attributed to strong social integration on the second screen.  
  • There is currently no app that has taken second screen mainstream, although Zeebox and GetGlue have the potential. 

Second screen is the next huge social opportunity - within two years we will see the evolution of the Facebook of second screen.  Why?  Because we all love to talk about what we are watching/playing on television.  The app that can nail this space by providing a social, second screen platform for all television viewing, could threaten the likes of Facebook and Twitter, never-mind further disrupt revenue models for TV/Cable.
You could make an argument that Facebook branch out their platform by building a second app, specifically for second screen social TV.  They could get their pretty quickly by acquiring someone like GetGlue, and integrating their TV checkins and data with Facebook’s chat, likes and product pages.  Consider that an MVP for Facebook Social TV.  From there they could bring additional value by doing things like building Facebook profile timelines for TV show and movie characters, power live voting and of course offer a highly targeted ad opportunity for sponsors.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Announcing Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV


If rumors are true, Amazon will release a Kindle phone this year.  I believe they will, and while this is a great and natural move for the Kindle platform, I don't believe it's the best move.

Apple won the smartphone game.  They took a lion's share of the loot for being first and best to market.  Microsoft and Google lost.  What's left is mobile for the masses: capturing low margins at scale.  And that's Amazon's game, so they don't need to run to that bounty, they can walk, because it's theirs.  This will be a mass retail game and no one else is positioned to exploit it better than Amazon.

The next big win in the app ecosystem will be in the disruption that is coming to TV and cable.  And here, Amazon is positioned, like Apple, to take the big prize, to be first.   The better priority for Amazon this year would be to release the Kindle Fire HDTV.

Here's why.

Amazon Instant Video.  Amazon already has a business for providing Movies and TV shows to consumers.  The logical next step is to own the  living room platform.

Amazon AppStore and Game Circle. Amazon has a growing app ecosystem and is building more and more services to make it easier for developers to build compelling apps and games.  In order to grow that ecosystem they need the living room platform.

AWS.  Amazon owns THE infrastructure needed to scale to the demands of online video and game content for the large screen format.  They have a competitive edge in backend infrastructure, expertise and cost.

Audience. Amazon has the mom audience.  Moms make 80% of purchasing decisions in the household and watch a ton of TV.  They can leverage the mom audience on Amazon.com to market and sell to moms around the world.

The fake press release would go something like this . . .

SEATTLE, WA (November, 10th) - Announcing Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV.  A 42", sleek black Kindle Fire that can be controlled by an app on your Android Kindle Fire (tablet) or Android phone.   Access Amazon Instant Video, or fire up the Appstore on the big screen to launch games and rich interactive media apps from HBO, ESPN, CBS.  Are you a fan of Breaking Bad?  Purchase the Breaking Bad app to get access to all episodes, web episodes, and sign up for Breaking Bad related alerts.

Using the latest Game Circle features, games like Angry Birds can be played on Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV, controlled by handheld Kindles.  A group of friends can play Angry Birds, each controlling their turn from their own device, logging their stats to their Game Circle account.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV will recognize Amazon Video accounts from nearby Kindle devices, allowing friends to play their Amazon Videos at a friend's house.  Playing your Amazon Video purchase on another Amazon Kindle HDTV account will cost an additional $1 per new account.  This will allow Amazon Video to compete with piracy, by providing an easy way to share content while monetizing group viewings.

All Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV purchases come with 1yr of Prime membership.  Giving instant access to free movies and TV shows, as well as free 2 day shipping on Amazon purchases.  The Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV can be easily set up to display alerts for sale items on Amazon.com and MYHABIT right as they come available.

Your Amazon Cloud Drive account is linked to your Kindle Fire HDTV so you will have access to music, photos, home videos and more.  Play your favorite  MP3s while running a slideshow of your photos.

Chances are the Amazon Kindle Fire HDTV announcement won't happen this year.     I'm betting what we'll see instead is Amazon Kindle phone and that Apple, not Amazon, will be the one to disrupt the Cable/TV industry this year with a super sized iPad, and once again, take the big loot.   And maybe that's Amazon's  plan - to let Apple plow the landscape for them.  Bezos is obviously much smarter than I am.

The Sony Walkman was replaced by the iPod.  Nikon and Canon are being replaced by the iPhone.  The XBOX and Samsung TV will be replaced by the iPad's much larger, much smarter cousin ... and it will be awesome for consumers and developers alike.  Whether it's Apple or Amazon, I hope to buy one this year.

Friday, April 19, 2013

World of Tanks: New Maps, New Battles, New Stats

World of Tanks is a multi-player online game developed by Belarusian company Wargaming.net. The game, which recently turned 2 years old, features mid-20th century era armored fighting vehicles.  The focus is on player vs. player game-play with each player controlling a single tank or armored vehicle, with crews that accrue skills as you win more battles.

The game is an absolute blast to play. What makes is such a great mutli-player game is that the battles are short. You can hop on at night for just 15 minutes to play a one or two battles instead of devoting the three+ hours a night that games like World of Warcraft and Eve Online require. You can customize your tanks, as well as your crew proficiencies and tech up to more powerful tanks over time.

While WoT is a great game, it does become a grind after awhile.  The reason is because the game designers at Wargaming.net are not capitalizing on all the assets that come with WW2 era tank battles and the community attracted to that genre. While some of the tanks in WoT pre-date or post-date WW2, the bulk of the vehicles are WW2 tanks with meticulous detail for authenticity, including depictions and names of crew members and camouflage choices.



