Thursday, May 28, 2009

Edery hangs out his shingle

Following close on the heels of Jason Della Rocca's starting a consulting biz, David Edery has done the same. It's called Fuzbi.

In addition to subject areas covered in his book, David of course was the portfolio manager for XBLA for a few years (where we worked together). Anyone wanting some sound advice on cracking the console downloadable market would do well to hire him.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Zero Punctuation on Duke Nukem Forever

Oh that Yahtzee!

Nice resume. Now about your lack of startups...

Good article in favor of buy-vs-build and how it’s getting mixed with hiring-vs-acquiring. Gist of the article is the merger of the following three quotes:

1) “Like everything else in technology, the cost of starting a startup has decreased dramatically. Now it's so low that it has disappeared into the noise.” PLUS

2) “When companies buy startups, they're effectively fusing recruiting and product development.” EQUALS

3) “companies that acquire technology will gradually learn to go after earlier stage startups. They won't necessarily buy them outright. The solution may be some hybrid of investment and acquisition”

It's an intriguing article and makes for some interesting food for thought if you interpolate beyond where the author has taken it. For example:
  • If an ever increasing number of undergrads start their own companies, how long before it's just *expected*? Part of the min requirements? It wasn't so long ago that "I wrote and shipped an indie game" or "I ran a fan site for an MMO" was an attention-getter on a resume. Today, standard fare. Maybe one day you can't even apply for that MBA program without at least 1 startup under your belt.
  • If it becomes something that everyone is doing, then the min bar will be starting a SUCCESSFUL startup. Of course, those people may not want to be hired or acquired at all. Makes for a nice feedback loop there.

(Of course, while the cost of starting web-based businesses may be dropping, there are still many industries that are pretty capital-intensive, in which case this may apply less.

Good Brenda Brathwaite article on Escapist

Escapist has a great article entitled Ivory Tower Defense from Brenda Brathwaite, discussing the unjustified “those who can’t teach” lack of respect for academia in the games industry. It certainly swayed my some of my prejudicial opinions.

Another “Games have arrived” moment

Overheard on NPR news this morning (not an exact quote -going from memory):

[following a lord of the rings audio snippet]'What does a Lord of the Rings Virtual World have to do with shovel-ready construction projects and government bailout money? More than you think. One company who’s software is used for building fantasy worlds in video games and movies, also makes software used in real life construction projects'.

The company being discussed was Autodesk. 

Umm, hello? They’ve been making Autocad since… well I remember installing it on stacks of 5 ¼” disks and requiring a math co-processor! 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Assumptions for Designing for the Social Web

I didn't get a chance to check out the WebVisions event that was going on but Jen posted a link to this slide deck from Chris Messina. It's a must-read, and IMHO, right on the money as to the directions things are heading wrt to social networks & applications.

Olfactory peripherals: This smells a bit familiar...

There were a few links around the web last week mentioning a research project out of University of Birmingham called "Scent Delivery System" or SDS. The researchers claim to have developed a system that allows some games (in their case, HL2 and Farcry mods) to deliver scents to the player after hitting certain trigger points. 

Some game sites linked to this as if to say "look what's right around the corner" (the researchers claim it could be gaming reality 2-3 years from now) and others to say "not so much".

Anytime there is new tech proposed, of any kind, there are enthused supporters and - usually outnumbering them ten to one - naysayers. As a general rule they are both wrong. The tech usually becomes feasible at some point, way beyond when the supporters claimed, and far enough out that the naysayers can claim they didn't beleive in it happening... then.

What surprised me about this round of 'smell-o-rama' write up was two things:

First, that the writers discussed how it could enhance realism, but none of the articles I saw discussed how it might enable new modes of gameplay. (Actually, I guess that shouldn't suprise me, but it disappoints a bit).

Second, that none of the write-ups discussed that we've been here before. About eight or nine years ago, a company called Digiscents was showing a prototype device and SDK at GDC (2001, IIRC). I got to play some of the game demos with the prototype and while I was skeptical for a bunch of reasons, I was still impressed. Many people think Digiscents' demise was an indication of the market's reaction to their tech, but I don't think we'll know, since the dot-com implosion dried up much of the venture funding at that time too.

But this post isn't about Smell-o-rama for games, and whether or not that could or should happen. 

My first point here is that when looking at new forms of technology, whether it be olfactory peripherals or the iPhone or whatever, and not asking "will it work with todays games?", though that might help deployment, but rather we should be asking "what has not been possible in games, that perhaps now can be?"

My second point is that like in other things, we should learn from history. Whether it be history of a particular piece of tech like in this case, or general models learned from elsewhere in history of technology deployment. 

