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011: The Olympic Experience

At the edge of the forest, our heroes find the game of all games, but there’s a big peacock in the way.

Games discussed on this episode:

  • Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Tim Broadwater  

I’m always fascinated by the Olympics; I’m always fascinated about where they choose to like, where it’s going. And you know, it spits it out, like 10 years in advance, like, eight Olympics forward. And I think in 2028, it comes back to the US; it’ll be in LA. And then I’m always, you know, as a designer, part of me is always excited by the, you know, what fonts are they using. They change the logo here, and they have, like, a character that they make and a logo for both the Olympics and the Paralympics. So, personally, the Olympic branding, their website, their web app, and experiences are always the cream of the crop when it comes to the future of web design – or what’s happening right now. Right?

Michael Schofield  

What? Wait, yeah, really, I’m gonna have to load it up.

Tim Broadwater  

Their websites are phenomenal, you know, and I think NBC’s, you know, they always kind of throw up one, I feel like there’s is always going to be like, just like the most responsive, the coolest, you know, just great with content, but then that’s nbcolympics.com, but then there’s also, you know, the core Olympics.com which is actually by the Olympics committee. And so I’m just always kind of impressed about how you can search it and, and then also how it’s implemented. Like as it trickles down, right. So if you have a Roku TV, right, you can go into a Roku TV. It has iconography for all the sports, so you can actually go to an Olympic section, and then you can just go to gymnastics or sailing or, or whatever. And you can then get those highlight videos and content. So it’s like, it’s a lot. It’s like, I think they say it’s like 17,000 hours of content that’s recorded that’s baked into those 17 days, that is the Olympics. And then it’s just how it’s routed out to YouTube. And now streaming services are a huge part because of what NBC is doing with Peacock, and there’s now a Peacock +, which is their premium subscription. So you can watch the replays and the recaps, which are very, very constructed. And they’re very, like, here’s Lester Holt or Hoda Khatam, or like someone just like framing it and telling you to view and, but if you don’t want to watch them, you can go to the live streaming. Still, of course, it’s in Tokyo, so you’d have to watch it at four in the morning, you know, to get the live streaming. But then to get the live streaming access, you have to have like a cable network, and you have to have like all of the ESPN channels or the NBC Sports channels, and it’s just like this big to do. And it’s a lot of media, a lot of backstories, and it’s just like planned years in advance. And so I’m always impressed, you know, with how it’s reached and how, you know, kind of what all it touches media web-wise, and game-wise too. But I know that there’s a lot of Reddit and Twitter anger out there because once again, what people are reminded of is that NBC has paid $1.7 billion for all the US rights for airing, right. So they have total control of what we see in the States. And there are literally very few options to see if you don’t go through NBC.

Michael Schofield  

Planning out and putting together the Olympic design is one of the biggest design projects historically, every four years, how hundreds of design professionals, not to mention a Bible of design patterns that have to … – well, I don’t know if they have to be like honored by or trickled down through all the different streaming services through all the different websites because the other thing that like is true about the Olympics.com is that it like parts of it has modules that can be pulled into other news sites and the same way that I think of NPR where they’re You know, an NPR grandparent website. But all these other individual local public radio stations are NPR affiliates or pull in NPR programming. And that all comes down through, you know, these, you know, this kind of like modular design, both in terms of like look and feel, and in terms of the technology about how they pull it into their websites. And the Olympics looks like it’s doing the exact same thing. And I just did a cursory search. And I found, like the whole pattern libraries of the previous Olympics, which is fascinating. And also, of course, Reddit is going nuts about the bad UX of the Olympics. At least on the UX design subreddit, I guess, because I guess they’re doing some really cool things, or are arguably cool, quote, unquote, scare, quote, cool core cool. Things about projecting speeds and scores and stuff like that onto the event itself, as they’re happening in the same way that, like, Monday Night Football does.

