Friday, November 30, 2007

The OCD side of me says...

...that I should never touch my 360 again, and thus preserve my gamerscore:

Six Lessons for Change

Guy Kawasaki has a great post up about Kiva. Kiva is one of a number of micro-lending sites that have popped up on the Internet over the past year or two. The idea is to connect people that have a small amount to lend with those that have a need to borrow a small amount. Most are focused on letting people invest in people rather than more abstract financial instruments (which of course are all investing in people at some level, but less tangibly).

The difference with Kiva is that its more of a philanthropic effort, with the microloans going to people starting small businesses in poorer regions, in order to become self sufficient. I'm going to be putting some money into Kiva in the near future.

Anyhow, Guy has a list of 'six lesson for change' that Kiva told him, and I'd say that they apply to any corporation - and to any product development and roll-out. The short version is below. For the long version, go to the link above.

  1. Create Meaningful Partnerships.
  2. Catalyze and Support Evangelism
  3. Find a Business Model
  4. Bank on Unproven People
  5. Focus on Free Marketing
  6. Ignore the Naysayers.

Good lessons for those trying to shake up the game industry, I'd say!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kim leaves Microsoft

I toyed with ideas for snappier names for the post (where do you want to go today, etc), but thought it best to keep it simple. I am no longer with Microsoft.

A couple weeks back, I gave my notice at Microsoft. Given that I was involved in some sensitive, future-looking stuff, they thought it best that I wrap up my activities quickly and take some extra time off. As a result, my departure (which came right before Thanksgiving, and thus everyone was out of office anyway), was unannounced and sudden.

No one should interpret this as it being in any way negative. I was enjoying my role at Microsoft and am still really jazzed about much of what they are doing. Some of the Arcade titles I helped onboard are still in production and I can't wait to see them ship so I can play them. I think Xbox360 and Live are the best game console and service on the planet today. Unlike a lot of people that give me flak about it, I like Vista. I even love my Zune(s) and now that they've added Media Center compat and wireless sync, I think they have some advantages over iPod.


While I was having a great time there, not one but two opportunities presented themselves to me at the same time. I really wrestled with whether to leave at all and if so for which one. All three companies are going to have dramatic impact on games as we know it - which could I best affect? Which was going to do The Right Thing for the industry and for the medium? Which was the best move (or non-movement) for my family.

In the end, one offer was too good to turn down, and so I seized the opportunity.

I'll post more on the new gig in a day or two. I'm really excited about it. I just wanted to put the word out right now that I'm not at Microsoft any longer.

As usual, I can be found here, at VGVC.NET, or on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you need to know who to contact at Microsoft for stuff related to my previous role, drop me a mail and I'll be happy to hook you up.


The iPhone's killer app

Adam keeps giving me a hard time about my lack of iPhone. I honestly don't want one that bad. Not sure I'd trade it for my given phone even if free. It's a great web browsing device, but there are things I don't like about it as a phone.

Now, on the other hand, I saw this yesterday.

Full Throttle on the iPhone might be worth suffering with a phone I don't like! :-)

EA needs to fire its Euro marketeers

At least those responsible for the campaign featuring topless models to promote Need for Speed.

They should be fired not because they didn't 'go through the proper approval process', but rather because they are lazy, uncreative, or more likely both.

We. Can. Do. Better.

(BTW, I almost typo'd the name of the game above to 'Need for Seed'. PAGING DR FREUD!)

Dialing the poop level to eleven...

...Donald Trump does 'Celebrity Apprentice'.

Saw this on MSN this morning and it caught my eye. I gave up on Trump's show after season two (Branson's show was way better, but out-marketed), but I have to admit I'm tempted to watch this train-wreck-in-the-making.

Gene Simmons is on!

Can I just predict the following exchange:

Trump: "Gene, YOU'RE FIRED!"
Simmons: "Yeah? Well, I'm sleeping with your wife. YOU'RE fired!"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ooma OOBE, and Apple packaging perversion

A few months back, Vlad and I attended an entrepeneur event in Seattle. Michael Arrington was one of the speakers. He mentioned having a give-away token for a free Ooma, which he'd give to the first person that approached him for it after the session. Vlad was that person, and since he couldn't use it for some reason, he gave it to me.

Ooma is a one-time-purchase device that gives you VOIP phone service over your broadband with no monthly charges, no long distance charges in US, a broadband voicemail box, etc. Your regular household phone(s) plug into it, and then you use the phone as you would normally.

You could view it as a hardware device purchase, or you could view it as a lifetime subscription option to phone service. Spend a few hundred now, no phone bill later (or forever).

I filled out some online forms, and a couple months later, after I'd forgotten all about it, a big honkin box arrived in the mail.

