Friday, April 25, 2008

How many repetitive stress injuries per minute?

OK, I just discovered TypeRacer.

Typershark meets Kung Fu Chess. Typing of the Damned meets Deathmatch.

Yes, it's multiplayer touchtyping deathmatch. If you wake up in the morning and notice the world's awesome is missing, well it's all collapsed into here. It is a singularity of awesome.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gamers steamed over Steam? Distilling some learnings

There's an interesting thread over on the Escapist Magazine forums in which someone is raising a bit of a fuss about game prices on Steam. Specifically, their complaint is that many of the games listed, including some of Valve's, can be found cheaper at physical retail locations.

Having higher prices for comparable product isn't normally perceived well, but it's additionally aggravating in this case because (a) so much has been said about the efficiency of digital distribution, and (b) there's a perception that the customer is 'buying direct', and therefore should be given a better deal.

Now, I'm not faulting Valve. I think they have a great service. The issue here, is in the difficulty of keeping up with the aggressive discounting and/or promotion that retailers will do as they manage their inventory and shelfspace.

To some extent, Valve is between a rock and a hard place. Just keeping up with the pricing and promotions that all the retailers have going on would be daunting (I'd argue impossible). Even if they did that, then matching one retailer's price drop would be seen by another retailer as undercutting their channel partners. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

So what can we learn from this?

1) Be careful about message you send about the value of your service. I'm not sure that Valve has ever said that digital distribution would result in lower prices (I'm fairly certain they didn't). Still if the value was in the dynamic updates, or in the feel-good value of a larger share getting back to developers, or whatever, they should have made that the top talking points in all marketing efforts.

2) If people are comparing apples to oranges, make sure to point out that you are a pineapple. If customers ignore the above, and insist on making comparisions like the above, bring the discussions back to your product/service's value and to why the comparison is moot. In this case, it's not buying a product, it's entering into a service relationship with Valve, and that does more than get you the one game.

3) Prevent the upset from happening to begin with. This might seem a little schizophrenic at first, but I think that Valve should point people away from Steam. By this I mean they should clearly point out that some retailers might offer the game for cheaper, and that if all a customer wants is to buy the game, they are welcome to check prices at places A,B,C. They should then point out what the advantages are of buying through Steam. Customer doesn't feel they were duped, and you've reinforced your messages.

Long story short, I think this is a good lesson in how the customer doesn't always get your marketing pitch. Sometimes they write it for you. You have to plan for that and know how to address it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Time Sink...

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Spent a surprising amount of time this weekend getting my media room in order. Assembed new IKEA entertainment center (centers actually, I bought two to put side by side, and reversed the shelves/drawers on one of them which required some IKEA-hacking), routed cables (HDMI, audio, component, power, etc) through the wall. The latter was a pain because it's an outside wall so I had to route a bulk of cables in the narrow space between the wallboard and the vapor barrier.

I'm still trying to get wireless to work well throughout the house with HD video, etc. Was much easier in the old house where I'd routed CAT6 cable everywhere.

[oh, and the room isn't orange. iPhone camera did that for some reason)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Centennial Middle School Talk

I gave a talk yesterday at Centennial, a middle school out east of Portland, about careers in the games industry. I'd given a talk at the same school when I last lived here, and it was once again a blast.

The format changed some. Last time, they rotated 5 groups of 25-ish through for a 15 minute presentation each. This time, we got the whole group of 150 kids in one room, and did a 30 minute talk followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.

[BTW, if you are one of the kids I spoke to, you here's the list of resources I posted last time on 'game development for beginners'. It's a little out of date, and I'll be updating it later today, but if you are eager, that should get you started.]

Now for everyone else, here's some observations from the talk:
- Number of kids out of 150 that play games: 148. There were two outliers, both girls, for what that's worth.
- Number of teachers that play games: 3 of 6.
- Number of students that even *heard* of Space Invaders (I'd been asked what the first game I played was): ~1/3.
- Games about which I was asked the most questions: Grand Theft Auto (3,4), Halo. Remember, these are 12-13 year olds. ESRB, you still have work to do!

It's worth noting that the socio-economic split between the students is pretty big. Some are from newer development areas and are lower-middle class or slightly better off than that. On the other hand, 50% of the kids in the room are on free or subsidized lunches. The teacher I was working with pointed out that while many have computers at home, most are very old, and many are not connected to the Internet (as she put it, "many of them are used to having the phone cut off in the last week of the month").

As well, the school reflects this. "Non-essential" courses (e.g. computer science, *ahem*) have been cut from the curriculum. They have computers in the school, but they are almost exclusively used to administer standardized testing. Kids get very little time on PC's to actually explore/create/experiment. The school has one Smartboard which was paid for via a grant. Contrast this with the public school I saw in an affluent part of Redmond and blogged about here.

