After a long hiatus, my new tablet and a 10 minute gap between meetings inspired me to do the following:
Note to self:
- definitely lower quality than the last few, but less time spent.
- my handwriting is awful, and on the tablet it's worse. Maybe back to using the Comic font (finally a good use for it)
- When I have time to do a decent job, it's usually on planes. Thus 3/5 of my first comics being about air travel.
- Given the name, I should at some point do one about the game business!
Monday, July 30, 2007
After a long hiatus, my new tablet and a 10 minute gap between meetings inspired me to do the following:
Thursday, July 26, 2007
...someone giving away what they charge for, and tanking their business in the process.
I'll explain. But first a commercial interlude. Please watch this very short video. It's brief, and it's entertaining.
OK, so this is one of a series of clever little commercials (series of them can be seen here - thanks to boingboing for the link) for a company doing technical support. Very catchy. "See how simple it is when we explain how it's done?".
Now, if that series of commercials takes off, it could be a real thorn in the side of a busking street magician that makes his living doing these exact tricks. Of course, that's not going to bother Belgacom. After all, whats a couple street magicians compared to a successful ad campaign of a large corporation. Casualties of War. Can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs and all of that.
OK, so where am I going with this?
There've been few posts as of late (Techcrunch, Raph Koster, etc) about the new Barbie Virtual World. Some see it as a response to Webkinz, which in one way is true, but it's not the most interesting way to look at it.
Barbie and Webkinz are loss leaders. They are giving it away to sell dolls or plushies or whatever. MyCoke (FKA Cokeworld) is giving it away to build brand affinity only. You don't even need to buy a can of diet/vanilla/lemon/zero coke to play this version of Habbo, you just need to not mind hangin' with the red'n'white.
Developing games costs money. Developing virtual worlds/mmos costs even more money. Building the next Wow is going to be a 50-100M affair. Building a small high-quality 2.5d casual mmo is, what, maybe $1M-$2M (of course, some are hoping to lower that, but that's another story). Blowing a couple million on development of a game title means you are going to have to do a fair number of subs/item-sales to get into the black.
But if you are selling plastic dolls nationwide at Toys-R-Us, and trying to differentiate yourself in a crowded market, then 1-2M is an efficient spend on a differentiating feature.
And if you made $26B last year selling sugar water at a healthy profit, then a couple million bucks is, my guess, a blip on the screen of the marketing budget.
At Casual Connect this year, there was a lot of talk about the big media companies (e.g. MTV/Viacom) coming into the space. What I don't think people grokked though, is that not only will they come in and compete for the same customers, but they may completely upset the apple cart in an effort to get those gamers interested in their IP (and thus watching the shows, buying the dolls, eating up all the hollywood soup and washing it down with a sugary, fizzy dose of free-to-play branded mmo.
"Free" as a business model will certainly mix things up a bit.
Now, back to my analogy.
David Copperfield isn't worried about those videos. They aren't showing us how to make a buick disappear or anything like that. Same goes for WoW. No one's giving away THAT level of experience, so Blizzard doesn't have to worry.
Thing is though, that this combination of Christensen effect ("not good enough" creeps up on you until you find that "good enough" is way cheaper than you and nipping at your heels) and big media money are going to make for a volatile and interesting mix in the MMO/VW space over the next couple years.
This is somewhat analogous to the America's Army game a few years back. Giving away a multi-million dollar FPS as a marketing tool, they didn't put Epic or Valve out of business, but there were a few less B-level FPS's sold as a result, I'd wager.
So the thought exercise for you (as I try to bring this in for a landing), is what do you do when your competitors business model suddenly is "free"?
I'm using a combination of a job change (made a change of role within the casual games group here, but that's another post...) and my laptop migration, to clean up my act and get back on the GTD wagon.
How timely, then, that Google had Merlin Man, of 43 folders fame, come in and talk about the empty inbox. Lucky for us they posted it:
REPT looks like this:=REPT(text,number_of_times)For instance, REPT("X",10) gives you "XXXXXXXXXX". For in-cell bar charts, the trick is to repeat a single bar "". When formatted in 8 point Arial font, single bars look like bar graphs.
to get this:
In-excel music visualizer can't be far off!
Monday, July 23, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Today I tried to make four deposits to my Wamu ATM. After the third, upon trying the fourth, I received the above message.
