Friday, June 29, 2007

Cool wedding story

PB060056, originally uploaded by Baron Von Zoobenstein.

Not the type of thing you'd normally find in my blog, but this is pretty cool. I learned today that Chris Mowrer, as graphic design lead in the casual games group here at MS, got married a few years back and did so... on the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland!

They didn't have permission either. They just got their whole wedding party in line, including minister, all got on the ride together, and then had the whole ceremony, vows and all, scripted and timed to fit into the rides timing between noisy bits.


Easy Rider

IMAGE_039, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

I forgot to mention... NEW BIKES!

Jenny's is pink with streamers off the handlebars, Tom's has a shark on it. Stereotypical but they got to pick.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Results of the Generic Defense Game experiment

Jim Greer of Kongregate points us to this great post from 'PsychoGoldfish', creator of Generic Defense Game. As the game's creator puts it, GDG "was built and distributed as an experiment to get some insight on the current state of the independent web-based gaming community"

It's a fantastic read, though I wish he'd actually disclosed figures behind comments like "The ads in the game were a real surprise to me. I did not expect the high level of performance the would ultimately yield".

Anyhow, here's the money quote from the whole article:

Now, a lot of commercialized sites have made it possible to earn a pretty good living in this industry without having to build your own income generating websites. These commercialized sites kicked off a whole new generation of talent, and really helped to raise the bar in quality…at least.. that was how it started.

Today, everyone from high-school kids to seasoned vetrans, are whipping off generic games (not just in the defense genre) because the big commercial sites will dish out $500 or so, for pretty much anything that works (and even some things that don’t). The casual players tend to stick to these commercialized sites, because they brand all the games they sponsor to the degree that the players feel these sites are where all the games are coming from. For many casual players… these are the only sites they check for new games.

This is great for these sites, as they build strong user bases, and stronger revenue streams. This is good for the developers because they can earn sponsorships without having to put fourth a great deal of effort. This is bad for the industry because the quality content is being buried by the quantity content.

Hollywood and Games summit panel

Joystiq has a summary of what sounds like a great panel from Hollywood and Games. (Gamasutra coverage here)

My fave quote comes from Ben Mattes (link to his blog on the right) who I bumped into back at MIGS, and who I hadn't seen since I knew him 15 years ago when I was friends with his sister in school. Anyhow, Ben says:

"There's not really room for "writers" in the video game world. We have game and story designers, not writers." Flint backed him up saying, "Your job is to give meaning to the gameplay."

Well put!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone Odds and Oddities

Seems the blogosphere's abuzz with the imminent release of the iPhone. The hands-down coolest thing I've seen on this is that one of the internet betting sites has published odds for a bunch of iPhone release possibilities. A few examples:

Consumers are reported camping out waiting for an iPhone—3/1
Initial iPhones get recalled—30/1
iPhone sells at least 12 Million units in 2008—5/6
Apple’s stock jumps at least 10% in value in regards to the price on 6/30/07—1/2
Consumers pay at least three times the original price ($1,500) on ebay—2/1
The screen breaks/cracks like Apple’s first-generation nano (iPod)—150/1
There are mass reports of the battery life being less than the promised 8 hours—10/1
Someone is trampled while trying to get an iPhone—20/1
iPhone spontaneously combusts—150/1

Mass reports of battery life issues occur with EVERYTHING THAT HAS A BATTERY, so I'd give this one more like 1/10 :-)

No odds on Steve Jobs saying "BOOM!" during the release event.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gaming Blogs of the Fairer Sex

It may just be proportional to the growth of the blogosphere, but I've noted a fair number of gaming blogs by and for the fairer sex. These have certainly been around a while (I've been a reader of Jane's site for a while, for example), but there do seem to be more of them cropping up.

My list of feeds includes:
Feminist Gamers (along with the associated Cerise 'zine)
GameGirlz (go Canada!)
New Game Plus
Heroine Next Door
Guilded Lillies

Just to name a few examples.

Anyhow, a new one came to my attention, Girl in the Machine. And with reviews/editorials like this one of Super Princess Peach, and posts with titles like Lara Croft's Ten Year Mam Jam, I have a new favorite feminist gamer blog!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Farming Gold on a Pauper's Margins

An interesting article by Daniel Terdiman (via Alice), in which he interviews Brock Pierce, CEO of Affinity Media, who used to own IGE, the pioneer firm in the area of barter and trade of virtual items.

