Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's not the size of your installed base, it's how you use it

This was an interesting graph up on Joystiq, contrasting the growth of installed base between platforms.

While interesting, it's not exactly intellectually honest. For one, the iphone saw a lot of hardware refresh with the same customers upgrading to the 3G/3GS,so some of those are repeat users. Yes, it's still units sold, but for purposes of installed-base discussion, this is relevant.

For another thing, if you are going to talk "consumer tech", then you need to look at other cell phones, DVD players, etc. If you are looking at game platforms, then include the gameboy, the Windows PC. etc. Not sure any of these numbers would beat that curve, but it's worth including (though this example shows that the GBA beat the Wii's growth curve in its first 10 quarters. hmm...). Finally, the attach rate and SW ARPU would also be apple to oranges.

Still, even with all these caveats, it's an interesting chart to consider.

Hot game development studio

Not as in their title roadmap. As in HAWT.

Just saw this pic of Kojima up on Kotaku. Since when do game studios look like giant pop band ensembles? Where's my shiny silver suit!?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book Review: On Writing

I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's, but some time ago I'd heard good things about his non-fiction work, On Writing. I recently got to it on my Amazon queue, and got through this week.

The book is half autobiography, half instruction manual. The first half of the book recounts tales of his childhood and school years, through to early adulthood and married life, touching on his life as a young writer and the experiences that formed that writer. The latter half is a collection of thoughts on being a professional writer; on the craft and the business.

The autobiographical part was entertaining, and at the same time interesting. In particular it was interesting to hear how some of his books that I'd read (or seen in movie form) were metaphors for parts of his life (e.g. Misery, in which a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write what she wants, was written while King was addicted to Cocaine. He was 'held hostage' by the addiction, and not in control of what he was writing).

I got much more out of the second part of the book. Even if, like me, you don't plan on writing any fiction, it has plenty to offer anyone who puts pen to paper to convey ideas. Some reminders on basic structure and grammar are there, as are some useful rules of thumb (e.g. "second draft = first draft - 10%").

I also thought it was interesting how he often doesn't know how the story is going to come together, but "puts characters in a predicament and then watch[es] them try to work themselves free". There's a similarity here to how, for me at least, sometimes writing is about getting complex ideas down to try and work them out.

The only downside is that while the book is ten years old (it was published in 2002, but the bulk of it was written before 1999, before an accident delayed it's publishing), but the mindset vis-a-vis publishing is ten or twenty years older than that, and definitely pre-Internet. For that part of it at least, I'd look to more timely authors and thinkers. Cory Doctorow has written numerous pieces on the subject, and Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics has a lot to offer as well.

Despite this shortcoming, I recommend the book for anyone that does any writing. For those that don't, well, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Protesting Pachter's iPod Publisher Plea

Michael Pachter is normally a pretty rational guy as far as analysts go. However, I found his quotes in this piece on GamesIndustry.Biz to be strangely off the mark.

In the piece, Pachter claims that publishers are at risk of spoiling their own party, so to speak, by publishing games on iPhone and iPod Touch at prices lower than those they command on other platforms. He states,
"Putting well established franchises such as Madden on the iPod Touch for USD 10 cheapens their value, he explained. "Whether it's the same experience or not, and it's not, why would I ever spend USD 60 for Madden if I can get it for USD 10 on my iPod Touch?"
He goes on to state that this contributes to the risk of the iPod Touch displacing the DS (and one would assume PSP as well),
"It's a serious threat to pricing. And once people start to look at this as a substitute for the DS for smaller kids, for 12 and unders, then you're going to train a whole generation of 12 and unders that this is a perfectly acceptable gaming experience at that low price point."
I believe his line of thinking here is seriously flawed. I beleive this for three reasons:

  1. Different platforms merit different pricing. I'm surprised at the first quote. Madden on PSP today retails for under $40, vs $60 on PS3 or 360. By his line of thinking, why would anyone buy the $60 version? The reasons are that the experiences *are* different, the consumer may own a particular platform and not be swayed to another for an individual title, and the economics of each platform is different (dev cost, distribution costs, etc). To take it to the extreme, There's a version of Prince of Persia on cell phones that doesn't go far in displacing the $60 console version, despite selling only for a couple dollars.
  2. Meritocracy in the market. Pachter seems to claim that kids playing on an iPod touch won't 'move up' to other platforms as the previous generation did from GBA to DS/PSP/Home consoles. First, I'm not sure this platform graduation is anything but myth. If true though, the reason the gamers would 'move up' is because the next platform would offer a higher quality experience and or different content to suit their changing tastes. If other handhelds, or home consoles for that matter, can't offer a superior experience to the Ipod Touch, then they will fail - and should fail. On the other hand, if they do offer a superior experience, then they should be able to charge for it. If Nintendo or Sony can't compete on their own merits, it's not up to EA to prop them up - and if they do, then they should be compensated in a way that lets them lower the price of titles to better compete.
  3. No man, nor publisher, is an island. The Appstore, while not an open platform*, is certainly more open than the controlled, curated, catalog of titles available for handhelds. What that leads to is the tens of thousands of apps that we've seen show up on it, and I'm not sure that any publisher, even EA, refusing to publish on it is going to make any difference whatsoever. [I suppose that a cartel of publishers could agree in unison to boycott the platform, hoping that absence of ANY big-name content would poison consumer interest in the device. This has happened in the past with things like music labels boycotting Napster, or (IIRC) movie studios with betamax - however, its legality is questionable, the games publishers aren't organized in such a fashion, and there's enough of an indie community that I don't think this would work anyway]. In any case, the publishers seem to be faring fine while still charging a premium for their IP (see the top grossing list)
I guess what has me so bent out of shape is that it sounds so much like the death knells of the music industry. "$0.99 downloads will kill us all! What will become of our glorious CDs?"

People kept making music. People are going to keep making games. Whether to adapt to change is up to you, but don't expect the market not to change because you don't like the way it's changing.

Make excuses or make money, your call.

Book Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession was a fun little book. It's based on the true story of John Gilkey, a obsessed thief of rare books, and Ken Sanders, the book-dealer-turned-detective that set about catching him.

I enjoyed it for a number of reasons. The narrative is fairly good page-turner, following Gilkey through his spree of fraudulent purchases and thefts as Sanders catches up but remains a step or two behind. The characters - rare book collectors, Sanders, and of course Gilkey himself - prove an eclectic cast for the story. As well, the author recounts the tale in a way that lets us see how she becomes part of the story itself, worried she's possibly complicit in Gilkeys crimes.

Most of all though, I found the Bartlett's description of the world of rare books to be intoxicating. From the opening pages, when she describes first laying hands on Krautterbuch, a german botany text almost four hundred years old, unclasping the pigskin-clad oak cover boards and turning it's stiff pages as they make "a muffled crack, not unlike the sound of a flag on a windy afternoon", she does a great job of giving the reader a palpable sense of why some covet these books; some so much that they'll go to jail for them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kaboodle conundrum

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Walked by the 'Kitchen Kaboodle' while out at lunch today. Noticed they've reduced to a 4-day work week in an effort to cut costs, and then promise to pass some of this to the consumer.

Interesting that when many retailers (e.g. grocers) were faced with increased competition, they chose to increase their hours of availability, not decrease them. Doubt they're both right.

My guess, KK is wrong. I'm not sure many who shopped there were price-sensitive, plus I'm not sure how genuine the 'savings' pass down is when the markup was already hefty. And now they've proven they are ~60% as convenient as their nearest retail competitor, and 3 days a week they are less convenient than Amazon, whom I'm betting beats them on price.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: Batman Arkham Asylum

I went on a bit of a Batman kick lately, playing the game, watching the latest movie, and so when a coworker offered to loan me the Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earthgraphic novel set in the same mythical psychiatric hospital in which the game takes place.

It's pretty good, but not great. I've occasionally heard it referenced in the same vein as Watchmen, but I don't beleive it's nearly of the same caliber. I think people mainly like it because it's different. Instead of the usual omnipotent batman driven by his inner demons, we get a vulnerable batman, whose inner demons have him questioning whether he's any better than any of those he's spent his life putting behind bars.

The 15-th anniversary edition is nice in that it has some 'liner notes' on the project's history, the original final draft of the script before it's illustration, etc, which form a nice peek behind the curtain on how a project like this comes together.

It is different, it's clever, and its very pretty in it's layout, typography and of course artwork, but I don't consider it a must-read unless you are a die-hard fan of Batman.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

I've just finished William Patry's excellent book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and found it brilliant on a number of levels. I've been reading his blog (first here, now here) for some time now (linking to him occasionally), so I put the book on my reading list as soon as I learned about it.

First off, his knowledge on the subject is encyclopedic. He delves into the history of copyright law and opinion, both in the US and abroad, and yet does so without becoming inaccessible.

Secondly, his objective deconstruction of the approaches and techniques used by those on both sides of the argument lets him get to the heart of the matter. In fact there's a fair chunk of the book having little to do with copyright, but rather with the use of metaphor, moral panics, and other techniques, as tactics by those lobbying for a given cause.

Finally, by using his knowledge of the field and it's history, along with this kind of 'argument autopsy', he gets to the heart of who and what copyright is meant to serve (i.e. Copyright is not a 'natural right' of authors. It's a government-granted monopoly given only to serve a purpose, and that purpose is not that of the author. Copyright is an instrument created for the public good, and thus should serve the public's interests, not those of industry)

He's also not without a sense of humor. For example, in speaking about the 1998 extension of US copyright from fifty to seventy years from the authors death, supposedly to provide incentive to authors to compose new works, and how that was applied retroactively to works of already-deceased authors, Patry points out the absurdy in this by pointing out that these authors aren't composing, they are decomposing.

The only shortcoming I can think of is that I would have liked more of a prescription for a solution. Patry points out that monopolies created to serve the public interest, and that no longer are doing so, should be taken away. So there's a high level solution proposed, but it seems to me to be a bridge too far. How do we decide what the correct level to bring it back to, is? How do we unwind the DMCA? What should individual citizens or corporations do? I think Patry would have a lot to offer here, and I'd like to see future editions of the book include something along these lines.

I found the book enlightening. It has me thinking a ton about it's implications for games, my work, and the future. I highly recommend it.

Donate to Creative Commons

Creative Commons is having their annual fundraiser, and have added some incentive with a sweet Shepard Fairey CC t-shirt with a $75 or more donation.

Worthwhile, sweet threads. 'Nuff said

Friday, October 9, 2009


photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

After several years our Roomba finally gave up the ghost, so we replaced it.

Somewhere along the lines, it got all mac-ified. Here's a before'n'after.

In other notes, it's pleasing tones have been accompanied by voice messages, but in third person. Such a disappointment. "Please clean the debris from Roomba's brushes" is so much more lame than "Help! My brushes are dirty! Clean them out and I will return to serving you, gracious overlord."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting Hired

A few people have linked to this awesome story from Tim Schaefer about how he did a very unique job application that landed him his job at Lucasarts many years back. It reminded me of another unique approach I'd read about, taken by John Newcomer, designer of Joust, who got hired by Williams after handing in a resume rolled up and stuffed down the neck of a rubber chicken.

It kind of amazes me that in an industry as competitive as gaming - scratch that - in all job markets ranking above "would you like fries with that?" - just how many people apply for jobs by submitting resumes with form-factor cover letters, and then showing up for interviews with minimal, run-of-the-mill prep.

Of course, you can go part-way on this and still not make the cut. We had someone a while back interview for a position, and he came in with a presentation over 50 slides in length he'd prepared on our product, competitors, market trends, etc. Really exceptional. One of the people on the interview loop asked him "this is kind of lengthy, and I'd like to spend most of the time talking with you. Can you go to the summary slide?". "umm... summary slide?". Fail!

Anyhow, food for thought