Uh? Hello? You have a problem with people depositing money into your institution? You are a bank, no?
I'm sorry sir, our computerized system can't handle a massive influx of deposits. The system was written in COBOL and has only 2 bits to track deposit numbers. A fourth deposit would cause it to carry the one.
Guess I'll just store it under the mattress
Posted 10:15 PM
Terse notes I took, very quick cleanup done last night [my comments in braces]
Bernie Stolar [Yes, THAT Bernie, of Sony, Sega fame], Greg Schaffer - Team lead
Bernie comes out, talks 25 years history in the industry, blah blah.
Why is Google in game business [a question everyone came to find out]
In-game advertising. That's it.
No "G-Box", No Google Live, No Game Search, No Portal.
In-game advertising only. that's it.
Some notes on Google: 13k employees [that's it? wow]. 65% of worldwide search results. 112 languages, 157 international domains
Current work in games: Currently working with over 100 game pubs [via adsense - does that mean they know one another? Is that just "do a search on how many of our adsense partners have 'game' in their domain name"?]
Game relevant searches are popular.
How many people are Adsense partners? (1/4 of room, maybe 40 people?) - points out that Popcap raised their hands.
We currently have Adsense for search, Adsense for feeds, Adsense for audio -- now we are adding Adsense for games.
Adsense is about: Efficient workflow. Flexible buying. Robust reporting. Targeted reach. Engineered optimization.
The world (heart) games. 200M people worldwide play casual games games. [this appears to be one of two slides that were added to an otherwise template adsense pitch deck, IMHO]
As games continue to grow and cost more, ads can help. (more on budgets, growth) [Does Bernie really grok casual? Seems not. Seems to be stuck in console big budget game mindset]
Please partner with us! [Great, but he hasn't said what they are doing?]
"How will it work?"
starts with a conversation. Here's our email address.
[awkward moment where the two presenters are not sure who's queuing off of whom and when. This is a very poorly prepared pitch]
[I believe this is mostly cut and pasted slides from someone else's pitch (non-games pitch)].
"we work with advertisers to better think about users and what it means in games" [but when asked for examples, they were strugglin'. Clear that they get that games are different advertising medium, but also pretty clear it's not one they've worked in and actually spent any time selling to advertisers]
7.2B paid out to Google partners since 2003.
End and Q&A. [We're less than 30 minutes into what's supposed to be 45 minute pitch]
[WTF? What are they doing, how are they doing it? How will they tailor their experience to games, etc, etc.]
Best summarized as: WTF!?
This from the company that only hires PHD's that know kung-fu and have x-ray vision? The fact that I work for MS isn't coloring my opinion here. I think this was an embarrassment to Google. Talk around the show seems to indicate that many share my opinion. The presentation was poor, the product was undefined and seems to be non-existant. Didn't help that one of the presenters sat down through the whole thing. "I'm really excited to be here" - yeah, right. How about standing up while you say that.
The audience questions were mainly along the lines of trying to extract a little information about what exactly they might be doing. Answers were vague, and seemed to indicate that while they see an opportunity to take adsense to in-game ads, they've started to think about the sticky issues that come up when you try to do so, but haven't yet thought of answers to those questions. Oh, they did indicate web first (didn't say when), then download PC (didn't say when), then consoles (didn't say when but hinted that it's Sony that they are talking to).
Posted 10:47 AM
Terse notes I took during the Day 2 keynote. [My thoughts/impressions in braces]
Aiming to be premiere provider of branded entertainment communities, and gaming is key part of that strategy
It's not just kids & boys playing games, we have gamers in every demo; kids, moms, boomers... [note the lingo, this guy definitely steeped in the TV biz]
Our goal is to be the preeminent kids and family brand of the 21st century
Check out this demo reel.
(Lots of footage of celebs, TV properties, etc, *very* little games stuff thrown in there. Seems to be falling flat with audience. Only online property in initial vid clip is Nick.com, only a minute into it, and features all the TV properties, lasted about 5 seconds. No shockwave game footage)
"Demo-targeted brands, engaging the whole family"
[more talk along these lines. Clear the games piece is just that... a piece. Part of a well-rounded marketing campaign. Not "games first"]
"this is what our audience is doing online"
casual games are to digital as video is to TV [wtf?]
biz is about:
- Revenue stream
- Brand building
[so far, what he's said has seemed like brand-building is first, not 3rd)
on their kids sight, 4.5M kids registed in 6m - more than anyone in the space.
acquisitions - addicting games, shockwave, neopets...
