After a bit of apologetic email bouncing, Asi and I's relationship had recovered to the extent that an interview seemed possible. Intimidatingly, Asi'd only recently been siphoned for words by The Guardian, yet I think the Splines interview is special (not only in length and garish appearance) because Asi's unguarded and contemplative words reflect on his character and motivation to deliver the experience, knowledge, and stimulation required to think for oneself. From speaking with Asi, it's clear that a shared culture of thought and understanding will become the means to improve life on this conflicted Earth, and he's making quite the impact.
This dialogue is formatted oddly and it's full of spelling mistakes because it was birthed in cyberspace - like the orbital foetus at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey - so please understand that it's been hard to make the kid presentable.
[17:37:15] Sean Garland says: Peacemaker was originally due to reward its players with the Nobel Peace Prize once they'd met the goal of bringing peace to the Middle East. Shortly before Peacemaker's release, the Nobel Foundation issued a cease and desist letter to Impact Games, demanding that the prize be removed from the game. Were you surprised by this order? How did you react?
Asi Burak says: yeah
in fact, i even think that we were approaching them at some point letting them know about PeaceMaker.
it was opposed to all the support we got in media outlets, the community
if the guys at the foundation had stopped to play the game, they would have seen it adhere to the kind of values they propagate, right!
instead of them being glad we are using the prize their lawyers came at us
the irony is
that we actually got a lot of criticism when we used the nobel prize
especially from the israeli/jewish side
why do you think that was?
since arafat recieved the prize, it is somewhat tainted for some people
as Oslo was controversial and never really resolved the conflict
and some israelis never fully trusted araft as a diplomat
and someone who can take it to the end
but thats politics
our response by the way was to fully comply
best to avoid the lawyers eh!
it was def something you could argue as fair use but we didnt have the resources nor the energies to deal with it
and end of the day- if they dont see the merit, let it be
after we removed all mentions we actually realized that the loss is minor
do you think perhaps a new generation of nobel employees will see things in a more sympathetic light?
i hope so
like u said- probably they never played the game
if it was a book or an essay i am sure they would have investigated it
Play The News' concept is lofty and unconventional in that it raises awareness of real world events and entertains while doing so. Can you describe the creative process your team followed to produce the outlandish phenomenon we know as Play The News?
u cant separate it from peacemaker
peacemaker is the father
its an evolution
when we presented PM around the globe, spoke with users and read their emails there were 3 core issues coming up all the time:
(1) can you do it about my conflict? or about my domestic issue that keeps me awake at night?
(2) can you update it according to the headlines? on a daily basis?
(3) can the community participate?
all were impossible with the PM model, to deal with another subject matter would take us at least a year
and it had no community, streaming capabilites
adding those was feasible but not justified in business terms
so we said- why instead of going deeper we'll go wider / shorter?
the main feedback that came from people who liked PeaceMaker was a lot about engagement and understanding of news events
less the peace message, much more about context in interactive environment
like: i learned in one or two hours more than i understood in years
don't say edutainment!
we are very much opposed to the "education" or "edutainment" label
would you call a documentary "an educational movie"?
or a non-fiction book "an educational book"?
well, i suppose not
the educational value is incidental
why any game that smells of infromation and meaning we push to the classroom?
do you think a relexed learning environment is superior in some way to the classroom?
hard to say
i also dont feel i have enough expertise in education
i have a feeling that interactivity can do things that traditional methods cannot do
but i also have a feeling that games cannot answer everything
([by the way], fascinating how the community practically demanded PTN from you!)
yeah- thats the power of the internet
the immidiate feedback
does Impact Games have any plans to introduce their games to the classroom?
not solely for the classroom
we had some interesting discussions with educational publishers
big ones in the US
that were interested in PtN junior
a version for education
that is fine, as it is an incarnation
but doing something solely for the classroom is against everything we believe in and advocate :)
why's that? why take a principled stance against entering the classroom?
many teachers use our products in the classroom
we get emails all the time, and they are usually by their intiative
we didnt really market there
what im saying is that as an additional distribution channel
one more segment it is terrific
but not as the core thing
its a kiss of death in my opinion
do you mean the label 'educational' [is the kiss of death]?
the fact that games that are positive have to be "educational"
as i mentioned - u dont have that in mature media
discovery channel is main stream
CNN investigates is a prime time show
Al Gore's movie won the oscar
thats [where] positive games [or games about current events] should be...
