Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weighted com-pumpkin cube

IMAGE_085, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Spotted in front of a co-worker's desk this morning.

I understand this Portal game is quite the fun. Will have to play soon...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scene It? Loved it!

I had my first go at 'Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action' yesterday. Some folks I work with were involved in its development so I'd seen bits and pieces in progress, but waited until the final product was done to take it home and play it.

If you haven't heard of or seen the game, here's a cheezy marketing trailer for it. Bear through the pitch, and you'll get an idea of what gameplay is like and what the controllers (it ships with 4) look like.

Its *really* good. Alisa and I played a game and had quite a good time (not quite as good a time as the people in the above video, but then we aren't super-hipster-20-somethings anymore). That Alisa enjoyed it is saying something since she hasn't enjoyed anything on the console since Zuma, and even that was deemed "fun but annoying".

The Big Button Pad support/integration does feel a bit kludgy, as it tries to reconcile the 'instant 4 player get into the action' with Xbox360's 'sign in with your gamertag'. Still, it wasn't too painful, and once past that it was all very well integrated.

Oh, I should also note that we'd played the SceneIt DVD game and didn't enjoy it much at all. This is a much better implementation of the game.

Kudos to all who worked on it!

More on the mainstreaming of games

If this isn't a great example of mainstream of games, then I don't know what is.

From the description on youtube:

Blizzard has teamed up with iCoke, Coca-Cola's name-brand presence in China to create a joint World of Warcraft and Coca-Cola televised commercial, featuring Chinese pop sensation SHE...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bye bye Gran

Just found out that my grandma passed away at the ripe old age of 95. She'd been fading in health for a while now, so it was not unexpected. I hadn't seen her in a few years since she lived in the UK.

Sharp as a whip to the end, I'll remember her as seen below. Smile on her face and never saying no to a bit of dessert and a glass of red!

Bye Grandma, we love you!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Onslaught of Toys-Featuring-Online-Games continues

I recently blogged about the wave of kids toys that are shipping with online games (in some cases multiplayer/mmo-ish games) as 'features' - a checklist item to help sell the game.

Well, here's another to add to the list:

Swypeout is a collectible card game that ships with a USB device with a bar code reader. Cards can be swiped through the reader, and then the car appears in an online racing game. Kids can then race their cars against others. Video trailer of gameplay below, and card example below that.

This is sort of Pod (dating myself) meets Motor City Online (dating myself again) meets Toon-town.

I include the Toon-town reference because like with that MMO, chat is via picking from canned phrases, and no path to lead to outside Internet, thus alleviating parents fears of card-swiping child molesters and the like.

This is an interesting one to keep an eye on for two reasons:

First off, it's more of a real-time 3D action game. The spend on the client (from screenshots & movies, I havent' downloaded it yet) looks to be bigger than that of UBFunkeys or the others.

Secondly, it skews older. The toy states "6 and up", but you look at the boys in the video on the site (whom I presume are representative of the target customer), and they look 10-13-ish. Now we are heading into the demographic that competes with (tongue firmly in cheek) 'real games'.

Playable instruments in Lord of the Rings MMO

Alice pointed out that Lord of the Rings Online has playable instruments, and that as a result, people are doing awesome ingame music (original, covers, multi-player jam sessions, etc).

Wow. Cool. Way to go Turbine.

Searching youtube for 'LOTRO music' yields plenty of good examples. Here's one.

Full Throttle Intro

Still remains one of my all time fave game intros. Kotaku linked to it today.

Youtube is awesome, as are the Kotaku-ites. Remember when Lucasarts wasawesome?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

MMO Spam

An interesting piece of spam got through the mail filter today. Most of it was in Korean, but from what I could tell, it was for a dating service/site that runs *within* Ragnarok Online, the Korean MMO.

Not the worst idea I've heard of, I guess.

And hey, if they were running it within one of Shanda's MMO's, you might even be able to hook up with someone of the desired gender!

