The DeLonghi Magnifica super-autamo-espresso-robo-machine.
Here's a long review of it that I mostly agree with. Here's my short review.
It's the frikkin bomb! I so love it.
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." - Robert A. Heinlein
I noticed that Jane posted a wish list of female vocals songs for Rock Band.
I thought I'd add my own, only this time, this is 'songs Harmonix really should have included for drunken Rock Band parties'. Here it is, along with the envisioned end user experience:
There you go. Harmonix, please get right on it. I'll buy first round!
So I figured I'd pick up a new laptop bag.
For a long time I was doing the pseudo-leather laptop briefcase thing, then switched to a backpack that I'd gotten at a tradeshow somewhere. Somewhere along the way I realized I should go the messenger bag route as many have done, as I carried both the same way, slung over one shoulder, ergonomics be damned.
So I started shopping around and am surprised and frustrated by the lack of an overlap between 3 sets of functionality that I'd like to find:
- high level of geek functionality (easy access, lots of pockets for phone, mp3 player, biz cards, pens, etc
- stylish and/or unique (if possible customizable: Why is there no Threadless for messenger bags? Why is 'design your own' limited to a choice of fabric or color, not uploading my own graphics or choosing different strap types, etc)
- finally, while the two above were what I started looking for, I added 'solar powered' to the list after shopping around some. I might give this up, but the idea of gaining a few more hours out of the phone or mp3 player is appealing.
I also like the idea of environmentally appealing (made from recycled/re-used materials), but the high price tag some of these carry is hardly justified and makes it seem its just being done 'for the pitch'. Also, if you really care about the environment then having them shipped from germany or south america or whatever probably negates whatever good you are doing via the recycling.
A few neat ones I ruled out:
Apologies for the title. I am as prone to Wii-puns as the rest of the blogosphere.
A number of people pointed me to Johnny Chung Lee's youtube vids. Lee has done some interesting hacks with the Wiimote, and posted vids of them along with explanations. They include:
Minority Report-style finger-tracking:
These are all very cool, yes. But the real lesson to take away here is that this is what happens when you base your products on open standards (Wiimote uses bluetooth to communicate). This in turn is predicated on not selling your HW at a loss, which means you have to be damn sure people aren't using it for something other than its intended purpose, but that's the subject of another post...
One does wonder whether the folks at Nintendo are benefiting from these vids in some way. If I were them I'd be replicating the experience and doing some game jams around them to see if they have legs.
[Disclosure/Disclaimer: As I noted in a post a while back, I no longer work for Microsoft. I'll post something about the new gig soon, but I had the following post down as a draft for a while now and thought it important enough to finish. These views are mine and not those of employers past or present :-) ]
The Game Credit thing
A recent Saturday morning consisted of wolfing down the November Game Developer magazine along with my oatmeal and espresso, reading in fits and stops amid the cacophony of Cheerios crunching that my three offspring orchestrated.
The back page article was the months 'Business Level' column by Russell Carroll of Reflexive, and focused on the issues of game credits and specifically on the casual games industry. The issue as a whole has been discussed a lot lately lately. There's an IGDA standards effort underway, Rockstar's not-so-rockstar move on credits in Manhunt 2, etc. This Next-gen article covers the area well.
I have some thoughts on the issue, and the Nov GDMag piece made me jot them down, as I have a few issues with the article.
For those who don't get the subscription (really, you should), Russell makes the following points:
First off, let me state that I agree wholeheartedly that developers should be given credit for their work. On the other hand, I also believe that there are a handful of issues that make this more difficult than it may first seem. I like Russel and respect him but I think he's made this issue a little more cut and dried than it really is.
Before I get to the issues, let's look at an example. I'll take a favorite 'classic' (in the casual space anyway!) example of mine, Diner Dash.
Diner Dash was developed by the fine folks over at GameLab, and published by the equally fine folks over at Playfirst - two companies I love working with, and whom I have a great deal of respect for.
If I go to download Diner Dash on Reflexive's site, I get the following: I see Playfirst cited as the game's creator (incorrect), Gamelab is not mentioned. After installing the download version of the game, I get a splash screen for Reflexive, followed by the game executable putting up splash screen animations for Playfirst and Gamelab.
Installing the same game off MSN's site, I get the following: No mention of developer or publisher on the web page, and after installing, I get the same splash screen order for MSN Games, followed by Playfirst and Gamelab, but then followed by Oberon Media.
Additionally, installing the game from MSN, if you are running Windows Vista, installs an icon in the Vista Games Explorer, with metadata that cites Oberon as the publisher (wrong), and Playfirst as the developer (partially wrong).
Why is this situation so messed up?
Well, there are a handful of issues that Carroll doesn't address in his issue that make this more complicated than it may seem. These include the following:
This is a big one, and in many ways is at the root of this whole issue. Channel conflict occurs when manufacturers of goods start to perform roles that put them in direct conflict with companies that normally are partners in the distribution chain. For example, when Apple decided to start operating Apple Stores around the world, it probably didn't sit very well with their distribution and retail partners at the time.