[Update: Here's a great archived post from Internet Retailer from March of 2001 on Digiscents, their deal with RealPlayer to add scent to web pages, their deal with P&G. Ah... the bubble. :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Game Programming Gems 8 Call for Abstracts

Adam's taken on the Gems8 editing mission, and dropped me a note to point people to the call for abstracts:

Abstracts for Game Programming Gems 8 are now being accepted at The eighth of this popular series, as with previous versions, aims to gather and share the latest gems from the game development community. Game Programming Gems 8 will include sections on General Programming, Mathematics, Graphics, Artificial Intelligence, Physics, Networking/Multiplayer, Audio, and a special segment on General Purpose Programming on GPUs for Game Developers. Join us in advancing the state of art in Game Development!
I did an article for Game Programming Gems 2, was a section editor for Game Programming Gems 3  and was the book editor for Game Programming Gems 5. I found that contributing in all of these roles has paid itself back many times over, and I'd encourage others to contribute as well.

Book Review: Ten Foot

Ten Foot is a teenfic fantasy novel, best described as 'Lord of the Rings' with an american indian flavor. 

The author is a friend of mine and I got to read a close-to-final draft a while back but now can post a review of it, as he's put it up for sale on

I'm always a bit reluctant when a friend gives me something like this to read. What if it's crap? It would be awkward to say the least.

Luckily, this wasn't a problem here. I really enjoyed it. It's a fairly short read, even for teen fiction, but I'd highly recommend it for any 10-14 year old, or for adults into lighter fare. I found myself pretty engrossed by the second chapter and read it straight through at that point.

Here's the synopsis off the Lulu page:
Sheldon Thorpe is a lonely, cynical boy. Hoping to lift his spirits, his mother sends him to Camp Arrowhead, in the mountains of North Carolina. One night a strange boy enters Sheldon’s cabin and takes his pocketknife, his most prized possession. Sheldon chases him into a mysterious fog at the edge of camp and enters the war-torn world of Arrowhead, where the demon-bear Karr-Tan and his minions conspire to enslave all of the tribes. With the help of an escaped slave girl, a platoon of combat-hardened holy men, and a shiny magic staff, Sheldon embarks on an epic quest to find the orphan boy prophesied to become the giant warrior, Ten Foot. Only Ten Foot can defeat Karr-Tan, bringing peace to the land. And he alone can show Sheldon the way home. 
Go check it out!

[Update: I forgot to add that he's unhappy with the current cover art, and any artists that might be inspired to do something more in keeping with the book should contact him (drop me a mail and I'll hook you up]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The used games stew simmers on

A while back I posted some thoughts on the entry of other retailers into the used-games biz (both here and on Gamasutra) after Best Buy, Amazon and Toys R Us all announced they were jumping into the controversial yet attractive-margin business.

The topic popped into headlines again this week as Walmart floated a test balloon of used-game kiosks in 77 of it's US stores. Walmart isn't running the business itself, but renting retail space to E-Play, the company that runs the kiosks.

The Walmart name prompted some press calls to analysts, I guess, because we saw quotes from Todd Greenwald ("we don't beleive this proposition poses much of a near-term threat") and Michael Pachter ("I can't see this having tremendous appeal to hardcore gamers, unless the credits are substantially higher than those offered at GameStop"), both citing it as sort of a non-issue.

If you cut through the analyst speak though, you can paraphrase to 'not a threat until they get it right', and 'not competitive until they make it so'. 

Does anyone really beleive that won't happen? Walmart is a company that put itself on the map through ruthless attention to efficiency improvement. I think they'll clue in to any customer sentiment that payment terms matter, that buy-back pricing is uncompetitive, that used-game pricing is uncompetitive, or any other metric that matters.

To posit that GameStop won't see a credible assault on their attractive used-game business seems naive to me. It will certainly happen.

And as I claimed last time, I beleive this is a good thing for the industry. Lowering the margins on used game distribution will make games a better value for consumers by increasing the buy-back price or lowering the used game price, and/or make new-game promotion more attractive to retailers because of less incentive to move used games. 

At the end of the day it means more money in either the industry's pockets or consumers, or both, and that's a good thing.

[Cross-posted on Gamasutra]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Login keynote transcript

Charles Stross has posted his keynote transcript from his Login keynote on his blog. 

It's alook at the next 30 years of gaming, from the eyes of a sci-fi author/futurist. [Though maybe its 20 years? He makes numerous references to the world of 2030, and since we're 2009...]

Stross has spent a lot of time thinking about this. His book Halting State (I blogged about it here) is, IMHO, one of the top 5 reads for anyone interested in thinking about the future of games. The keynote is also a good read. Like any of these things, there are numerous points I disagree with, but anything that makes you think is worth reading to get those few choice morsels.

Amongst the bits I disagree with, the end of computing power improvement - though I loved the airline industry metaphor, and the dismissing of some hairy problems (e.g. that whole virtual keyboard thing), just to name a couple examples. Also, he says near-term futurism is hard to do because of your claims coming back to bite you, but then quickly bails on making any claims about the next five years. 

On the other hand, there are some things he absolutely nails. The augmented reality stuff is already showing signs of life in the real world, and how that blurs the lines between where a game ends and the real world begins. What the market looks like when games are competing with Winnebagos and Golf for 60-somethings share-of-wallet. American market for games being dwarfed by that of places like China and India over time.

