Thursday, December 27, 2007

Magnifica? Magnifico!

A quick review on what Santa left under the tree:


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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rock Band: Drunken Doozies Download Party Pack

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:

  1. Cream and Bastards Rise (Harvey Danger): Alright. It's friday night, you've had a hard week. You wouldn't have to flip burgers if those in the fake music biz hadn't screwed over your fake band. F*** 'em! It's about the music man! [Play 5 times until scoring perfect or your angst has been sated. One beer per iteration]
  2. I'm the Man (Joe Jackson): That's right. You're the man. Let it be known. [Play thrice, with one jager shot per iteration. Why jager? Because you're The Man]
  3. Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo): The tequila's been busted out, and now so has this song. (This song isn't on Amazon's mp3 service, but there are a bunch of good covers, see here. If Harmonix opt's for the Bruce Lash version, then move to very end of playlist :-) [play 4 times or until tequila finished and you lose count]
  4. Pump It Up (Elvis Costello): Time to rock out. Go. [Play twice or until sick of it. Do tequila poppers during guitar interlude bits. Yeah, you ran out of tequila on #3, so these are 'miscellaneous poppers']
  5. Iron Man (Black Sabbath): This one isn't in the download pack. The guitarist got carried away on the last song and kicked the controller out. The singer is now just screaming "I AM IRON MAN!" repeatedly while standing shirtless on the coffee table. [Repeat doing so until controller plugged back in. Drink JD directly from bottle throughout]
  6. Bonin' in the Boneyard (Fishbone): The basist has been whining for this one for a while. Fine. [Play once only, and only if he agrees to buy the beer next week. Meanwhile drink the 6 pack of wine coolers he was going to bring over to his ol' lady's place after practice. He wasn't going to get any anyhow. Its a school night]
  7. Hornets! Hornets! (The Hold Steady): OK, you got in a fist fight with the drummer over who finished the coke and should go to the 7-11 for refills. Your girlfriend left because Rock Band doesn't make you sexy. Forget her! Priorities! [Play once. Now might be a good time for the rum. Since the coke is all gone, you mix it with vodka]
  8. Bro Hymn (Pennywise): You and the drummer have made up. Revel in drunken camraderie. [play, say, 10 times or so. Swill malt liquor and spill a little for your dead homies (don't let the fact that you don't actually have 'dead homies' sway you. You don't have a real band either)]
  9. Rock and Roll, Part 2 (Gary Glitter): OK, now we are on a proper bender. The group has reached the point where the chords need to be blurry, and vocals have been reduced to slurred yelling. Screw who has the mic, everyone is the singer now. [Play till you pass out, drinking whatever's left if anything]
  10. There's a track number 10, but no one ever gets to it, so they don't know what it is.

There you go. Harmonix, please get right on it. I'll buy first round!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Great laptop bag search of 07

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.

Anyhoo.

A few neat ones I ruled out:

  • All The King's Men: Like the belt and the look. Too pricey for the basic bag you get, not enough pockets/etc.
  • Chrome messenger bags: Like the belt system. If I was actually going to use it on my bike frequently, I might have gone this route.
  • Freitag: Made with recycled truck tarpaulins, but they are pretty basic and have to be shipped from europe. (there was another similar one from a cool german company using fabric from recycled mail bags, but I can't find the URL now).
A few candidates I'm looking at are below. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment.

  • BumBakPaks: The look is ok (except when wearing it in weirdo backpack mode), I like the versatility. I like the luggage handle pass-thru.
  • Skooba Satchel: High functionality. Seems to get reviewed well. So-so on looks, customizability.
  • Booq Vyper: High Functionality. Sleek looking. However, pricy.
  • Eclipse Fusion: Kind of an OK look. Lower on functionality than some of the others. solar power! Nerd power! (2.5w of it anyway)
  • Reware Juice Bag: OK look, medium functionality, solar power (4W this time), made of recycled soda pop bottles. On the down side, the price could buy a lot of soda pop!
Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hacker Wiizardry

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:

Interactive Whiteboard:



Minority Report-style finger-tracking:



VR headtracking:



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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Game Credits: Labels vs Nuance in a Tag-Cloud Age

[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:

  • That casual games portals (like my former employer's MSN Games, or others like Real Arcade, Yahoo games, etc) don't mention the developer or publisher name on pages where they offer the game for sale. Further more, he insinuates a kind of conspiracy may be at the root of this, asking "Are portals marginalizing developers in order to try and keep another Popcap from rising up?" and stating that this is a question that most portals avoid answering (we, while I was with MSN Games that is, have. I'll get to that).

