Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Robots suck!

They don't of course. They are the coolest thing in the world, especially to my four year old son, who thinks that robots, Lego, and Star Wars are all the coolest things in his world.

So Lego Star Wars, which has Lego R3D2 and C3PO robots in it, is a perfect storm of coolness.

My wife got him a Star Wars toy the other day and didn't realize she was buying a Star Wars *Tansformer* toy... which meant it *turns into* a robot. Coolness intensifies.

Tom was pointing out all the parts of the robot to me, saying "these are his guns, these are his wings, and this is the part that sucks up the dirt".

Of course, these are the types of things one might infer if you grow up around robots.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Promotion, or new distribution channel?

A few people (eg Raph) have pointed to Target's 'promotion' of some indie games by selling them bundled with t-shirts.

It's a cool idea, but I'm not sure I'd view this as only a promotion. Seems like its a viable distribution channel. The target promotion seems to just be the first instantiation of just that, as seen on the EGP Apparel here. No different than the toy-with-virtual-world examples I've been ranting about for some time. i.e. Buy a physical product that includes a game in it's 'feature set'.

It moves the transaction to the well-understood retail model, it helps combat piracy (pirates don't get the shirt, don't get to 'make the statement'/exhibit their gamer cred), and there's likely still a healthy margin for the developer.

[Back of the envelope on that last point: $12 SRP. Assume 30 points for target, and that since it's one retailer, that its done direct with their buyer, so $8.50 to EGP. Let's assume $1.50 for shipping and other middlemen/administrivia, we're down to $7.00. Maybe $3.00 for the shirt (bulk t's can be had for under $2, so I'm assuming this is reasonable with the print added) and $1.00 for the game CD and insert. Another $2.00 for EGP Apparel and you are down to $1/unit for the developer. Actually a reasonable amount, as I've seen retail games distributed for comparable prices if the bundle unit commit is high enough.]

Settling in...

Lots of unpacking this weekend. At least a hundred boxes worth, with many still to go.

Did a big Ikea run. New desk (assembly not yet started) for the office, and new bunk bed for Son #1 (many hours of frustrating assembly).

Did big Fry's run. New TV (46" Sony LCD), two LCD wall mounts, HD antenna (yay for over-the-air digital), cables, etc. Mounted the LCD but left running cables through walls for another day.

Friday, March 21, 2008

We've Moved

We did our move this week. Exhausted, and still half living out of boxes, but we are in the new place:

Busines Model Culture Clash

Kotaku has a post up about the rumored addition of a item-sales/microtransaction model being added to Battlefield: Bad Company, and it's going over about as well as a fart in a space suit.

The rumor is based on the beta test of B:BC displaying some weapons that are locked and labelled as 'available for purchase on Xbox Live Marketplace'. It's not going over well because the Kotakians beleive this is going to lead to people with oodles of spare spending money thrashing the lowly struggling gamer.

The impetus to do this is clear. EA's been talking (as everyone else has) about the popularity of this business model in asia, and are dipping several of their many toes in the water to see if it works over here. However, what is an accepted business model in Asia may not go over so well with traditional core gamer audiences here.

This won't be the last backlash we'll see, and EA will almost certainly botch a few attempts before getting it right. However, they'll likely get some right, and that just means more choice for consumers in the long run. More paths to the cash register is always a good thing in the end.

A precendant:

The B:BC example, and the Kotaku post's jab about 'paying for ammo' reminded me of a precendent that has already been set in the real world: Paintball.

When I used to go semi-regularly with the crew at Matrox (how long ago was that? Yeesh), we set house rules that limited the type of weapons so that everyone was on equal footing, but also allowed for flexibility on ammo. Competing in a round with only 100 rounds, when others might opt for up to 400, became a bit of a personal challenge within the multiplayer game.

On the other hand, I have a buddy that went with a bunch of stockbrokers on a regular basis and they were full-on, buy what you want, so some guys had stock guns, others full automatic, some guys had paint grenades, etc. And for them, that was OK.

Taking this back to B:BC, sounds like EA just has to allow for limiting some matches to 'stock items only', etc.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good interview on Braid

Jon did a good interview with IGN on Braid:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Build-a-Bear building a head of steam

Build-a-Bear's online virtual world, buildabearville, which I wrote about here and on Gamasutra, hit 1 million users it's first month, and recently 2 million (it's less than 3 months old). They are also adding celeb appearances with kids from High School Musical and the like.

Phenomenal. How many other MMO/VW's are going to sneak up and surpass the traditional games industry?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The "We See Farther" ad

A while back, I'd posted that I was looking for a high(er) res image scan of the famous We See Farther ad from EA from 25 years back.

If you can resist the temptation to do the standard "Now EA is The Man"-bashing, just read it and admit that it's so fucking ahead of its time. Amazingly visionary. Moving, really.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Teaching the Teachers

In response to the Canadian Teacher's Federation call for a ban on the release of Rockstar's 'Bully: Scholarship Edition', Clint Hocking has issued a pretty compelling challenge. He's offering to buy Emily Noble, the head of the Teacher's Association, an Xbox360 or Wii system, along with a copy of the game, if she commits to entering a critical discussion of the games merits rather than call for it's ban out of ignorance..

Let's give this enough linkage that Ms Noble and her collegues will have to accept the challenge!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cult of Personali-tea

Several folks linked last week to this story about a woman in the middle east arrested for joining a cult that worships a giant teapot.

