It has been a slow and often painful journey, but large companies are starting to embrace concepts and technologies that many of us take for granted: gaming, virtual environments, and gestural interfaces. The backdrop to many of these concepts is openness: the willingness of people, and other companies themselves, to share ideas, developments, products, and distribution methods that actively encourage open participation, and the means to experiment.
Where experimentation happens is where you'll find Ian Hughes. A self-proclaimed "Metaverse evangelist", Hughes is actually something of a polymath: commentator on social technology, software developer, frenetic researcher, co-host of children's tech show Cool Stuff Collective, and a consultant to companies that want to know what lies at the edge, and what they will need to factor into business planning – and business culture.
As Chairman of the BCS Animation and Games Specialist Group, Hughes plays something of the shuttle diplomat: promoting the games industry and its technologies to the BCS, while providing professional development opportunities to the industry through BCS activity. He sees gaming as a sector which can provide tremendous knowledge to others. Gestural interfaces can clearly be applied to other sectors, as can the infrastructure developed to support games such as World of Warcraft. He acknowledges that bridge-building between an established Society and the gaming community is not going to take place overnight, and perhaps the application of game technologies into other business sectors will be the way to do achieve the understanding that's needed.
Hughes is unquestionably convincing in the way in which he encourages his own clients to apply gaming concepts and technologies within business. Gone are the days when a briefing equates to a slide-heavy Powerpoint; what's required to convince the less-aware is a mix of psychology, persuasion, theatre... and a spoonful of fear: the fear that they will be left behind.
"Software in a corporate environment is really about the next version, and how it's going to automate some sort of process. It's what you think software does. But, when it's about people interacting with one another and it's the fabric of your business - your people - it suddenly gets more complicated. It's not the tech that's the difficult bit, it's the people that's the difficult bit. It's quite complicated to say that people are going to be happier, or share more, or are more likely to invent more. People like definite boxes. As soon as you get something more expressive such as with virtual environments, you can see people making choices about how they represent themselves... then you look at how to understand their peers, and who to go to in an organisation, and how that social network works, then you know that now, it's not just who you know, but who you see that you know."