Interview with X Media Lab CEO Brendan Harkin

null “I think that computer games are the highest current form of art” In a multiplatform universe where interactivity and digital are the buzzwords, X Media Lab CEO Brendan Harkin seems to be the man of the moment. Convinced that the future big ideas in entertainment are going to come out of cross media pollination with new media and interactivity playing a key role, Harkin, the ever forward thinking professional has aligned his company’s future course with his cross media ideology. Founded in 2003, X Media Lab has so far been succesfully held in Australia and Singapore with the second Singapore lab scheduled from 17 to 19 November 05. ‘Creating Successful Computer Games’ is the theme for the lab which shall have Eight stalwarts from the gaming industry as its mentors. While at MIPCOM 2005, Animation ‘xpress Editor Anand Gurnani met up with Harkin to know more about X Media Lab Excerpts When and how did the X Media Lab originate? X|Media|Lab began as part of the Sydney Film Festival in 2003. The idea was to help local, independent digital media producers get their ideas successfully to market by inviting outstanding international new media professionals to act as Mentors to the companies and project teams. Who are the mentors for the upcoming lab at Singapore? There’s some real amazing mentors that we have got together for the lab. There’s Katie Salen who is a World renowned games writer, academic, author and feature film animator, there’s Matt Costello who’s Author of DOOM 3, there’s Noah Falstein who runs game consulting firm The Inspiracy. Falstein was amongst the first ten employees at Lucasfilm Games, The 3DO Company, and Dreamworks Interactive besides also being the first elected Chairperson of the IDGA. There’s Tracy Fullerton, Director of the new Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab at USC, Mark Meadows who’s spent time as Artist-in-Residence at Xerox-PARC and Stanford Research Institute and has co-founded three companies that relate to artificial intelligence, interactive narrative, or virtual reality. Xin Chung who’s company Vykaruis Shanghai and LA – has taken Lord of the Rings, God of War, and the Dead Rush franchises into production in China. He is also Columnist and advisor to Game Developer Magazine of China. There’s David Kainer CTO and Co-Founder of mobile games development company Viva La Mobile – the developers of the Official 2006 World Cup mobile game GOAL! and finally we have American McGee who has made contributions to titles like “Doom,” “Doom II,” “Final Doom,” “Ultimate Doom,” “Quake” & “Quake II,” What is the way in which this functions… if you could elaborate? The basic idea is that each of the selected project teams effectively “programs” their own time at the Lab by selecting which Mentors they want to work with … hence, the Lab experience is different for each team. They select their own topics and sequence of Mentors and then work through that over the period of the Lab. That’s why the process works so well – teams are working on their own ideas one-on-one with the Mentors who they think can help them best. The idea is to help the project teams get their project successfully to market – this means they may be working on creative angles, technology issues, business planning, or market strategies. The projects are usually at different stages fo development – that’s why its important to let the teams program their own agenda at the Lab. I should stress that the project teams are not working on each others projects! They are working on their own projects individually one-on-one with each Mentor at a time. Suppose there is a particular project which has been under development and it is nominated for the lab. Would a mentor invest in the project if he finds it worthy? That’s possible … but not necessary. More likely is that the project team may continue a kind of “consulting” relationship with one or more of the Mentors after the Lab. But that is completely up to them. There is no compulsion to continue any relationships after the Lab. It is completely up the project teams themselves. We are however looking at ways we can help teams get access to funding after the Labs. This is a very common request that we get. Currently, we are looking at facilitating meetings between the projects and VC’s in an informal environment after the Lab. Funding is a very important issue for most of the teams who attend X|Media|Lab. What’s the pitch for Indian developers? Come to the Lab in Singapore, work directly on your own project ideas with 8 of the best games people in the world, become part of an elite international network of people who can help you get your idea to market and achieve commecial success! It’s all about professional development; project development and international networks of great people! It would be very difficult to get face-to-face with ONE of these people and get them to work with you on what you’re doing. Getting to do it with EIGHT, all in one go, is a really unique opportunity. Everyone who goes through the Lab adores the experience and values it very highly! If after the lab one needs guidance from the mentors….. does the X media lab facilitate that? We are moving into that space now. We are testing some online collaboration software to enable people to stay in touch after the Lab. We will be doing this for the first time in Singapore and are very excited about that opportunity. The idea will be that the teams undertake an 8 week online syllabus (a few hours each week) with particular mentors with a view to producing a document ready for pitching to VC’s at the end of the 8 weeks. This will be moderated and managed by X Media Lab online? Yes. Because people come to X|Media|Lab from all over the world, an online facility is the only practical way of staying in touch during that period. At the end of the process, the teams will have produced a document that is ready for VC-assessment and investment. We are expecting to arrange a “pitching” forum for the teams to meet investors about 8 weeks after the Lab … after they have been through the “From Concept to Pitching” online course. What abt the masterclasses? how much attendance did you have in June when you did your first Singapore X Media Lab? The Masterclass Day is by general admission for anyone who wants to attend. We had about 120 in June. We have a morning “plenary session, and then 2 Masterclass streams in the afternoon, attendees can pick which of the 2 streams you go to at any time. Any success stories that have come out of X Media Lab? Yes – Avalangers in Singapore have developed a mobile animation application for learning English which has been licensed to three major China telco’s with over 500,000 subscribers! Two other games projects received development funding amongst them being Playware Studios (Founded by Siddharth Jain) for an MMOG console game and Nexgen Studios for a MMOG mobile game. Could you share with us some of your experiences in this field and what future trends do you see in Gaming? I see further industry growth, especially in such areas as “serious gaming” applications. I also think that AI, especially in emotional responses, will continue to change the gaming experience, probably dramatically. I also think that one very important thing is that “games” as a career is properly developed. There is still too much of the “hobbyist” rather than “careerist” attitude amongst financiers, parents, and educational institutions. A properly developed career structure, through the maturation of the industry, will lead to better outcomes not only for gamers but also for game makers and producers. Lastly, I think that computer games are the highest current form of “art”. What is being achieved is sensational … combining technology, programming, AI, graphics, VFX, music, and story-telling. Games will continue to set the benchmark in creative media. What changes in media have impressed you as most striking? The change from the broadcast model of media to the participation model. Also we tend to forget the radically transformative nature of the internet revolution, probably because of the dot com crash. But it is definitely still with us; and definitely of ever increasing importance. Parting Shot? X|media|Lab is an opportunity to stop and think about your project, and work on your ideas with a selection of great professionals. It’s a unique chance to work on your own ideas in a relaxed and friendly environment, and become friends with people who can really help you. We are building the Lab into an internationally recognised event and are looking to develop a coherent set of professional development training courses – and a highly valuable international network. I hope we actually do a Lab in India next year!