Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of the Moneylab

This book surprised me and is probably one of my favorites of the year, at least as it is really timely for our industry, as I'll soon explain.

Technology companies generally have laboratories in which they do research & experimentation. Game developers often do so as well. Perhaps not formally in R&D labs (though some of the larger publishers have them), but certainly doing experiments for new rendering techniques, AI models, physics experiments, etc.

For all this though, it's surprising how little science is put into the business side of the business. Things like pricing, to pick one example, are often done using some gut-feel starting point and by following competition.

Kay-Yut Chen, author of Secrets of the Moneylab, runs a lab at Hewlett Packard. He is also an economist. The lab he runs does research on behavioral economics and it's application in the tech industry. The book runs through experiments they did on consumer pricing, marketing, supply chain management, and much more. Also, they look at a number of different experiments from different industries.

Why is this so timely?

Consider the point made by Neal Young of NGMoco at his GDC2010 keynote, where he said that for the first time in the games industry, the business model is in the hands of the game designers. Add to that the fact that digital distribution channels and competing appstores will mean that developers have the opportunity to try many different experiments as they bring their games to market on different platforms (Something Dave Edery at Spry Fox has been doing).

Success on these emerging platforms is going to come from people's ability to put some science into the business side of their business, and this book provides an excellent start to getting your head around that kind of thinking.
[note: I'm post-dating a couple of these posts as I didn't have a chance to sync them while I was travelling, and I like to track by when I read the book]

Book Review: Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential

After reading Brian Ashcraft's great book on the Japanese arcade gaming scene, I figured I'd like his next book on Japanese schoolgirl culture. It didn't disappoint.

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential is a pretty deep dive on a number of different aspects of what can only be called a phenomena: The idolization, monetization, and 'fetishization' of the Japanese schoolgirl look and surrounding culture.

Ashcraft and his co-author (also his wife) Shoko Ueda take the reader through the history of the uniforms, idol worship, schoolgirls in films and games, as well as how different aspects of business (fashion and telecom in particular) have changed behavior to target the schoolgirl demographic.

Some of the book (e.g. the history of the uniforms) were more depth than I needed, but other parts were really enlightening. The sections on the evolution of cell phone texting, the fashion industry's capitalization of the schoolgirl market, and schoolgirls in video games were probably the most useful, and therefore recommended, sections for those in the technology and/or gaming industries.

[note: I'm post-dating a couple of these posts as I didn't have a chance to sync them while I was travelling, and I like to track by when I read the book]

Book Review: Don't Get Too Comfortable

I picked this one up as an audio book for our recent ski-trip, looking for some different stuff that my wife and I would both enjoy. Enjoyed it somewhat, but I'm not putting it at the top of any lists.

It's a set of sarcastic, humorous, "queenish" rant-like essays on a wide variety of subjects, from his experience on one of the last Concorde flights to attending a soft-core porn shoot at a tropical resort. Good for some laughs, but I did feel like sometimes his lashing out at the over-indulgent was itself a bit over-indulgent.
[note: I'm post-dating a couple of these posts as I didn't have a chance to sync them while I was travelling, and I like to track by when I read the book]

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dara O Briain Live at the Apollo - i love videogames ( 09/12/2010 )

This will be one of those youtube clips everyone in the industry links to.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recommended iPad apps?

I have it on good authority that Mr Claus may be depositing an iPad under the tree for me on Xmas morn.

When I get it, I have one day to get it set up before taking it on a ski trip for a few days. I'm hoping the blogosphere can save me some trial and error on a number of different app needs. So, chime in to the comments if you can help.

  1. Best Feedreader? (Would like it to sync feeds between PC/iPad/iPhone, allow offline viewing, set refresh frequency, etc. I've used RSSBandit and others in the past. Currently using IE8 because I like the Outlook integration, but I'm guessing it's not an option on iPad)
  2. Best eReader app? (Would like it to have top-notch typography, support for EPUB and other formats, bonus for PDF support, should be able to keep multiple bookmarks support for annotations and the like)
  3. Best document-sync apps? (I'm thinking of apps to let me view and/or edit Word & Powerpoint files off my PC)
  4. Best sketching/drawing app? (keeping in mind I'll have a stylus)
  5. Best notetaking/sketching/brainstorming app? (e.g. Onenote equivalent)
  6. Best GPS app?
  7. Best Browser? (Is the stock one sufficient?)
  8. Best Wikipedia client? (I use Wikiamo on iPhone - is there something better?)
  9. Best magazines/news site apps?
  10. Best cookbook-type apps?
  11. Best Twitter client/aggregator? (Yes, my opt-out experiment is over and I'll become a Twit in the new year)
  12. finally, recommendations on best stylus?
Thanks, y'all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good blog on dog-fooding Chrome OS Laptop

My friend and former co-blogger & co-worker Vlad Cole has started a new blog where he's documenting 99 days of moving to an all-cloud model and using a Chrome OS laptop.

Vlad used to blog for Joystick, and we jointly worked on for a year. He's tech savvy, and definitely a guy that walks his talk, so it'll be a good experiment to follow:

Hi-end facial mocap in Rockstar's LA Noire

The video below has a nice example of how we're likely to see high end game titles evolve over the next couple years.

With performance more or less tapped out on current gen consoles, which are going to have to live on a few more years, those studios looking to out-gun their competition will increasingly do so by dialing up the spend on the authoring side.

The runtime rendering being done here doesn't look like anything that far beyond what we're seeing in other titles. However, the content authoring - combining a high-end mocap rig with recognizable actors and whats likely to be TONS of dialog - is clearly going to be a huge cost increase.

Red Dead Redemption was rumored to cost north of $100M, and LA Noire looks like it could easily climb north of there.