In the digital distribution world, this is a pretty hot topic, since startup costs are relatively low, anyone can at least hang out a shingle and say "we're in the distribution/sales/etc business!".
The reality is that everyone needs to work together to provide a good selection of product to customers wherever they may be. Channel conflict does lead, though, to discussions about how company names are used, and what they imply to the consumer. For example, Are you trying to indicate "Company X makes good games, look for more games by Company X", or are you trying to say "you might get a better deal on Company X games if you bought them directly at the Company X store!".
I believe another issue is that the labels of 'developer' and 'publisher' are rapidly becoming obsolete.
What *is* a publisher anyway? Traditionally, it was someone who provided three functions: financial backing, production assistance, and go-to-market (sales, distribution, manufacture, marketing, etc). However, we are increasingly seeing those roles changed from one title to the next. If a developer funds their own development and production and only uses a publisher for distribution of boxed product - do they deserve the same credit as a publisher who made an early bet on a risky title? What about a company that funds development, but then lets another partner do the go-to-market? Are they both listed as publisher?
The same issue exists with developers. When multiple components of games are outsourced to other companies and/or shared across titles, how do credits work then? We see some of this confusion with publishers moving large franchises from one studio to another for sequels, etc.
I think a (and not necessarily 'the') possible endpoint for all this is something more akin to what we see in the movie industry. Movies from 50 years back had labels more distinctly defined like today's games. Today if you see a movie, you'll see a barrage of company names up front that let you know the names/brands affiliated with a film, but it's not always under concise labels. (e.g. "a John Doe film", "with Company X", "from the minds of Studio Y", etc
These labels become increasingly confused when they move from physical to digital channels. Now the portal may play the role of the retailer and may have a deeper relationship with the customer than just 'a place to buy stuff' (the game may integrate with their meta-game, etc). There are distributors who provide more than just moving a cardboard box from A to B. In the casual space, Oberon media is a big player here. Do they deserve recognition in getting the game in the customer's hands? What if they provided some of the meta-game integration work?
Antiquated labels in an evolving world
The above issue is aggravated by the fact that the world is changing, and these labels that evolved out of big-budget, physically distributed, boxed product games. As muddled as it may be getting for casual games on PC, I think it's going to get far worse for flash and other lightweight web games, mobile, and other segments. We are going to increasingly run into scenarios where new mixes of attribution are going to have to be shoe-horned into existing mechanisms.
Back when I was making the push to have MSN Games be fully Vista compatible, and helping to define the mechanism by which we'd retrofit games with meta-data for the Vista Games Explorer, we had an issue, and made what I think was a good compromise.
The game meta-data has place for a developer and publisher to be listed. However, there's no concept of the distributor or retailer to be listed, and while *multiple* devs or pubs can be listed, only the first is immediately apparent in the games explorer, and only the first of each is displayed as an active hyperlink.
The compromise we made was to list the developer and publisher, but have the URLs not link to their sites, but to the MSN games site with a flag to display all the games from that one developer. The site has yet to configure itself to that custom flag but I expect at some point in the future it will. regardless, this is a good solution because while it address the competitive channel conflict issue, it doesn't do so by falsely assigning attribution for the games creation.
Multiple layers of channel
Another issue that exists is that while one player in the equation may be trying to do the right thing, its not always apparent WHO the correct attribution should be assigned to! A typical PC games portal may see five hundred different games and/or skus of games in a typical year. Often, many of those come via distributors or publishers. They have to assume that the information they are getting on attribution and credits is accurate, and don't have time to police it all. Same is true for each layer of the channel.
Losing sight of the end goal
One of the things I take away from this 'credit' discussion is that people often are losing sight of - or perhaps just overloading - who the end 'consumer of credits' is, and what the information is supposed to help them with. There are several:
Some of these have different answers (Who created this? vs Who should I return this to for a refund?) but we try to jam everything into these two labels of 'developer' and 'publisher'.
I don't have any easy answers. that was the main point of this post is that this is a complicated issue and not just a matter of a few big evil companies trying to keep the little guy underfoot as the GDMag article implied.
I do have a few ideas though:
1. Move into the tag-cloud age. Like the movie business, we should worry less about official 'role labels', and just start listing all those involved. Don't worry about "oh, we did the design, all they did was the mac port". Put your name on enough quality work and people will get it over time. I'm not sure the end user recognizes the difference anyway (at least outside the hardcore space).
2. Understand and communicate your intent, and that of your partners. If you are looking for attribution to promote your studio brand, great. If you are doing so hoping this will drive site traffic so you can sell direct to customers, then don't act surprised when the places those customers are currently buying aren't interested in promoting your brand. [taken to the extreme, you could argue that a commitment to NOT compete with your channel partners could be a strategic advantage, as they may give you opportunities that they may not offer your (shared) competition. This is true for every layer of the channel.]
