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April 16, 2006




The BBC is one of the main reasons i could never emigrate to the US and i've been hoping for a while now that they would be prudent enough to realise their expansion onto the internet, podcasting and downloadable content should just be the first step to a much more wide range of content, services and medium!

First DTV, next the MMO wooooorld!

I vote Eastenders MMO, where we can all live miserable east london lives from anywhere in London! Now that's progress.

Maybe a Little Britain FPS? Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Sims clone?

I want to work in THAT R&D department!!


Public service gaming has been for quite a while one of my interests. At the risk of making self-publicity, I have actually written some stuff and done some presentations on the topic (which can be found in my website).
In general, I agree with the article, but I'd like to expand the notion: every game that voluntarily plays a role in the public sphere is a public service game. That is, it need not be sanctioned by a public (broadcasting or not) corporation. What it needs is to be placed in the sphere of the public, which can also be done by private initiative or even by individuals, given the distribution models of the Internet.
What I usually tell to my students is that public service games would be made by the BBC or by, say, Banksy, because some of his art actually does play a role in the public sphere as much as the prime time news does.
So, public service games like the BBC, public service games like graffiti.



PS: I've left out some extra considerations on how/why public corporations should behave - but my ideas can be read on my site :)


Just an addendum - the BBC does produce games. If you count alternative reality games like Jamie Kane (designed for 14 year olds girls, and it looks it), anyway. There was a slightly better one promoting something Egyptological last year, too, called something like Escape to Samara. This is definitely a space in which they are planning a significant presence.

Seb Potter

Good thoughts all round. I think there are certain people at the BBC who do really get this, and it will be really interesting to see how the corporation's output evolves as the television becomes less and less dominant as a platform in the coming years.


What a fantastic idea. Too bad the BBC would spend fantastic amounts of money making sure that only British customers could play their games, just like they seem to be willing to spend oodles to make sure that only British costumers can get some of their content (their archives, for example). I can loudly predict that any game they made that they released for free would attempt to phone home, and if the origin is an IP address allocated outside of the UK the game wouldn't work.

Enrique Sanchez

I think that another issue to be considered is the BBC's commitment to create relevant local content instead of relying on cheaper foreign (basically American) imports. This is often forgotten mainly because the BBC fufills this need so well, but it's the main remit for most public broadcasters abroad, especially in Europe.

The point is that this is hugely required in the UK game industry. The only games that involve UK culture to any real degree do so with cliches, such as Lara Croft (the aristocracy) and the Getaway (cockerney gangstaaaas) which are easily marketable to foreign markets (again, basically America). Even UK devcos make all their games to be sold in the US, with American settings and/or characters. Otherwise they are culture-neutral titles, such as racing games.

Whenever there's some kind of reference or cameo of British culture in a game we all get excited, but imagine a game that was entirely set in and about actual British life? Where is the Shaun Of The Dead or Wallace And Gromit of videogames?

It's this problem that the BBC is perfectly placed to tackle and indeed I imagine the only people capable of it.

Seb Potter

It's not that the Beeb spends fantastic amounts of money to make sure that only British customers can play their games (or more normally, view their content), it's that the British customers have already paid for the content, and often that content is only licensed to the BBC for use in the United Kingdom. Where there are no such rights limitations we might see such content being delivered unencumbered with DRM when it's practical to do so. There aren't fantastic amounts of money being spent on this either - restricting content by geographic lookup of an IP address is pretty much free.

In the case of games, I'd imagine that where it decides to get involved in game development the BBC is going to be building on its television brands, incorporating television content, and generally narrowing the distinction between television and other platforms. Why should UK television license payers fund the creation of games for global audiences? Unless things change drastically with the charter review the BBC has no remit to produce commercial products for sale outside of the UK.

(Oh yeah, these are all my personal opinions, and not those of my employer either.)


I think you've found the solution to what ails the game industry. This gives me hope for the future of games. The game industry as it exists, with its financial pressures, can't afford to expand its definition of what a game is. So no games that are centered around intellectual or emotional complexity; just flashier versions of what-came-before. Something outside the current industry would be needed to make the necessary change.

"Public games" won't be coming from the U.S., though. Public radio and television have always been small here (most public TV programs here are in fact from the BBC), and recently have come under serious attack. The same people who are going after public broadcasting are also none too fond of computer/video games. The future of what already exists is questionable; new programs are unimaginable.

I think the problem with the writing in games isn't that Marc Laidlaw (or Orson Scott Card, etc.) are being held back by the technology so much as by the industry's idea of what the role of the writer is. Mistakenly, the industry believes that design and writing are separate issues, and the writer is usually brought in to add polish to an existing story and design. (Let's face it, although a great game, "Half-Life" had one of the most clichéd stories out there- I can think of at least half-a-dozen games with the same basic plot.) Again, it seems like a force outside the current game production paradigm is required to enact real change. I really believe that if the game industry is going to survive much longer, it needs to seriously change and expand beyond what it's doing now. "Public games" could turn out to be the salvation of the entire industry.


I'd imagine one of the easiest ways in which the BBC could help public service gaming is to issue a grant to the most promising game designs. I know that Children In Need hands out grants, but I guess that's a pretty different thing and we grouchy license-payers wouldn't be as happy about our money going to game grants. I'm not entirely sure what other grants the BBC might give. I know that when I was at Uni, a couple of graduates created a game company entirely funded by grants from the Arts Council and local North East commitees to help produce art in the region. That kind of thing sounds right up the BBC's alley, but perhaps I'm wrong. I'm sure you'd have a better idea than I do!