Tim Broadwater  

Exactly. And then if you’re watching it, and you’re like, Hey, I just want to check out, I just want to watch that opening ceremony. Like every couple of minutes, you’re slammed with all of these plugins for NBC’s fall lineup or shows that are only available on Peacock. But I feel like, like, the UI is amazing, right? The UI as it extends to YouTube, and Peacock and an NBC or olympics.com is great; it works. The patterns are there. However, it’s the service that I think is a total disconnect for people. Because what people want, right the user experience here, they expect what the expectation is, is me as an average joe, whoever in the world, I’m, let’s say, I’m super interested in skateboarding, which is new this year and the Olympics. And I just want to go somewhere on my web, on my PlayStation, on my computer, on my phone, whatever. And watch. I just want to see the finals, you know, or I just want to see the qualifiers, or I want to see that. And so what the expectation is on that part of the user is always the same every, it’s not every four years, it’s every two years because the Winter Olympics are exactly the same way. I just want to go and watch what I want to watch. And if it happens to be live right now, I’ll watch it live. But if it’s already happened, I just want to be able to watch that feed, you know, and fast forward and rewind in it. It’s the same mechanics that we get with a DVR on Comcast, or if you have Hulu or YouTube or Netflix, the user wants to be able to go to the part they want to see or go to the content they want to see. But there are so many obfuscations and layers, where it’s like, NBC is like, we’re gonna create all this content and backstories of athletes, and then we’re gonna do the solo side stories. And then we’re gonna do these individual wrap-up stories. So we’re gonna do all this. And it’s just not what people want. And it’s the same every two years, every four years if you’re a summer or winter Olympics person. And it’s always the same. And the only way to get that experience you want is to pay for it and pay a lot. 

Michael Schofield  

I only learned there were even Olympics pay-per-view options this year because, frankly, as you know, as long as it takes to hit my radar with this kind of stuff. A lot of the people I follow were griping about the cost of the pay per view. And I legit had no idea. You had to pay-per-view Olympics if that sounds weird because, like growing up, it’s always been, you know, public access television or something. 

Tim Broadwater  

It’s definitely changed over time. Right. And then the other piece of it, depending on where it is in the world, when it was Sochi for the last winter Olympics, like it all happened in the morning. You had to get up at 6am, or you had to have the only option really was with you know, NBC is a company owned by Comcast. So you have to go to Comcast. That is literally the cream of the crop. You have to have Comcast cable, you have to have a DVR, and you have to have all of ESPN sports. That is legitimately The only way that you can watch anything and everything whenever you want. And fast forward and rewind and go to it. They have that lockdown. That is the only way to experience it in the way everyone expects and how it should be sure. There’s just you have to pay, and you have to go through that forced content. And it’s just so off-putting right it’s so off-putting.

Michael Schofield  

Yeah, I totally understand that. And I just happened to find a discussion about the jobs to be done of providing an Olympic, I guess, an Olympic level Olympics experience. And I kind of want to run these by you to see if this sounds right. If you were to imagine, you know, if this were your job, if you were, you know, King Olympic design. And it was your job to provide the service. These would be the jobs, presumably, that your users have. I wanted to run through this just to get your thoughts and because I think it illustrates the difficulty in terms of the design challenge here. Particularly because these jobs will be very subjective, as I describe them, so here they go first, the big one. Watching the big events live in crisp and clear coverage, without buffering. There’s a little sub-thread here about how interesting it is that the idea of buffering or any kind of lag within the last 10 years was pretty reasonable. But we are now at a point where even given the popularity of the streaming services. How robust that infrastructure is now, that lag is now 20 in the 21st century, deemed unacceptable. For an event of this magnitude, Does that ring true?

Tim Broadwater  

I agree. That’s an infrastructure thing.

