Friday, 24 December 2010

Live, Interactive and Social.

Live Casino Technology.
Client: Springdoo Media 

Live Super VIP Casino
The brief was to create a state of the art live gaming casino with the ‘WOW’ factor to entice ‘Super VIP’ players to sign up, and play in exclusive online environments.  This platform would offer many extra interactive services as yet untapped by the traditional online casino market, and be supported by offline services usually only experienced by ‘Black Card’ American Express holders. 

My role was to map concept, scope all aspects of the functionality, write the briefs across all product design and then project manage concept into an operational TV casino. This would require that I tie together every aspect of the project including the brand design, Studio design, web design, user interface design, games design and functionality, and then the integration of the game engines with the user interfaces and the studio production element. 

I guess this makes me a member of the forward slash // forward slash generation because I encompass four or more roles. As a creative director producing the identity and branding, a games designer writing all functionality and producing the user interface design, a TV producer designing sets, producing the shows and training the staff, an IT project  manager across all Flash and C++ design and integrations and as a digital marketing manager capable of managing the post launch ecommerce aspects of a TV WEB MOB solution. 

Live Casino Technology offered the perfect opportunity to bring previous business concept from the creation of Live Roulette broadcast on BSkyB [see Blog 'Ahead of the Curve'] and Smartlive Casino with my most recent project, the live social gaming  platform, to create a hybrid live casino with social gaming. This would lead to the creation of a multi-level gaming experience with many added value features to support the VIP concept / brand. 

The brand design of the platform was based on a NY light sculptural concept moulded around VIP life style themes which translated into key words and mood boards. The mood boards where lifted from international hotel interiors, architectural designs and light sculptures which I used to influence design of the casino interiors/studio sets. In turn the set design,  the mood boards and  key words were used to create  the customer interfaces. In this way the exclusive brand concept was seeded across all areas of the product and the platform design.  

The user interface was designed on ‘open'  concept across both functionality and the IT. to accommodate future games development. A multi purpose Flash window was set in the user interface with drop down menus, optional live stream channels, multiple camera studio views, and live customer services. The window would also allow extra games like slots, quiz, lotto and keno and marketing material such as high winners, bonus schemes and competitions.  

An ‘open’ design platform is an IT concept used to build the foundation code on which the games were  housed. This meant that the two priority games could be rolled out at the product launch  and  more games seamlessly integrated in a month, or two. In this way games design could become a business strategy, offering added value functionality to the B2B and B2C proposition. With strategy in place we proceeded to create  and programme five games in Flash and complete two game engines, Live Roulette and Live Blackjack, ready for the product launch. This also put Live Casino Technology into a state of constant beta with out detracting from the core business and sales proposition as a Live VIP Casino white label.

I had learnt from managing eGaming business that retention could be raised through a combination of customer engagement, product development, marketing, sales and sponsorship, and that all five areas were symbiotically intertwined. In this way ‘open’ platform design allowed marketing and sales departments to access the development space where IT sat. Marketing could then influence the product design as a cost effective solution to reactivate a sleeping database. Live Casino Technology was not just about product design but also about creating a business solution that put engagement and marketing at the heart of its design. The solution was a customer led proposition operated around sign up, data collection, retention, life time value and reactivation as well as being an interactive live broadcast platform offering 'sticky' interactive, social eGaming.    

Players remain at the tables far longer in interactive environments. Customer engagement leads to higher revenues through higher retention and transparency, in turn creating brand advocates who carry 'the word' out onto the www. This should, if your product is working, sticky and fun to interact with, produce more sign ups and more brand advocates, launching a self fulfilling marketing prophecy.  From here your product can flourish and all competition becomes secondary as loyalty to your product exceeds reasonable expectations achieving the 'Love Factor'.

In this way digital reaches its true potential through pro-active engagement with interactive services which can be mapped by added live, social gaming, set in interactive user interfaces. This is the ‘V’ factor with XYZV, completing the interactive 3D digital product and marketing model with the customer sitting at the centre surrounded by both offline and online content. The customer can choose the interaction method of choice at will via MOB, WEB, TV, TEL, RB and all existential strands that these elements have to offer. This model is transferable across  all  digital products in one sense or another, offering infinite creative digital marketing services.

One of the key areas in live gaming is the studio functionality requiring interfaces for both the producers and the croupiers in order to control the game and broadcast. The producers interface is connected to the live wheel, the game engine and the graphics play out, to prompt the players when to play via the game commands. The croupier interfaces are usually the first to be developed as it is necessary to test the games and integration during development. Studio production interface follows a close second as live rehearsals begin in the studios and the producers/pit boss/games master takes control from the developers for beta testing.

