Serious Games

Yesterday (Thursday, March 29th) I attended Living Game Worlds III, a symposium held at Georgia Tech. The event was sponsored by the College of Computing’s GVU Center. This was all new information for me a total newbie to the gaming world. The keynote by Katie Salen, executive director for the Gamelab Institute of Play and associate professor at The New School for Design, was a fantastic introduction to the subject of game design which she described as a process of negotiation between the stakeholders; designer, publisher, content expert, and player. Throughout the event numerous websites and other resources were mentioned that will take me weeks to explore. Some of the more interesting includes Sugarscape, GamesForChange, and Social Impact Games. Katie discussed in some detail what she called the six layers of design; game engine, rules of the game, core mechanics, visual & audio, player, and context of play & dissemination.

The very best take away for me was an introduction to Second Life. The symposium was broadcast live to an audience inside Second Life, and at one point a presenter displayed the scene “in-world” where avatars were sitting in an amphitheater on benches watching the live presentations on a big screen. It was an amazing sight and at that moment the concept of these virtual worlds really hit home.

Joining Second Life has been on my “to do” list for a while now but seeing those avatars attending the symposium live pushed me over the edge. So yesterday at noon I signed up in Second Life, selected a name (Bubba Fride), and started learning the basics of moving, communicating, and generally getting along in the incredible virtual world of Second Life.

Mostly at this point I just stand around watching in amazement the richness of activities and interactions. I really want to understand the implications of this new technology and gain some insight into what it may mean for our future…from a social and business standpoint. The photo is of my avatar “Bubba Fride” watching the live symposium.

Back to the symposium…one thought that struck me as I listened to Katie Salen, the morning keynote…that game design has many similarities to business system design. Like games, business systems represent a negotiation between stakeholders; the developer, sponsor, end user, and sometimes domain expert. And like game designers the system developer attempts to constrain the end user so they move through a process of interacting with the system in a specific manner. Also much thought/effort is put into creating a good “experience” for the end user. And finally both games and business systems are highly abstracted versions of the actual system they are attempting to model.

So my two big “take aways” from the symposium were (1) finally getting involved in Second Life and (2) new insight into the relationships between game design and business systems design.

—Mike

Microsoft IT Leadership Summit

Last week (3/22/07) I attended Microsoft’s IT Leadership Summit held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel near the Galleria mall in Atlanta. This was a nice “executive level” event where they gave each attendee a black portfolio and a book, “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy.” Everything was very well organized with really good food (full breakfast and lunch). They even loaned each attendee an HP IPAQ during the event to access the agenda, check email, view the attendee list, and take surveys…pretty cool.

The summit consisted of morning and afternoon keynotes with breakout sessions in between. Sessions were a little too general for me but I suppose they were geared towards the C level types in which case they were probably OK. The last keynote was outstanding and gave me some eye opening insights.

The speaker was Laurie Orlov, a VP from Forrester Research. Her topic was on the strategic role of IT where IT organizations can be categorized into three types, solid utility, trusted supplier, and partner player.

The solid utility type of IT group basically keeps the lights on and costs down. In order to implement a new application this type of group will always hire outside resources including project management.

The trusted supplier type of IT group is expected to deliver the applications requested by business managers in addition to keeping the lights on. Trusted supplier types often rely on outside contractors/consultants in order to implement new applications but mostly handle project management internally.

The partner player is strategic. IT is expected to find opportunities to apply technology to the business in order to grow the top line. Skills & competencies necessary to implement new applications may or may not be available internally, but often are. Partner Players “lead” the overall organization into applying both existing and emerging technologies in new and innovative ways.

The CIO for solid utility and trusted supplier normally reports to the CFO. While the CIO for partner player typically reports directly to the CEO.

According to Laurie 45% of companies desire their IT organization to be the solid utility type, while 45% desire IT to be a trusted supplier. A mere 10% of companies want their IT group to be a partner player.

I guess it’s my IE background but I always aspire to be a partner player within my organization. After hearing Laurie’s talk I realize that I have been involved with IT groups that clearly had a solid utility mindset and at the time I couldn’t understand their resistance to change and new ideas. Whereas other IT groups seem to not only welcome new ideas but actually thrive on them. Laurie provides a good framework that can be used to categorize these two extremes.

This is good to know and gives me a new way to evaluate members of my chosen IT profession. Now before considering a new job opportunity I will attempt to ascertain which of these categories the new position falls into. I certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck in a solid utility environment and apparently almost half of positions would be in this situation…bummer. On the other hand it would be fun to find an IT group currently operating as a solid utility but aspiring to be more of a partner player.

Thanks Laurie and Microsoft!

Atlanta PodCamp

This past weekend (3/17-18/07) I attended the first Atlanta PodCamp which was held at Emory University Miller-Ward House, a really cool venue to say the least. I can’t say enough about the quality of this event. The venue, sessions, food, everything was first class. Thanks to Penny Haynes and Amber Rhea for the outstanding job they did organizing and managing everything. And thanks to all of the sponsors who obviously contributed generously because the food was incredible.

I learned everything I need to know about how to produce and deploy a podcast. Plus I met many members of Atlanta’s very interesting podcasting community.