(And yes, the uncanny valley runs way deep)

Word 2010 Declaration of Independence

This is the first Microsoft ad I've seen in a long time that I've liked. Funny, but totally gets the point across. Bravo.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The boy who cried 'advergame'

So, back in 2006, Microsoft did a deal with Burger King to do 3 BK-branded titles and distribute them with value meals at a nominal fee ($3.99). The fee aside, these were essentially free advertising-subsidized game titles for the console.

The three titles were met with lukewarm acceptance (Sneak King got a 54 on Metacritic, Big Bumpin a 63, Pocket Bike Racers a 54), with a nod of the head to the $3.99 price point.

Then Yaris came out, and was deservedly panned. A 17 on MC, which, well, you have to really try to score that low don't you.

Later, another ad-supported title, Doritos Dash of Destruction, came out and scored a 53, and yes, wasn't a very good game.

Then in the past week, two more Doritos-sponsored games were released on Xbox Live Arcade. "Harms Way", and "Doritos Crash Course". How did they do on meta-critic?

No one has rated either one? Really? Not one critic review? Not one user review? Really?

Is it possible that people have become so soured on sponsored titles that they just assume they are crap?

Here's the thing too. I played Crash Course a while last night... and it's pretty good. Kind of a Trials-HD meets Ninja Warrior using player avatars. Definitely better than a lot of games I've paid $10 for. Proof that the ad-supported model can work on console.

If only people don't assume that they get what they pay for.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: Boneshaker

I've been doing a lot of non-fic reading as of late, and so with a long flight giving me a reading opportunity (I spoke at GDC China in Shanghai last week), I picked up Boneshaker for the flight.

It's about as boilerplate Steampunk as you can get. Dirigibles, steam-powered machines, much leather/rubber/tinplate clothing, clockwork, gas masks and goggles. Add in a healthy dose of zombies in 19th century Seattle, a mad scientist, post-apocalyptic societies and a handful of air-pirates, well, how can you lose?

Thrilling page-turner. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Typography porn

I got pointers to a couple music videos doing some really nice kinetic typography. In the future all the examples here should be possible to do using HTML5 & related tech. (Would be a cool to see someone tack a crack at doing a Chrome Experiment at implementing the Shopvac video below in realtime).

Justice's DVNO:

Jonathan Coulton's Shopvac:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review: Screen Future

Brian David Johnson is a fellow Intellite, though he works in group pretty distant from mine, we both have future-forecasting type roles.

At a meeting he held up at Pax, he gave me a copy of his book, Screen Future, and I just got done reading it on a flight this evening.

The book is a look at ways in which TV (and to a degree, screen-hosted entertainment overall) is being shaped by technology and the shift to the Internet.

While it's got numerous flaws, the book does deliver in painting some pictures of future usages and the possible directions different players may opt to take.

First, the negatives:
  • The book has numerous typos, grammatical, and technical/terminology errors. I'm not sure who proofed it, but being an Intel Press book I'd expect them to do a better job especially on the latter of these.
  • There are places where Brian opts to "go deep" on how something might work, but stays at a high level powerpoint-ish description that hand-waves around a lot of the how, and so it's not clear these pieces actually add any value. (i.e. Just saying "assume this all works" is no less valuable than the approach of "you'd have to have Box A talk to Box B using a protocol - assume that just works".
  • While some of the book talks about business models and business issues, the book is way too limited in this respect. Also, it doesn't talk about issues around intellectual property rights and how they will have impact (e.g. DMCA's impact on innovation).
Now that said, the positives:
  • Brian has lined up some REALLY good interviews with folks in the book, from around the globe. Henry Jenkins, Stephen Conroy (Australian Senator revamping their broadband and broadcast policies), Amy Reinhard (Director of Strategic Planning at Paramount), and numerous others. Some of the riffing these folks do around the topic are alone worth the price of admission.*
  • The book has a global perspective - and is not just US-only like other views on the entertainment business tend to be
  • Despite my complaint about the under-served business discussion, the book does attempt to cross technical, business, and cultural boundaries, not just treating it as a technical subject.
* On a note about the different views: I found it funny that the otherwise awesome discussion with Reinhard kind of concluded that they had no idea how this would play out and how users might use some of this stuff; it was a nice contrast to the Conroy interview, in which he said when faced with the same problem, that they just went to Korea and studied how they've done it because they are years ahead of the western world. I thought this was a nice little example of how US folk tend to assume that we are leading here, rather than being humble enough to assume that maybe others are ahead.

So, some minor flaws, but good thought provoking read on the future of television.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Great talk on future of publishing (+ a great speaking tip)

Craig Mod, who wrote a couple really awesome pieces on the future of book publishing on the iPad, and whom I linked to in a couple previous posts, and who I recently coincidentally ended up driving across the Mexican desert with (a long story), has a video up of talk he gave at a conference called 'the Do Lectures'.

First off, it's a great talk about the future of publishing, ebooks, and how the Internet is democratizing and changing publishing itself.

But second, if you are a fan of presentation techniques, watch it through to the end. Craig wraps the talk by calling out about ten of the audience members by name and giving them specific challenges on what THEY should be doing. From the talk, I'm going to assume that many of them he just met in the previous day or two at the conference, and (a) he makes his point that ANYONE can be a publisher, and (b) it absolutely connects that he's taken his audience seriously, so much that he can call them out by name and state what they are working on. So powerful!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Several good reads this week around the web

A few good finds this week to read over your morning coffee, or over turkey hangover:

  • Tim Berners-Lee (inventer of The Web) in Scientific American: Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality. A lengthy dissertation on open standards vs walled gardens, Net Neutrality, and Electronic Human Rights. Much of it covers known problem, but it's good to see them called out so eloquently.
  • iReaderReview has a piece examining What Impact are Kindle Exclusives Having. There are some parallels with games here. In a crowded market like books (or, say, small downloadable games), does having an exclusive on even a significant number of titles make any difference for the platform's appeal.
  • Gamasutra has a good piece up on Console Hardware Trends in the Bundle Era. I find the title a bit misleading, and would rather label it "Hey Guys, how goes the mid-life booster rocket?". Title aside, though it's interesting. The table of 360 HW sales by month is interesting, showing 2010 to be a banner year thus far, and that was BEFORE the Kinect and its bundles launched.
  • Good CNET piece on Netflix's Secret Sauce for Acquiring Content. Good lessons here on being a good partner.
Go read! Discuss!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: Nickel and Dimed

I had Nickel and Dimed one on my 'to read' list for a long time, after Adam originally recommended it to me. It's an illuminating, if somewhat depressing read.