Michael Schofield  

It’s the convention, you know, like, if you can, if you can stream, you know, the latest Black Widow like through Disney plus or whatever. So maybe it’s not the same thing because it’s not being filmed in real-time. But the idea is that many people have a number of streaming services in their house. And for the Olympics, you know, the Olympic design and delivery service have to adhere to that convention, right? So it can’t look like, you know, PBS or something like that.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, webcasting has existed forever. Right. And so it’s basically you’re just delaying a couple of minutes. Yeah, we’re seconds or, you know, five minutes or whatever. And then it’s just, you know, once it’s cached, you’re streaming it. So the problem is not so much the webcasting, the two problems are further down the stream from that are the infrastructure of our cable networks in the world. If you’ve talked to anyone who’s actually gone to South Korea, before much faster, and they have national fiber, you know, so that’s, it’s paid for under their taxes, you know. So they have, it’s a utility, and it’s considered that way. And so there’s no, you know, you have the best access all the time. But then the other piece is this, this rights purchase, kind of purchasing. Right? And so when you have the partners of the Olympics and Paralympics that are Samsung, Toyota, Visa, Intel, Panasonic, Coca Cola, they’re paying for the content, right? And so, you know, their filters, their conference, their content, their lenses, their product is what is the place, and people. You know, so I think what’s happening is that what we’ve seen with the opening ceremony was the lowest it’s ever been in 33 years. 

Yeah, the viewership is the lowest that it’s been in 33 years, which is, you know, over the last 15 or 16 Olympics, it’s the worst, especially in a time when everyone’s at home. They’re trying to stream, right? And they can’t, and so that speaks to a problem. That really speaks to the situation that’s there if the disconnect between it’s not always is. I understand what the stakeholders want is a bill, but is it really what customers are going to put up with? And so what you’re gonna see now is, it’s all going to below, we’re gonna have two weeks of low attendance, essentially, 14 days, and it’s over. And then people are just gonna watch it in reverse, right? They’re going to go on YouTube and watch it, or they’re going to go watch clips because it’s, it’s, it’s kind of inaccessible and unwatchable as it’s going on. And I think that it’s different from last year’s COVID-19. And we’re seeing HBO NOW, or Disney plus, like vying for like, oh, we’re gonna get certain movies, and we’re gonna get features and add it. But if you play premium, you can watch Milan early or, or HBO is like, no if you just pay us, we’re not going to screw you, you. You can watch our theater releases as they get released in the theater, you know.

There’s always been this competition for attention. It’s an attention economy. But now I just think it’s like, you’ve kind of buried yourself. Some part of I think everyone is wondering, Is this what NBC is trying to do to leverage Peacock or get more people on Peacock subscription, so they get all the people to pay five bucks for just this month to watch it live. But this is the funny thing, it is not live coverage. If you just have internet and you don’t have cable, you can’t watch it through Hulu, you have to pay for the Live TV option for Hulu, or you have to pay it through Peacock or something like that. And so you’re not getting live TV. And then also when you’re watching it, it’s not like ESPN, where it’s just like, Hey, we just set up the cameras and it goes and what, you know, what event announcers we have there? Or who the people are that are really there physically? No, you’re getting a remixed kind of cut show. So you’re paying for, like, okay, Lester Holt’s coverage of it, that has been cut up and pieced together for you over a two-hour block on NBC every night at seven. And no one wants that, you know, no one, everyone just wants to watch the sport. They don’t want the commentary, you know, or if they do want the commentary. They don’t want broadcast news, people doing it.

Michael Schofield  

A huge part of like games and the design of games is the –

Tim Broadwater  

in which it’s given, you know, —

Michael Schofield  

the productization of it, right? I mean, the fact is that none of us can play games till that’s marketed toward us and that there’s some sort of like monetary value surrounding it. Right. So like, there’s this, like, one of the things, you know, it’s kind of like at this kind of marketing or monetary or, you know, what, I think what you can imagine is that you know, here, the Olympic Games, it’s a world good, right? It’s supposed to be this great uniter, maybe not uniter, but you know, a kind of a peaceful exercise, internationally, where countries can put their best faces on and do something other than politic for a little bit. Right. But in this case, I think what we have is a super example of, you know, the creation of like a hardcore anti-pattern specifically to you know, pump up the subscriber numbers to Peacock plus where they are funneling access or making access difficult specifically to you know, create these points of friction that’s going to make them a little bit of money. You see this in games, like all the time, these are microtransactions, these are whatever, right? And it’s just interesting where, you know, I think it’s valid to talk about the games and you know, that’s what the Olympics are there, you know.