Business is down, it seems, as pressure from competition, mainly Chinese, willing to live of thinner margins. The money quote: Chinese competitors get more and more sophisticated, they are also willing to accept less and less profit margin. And that means, "they're perfectly happy to accept $20,000 in profit on $2 million of revenue." That, for all you out there without a calculator, is a 1 percent profit margin...

While I'm not surprised that the margins are thin, and that the pioneer in the area is being squeezed out, I *am* surprised that the 'living of 1% margins' idea goes unquestioned (not just in Daniel's article, but in general), when it's a Chinese competitor in question.

Is it feasible? Perhaps, but it often seems to go unquestioned.

Let's take this example. If indeed companies are selling $2M worth of virtual items & currency at only 1% over what it cost them, what other possibilities might exist?

  • These competitors may actually be vertically integrated. These might be gold farmers (organizationally, a gold farming factory/sweatshop) that are looking to cut out the middleman. That 1% profit might be over the 5% they had to give up to a middleman in the past.
  • They may be living off the float. Not sure what the turn-around time is on cutting checks to sellers, but with enough capital coming through, they could put that money to work during the month it takes them to pay someone.
  • Trade off currency exchange rates between China & US.

I don't know that any of these is the case, of course. But it stands to reason that if they are only making one point off of it, there's something else helping pay the bills, cheap overhead or not.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A clear sign that games are getting too big that they are building in features so that you don't have to play them.

Whaaa? Huh? Come again?

Recently, I'be been playing Forza 2. Great racing sim. Best I've played in a while, hands-down. My only complaint is that it's TOO BIG. Working my way through the career progression was taking forever, but I wanted to do it (a) for acheivements/gamerscore, and more importantly (b) to unlock all the cars and tracks. I want to see how the AC 427 Cobra drives compared to the one I used to own, and I want to race places like Nuremburg (sp?).

So I was surprised to find that at the start of a race, one thing you can do is HIRE A DRIVER! That driver will then go race for you and generally, will win. So I've been playing the game, but before I sign off, I'll pick one more race and let my Xbox go play by itself for 20 minutes, up-leveling me a little bit.

Now today, I read over on buttonmashing that discusses EA's "Sim to complete" feature in NCAA 2008. You basically can fast-forward ahead during a game, having the AI play for you, and jump in at the tail end of the game.

It's interesting that in the effort to justify big budget games, 'hours of gameplay' has become this metric that's frequently used, but is not necesarily what ALL consumers want. Some, like me, want the quality without requiring the quantity. I loved that the last Tomb Raider took me like 10-12 hours to complete. I've put off playing Oblivion because I hear it's great but takes >50 hours to play.

Building in of these features is kind of recognition that to some gamers, less is definitely more.

Over-criminalizing copyright

I'm giving yet another link to the amazingly-verbose-yet-worth-reading Patry Copyright Blog. This one to a post entitled "over-criminalizing copyright".

Short version goes like this:

He, and an English judge and copyright scholar, agree on the following: Copyright infringement is being treated as a crime, and therefore prosecuted using taxpayer dollars. This is unnecesary, since adequate civil remedies exist. Criminal proceedings should be reserved for large commercial piracy enterprises and the like.

In short, if the RIAA wants to sue teens, they should do it on their dime. Just because it's rampant and difficult for them to sue them all doesn't mean their mom and dads should have to foot the bill for it with their tax dollars.

He closes citing NBC/Universal's general counsel on their efforts to lobby the gov't for stricter IP enforcement and prosecution as an example.

It's interesting that many of these straightforward arguments get lost in the rhetoric that the special interest groups and their lobbyists throw around.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And now, a word from our sponsors...

I'm selling out. I'm putting up ads.

Not that I really think I can sell out for an significant amount of coin, but I want to play around a bit with the consumer-side of adsense and some of it's competitors, so I'm trying a couple things for a few months and I'll see how they pan out. I'll share results (if any) here at that time.

The first thing is putting an ad block on my blog. I'm using text ad links and as you can see (at right, under 'sponsors') they have yet to populate the feed. We'll see whether anything comes of it. Proceeds from these ads, if any, will go to my yearly contribution to the EFF. Ads won't be a big part of the blog and the blog will continue to deliver the miniscule value that it does by entertaining readers via my pedantic banter about games, kids, and my cat, etc. It'll also serve as the yardstick for the other thing I'm doing.

The second thing I'm trying is a little more interesting, IMHO. Inspired by this Seth Godin post, I created another blog, with a very narrow focus. It'll get one post a day, and that's it. You can find it at Proceeds from the ads on this site (again, should there be any), will be used to market the blog itself. I want to see whether niche content + shoestring bootstrapping can work. Again, I'll share results here.