The author spent a year doing a stint of low-wage jobs in a number of cities around the country, trying to see if she could support herself on a minimum wage job. She spents time working as a waitress, a cleaning lady, a Walmart clerk, and a number of other positions, sometimes working two jobs while also apartment hunting or dealing with other administrivia.

What she finds isn't surprising; that people earning the minimum 'living wage' in this country can get by, barely, often by leaning on friends and family to share rent and the like, and that any moderate expense (e.g. a medical one, or a car repair, or first/last months rent on a new place) can start a snowball effect toward homelessness pretty quickly.

What's maybe more illuminating (not in the sense that we didn't know, but that it shone light on what we like to keep in the dark), is that it's not that the so-called working poor are lazy or stupid. Rather, they are subject to a system that bleeds its poorest dry. The flipside to the rich-get-richer is of course that the poor get poorer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: The Art Detective

I picked this up on a whim when my eye happened upon it at the local library.

The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures is a pretty entertaining read. It's written by Philip Mould, an art historian/collector/appraiser who is also known for his appearances on Antiques Roadshow.

In the Art Detective, he takes the reader into the world of 'found' paintings, specifically works of grand masters that have been recovered after years either missing or lying in unknown obscurity. The work that goes into researching their histories, verifying their authenticity, and in restoring their damages (e.g. from things like later 'artists' having painted a newer and more fashionable hat on them). He does this by picking a handful of the more colorful finds from his career (not all were his finds) and bringing us behind the scenes of the process that can sometimes drag out for months.

Mould is somewhat long winded and a touch pretentious in his narration, but it can be comical if taken with a pinch of salt. The background on the processes used to recover these works is quite fascinating.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review: Intrapreneurship in Action

This was one of a number of books I referenced in a talk I gave at the IGDA Leadership Forum last week.

The author, Gifford Pinchot , was the one who initially coined the "intrapreneurship" term back in the late seventies in an earlier work. Intrapreneuring in Action is a pretty good book on the subject, though I much preferred Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators.

The book breaks down both requirements for successful intrapreneuring, as well as methods for leaders to build more entrepreneurial culture within their organizations. In both of these the book can be a very fast read as his approach is very structured, to the point of section headers basically containing the core idea most of the time. I found that only some pieces benefitted me if I read through them in depth.

Where I found it falls a little short is that the real-world cases cited are extremely non-specific. Unlike Ten Rules, it doesn't name names. Not that I doubt the cases are real, but they jump off the page far less and aren't as easy to understand without the very specific context of real company and product names.

This negative aside, it's still a good read and has a good structured approach to either taking on an intrapreneurial initiative or shaping your company to being more ready for such initiatives.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beautiful definition of common usage of "HTML5"

I've been talking to a lot of folks about HTML5 recently, and always find myself struggling with the conversations actually including areas that aren't technically part of the HTML5 spec but are referred to in the same sentence 90% of the time.

So today someone pointed me at Brad Neuberg's CodingInParadise blog and this fantastic post that both provides a definition of the general sense in which the term HTML5 is generally used, as well as a proposed set of specific definitions for different layers of the onion peeling.

Here's the short version.
"Everything that is in the formal W3C HTML5 spec; everything that used to be in there but was broken out for various reasons; sibling and related technologies and developments like CSS3, SVG, EcmaScript 5, etc.; and experimental explorations that are pushing the boundaries."
Read the post to get the rest.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: Dive Into HTML5

Dive Into HTML5 is a free e-book by Google's Mark Pilgrim. I read it before the HTML5 book I recently reviewed, and found Pilgrim's to be much better.

Pilgrim has a lengthier book,HTML5: Up and Running, in dead-tree format that is available on Amazon. I haven't yet checked that one out.

I found Dive Into HTML5 to be useful for a few reasons. It's relatively brief. It deals practically with the issues of building scalable code for a range of browsers/platforms with variable HTML5 support (i.e. rather than providing a switch statement for IE/Chrome/Firefox like some folk do, he deals different methods for testing for feature support in a way that will scale across browsers).

Finally, Pilgrim gives enough background to understand some of the 'why' on certain eccentricities as well as the 'how' on how to use them. For example, there are some details on local storage that include background on loose guidelines provided by the spec, as well as how much storage is made available and cases in which you may find it unavailable.

If you are looking for a quick read to get up to speed, it's a great place to start. (One downside is that it would have been nice if he'd made an offline version available as a e-book or PDF.

Book Review: HTML5:Designing Rich Internet Applications

This was the second of a couple books I've read on HTML5. The other review is coming next.

HTML5: Designing Rich Internet Applications was pretty disappointing. The book contains numerous typos and grammatical errors than an editor should have caught, and these seem to be the main complaints of other negative reviews on Amazon. I could have easily looked past these if they were the only flaws with the book. Instead, I think these were just the most superficial signs of a book hastily written to get in front of a trend.

More serious errors include poorly documented code samples, poorly written code samples, and an awkward correlation between the code and the text.