The $6B dollar casual game

What casual game is:
  • a 'clone' of its predecessors (as opposed to 'original and innovative')?
  • in its current incarnation, invented by Edwin Lowe, same guy that invented Yahtzee?
  • in itself a $6B industry?

I am of course talking about Bingo!

Some time ago, I posted about a couple casual-game related documentaries I'd seen: Word Wars (about Scrabble and its enthusiast/pro communities) and Word Play (about the NY Times Crossword and about crossword puzzles in general).

This past weekend, I rented another similar doc called Bingo! The Documentary about, you guessed it, Bingo.

The film looks at the game's history, growth, culture, and the 'business' that has grown around it, from church basement games to 24-7 bingo halls to dedicated Bingo-specific carribean cruises. There are even (and you never thought you'd hear this combination of words) bingo-playing drag queens.

More than anything, it's a backhanded indictment of those that prey upon the poor and the weak, and a stark view of gambling addiction in many of its forms.
I found it to be quite sad at times, and not nearly as well put together as Word Wars, but still a good rent for those interested in gaming in all its forms.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Look ma, I dun got famuss!

I got a bunch of ribbing at work today because Jane put together a top-ten list of gaming blogs and put my name on it, and it got mailed around the office.

Seriously though, some comments on her list:

  • As I pointed out in the comment thread, I think the only must-read blogs that I think deserve to be on there that weren't are Raph Koster's ( and Alice Taylors ( I should have also added Jane's site, but she needs to get back to posting a little more often! (hint hint)
  • Four of the Ten are Microsoft employees (myself, David Edery, Andre Vrignaud and Dan Cook). This is, I think, itself a statement about the forward-thinking, blogger-friendly culture at MS)
  • None of the four are the more 'official' Gamerscore or Major Nelson blogs. Not that those are "fake" or anything, but I thought it worth noting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There's no such thing as a free lunch what dad used to say.

So if you read my last post, and did your homework, you should have thought of some instances in which games could be given away (maybe DRM free?) and developers/publishers could recoup in some other fashion.

Well, advertising of course is the first thing that springs to mind. It works for part of the music industry, it works for television, and already works for parts of the games industry.

I think another really interesting area of the market to watch is what's happening with kids toys these days is something the industry should watch closely. I've discussed this before, but let's take another look.

It started with Webkinz:

In which the online world is free with purchase of a plush doll.

And now you have UBFunkeys, a comparable model, but the dolls connect via usb.

And Barbiegirls, where it's more like an MMO, since you can actually communicate with other players and the like. The "doll" is also an MP3 player and connects via USB.

Next thought exercise is whether this same model could be extrapolated to 'give away' a big budget single player title or MMO with, say, the purchase of your Mercedes...

More on games learning from music

There were a couple comments and some follow-up posts regarding my comments about the music business. In a follow up email thread with Jane, I added:

One of my favorite comments on the most recent cracks in the music industry's foundations (those exemplified by recent moves by Radiohead, Madonna and others) was made by Seth Godin. In a post entitled "Radiohead and the mediocre middle", I think he really hits it on the head.

Godin makes the point that industries innovate from both ends. Small guys because they have nothing to lose and everything to win. Big guys because they have the bankroll and a fanbase that will follow them. The 'mediocre middle' sits and watches. They are unwilling to jump out of the frypan for fear of the fire. I think this applies to the game industry as well as it does the music industry.

Indies and small casual devs were the first to leap to the digital distribution channels, largely because they had no choice. You also have large developers like Valve (or in the casual space, Popcap), building distribution and other services - building relationships with customers.

As with the music business, I think the last to sense or react to any disruptive shift in the business will be the mid-sized developers who are dependent on the functions traditional publishers provide them, and the traditional publishers, who will be reluctant to abandon any business model that has been lucrative to date.

Jane asks in her post whether there's an equivalent to the "give the music away, make money off the concerts". There is. Can you guess what it is?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

First the BNL and Radiohead, then Nine Inch Nails, now Madonna. Oasis and Jamiroquai too.

Seems ditching the labels in favor of direct-to-consumer (or in Madonna's case, signing a very different kind of disty deal) is all the rage the days.

