Saturday, January 19, 2008

Microsoft ESP Leveling The Serious Games Market Playing Field

MS ESP stimulating a new ecosystem of Serious Games solutions




Following my recent posts Serious Games Market Enroll Major Players, $9 Bi: Microsoft's Conservative Estimate For The Serious Games Market and Microsoft Shaping The Serious Games Movement Into A Multi-Billion Dollar Market , I thought it was time to go deeper into the Microsoft ESP Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) platform under a marketability perspective.

Leveling the Market Playing Field

Visual simulation is nothing new. The military and other organizations have been using it for years to train and prepare people for a variety of roles. Simulation offers a balance between the difficulties of imparting real-world training and rehearsal via classroom lectures, and the risk and expense of live exercises.

Traditionally, it can be very costly and time-consuming to bring proprietary simulation solutions to market. A company requesting a new simulation solution generally has to build from scratch, and has to acquire multiple licenses for their engine, tools and content. The process can often take months or years for development, and costs can typically run into the millions of dollars. Those kinds of large up-front costs reinforce the current centralization of the simulation experience.

Microsoft ESP aims at turning that around by means of a full platform of tools, engine and content for building new solutions on top of it, rather than starting all over from scratch each time, with the base capabilities required for a rich immersive experience. “Our licensing model is unique, and our cost model is unique, allowing developers to deploy a simulation in a shorter time period and for less cost", MS says.





MS believes that, by making the development and distribution of mission-critical training tools easier and more affordable, it will greatly expand the breadth of people who can create and consume simulation solutions in the marketplace.



One smaller developer, Acron Capability Engineering, has been using Microsoft ESP to develop Serious Games and simulations for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, using the platform as the basis for a variety of tailored solutions.

“Modeling and simulation is a very competitive market and there are a lot of companies in our space that do what we do,” says John Nicol, CEO of Acron. “As a small company, Acron needs to be agile. We need tools that allow us to create rich content very quickly, and we need simulation worlds that allow us to create a rich and detailed environment that immerses our participants.”



Another benefit of Microsoft ESP for Acron is the versatility of the platform and its ability to interact with other technologies and data, allowing for a range of situations as well as integration with a variety of different systems. They can simulate large Airbus jets down to smaller aircrafts and integrate those with a variety of Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) software and hardware to enable the experience.

Nicol also lauds the platform’s ability to scale into a spectrum of hardware platforms, whether those are large systems designed for a specific purpose, or laptop computers that can be taken anywhere. Developers can rapidly create a variety of simulation solutions based on readily available components and deploy the solution on whatever hardware makes the most sense.






“Traditionally you might spend millions of dollars developing a simulator for a specific type of hardware and yet you can’t deploy that same simulator down onto a laptop or a PC,” he says. “But that’s the difference with Microsoft ESP. I can do that now, and I can also go the other way and develop an application or a simulator for a laptop and scale that all the way up to a full flight simulator with multiple crew stations.”

The ability to scale down and make a simulation portable has a variety of real-world benefits in and of itself. A pilot rerouted to an unfamiliar airport, for example, can fire up a laptop computer running Microsoft ESP and familiarize himself with the airport, the landscape, the approach patterns — and fly the approach knowing exactly what to expect. That same pilot could also practice flying a different aircraft type by using a Microsoft ESP-based cockpit simulation.

Filling in the Gaps

The broad versatility of Microsoft ESP creates an advantage over proprietary solutions that pervade the simulation market in terms of easily and effectively creating a variety of scenarios to suit various training needs across many industries over time.

  

The platform provides support for a variety of land, sea and air environments, and as Microsoft works to build out the detail of those environments in the future, Nicol sees a tremendous expansion of opportunities.

“Why not an undersea exploration simulation?” he says. “What about a hot-air balloon simulator? There are other markets and we think Microsoft ESP’s roadmap will allow us to think outside the box more as the platform evolves.”
That flexibility to scale and to allow smaller development shops into the market also has the potential to stimulate a new ecosystem of solutions that augment existing ones from established industry players and address the gaps in mission-critical training and education.