3. Count on Karma. When in doubt whether to give an individual or a company credit, do so. This is a small industry and the person you 'left off the list' will remember it, and you'll cross paths with them again.
One final thought is this. It's 'out there' enough that I don't want to list it as a possible solution, but at least food for thought.
What about separating game credits from the game itself? Let games contain URLs to their credits, and let their credits reside as a living body of work, a la wikipedia?
Have the IGDA body create a wikipedia-like 'universal game credit wiki'. it's goal to contain all contributions to all skus of all versions of all games. Games could then choose to opt in to linking directly to their entry, or including credits in the game, or doing both!
A little something to ponder over your holiday festivities. Cheers.
I purchased Charles Stross' Halting State a while back but only got to reading it while on vacation last week.
It's a fun read. Not a great read, but a fun one, and one that should be required reading for those in our industry.
The book is a story of a couple reluctant heros that get wrapped up in an investigation of bank heist that unravels into a story of international espionage, etc, etc. On that basis alone, it's kind of a 'B' read. It's not a superb story as far as heist or spy stories, and doesn't have the page-turning action sequences of, say, Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, though there are parts that almost get there.
However, what makes the book interesting, and makes Snowcrash a good point of comparison, is that the bank heist takes place in a virtual world, with a band of rogue players cleaning out a bank and then selling off the items for millions via online auctions. The heros' sleuthing takes place in both the real and virtual worlds.
Where the book succeeds, as Raph Koster pointed out a while ago, is in how well it nails all the details and issues around virtual worlds. To quote Raph:
Among the stuff that pops up, “namechecked” so to speak: PvP sploits. God mode. ORLY. Zombie flash mobs. Leveraging ARGs for real work. Impositional game design. VC bubble shenanigans. Cross-world avatar portability. Cons and cosplay. Discworld. LARPing. 4th edition D&D. Second Life. Mirror worlds.
... add to that Augmented Reality, cross-platform gaming, serious games, using VW's to launder money, etc, etc. Stross shows that he really gets it, and as great science fiction should, projects the possible implications that stem from the 'science'.
The thing that struck me most was this: If Stephenson's Snowcrash drew us a picture of the metaverse (and excited a bunch of people enough to run out and start VRML companies :-), then Stross, some fifteen years later, uses his book as a lense to sharpen that picture for us.
Highly recommended. Go Get it!
Guy Kawasaki has a great post up about Kiva. Kiva is one of a number of micro-lending sites that have popped up on the Internet over the past year or two. The idea is to connect people that have a small amount to lend with those that have a need to borrow a small amount. Most are focused on letting people invest in people rather than more abstract financial instruments (which of course are all investing in people at some level, but less tangibly).
The difference with Kiva is that its more of a philanthropic effort, with the microloans going to people starting small businesses in poorer regions, in order to become self sufficient. I'm going to be putting some money into Kiva in the near future.
Anyhow, Guy has a list of 'six lesson for change' that Kiva told him, and I'd say that they apply to any corporation - and to any product development and roll-out. The short version is below. For the long version, go to the link above.
Good lessons for those trying to shake up the game industry, I'd say!
I toyed with ideas for snappier names for the post (where do you want to go today, etc), but thought it best to keep it simple. I am no longer with Microsoft.
A couple weeks back, I gave my notice at Microsoft. Given that I was involved in some sensitive, future-looking stuff, they thought it best that I wrap up my activities quickly and take some extra time off. As a result, my departure (which came right before Thanksgiving, and thus everyone was out of office anyway), was unannounced and sudden.
No one should interpret this as it being in any way negative. I was enjoying my role at Microsoft and am still really jazzed about much of what they are doing. Some of the Arcade titles I helped onboard are still in production and I can't wait to see them ship so I can play them. I think Xbox360 and Live are the best game console and service on the planet today. Unlike a lot of people that give me flak about it, I like Vista. I even love my Zune(s) and now that they've added Media Center compat and wireless sync, I think they have some advantages over iPod.
While I was having a great time there, not one but two opportunities presented themselves to me at the same time. I really wrestled with whether to leave at all and if so for which one. All three companies are going to have dramatic impact on games as we know it - which could I best affect? Which was going to do The Right Thing for the industry and for the medium? Which was the best move (or non-movement) for my family.
In the end, one offer was too good to turn down, and so I seized the opportunity.
I'll post more on the new gig in a day or two. I'm really excited about it. I just wanted to put the word out right now that I'm not at Microsoft any longer.
As usual, I can be found here, at VGVC.NET, or on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you need to know who to contact at Microsoft for stuff related to my previous role, drop me a mail and I'll be happy to hook you up.
Adam keeps giving me a hard time about my lack of iPhone. I honestly don't want one that bad. Not sure I'd trade it for my given phone even if free. It's a great web browsing device, but there are things I don't like about it as a phone.
Now, on the other hand, I saw this yesterday.