Even more frustrating still, there are sections where the focus and page-count are misspent (e.g. a section on HTML5's video playing capabilities contains numerous pages on how to author a video from a PPT presentation (and btw, why would anyone do this?) an convert it from one format to another).

Other sections woefully underserve some of the more interesting topics. e.g. the section on HTML5 canvas is minimal at best, and when it gets to doing animations on the canvas, the author just points to a the CAKE javascript library and says 'use this'. (In a later example in the book, the author actually does some animation in his own javascript, but doesn't explain his use of it, indicating that maybe he learned this along the way and it again points to the inconsistent editing?). Another example is the section on local storage, which is used in a code sample, but with no documentation on limits of size on storage, how it can/can't be used, how it might vary from one device implementation to the next, etc.

Finally, there are several places where rather than focusing on HTML5 exclusively, the author is cobbling together bits of Ajax, CSS, etc, and it's not clear to the reader what's coming from where.

I don't recommend the book. The next one I'm writing up is a better read. that review coming soon...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Game Dev Story: A Niche market is you!

Game Dev Story is a fun little iphone sim about running a games studio. I found a lot of developer friends talking about how enamored they are with it.

I found it ironic that I saw Facebook contacts raving about it the same day I saw an announcement that there are now 300,000 apps on the iTunes store.

At that point, iPhone devs constitute an interesting niche market, and selling them this game is kind of our industry's version of shovels-to-miners.

As an aside: Hey Apple! Pro-tip: When you have that number of apps, this is no longer a positive number for your marketing pitch. You are essentially telling devs the store is overcrowded, and your consumers that they may have trouble finding what they want. At this point "lots" will do as a tag line.

Why aspiring XBLA devs should buy Comic Jumper

Comic Jumper is a lot of fun. It's a testimony to it's quality that I'm playing it through to the end despite the fact that I normally am not a run-n-gun platformer fan.

Anyhow, developers thinking of doing console downloadable titles should consider it required reading for two reasons:

1) Because Twisted Pixel are just a great bunch of guys that everyone should support.

2) Because among the bonus materials unlocked during the game are videos and artwork that were used as part of the pitch material to land their deal with MS.

The quality of the pitch trailer and supporting materials are pretty high, especially considering that these guys had *already shipped* a title (The Maw) with XBLA before pitching the game. This should give aspiring XBLA devs an idea of the expected level of quality to compete for console vendor interest.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: The Fundamentals of Typography

As I've mentioned in a few recent posts, I've been spending some time thinking about e-readers, and reading up on things like typography and the ebook format. Anyhow, while the last typography book that I read was interesting, it wasn't the soup-to-nuts book on "all things typographical" I needed.

What I was looking for, as it turns out, was The Fundamentals of Typography, by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris.

This is a very wide-ranging look at type. The authors touch on everything from the history of written communication to adaptation of type to computer screens, from the structure of character sets to the layout of pages, etc. All of this presented in a way that is accessible, and not so deep as to overwhelm. To top it off, the book is beautifully laid out.

My only critique - and it's small given how nice the rest of the book is - is that their treatment of the subject of type on computer screens is very short. I'd have liked them to go into detail on TrueType fonts and how they are rasterized, how font hinting is done, issues with anti-aliasing, etc.

Apart from this one downside, this is an excellent primer for anyone to refresh/acquire a good working knowledge of typography.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spry Fox releases game on Kindle!

Dave Edery's finally able to talk about one of his hush-hush projects: Games for the Kindle.

Their studio, Spry Fox, has released their first game for the Kindle, Triple Town, as part of what appears to be a very quiet soft launch of their game catalog for the device.

Dave's got a post up on the subject and how it fits his blue-ocean strategy that he's been talking about for a while.

Amazon certainly has a lot of catch up to do in getting an app store up, and they are heading into crowded territory as many devices are also getting app stores into play. Additionally, the Kindle seems somewhat hobbled as an interactive application platform (e-ink, UI, etc)

On the other hand, as David points out, Amazon has a large installed base of users with a propensity to spend money, and a trusted commercial relationship with those users. Those things alone certainly make those blue ocean waters look inviting.

If you are a Kindle owner, check out Triple Town.

Book Review: The Black Swan

While travelling this week I finished Nassim Teleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and I give it a rating of... well... so-so.

I do so not because it lacks any good ideas - this is not the case - but because of two things.

First, the author writes with such contempt for, well, most of humanity it would seem, and with such an arrogance, that I found myself wavering between being amused and being annoyed. At times it just distracted from the book's content.

Secondly, while the book's central premise is sound, and there are a few discussions about how it can be applied, it really is a 'one idea book'. As well, like many 'one idea' books (Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and Free come to mind), the author stretches the idea a bit too far and to too many areas. e.g. Why did MS beat Apple in the early days of the PC? luck certainly played a role but to say it's the ENTIRE reason is a bit of a stretch).

On the plus side, the idea is sound. The central premise is that people fall prey to two things:
(1) They under-estimate the risk of 'black swans' - unforeseen events that disprove models and rules governing a market or force us to reexamine fundamental assumptions, and (2) that when these events occur, they can be massively larger that we anticipate.

There are many illustrative examples in the book, and many more come to mind. Models of real estate prices prior to the recent downturn; understanding of what the phone market looked like before iPhone shipped (how many planners at Motorola had that plotted on their curves? Likely none!), etc.

The author doesn't suggest that because we can't plan/forecast that we then just throw our hands up and do nothing. Rather, he suggests that we always examine fundamental assumptions, understand that models are built on simplified models, and always attempt to quantify the risk if a black swan occurs.

As someone that does silicon requirements forecasting for a living I found the book to be both useful and disheartening. Disheartening in that I can think of so many occasions that our fundamental assumptions turn out to be wrong (by 'we' I mean the entire industry), but useful in that it's given me food for thought about how to account for the unknown. To ask not just "what should our plans be?", but ask "what's the worst case if they are wrong?"