Despite this, I was getting some awesome questions. Some examples:
- How does the Wii do motion tracking?
- How do the chips in a game console differ from the ones in my computer?
- How does a game being connected to the Internet (cited Live as example) change the process of creating it?
- How do motion-capture rigs work? (was phrased as "those suits with the ping-pong balls on them")

Also lots of pragmatic questions about how much money will you make in job X or job Y.

A few questions were a little more basic. My fave was this three-part question from a young lady in the audience:

"How long have you been in this business?" (My answer: "15 years")
"How old were you when you started?" (My answer: "24")
"How old are you now?" (My answer: "You just wrote a math problem!")
Another kid then cried out "You're 40!?!".
*sigh* "Close."

Other favorite moment: A number of kids were asking for autographs afterward (why? I don't get it either). The last kid that came up as I was packing up asked for one as well and I asked why on earth he wanted it. His answer? "I've never met anybody OLD before... that plays games, and I want to prove to my parents that you exist!".

Anyhow, it was a blast and I'd highly recommend to others that they do similar things in their community.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A book so remarkable, it has it's own trailer

Can't wait for this to arrive from Amazon. Cool style, plus it's own trailer.

Johnny Bunko trailer from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Way to stand out!

Friday, April 11, 2008

How the Allies won the war

We decorated the kids' rooms in the new house.

The boys are sharing a room and we put up some stickers of WWII-era planes. As part of that, Tom and I went to the hobby shop to pick out some models to put together and hang from the ceiling. I told Tom to pick some out that were similar to those in the stickers we put up. He did a pretty good job as you can see from the bomber below.

He also is a pretty good history buff for a four year old. He was aware of the little-known secret weapon that garnered the Allies a real advantage over the Germans: The Millennium Falcon!

What was I going to do? Turn down a chance to work on the Millennium Falcon with my kid? C'mon!

Nerd Bird

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

One of the nice perks at Intel that I was definitely glad to have coming back was the Intel chartered airline, aka the Nerd Bird.

Not nearly as lavish as it sounds, this is really a cost savings because the company sends so many people back and forth between OR, CA, AZ, etc.

What it means though, is that I can show up for a 6am flight at 5:50 and make it to an 8am meeting in Santa Clara on time. Sweet.

[Above, San Jose tarmac early morning]

Viral marketing or new usage model?

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Viral marketing or new usage model?

Or just a stock-boy's sense of humor? Or Freudian slip?

Walking through the grocery store the other day, this M&M's "Get Wild!" endcap right next to the condoms.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Portal-inspired trends & heroism

Portal incited a lot of conversation about whether it would inspire shorter games with high-quality production.

I ask instead; will it inspire games with brilliant closing-sequence songs?

And as an answer, I give you "You Have To Burn The Rope".

Sheer Brilliance.

[Update: Am I the only one that finds this reminiscent of The The? (check Soul Mining, tracks 2, 3)]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Laptop from God

There's been a huge amount of talk around the "$100 laptop" idea. One Laptop Per Child, has gotten the most press and there are similar efforts from Intel's Classmate (note: I work for Intel but have no affiliation with the Classmate product or team), Asus' Eee PC and others.

I'm quite surprised at how much press there is on the feasibility of the price point, and how little press there is about what business models could sustain such a price point.

As pointed out in this CNET piece, Gartner analyst Annette Jump beleive's that the $100 is still too high, and that it's also not feasible due to a bunch of other TCO type costs (Internet access, servicing, etc).

Whether $100 or a few hundred more, it seems some sort of subsidy is necesary. There's been a lot of talk about government subsidy, and some talk of 'charitable organizations' providing subsidy.

There's a precedent for the subsidy of providing educational equipment and other basic infrastructure to third world countries: Religious groups, via missionary work.

It's been long understood that basic quality of life improvement can be a powerful persuader, and religous groups* often provide such services out of charitable motivation, but not without association to their beleifs (e.g. lots of Christian mission groups helped out after the Tsunami in Asia a few years back, but I don't think any did so anonymosly.)

[*Political groups aren't unaware of this. My own grandmother lived in a very rural area of Quebec, and whenever anyone bad-mouthed the oft-bad-mouthed Maurice Duplessis, she countered with "C'est lui qui a apporte l'electricite" ("It was him who brought the electricity") and thus he could do no wrong in her eyes, despite his other doings.]

Anyhow, I'm surprised more religious groups haven't latched onto this opportunity. Seems a pretty powerful motivator.

"Why do I follow Jesus? He's the one that brought the Internet!"

[Note: Since some may question my motives in this post. I'm atheist, and am not advocating for or against the above, just pointing out what seems like an opportunity. Personally, I don't worry too much about education or technology with religious strings attached, since educated people are better equiped to question their faith anyway.]