What is needed to take this game up a notch is more WW2 era theme, history and atmosphere.

Historical Battle Mode

When I first started playing the game I imagined that there would be game modes that recreated famous battles and match-ups from WW2.  Like the Germans vs. the Soviets, the Panther vs. the T-34 and the hypothetical 1945-46 match-up between the US and Soviet heavies. But there are only two battle modes in WoT: encounter or assault, and those are simply differences in victory conditions. What WoT needs is a battle option that recreates history, and extends the authenticity they've already built into other aspects of the game. What I'd like to see is a new themed battle mode that featured a different historical or "what-if" battle each month where players must choose from a limited set of tanks and nations to participate. Consider some of the possibilities:


  • Battle of Kursk - a historic battle (the largest tank battle of WW2) where players must pick to play as the Germans or Russians, and select from the tanks available at that battle.
  • Operation Unthinkable - a "what-if" battle, originally planned by Churchill in 1945, between the Western allies, and the Soviets in 1945.  This battle would include high tier, late war and prototype tanks.
  • Blitzkrieg West and Blitzkrieg East - historical battles pitting the Germans against the French in 1940 or the Germans against the Russians in 1941.  Lower tier battles using early war tanks.
  • North Africa - historical battles representing mid-tier tank match-ups between the Germans and Americans, and the Germans and British. 
  • Battle of the Bulge - the famous German offensive against the Americans.
  • Battle for Manchuria - a "what-if" post WW2 high tier battle between the Soviets and Chinese.


Nation Stats

With a bit of balancing, these historical battles would add a lot of flavor to the game and freshen up old maps.   But what you'd also get out of these battles are stats.  Each nation and tank would have stats vs other nations and tanks, giving a more interesting, in-depth analysis of tanks across tiers and nations.  From that you'd have new player rankings by nation and tank (derived from Historical Battles), including badges and titles with historical significance.  For instance, you'd be able to determine which player deserves the Michael Wittman status in the form of a Knight's Cross earned for most kills in a Tiger I in WW2 era Historical Battles.


More Maps

With or without a new Historic Battle Mode, WoT needs new maps.  To date, updates to WoT have been focused on adding more and more tanks.  At this point the game offers hundreds of tanks and dozens of tech lines across six nations.  But the maps are growing old for the bulk of players who know them well enough to often be able to judge which team will win a battle based on how their team deploys in the first 20 seconds.  Historical Game mode could freshen up old maps with new tactics that would need to be developed given the unique set of available tanks.  But what's really needed is for WoT to shift focus on turning out tanks, and instead spend several updates on turning out a dozen more maps.

Of course the ideal scenario is a major v9.0 update (they are now on v8.4) that includes Historical Battle mode, nation stats and achievements, and new maps (some of which would represent the locations featured in the Historical Battles).  




Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Turntable.fm Gamifies Music - Genius!

First let me explain the model.

Turntable.fm is a social music listening site. Users create or join rooms, and each room has a music theme and seats for up to five active DJs who play music. A room can hold up to 200 people, and anyone in the room can vote the current song up or down. Enough down votes will skip the song and the next DJ in line will play.



When you like a song, the active DJ playing the song will earn DJ points. You can also fan a DJ to be notified whenever they start DJing. DJs can use their earned points to unlock new avatars.

If a DJ leaves an active seat, then someone else in the room can take that seat and play music for the room.

Rooms also feature a chat window.

OK so why is this genius?

Because it implements a social game mechanic in a meaningful, non-contrived manner (it's sticky) and does so in the music space (it's huge). Unlike several of the other new social music apps, Turntable translates the essential social dynamics of sharing music to the virtual space.

To say it another way: the creators of Turntable.fm understand that applying game mechanics to online social stream is more than just marrying badges to tasks. It's about translating engaging, useful social interactions and authentic status building into game mechanics.

Whether it's the girl who was known for those popular mix tapes that turned hundreds of kids onto new music, or the DJ in college who knew just what to play and when, that process involved a trade of music discovery and entertainment, for social status. I didn't discover the Pixies because of anything the Pixies did. I discovered the Pixies because of a mix tape I received from a guy known for his taste in new music. He is forever remembered for that.

Turntable.fm has successfully translated that social process of music discovery and DJ status building into the online space, while also providing the utility of an online music streaming service.

Since discovering Turntable.fm, I have had the site open in my browser nearly every minute I've been at my computer. In a matter of minutes Turntable.fm accomplished what Gmail and Facebook took years to accomplish.

This is killer! Consider the potential of Turntable.fm once it has an API and a mobile app.

Consider the possible next features:

  • Video streams of DJs.

  • DJ battles.

  • DJ teams.

  • Mixing tools for layering tracks and transitions to and from next in line DJs.

  • Branded rooms (clubs).

  • DJ points as currency for live venue billing, sponsored products, private clubs, virtual goods, unlockable tracks.

  • Replays.

  • Dancing avatars (points unlock different moves other than head bobbing).

You'll find me on Turntable in the Coding Soundtrack room.

--- UPDATE ---

Enhance your Turntable experience using Chrome and the following two apps. First, Turntable.fm Extended adds tags, suggested tracks and advanced settings. Second, Turntable.fm Playlist Manager adds a widget for managing playlists - essential for DJing.