- Addicting games --> teen boy targeted. 9M uu's. 100 games intro'd /mo, 4000 games in the library [not sure what their search is like, but maybe it's time to prune that library?]
- Neopets: 4.8 UU's - 172/min month per user average. launched item-based biz with nexon
- 1 billion games played per month across shockwave/neopets/addictingames
"future of a fragmented web - people not going to portals" [I agree with him on this one]
Will distribute content too, on other people's portals.
over next 2 years:
100M investment in casual gaming sites, titles and platforms (big font, this is the big announce of the keynote I guess]
Will be invested in:
- myNoggin - preschoolers playing educational titles around brands like Dora, ... (Cox, Charter, Insight...) uses affiliate models ands ubscription model (ad free) [their answer to Club Penguin]
- Multiplayer and coop games will be focus on Nick.com
- Nicktropolis - Nick gaming club subscription offering - early 2008.
- For teen girls "TheN + addicting games" - early 2008 - N-Games.com - first casual games site targeting only teen girls. activities like "avatar prom", "Avatar mall". (Demo - tv trailer for "the hookup". 'a game of charm treachery and deceipt'. "get your flirt on")
- Addicting games - 'have just scratched the surface'. Increased emphasis on user-submitted game. intro'ing game making engine to make it easier. Expanded game offerings to intro casual mmos. "AddictingWorlds" Partnership with Habbo, Neopets, are indicative of direction. Will work with creators of all casual Mmo's.
- Shockwave - 35+ women. [WTF? Really?] Focus on innovation [hmph], Jigsaw video demo [not that impressive - youtube-quality flash movie played on jigsaw pieces.] Also will be increasing publishing and distribution of downloadable games across other sites (example - carrie the caregiver [this downloadable casual title did pretty well on the portals, IIRC])
- Neopets: Company now called Neostudios: continue momentum of neopets, build new mmo type experiences - a new virtual world ever other year. "Casual MMO's fasted growing segment in the industry"
Demo video 2. [There are games in this one. montage of existing game footage from the sites above, nothing new that lept out at me]
Thanks. $100M. etc etc.
Overall, indicative of a growing interest in online/interactive from the major media companies. They certainly are serious when you look at the acquisitions & interest. However, some were viewing that $100M number is a kind of "right hand turn" on their part. One interesting take on this is to ask "what percentage of their total 'R&D' (probably the wrong term in this case) does this represent?". How does it compare to the total amount the spend sourcing and developing new IP for shows, etc? My guess is 3-5%. If that.
If that's the case, then it's not a right-hand-turn, but more of a toe in the water.
Of course, to those in the casual games space, it appears to be a big, serious, gnarly King Kong toe in the water!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing the 100M. That's real money and they appear to have a battle plan. Should be interesting to watch.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Today was day one of the "Casual Connect" conference. Day 2, officially, I guess, since they held a kind of intro/primer track on Monday.
We also held our Microsoft Casual Games partner day on Monday, an invite-only event for developer partners, and that's one of the reasons I haven't been posting much, as I was working on a bunch of the presentations for that event, including one that I gave. They'll be posted publicly at some point in the near future, and I'll post a link at that time.
The energy at Casual Connect is pretty palpable. Interesting mix of perceptions. Existing player both enjoying the 'vindication' of having been there first, but also seeming a little put off by all these people coming to "our show" (sound familiar, GDC old timers?), and perhaps a little nervous tone to some of their voices about all the big players showing up?
And big players there were. Of course Microsoft is there, but so's Google, and Viacom, and lots of analysts and VCs. Suits! At a casual games conference! Did they not get the memo? :-)
I'm going to have to blog some lengthy posts about impressions of the show and some individual sessions later this week. In the meantime, I'll leave you with two points I think are interesting:
- Among the people at the show, instead of the usual confusion about "what does 'casual' really mean?", there is a lot more agreement, but its falling into several very distinct camps: Casual in the web-or-downloadable-like-you'd-get-from-Popcap sense; Broad-appeal, mostly-retail console titles like Buzz or Big Brain Academy, and the casual-mmo-is-da-bomb-WoW-better-watchout crowd.