That is all, we now return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Can casual games industry draft behind poker?

Last month, I blogged about the Poker Players Alliance group that was trying to lobby for changes to gambling law to recognize games of skill as being just that, skill based, and therefore not under the umbrella of 'gambling'.

Today Kotaku points out that a resolution has been introduced into congress to tackle the subject.

The resolution can be found in full here.

Kotaku reads this as being relevant to MMO's, but it's clearly relevant to ALL games. The opening paragraphs of the bill reference Bridge and Mahjong, for example. Skill-gaming business models are currently a viable business model for casual games as well as core games like FPS games and the like. One of the reasons the model has been limited is that it's currently an 'arms length' business model, since many still see it as gambling.

Think about it. When you tell mom you are bringing home your new fiancee, and he/she is a professional poker player, what's mom's reaction? Now change that to professional chess player. You imagined a different reaction, no? Poker has come a long way in terms of public perception, though it still has some air of vice around it.

A societies laws reflect it's values, and vice versa, though generally the laws lag when the values change. If something like this were to become law, it merely reflects the fact that people are open to the idea of games of skill being something that can be an arena for fair competition.

I for one, look forward to watching ESPN's Celebrity Zuma Championship.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Don't get me started about henchmen

...has got to be my favorite line from Austin's book, Soon I Will Be Invincible, which I just finished yesterday. I really enjoyed it.

I'm not quite sure what to compare it with, but if you enjoyed the depth that something like Watchmen added to the comic superhero genre, then you'll enjoy the book, as it goes that much deeper.

The heroes and villains are richly portrayed, and I enjoyed the way many of them have disdain or envy of one another's powers or backgrounds (science-camp vs magic, born-with vs self-induced, etc).

I highly recommend!

Mocking Magritte

A threadless design I'd missed out on just got reprinted and I got mine in the mail today. Score!

Wacka Wacka Redux

Got around to playing Pac Man Championship Edition on Xbox Live Arcade tonight.

It's really quite good. Like most of the reviews are saying, it should have been called something else. Pac Man 2 perhaps. Anyhow, it's good. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Cathedrals, Copyright, and the Courts

Seems Sony's latest source of grief has been the Church of England getting miffed bout Manchester Cathedral being used as a locale in the PS3 title, Resistance.

The church threatening Sony with legal action, and Sony, staying true to the title's name, is resisting.

The subject seems frivolous at first glance, does it not? Games are art. The church is a building open to the public. Lighten up, folks in tall hats!

Now is the time you ask whether to take the blue pill, and keep on thinking that way; or take the red pill, and see just how far the entangled legal rabbit hole you want to go?

William Patry, who is Google's senior copyright counsel and maintains an awesome blog, has a great post on the subject.

Amongst the various facts at play here:

  • Architecture is a creative work and therefore copied under copyright.
  • Most copyright laws take this into account and allow for things like taking a picture in a public place where you might happen to get a building in the shot.
  • The INSIDE of buildings is another story
  • The laws are different in the UK and the US, and the game was made in the US but the 'source material' in this case is in the UK. The game is also sold there.
  • When the building was built is also an issue, and while this church is quite old, it underwent some renovation more recently.


Anyhow, it's very relevant to anyone making games that may hope to include real-world environments. Go read it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The pitter patter of little Twitters

Unless you've been on the moon, passed out in a Opium den, or otherwise incapacitated and off the grid, you've probably heard about Twitter, Jaiku, or a number of other similar start-up services.

Labelled 'micro-blogging' apps by some, 'group IM' or 'push messaging' by others, these apps let you build/join social networks and then post little tidbits of your life to them.

I'm torn. For things like conferences, where you may have a network of people sitting in conflicting sessions, trying to hook up for dinners/parties, etc, these seem like a killer app. For the rest of my life they seem like self-induced info-pollution.

Anyhow, if you are curious, this March post by Danah Boyd (inspired by use of Dodgeball and Twitter at SXSW) is a great piece on the topic, discussing pros & cons, and giving some fascinating perspective of the use of these apps (and social tech in general) by teens. A sampling:

"The biggest challenge with teens is that they do not have all-you-can-eat phone plans. Over and over, the topic of number of text messages in one’s plan comes up. And my favorite pissed off bullying act that teens do involves ganging up to collectively spam someone so that they’ll go over their limit and get into trouble with their parents"

One for the ladies?

Silverjet airlines in the UK is attempting to differentiate themselves by having at least one ladies-only restroom per plane. Nice differentiator.