The basic process of creating and publishing a podcast is much simpler than I imagined prior to attending PodCamp. First in order to record a podcast all you need is a computer and an inexpensive USB mic. Logitech 250/350 USB mics were recommended by several speakers…price around $40. Second you need audio editing software. The most often recommended package is an open source application, Audacity, which can be freely downloaded from Sourceforge. Another good editing package (also free) called Wavepad can be downloaded at http://digital businessbooks.com. Finally you need a place to host your edited podcast. The easiest hosting site is Libsyn.com. To market your podcast a good resource is FeedBurner and you must get your podcast registered at ITunes. One last hint you will need Lame Codec in order to save your audio from Audacity to MP3 format. Lame Codec is freely available from Sourceforge. That’s everything you need to get started podcasting. Really a very inexpensive low barrier to entry endeavor…the most important secret to success is the content…which is totally up to you.

I plan to buy a mic and try my first podcast soon. I’ll post it when I do.

Looking forward to the next Atlanta Podcamp.

More Podcast Links:
Georgia Podcast Network
iProng
Listenshare
TalkShoe

Google Enterprise Apps

Today I attended a morning seminar on Google Enterprise Applications at the Westin in Buckhead. This is the first time I’ve seen a roadshow event from Google which was interesting in itself. Google’s purpose is to introduce the rollout this Winter of the new Enterprise Applications, a suite of product solutions aimed at Corporate and Government enterprises.

The suite is divided into three categories; Search, Share, and Visualize.

Search contains a choice between three search solutions; Search Appliance, Google Mini, and Google Desktop. Both Appliance and Mini are physical devices…self contained appliances that are plugged into a network and configured to crawl/index content sources throughout the network using the same technology as Google’s main search engine. Desktop is installed onto individual desktops to search that individual desktop.

Share also contains three product solutions; Gmail, Calendar, and Docs & Spreadsheets. Gmail is Google’s free email service which I have been using for some time now. Calendar provides a shared calendar service you can use to view the calendar(s) of your “friends,” combine calendars, and many additional features. Docs & Spreadsheets represents Googles entry into the word processing and spreadsheet space. I haven’t used these products yet and so can’t compare to MS Word & Excel.

Three product solutions of the Visualize group are Google Earth, Google Maps, and Sketchup Pro.

My main take away from the seminar is learning how Google Enterprise Apps differs from simply using these tools individually from Google free of charge.

For $50 per person per year, Google Enterprise Apps provides an enterprise with the ability to customize these apps with domain name and branding. Google guarantees 99.9% uptime and provides unlimited support. Storage limit is increased from 5 gig per person up to 10 gig per person. Last but not least you can hook up Google apps to your own internal Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP directory service to manage authentication and control access.

For those who prefer MS Outlook, gmail works just fine with an Outlook client. Although the browser interface for gmail is very good and personally I prefer it over Outlook…but that’s just MHO.

I’m glad I took the time to attend the seminar. It was an “eye opener” for me and will factor into any future IT strategy discussion in which I am involved.

Microsoft CRM 3.0 Customization Class

This technology training didn’t occur in Georgia but I have to mention anyway as it was a great experience. At work I am in process of upgrading our old MS CRM version 1.2 to the latest version 3.0 and was given the chance to attend Microsoft’s 3-day instructor led Customization class. Due to scheduling I needed to attend during the first week in February and I have to say it was very difficult finding a Microsoft partner actually holding the class during that (or any other) week in February. Apparently most of these classes even though scheduled routinely at partner locations don’t actually “make” due to zero or low attendee signups. The one class I found that actually “made” was at a Microsoft partner, Vortex Data Systems, located in San Diego.

I have attended countless technology training classes during my career, but I must say Vortex is the coolest and best run training facility I have experienced. Highlights include the Internet Cafe, a really cool room with free fountain drinks, coffee (of course), snacks, computers, and wifi available for student breaks. Wifi was available throughout the facility even though not necessary since each student computer was Internet connected. Thursday afternoon they feature free ice cream sundaes for all students. Student computers were top notch as was all of the equipment. Registration was well organized and they cut us a good price for the class. I really can’t say enough about the great job Vortex did and how much I enjoyed taking a class there. If I ever get another chance to attend a Microsoft CRM class I will definitely choose Vortex in San Diego if at all possible.

While the vast majority of the hours spent in San Diego were dedicated to class, we did manage to view a couple of incredible West coast sunsets, something we rarely see in Atlanta.

Atlanta Codecamp

The Winter 07 Atlanta Codecamp was a great success with 290 attendees. The day long event was held on Saturday, January 30th at DeVry’s Decatur campus. I’ve attended all three Atlanta codecamps and this one was definitely the best so far, although all of the Atlanta codecamps have been outstanding experiences in terms of value and inspiration. These camps are run by volunteer organizers and presenters. All of the sessions I attended were packed and sometimes so full you couldn’t get a seat. Each breakout consisted of 4-5 parallel sessions lasting approximately one hour. The sessions I attended over the course of the day were “Windows SharePoint Services v3: Feature and Solution Frameworks” by Dan Attis, “Building Document Management Solutions using Windows SharePoint Services v3.0 Content Types” by John Holliday, “Developing N-Tier Applications” by Jonas Stawski, “How To Build Windows Services Apps—Revealing Warts and All!” by Wallace Allison, and “Designing SOA Solutions with Biztalk, SQL Server, and WCF” by Mark Dunn & Mark Berry.

Although hundreds of prizes…books, shirts, software, etc. were given away once again I didn’t win a thing. This has to be some kind of record as I have attended all three Atlanta Codecamps and seem to be practically the only person not winning a single raffle prize. Some people leave carrying an armload of swag. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining at all. I don’t attend to win prizes. I just think it’s a little weird to be so unlucky in these raffle drawings. But I’ll definitely be at the next Atlanta Codecamp prizes or not. Who knows maybe my luck will change?

Thanks to all of the volunteers and sponsors who made codecamp a great experience.