Give it a read!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dataviz musings

Short version of this blog post:

This is a pretty cool little data visualization on box office receipts over time. Not very useful, but cool and fun to play with.

Slightly-less-short version of this post:

It sure would be cool if we had a version of the above data visualization that was interactive (more than scrolling), say like this, and that we had it for, say, game releases & sales data over time. Oh, and for like 10 years worth of data. Hmmm. Yeah, that'd be nice.

Lengthier version of this post:

I've been wrestling with some gnarly data visualization stuff at work, trying to get some trends to pop out of complex data sets in a simplified and obvious way. It's been a pain, I've spent a bunch of time looking at different chart models like circular histograms, donut charts, radar charts, etc. None of them really does what I need, so I'll just have to resort to building something myself.

While looking at all these things though, I've been thinking a lot about how dramatically the impression the visualization can sway depending on the choice of how it's visualized. Also, on how much better the data can 'pop' when its interactive. The example above lets you scroll back and forth through time (do so and the holiday/summer blockbuster cyclical nature of the box office is plainly obvious). Also, mousing over individual movies lets you see their rate of decay and staying power (check out films like Forest gump or Sixth sense, for example).

I'd like more tools though. Zoom. Band-pass filter. For example, is there a macro level cycle at play? (like lemmings!). Or did the advent of VCR, DVD, Cable, Blue-ray have any material impact?

Of course, I care about having all this for games more than movies. There are a couple things holding us back.

The biggest is a lack of decent data. As I'd previously mentioned, we don't have The Numbers for games. We have NPD data which is NA only, lousy for PC, decreasing in relevance as DLC, subscriptions and digital distribution gain in relevance vs retail. Other research groups publish numbers but it's all pretty fragmented and worse, its expensive. 

The opacity of the online services sales figures also doesn't make things any easier. VGChartz does a half decent job deciphering numbers but that's only an artifact of how leaderboards work consistently across XBLA titles. Good luck doing the same with Steam and it's brethren.

The second thing we need are better tools to parse the data, especially if it's coming from numerous asymetrical sources. Things like Motioncharts (Google docs' integration of Gapminder)can help but then someone needs to go mash that data in there in a useful way. The good news on this front is that there are a bunch of dataviz apps that seem to be waterfalling down from nichy segments of the market to general business usage or integrated into the cloud apps (motioncharts being an example of exactly this).

The third thing we need is for someone to build gaming's equivalent of The Numbers. If this stuff exists in a few spreadsheets buried within MS or EA, it's not of nearly the use it can be when the whole net can dig in and start doing some archeology on the data. 

Anyhow, I've got a big spreadsheet to get back to...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My name is Ali, I'm your friendly pirate today.

As I'm prone to posting references to business models in other industries, I cannot help posting this link to a cool story on NPR about the business of Somali pirates.

Not sure how this applies to the game industry, but I had to link to it anyway.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Back before my birthday, I'd mentioned I was thinking about getting a Kindle. My wife then heard about a promotion that Ramit Sethi was doing for his book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, in which he was raffling Kindles to people that purchased the book. Alisa bought it on impulse. No kindle win, but anyhow the book found its way into the house, and I decided to give it a quick look.

I'm not the target audience for this book. It's really aimed at (a) young'uns (the 20's to early 30's set), and (b) aimed at those that are doing little or nothing in the way of financial planning/management. (i.e. if you make 60k a year, drive a new beamer, but carry a balance on your credit card and don't contribute to your 401k, then you should buy the book, hit yourself in the head with it once or twice, and then read it).

Still, I found his light-hearted style entertaining so I decided to give it a read and see if I got anything out of it.

Most of it didn't apply to our situation, or was advice that we were already following, but I still managed to get a few things out of it.

First off, it was a nice forcing function to go re-examine a bunch of things (e.g. reminder to go get our credit report and credit score, scrutinize a number of our accounts, etc). Secondly, I did learn a couple things out of it (e.g. I had a general idea about how credit score was calculated, but this gave me a more solid understanding). 

It also saved me some money. One of the things Sethi encourages you to do is call up any service provider or institution you are paying fees to and see if you can get them lowered. I did this with one of our financial institutions and got our wrap fees lowered, and also moved some money from high-ish fee investments into less costly ones. This move alone probably saved me $500 a year.

Which means the book paid for itself in about a week. Not a bad return on investment. 

If you do a decent job managing your money (i.e. have no debt other than maybe your mortgage and have some savings), then the book's probably not for you but hey, maybe you'll get something out of it. If you currently don't manage your money well, or are just out of college and are starting to think about how, then this book is probably a great place to start.

(Note, it's ironic that we heard about this through a Kindle giveaway promotion. The Amazon reviews from the book have some notes about how broken the Kindle version of the book is, not displaying tables correctly, etc.)