Big labels are getting exactly what the deserve for putting up artificial barriers for too long, and bilking the customer for some time now (phasing out singles, forcing DRM, etc, etc). Sure would suck to be in their shoes, but I have to say I'm enjoying watching their towers crumble from the sidelines.

Game Industry folk: Should we be watching and learning? How long before the torch-n-pitchfork mob finds their next target?

More on the games as platform thing, I picked on Dave, now Dave's rebutting. It's all in good fun, but let's see if we can sum up.

Dave says:

Flight Simulator may possibly be the least well-monetized of all Microsoft entertainment properties, in that it sells to a cult following that goes on to spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars on after-market products not created by or associated with Microsoft. While commercial and volunteer after-market support is absolutely a good thing, there’s no law that says you can’t play a part in it! The entertainment industry has so much to learn about tapping niche markets…

Which I as Dave implying that (a) FS team (and yeah, we all work for MS, I get the irony here) did so out of ignorance (the "has so much to learn" bit) and/or bad decision making ( "no law that says you can't play a part").

I argued:

This third party development didn't happen unbeknownst to MS. Quite the opposite. Taking a page out of the MS playbook, the FS team deliberately opened the product to extension/enhancement by developing an SDK and making it publicly available. In doing so, they turned a game into a platform.

And Dave retorts:

I hardly need reminding that 3rd party extensions, especially of the user-generated type, can be very good for business, (snip snip snip) You just need to be smart about it.

To which I'll reply: My point exactly. And I beleive that the Flight Sim team, with 10 years in the business and the lions share of the market for flight sims, has been extremely smart about it. I would hazard a guess that they looked long and hard at this and decided for good reasons to play it out they way they did, enabling a third-party market and allowing it to thrive.

To his point about co-opting innovation, they already do that (some of the features added one version to the next were ones that used to require an add-on). To the point about helping them advertise, they already do that as well. So Dave's only idea that isn't already being implemented by the team is a digital distribution channel. A good idea perhaps, but not feasible until recent history, and certain rife with it's own set of challenges.

Dave wraps by upping my dart of 'ignorant' with a retort of 'intellectually lazy'.

I'll wrap with a "ignorant, yet again dude!". He states "I’m not content to ignore an opportunity" (implying that the FS team was and did?), when I'd assert that they didn't ignore the opportunity at all but rather made a decision about how to approach it sensibly. He then throws out three ideas about how they could capitalize on it, two of which they already do. I suppose he could have found that out on the web but perhaps was too "intellectually lazy" to do so...

Disclaimer: David and I are good friends and have a great deal of respect for one another. We have these debates via our blogs to encourage healthy discussion and to shamelessly boost our traffic. Also, neither of us have discussed any of this with the Flight Sim team, who would deem us both ignorant, lazy and probably call us other words I can't put here, for even having the debate in the first place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When games are platforms

I've been meaning to post about this great Penny Arcade column about SquawkBox, a plug-in for MS Flight Sim letting virtual pilots connect to virtual air traffic controllers. It's a good read, though not as thorough as the article on virtual air networks & MS Flight Sim that was (IIRC) in Wired a couple years back. Can't find a link to it online, unfortunately.

Fact is, there are multiple virtual airlines and virtual simulations of air traffic control and the like, all built on top of Flight Sim & the Web. Their significance should not be overlooked. These are essentially community created MMO's, built on top of open platforms, and have been going on for years. Squawkbox was built in 97. ProController (air traffic radar sim program) was built shortly thereafter. People strapped these together and on top of the Internet built Satco, VATSIM and IVAO. Ten years later, every day thousands of pilots jump into their deskchairs and shuttle passenger jets from Paris to NY, if thats their asigned route that day.

David Edery, a friend & co-worker, posted this (sorry Dave) ignorant post on the subject, arguing that FS is under-monetized because we allow third parties to develop aftermarket content and products rather than doing it ourselves. Furthermore, it's phrased as though the FS team does this out of ignorance, citing it as a lost opportunity and stating that 'the entertainment industry has so much to learn about tapping niche markets'.