A Case in Point - Adacel


Traditionally, pilot trainees could learn to control their aircraft through flight simulations, but the only way to realistically learn how to interact with air-traffic control has been in actual flight.

Adacel created the integrated solution MaxSim Flight Trainer in just three weeks, based on its own speech-driven Air Traffic Control simulation technology and the Microsoft® ESP™ visual simulation platform. With a single developer, Adacel produced a rich, immersive flight simulation experience that it estimates would have taken millions of dollars and months of work to create from scratch.

The extensive after-market of add-ons for Microsoft ESP helps to ensure that Adacel and its customers can easily extend the simulation. And the low-cost Windows® hardware on which it runs helps to ensure that the MaxSim Flight Trainer is more cost-effective, scalable, and transportable than traditional, proprietary offerings.

“We are the first in an untapped market for cost-effective, integrated flight simulation and ATC simulation software. Microsoft ESP made that possible”, says Fred Sheldon, Chief Executive Officer, Adacel.

“Flight instructors have had to improvise, shouting instructions over the heads of their students as the student interacted with the flight simulation,” says Fred Sheldon, Adacel’s CEO. “We saw this as an opportunity to address a large market for a cost-effective flight simulation with integrated air-traffic control software, which simply wasn’t being addressed by anyone else. Microsoft ESP made that possible by giving us a rapid development process, a robust software platform, and global reach.”

Building for the Future

According to Firminger, one of the exciting things about the games-based technology as a platform is that it allows Microsoft to help deliver applications and solutions that get to the heart of customers’ mission-critical operations.
“Microsoft has mission-critical technologies today with a broad range of infrastructure, applications, platforms, servers and technologies that manage and protect companies’ critical information,” he says. “But Microsoft ESP deals with situations beyond information technology that go into the core of different kinds of missions which these organizations execute on every day. The Air Force flies sorties as part of its defense effort. The Army flies Predator drones to survey battlefield logistics. Civil aviation companies transport people around the world every day. This is an exciting shift for Microsoft to be helping military and commercial organizations add immersive experiences to interactive training and decision-support tools.”
So what’s next for Microsoft ESP? Firminger says that while version one focuses on civil and military aviation training and decision support, version two will add support for vehicle operator training, ground operations and other scenarios.

Next, his team will focus on building out an even richer and more complex set of location details - on the water, under the water, inside buildings and cities - gradually moving more deeply into core scenarios that enable Microsoft ESP partners to meet the needs of their customers in this growing market.

“Our goal is to enable partners to build and be creative with a great new visual simulation platform,” he says. “Partners have the customer relationships and domain expertise to introduce simulations into new markets and make it easy for customers to experience the quality, detail and customization of these fully immersive experiences. For us, it’ll be exciting to see the incredible new areas where our partners will create opportunities built on the Microsoft ESP Platform.”

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Future Of Serious Games

Serious Games moving into fields that deal with complex topics



Via: Social Technologies - Learning From Playing

Games that provide players with opportunities to learn and understand complex situations or different points of view have emerged as a distinct subset of videogames.

Increasingly, creators are taking the definitions of “play” and “learn” in new directions, often blending the two creatively.

“This shows the maturity of the gaming industry as a medium for educating children—and adults,” explains Simeon Spearman, an analyst at the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

“This new genre of games moves beyond entertainment into fields that deal with complex topics such as healthcare, governance and poverty.”

Serious Games also show that organizations are realizing the potential for videogames to spread their message to larger audiences—for they provide an interactive experience that draws people in, he says.

The trend is spurred by the spread of technology and game culture. In fact, due to their viral nature and ease of development, Serious Games are propagating.

They are now on a trajectory to become a mainstream genre of gaming applications, in both the commercial and noncommercial spheres.

