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Civic Media at Sun Yat Sen U: Mobiles, ads and games

Eric Klopfer is a professor at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and teaches in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies department. His presentation at Sun Yat Sen University focuses on his key reserach focus: mobile learning games. he’s aiming for a type of educational game that moves beyond rewarding players for answering a quiz question with gameplay. This means moving beyond casual games, which largely serve as a distraction from daily life, towards games that aim at enhancing your experience of the outside world and environment.

Some of Klopfer’s games are casual games that are designed to enhance a classroom experience. Students might play a gae with a biology theme, then discuss the content of the game later in the class. But much of Eric’s work focuses on augmented reality games, adding a game layer to a city or a campus. These games are designed to let people to look at the real world as well as looking at the phone, to encourage people to interact with each other.

One of these games, Environmental Detectives, posited the outbreak of a health problem in a community, and invites players to look at environmental factors that might contribute. There’s no “right answer” in the game – it’s designed to combine science, engineering and social dynamics in exploring the natural environment.

Another game, called TimeLab 2100, posits that the world has experienced severe climate change, and lets you travel back from 2100 to the present to intervene and mitigate climate change. The game interacts with elements of the physical environment – encountering public transit is a prompt to discuss the importance of public transit versus private car use. The ap is sensitive to elevation and lets people know when they are walking in areas that will be underwater in the future. Eric’s goal is to produce a game that’s customizable for localizable, usable in local environments with local features.

A third game, FoodFinders, allow kids to explore locally produced food in their communities as a way of opening a conversation about food miles and local versus global production of food. Communities work together to map out access to healthy food in their communities.

These games are designed to be played by afterschool clubs, aimd at students who want to learn about science and games. One community, playing with an augmented reality game, ended up finding a set of bats living in a culvert, some who were dead. This became a chance to explore the concept of “mid-hibernation arousal”, a phenomenon where bats wake during hibernation and look for food, dying when they can’t find food.

These games are now supported on a platform called Taleblazer.org, a platform to allow authoring of smartphone-based, location-sensitive games. Right now, the platform is in beta, but it’s going to be widely available later this year.

Di Chen, the 28 year old CEO of Youmi Media, is interested in the power of mobile phones as a platform for revenue generation. Chinese users are rapidly adopting smart phones and installing dozens of aps on those phones. Di Chen is looking for opportunities to sell ads within those applications and generate revenue streams for those application companies.

Smartphones should be a dream for ad targeting, Di Chen argues. It’s one user per identifiable device, which eases targeting. Social practice in China is that phones are used all the time – not just waiting in line, but at dinner, while on dates. Smart developers take advantage of social dynamics to build mobile advertising – during a popular show like Voice of China, a singing competition, they know that the audience turns to smartphones to share their feelings about the contestents, instead of watching TV ads.

Advertising includes banner advertising, splash screens, coupons, discounts, online ordering, as well as highly customized strategies, like games that force ad consumption to level up. The one aspect of mobile advertising that isn’t taking off in China is video ads – the bandwidth is too low, and public wifi isn’t widely enough available.

For Di Chen, the real opportunity is learning from data available from the mobile platform to create highly targetable ads. His company already uses time, location, time of phone usage and operating system to target ads. The next frontier is extrapolating demographics by knowing ap usage – a user of a photo-enhancing application is often female, improving self-shots for sharing online. A user focused on flight information is often a male businessman. At the moment, he can predict demographics with about 60% accuracy, but is aiming for 90%.

There’s a massive ecosystem around mobile advertising in China: international and local brands turn to local agencies, data monitoring and optimization platforms, ap networks, stores and applications developers. While massive organizations like Admob have a presence in China, they’re having a hard time navigating the local environment, particularly the firewall, and may be less successful than Chinese firms.