Too late, the beeb already does Dr Who games...

Should they try and do something that gamers actually want to play though? Personally, I'd say no, but that's purely because "licensed" style games are almost always really poor, and that's what the BBC would most likely do. After all, the other media they're involved in is generally tie-ins. In fact, beyond their news output, I don't really know anything the BBC does that I'd consider good since Farscape (Dr Who and Little Britain score an "OK" but they're nothing compared to, say, Babylon 5 and Father Ted).
But, beyond pessimism at their quality levels it's a really interesting topic.


I keep telling my dad that TV, Film and games are going to overlap and intermingle, but he won't have it, he still considers computer games something that 8 year olds play.

I think when the BBC is supplying IP TV and our sets or set top boxes are basically computers, it will all blur together and you'll start getting interactive sections of TV programs...

I've thought the idea of Episodic content is a great one. You buy a game for the Playstation 3 based on a TV Show. For arguement, lets say it's The Sopranos (not BBC I know). It's GTA clone, but it follows the storyline set out by the last 5 series of the game, and has an online element too, so there is plenty of single and MMO fun to be had.

Now every week, a new show is broadcast (works better for a BBC show) and your PS3 gets new game content that allows you to play around the plotline of the show. Like Enter the Matrix, you'll play the bits you only half saw or extend a scene to understand it more.

This could certainly work if it was an MMO of a drama, like Eastenders, because as the things happen on the show, they can happen in the persistant world, and it would change things...

Damn, i just want my Eastenders MMO so i can get it on with Peggy!!


Imagine also asking the question; should the BBC develop a computer system to heighten public computer literacy. Today the answer would be "no" because there are compelling alternatives but when there were no such alternatives, the BBC did create a computer system (the BBC micro) which served it's purpose. So perhaps the answer on gaming lies in a similar vein. Is there a compelling alternative? At the moment, games serve almost exclusively to entertain and are bound by commercial needs. The BBC could drive development of such projects that would never make the commercial greenlight. And if it could do that and create the opportunity to have fun, then you have a public service game.


A lot of good points, well made, there my dear. The Beeb did various experiments with interactive storytelling of the nature of "call in and tell us what should happen next", that didn't quite work for lots of reasons. But the principle remains worthy of experimentation. I wholly agree that the one area that games need an adventurous piece of risk taking is in narrative. 'Storyteller' is a role that most games companies miss out (or combine with 'producer' or whatever). And is the one thing the Beeb has in spades. Jamie Kane started it off. Let's hope they'll keep it going, and do it bigger and better.

Cocktails: try the Pussyfoot. A double shot of lime cordial, a double shot of grenadine, a splash of vodka, orange juice 3/4 up the shaker, and then pineapple the rest of the way. A squeeze of lemon juice, a cherry. Lovely.


I think that reframing the idea would probably help a lot. don't call it 'games' call it interactive media. The idea of doing the Enter the Matrix type of side-plot exploration is a really good one for entertainment. But there is other areas, and this is why I say it should be done under the larger umbrella of interactive content.

Imagine a tv show which derives its content from interactions in an MMORPG type environment, or a more educational type of thing like games involving things like biology, chemistry, physics...

And there is one area of game development which I personally sorely miss, games in the style of the old text adventures, where plot is central to the game, and the competitive parts of the game are more peripheral. Like the original Dune... This style of game would be very well suited to spin-offs from doctor who. It is a type of game that has almost disappeared from the market with all this fuss over FPS games and MMORPGs, and is immensely fun, because you get to pretend you are your hero character or one of his/her sidekicks.


Forget all this - the BBC have already been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

The BBC Computer Literacy campaign - which sold a LOT of 6502 Acorn BBC branded computers was a major propaganda push by a public service broadcaster to inform and educate the public.

About computers, about programming, about the potential of technology that would later mature into the internet (Teletext + Prestel + Hackers == Prince Phillip's Account)

The BBC inspired a whole generation of hackers - good and bad - to create new stuff - and BBC/AcornSoft created novel games.

What games? Elite, Sentinel, and the Spitfire flight sim (can't remember the name) - not to mention a whole slew of text-adventure games and a huge number of educational roms and addons that inspired a whole generation of computer geeks to higher and higher levels of geekery.

I wrote my first machine code in 6502 assembler - because the BBC had a built in assembler - and if nobody here understands just how revolutionary that was way back then - they weren't there.

Nuff said! The BBC should continue to inform and educate - even if that means making games.


Kevin Marks

A couple of quick points.
I'm not sure how well the Beeb gets this whole thing. Having been a founder of the first BBC spinout in this area (the MultiMedia Corporation in 1990) and seeing the same thing happen again more than once, I'm not convinced the corporation has interactivity in its DNA. (Yes, bad pun but great article).
Secondly, the whole 'the UK have paid for it already, so we have to use DRM' argument is a load of bollocks. If it's been paid for, why demand it be paid for again. Turn off the DRM, use the World Service mandate to put it on the web for everyone, and upsell DVDs or whatever. Watching Beeb types playing at being commercial is embarrassing, because the whole reason they joined the BBC was to avoid sordid commerce, so when they try and do it they act like their own clumsy stereotypes of businessmen.

Digger Derricks

that's really interesting thank you :)

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