Tim Broadwater  

No, I agree with you and, and how and I how I equate it is not microtransactions how I equate it is as a user, or viewer, and I love the Olympics. I’m actually in the Summer Olympics. I love that their karate is this year. It has never been before. This will be the first year for karate and the only year for karate. Um, Sumo was supposed to be in, but it is not. That is kept a lot of people upset internationally. Because Judo has been in for like 40 years, it’s like come on with the can. I thought the goal here of the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, is building a better world through sports. And that’s excellence, respect, and friendship. And then, you know, the inclusion and, you know, kind of everything. But what it feels like, as the user experience, feels like if I did not buy early onboard access, or like I didn’t buy the dynamic, or what is it called the director’s cut edition, or like when a game comes out. You buy it, you’re like, Oh, you can buy the game, or you can pre-order the deluxe. Yeah, you can pre-order the beta. Or you can pay $200 to get the deluxe Steelcase with a map and a poster in a T-shirt. And it’s like, if I didn’t do that, then I don’t get the experience that I kind of expect. That’s what it feels. To me. It’s just like how this happens every four years. And it’s like, people just want to watch their sports or watch their athletes compete from their hometown, there are real people involved in this. And that’s what people like about it. You don’t need to sell us the story of the real people. Yeah, we know that real people, you know, so it’s, so what, why, why is it so difficult? You know, why? It just kind of feels that way? To me? Yeah, I don’t know if it feels that way, too. You know,

Michael Schofield  

I mean, like, what it feels like is that you know, there’s like a product team who were like, hey, how can we milk the shit out of this? Particularly, because we, you know, have such a, we control all of the bottlenecks, right? So they can hook them all together into like, one long funnel from product A to product B to product C, all of which they own. And in par, I bet the confusion alone is accidentally having people subscribe to services, which boosts the money. You know, it’s like, you know, what it is, is like I like, you know, probably a case study in how, you know, maybe like, what people hate about product teams. And I think that’s really important because it’s the kind of shit that gets in the way of everything. There are all these articles about the Olympic design system, the amount of work that goes into creating and facilitating these services, the jobs to be done of the users are pretty clear, crisp coverage, being able to find out when the big-name athlete is competing, according to the country you care about, right? Keep you up to date about the country’s sports that you care about, you know, stuff like that seems pretty clear. And from all intents and purposes, that looks like these provisions totally exist. Except, you know, the top of the funnel part just getting to it. Yeah, is, is a minefield.

Tim Broadwater  

So it’s like, they kind of know that people want to watch it, you know, but it’s like. It feels, as, from a user perspective, it just feels disingenuous. It feels like I can’t play the game because I have all of these filters or things I need to pay for. And I just want to get to the game and watch the game, you know,

Michael Schofield  

We can all put on our Business Administration hat and then see what the big sponsors want out of the Olympics and how they are, how they’ve decided to get it. So what can fans of the Olympics do? Can they do nothing? Right? Because, you know, there is a pretty strong iron grip monopoly over how footage, like how the footage is controlled.

Tim Broadwater  

I think it speaks for itself. If the opening ceremony was the lowest viewership, it’s been in 33 years. People are just gonna wait until it’s done. And they’re gonna watch it after the fact. So maybe just keep the counter to see where the medals are like, Oh, are we good? Are we had I wait?

Michael Schofield  

I have a question for you. So I think we can see like maybe like how the Olympics got here if we kind of imagine. The IOC, or at least like NBC and Comcast, have been designing around the key performance indicator of viewership, right? And so what brings in most viewers while Judo, and not Sumo, like all of these decisions about what sports get footage what sports get brought in how people get, how things are aired, how things are cut up, or how things have ended up in a series of single setting digestible clips, which they may discover is exactly not what people want. But we can all imagine that, you know, that sort of viewership. So KPI is sort of at the middle of this, do you think that? Is that indicator tanking? Is it going to mean an improvement in two years? When the? Or do you think it’s going to have an effect?