Full Throttle on the iPhone might be worth suffering with a phone I don't like! :-)
At least those responsible for the campaign featuring topless models to promote Need for Speed.
They should be fired not because they didn't 'go through the proper approval process', but rather because they are lazy, uncreative, or more likely both.
We. Can. Do. Better.
(BTW, I almost typo'd the name of the game above to 'Need for Seed'. PAGING DR FREUD!)
...Donald Trump does 'Celebrity Apprentice'.
Saw this on MSN this morning and it caught my eye. I gave up on Trump's show after season two (Branson's show was way better, but out-marketed), but I have to admit I'm tempted to watch this train-wreck-in-the-making.
Gene Simmons is on!
Can I just predict the following exchange:
Trump: "Gene, YOU'RE FIRED!"
Simmons: "Yeah? Well, I'm sleeping with your wife. YOU'RE fired!"
Food for thought.
As for the actual device - I'll let you know how it goes after I actually plug it in. :-)
For those that are curious, here's a shot of the ports on the back.
Just read this gamasutra piece about Jeff Minter's latest ranting about XBLA. Last time it was the "soul crushing" approval process (aka Minter learns what shipping on consoles is like), this time it's the threat to abandon game development because he's disappointed in the sales of Space Giraffe, especially that it was outperformed by Frogger.
I have mixed feelings about this.
One the one hand, yes, its disappointing that gamers don't "vote with their money" and reward indie development and original content. I too find it frustrating that Pac man or Frogger outperform some original fare.
On the other hand, its their right. Its also just the reality of how things are, so get over it. Same thing exists with movies, music and books.
I think he'd do well to also point a finger or two at himself. The game is good, but it's hard, it's far from accessible, and the point it tries to make isn't immediately apparent (if your game takes someone as bright as Jon to explain it, then you have a problem).
To borrow Jon's comparison, if you write Ulysses, don't be disappointed if it doesn't sell like Harry Potter.
One other thing that is an important point to note in today's try-n-buy world: People will try the game. So Jeff (or others for that matter) can blame Frogger or other games all they want, but at the end of the day, if you build a game that really is all that, then people will try it, and hopefully buy it. If the trial doesn't hook them, then that's not Frogger's fault, is it?
There's been a lot of linking to Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack's comments (and subsequent clarification) about the Quebec government's subsidies of game development companies. The clarification was that by labelling them 'insane', he meant 'better than good'.
He still maintains, though, that the subsidies are not maintainable in the long term.
I think he's missing the point. The point was to prime the pump and jump start an industry hot-bed. They've absolutely done so. Now that they have, if the subsidies were to go away, it's not like Ubi and the others would just pack up and leave, would they? There's a local dev community, an infrastructure of schools producing new talent, etc.
I don't think they were ever meant to be sustainable.
There's an argument that they are sustainable (if the delta in growth, new jobs, the taxes those people pay, etc, are enough to fund the subsidies), but that's beside the point.
A number of people have linked to Gamasutra's look at EA's quarterly results. The eye-catching factoids causing the linkage are (1) the significance of GameStop as their largest retail customer, and (2) that the Xbox360 SKUs were responsible for the lion's share of their revenue (218M, or roughly half of their revenue, the closest other platform being the PS2 at 73M).
It's certainly good information to hear for Microsoft, but it still leaves questions unanswered for me. I'd be very curious to know what the same set of numbers looks like in terms of margin per platform. My guess would be that the DS would one of the top slots on the list. Also, I'm curious if this is indicative of a long-term trend, or if it was offset this particular quarter by any big software releases.
Just about everyone has heard of the now-famous Post Secret blog, where people mail in secrets on postcards. It struck a nerve with people as it peek into the quirkiest, saddest and darkest secrets that people keep.
Today I came across another similar blog, Sasha Cagen's To-do list blog, which as you can guess, does the same thing, but for to-do lists. Seems to give a similar but slightly higher-level view into people's lives.
Like PostSecret, she's done a book. It seems to be getting better pick-up, perhaps because the lists are not quite as dark as some of the PostSecret ones. Perhaps her publisher is putting more effort into it? See the trailer below as an example:
I do wonder if there's a similar coffee table book to be made with a game angle to it. Designers' notes? Funny things found in code comments? Hmm...
So minutes after posting the Bronfman quote and saying we should take heed, this came across my desktop:
DRM, Fanboys, Region Encoding among PC World's "10 Worst Consumer Tech Trends".
Of the 10 sins cited, the games industry hits on the majority of them. Some of course, are an artifact of business and of other industries as well (e.g. licensing fees around GH tracks). However, a couple of them really resonated.
#7 Region coding: I know there are business reasons for it, and that there are sometimes technical reasons for it. That doesn't change the fact that it's a kick in the teeth to the consumer who just wants to play the game you didn't release in her region.
#1: DRM: Amen. I *really* don't know the solution here, but man, we need to figure it out. One look at the writeups for the PC version of Bioshock vs the Xbox360 version, and you know we have a problem.