Driving The Game

A number of trends are converging to drive the Serious Games movement, including:
  • Growth in popularity of simulation games. From simple simulator games like NeoPets to the bestselling computer game of all time, The Sims, games that allow players to “manage” sophisticated, multi-choice environments and determine outcomes have been popular since the 1990s, and their growth shows no signs of slowing.
  • Improving technology. From more intelligence and processing power to better displays and broadband access, powerful personal-computing technology is available to ever-growing numbers of people. They are using it not only for work and entertainment, but increasingly for learning and training as well.
  • Digital learning on the rise. Younger consumers worldwide are receiving more education via game and digital play environments, and educational theorists are beginning to explore the application of more sophisticated games to prepare students for complex situations in the real world.
 

Emerging Genres of Serious Games

Serious Games are evolving into several distinct genres, which can be broken down into at least five types of applications based on each genre’s principal goals. However, many games serve multiple purposes by design. Most are available for free or at a low cost to encourage broad distribution.
  • Education and training. Games in this genre aid learning or vocational training. Examples include Making History, which teaches history to students, and Incident Commander, designed to help officials and first responders prepare for emergency situations.
  • Politics and governance. Some of the most widely known Serious Games have emerged as training tools for political movements, public administrations, and governance. A Force More Powerful, for instance, is an interactive game that teaches nonviolent techniques for handling conflict. It was developed by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict with assistance from Ivan Marovic, leader of Otpor, the group that helped bring down Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia.
  • Marketing, communication, and advocacy. A broader, expanding group of games includes both marketing and nonprofit issues advocacy. Some, like America’s Army, are explicitly intended as recruitment tools; these run on commercial videogame platforms and issue new releases as commercial videogames do. From 2003–2005, America’s Army ranked among the top six online games in terms of concurrent players.
About Simeon Spearman

Simeon Spearman is a futurist and contributing writer for ST’s Technology Foresight and Global Lifestyles multiclient projects. He also contributes to custom client projects, and tracks emerging trends, values, and segments for the Futures Observatory, Social Technologies’ trend-feed program.

Simeon’s professional interests include digital lifestyles, contemporary Japanese culture, and development in emerging markets. He is currently pursuing his MS in studies of the future at the University of Houston, and graduated with a BS in International affairs and modern languages from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He spent a year abroad in 2004–2005 as an exchange student at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.

About Social Technologies

Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world’s leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Serious Games Market Enroll Major Players

Microsoft and Google moves into the Serious Games Market



Via: Dusan Writer’s Metaverse - Battle for Virtual Worlds 2008: Microsoft Takes Shot At Google

With all the attention on whether Google will launch a virtual world version of Google Earth (possibly connected in some way to SketchUp), two moves by Microsoft into the Serious Games and in response to SketchUp market further demonstrates that 2008 will be the Year of the Virtual World.

ESP


Reworking code and experience from MS Flight Simulator, ESP is targeted to the corporate training and simulations market - the so-called Serious Games market that Microsoft conservatively estimates is a $9 billion market. While nothing close to a virtual world - the ESP site promises that it can connect up to 30 people at the same time, and that the simulation engine:

Help reduce travel costs and augment costly full-flight and fixed-base simulator training time with realistic immersive simulations that run anytime, anywhere on Windows PCs.

Accurate, cost-effective modeling—Easily and affordably adjust simulation variables to visualize outcomes, plans, and design specs in 3D for decision making and R&D modeling.

ESP offers the code and build structure for the creation of “serious games” and the move was covered in depth at Futurelab, which reproduces my original post $9 Bi: Microsoft's Conservative Estimate For The Serious Games Market.

SketchUp MatchUp, SilverLight

In a previous move, Dassault Systems launched, in partnership with Microsoft, a virtual Microsoft Earth called 3DVIA. The Dassault link-up to Microsoft enhances an ecosystem of products and platforms targeted primarily to the corporate market.

And finally, Microsoft’s launch of the Silverlight beta offers competition to Flash for creating richer online experiences including the ability to embed video.

The combination of small steps by Microsoft, including the new entry into the Seriou
s Games Market, may at least act as protective flanks against the possible entry of Google in the virtual worlds market, while laying claim to some of the corporate turf that has been the domain of smaller studios.