So, if after reading my warnings earlier in this review, the book still sounds interesting, then give it a go. Once you sift past the ego and the contempt, there are some useful bits there.

(Note, several people commented that the author's prior book Fooled by Randomness, is better. I haven't yet read it, but thought I'd pass that along)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

KZero Virtual World dataporn

Raph points us to Kzero (a market research company looking at virtual worlds) and their awesome data visualization of the growth of virtual worlds. I'm a sucker for data porn, and this shows up the worlds split by age demographic, size, and launch date.

Would love to have this as a poster, but for now, here it is in pieces (note that some of these are from last year - guess you have to pay them to get the whole, er, pie.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: The White Tiger

One part dark comedy, one part Slumdog Millionaire, The White Tiger is a story of an poor Indian boy whose opportunism-cloaked-in-entrepreneurism lets him ascend the social order - to a point - from which further ascension requires a much darker undertaking.

Very entertaining and funny, but with page-gripping parts. A very palpable painting of Indian life as modern progress has thrown the caste system and social order into great disarray.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ideo on the future of the book

Futurist concept demo on ebook ideas. Touches on some of the ideas I discussed a while back.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: EPUB Straight to the Point

In a previous post, I mentioned how I've been spending some thinking about ebooks and digital readers. As well, I've been reading a bunch about typography and things having to do with print on screens.

One of the books I picked up was EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating ebooks for the Apple iPad and other ereaders, which was recommended by several blogs of experts in the segment, largely because I think it's on only texts in this space that covers Ebooks on the iPad in depth.

Overall the book was too easy for me, though it might be acceptable for non-technical types. There was too much time on step-by-step instructions on how to replace fields in the XML source files, etc, but again, some people may want exactly that.

On the plus side, the author has tested most of the e-Reader devices out there right now, talking about limitations of each one. Some of these are device related, but most have to do with how the implementers of the devices made different assumptions and trade-offs when interpreting the still-wet EPUB standard.

Other than the comment about it being too easy, my only other complaint is this: while the author spends a fair amount of time on making EPUB books 'device proof' between device implementations, she doesn't spend any time making the books 'future proof'. That is, thinking about how they'll display/work on future devices. For example she suggests not using images whose resolution exceeds those of the display, but then those books may one day be displayed on higher resolution screens.

Other than this, it's a recommended book for less technical folk looking to publish or understand EPUB books.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

5 Reasons Apple could beat Facebook, and 5 Reasons They Won't

[In the interest of trying to do some better crystal ball gazing, I'm trying a new approach to posts where I try to put some rigor into both sides of an argument. I'll tag these as "TechWafflin"]

After Apple's announcement of Ping at their recent love-fest, a number of pundits were quick to claim a war was brewing where Jobs would take on Facebook. Others were equally quick to claim that this wasn't the case, or that if it was Apple would fail.

The most commonly cited reason for the pro-FB sentiment was "Facebook is too big to be beat" (due to critical mass, revenue, momentum, ecosystem, etc). It burns me when people take this position. Yes, Facebook has these advantages, but saying that FB can't be beat is ridiculous. How many times have we heard someone was too big to beat only to have them, well, be beat? AOL, Yahoo, Everquest, Myspace, IBM... people used to say this about General Motors, and years later they needed a taxpayer funded defibrillator.

Anyhow, the fatalist attitude aside, Facebook's momentum and entrenchment are indeed a factor. My previous thinking was that they'd be beat by an entrant quietly addressing a niche with a better product and growing up from under them.

However, the Apple entry got me thinking and I beleive they have a few factors that mean they in fact could take on Facebook and give them a run for their money. Here are five reasons I think that's the case.

5 Reasons Apple could beat Facebook

  1. Apple has ~150M iTunes users and can piggyback a social network into that installed base with an iTunes update. Also, they could offer any number of incentives to connect with friends.
  2. The relationship Apple has with those 150M people is already a trusted and trained relationship with a tie to content people care about (music, movies, games...). Another way to think about this is that the majority of those 150M people have asked Apple to keep their credit card numbers on file.
  3. The iTunes economy may be bigger than the Facebook economy. Not sure about ad revenue on both side, but one way people should be looking at #1 above is asking ($150 iTunes users * Avg User Yearly iTunes Spend) > (500M FB users * Avg User Yearly FB Spend).
  4. Apple has a warchest of $40B. Yes, FB has real revenue and it's estimated to be as high as $2B for 2010, but at the same time, Apple made in excess of that number every two weeks through the last quarter.
  5. Apple has a better relationship and level of interest with the developer community. Neither platform has been perfect, but Apple's been improving their policies over time, where FB's recent gaffs seem to show developer satisfaction is pretty low on their list.
OK, now taking the other side...

Again, most people cite Facebook momentum. A factor, but not a given. Top most argument for me is that Apple seem to be doing fine screwing this up for themselves before FB need bother respond. Anyhow, here are five reasons Apple won't topple FB:

  1. Ping is shop-centric instead of user-centric. Too much thinking around "how can people help other people BUY", not just "how can people connect and share".
  2. Not considering FB's shortcomings: It seems Apple's being a bit lazy, and is launching Ping as nothing more than "its a SN, connected to iTunes". They don't have to look far to find a list of things they could actually do BETTER than FB. Better privacy policy, developer platform or policy, relationship control, or as I've talked about, tracking relationships as nouns rather than adjectives.
  3. Arrogance. Just as FB's arrogance could be their downfall, Apple's arrogance could be their guarantee of failure. Saying things like "Privacy is easy", are a clear indicator that they either don't take it seriously or haven't thought about it. Allowing users to view, grok, control, and evolve the exposure of information and content over their entire network is a really hard problem that is not going to get easier.
  4. Closed Ecosystem mentality (vs open). It's on their software, their devices and adding features as they see fit. As opposed to a liberal policy embracing 3rd party platform vendors to accelerate your platforms development.
  5. Fragmented effort from Apple. To me it seems that simultaneously launching Ping while also launching Game Center is indicative of a fragmented strategy at best, or a complete lack of one at worst. Ideally (for them anyway) Apple would have a SN for their iTunes platform, and then all activity over your SN could be tapped by their music services, game services, etc. Instead we have two different systems?
Looking at the latter list, it doesn't bode well for Apple's attempt. Still Zuckerberg would do well to adopt Andy Grove's mantra, "Only the Paranoid Survive". Apple is a well-armed, credible contender that has bellied up to the bar - it's now just a question of whether it came in looking for a fight.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Great analysis of a Kickstartr-funded project

Craig Mod (whom I recently had the pleasure of traversing the Mexican desert with - but that's another story) posted a great write up of his (successful) efforts to use Kickstartr to raise money to fund a print run of his book.

The analysis he does of Kickstartr funding tier levels, time periods, etc, make it well worth the read. I've ordered a copy of the book. It looks beautiful. Cloth-bound in a silk-screened cover.

It's as equally applicable to game-funding efforts as it is to book publishing. (i.e. Indies reading this should be thinking 'collectors-edition boxes!'.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Dot Font Talking About Fonts

Dot Font Talking About Fonts is a collection of essays culled from, the website run by John D Berry, the author. The essays focus on typography, design, fonts, their creators, and a good measure of history on the subject, of which he has prolific knowledge.

I've been reading a lot about typography lately, mostly related to the subject of eBooks and eReaders. I beleive they are going to usher in a whole new era in digital typography, and thought it wise to start versing myself in some of the challenges there.

The book offers a great deal, but also disappoints on a couple fronts. Here are the pros/cons and also an interesting games-related takeaway:

Pro: As I said the author's knowledge and respect for the art of typography are top notch. So he's able to draw connections across time and continents to show how modern day type developments have roots going back hundreds of years.

Pro: I learned a ton about nuances of type design, including things like ascenders and descenders, ears, swelled strokes, and light traps, where previously I knew only what a serif was.

Pro: I learned about some of the challenges and resulting compromises made to type designs because they had to adhere to multiple technology platforms (e.g. Sabon was a font commissioned to work in hand-set type systems as well as linotype and monotype hot metal printing systems). there are some parallels to draw with multi-platform games today.

Con: As a neophyte, I might have done better with an introductory text vs this series of expert columns.

Con: The editing done in assembling the book was not top notch. For example, there are reference numbers on occasion with no references. Additionally, Some of the illustrations taken from his column, when shrunk to the size for this small book, are hard to see. Bring a magnifiying glass.

If you are interested in this subject and already somewhat well versed on it and want to go deeper, this book may be for you. Otherwise go with a more structured text.

Dot Font Talking About Fonts

One last note related to games: The author talks about a challenge they had when the industry was granting awards for font designs, when increasing numbers of submissions were just remakes of fonts that'd been culled from some 200 year old italian manuscript, etc. The design was not the submitor's and yet substantial challenge lay in adapting these to the new digital technologies. They created a new category and dubbed it 'font revival'. Anyhow, struck me as similar to some of the discussion about game remakes, sequels, etc. Food for thought.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: The Big Lie

I recently got done reading The Big Lie: Spying, Scandal, and Ethical Collapse at Hewlett Packard. I enjoyed it for a couple reasons which I’ll get into in a minute.

The Big Lie is a behind-the-scenes account of the “Spygate” scandal that rocked Hewlett-Packard a few years back, and resulted in stepping down of Patty Dunn, the chairman of the board, not to mention criminal prosecution, senate hearings, and all kinds of other goodies.

The Spygate scandal in a nutshell is this: The HP board, in trying to find the source of several leaks to the press of confidential information, authorized a number of security investigations to be conducted by their own security personel as well as some outside contractors. Some of these folks used methods for obtaining phone records and other information that were at minimum highly unethical, and at worst illegal. The information about the investigation became public after a disgruntled board member decided to inform the press. Before any explanation could be proferred, the media had framed the story assuming the worst and from that point it was no longer possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Its important to note that this is an accounting of the story from one point of view, one sympathetic to Patty Dunn. In this one she’s painted as the board chair that tried to institute modern day governance on HP’s board, and that stopping leaks was part of that. From that point, it was part putting trust in others, part not sufficiently monitoring methods used by underlings and contractors, and one part trusting her cohorts even as they were stirring the tar and buying feathers by the bagful.

Other books exist on the subject. Tom Perkins has one out that paints him as the board member whos moral compass impelled him to blow the whistle. The Big Lie paints him as a vindictive bully who’s disagreements with Dunn led him to wanting to destroy her. Other accounts paint CEO Mark Hurd as being distant from the workings of the investigation, where The Big Lie paints him as an intimately involved player who fed Dunn to the wolves to save his own skin.

I’m not sure which account is accurate, though The Big Lie seems very well researched. Chances are that all three of these players has their own version of the truth and that the real truth lies somewhere in between. No matter though, because the book has value regardless who’s story you believe. Here’s why:

1 – It’s a great view into the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) politics that take place on a board of directors. There are detailed quotes from email passages back and forth, along with interview commentary about why certain things were said or how they were phrased, etc.

2 – It’s a good lesson in how – especially in the age of the Internet – a media spark or two of a story can start a firestorm that is out of control. Having been involved in a few (far less serious than this one!) PR damage control exercises, this one gave me the heeby jeebies!

