Selling New Mobile Phone Features: "Purchasers of the D600 handset are invited to participate into, what looks like, quite a compelling interactive game and successfully complete 5 tasks. Each task in cunningly designed to also demonstrate how to use different features of the phones."

Interesting - and very similar in principle to a project which we undertook for Mr Jones' group at Nokia earlier this year, exploring what play can mean for them - and specifically how it can be used to encourage people to do more with their phones. I've been meaning to write about this for *ages* now (particularly after I presented it publicly for the first time at dScape 2005); apologies if the text below sounds a bit "press"y, I've lifted it from the case study (which should go onto our site rsn).

We all like to play; whether we're trainspotters, online gamers, old or young, we all take pleasure from playfulness. It can be solo activity, a social exercise, investigative, educational or just plain fun. In a mobile context, play is usually associated with simple downloadable arcade games - but this needn't be the whole story.

So we built a mobile toy for Nokia, called Twitchr.

take_photo.gifThe idea behind Twitchr is simple: digital birds visit your mobile phone. An application that resides on your handset gives you a window onto a "virtual garden", into which these birds will fly from time to time. To tempt them, you use an almost childishly simple one-click interface to drop pieces of seed on the ground; minutes or hours later, your handset flashes and tweets as a bird arrives, and you have a short window of opportunity to click again and snap a photo. Bird photographs are saved into a personal scrapbook, where they can be reviewed later.

So far, so good: at its most basic Twitchr is an engaging and (we think) delightful digital toy with which you interact throughout the day. But it goes a lot further - players can deepen and extend their interaction with the game in several ways, each of which involves learning more about the capabilities of their handsets.

For instance, if you configure Bluetooth and "pair" your device with that of a Twitchr-playing friend, then birds can fly between your phones. If you don't snap a visitor time, your friend has a chance to (if they are within range). This adds a new physical dimension to the game: don't want your friend to catch that rare crow that just took all your seed? Run away quick until they're out of range! Annoyed that you weren't fast enough to snap that owl? Give your pal the nod and she'll get a chance to...

And if you configure your internet settings, the game opens up further as you become part worldwide community of players: upload your photos to the Twitchr web site, browse or search for other players and their photos, trade or swap seed and photos, watch the migration patterns of birds as they hop from player to player, even write your own software to interface with the TwitchrSphere!

Once you're online, your phone becomes part of a massive digital environment: numbers of the various species rise and fall over time, new species can be introduced, and old ones become extinct. This gives rise to all kinds of emergent behaviour: don't want a breed to become extinct? Disconnect your handset from the world and you can become a rare bird breeder, catching otherwise-extinct varieties and releasing them back into the wild via Bluetooth!

Played on its own, with friends, or with the world, it's an open-ended community game which has no beginning, no end, no winners and no losers. We built the on-handset application, the web site behind it, the algorithms which determine the rise and fall of bird breeds, and the technology powering it all; art direction by the horribly talented Denise Wilton, whilst at FP Mr Ribot can take much of the credit for the implementation (supported by Ms Lozdan, Mr Burt and myself).

3_star.gifIf you'd like to have a quick Twitch, we're running a closed beta right now: email to get onto it.

Social play, bluetooth, a one-click interface... this presses *so* many buttons for me. We're now looking for directions to take Twitchr in next - drop me an email or leave a comment if you'd like to have a chat about it.