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All the good stuff rises to the top

By on May 28, 2008
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An article of mine on what 2008 holds for Sony is currently on the homepage of www.helium.com.

Helium is a great concept, but I feel it is flawed.

The principle is that good material floats to the top (like helium, geddit). Anyone can write anything on any subject, either by creating a new topic or by submitting an article on an existing topic. Members are frequently asked to compare two articles to say which is better and over time the best ones rise to the top.

I feel that Helium has many flaws (and it’s not just because my article on Sony is rated second out of 2; my article on the popularity of pirates in entertainment is top of the list of 9).

The first one is that unlike Wikipedia, Helium is not actually about the collected knowledge of vast numbers of people. Anyone can edit each entry on Wikipedia which means that over time, a single article can become a highly-refined distillation of the views and knowledge of the Internet community. On the downside, it means that Wikipedia articles do not have a distinctive voice, are rarely whimsical or entertaining, and are often dry. On the upside, it’s an encyclopedia, for God’s sake. So a dry, clear, informative style is appropriated.

In contrast, to get the same level of knowledge of Helium, you have to trawl through ten or twenty articles to find the one that you like. I often disagree with choice of  article that is rated most highly. For example, my articles on Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have tended to focus on major strategic issues; most other articles tend to focus on what games are coming out in the next few months. I completely understand why the articles which discuss games get more votes: punters can relate to them more easily. But this is place for both pieces of analysis, ideally combined into the same article (a la Wikipedia), and Helium only allows an either/or model.

Helium has recognised this. They have incentives for rating articles but it’s bloody difficult to stick it out. I was asked to rate 10 articles on fly fishing and then American wrestling. I never ever want to know anything about either of them, so I really couldn’t give a monkeys. What kind of rating system was that?

The second, and much more substantial problem for Helium, is that there is not a single article for people to link to. If you want to link to a Wikipedia article on Nintendo, you just point to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo, safe in the knowledge that if anything major happens (Nintendo launches new mobile phone, say) Wikipedia will reflect that in minutes.

But where would you link to in Helium? There is no single place, just lots of different articles about Nintendo, which may or may not be up to date, or relevant to all questions about Nintendo. Which means that Wikipedia has a massive advantage in terms of links, search engines and the other primary drivers of traffic.

How does all of this relate to games?

To my mind, the answer is that Helium and Wikipedia both have something right. They are about harnessing the collective power of crowds, the cognitive surplus, to create a new, amazing (and free to build) resource.

The games industry should, in my mind, start looking for ways to do the same. The problem with the Wikipedia approach is that entertainment properties are not encyclopedias – they need passion, drive, a unique voice, creativity and so on. Try to build that by a committee of Wikipedians and you’ll end up a film like Catwoman.

So the question that the game industry needs to wrestle with is how do use the cognitive surplus to help get the best from the games.

And for my money, it’s going to be closer to Helium than Wikipedia.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com