3 – Most of all, it’s a fascinating look at how highly professional, seemingly ethical people can embark on a well-intentioned course that inch-by-inch one day results in them on the other side of the law, or at least clearly on the side of wrong. It made me think about some people I’ve known that have gotten divorced. They start out as loving each other and well intentioned, and slide down a slope a bit at a time until one day they are hating each other and you wonder “how could they have come to this?”. Anyhow, it’s an interesting look at this facet of people’s character and behavior.

Overall, a good read and recommended for those interested in these types of topics.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thoughts on iPad, Kindle, and future eReaders

On a mail list I frequent, there were two separate discussions about latest offering out of Cupertino, the iPad.

One of these was about how we unwittingly mortgage our future when we favor closed systems over open ones, and the long-term implications this has for consumers as a whole. That's the subject of another post I'll do another time..

The other discussion thread was about the future of eReaders and eBooks. Since someone on that thread was asking and I'd meant to post on the subject for a while anyway, it seemed time to make some notes. I did so, but then let it sit again for a while. Then this past weekend, I found myself on a sailboat in the Sea of Cortez with Craig Mod, author of this fantastic post on Kindle's implications for an e-book future, and that inspired me to dust off the notes and get them into this post.

I should note at the outset of this hefty list of ideas that not all of them are mine. I stand on the shoulders of (blogging) giants. Craig's and a number of other good posts that stimulated ideas are listed at the end of this post.

Also, I should note that I don't own a Kindle or an iPad. I very much wanted a Kindle (I'm a display technology afficionado and it uses e-Ink!) but opted to hold out because after using a friends a few times, I was disappointed by how much more it *could* have been. In the case of the iPad, the same is true to a lesser degree - it's got the Apple magic - but I feel it still misses as an e-Reader.

So, here I present some ideas in the hope that I can contribute to the conversation and someone will build a better mousetrap (maybe better cheese for the mousetraps is a better metaphor?)

What purpose do books serve?

They serve as many different things to different people. They are containers for ideas: communicating them in a fashion that is both broadcast from author to community and one-to-one conversation between author and reader. They are social objects: Giving a book as a gift or loaning one to a friend says something about both parties and the relationship between them - and augments that relationship in a way - the book is both adjective and verb in that sense. They are part of one's identity: Think of the proudly displayed library many people have.

In this sense, the Kindle seems to have only thought about the book as 'idea container'. As Craig pointed out in his post, there's a whole topic of form vs formless content that isn't addressed well. But beyond this, Amazon and Apple and their ilk are treating the book like it's a thing to be consumed, but no attention is payed to the social aspect. What if I want to share the idea I learned with others, or disagree with it, or debate it? The Nook considered the idea of loaning/gifting books to friends and then did the best they can dealing with publisher licensing silliness, but even then they only thought of it in very limited context.

A clearer example can be found in comics. Scott McCloud said that much of the magic in comics happens in 'the gutter' - the space between the panels. People are excitedly talking about comics on iPad, but mostly about how they might improve (animate, annotate) what is displayed in the panels or the way the panels are displayed. Who's trying to re-think and improve the space between the panels?

How do we consume books?

The e-Ink solutions aimed squarely at the chief complaint about reading on screens - that it's harsh on the eyes. LCDs and CRTs (remember those?) emit light, and which has to contend/compete with whatever environmental lighting is being reflected off the display. the e-Ink solutions depend on using (reflecting) environmental light. Like the dead-tree versions, you can't read them in the dark. Conversely, they work great in direct sunlight where LCDs don't.

Still, this seems like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making the electronic page as readable (or more readable) than paper. Is there an equivalent of ClearType? Can the rendering of fonts be done differently based on reader viewing angle? Could a camera determine your reading angle and do perspective correction on text so that it appears perpendicular regardless of reading angle (Anisotropic ClearType)? Can the reader use an accelerometer and/or camera to do image stabilization like video cameras do, for readers on a bus or train? Can the bezel have built-in lighting that shifts based on viewing angle (an intelligent booklight)? Maybe tracking with eye movement?

Also, I don't know the specifics of the e-Ink technology causing it, but the "XOR-ing" of the display on page refresh is just horrific. That has GOT to go. At the surface it looks like something solveable with software (and by throwing more memory & compute at the problem) - tracking the state of the framebuffer, comparing the existing one to the desired result, and only spinning the pixels you need to (is spinning the right term for eInk pixels?)

We also consume books differently based on location (at least sometimes). Can geo-location play a role here? If the device sees I'm in bed, default to the novel I was reading last night before falling asleep. And then use the camera to sense if I've fallen asleep and power the device down.

Books and Geolocation

I'd like to see books annotated (by author, editor or crowdsourcing) with geographic data relating to events of passages). Let me walk the streets of London or Paris and follow the paths of characters of favorit books. Conversely, when I'm in a location I find interesting, maybe let me inquire about what books have taken place there in whole or in part. My iphone or ipad should beep when I walk past a location and give me a bit of trivia related to books I've read, much as a friend would; "Hey, this is where that shootout took place in that murder mystery you finished last month".

Social Networks and eReaders

I'm not sure I can think of a form of media that cries out for social network integration more than print. People get very attached to books, and even at the most basic level make a fairly significant time commitment to them. And yet consuming books is usually a solitary act. The book club lets people share the experience, but by constraining when they consume the books and when they discuss them. Forums aren't good at connecting people through existing relationships and you need to find the forum rather than it finding you.

