My COM 546 Term Project

You can find my final term project for the UW MCDM COM 546 (Evolutions and Trends in Digital Media) here.  Enjoy!

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Video Games: An Evolution of the Narrative Form

My final presentation for COM 546 in the University of Washington’s MCDM program, Spring 2011

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Cutting the Cord

Chapter 10 of Clayton Christensen’s Seeing What’s Next addresses disruptive and sustaining technologies in the telecommunications industry.  Growing focus on mobile and IP solutions have forced the incumbent landline companies to address new business models and ward off upstarts threatening to encroach on their space and steal their customers away.  Anyone with a laptop and/or a mobile phone (which I suspect accounts for 99.9% of the people reading this post) can attest that telephony in its traditional form is archaic and no longer provides the services that today’s customers require.  The growth of free or inexpensive Wi-Fi, mobile 3G (and now 4G) networks, and the refinement of VoIP services have severely disrupted the incumbents’ residential and enterprise businesses.

Christensen notes that customers increasingly use wireless phones instead of landline service, tolerating poorer-performing technologies in exchange for convenience and lower cost. (Christensen, Kindle location 5006)  Since his writing, broadband has become faster and more reliable.  This has allowed VoIP companies to improve the quality of their services while continuing to offer lower rates than incumbent organizations.

In one sense, I’ve taken one small step away from traditional telephony by switching to a cable provider for the landline at my home.  Christensen suggests that cable companies that offer voice services are following a sustaining, not a disruptive, strategy.  I would contend that their voice offerings are extremely disruptive to traditional phone companies.  I chose a less-expensive home phone option from the cable company that came bundled with Internet service.  Before that, I always relied on a phone company for my landline.  I contend that mine was the telecom’s business to lose.  And it did.  On top of higher prices, my local telecom did not offer broadband service in my area.  Its inability to compete cost not only Internet service, but phone service as well.

After reading this chapter, I am giving serious consideration to cancelling my home phone altogether.  Mobile has become my primary medium of communicating, whether using voice, text, instant messaging, or email.  Coupling newer VoIP options such as Google Voice, Skype, and Magic Jack, the need for a landline is becoming increasingly less relevant in my day to day life – especially since they are available on the computer and mobile device.  Taking into account the number of computers in my household (three) and mobile devices (two), I effectively have five phone lines for only two users.  In addition, the various VoIP options at my disposal offer more novel features than the traditional phone such as transcribed voicemail, free texting, email alerts, and unified phone numbers across my devices accessible anywhere with 3G or Wi-Fi.  Why am I still paying for a service I rarely use?

The same holds at my place of business.  When I started working at Microsoft, I was surprised that I had to actively request a phone number and a desk phone.  When the device arrived, it had one cord – a USB cable to connect it to my computer.  As I’ve adapted to the way the company does business, it became clear why they only provide phones upon request.  Voice communication is not relevant for the majority of our interactions.  More remarkable still is the notion that wherever I take my company-issued laptop, I’m also taking my office phone.  As long as I have Internet connection, I can make or receive calls as if I were in the office without worrying about turning on call-forwarding or remembering to turn it off when I return.

As Christensen addresses throughout the chapter, one technology alone could not disrupt traditional telecoms’ business in any meaningful way.  However, when combined, cable broadband, Wi-Fi, mobile, and non-voice communications are taking a serious cut of the incumbents’ business.  Time will tell if the landline will become a relic like the telegraph before it.  I for one won’t miss it or the 34 unheard (and likely unimportant) voicemails waiting for the next time I dust it off to use it.


  1. In light of the technological growth during seven years since Christensen published Seeing What’s Next, does traditional telephony have a place in today’s market?
  2. What are the most important voice features to you?  Does the traditional land line provide those features?
  3. Can traditional phone companies compete with the disrupters?  How will they have to adapt to increase revenue?

Christensen, C. (2004). Seeing what’s next: Using the theories of innovation to predict industry change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

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Reflection Time

I am fortunate that I have a manager at work that believes in the Presentation Zen style, so I have put several together in the past year.  By far, my favorite part is trolling Flickr for just the right imagery to convey the story and the emotion to support the content of my argument.  Coming up with language to support my ideas or move the story along without being verbose is far more challenging.

The presentations I gave in class went quite well.  My delivery improved between the first and second presentations, which goes to show that practice can only prepare you to a certain point.  Actually presenting to an audience is the only way to get better.  I had my whole presentation worked out in my head, but once it began I didn’t trust myself and ended referring to my outline more than I had intended.  Good thing I had it!

I think the content of my presentation went over well with my classmates and they understood the basis of my argument.  Judging by the comments on my blog post, they appeared to agree with me that the author came off a bit alarmist.

I thank everyone for listening and for such great participation during the presentation and for the kind remarks that they posted on my blog.

I’m looking forward to presenting my term project to the entire class!

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The Evolution of Narrative in Video Games – A Theoretical Framework

My term project looks at the evolution of video games and how they have succeeded in expanding beyond their primary demographic of hard-core gamers at the expense of traditional media.  The three most important developments in this space have been the introduction of narratives in game design, more powerful computers, and diffusion of innovative technologies like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect.  Theories from Christensen and Fidler will help support my argument in the present and future sections of my paper. Continue reading

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The Ego Has Landed

In her The New Atlantis journal article, “The Age of Egocasting,” Christine Rosen criticizes the culture of personalization, where we focus only on our own interests and where we shelter ourselves from unwanted media.  Addressing shifting trends in television and music, Rosen argues that technology such as TV remotes, DVRs, and MP3 players are having a dire effect on the entertainment industry.  Tools that allow us to individually shape our own entertainment experience disrupt traditional business models of media producers.  But she believes these technologies have a far worse consequence for consumers.  By selecting what we want to see or hear, when and how we want, we are becoming increasingly narcissistic. Continue reading

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For a Good Read, Click on! (Shh, It’s an Annotated Bibliography)

Interested in how my research is going so far?  Me too! Continue reading

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We’re Converging Alright, But How Much?

Review Citation:

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins asserts that we are in the midst of a major transformation in the way we consume, participate in, and produce popular media.  Both creators and their audiences are expressing themselves in new ways thanks to advances in technology.  A participatory culture is emerging, changing the relationship between content creators and their fans. Social media, transmedia franchises, and accessibility of inexpensive production and distribution channels allow communities of people to interact with each other around shared content.  Although Jenkins’ case studies focus on only the most valuable properties, which aren’t necessarily representative of the wider market, his description of the struggle between “old media” leadership and the new participant consumer is compelling. Continue reading


Twitter Me This

While reading Everett Rogers’ chapter on the Innovation-Decision Process from Diffusion of Innovations, I wanted to see if his model of technology adoption worked against my own experiences. Specifically, I applied his concepts to my initial use of Twitter. I found this, then new, service to be rather divisive in my family and circle of friends. For the converted, it represented a communication evolution that started with email, progressed (or maybe declined?) with text messaging, and hit its stride with status updates on Facebook.  I wasn’t so sure. Continue reading

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Video Games and Movies are Getting Engaged!

I originally thought that I wanted to target the evolution of video game consoles for my term project.  But upon deeper consideration, I realized that the topic didn’t inspire me as much as how people interact with the content on those devices.  Instead, I think that this project could serve help me reconcile my mid-career shift from filmmaking to the video game industry.  I believe that the two are on a collision course to form a new medium and I am interested in exploring that possibility. Continue reading

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