games should be in a situation where they're not rendered special by being informative
and also not segregated
again going to other media, and this is what the guardian piece is talking about:
there are no movie-goers or radio listeners or Tv-watchers
everybody is one
with mature media everybody finds his favorite flavor
with games were still in the trap
who is a gamer and who is not
mature mediums are broad enough to accomodate all sorts
and i feel its a matter of time
right- we need to diversify
luckily, the world is not waiting only on impactgames :)
check what happens on Facebook, phenomena like the Nintendo Wii
games for brain training on the DS
breaking the boundaries of traditional perceptions about who is a gamer
and what a game is
but i think you've carved yourself a rather interesting niche
and i believe that PtN can get much much larger than what it does now
there's no other games company attempting a similar task to Impact Games, as far as i know
not on a commercial level
some have tried
but its not their sole mission
and a lot is done on the non-profit side
u can check "Games for Change" and their community
How do you envision Impact Games' future? Will Play The News continue as Impact Games sole project, or could there be another game on the horizon?
def we could do other stuff
but i think that we didnt scratch the potential of PtN
a few directions were going:
(1) signing up partners
we never intended to create a new desitnation site but partner with media channels
so imagine news games on CNN, the New York Times or BBC
that's a brilliant idea
(2) other platforms: like mobile or other social networks beyond what we did with facebook
(3) user generated games
(4) other verticals
what else could you predict beyond news?
again. if we build it right and with the right partners we can make it big
TV is actually interesting as it is all around episodic content
if you think about it, just like in the news, events open and close, open and close
so its easy to structure ptn around TV shows
except with the news, it's sometimes hard to predict when the closure will come
thats the fascinating thing about it
that its not a TV writer who structured it
An awful lot of events happen in the real world, and the Play The News team can only report on a few of them. Do you worry about bias in the stories selected for Play The News?
before i address bias
as for quantity- again, going back to the partners
imagine that they support the creation
so instead of one game a day we create 10 or 20
so then we could be less biased
and ideally we could present the NYT game next to Al-Jazeera
it could be even on the same subject but the way you design it will make all the difference in the world
which roles and actions you chose?
which event is the one you focus on?
ideally, once again, i'd think that the broader spectrum of choices will represent the game coming into maturity
more choices, more user input, more stories told from more perspectives
and ultimately the users creating the games themselves
after all, the platform is made exactly for that
that's what i'd love to see
Currently the choices offered to your players are decided upon by Impact Games. Is there a chance that users could submit their own options in a future iteration of the game?
yeah- im talking about the next step:
make a game about your town
let other people rate it and the best games will get up in the rating
top of the pile
but as you say- letting people add actions would be a nice step
nice first step
ah, the Reddit mechanic
yeah, like [Digg]
there are many directions
but limited time :)
i have to admit, i assumed that PtN was going to be a short-term project
it's great to be proven wrong!
not at all
internet apps are full of potential
its like coming to YouTube at the very beginning and ask them- so your whole business is video upload?
those ideas that take off are pretty simple
and unlike "titles" they evolve
yeah, if there's a demand
so people who judge internet apps as "titles" look at them as "frozen"
its more than about demand
execution, the right timing, viral growth
after all for every successful app there are dozens of clones
and only few make it
but demand would be the cornerstone of success, right?
not sure :)
i mean, no matter the finesse of the operation, it cant succeed unless someone has a use for it
we know that people out there are interested in news events
we know the traditional media is losing custoemrs to more sophisticated engines
like - digg
like - google news
and RSS feeds
so if we design the right stuff for them and do the right marketing we should capture some of that market
but it all takes time to reach the tipping point
i've not seen any of your marketing
where can it be found?
there is none really
we have a lot of publicity
and our approach to media channels
is all about using their channels and user base
so imaging someone sitting on a story and he can just click "play it"
and its a win win
i get exposure to their audience, they add engagmenet to their passive content
that's a superb plan, i can imagine it working brilliantly
Is the Impact Games team a diverse one? do you think you'll need to diversify further to broaden the scope of your reporting?
we are now only seven
i imagine that if we succeed in our plans
we will need more writers and content experts
build a small newsroom 2.0
i wish you all the luck in the world
in business terms its challenging
[because] the growth is expensive
more than that!
we already created some change
small as it is
where have you seen the impact?
well, with peacemaker
the peres center distributed 100,000 copies in one day in israel and palestine
it was the talk of the day, after all its a small community
(relative to the US)
again- on a small scale
when people read the guardian
or see our stuff elsewhere in the news
it gets more traction to the message
the message i got out of peacemaker was that the two sides are not adversaries but working to accomplish the same goal
excellent idea to get out into the community
yeah we were lucky to have such exposure
but its only one portion of what one needs to do
in a world with so much information
its like a few pings, weak signals
and u can get a larger signal only with customers
like u said-
real people who enjoy it and use it
and it fills something missing for them
im off man- have a great weekend over there
[18:25:26] Sean Garland says: you too - dont brainstorm yourself into oblivion!