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, I don’t. So there are two issues here, right? I, like somatically, there’s the issue of the IOC and the sports. And there’s also the issue of, like, how it’s being delivered and consumed. Right. So the sports that don’t get into the Olympics create their own global kind of things anyway. Right? And they have world games that go around, and so there just seems to be so there’s like, so that’s one issue, right? That I think a lot of people aren’t happy with, to work with, to cycle in new sports and, and get rid of older sports and, and, and some things stay forever, in some things. Doubt. But then the other piece is like when you’re talking about your viewership is the KPI. If it’s the metric that people are looking at, well, yeah, I’m sure the way that BBC does it is completely different than NBC. And so I feel like, you know, at some point, I don’t know if those are going to change. If you’re doing something that’s not happy, and you’re losing viewers on the show gets canceled. I mean, that’s Yeah, that’s what it is. You know, it’s like, you may think this show is the greatest, but I mean, when viewership drops, it’s time to change, like, what are we doing wrong. And I feel like we know more than ever live in a period where people don’t want commercials. We know that from DVRs. People will pay not to see commercials. They will pay to not have to watch them. And they will, and they just want to get to that content that they’re looking for. And the advertising part is just kind of like a fly that’s in the way that’s bugging you, you know. So I think we’ll have to see how this works out.

Michael Schofield  

I turned from the Olympics. Who knows how many years ago when we started chatting before we recorded? You know, we were talking about the Olympics. And I was like, man, I have not. I haven’t cared about the Olympics and such in a certain amount of time. And, boy, it’s fascinating to like, look at from the outside in as like, you know, I was just talking about like, oh, how product, people ruin everything. I’m a Product person. You know, I’m, like, I’m thinking about, it’s interesting to watch. And I’m very excited to see something like, you know, hashtag design Twitter. And the product folks on the internet in the blogosphere have to say, you have to see how it shakes out. Like it occurred to me, because now that you mentioned that, hey, skateboarding is now an Olympic sport, you know, years ago, years ago. And still, I guess they have the X Games. And those are crazy to watch. Right.

I wonder if there’s going to be a time in our lifetime where eSports ends up in the Olympics, somehow?

Tim Broadwater  

I don’t know. That’s a pretty good question. Because and then also with that, like, a lot of people don’t understand. It’s the duplicativeness, right. So it’s like volleyball beach and volleyball. Why would we need two volleyballs, you know, Oh, you know what I mean? And then I think it’s kind of like I think there’s like equestrian dressage eventing and jumping? Yeah, it’s like okay, so three-horse events. And then freestyle wrestling versus Greco Roman wrestling? And you’re talking about stuff that’s been in there since 1920.

Yeah, sure. It’s like, can you rotate that out and like, give something else a space. But then also with that is, you know, every time Olympics comes up, it also is a game. And it’s there. So there’s an official Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020 2020 video game, and it’s out on, you know, PlayStation and Xbox and switch and steam and stadia. And so, it is very much this experience that is, you know, people want what people want about it. And then also, what comes out with that are other spin-offs, like Sonic, Mario Olympics, or you know, other stuff like that. But, um, what people want is like, I just want to make up my character. I wanted to compete and do well and see how well I do, you know, and just qualify, and do well and keep playing and get a better time. So I think the gaming piece here from the player experience is that people like competition. They want to compete and be healthy with other people. They want to get better. They want to improve. And when you kind of apply that to watching, or just the Olympic Games, like real sports, like it’s tough, but I mean, we’re rooting for people, we want them to get better. We want to play, and we want them to succeed. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if it’s like a figure skater from France, or a gymnast from Romania, or like, you know, a track person from Nigeria, or, you know, kind of a Jamaican bobsled team or whatever. You know, we all cheer when they do well, yeah, when someone falls or gets injured, we’re like, we all cringe because we don’t wish that on anyone. And so we are all here for it because it is the sports that do kind of unify, you know, that brings us all together. And you know, and I feel like at its core level, which is building a better world through sports and like sports brings people together. That will always be the same, whether the coverage or the sponsorship or the product team screws it up. Right, so I feel like the desire will always be there, the sportsmanship part of it right. And that’s what I think is kind of maybe getting a little lost.

Introductory Guy  

Thank you for listening to the Design Thinking Games podcast. To connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim, please go to designthinkinggames.com where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on.

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