While the lack of religious freedom is sad, I have to feel that the majority of folks linking to it were doing so more because they found the idea of a cult of people paying worship to a teapot to be shockingly newsworthy.

Evidently, none of these people have been to Siggraph. :-)

Friday, March 7, 2008

XKCD on Gygax's passing

Very sad that Gary Gygax passed away. How much of the video game world owes its roots to his creation?

XKCD, my fave web comic, has a nice strip on it:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What a great time to be alive!

Every once in a while I read or see something that makes me think "what a great time to be alive!". Here's one of those.

Cory Doctorow has posted notes on Elan Lee's ARG presentation at the O'Reilly emerging tech conference.

I read this part, twice, and it gave me shivers both times.

ARG: Nine Inch Nails Year Zero (Charge)
* Trent Reznor wrote an album wanted it to be the soundtrack for an experience
* Hid songs on flash drives hidden in concerts, clues in spectographic analysis of songs
* Secret underground concert -- fans were brought to a secret location where NIN played, halfway through the wall fell down and they were invaded by a SWAT team
* The album and game was a dystopian commentary on the increased trend to authority

How awesome is that!?! Also nicely makes the points from the last post about artist/audience relationships.

Can Seth Godin predict the Game Business' Future?

Seth Godin (who I link to a little too frequently, I think) has posted an awesome transcript of his talk given to music business executives. You can get to it here.

Go read it before continuing. It's short and entertaining. Time well spent over a coffee. Really. Go on! Kthxbai!

You're back? Good.

Now a while ago I had a post picked up and re-posted on Gamasutra about how those of us in the games business might re-think customer relationships and how customized content (as an expression or artifact of that relationship) might be a better solution to piracy than customer-punishing DRM. Over on GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey echoes the sentiment, though looking more at the negative side ("if you treat your customers like criminals, they become criminals").

When reading the transcript of Seth's music biz talk, I was struck by the parallels. Let's recap:

Music (games) business was a good business, why?
- Entire medium devoted to promoting your product. He's talking about radio here, but one could argue that a good chunk of the internet is the parallel for games.
- Oligopoly He's talking about labels, but let's list how many publishers can fund $30M game titles en masse.
- Key part of our lives. For gamers, they can be as nostalgic about their first experience with Ultima Underworld or Doom as they can about their first album or the song playing at their wedding.
- Entire chain of retailers devoted to selling your product for you. Check
- 'God' on your side He's talking about the regard for Clapton, Madonna, etc. I give you Carmack, Wright, Molyneux, Miyamoto.
- Printing LPs was cheap .CD's and cardboard - check.
- Magazines devoted to promoting your product Check. He even mentions a bunch on page 7.
- Used to cost a lot of money to make a record. Check.
- Top 40 really mattered because people bought stuff just because their friends did. Check (another ranting post on this subject coming soon)

So, what happened?
- Key customers got old and buying patterns changed - new customers may want different things. Check.
- Piracy became easy because everything was digital. Check.
- Top 40 doesn't matter as much because of long tail. Here we have a difference, because games cost a lot to make compared to records, and so you only go so far down the tail as your starting point before it doesn't make sense - at least for big budget titles. Once you get to small titles, indies, etc, this applies here too.
- Digital distribution enables long tail and disrupts retail. Check.
- Suing customers is a bad idea. Oh man, I really hope we don't go down this road!

So, what's next?
- Good news, more people listening to music than ever before. Check for us too.
- Bad news, every one of the above bits of good news is no longer true. Now, here a number of them still apply to games - but there's writing on the wall. Games still cost a lot, but some types of games are getting way cheaper (XNA, Raph's company, etc), and while the Oligopoly is still intact, it's fraying around the edges a little.

OK, I'm going to stop drawing parallels here, but I think the analogy is pretty clear. Seth's advice to the music business is that timid transition won't work, you need to leap whole heartedly to a new model, and that this model is in selling & servicing relationships. The relationship is between customer and artist, and the label is now in the relationship services business. And THAT is what I was trying to say in my Gamasutra piece. The fact that Seth talks about 'tribe management business' gives us a clue that the MMO folk get it, as do a few of the studios, but that bulk of this business clearly doesn't.

I think it would behoove us to make the leap before we enter the catastrophic phase that the music business is in, but its hard to beleive that'll happen. Often it takes pain to inspire change.


Raph once again finds time out from his startup presidency to find interesting things in MMO-space.

This time it's Tommorrow Space, a VW offering Second-Life-esque virtual meeting spaces for social or business/conference purposes. Pretty unique business model: Rent the space by the day. $5.99 per day.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wealth vs Religiosity

Fascinating Graph

from this flickr page.
There's of course an interesting "religious" argument about whether X causes Y (I'm in this camp), Y causes X (a VERY dangerous argument), or whether its just coincidental.
Outliers (like USA) are interesting. Would be interesting to see the outliers (Kuwait, USA, etc) further expanded among their populations.

Quote of the month

From the Berkshire Hathaway 2007 annual report:

...just about all Americans came to believe that house prices would forever rise. That conviction made a borrower’s income and cash equity seem unimportant to lenders, who shoveled out money, confident that HPA – house price appreciation – would cure all problems. Today, our country is experiencing widespread pain because of that erroneous belief. As house prices fall, a huge amount of financial folly is being exposed. You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out – and what we are witnessing at some of our largest financial institutions is an ugly sight.

thanks to Feld Thoughts for the pointer.