Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: Poke the Box

I've reviewed a few of Seth Godin's books in the past, and while I've given them mixed reviews (see here, here, and here), I guess I get enough value out of them as I keep coming back for more. So it was that I found myself reading Poke the Box.

Lately, I've found his books have become a bit fluffier, but that this is OK if you come to them with the right expectations. Whereas some of books like Meatball Sundae and Permission Marketing approach topics with some depth and structure, Poke the Box seems to follow the lines of some of his later books like The Dip, where he takes a single idea and just riffs on it in a seemingly random order. More importantly, the riffing seems to just flit about the surface of the topic without going into any real depth.

The short version of the idea presented is two-fold. First, that in order to get something done, you need to start something, and that the ability to take initiative is a valuable skill in and of itself. Secondly, question the status quo and poke at the edges of, well, everything.

He's right about both of these being a good approach in today's workplace, and he presents a couple really fun anecdotes on the way. If you approach the book in that light, you may enjoy it. just don't expect a lot of depth or structure.

Poke the Box

Book Review: Outrageous Fortunes

Did this one as an audio book. It's not bad, but has some flaws.

Outrageous Fortunes is a look at "Twelve Trends That Will Shape the Global Economy". They are mostly macro-economic and political trends that the author claims will shape the world in ways that most pundits aren't predicting.

Ideas covered range from predicting a stemming of China's growth curve, to theorizing about the potential collapse of the World Trade Organization and what might follow in its wake.

I'm not sure I believe all the theories presented in the book. I'm not versed enough in most of the subject matter to call the author out on any of them, but it does seem like he's as single-minded in some of his predictions as the pundits he's claiming are getting it wrong.

Regardless, I do like the contrarian thinking, and the gaming out he does in approaching some of these ideas. At the very least, it'll get you thinking about implications of some of these things.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Implications of the Amazon-IGDA spat

In case you missed it, there's been some interesting goings-on in digital distribution land, in particular with Amazon's Android Appstore, and the dev community (via their proxy, the IGDA) taking issue with some of the terms in their distribution agreement.

The IGDA, in service of it's members, posted an advisory calling Amazon out on several of the points they viewed as egregious and called attention to the risks they believed developers were taking on in accepting such terms. You can read the IGDA's letter here.

On their developer blog, Amazon responded the following day, stating simply that the policy in question was from a dated text file, and that a PDF elsewhere on the site contained the correct terms.

The response seems fishy. The IGDA's letter states that they reached out to Amazon several times and that Amazon were unwilling to change terms. If it were simply a matter of referencing the wrong terms, surely they would have pointed that out. Secondly, Amazon's response doesn't actually address the concerns stated in the IGDA letter. Even taking Amazon's 'correction' into account, many of the IGDA's concerns still seem valid.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

However, I wanted to call attention to a couple things I think are worth noting about this chain of events.

1) As Dan Cook pointed out in his excellent GDC presentation, platform owners and/or retailers may act in a way that is detrimental to developers, depending on their motivations, business interests and the stage of their life-cycle.

Amazon here is a retailer with far less interest in the success of the platform than they have success in capturing revenue/market share away from other android store fronts. This is a formula for a Tragedy of the Commons where it will be the developers upon whom the livestock graze.

So, this current Amazon/IGDA tete-a-tete serves to draw attention to the issue from that perspective. In a case like this, Amazon may be very different from Apple. For that matter, Amazon's Android Appstore may be very different than their Kindle Appstore.

2) Another way to think about this, is as a form of collective action. Not formal collective action such as a union might undertake; but rather collective in the sense that as the hive-mind of the developer community becomes educated about the implications of terms, they can jointly act.

3) As Dan also pointed out in his presentation, large companies generally don't like bad PR, especially when it presents them as Goliath to a game developer David. I think this is a great example of the kind of collective developer action we are going to see to try to shame platform owners into curbing one-sided practices. I'm surprised their weak response isn't developing more outrage.

We've seen previous efforts in this vein. e.g. When MS was proposing changes to the XBLA royalty structure, or when MS did a dashboard update that buried the indie games channel. In both cases, developer outcry caused at minimum a public response, if not a back-pedal on policy.

So what is the real implication?

Developers, and the indie community in particular, have always had a 'sneaker net' with which they supported each other with information about platform and distribution portal learnings. However, today with social media tools and groups like the IGDA, developers better armed than ever to take action when terms aren't in their favor

The question portals, distributors, and retailers should ask themselves is how they would feel about their terms coming under public scrutiny. Today this is about Amazon, but in reality it's about 'little guys' vs 'big guys'. The little guys are realizing they wield more power than they thought, and are starting to learn how to use it. One need only look to the past months' developments in the middle east to see examples of it in other contexts.

[Update - April 19: IGDA responds to Amazon's response]

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Suwappu! Awesome augmented-reality toy concept

Back in January, one of the trends I called out for 2011 (see #5) was that we'd see more of gaming virtual and physical worlds meeting.

Latest thing to come across my radar (via BoingBoing) is Suwappu, a design concept by London design firms Berg and Dentsu (London office).

Some thoughts on the concept:
- I *LOVE* the idea of using AR to do/modify the facial expressions.
- The twitter feeds seem weak - especially the prius ads, ugh - though I'd like to see each Suwappu character have their own twitter feed, or a series of them depending on mood/context. Like networked tamagochi.
- Facial expressions might be hard due to latency (faces drifting on bodies). Maybe has to wait for higher-power smartphones, or ship it with a little smartphone tripod (note: I wrote this before the video was finished playing, turns out they used one too) so it remains stationary. Work the fiction such that the tripod/phone is a "doorway" for kids.

It may be design concept now, but seems a natural fit for someone to pick up on. A very feasible leap from things like UBFunKeys (which I spoke about back in 2007).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Extra Credit: An open letter to EA marketing

A bit old, but right on the money. EA really should fire whoever greenlights all this shit.

Sunday Futurism - TL;DR

If you are someplace where the weather has you reading on the couch instead of enjoying the sunshine, here are a couple good though lengthy pieces I came across and now got around to reading.

I've been following James Bridle's blog for a while. He's one of the more forward thinking people in the (book) publishing industry, and consistently links to really interesting pieces, adding a bonus of thought-provoking commentary.

The above is a list of seven more lengthy posts on his thoughts. The whole thing is a great read, but if you have time for nothing else, at least make time to read the 7th. It's a short story to tie together some of the ideas, and does so beautifully.

Good piece contrasting the different schools of thought (Utopian, Distopian, and Plus-ca-change) about how the Internet is affecting culture, thought, and thinking. Seemingly objective, and perhaps as a result of being so, it seems to side with the Plus-ca-change'rs. Regardless, it does a good job of taking a contrarian view to each point of view and as a result is a good read. Fave quote:

at any given moment, our most complicated machine will be taken as a model of human intelligence, and whatever media kids favor will be identified as the cause of our stupidity. When there were automatic looms, the mind was like an automatic loom; and, since young people in the loom period liked novels, it was the cheap novel that was degrading our minds. When there were telephone exchanges, the mind was like a telephone exchange, and, in the same period, since the nickelodeon reigned, moving pictures were making us dumb. When mainframe computers arrived and television was what kids liked, the mind was like a mainframe and television was the engine of our idiocy. Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.