  • He states that the issue doesn't exist for "non-casual" games. I believe he really means "retail boxed-product" games, but I digress. I think he's wrong regardless.

  • He then claims that his employer, Reflexive, does credit content developers on their site. While I disagree with him on this point, I am grateful that he gives me this mallet with which I can hammer some nails into his argument.

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:

Channel conflict.

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!".

Antiquated Labels

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.

An example.

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:

  • End users use credits to identify the artist who provides quality (or conversely, shoddy) games to them, so that they may seek out or avoid more from the same artists. There is value at several levels here: A destination portal that provides content I like (e.g. Manifesto), a publisher that puts the kind of polish I like on games (e.g. EA Sports fans), a developer of envelope-pushing shooters), or a designer who's work I admire (Miyamoto, or Molyneux), etc. End users also use credits/attribution to determine who they should go to for support, or a refund - especially true in the digital distribution space. If someone has a problem running Peggle on their system and wants their money back, but forgets where they bought it, this is an argument for there being some attribution to the retailer.
  • Companies (developers, publishers) use credits/attribution to build brands associated with quality, family-friendliness, family-unfriendliness, or whatever the case may be. They may also use the attribution to try and strengthen relationships with customers (say, if my game is developed by Pogo, and I have a game portal by the same name, I'm hoping you'll make the connection and come visit - and thus the channel conflict issue).
  • Individual artists use credits to build their 'personal brands' or portfolio. They also view it as a form of compensation, in that it just feels good to see your own name up in lights.

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'.

Solutions?

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.

Parting Thought

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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from Vacation


I'm back after 8 days in sunny hawaii (only 5 of which were sunny :-( ). We rented a little house on the windward coast of Oahu and had a lovely time. Now, back on the grid and back to work!

Halting State's Sharpening Focus

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!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snow Day

It snowed last night, and again this afternoon. Which is fun for kids... and their snowmen brethren!

Its also fun for parents, when they know a flight to Honolulu is just hours away!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Our House in Bellevue is For Sale


Our house got listed. Or see it on Zillow here.

If you know anyone looking for a lovely home in the area, point them this way.

We really do love the house and wish we weren't leaving it, but alas, 'tis not a mobile home and we are relocating.

Good geek home too. X10 lighting, media room, wired speakers all over the ouse. Includes many hundreds of feet of hardwired gigabit ethernet cable, fished with care by yours truly!

ROFL


I was reading Yahtzee's Valve Travelogue and this bit about their Bellevue office locale made me laugh:

I notice out of my bedroom window that there's a store down the street called "Crate & Barrel," which, considering, strikes me as a very appropriate position for either it or Valve, as anyone familiar with the writings of Old Man Murray could tell you

If it doesn't crack you up, then you don't remember this piece.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The OCD side of me says...

...that I should never touch my 360 again, and thus preserve my gamerscore:

Six Lessons for Change

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.

  1. Create Meaningful Partnerships.
  2. Catalyze and Support Evangelism
  3. Find a Business Model
  4. Bank on Unproven People
  5. Focus on Free Marketing
  6. Ignore the Naysayers.

Good lessons for those trying to shake up the game industry, I'd say!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kim leaves Microsoft

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.

Anyhow.

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.

Cheers!

The iPhone's killer app

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! :-)

EA needs to fire its Euro marketeers

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!)

Dialing the poop level to eleven...

...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!"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ooma OOBE, and Apple packaging perversion

A few months back, Vlad and I attended an entrepeneur event in Seattle. Michael Arrington was one of the speakers. He mentioned having a give-away token for a free Ooma, which he'd give to the first person that approached him for it after the session. Vlad was that person, and since he couldn't use it for some reason, he gave it to me.