I still haven't hooked it up (for reasons I'll get into later), but I did want to talk about the packaging.

The gizmos (the Ooma, and an an auxilliary 'scout' device) each arrived in a very attractive, very HEAVY, glossy cardboard box.
This is what the devices look like.

Anyhow. The box is super thick, with a cover that is five sides of a cube and slides off of another five sided cube to reveal a felt-covered plastic 'holder' for the OOMA, which conceals the AC adapter, cables, etc. There's a also a large glossy manual and quick-start guide.

The thing this made me think of is just how much everyone has been influenced by the Apple out-of-box experience ('OOBE'). I've heard (sorry, have never purchased an Apple product), the Apple OOBE described in near-fetishist, near-religious, fashion by those that have bought their products. It's clear that others are aspiring to capture the same type of feeling.

Ooma's not the only culprit. I've purchased a couple Zune's and they are definitely mimicking the same thing. Xbox360 as well to a lesser degree.

It does make me wonder about a couple things:
  • How soon before this backfires with the environmental movement? Others have learned a lesson here (Barbie was an example featured in Fast Company recently).
  • What's the cost of the packaging, and could the savings be passed on to the consumer?
  • Again, borrowing from teh Barbie example, could the packaging be practical? Why not sell Zune's or Ipod's packaged in a leather or rubber protective case - an accessory people often buy anyway?

Food for thought.

As for the actual device - I'll let you know how it goes after I actually plug it in. :-)

For those that are curious, here's a shot of the ports on the back.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Space Giraffe Author Having a Cow

Just read this gamasutra piece about Jeff Minter's latest ranting about XBLA. Last time it was the "soul crushing" approval process (aka Minter learns what shipping on consoles is like), this time it's the threat to abandon game development because he's disappointed in the sales of Space Giraffe, especially that it was outperformed by Frogger.

I have mixed feelings about this.

One the one hand, yes, its disappointing that gamers don't "vote with their money" and reward indie development and original content. I too find it frustrating that Pac man or Frogger outperform some original fare.

On the other hand, its their right. Its also just the reality of how things are, so get over it. Same thing exists with movies, music and books.

I think he'd do well to also point a finger or two at himself. The game is good, but it's hard, it's far from accessible, and the point it tries to make isn't immediately apparent (if your game takes someone as bright as Jon to explain it, then you have a problem).

To borrow Jon's comparison, if you write Ulysses, don't be disappointed if it doesn't sell like Harry Potter.

One other thing that is an important point to note in today's try-n-buy world: People will try the game. So Jeff (or others for that matter) can blame Frogger or other games all they want, but at the end of the day, if you build a game that really is all that, then people will try it, and hopefully buy it. If the trial doesn't hook them, then that's not Frogger's fault, is it?

They don't call it 'priming the pump' for nothin'

There's been a lot of linking to Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack's comments (and subsequent clarification) about the Quebec government's subsidies of game development companies. The clarification was that by labelling them 'insane', he meant 'better than good'.

He still maintains, though, that the subsidies are not maintainable in the long term.

I think he's missing the point. The point was to prime the pump and jump start an industry hot-bed. They've absolutely done so. Now that they have, if the subsidies were to go away, it's not like Ubi and the others would just pack up and leave, would they? There's a local dev community, an infrastructure of schools producing new talent, etc.

I don't think they were ever meant to be sustainable.

There's an argument that they are sustainable (if the delta in growth, new jobs, the taxes those people pay, etc, are enough to fund the subsidies), but that's beside the point.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sweet MAME table idea

I built a MAME cabinet about 13-14 years ago - long before you could buy them and before you could buy USB 'arcade quality' controllers (it may have been before USB itself for that matter!). I got rid of it when moving up to Seattle, as I didn't have room for all my arcade cabs in the house here.
I haven't thought about building another until I saw this link (via boingboing) for a cool 'hideaway' version. This was done on an IKEA dining room table, but I think it could be done similarly in a living room coffee table.

Hmm... I've been looking for a reason to buy that router attachment for my table saw...

On EA's numbers...

A number of people have linked to Gamasutra's look at EA's quarterly results. The eye-catching factoids causing the linkage are (1) the significance of GameStop as their largest retail customer, and (2) that the Xbox360 SKUs were responsible for the lion's share of their revenue (218M, or roughly half of their revenue, the closest other platform being the PS2 at 73M).

It's certainly good information to hear for Microsoft, but it still leaves questions unanswered for me. I'd be very curious to know what the same set of numbers looks like in terms of margin per platform. My guess would be that the DS would one of the top slots on the list. Also, I'm curious if this is indicative of a long-term trend, or if it was offset this particular quarter by any big software releases.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peeking-inside blogs

Just about everyone has heard of the now-famous Post Secret blog, where people mail in secrets on postcards. It struck a nerve with people as it peek into the quirkiest, saddest and darkest secrets that people keep.