- A lot of conversations about all the new casual divisions at big publishers like Ubi, EA, etc. Personally, I htink this is going to be one of the more entertaining spaces to watch. Not because I think the best games will come from there (they might, they might not), but because I think it's going to be *really* interesting to see whether companies used to the process-heavy, gauntlet-running processes used to prudently conceive/greenlight/produce/market/sell $20M games are going to be able to *internally* adapt to the nimble nature of the casual market. I think it's going to be a painful adaptation for many, I beleive.
Another observation: If you hear someone say they beleive the future is in "MySpace + Facebook + MapleStory + YouTube + HabboHotel", you have just heard someone that has no frikkin clue what they are looking for, apart from something that will magically be worth a billion dollars in two years. Just walk away. If they are a VC, feel free to take their money first, by all means :-)
Saturday, July 14, 2007
The debate never ends. Some argue that all of these allow gamers to get 'free goods' without buying and thus negatively impact sales (the 'Why give away the cow?' crew). The proponents argue that these things ease people into purchases, attract more gamers to the fold, and let gamers spend more dollars because they feel their dollar go further (the "Spread the love" crew).
The argument comes up in discussion of rental or subscription to retail games as well as in discussion of free web-based casual games and other casual games distribution mechanisms.
I've blogged about this debate before, and how other industries might give us pointers.
On that note, two related pieces of research popped onto the radar today:
For the Nays: This piece of research on radio's effect on music sales, concluding that radio play does NOT boost sales of recorded music, and in fact may do the opposite. (As a side note, I am personally VERY skeptical of this peice of research. It seems to jump very quickly to support an argument for music licensors charging license fees to radio stations for airplay. I do wonder whether it has some bias behind it.)
And in the other corner: This post from Freakonomics on Libraries. While it doesn't argue that libraries are good for book sales, it does point out that books still sell despite them. It also asks out the provocative question "If libraries didn't exist, could you start one today?", concluding that the publishing industry would likely attempt to quash such an effort or at least shackle it with a license fee structure. I think most would agree that libraries are good for society and good for culture, and that they haven't yet killed the publishing industry. (Oh, and be sure to read the comment thread. There are some links to a number of cool things including some examples of people that ARE in fact starting libraries today, on the web)
Anyhow, there you have it. Arguments to back up whichever side of the debate you are on. Please ignore the other one.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
via Adventure in Digital Marketing comes this nifty advertising banner/overlay, which is an Adidas ad play on Line Rider. Unfortunately it falls a little flat due to the lack of physics, which is what made Line Rider the sensational toy that it is. If the runner had jumped, rolled, etc, this could have been as good. Still a nifty try Adidas!
Arg! It's not enough that Sony's peeing in the pool, but Activision has to add to the melange?
This from Joystiq (via Raph):
They fully updated the graphics, including doing motion capture for the avatars, and the NPCs in the background, like the go-go girls in the stage that’s set in a strip club. Neversoft has a full-sized motion capture studio at their facility in California, so why not make good use of it? Especially if you have to mocap some strippers. Tough work, this rock stuff. Based on what we saw, the dancers will be giving Soul Calibur a run for the money. Jiggle factor five, Mr. Sulu.
Thanks, Activision! At least I know have my decision made easier for me. Rock Band it is!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
This video *brilliantly* explains social networking in laymans terms, in an entertaining fashion, in under two minutes.
[update: The authors of that video at CommonCraft have a number of others - brilliant]
I just blogged some more Rock Band footage, this time out of the E3 MS press conference.
Among the various bits of news leading up to and coming from E3, are a bunch of factoids released about the 2 duelling guitar games: The Activision-acquired Guitar Hero sequel Guitar Hero 3 and the MTV/EA published Rock Band from the creators of GH, Harmonix.
I'm starting to worry a little about the escalating arms race of spend going into both these titles to pick up various music licenses, band/musician signups, etc.
Rock band has an advisory board.
Rock Band gets Metallica, plus has entire albums as DLC.
Slash to be the Boss in GHIII, plus do an original track for the game
It's great for consumers, but I hope that (a) they remember that it's about the GAME, and (b) they both make money so we see more of the same.
To be clear, I'm sure they'll both see an assload of units, I'm just wondering whether the budget growth is outpacing the likely sales.
So I hooked up with some former Matrox co-workers last night in Toronto for dinner, and amongst other topics, the subject of Facebook came up. Some of that conversation became relevant to a thread over on Raph's blog, so I commented there and am reposting here.