Edgar Bronfman, music mogul, speaking at a mobile conference in Macau:
"We used to fool ourselves,' he said. "We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won."
He things mobile operators should take heed:
"The sad truth is that most of what consumers are being offered today on the mobile platform is boring, banal and basic," he said. "People want a more interesting form of mobile music content. They want it to be easy to buy with a single click - yes, a single click, not a dozen. And they want access to it, quickly and easily, wherever they are. 24/7. Any player in the mobile value chain who thinks they can provide less than a great experience for consumers and remain competitive is fooling themselves."
Should the game industry also be paying attention? I think so.
GamesIndustry.biz has an interview up with Bernie Stolar, Google's 'Adsense for Games' (formerly Adscape), director and advisor.
Man, I hope he provides some value behind the scenes, because from how this interview reads, it only backs up what I thought after seeing his session at Casual Connect.
Google, you don't need rock-star names for spokespeople. You are supposed to be rock stars! Please dig a smart guy out of the back somewhere and have him be spokesperson.
Robin's got a rockin' review of EA's Rock Band with a bunch of shots of the character creation system. I hadn't heard much about that side of teh game, with most of the early write-ups focusing on either the song list, the peripheral pedantry, or the competition with Rock Band.
She really does make it sound fantastic. Now that I'm hitting my ceiling on GH-III (I aspire to 5-star medium, but alas, that's my limit), this may have to be the next purchase.
While their whole hot-chix-on-toilets thing was just wacky and off the mark, I have to admit that I *love* this PS3 ad. I'm not sure it's enough to dig them out of their hole, but it's *so* much cooler than the whole "jump in" set of ads MS did.
Mind you, I think they are definitely following our lead, just doing something edgier.
The current hullaballoo in Pakistan reminded me of one of my favorite Churchill quotes:
"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers that they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."
And while I think of it, there are plenty of companies in the game industry that would do well to take that quote to heart as well. I leave it to the reader to apply that to whomever they please.
From Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, about the current writer's strike and the realities of new media:
Writer's strike: "Insanity." "There's all of this rhetoric by the media companies about this 'great new digital business', which is a small, growing business that will one day be dominant (but it isn't, yet there's no money there yet." Because all of the entertainment folks are talking up digital, the writers assume there's a lot of money there. Take Prom Queen: "We made history, but we didn't make money. ... I'm doing it because I think it's fun; I think it's the future. ... For a writer to give up today's money for a piece in three years is stupid." The studios can't give in because there's nothing to give. "The studios deserve what they're getting, because they've been announcing how great it is." But it's only great in theory. "They made deals with Steve Jobs, who takes them to the cleaners. Who's making money? Apple." Entertainment executives can't admit that they're not making money. Writers should be striking in Cupertino. (Hard not to see this as a slam on Disney successor Bob Iger, who cut the first video deal with iTunes.)
(tip o the hat to paidcontent.org, commentary is theirs, but I agree with it!)
A co-worker pointed me to this promo video for The Zone (known today as MSN Games) from a few years back. Amazing to see how far it's come. In those days we intermingled matchmaking for core PC CD games with online multiplayer casual, etc.
There has been what looks like some rigorous analysis of the Radiohead move (which I blogged about here, here, and here) to make their album available online at a pick-your-price, no-DRM format. This comes to us from paidcontent.co.uk.
The results are astonishing. An estimated 1.2M copies of the album were downloaded, with 38% of downloaders chosing to pay, and of those, the average was $6 per copy paid (Americans paid a more generous average of $8).
Back of the envelope math says 1.2M * 38% *$6 = a little under $3M. I have no idea of the distribution arrangement, but lets say they give up 10 points for billing, bandwidth, etc, andanother 10 points to someone to manage all this for them. That still leaves $2.5M.
Now the article linked to above comments about the number of copies circulating via bit torrent, etc, but that's beside the point, isn't it? That'd be happening if they were on iTunes. The real question is how many copies they'd have to sell on $10 - $15 plastic where they are making, say, 10 points. (I have no idea what rev shares are in the music biz, so I'm really blowing smoke here). At that point, they'd have to move 2M copies in order to reach the same level.
That's totally doable, but not *certain*. Their first four albums went platinum in both UK and US, so at least 2M units per album, but their last couple albums were between 500k and 1.5M-ish each.
So in this case, they (a) hit at least the minimum threshold they'd have done via the traditional channels, (b) now have a direct relationship with their customers, and (c) created a marketing vehicle for the album and the band that money couldn't have bought.
Sounds like a win to me!
That's it. If you liked GH2, you'll like GH3 is I guess the super-short review :-)
The other day in the cafe at work, a friend of mine was sitting bemused at a table, a little star-wars-looking egg sitting on the table in front of her.
It was Sony's 'Rolly', a little music-driven robot bluetooth connected MP3 player thingy that... well hell, I have no idea what it does. I just know it was the coolest thing I'd seen since Aibo.