I'll argue quite the opposite. I think the FS team understands this very well, and has for a long time. This third party development didn't happen unbeknownst to MS. Quite the opposite. Taking a page out of the MS playbook, the FS team deliberately opened the product to extension/enhancement by developing an SDK and making it publicly available. In doing so, they turned a game into a platform. It can also be argued that this was a key part of them capturing such a large part of the flight sim market (a genre that was fairly saturated with competitors when I first got into this business).

Flight Sim has been extended with products that do weather simulation, air traffic control, communications, ground scenery, weather simulation, vegetation, even baggage cart simulation. You can get detailed versions of most airports in the world, most commercial aircraft both current day and historical (including everything from a space shuttle sim to a hot air balloon sim). even ones that modify flight physics dynamics.

Like with other closed vertical markets - not only would MS not have been able to develop this range of product extensions had they chosen to do it themselves, they most likely could not even have conceived of them all.

This is not unlike the position some have taken on FPS games, saying "why release an editor and the ability to make mods? That's stuff you could make yourself and charge for". The case has been made time and time again that this is a core part of what has made Id, Epic and Valve as successful as they've been.

At it's heart, MS is very much a platform company. We do a lot of other things, and we have our 'closed vertical' areas as well, but the company's DNA was forged with DOS and tempered with Windows, and both of those were successful as platforms first and foremost. Fligth Sim is very much of the same bloodline.

By the way, I probably should have included FlightSim as part of that forging, as it's MS's longest running product franchise, as it predates Windows itself by three years.

For giggles, comparative screenshots:

(1) from FS 1.0 (I shudder to think how many hours I spent in this virtual cockpit - taxiing across the brooklyn bridge so I could drive right up to the Empire State's doorstep)

(2) from FS 2004, from the Imagine add-on with offering an accurate version of LaGuardia Airport in NY.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote of the day

Yahoo Music's Ian Rogers to music industry execs, clearly stating what the industry as a whole has been feeling, and stating that he's not licensing any more DRM-protected music, period.

I'm here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I'm not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I'll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won't let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don't have any more time to give and can't bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life's too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.

If, on the other hand, you've seen the light too, there's a very fun road ahead for us all. Lets get beyond talking about how you get the music and into building context: reasons and ways to experience the music. The opportunity is in the chasm between the way we experience the content and the incredible user-created context of the Web.

By way of illustration (and via exaggeration), in a manner of speaking iTunes is a spreadsheet that plays music. It's context-free. You just paid $10 for that album -- who plays drums? I dunno, WHY DON'T YOU GO TO THE WEB TO FIND OUT, BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE THE CONTEXT IS.


link. (Gracias, BoingBoing)

Don't know much about History...

In researching some stuff for work, I ended up out in the weeds a bit and came across two fascinating (and unrelated) bits of history that I highly recommend reading.

If they share anything in common, it's an element of 'strange factors and events in history have had ramifications on the way things work today'.

First up:

This Q&A with the author of a book on the history of counterfeiting, which goes quite a bit into the history of currency and banking in this country. Really interesting.

And secondly:

This overview of the Berlin Airlift, a pivotal point early in the cold war, and a logistics effort that would spawn techniques and devices still used in modern manufacturing and shipping today. I can't beleive this was never made into a movie!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Better Chinese Brandnames

Related to my earlier post about Chinese knockoff cars, here's a link to knockoffs of two cars, the Smartcar and the Hummer.

The knockoff of the Hummer is called, and I kid you not, the Dongfeng Crazy Soldier.

Let me be the first to suggest that Hummer's course of action should not be to sue but to license the name.

I've never wanted to own a hummer, but damn if I wouldn't be a target customer for it if it was called the Dongfeng Crazy Soldier!

Riding 'Co'-tales

Yesterday I saw a container truck on the highway and was struck by the company name: Haulmark.

I can't help but think that the brand's name was designed to be a homophone of Hallmark.

If so, was this a good idea?