This ad talking about it, while catchy, I think misses the mark of it's target audience.

At least I think so. I think I'll go watch it a few more times to decide...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Besting BestBuy, Outgeeking the Geek Squad

I have a personality flaw. Well, I'm sure many would argue more than one, but one in particular that is pertinent to this post. The flaw is that I, when dealing with people like sales clerks or customer service personal at technology companies or stores, am a snob. That is to say that I walk into an interaction with them, I come in with a prejudice that I know more than they do, and that if they were moderately competent, they'd have a better job. I know it's wrong, but I often feel this way.

It doesn't help that I am occasionally right. This is one of those instances.

A while ago, my wife's laptop started acting up. Slowing down, the fan spinning up into some high-power, high-heat state, becoming unresponsive, blue-screening. My first thought was a virus, my second was poor ventilation.

Virus scan showed nothing. Taking the laptop apart revealed a mountain of cat hair clogging up the heatsink/vents. That was easy enough to fix, but didn't help fix the problem. I figure a clean windows install is in order. However, the thing had degraded to the point of not even booting, so I can't get to where I can back up files (and we are looonng overdue for backup).

Needing to get some kind of bootable external drive going, I put the project on hold. Wife grows impatient, takes laptop to the geeksquad at Best buy.

They have it a week, I have to speak to them numerous times on the phone ("yes, I tried that. No, we don't want you to do that."). At the end of the week, they say they can't recover the data and can't help us. Thanks.

I go pick up the laptop, and the guy gives me back the wrong power supply for it. I tell him so, and he says he's sure it's the one my wife brought in.

It was. I realize she brought the wrong one in (for my laptop, also a toshiba). This means the geeksquad guys spent a max of 60 minutes on the machine, running it on battery until the battery died, and then gave up when they couldn't figure out why it wouldn't power up.


Long story short, I bought a hard drive, swapped it into the laptop, did a fresh Vista install, and bought an external USB drive enclosure for the old hard drive, plugged it in, backed up the needed files. All in all it cost me $140 and a few hours of my time, vs Bestbuy who would have charged me about $300 for the same work, but instead charged me a 1/2 hr labor.

I do think services like Geeksquad are a good idea. Dollar time, nickel job, and all that. Just don't expect them to do anything that even remotely veers from the well-beaten path.

Friday, June 8, 2007

What's a startup cost these days?

Blogosphere abuzz with Guy Kawasaki's breakdown of his "Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalist, Long Tail, Social Media site" startup.

Total cost: $12,107.09

Go read, discuss amongst your friends...

(I never asked my dad how much he and his cohorts spent on their little post-retirement web startup).

Winds of change

Is it just me, or is this whole "when will games get credit for being an artform?" thing starting to get some traction as of late:

  • An article on the subject here includes tidbits like the fact that South Korea drops mandatory military service for those that work in the games industry (because they are contributing to one of Korea's key cultural exports (IGDA site via Raph)
  • CNN's got 'Presidential Pong' right there on the homepage. The games equivalent of the editorial cartoon.
  • NYT beat them to the same thing a week or two earlier with Food Import Folly, a game about the pressure the FDA is under to try and protect the food supply with an ever growing percentage of imported food and no growth in the manpower to keep it safe.

Strangely, Jack Thompson is silent on the whole thing. And I think that's an accomplishment on it's own! :-)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Its a small world after all...

Adam, a former coworker at Intel, has a great post up about some of his recent work related travels.

We all hear plenty about the shrinking planet, how we're all more interconnected than ever, etc. This drove it home in a really palpable way. A snippet (as background, it's worth pointing out that Adam spent some time in the past working at Los Alamos):

"I had lunch with the local manager. i was thinking about it last night, the fact that in the past 2 years i have spend a significant amount of time in countries previously considered hostile (read: communist). both the last two places my parents would think their kids would never spend time. think about this for a minute: as soon as 1998, we were afraid of having bombs dropped on us from these people. now, i am having lunch in a country peopel used used to get shot at if they left, and now i am having lunch in a building in that country. i spent time building technology to help defend my country from these people.

It comes out during the discussion that the man across the table from me used to work at sarov. sarov is the los alamos of russia. so here we were, literally trying to kill each other 10 years ago (or protect our country from the killing machines of the other place), talking as if it never happened. i think about this again when discussing the mathematics of snowflake generation and modelling the collection on tree leaves when it reaches a critical threshold and falls off, startled when i hear the engineer say 'this is quite beautiful'."

Go read the rest.