I want one to keep my Roomba company! Perhaps as a cheerleader!
At least that's the case in this day and age.
It seems that Rockstar, in releasing Manhunt 2, left some names off the credits.
Partway through development (from what we gather - 80% of the way through, the whole project was moved from Rockstar Vienna to Rockstar London. When the game was released, none of the names of the 55 people from RV that worked on the project were listed on the credits.
Like the game didn't have enough controversy already!
So, over on Intelligent Artifice, Jurie was miffed and posted their names for the Internetz to know all about it.
Way to go Jurie!
I had my first go at 'Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action' yesterday. Some folks I work with were involved in its development so I'd seen bits and pieces in progress, but waited until the final product was done to take it home and play it.
If you haven't heard of or seen the game, here's a cheezy marketing trailer for it. Bear through the pitch, and you'll get an idea of what gameplay is like and what the controllers (it ships with 4) look like.
Its *really* good. Alisa and I played a game and had quite a good time (not quite as good a time as the people in the above video, but then we aren't super-hipster-20-somethings anymore). That Alisa enjoyed it is saying something since she hasn't enjoyed anything on the console since Zuma, and even that was deemed "fun but annoying".
The Big Button Pad support/integration does feel a bit kludgy, as it tries to reconcile the 'instant 4 player get into the action' with Xbox360's 'sign in with your gamertag'. Still, it wasn't too painful, and once past that it was all very well integrated.
Oh, I should also note that we'd played the SceneIt DVD game and didn't enjoy it much at all. This is a much better implementation of the game.
Kudos to all who worked on it!
If this isn't a great example of mainstream of games, then I don't know what is.
From the description on youtube:
Blizzard has teamed up with iCoke, Coca-Cola's name-brand presence in China to create a joint World of Warcraft and Coca-Cola televised commercial, featuring Chinese pop sensation SHE...
Just found out that my grandma passed away at the ripe old age of 95. She'd been fading in health for a while now, so it was not unexpected. I hadn't seen her in a few years since she lived in the UK.
Sharp as a whip to the end, I'll remember her as seen below. Smile on her face and never saying no to a bit of dessert and a glass of red!
Bye Grandma, we love you!
Alice pointed out that Lord of the Rings Online has playable instruments, and that as a result, people are doing awesome ingame music (original, covers, multi-player jam sessions, etc).
Wow. Cool. Way to go Turbine.
Searching youtube for 'LOTRO music' yields plenty of good examples. Here's one.
Not the worst idea I've heard of, I guess.
And hey, if they were running it within one of Shanda's MMO's, you might even be able to hook up with someone of the desired gender!
I am of course talking about Bingo!
...is what dad used to say.
So if you read my last post, and did your homework, you should have thought of some instances in which games could be given away (maybe DRM free?) and developers/publishers could recoup in some other fashion.
Well, advertising of course is the first thing that springs to mind. It works for part of the music industry, it works for television, and already works for parts of the games industry.
I think another really interesting area of the market to watch is what's happening with kids toys these days is something the industry should watch closely. I've discussed this before, but let's take another look.
It started with Webkinz:
In which the online world is free with purchase of a plush doll.
And now you have UBFunkeys, a comparable model, but the dolls connect via usb.
And Barbiegirls, where it's more like an MMO, since you can actually communicate with other players and the like. The "doll" is also an MP3 player and connects via USB.
Next thought exercise is whether this same model could be extrapolated to 'give away' a big budget single player title or MMO with, say, the purchase of your Mercedes...
There were a couple comments and some follow-up posts regarding my comments about the music business. In a follow up email thread with Jane, I added:
One of my favorite comments on the most recent cracks in the music industry's foundations (those exemplified by recent moves by Radiohead, Madonna and others) was made by Seth Godin. In a post entitled "Radiohead and the mediocre middle", I think he really hits it on the head.
Godin makes the point that industries innovate from both ends. Small guys because they have nothing to lose and everything to win. Big guys because they have the bankroll and a fanbase that will follow them. The 'mediocre middle' sits and watches. They are unwilling to jump out of the frypan for fear of the fire. I think this applies to the game industry as well as it does the music industry.
Indies and small casual devs were the first to leap to the digital distribution channels, largely because they had no choice. You also have large developers like Valve (or in the casual space, Popcap), building distribution and other services - building relationships with customers.
As with the music business, I think the last to sense or react to any disruptive shift in the business will be the mid-sized developers who are dependent on the functions traditional publishers provide them, and the traditional publishers, who will be reluctant to abandon any business model that has been lucrative to date.
Jane asks in her post whether there's an equivalent to the "give the music away, make money off the concerts". There is. Can you guess what it is?
First the BNL and Radiohead, then Nine Inch Nails, now Madonna. Oasis and Jamiroquai too.
Seems ditching the labels in favor of direct-to-consumer (or in Madonna's case, signing a very different kind of disty deal) is all the rage the days.