Today I came across another similar blog, Sasha Cagen's To-do list blog, which as you can guess, does the same thing, but for to-do lists. Seems to give a similar but slightly higher-level view into people's lives.

Like PostSecret, she's done a book. It seems to be getting better pick-up, perhaps because the lists are not quite as dark as some of the PostSecret ones. Perhaps her publisher is putting more effort into it? See the trailer below as an example:

I do wonder if there's a similar coffee table book to be made with a game angle to it. Designers' notes? Funny things found in code comments? Hmm...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gaming and Worst Consumer Trends

So minutes after posting the Bronfman quote and saying we should take heed, this came across my desktop:

DRM, Fanboys, Region Encoding among PC World's "10 Worst Consumer Tech Trends".

Of the 10 sins cited, the games industry hits on the majority of them. Some of course, are an artifact of business and of other industries as well (e.g. licensing fees around GH tracks). However, a couple of them really resonated.

#7 Region coding: I know there are business reasons for it, and that there are sometimes technical reasons for it. That doesn't change the fact that it's a kick in the teeth to the consumer who just wants to play the game you didn't release in her region.

#1: DRM: Amen. I *really* don't know the solution here, but man, we need to figure it out. One look at the writeups for the PC version of Bioshock vs the Xbox360 version, and you know we have a problem.

Quote of the week

Edgar Bronfman, music mogul, speaking at a mobile conference in Macau:

"We used to fool ourselves,' he said. "We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won."

He things mobile operators should take heed:

"The sad truth is that most of what consumers are being offered today on the mobile platform is boring, banal and basic," he said. "People want a more interesting form of mobile music content. They want it to be easy to buy with a single click - yes, a single click, not a dozen. And they want access to it, quickly and easily, wherever they are. 24/7. Any player in the mobile value chain who thinks they can provide less than a great experience for consumers and remain competitive is fooling themselves."

Should the game industry also be paying attention? I think so.

Stolar stellar? Sorry seller! has an interview up with Bernie Stolar, Google's 'Adsense for Games' (formerly Adscape), director and advisor.

Man, I hope he provides some value behind the scenes, because from how this interview reads, it only backs up what I thought after seeing his session at Casual Connect.

Google, you don't need rock-star names for spokespeople. You are supposed to be rock stars! Please dig a smart guy out of the back somewhere and have him be spokesperson.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rockin' Robin

...tweet, tweet.

Robin's got a rockin' review of EA's Rock Band with a bunch of shots of the character creation system. I hadn't heard much about that side of teh game, with most of the early write-ups focusing on either the song list, the peripheral pedantry, or the competition with Rock Band.

She really does make it sound fantastic. Now that I'm hitting my ceiling on GH-III (I aspire to 5-star medium, but alas, that's my limit), this may have to be the next purchase.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lessig's TED Talk just brilliant. He's such an awesome presenter and his talk is right on the money (pun intended). Go watch:

World of Datecraft: For when 'soloing molten core' has become a euphemism

via Kotaku, a dating website for WoW enthusiasts, World of Datecraft.

I know little about the game, but I do foresee a Hoarde/Alliance Romeo & Juliet in the making.

Surreal PS3 Euro Ad

While their whole hot-chix-on-toilets thing was just wacky and off the mark, I have to admit that I *love* this PS3 ad. I'm not sure it's enough to dig them out of their hole, but it's *so* much cooler than the whole "jump in" set of ads MS did.

Mind you, I think they are definitely following our lead, just doing something edgier.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dvorak comic zine

While I've understood the (valid) arguments for using a Dvorak keyboard, I've never really been tempted to give it a try... until reading this awesome comic on the subject:

(via BoingBoing)

Friday, November 9, 2007

On Pakistan and Gaming

The current hullaballoo in Pakistan reminded me of one of my favorite Churchill quotes:

"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers that they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."

And while I think of it, there are plenty of companies in the game industry that would do well to take that quote to heart as well. I leave it to the reader to apply that to whomever they please.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Quote of the week

From Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, about the current writer's strike and the realities of new media:

Writer's strike: "Insanity." "There's all of this rhetoric by the media companies about this 'great new digital business', which is a small, growing business that will one day be dominant (but it isn't, yet there's no money there yet." Because all of the entertainment folks are talking up digital, the writers assume there's a lot of money there. Take Prom Queen: "We made history, but we didn't make money. ... I'm doing it because I think it's fun; I think it's the future. ... For a writer to give up today's money for a piece in three years is stupid." The studios can't give in because there's nothing to give. "The studios deserve what they're getting, because they've been announcing how great it is." But it's only great in theory. "They made deals with Steve Jobs, who takes them to the cleaners. Who's making money? Apple." Entertainment executives can't admit that they're not making money. Writers should be striking in Cupertino. (Hard not to see this as a slam on Disney successor Bob Iger, who cut the first video deal with iTunes.)