Monday, April 7, 2008

Note to IP holders: My friendships matter, your boundaries don't.

I've blogged plenty about the ongoing Scrabulous debacle (e.g. here, here, and here), but have to comment on the latest.

RealNetworks (who hold the PC rights to Scrabble for outside US & Canada) have released Scrabble for Facebook, but only for users outside US & Canada).

Let's ignore for a second that Scrabulous is still available on Facebook, and has the momentum of being the incumbent.

There's a really good example here of how the IP issue is going to poison the property's chance of success.

There have already been examples of online games where players were unhappy about being unable to play on the same overseas servers as friends. This however, is much worse. Here we are talking about a social network and applications that are looking to complement (and leverage) existing connections between people. Connections that previously haven't had to worry about distinctions like what country they may reside in.

If EA (the US rights-holder) ships Scrabble for US & Canada Facebook users, and Hasbro manages to shut down Scrabulous, users will be the loser here, having to figure out with whom they can play, out of their friends list.

Hasbro has the opportunity here to offer a superior offering (see my last post on the subject) to the incumbent, and possibly acquire their user-base in the process. Instead, they'll have partners offer two crippled versions because they did their licensing with an antiquated view of the world.

[Update: I was reminded that the rift goes beyond the digital world, as Hasbro has rights in the US, and Mattel in rest of world. Still the point still holds, their IP rights are going to restrict adoption and push users toward another game entirely.]

Ugh. Just seems so broken.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ooma update

I blogged a while back about the Ooma that I picked up (for free!) at an entrepreneurial event that I attended. Having moved into the new house, I finally got around to setting it all up, so here's the mini-review:

Ooma is a VOIP device that offers free long distance in the US (unlimited) along with call-waiting, voice-mail, and a bunch of other services, with no monthly service fee. The cost absorbed in buying the device. Long-distance outside the US is extra, but relatively cheap (to call Canada is a little over a penny a minute).

OK, so first, the good:

  • It's a sexy device. Definitely designed by (and for?) mac-lover types.
  • Setup was a snap. I'll caveat this below, but for the most part, plug in and go, and it guides you through the process relatively problem free. Considering that it plugs into your broadband, your phone line, requires a credit card for long-distance billing, and your phone number & service provider to switch off other services (like call waiting) with your land-line, it's surprising it all worked at all, let alone problem free.
  • Customer service (I had to email about my change of account info from Seattle to Portland), responded in minutes, even on a sunday morning.
  • Nifty features. Things like SMS'ing you or emailing you with info about new voicemail messages, are pretty cool.

The bad (the only downside I can think of):

  • I'd wager that the thing was designed by a group of people that live in the bay area, or another similarly congested place. It's definitely designed with a compressed living area in mind. They suggest placing the device between your cable modem and your router (if you have one), they require that it be plugged into your land-line, and the 'hub' device (in the photo above) is designed to be in an accessible location (having the main buttons and indicator lights on it). This might be fine in most San Francisco appartments, but for those of us in suburbia, it's less than ideal. Right now I have it in the living room, but I plan on re-working things so that the modem and router are in the garage, so my sexy device will live in there, I guess, and I'll have to route a phone cable over to where it's going to be located. ANyhow, I'd like to see an option where the main 'guts' are available in a small unit to put in my network closet, and the 'UI' portion is then available anywhere else in the house. Would also like to see support for a wireless version of the scout (maybe one exists?)

I've only used it for a few local calls and one long distance call so far (20 minutes to mom -> 29c!), but so far, so good!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bartle's Indie MMO Conference Keynote

Here's an Indie MMO conference going on in Minnesota (?) and it looks like Richard Bartle's keynote was really good.

Gamasutra has a good synopsis, and Bartle has posted slides.

His keynote looks back 20 years, from the year 2028, and paints three alternate portraits of the future: One in which game designers and other creatives thrive (the good), one in which lawyers and accountants stifle development (the bad), and one in which business and academia drive VW's to practical usage - and thus make them mundane in the process (the ugly).

On the front of the second of those possible futures, Congress recently held hearings on Virtual Worlds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

GTA IV sucks... me in that is.

I have to admit. Watching this TV spot has me ready to pony up money for my copy.

A couple thoughts while on the subject:

- GTA 3 did a good job of populating a large city with ambient characters/content. Crackdown & Saints Row took it further, but GTA 3 was quite a bit earlier. GTA4 looks from early footage that it does an event better job on this front.

- In terms of "realism", camera work/effects/automation seems a WAY bigger bang for the buck than things like animation or shader effects. Madden and Ace Combat 6 are great examples. Footage of the latter here: