Sunday, September 28, 2008

Technological advances in genital simulatation continue...

Hot on the heels of the Spore penis creatures, comes a penis machine in little big planet.

If only all that creative talent could be used for good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Putting my theory to the test

Well, it's as if someone read my last post about IP infringement in User Generated Content centered games.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The coming tsunami of IP infringement

The "User Generated Content" or specifically "User Generated GAME" space seems to be red-hot these days.

Lots of web-based examples (Metaplace, GameBrix, Silverlight, Atmosphir, etc), and now console games are going to be a hotbed as well, with Little Big Planet being the case example getting the most mindshare.

David Edery had a post up doing his own post-mortem on Scrabulous, in which I commented on it's successor, Wordscraper. In it, I said:

Wordscraper... supports user-definable boards and tile weightings. Which means you can do, as I have done, a board and tile set that exactly match those of Scrabble, and VOILA! IP circumvention via User Generated Content!!!

If they were to publish something like a board-sharing service, the developer (or FB?) would be subject to DMCA takedown notices, but now Hasbro/Mattel has a harder job: Vigilantly watch the forums, send repeated DMCA takedown notices, etc. Also, I don’t know if other countries have similar laws.

There are some holders of game IP that have tried to enforce their hold over game rules, mechanics, etc. Obvious examples are Tetris Corp, who recently were in the news for getting a clone pulled from iTunes, as well as the Hasbro/Mattel Scrabble example. Other cases exist where it seems to have flown under radar (e.g. Webkinz's games are almost ALL rip-offs of classics, but with name changes and theme changes. Sometimes game design changes too)

Quite frankly, I just don't see how the IP holders are going to keep up with it all in this new world.

I suppose you could serve takedown notices to - like Scrabulous - only the most successful examples. But then what does that say for all those would-be infringers out there: Go ahead and clone games and be successful with them... but not TOO successful.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More on marketing of indie console titles

Gamasutra has a postmortem up of the XBLA beat-match-3 title Go Go Break Steady.

Of note is the last point they make on their 'what went wrong' list.

5. Marketing XBLA games as an indie.

What is hype? We completely underestimated the marketing effort required for a successful XBLA title. One of the most attractive reasons for us to develop for XBLA was that we wouldn't need a publisher or major marketing, as the game would always be available online and would be able to garner enough sales for us to make up our investment.

This might have been true when we first started developing for XBLA, as there were then fewer than 10 titles available. We, on the other hand, were the 150th title on XBLA, and we were released alongside a very popular remake of a classic arcade game. Going into our release, we had next to no hype and much to our chagrin very little post-release hype.

Researching this more, we realized that this seems to be the bane of all indie developers. Although we found someone to help us with the PR work close to the release date, in retrospect it would have been prudent to show more of the game earlier so consumers would at least recognize the name when they see it on XBLA.

As I've been saying for some time, this is the real challenge for downloadable titles. Both Braid and Castle Crashers are great examples of devs creating their own buzz.

Indie devs can't count on XBLA, PSN, Steam, or any other digital distribution service to do the full marketing effort for their titles. Doing so would be the equivalent of EA counting on EB Games doing the marketing for Madden. The storefront plays a role, but there has to be anticipation built for the title over time, etc. Viewed differently, if you do well, the storefront will bolster your effort. If you don't do well, they'll forget about you quick.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Portal Prequel coming soon...

...and it's made with PEOPLE!
via Rock, Paper, Shotgun, news of an 'official prequel' for Portal.

And there's people in it, which is a little strange, till you get the back story:

Its story revolves around the pre-GlaDOS epoch, even before she was plugged in. At this time, test subjects were monitored by real Aperture Science employees, whose work was tedious, lengthy and repetitive. This is why they decided to build a great artificial intelligence that could both replace them in these difficult tasks, and also take responsibility for many other tasks within the complex and compete with Black Mesa’s superiority. All employees of the Aperture Science complex are now eagerly awaiting GlaDOS. Maybe even a little too eagerly, as the upcoming events will tell… This game is totally free and set to be released somewhere around the end of the month. It offers a bit more gameplay hours than the original Portal, with 8 chapters, 48 challenges, 6 advanced maps, a brand new storyline and more than 400 lines of speech with english and french subtitles.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spore DRM-haters create anti-DRM Spore creatures within Spore

There's a been a bunch of people griping about the SecureROM DRM in Spore. Some of those people have now created creatures within Spore to voice their opinions. Crafty, given that the game is built around the sharing of player-generated content.

At right, the VeROFLaptor, "hails from the planet EADisappointsMe and is known to spray excessive DRM and overhype on it's attackers".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Google and Games: Yes. Publishing? No.

A few people have pointed to an article that appeared this week on Forbes web site, speculating that Google might get into game publishing.

I think that while Google's definitely making inroads into games, which is the main thrust of the article, the article is a both a little off base on it's predictions, and also mixing up terminology some.

First, the article mentions that it could make inroads into the in-game ads market (citing casual games sites like Pogo & Real's) market using something "similar to Adsense". And also mentions that the company could use it's warchest to acquire development studios to develop titles to display those ads. This line of thinking has a number of flaws:
  • Google's already publicly stated that they intend to do 'adsense for games'
  • Casual games sites like those mentioned, or MSN's which I worked on, while this do some "in-game ads", usually advergames or 'skinned' games, do the bulk of their advertising via interstitial ads as well as ads elsewhere around the games. For those not familiar: think TV commercials vs in-show product placements.
  • Doing either of those, or even in-game ads, doesn't require acquiring a studio. Lots of examples out there today of people using technology solutions to connect ads with other parties' content.
Which brings me to the second and main issue I take with the article: That I don't think believe the content publishing business - where specifically I mean publishing to mean "the business of funding and otherwise aiding the production and bringing to market of content" - is something that fits within Google's DNA. 

Google's a technology company. Technology that aids the connection of people and content, sure. So adsense, yes. Platforms for games (which Lively or Google Earth, etc), sure, I'll buy that too. Game portal? Quite possibly. 

I could see them trying to the shoes of either flash-based game portals (newgrounds, kongregate) or traditional multiformat casual game portals like Real's or MSN's (and maybe supplanting the manual merchadising with an algorithm-driven one - not unlike what happened with Search). I could even see them doing a algo-driven/technology-driven version of what Oberon does - a whitelabel games portal service.

But none of these requires that they retain control over IP, fund content development, etc. So I don't think Publisher is in their future list of roles. 

It's also worth considering that there are parallels in their other businesses: Acquired Blogger and aggregate advertising realestate there, but haven't felt the need to acquire BoingBoing or Kotaku, etc. Acquired YouTube, but aren't producing video programming nor acquiring the Coke'n'Mentos guys. 

What do you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Re-treading the re-tread games argument has a post up about Frontier's David Braben making some comments about the second hand games industry. I've commented on this issue before (e.g. here), but thought it worth adding a couple things.

First off, this idea that a rental games market could replace a second hand games market is a bit of a fantasy. The second hand games market IS a rental market, at least it can be looked at as such.

That aside, however, there's a basic math problem here that doesn't add up. Either you are going to charge consumers more for the same thing (which then won't replace the second hand market), or you are taking a portion of the retailer's money (which he isn't willing to give up). 

Put differently, the problem is that users are getting the same product, and they and the retailer are getting better value by cutting the developer/publisher out of the equation, and neither gives a damn.

So, what do you do? It seems there are two pieces to address. Here's the same sentence with a couple pieces highlighted:

the problem is that users are getting the same product, and they and the retailer are getting better value by cutting the developer/publisher out of the equation, and neither gives a damn.

Let's spend a bit of time thinking about each:

On the First front, the "new" has to be demonstrably better than the "used". People have done this by linking it to services (MMOs, Steam). There's also the personalize games idea. There's also the idea of shipping the game with something that doesn't transfer as well. Guitar Hero discs are worth less without the guitar, and people often want to keep the peripheral for sequels, etc. 

On the second item, getting people to give a damn, there's two pieces to that:

1) Getting retailers to give a damn. This is a tough one. They make a great amount more money on a second hand title, especially a hot one. In a case like that, a $60 game (from which they make maybe $15 or less) sells for $55 (of which they might make $25 - paying $30 to the consumer for the title). Nevertheless, I have to beleive there are some things that could be done to help incent them to curb the behavior:
  • Cut them off. Don't do business with them. Granted, this is cutting off your nose to spite your face, but if you are Rockstar, people will go find your title. 
  • Give exclusive release periods to retailers that don't sell second hand.
  • Give rebates/discounts/etc to retailers that don't sell second hand.
2) For consumers buying second hand titles, getting them to care, I beleive, doesn't come through their wallets but through their hearts.
  • They need to be educated where the money's going.
  • That needs to be PEOPLE, not COMPANIES. i.e. No one cares that some of Spore's proceeds are going to EA. They *might* care that it's going to Will Wright. 
  • They need to know that the people getting the money appreciate their support.
  • They need to know that its part of a relationship they have with those creators.
I know I find myself having to explain to EB employees, trying to get me to buy a second hand copy of a game for 
The music business has an element of this happening. Why can't we get the same thing in games? It seems like in a funny way this related to the whole game credits thing that the IGDA has been going on about for some time. But that's a discussion for another day.

I guess the point is that whining about not liking a business model isn't going to change it. You've got to go build something better.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More power Scott... and fans. and fans for the fans.

Jeff at Rad posted some video of one of the multi-core specialty dev machines Intel has them working with.

This is awesome in too many ways to speak to. just go view the vid, put headphones on, and turn the volume DOWN!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The OTHER consoles.

Quick: How many consoles are there on the market?

Chances are, if you are a gamer, you either answered 3 (PS3, Xbox360, Wii), or maybe 5 (if you included PSP and DS handhelds), or maybe 7 or 8 if you dipped back into previous generation consoles that are still selling titles (PS2, GBA, etc). What if I suggested there were another few that you probably didn't think of? Hold that thought.

GameSetWatch had an interesting post up the other day about how the core game development community, and gamers themselves, are all too ready to dismiss games that appeal to a specific niche; especially when that niche doesn't include them. The post was in reference to Christian themed games, which I agree, are all too often dismissed by the general fan populace in the same way Christian rock is by mainstream rock fans.

The problem's not unique to this niche. We see it elsewhere too. Raph Koster, myself, and others have commented on how we as an industry are too quick to dismiss the kids MMOs when we in fact can be learning from them. And it really wasn't very long ago (2005-ish) that "casual games" was spoken with a sneer, and disregarded as not really games and not really a business. Opinion has shifted on both of those - to a point.

And when it comes to consoles, to most of the folks in game development, what springs to mind is a Wii or a PS3 or a 360. It is not this:


That's my son Tom trying out a Fisher Price SmartCycle at the ToysRUs. It's a game console, it sells for $100, and it runs cartridge based SW (much of which is based on licensed IP) that retails for $20 or so a pop:


Now the "fitness" angle is new and pretty interesting, but this certainly isn't the first or only game console for kids.

Leapfrog has a range of devices for different age groups, but the most popular is their flagship product, the leapster, which is still selling, and was introduced in 2003. It's had a number of features and sku's added, but is essentially the same platform as when it launched.

They just recently launched Leapster 2, which is smaller, more powerful, connects to the PC as well, and links via the PC to an online world where kids can share their content, get rewards for making progress in games (achievements-esque).

I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and write games for the Leapster. I don't think the market's there to sustain that many titles. I do think, however, that we could all benefit from having slightly wider peripheral vision. 

Looking at the features creeping into the HW and SW of these things, they are clearly learning from us. Are *we* learning from *them*?


I turned on the republican convention coverage for a bit this evening but really couldn't stomach it after a while. I get that McCain's military service arguably speaks to his character, but jeez. We're electing a president. Listening to the speeches, you'd think we were electing Rambo!

*I take  a little liberty with the use of "We" here. I'm not a citizen yet, so *I* won't be electing anybody!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

More on retail's evolution

Not one, but two trips to Target in close succession. Ugh. Anyhow, another interesting observation.

Last time, I'd posted something about retail's evolution, upon which Raph added some thoughts.

This week, I noted the huge end-cap of point-of-sale point & subscription cards for virtual worlds:

Some thoughts:
  • Look at how many there are! Twenty or so varieties and that's just what I got in frame! It wasn't so long ago that only WoW was doing this and even then it surprised people.
  • Look at the variety! Acclaim, Toontown, WoW, Dora, City of Heroes, Club Penguin, Pirates of the Caribbean, Habbo...
  • Look at how many I've never heard of!
And this doesn't even count those who's retail transaction is obfuscated by masking it in a plush (or other) toy, like Webkinz, BuildaBear, BarbieGirlz... (of which I've written here, and here).

Evolution indeed!

Thoughts on Google Chrome

Google launched their browser, which made some (surprisingly little) noise around the blogosphere yesterday. I installed it (this is my first post made from within Chrome) and thought I'd post some thoughts.

First off, kudos for the Comic that kicked off the launch (fans of Scott McCloud will recognize his work here):

Brilliant! What a brilliant way to convey at consumer-level the ideas behind some of the advantages that Chrome offers over competitive offerings. things like Multi-threading, memory management, JVMs, priviledge levels, etc

Secondly, I'm just surprised how little talk there's been about it. First off, it's got to be a HUGE threat to Microsoft. Firefox has made inroads just based on technical advantages and word of mouth, but now here comes Google, with a track record of gaining MSS via a proven business model (look at their toolbar business), and the advantage that comes with being a primary starting point for so many people's web experience. Which brings to mind... why is Chrome not being pitched on the google homepage; nor even in the options at the top; nor on the 'other' pull down menu? Strange. Anyhow, secondly, holy cow this has have Firefox worried. Google's been a major partner for them, and it will be interesting to see just how fickle their users can be, and how many were with them because they just weren't IE.

Finally, the browser itself is pretty slick. I love the 'most visited' and 'most recent bookmarks' in the startup page, The tabs are nice with duplicate features, the drag'n'drop of them feels nice. The treatment of popups is very slick (much better than IE's 'yellow bar'). 

My only complaints so far:
- it'd be nice if History was nested by site. I'm occasionally.searching for a page I found earlier in the day, and this feature makes it easier.
- I'd really like the RSS integration that IE7 has. I know Google has Reader, but I want it baked into my desktop app and I want that app to be the same as my browser.

Anyhow, fantastic product from what I've seen thus far. Nice first effort Google!