(tip o the hat to, commentary is theirs, but I agree with it!)

Evolution of MSN Games

A co-worker pointed me to this promo video for The Zone (known today as MSN Games) from a few years back. Amazing to see how far it's come. In those days we intermingled matchmaking for core PC CD games with online multiplayer casual, etc.

Reading into Radiohead's Results

There has been what looks like some rigorous analysis of the Radiohead move (which I blogged about here, here, and here) to make their album available online at a pick-your-price, no-DRM format. This comes to us from

The results are astonishing. An estimated 1.2M copies of the album were downloaded, with 38% of downloaders chosing to pay, and of those, the average was $6 per copy paid (Americans paid a more generous average of $8).

Back of the envelope math says 1.2M * 38% *$6 = a little under $3M. I have no idea of the distribution arrangement, but lets say they give up 10 points for billing, bandwidth, etc, andanother 10 points to someone to manage all this for them. That still leaves $2.5M.

Now the article linked to above comments about the number of copies circulating via bit torrent, etc, but that's beside the point, isn't it? That'd be happening if they were on iTunes. The real question is how many copies they'd have to sell on $10 - $15 plastic where they are making, say, 10 points. (I have no idea what rev shares are in the music biz, so I'm really blowing smoke here). At that point, they'd have to move 2M copies in order to reach the same level.

That's totally doable, but not *certain*. Their first four albums went platinum in both UK and US, so at least 2M units per album, but their last couple albums were between 500k and 1.5M-ish each.

So in this case, they (a) hit at least the minimum threshold they'd have done via the traditional channels, (b) now have a direct relationship with their customers, and (c) created a marketing vehicle for the album and the band that money couldn't have bought.

Sounds like a win to me!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Not boob.

Not boob., originally uploaded by Rob Gruhl.

My friend Rob Gruhl had this awesome photo of his newborn Keston. It made number one pic on flickr (as it should have!)

BTW, The blog post title is his title for the photo. His words, not mine!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mini-review: Guitar Hero 3 (360)

I picked up GH3 late last week. The title's been written up to death, so I'll give a very brief 'mini-review' of my impressions:


  • Better track selection than the first, my guess is because of the increased attention and budget, plus the 'arms race' (perhaps neck-and-neck race would be a better metaphor) with Rock band.
  • The highlighting/hinting of notes that can be hammer-ons or pull-offs is a nice bit of polish and for me anyway, really useful.
  • The cutscenes are appropriately tongue-in-cheek.
  • I like the wireless guitar. Some have reported problems with it, but I haven't seen any.


  • I *hate* the boss battles. I think they ruin the illusion of Guitar-god-fantasy, and in career mode they are so infrequent that it's difficult to ramp the difficulty in a meaningful way. As a result, the powerups seem random, and strategy is non-obvious.
  • The go-go girls are unneeded and make what was previously a broaden-the-audience title and make it less so. I blogged about this before.

That's it. If you liked GH2, you'll like GH3 is I guess the super-short review :-)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Speaking of objects of desire...

The other day in the cafe at work, a friend of mine was sitting bemused at a table, a little star-wars-looking egg sitting on the table in front of her.

It was Sony's 'Rolly', a little music-driven robot bluetooth connected MP3 player thingy that... well hell, I have no idea what it does. I just know it was the coolest thing I'd seen since Aibo.

I want one to keep my Roomba company! Perhaps as a cheerleader!

Pac Gentleman

While I enjoy steampunk sci-fi as much as the next guy, I don't have the faux-steampunk-object fetish that some folks have.

However, this steampunk rendition of Pacman (via Wonderland) is the exception. It's so awesome, I've been ruminating all morning on what it would take to build a working version using the same technique as was used for the mechanical pong machine.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The truth will set itself free

At least that's the case in this day and age.

It seems that Rockstar, in releasing Manhunt 2, left some names off the credits.

Partway through development (from what we gather - 80% of the way through, the whole project was moved from Rockstar Vienna to Rockstar London. When the game was released, none of the names of the 55 people from RV that worked on the project were listed on the credits.

Like the game didn't have enough controversy already!

So, over on Intelligent Artifice, Jurie was miffed and posted their names for the Internetz to know all about it.

Way to go Jurie!