Big labels are getting exactly what the deserve for putting up artificial barriers for too long, and bilking the customer for some time now (phasing out singles, forcing DRM, etc, etc). Sure would suck to be in their shoes, but I have to say I'm enjoying watching their towers crumble from the sidelines.
Game Industry folk: Should we be watching and learning? How long before the torch-n-pitchfork mob finds their next target?
...so, I picked on Dave, now Dave's rebutting. It's all in good fun, but let's see if we can sum up.
Flight Simulator may possibly be the least well-monetized of all Microsoft entertainment properties, in that it sells to a cult following that goes on to spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars on after-market products not created by or associated with Microsoft. While commercial and volunteer after-market support is absolutely a good thing, there’s no law that says you can’t play a part in it! The entertainment industry has so much to learn about tapping niche markets…
Which I as Dave implying that (a) FS team (and yeah, we all work for MS, I get the irony here) did so out of ignorance (the "has so much to learn" bit) and/or bad decision making ( "no law that says you can't play a part").
This third party development didn't happen unbeknownst to MS. Quite the opposite. Taking a page out of the MS playbook, the FS team deliberately opened the product to extension/enhancement by developing an SDK and making it publicly available. In doing so, they turned a game into a platform.
And Dave retorts:
I hardly need reminding that 3rd party extensions, especially of the user-generated type, can be very good for business, (snip snip snip) You just need to be smart about it.
To which I'll reply: My point exactly. And I beleive that the Flight Sim team, with 10 years in the business and the lions share of the market for flight sims, has been extremely smart about it. I would hazard a guess that they looked long and hard at this and decided for good reasons to play it out they way they did, enabling a third-party market and allowing it to thrive.
To his point about co-opting innovation, they already do that (some of the features added one version to the next were ones that used to require an add-on). To the point about helping them advertise, they already do that as well. So Dave's only idea that isn't already being implemented by the team is a digital distribution channel. A good idea perhaps, but not feasible until recent history, and certain rife with it's own set of challenges.
Dave wraps by upping my dart of 'ignorant' with a retort of 'intellectually lazy'.
I'll wrap with a "ignorant, yet again dude!". He states "I’m not content to ignore an opportunity" (implying that the FS team was and did?), when I'd assert that they didn't ignore the opportunity at all but rather made a decision about how to approach it sensibly. He then throws out three ideas about how they could capitalize on it, two of which they already do. I suppose he could have found that out on the web but perhaps was too "intellectually lazy" to do so...
Disclaimer: David and I are good friends and have a great deal of respect for one another. We have these debates via our blogs to encourage healthy discussion and to shamelessly boost our traffic. Also, neither of us have discussed any of this with the Flight Sim team, who would deem us both ignorant, lazy and probably call us other words I can't put here, for even having the debate in the first place.
Yahoo Music's Ian Rogers to music industry execs, clearly stating what the industry as a whole has been feeling, and stating that he's not licensing any more DRM-protected music, period.
I'm here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I'm not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I'll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won't let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don't have any more time to give and can't bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life's too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.
If, on the other hand, you've seen the light too, there's a very fun road ahead for us all. Lets get beyond talking about how you get the music and into building context: reasons and ways to experience the music. The opportunity is in the chasm between the way we experience the content and the incredible user-created context of the Web.
By way of illustration (and via exaggeration), in a manner of speaking iTunes is a spreadsheet that plays music. It's context-free. You just paid $10 for that album -- who plays drums? I dunno, WHY DON'T YOU GO TO THE WEB TO FIND OUT, BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE THE CONTEXT IS.
link. (Gracias, BoingBoing)
In researching some stuff for work, I ended up out in the weeds a bit and came across two fascinating (and unrelated) bits of history that I highly recommend reading.
If they share anything in common, it's an element of 'strange factors and events in history have had ramifications on the way things work today'.
This Q&A with the author of a book on the history of counterfeiting, which goes quite a bit into the history of currency and banking in this country. Really interesting.
This overview of the Berlin Airlift, a pivotal point early in the cold war, and a logistics effort that would spawn techniques and devices still used in modern manufacturing and shipping today. I can't beleive this was never made into a movie!
Related to my earlier post about Chinese knockoff cars, here's a link to knockoffs of two cars, the Smartcar and the Hummer.
The knockoff of the Hummer is called, and I kid you not, the Dongfeng Crazy Soldier.
Let me be the first to suggest that Hummer's course of action should not be to sue but to license the name.
I've never wanted to own a hummer, but damn if I wouldn't be a target customer for it if it was called the Dongfeng Crazy Soldier!
Yesterday I saw a container truck on the highway and was struck by the company name: Haulmark.
I can't help but think that the brand's name was designed to be a homophone of Hallmark.
If so, was this a good idea?
On the pro side, it certainly works. I'm writing this post, am I not? The name is memorable for this reason.
On the con side, this brand may have been picked at the expense of a better, less clever one. Haulmark doesn't convey what they do, stand for, etc. Also, it's got to be confusing when explaining over the phone ("ok, you can find us on the web at haulmark.com. No, no, H-A-U..."