Ooma is a one-time-purchase device that gives you VOIP phone service over your broadband with no monthly charges, no long distance charges in US, a broadband voicemail box, etc. Your regular household phone(s) plug into it, and then you use the phone as you would normally.

You could view it as a hardware device purchase, or you could view it as a lifetime subscription option to phone service. Spend a few hundred now, no phone bill later (or forever).

I filled out some online forms, and a couple months later, after I'd forgotten all about it, a big honkin box arrived in the mail.

I still haven't hooked it up (for reasons I'll get into later), but I did want to talk about the packaging.

The gizmos (the Ooma, and an an auxilliary 'scout' device) each arrived in a very attractive, very HEAVY, glossy cardboard box.
This is what the devices look like.


Anyhow. The box is super thick, with a cover that is five sides of a cube and slides off of another five sided cube to reveal a felt-covered plastic 'holder' for the OOMA, which conceals the AC adapter, cables, etc. There's a also a large glossy manual and quick-start guide.

The thing this made me think of is just how much everyone has been influenced by the Apple out-of-box experience ('OOBE'). I've heard (sorry, have never purchased an Apple product), the Apple OOBE described in near-fetishist, near-religious, fashion by those that have bought their products. It's clear that others are aspiring to capture the same type of feeling.

Ooma's not the only culprit. I've purchased a couple Zune's and they are definitely mimicking the same thing. Xbox360 as well to a lesser degree.

It does make me wonder about a couple things:
  • How soon before this backfires with the environmental movement? Others have learned a lesson here (Barbie was an example featured in Fast Company recently).
  • What's the cost of the packaging, and could the savings be passed on to the consumer?
  • Again, borrowing from teh Barbie example, could the packaging be practical? Why not sell Zune's or Ipod's packaged in a leather or rubber protective case - an accessory people often buy anyway?

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.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Space Giraffe Author Having a Cow

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?

They don't call it 'priming the pump' for nothin'

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.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sweet MAME table idea

I built a MAME cabinet about 13-14 years ago - long before you could buy them and before you could buy USB 'arcade quality' controllers (it may have been before USB itself for that matter!). I got rid of it when moving up to Seattle, as I didn't have room for all my arcade cabs in the house here.
I haven't thought about building another until I saw this link (via boingboing) for a cool 'hideaway' version. This was done on an IKEA dining room table, but I think it could be done similarly in a living room coffee table.

Hmm... I've been looking for a reason to buy that router attachment for my table saw...

On EA's numbers...

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.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peeking-inside blogs

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...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gaming and Worst Consumer Trends

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.

Quote of the week

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.

Stolar stellar? Sorry seller!

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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rockin' Robin


...tweet, tweet.

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.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lessig's TED Talk

...is just brilliant. He's such an awesome presenter and his talk is right on the money (pun intended). Go watch:

World of Datecraft: For when 'soloing molten core' has become a euphemism


via Kotaku, a dating website for WoW enthusiasts, World of Datecraft.



I know little about the game, but I do foresee a Hoarde/Alliance Romeo & Juliet in the making.

Surreal PS3 Euro Ad

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dvorak comic zine

While I've understood the (valid) arguments for using a Dvorak keyboard, I've never really been tempted to give it a try... until reading this awesome comic on the subject:


(via BoingBoing)

Friday, November 9, 2007

On Pakistan and Gaming

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Quote of the week

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!)

Evolution of MSN Games

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.

Reading into Radiohead's Results

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!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Not boob.


Not boob., originally uploaded by Rob Gruhl.

My friend Rob Gruhl had this awesome photo of his newborn Keston. It made number one pic on flickr (as it should have!)

BTW, The blog post title is his title for the photo. His words, not mine!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mini-review: Guitar Hero 3 (360)

I picked up GH3 late last week. The title's been written up to death, so I'll give a very brief 'mini-review' of my impressions:

Good:

  • Better track selection than the first, my guess is because of the increased attention and budget, plus the 'arms race' (perhaps neck-and-neck race would be a better metaphor) with Rock band.
  • The highlighting/hinting of notes that can be hammer-ons or pull-offs is a nice bit of polish and for me anyway, really useful.
  • The cutscenes are appropriately tongue-in-cheek.
  • I like the wireless guitar. Some have reported problems with it, but I haven't seen any.