There is a certain level of staff training that goes into creating a live casino product. With this entailed orchestrating 40 or more staff at Studio3 in Teddington Studios. This was no easy task as the game  integration was still at a beta testing stage and the Orad graphics system struggled but a BSkyB broadcast deadline has a way of pushing the boundaries of what you think possible. From the ensuing chaos came order and we were able to train the presenters, producers and directors with in a week and debug the system. To improve on game play we’d hired professional croupiers to guarantee a great spin  in the wheel but this was an expensive and unnecessary level of production. All that matters is the functionality, the game play and the spin and its easier to put the croupier into the presenter than it is to put the presenter into the croupier. 

It should be noted that training ten even twenty croupiers takes about three weeks and is a lot cheaper than hiring ten real casino croupiers . Live gaming croupiers have no need to make any complicated table calculations which are made by the game engine, so the learning curve is reserved to the game commands, spinning the ball or flipping a card. Live Roulette should always use an 'auto wheel’ with a pocket sensor to remove human through automated results sent directly to the game engine. In a  live environment the producer can be removed all together, as the croupier can produce and present via touch screens with dual interfaces, leaving a pit boss/games master to oversee multiple tables.  If the roulette ball still spins out of the wheel though, don’t forget your ‘over ride’ functionality to keep all existing bets on the table in order to spin again.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Power Flower

The Power Flower is an iconic  structure of  technical scale and green innovation that will promote sustainable  environmental causes. It will also act as a catalist to regenerate the local economy and give back a sense of civic pride by championing East Kent as a research and development centre for renewable resources across the UK, Europe and the world.  

The Power Flower is a 200 foot daffodil installation placed in the 450 foot high smoke tower of a disused coal power station located on the Kent coast of England. The Power Flower will rise above the smoke chimney of the redundant fossil fuel plant to become a symbol of the future and an environmental message of sustainable development to the world from the redundant power stations of the past.  

The site for the Power Flower is Richborough Power Station near the Isle of Thanet in Kent in the Thanet / Sandwich corridor between Ramsgate and Sandwich. This site has been chosen as it is unique with low lying land for many miles around, situated between two historic towns with a high way running between the two and past the tower. The Thanet / Sandwich corridor has been cited for redevelopment by the EU which gives an project of this scale rejuvenate qualities for the surrounding area and the local people.

The aim of The Power Flower is to dramatise the landscape by day with a sculpture of epic scale and by night to be a beacon of light that can be seen for a radius of 12 kilometres, 360 degrees and as far away as France across the English Channel. When viewed from a far the illusion of The Power Flower will turn the surrounding landscape into chequered table top with a tall thin vase and a flower sitting upon it. As the installation is approached by rail, car, bicycle or foot, the sheer scale of the flower will invert the viewers experience by miniaturising them. The impact of this experience will be to bring home the sheer scale of nature and evoke a feeling of mortality. 

Exhibition Centre  
The Power Flower will power an energy exhibition at the base of the tower. through a skin of voltaic cells on the installations petals. The exhibition centre will promote renewable energy resources such as solar energy, water turbines, wind turbines, geothermal energy and wave energy from the sea. It will explain the science of energy and aspects of the global politics and encompass aspects of the energy enhancement from the past and the future. On a local level the exhibition centre will aim to coordinate with the off shore wind farms  in East Kent and with Thanet Earth, the largest greenhouse development in the UK covering an area of 91 hectares.

Design Policy
Photovoltaic technology [capturing the suns energy and converting it into electricity] was born in the 1950’s and invented to power satellites and space shuttles yet the technology still  remains in its infancy. The Power Flower project hopes to project further research into photovoltaic cells in order to create a more versatile and efficient product with a larger variety of colours for the use in arts and architecture in cities. 
A house with daffodils in it is a house lit up whether there is sunshine outside or not. This light will be The Power Flowers message of hope and regeneration to the world as it rises from the smoke tower of a redundant power station an energy resource of the past.  With the continued use of fossil fuel the threat of global warming is now fact. The effect that this is having to the planets weather systems and all species on earth is taking dramatic effect in our life time. The Power Flower will represent the sun and the awakening of the human consciousness demanding change by its existence and inspiring change in our life time.
Local Population 
The population of South East England [not including London] 2001 census was 8,000,550 and covers the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and West Sussex.  The local population of Thanet is 130,000 and covers the districts of Ramsgate, Margate, Sandwich, Broadstairs and the parish districts of Acol, Birchington, Cliffsend, Manston, Minster, Monkton, and St. Nicholas-at-Wade. Thanet’s boarders run as far as Canterrbury to the West and to Dover and Deal to the South.  