I signed up for Facebook to check it out after several friends far more in-the-know about these things said that it was going to be dominant based on it’s prowess as an extensible platform (Marc Andreesen has a great blog post about this here).
Anyhow, I was surprised to see (a) how many people I knew were already on it, and (b) how they came out of the woodwork to find me, sans my searching for them. After perhaps 10 days of usage, it’s already my 3rd most useful SN service after linkedin and flickr. (I guess I have to add that Xbox Live is a SN service in many ways, and would come in #1 as most used, and perhaps #2 in most useful).
One trivial Facebook factoid that might skew the data: I’m a montrealer and have many friends in Toronto. Toronto has the largest population of facebook users of any city in the world, with over 700k users!
My own hypothesis on this is that it’s a combination of (a) higher BBand penetration in Canada than in US, (b) Facebook being relatively unknown in Europe/Asia (asserted by one of the dinner attendees, a Brit), and (c) Toronto being fairly affluent compared to the rest of Canada and certainly a bigger city than any other in Canada.
Monday, July 9, 2007
It's been a while since I've talked about the E3 Supernova and the resultant "Dwarf Star E3".
Since E3's kicking off this week while I rock the great white north, I guess now's the time to get predictions in. I think it's going to flop. Someone will claim victory by some standard of measure, but I think it's going to flop, and next years will either not exist, or be even smaller.
Perhaps rather than 'dwarf star', 'old yeller E3' would be a better name?
Friday, July 6, 2007
So first day of "semi-working semi-vacation", my laptop goes belly up and I spend the day trying to get MS canada to get me a replacement.
On day two, my 3-yr old daughter Jennifer took a flying leap off the swing set trying to save a carebear from certain death and busted her clavicle in the process. Poor little thing.
So half of day one spent in the MS Canada IT department, half of day two spent in the emergency room.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Monday, July 2, 2007
OK, clearly my previous post was wrong and burning tablets have been popping out of bushes, as the hype behind the JesusPhone (aka the iPhone) seems to be justified. I have quite a number of friends that picked one up this weekend and the flurry of mail I've received is heavily laden with things like "sexy", "its like holding the future", "rules changing", "requiring pants-changing", etc.
I haven't looked too closely at the device (already seen a couple floating around the MS cafe this morning, before 8am even!) nor at the service & sign up. However, for all the stuff I read yesterday, one thing stood out:
Signup happens through Apple.
That is the single biggest thing about this entire launch. It fundamentally changes the rules of the game between device vendors and carriers - nay - between the tech industry (new guard) and the telco industry (old guard). Similarly to how iTunes, over time, changed the rules between the big music labels and the online services, only overnight, and more dramatically.
It took a pretty sexy device and a religious user base to get the telcos to sell their soul, but AT&T has done so. And after making a deal with the devil, I'm not sure there's any going back for them.
If you heard something un-applish within this past week's din of prelaunch iPhone religious euphoria (seriously folks, it's not like burning tablets are scheduled to fly out of shrubs this week or something), that noise might have been Nintendo's beloved son, Reggie Fils Aime, announcing WiiWare, Nintendo's XBLA-like program for 3rd party downloadable games on the Wii.
Plenty of commentary so far (Dave and Ian both have good posts on the subject). Like both of them, I have a lot of questions and would go a step further to say that I think they either havent' thought things through entirely, or are being disingenuous in their promises.
I frankly do not beleive they can approach it in a way that titles are not vetted by Nintendo. They have stated that titles will need to be rated, and AO ratings would not fly, but I don't think that's enough.
Echoing and adding to the list of unanswered questions that David and Ian raised:
- What of content that might get an M or T rating, but that some groups would find offensive (e.g. Nazis), or for that matter, that some corporate groups would find offensive (would The McDonald Game fly?)
- If they aren't vetting concepts, then how are they prioritizing dev kits? From what I understand, there's a pent up demand for them, so how is this allocated if they have no idea what a dev is working on (or is this the real gating factor)
- If they aren't vetting concepts, but have the right to refuse games based on the above factors or other reasons, then might developers sink a couple hundred thousand into a game only to be turned away when showing up to Wiiware wanting to hang out their shingle?
I guess details will become clearer as we near the first release of titles, but I am skeptical to say the least.