Bad:

  • I *hate* the boss battles. I think they ruin the illusion of Guitar-god-fantasy, and in career mode they are so infrequent that it's difficult to ramp the difficulty in a meaningful way. As a result, the powerups seem random, and strategy is non-obvious.
  • The go-go girls are unneeded and make what was previously a broaden-the-audience title and make it less so. I blogged about this before.

That's it. If you liked GH2, you'll like GH3 is I guess the super-short review :-)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Speaking of objects of desire...

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!

Pac Gentleman

While I enjoy steampunk sci-fi as much as the next guy, I don't have the faux-steampunk-object fetish that some folks have.

However, this steampunk rendition of Pacman (via Wonderland) is the exception. It's so awesome, I've been ruminating all morning on what it would take to build a working version using the same technique as was used for the mechanical pong machine.




Thursday, November 1, 2007

The truth will set itself free

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!

link.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weighted com-pumpkin cube


IMAGE_085, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Spotted in front of a co-worker's desk this morning.

I understand this Portal game is quite the fun. Will have to play soon...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scene It? Loved it!

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!

More on the mainstreaming of games

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...


Monday, October 29, 2007

Bye bye Gran

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!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Onslaught of Toys-Featuring-Online-Games continues

I recently blogged about the wave of kids toys that are shipping with online games (in some cases multiplayer/mmo-ish games) as 'features' - a checklist item to help sell the game.

Well, here's another to add to the list:

Swypeout is a collectible card game that ships with a USB device with a bar code reader. Cards can be swiped through the reader, and then the car appears in an online racing game. Kids can then race their cars against others. Video trailer of gameplay below, and card example below that.






This is sort of Pod (dating myself) meets Motor City Online (dating myself again) meets Toon-town.

I include the Toon-town reference because like with that MMO, chat is via picking from canned phrases, and no path to lead to outside Internet, thus alleviating parents fears of card-swiping child molesters and the like.

This is an interesting one to keep an eye on for two reasons:

First off, it's more of a real-time 3D action game. The spend on the client (from screenshots & movies, I havent' downloaded it yet) looks to be bigger than that of UBFunkeys or the others.

Secondly, it skews older. The toy states "6 and up", but you look at the boys in the video on the site (whom I presume are representative of the target customer), and they look 10-13-ish. Now we are heading into the demographic that competes with (tongue firmly in cheek) 'real games'.

Playable instruments in Lord of the Rings MMO

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.

Full Throttle Intro

Still remains one of my all time fave game intros. Kotaku linked to it today.

Youtube is awesome, as are the Kotaku-ites. Remember when Lucasarts wasawesome?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

MMO Spam

An interesting piece of spam got through the mail filter today. Most of it was in Korean, but from what I could tell, it was for a dating service/site that runs *within* Ragnarok Online, the Korean MMO.


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!

The $6B dollar casual game

What casual game is:
  • a 'clone' of its predecessors (as opposed to 'original and innovative')?
  • in its current incarnation, invented by Edwin Lowe, same guy that invented Yahtzee?
  • in itself a $6B industry?

I am of course talking about Bingo!

Some time ago, I posted about a couple casual-game related documentaries I'd seen: Word Wars (about Scrabble and its enthusiast/pro communities) and Word Play (about the NY Times Crossword and about crossword puzzles in general).

This past weekend, I rented another similar doc called Bingo! The Documentary about, you guessed it, Bingo.


The film looks at the game's history, growth, culture, and the 'business' that has grown around it, from church basement games to 24-7 bingo halls to dedicated Bingo-specific carribean cruises. There are even (and you never thought you'd hear this combination of words) bingo-playing drag queens.

More than anything, it's a backhanded indictment of those that prey upon the poor and the weak, and a stark view of gambling addiction in many of its forms.
I found it to be quite sad at times, and not nearly as well put together as Word Wars, but still a good rent for those interested in gaming in all its forms.




Monday, October 22, 2007

Look ma, I dun got famuss!

I got a bunch of ribbing at work today because Jane put together a top-ten list of gaming blogs and put my name on it, and it got mailed around the office.