Social issues
Thanet is in a remote peripheral location suffering from long term neglect, negative media attention and high unemployment. The estimated Gross Domestic Product index of Multiple Deprivation indicates that Thanet is amongst the bottom 60 local authorities in England and has 7 wards in the worst 10% in England. With high numbers of old people, low numbers of affluent people and poor overall indicators for health, as a result a great deal of planning is being done to encourage more businesses to relocate to the district especially the Thanet / Sandwich corridor where the Power Flower will be located.  

Among plans being considered in Thanet is an arts centre in Margate, the Turner Gallery, and a new community centre in Broadstairs. Redevelopment and renovations are also being undertaken at Margate with a Heritage Amusement Park, whist at Cliftonville the local Lido is being refurbished and a new hotel is being built in Monkton. In addition, the District Council has introduced an empty property initiative and has compulsory purchased empty and derelict buildings with the objective of bringing them back in use. 

The Power Flower will create a vision for East Kent by becoming a centre for scientific research for renewable energy resources. This will be achievable with cheap land open for development in the Thanet / Sandwich corridor, cost effective local housing for workers, a pleasant environment by the coast and improved travel links with a local airport at Manston, rail links to Europe from Ashford and with existing local research centres such as Pfyzer not on mile away from the proposed site. 
Wind Farms
There is an off shore wind project located off North Foreland, 3 miles north of the site which should be completed by 2010. The project is expected to have a total capacity of up to 300 MW which, on average, is sufficient to supply approximately 240,000 homes per year with green energy. The off shore wind project will thus make a significant contribution to the Government’s national and regional renewable energy targets whilst The Power Flower will reinforce the governments message and make East Kent a centre for renewable energy, research and excellence that will be recognised around the world.  
Social Inclusion
The Power Flower will encourage civic pride and a sense of community in an area that has been neglected for many years. By its creation ‘The Power Flower’ will inspire the local community in a way that only an arts project of this scale and vision can do. It will become a satellite for regeneration and like a beacon of light attract business and people to the area. It will promote best of breed design and buildings of excellence as outlined by The Urban Task Force report and by doing so reduce crime, increase education and actively assist social inclusion by creating work across all sections of society.  

Tourism is worth an estimated £1.306 BN to the Kent economy with day trip expenditure at £625 M. This is estimated to increase in the wake of the hotter summers and people flying less and local transport networks improving. The Power Flower will with out doubt put Thanet on the eco tourists map and bring  people to the area to visit local heritage towns, the many beaches and the nature reserves situated around Richborough. This is turn will help the local economy and further develop local business and the cultural industries specifically Minster located only a short distance a way and under proposal as a heritage village. The Power Flower will thus work with the tourism alliance and put East Kent back in the cultural conscience of the UK as a destination of beauty, ecological tourism and a holiday destination to be enjoyed by all.   

The Power Flower is an installation of scale that will have impact on both a social and a scientific scale and become an icon for the South of England, and the regeneration of East Kent. The Power Flower will give hope to a local community suffering from high unemployment and social deprivation in turn it will regenerate and attract eco business, tourism and bring positive media coverage to East Kent. The Power Flower will also signify the beginning of a new era in global politics as communities across the planet reach out for renewable safe energy. 

Live Roulette Interactive Casino

I took ownership as Senior Producer of Live Roulette Vegas247, the first interactive television casino, in 2004 and within 7 months had launched an online IPTV ‘Twindow’ version. By creating live gaming environments I was developing the first real time, interactive communities by way of a two way conversation [2WayTV] between studio, presenter, gamer [viewer]. We then took it a stage further and asked the customers how we could improve our product and in doing so created a customer engagement strategy where the players bought into the brand concept by leading product development, the core of the customer experience.

The community responded, we replied with a host of new interactive features, customer solutions and added value propositions. We had created a transparent service model and breathed life into a smoky old mans casino product. We kept the business model in a continual state of beta and put the player at the heart of a 360 interactive customer centric engagement strategy. We were rewarded and earned the right to thousands of brand advocates.

The Live Roulette team felt street savvy, cutting edge and proud as retention figures balanced, customer life time value increased and sign ups rocketed. By January 2007, 24 months from concept Live Roulette went to exit sale to Netplay. In that time Sky Vegas had aggressively competed against us and closed along with a host of inferior copy cat products. Live Roulette, now branded as Super Casino, is braodcast on Channel5 and ITV2 turning over around £50m a month.

More recently Live Roulette was bought by Playtech and may now  fulfill our original vision to become an international eGaming product using the UK TV brand as a trust beacon to attract the trust of the global customer. Whilst you may not be a gambling fan you are viewing the future, with live interactive broadcasting being the most direct way to engage and be engaged with an audience. 'Twinodw' play along 2WayTV scenarios such as 'The Million Pound Drop' watch on TV and play along online are catching up but are still missing many core elements to complete a totally interactive customer centric future. With the will and an understanding of  interactive television production WEB MOB the possibilities are endless. Enter the iPad.