On the pro side, it certainly works. I'm writing this post, am I not? The name is memorable for this reason.

On the con side, this brand may have been picked at the expense of a better, less clever one. Haulmark doesn't convey what they do, stand for, etc. Also, it's got to be confusing when explaining over the phone ("ok, you can find us on the web at No, no, H-A-U..."

Knock-offs best of both worlds?

BoingBoing has this post about "MFC" a chinese fast-food chain that is a rip-off and mash-up of both McDonalds and KFC, combining look, feel and menus of both American chains.

It reminded me of this post about the Chinese car manufacturer making a mashup/knockoff of both a Mercedes, and a Chrysler (with a BMW-inspired logo to boot).

It struck me that people discussing these things,and I include myself here, are either struck by the scale of these things ("sure, knock off a Rolex, but a Mercedes?!"), or suprised by the mashup model being applied to something other than media or online businesses.

But why should either of these surprise us?

The scale of the operation to do a Mercedes knockoff should not surprise us when coming from the same folks that built the Three Gorges dam and capped off the Yangtze.

And with regard to the mashup model, well, why should that suprise us either? It's not exactly new here either.I'm sure at some point, someone said "How about we apply Ford's assembly line to Acme's widget manufacturing!".

So I guess what we are finding surprising is the combination of these, the blatant disregard for IP, the unabashed lack of originality, and the speed of progress. Either way it's fun to watch

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Author offers free Excel e-book, experiments with biz model

To my post the other day about experimenting with business models, Bill Jelen is offering his e-book on using Excel 2007 for free at a good-enough-for-montor-but-not-for-print resolution. Why?

My goal is to get this version in the hands of 5 million people. You can help by downloading the book and passing it on to your co-workers, etc. Some percentage of people who get the book will buy a print copy or will buy a printable e-book, so I believe that the counter-intuitive strategy of giving the whole book away in one download will work fine.

Kudos. Seems like a cool idea. I hope it works out well.

Thought exercise: Again, what would the game equivalent be? This is different than a trial or demo. This is the full thing, but at low res. If you had a game with high replayability, would this just be the non-HD, low-fi-shaders version?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Friends, "friends", and friends of friends

Facebook announced (by announced, I mean that it popped up on the company blog as a feature in development and the internets pounced on it) this week that they are going to allow grouping of friends. This has been a much-requested feature from people experiencing a little-too-close-for-comfort malaise about the fact that their work and personal lives are intermingling a little too closely.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, it's a good idea. I know of a few people that have told me they've stayed away from Facebook, or use it in a far more limited way, because of this issue. The short version being "I don't need some buddy from high school posting pix of me hurling up a keg of beer on the same page that my clients watch".

On the other hand, I see two major problems with this:

I wonder whether segregation of communities will place a damper on the viral nature of what has made FB such a great application platform. (In some eyes, this may be a good thing).

More significantly, I think they are missing the mark. I think that filtering what feeds go to which friends is sort of a hack for what people really are asking for - in a "that's what I asked for but it's not what I meant I wanted" kind of way...

I think what people really want is the ability to have multiple personas for their single facebook identity. The digital equivalent of "they way I behave at work is not the same as when I am with family nor the same as when I am out at the game with my buddies".

Until someone embraces the personas idea, the rest is just a hack.

When life hands you lemons...

The past few years have seen much boohooing by the music industry as a whole. Meanwhile, a few brave souls are trying their own experiments in the brave new world.

A while back, Barenaked Ladies announced they were selling their latest album at concerts on a USB thumbdrive, with all the tracks unprotected, and asking users to mash them up at will.

This week, Radiohead announced that their latest album would be available for download at whatever price the customer saw fit to pay.

They are brave souls. Sure, the fact that they are already somewhat successful makes the experiments a little less painful should they fail, but it also makes the downside of failure that much larger. Anyhow, I tip my hat to them.

It's interesting that in many ways this is comparable to some early shareware/donationware models for software, including games.

So can we in the games business learn from their lessons, or have we already learned something they aren't aware of?