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Fun Thoughts On The Future

January 21, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

This is all very exciting. It's apparent to me that you've played a more significant role within game industry than most people realize and in fact to some extent you have been visionaries with pioneer efforts to get games on the web back when most developers were consumed with the CD-ROM, full motion video, and early 3D technology. So my final question is where do you see ThinkFun going in the immediate future and where do you see the industry going over the next five to 10 years?

BR: First, society's experience of new technology is about to accelerate; we will be doing things more differently faster in the future, starting now. Things like group video chat, personal broadcast channels, wearable personal technology, robots and sensors everywhere, are on their way and adoption is going to be enthusiastic and fast.

The reason for this is that we have just passed an inflection point. Up until a year ago – I mark this with the arrival of the iPad – not enough infrastructure was in place to support radical breakthrough technology.

Incredible achievements in technology have been taking place, but much of the work has been in infrastructure building, in creating the technology groundwork and filling out the boundaries and in creating the social conditions of acceptance and receptivity so that accelerated change can take place. Now, things are ready to pop. Just wait -- it is going to be wild.

I see that the iPad is ground zero of this change because it is so transformative... it is a mirrored window that can express anything we can think of. And Apple has a strong vision of the future and how they will create it.

The iPad is being used by Apple to move people away from having to read instructions, for example... iPad learning is designed to be experiential, users should be given a path directly into playing and offered short videos on how to learn new things, no disruptive words to get in the way. This is different.

The idea of the iPad has been around for a long time, by the way. In a panel discussion that produced one of the most dramatic moments of the 1995 TED conference, John Warnock (Chairman and CEO of Adobe) told Alberto Vitale (Chairman and CEO of Random House) that "an electronic tablet the same size as a magazine and just as comfortable for bedtime reading would be on the market" within a year and a half, while Nathan Myrvold (Microsoft) and John Gage (Sun) sat there and nodded approvingly.

Warnock wasn't joking; he was hinting that it was in development at Adobe, Vitale took him very seriously. But... predicted in eighteen months, it actually took fifteen years to appear. Now that it's here, though, there is a whole lot of room for growth.

Second, this acceleration in our experience of technology is going to mostly be about creating richer, more comprehensive experiences for people to be connected and share with others... In other words, around the further development of social networks.

In the next few years there will be intense competition around social networking as more and more players jump in to organize communities and explore social networking boundaries and build new tools. Gamification and other motivational techniques will become more sophisticated and more universal.

Third, to an increasing extent the internet is going to give way to private online communities that deliver custom or premium content. Apple is in the lead now with iTunes and the iPad, big publishers like Time are jumping to the iPad and off the web so they can start charging for online. Everybody who controls a social network or produces media is going to want to make money somehow.

In the children's market, COPPA compliancy is going to have an accelerating effect. Tiers and specialties will develop, content developers working in networks with social designers and network hosts. Technology for hosting and managing communities will make it easier for non-technical people with fresh ideas to thrive in this environment, the battleground will be around how much will be open and how much under private community management.

Fourth, it is worth noting that the increased rate of change will widen and deepen the digital divide between generations, this will cause social stress. As one example, there will be more stress in our education system, which is behind already and is becoming increasingly more so in the future. The silver lining here is that stress can bring on creative new solutions.

There is a big social need to imagine how technology can better help to educate our children. If it's not coming from the schools themselves, then it's free territory for somebody else, using new rules and new imagination. It's going to be an exciting time.

Finally, you asked where is ThinkFun going with this beyond our current endeavors? That's a great question. I believe that it is time for us become new media innovators again. I want to achieve this... and we have already put in a lot of work and have a good idea of the direction we want to take.

To start, we are a mission-driven organization. We believe that society needs to do a better job of teaching thinking skills to our children and preparing them for the 21st century. And we believe we have a role to play in this. Our games get players to practice their thinking skills already. But, we believe that delivered in the right way in the right structured program, we can teach a method for critical thinking and problem solving using our games that can transfer across your whole life.

We have been experimenting with this already. Last Spring we beta-launched "ThinkFun BrainLab", an online community where players played Rush Hour practice games for points and entered a weekly Rush Hour Tournament with interactive leaderboard and got to choose and decorate their own avatars.

It was really successful... The program ran four weeks, we invited 500 students, 2200 signed up and played more than 90,000 individual Rush Hour puzzles, at one point the traffic shut down our server and we had to move to larger space. So we know that there is an appetite for this kind of thing.

In my earlier response I described the four ThinkFun games that together promote thinking skills. We're working now on updating Brain Lab program to include all these games and to redesign the play patterns and reward systems in the program itself.

We've spent a lot of research time the past five years to develop large databases of individual challenges for each puzzle, so we have the capacity to deliver continual streams of new challenges, we can keep game content varied and fresh if we decide to distribute "challenge of the day" style content into social network sites.

It's very important to us that what we do is authentic, also. We've established a relationship with Dr. Silvia Bunge, head of the Bunge Cognitive Psych Lab at UC Berkeley, Silvia is doing brain research to address the question "Can Reasoning Ability be Improved With Training", and has asked us to develop the "Training" part of what could become a formal research study.

We struggled with our leaderboard technology when we deployed a year ago, it's hard to build a social networking site from scratch as an experimental research project. Now, though, we are being contacted by newly forming social network companies looking for content. As I described above, all this is happening so fast now that we need to take stock of our goals and objectives and make a plan that will move with the future.

Our plan is to create a clear ThinkFun presence in the new media world, no question. Everything is coming into focus as far as we are concerned, the time is almost just right for a niche company like us to jump in and make an impact. We are very excited about where all this is headed! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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