Seriously though, some comments on her list:

  • As I pointed out in the comment thread, I think the only must-read blogs that I think deserve to be on there that weren't are Raph Koster's (www.raphkoster.com) and Alice Taylors (http://crystaltips.typepad.com/wonderland/). I should have also added Jane's site, but she needs to get back to posting a little more often! (hint hint)
  • Four of the Ten are Microsoft employees (myself, David Edery, Andre Vrignaud and Dan Cook). This is, I think, itself a statement about the forward-thinking, blogger-friendly culture at MS)
  • None of the four are the more 'official' Gamerscore or Major Nelson blogs. Not that those are "fake" or anything, but I thought it worth noting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There's no such thing as a free lunch

...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...

More on games learning from music

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?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

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?

More on the games as platform thing

...so, I picked on Dave, now Dave's rebutting. It's all in good fun, but let's see if we can sum up.

Dave says:

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").

I argued:

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When games are platforms

I've been meaning to post about this great Penny Arcade column about SquawkBox, a plug-in for MS Flight Sim letting virtual pilots connect to virtual air traffic controllers. It's a good read, though not as thorough as the article on virtual air networks & MS Flight Sim that was (IIRC) in Wired a couple years back. Can't find a link to it online, unfortunately.

Fact is, there are multiple virtual airlines and virtual simulations of air traffic control and the like, all built on top of Flight Sim & the Web. Their significance should not be overlooked. These are essentially community created MMO's, built on top of open platforms, and have been going on for years. Squawkbox was built in 97. ProController (air traffic radar sim program) was built shortly thereafter. People strapped these together and on top of the Internet built Satco, VATSIM and IVAO. Ten years later, every day thousands of pilots jump into their deskchairs and shuttle passenger jets from Paris to NY, if thats their asigned route that day.

David Edery, a friend & co-worker, posted this (sorry Dave) ignorant post on the subject, arguing that FS is under-monetized because we allow third parties to develop aftermarket content and products rather than doing it ourselves. Furthermore, it's phrased as though the FS team does this out of ignorance, citing it as a lost opportunity and stating that 'the entertainment industry has so much to learn about tapping niche markets'.

I'll argue quite the opposite. I think the FS team understands this very well, and has for a long time. 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. It can also be argued that this was a key part of them capturing such a large part of the flight sim market (a genre that was fairly saturated with competitors when I first got into this business).

Flight Sim has been extended with products that do weather simulation, air traffic control, communications, ground scenery, weather simulation, vegetation, even baggage cart simulation. You can get detailed versions of most airports in the world, most commercial aircraft both current day and historical (including everything from a space shuttle sim to a hot air balloon sim). even ones that modify flight physics dynamics.

Like with other closed vertical markets - not only would MS not have been able to develop this range of product extensions had they chosen to do it themselves, they most likely could not even have conceived of them all.

This is not unlike the position some have taken on FPS games, saying "why release an editor and the ability to make mods? That's stuff you could make yourself and charge for". The case has been made time and time again that this is a core part of what has made Id, Epic and Valve as successful as they've been.

At it's heart, MS is very much a platform company. We do a lot of other things, and we have our 'closed vertical' areas as well, but the company's DNA was forged with DOS and tempered with Windows, and both of those were successful as platforms first and foremost. Fligth Sim is very much of the same bloodline.

By the way, I probably should have included FlightSim as part of that forging, as it's MS's longest running product franchise, as it predates Windows itself by three years.

For giggles, comparative screenshots:

(1) from FS 1.0 (I shudder to think how many hours I spent in this virtual cockpit - taxiing across the brooklyn bridge so I could drive right up to the Empire State's doorstep)





(2) from FS 2004, from the Imagine add-on with offering an accurate version of LaGuardia Airport in NY.




Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote of the day

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.

Beautiful!

link. (Gracias, BoingBoing)

Don't know much about History...

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'.

First up:

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.

And secondly:

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!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Better Chinese Brandnames

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!

Riding 'Co'-tales

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..."

Knock-offs best of both worlds?

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

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Author offers free Excel e-book, experiments with biz model

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?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Friends, "friends", and friends of friends

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.

When life hands you lemons...

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?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long night...

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.

*sigh*. Parenthood.

The most macabre thing I've heard this year...

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.

And

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.