BoingBoing has this post about "MFC" a chinese fast-food chain that is a rip-off and mash-up of both McDonalds and KFC, combining look, feel and menus of both American chains.
It reminded me of this post about the Chinese car manufacturer making a mashup/knockoff of both a Mercedes, and a Chrysler (with a BMW-inspired logo to boot).
It struck me that people discussing these things,and I include myself here, are either struck by the scale of these things ("sure, knock off a Rolex, but a Mercedes?!"), or suprised by the mashup model being applied to something other than media or online businesses.
But why should either of these surprise us?
The scale of the operation to do a Mercedes knockoff should not surprise us when coming from the same folks that built the Three Gorges dam and capped off the Yangtze.
And with regard to the mashup model, well, why should that suprise us either? It's not exactly new here either.I'm sure at some point, someone said "How about we apply Ford's assembly line to Acme's widget manufacturing!".
So I guess what we are finding surprising is the combination of these, the blatant disregard for IP, the unabashed lack of originality, and the speed of progress. Either way it's fun to watch
To my post the other day about experimenting with business models, Bill Jelen is offering his e-book on using Excel 2007 for free at a good-enough-for-montor-but-not-for-print resolution. Why?
My goal is to get this version in the hands of 5 million people. You can help by downloading the book and passing it on to your co-workers, etc. Some percentage of people who get the book will buy a print copy or will buy a printable e-book, so I believe that the counter-intuitive strategy of giving the whole book away in one download will work fine.
Kudos. Seems like a cool idea. I hope it works out well.
Thought exercise: Again, what would the game equivalent be? This is different than a trial or demo. This is the full thing, but at low res. If you had a game with high replayability, would this just be the non-HD, low-fi-shaders version?
Facebook announced (by announced, I mean that it popped up on the company blog as a feature in development and the internets pounced on it) this week that they are going to allow grouping of friends. This has been a much-requested feature from people experiencing a little-too-close-for-comfort malaise about the fact that their work and personal lives are intermingling a little too closely.
I have mixed feelings about this.
On the one hand, it's a good idea. I know of a few people that have told me they've stayed away from Facebook, or use it in a far more limited way, because of this issue. The short version being "I don't need some buddy from high school posting pix of me hurling up a keg of beer on the same page that my clients watch".
On the other hand, I see two major problems with this:
I wonder whether segregation of communities will place a damper on the viral nature of what has made FB such a great application platform. (In some eyes, this may be a good thing).
More significantly, I think they are missing the mark. I think that filtering what feeds go to which friends is sort of a hack for what people really are asking for - in a "that's what I asked for but it's not what I meant I wanted" kind of way...
I think what people really want is the ability to have multiple personas for their single facebook identity. The digital equivalent of "they way I behave at work is not the same as when I am with family nor the same as when I am out at the game with my buddies".
Until someone embraces the personas idea, the rest is just a hack.
The past few years have seen much boohooing by the music industry as a whole. Meanwhile, a few brave souls are trying their own experiments in the brave new world.
A while back, Barenaked Ladies announced they were selling their latest album at concerts on a USB thumbdrive, with all the tracks unprotected, and asking users to mash them up at will.
This week, Radiohead announced that their latest album would be available for download at whatever price the customer saw fit to pay.
They are brave souls. Sure, the fact that they are already somewhat successful makes the experiments a little less painful should they fail, but it also makes the downside of failure that much larger. Anyhow, I tip my hat to them.
It's interesting that in many ways this is comparable to some early shareware/donationware models for software, including games.
So can we in the games business learn from their lessons, or have we already learned something they aren't aware of?
Not one, not two, but all three kids have come down with some kind of bug. All three have been vomiting on and off for the past few hours. Have changed many sheets, have done much laundry, have not done much off my to-do list this evening.
We have a friend staying with us for a few days who is attending an orthopedic surgeon's conference. We were chatting last night about the layperson's knowledge of medical procedures and anatomy, and how it has improved due to things like the Internet, Wikipedia, etc. He agreed.
I cited the 'Bodies' exhibit as another example. Alisa and I went to see it a number of months back. He said he had ethical issues with the exhibit and I asked why.
"Well, did you notice anything that all the subjects had in common?"
I thought about it, but my wife beat me to the conclusion.
"They're all Chinese"
Oh my. So I checked wikipedia and of course there's a great deal of controversy about the questionable origin of the cadavers used in these exhibits. Here's the money shot right here:
The cadavers were donated for research by the Chinese government, because all the bodies at the time of death allegedly had no close next of kin or immediate families to claim the bodies.
Due to the fact that the cadavers featured in the exhibition are Chinese in origin, critics suspect that some or all of the bodies may be those of Chinese political prisoners or Falun Gong practitioners, who may have been subject to arrest and execution without due process, in order to be sold as cadavers
Makes me regret giving them my money, as well as being so ignorant about the issue in the first place.