A few ideas of what I'd like to see here:

  • Let me layer my some or all of my reading on top of *ALL* my existing social networks. I might want to share my sci-fi reading with everybody, my kids' books with my local PTA and also family, and my business reading with my linkedin group.
  • Virtual book clubs are an obvious idea. One could imagine extending this to having discussion topics around particular passages - supported by annotations people make while reading (more on this later).
  • Group together findings based on these networks and reading histories ("of the group of you that agreed with this passage, we find you evenly divided on whether you agree on this related work...")
  • Let the author engage in conversations directly with the reader if they so choose. "What did you mean by this section here?", "This passage moved me!", etc.
  • Let me select a ~100 character quote from a book and automatically tweet it to friends with the source and a shortened URL to the book itself.
Of course authors and readers engaging in conversation leads very quickly down two paths of discussion. First is just how "fixed" a book should be. The second is that of business models. More on these in a moment.

Finally, there's a whole other line of thinking we could explore if all social networks weren't fundamentally broken. I did a lengthy post on this a while back, but the short version is that a relationship is a noun not an adjective.

The living book

The idea of an ebook leads inevitably to a collision between the living nature of information on the Web, and our traditional idea that books are fixed expressions of ideas. There won't be one answer as to the question of what the right hybrid is between these two views. I would like to see though, a few things evolve out of it.

  • Give the author the ability to dynamically update books - and provide the reader with the ability to know about that change. A hybrid of footnotes and edit history like you see on wikipedia. One could imagine examples where the original version might be a matter of preference (say a novel or poem) and examples where this history is itself informative (say views on String Theory in a physics text).
  • Citations and references to papers could now be forward-looking, not only backward.
  • There are whole classes of types of annotations that could be imagined. Imagine a progress-slider on an equation to show it's derivation as a step by step animation. Or a time-line slider for a murder mystery that would let me leap around the text. Or a social graph or family tree of all the characters in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, etc. Of course each of these things could be author-driven or crowd-sourced/authored by fans.
  • Books could evolve to leverage web-based application platforms. Letting someone view a location in a book (say Normandy beach on D-day) and let the reader get a first person look at the landscape involved in the story.
  • There's room for a whole meta-game around books, reading and an individual or social network's collectively library. Xbox Live acheivements for the librarian set. Better yet would be to have an open platform for building meta-games. Think of teachers making scavenger hunts through the texts of their students are assigned.

Business Models

This is where my biggest beef is with both the Kindle and the iPad. They are razor-n-blade models. Closed systems that insist that the use of the device comes with the use of THEIR store on THEIR terms.

This has a host of issues not the least of which is a lack of competitive pricing for consumers "buying" books. More important to me is that it comes at the cost of hindering (or at least, not encouraging) innovation in the areas of stores, books, business models and licensing terms.

Beyond that, there's a long-term cost to society of allowing these closed models to become the prevalent ones. They become codified in our laws as the norm (DMCA, ACTA, etc). But that's the subject of the other topic post I alluded to earlier.

I beleive there's a real opportunity here for someone to get into the device game while opening the platform to all comers commerce-wise. Google, perhaps? PC OEMs? Microsoft?

Whether closed or open though, I'd like to see flexibility offered to publishers and authors to experiment with different licensing schemes and business models. Cory Doctorow has ranted about this a number of times (1,2)

Here again, both devices have made attempts at improving discovery. Amazon through their recommendation engine and Apple largely by following in Amazon's footsteps. This is something but it so little compared to what could be done here. Don't show me what other people bought - show me what they bought and LIKED. Don't show me what just ALL other people bought, but those that share similar sentiments regarding books we've both read.


In short, it's ass. I get why it's happened, but at least let authors/publishers opt out of it so that someone can show that maybe the sky won't fall. This isn't just about portability between readers and devices, though that's part of it. The fact that I can't cut and paste text is extremely frustrating.

I want the ability to share annotations with friends and a network at large, I want to highlight sections of text (not just the text, but it's context as well) and flick them off to google to flag for further learning/reading, or flick them off to a workspace where I'm working on a presentation.

In summary

It's clear that these devices offer benefits over the traditional book, despite having a long way to go to equalling the dead tree's readability. That's to be expected given that we've been working on 'version 1.0' for hundreds of years.

While they improve readability though, I hope they'll also start to work on improving the things a paper book CAN'T do.

Further reading

Here are a few posts I highly recommend reading (if pressed for time, choose them over this post):

  • Books in the age of the iPad, Craig Mod, March 2010: A ton of thoughts on layout, typography, and purposes books serve. Among other things I thank him for crystalizing in my mind the idea of "Formless" vs "Definite" content, a concept I'd been thinking about but couldn't nail down the way he did. His follow-up piece is also must-read.
  • Random Thoughts about the Kindle, Seth Godin, June 2008: First of his two posts riffing on what Kindle is and what it could be. Money quote: "Kindle does a fine job of being a book reader, and a horrible job of actually improving the act of reading a book"
  • Reinventing the Kindle (part II), Seth Godin, February 2009: His second post on the subject, conceived mainly while wearing his marketing hat, with a sprinkle of 'how could social networks make this better'.
  • In addition, it was Dave Edery who opened my eyes to thinking of the Kindle as a game platform, which of course it can and will be.
  • Also, this presentation summarizing Portical's research project into the usage of books and ebooks had a few ah-ha's that make it worth reading.
  • Additional fuel the the fire from Cory Doctorow's many posts on the Kindle and the iPad. Many of them related to the other topic I alluded to above, but some of which pertain to things I'd very much want in an eReader. (1,2)

Yakuza on Yakuza

Lisa Katayama & Jake Adelstein bring us a pretty unique game review, Sega's Yakuza 3, as reviewed by three members of the Yakuza (who all walk away pretty impressed with the game's accuracy).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: Our Days are Numbered

I bought this book on a recommendation*, and it turned out to be a bad call. I was expecting something like a cross between Freakonomics and Jim Blinn's Corner series, taking every day observations and taking a mathematician's view of the subjects. The author sets out to do this, but they bulk of topics are far too lightweight. Ranging from geometry to solve carpet area (really?) to a high level view of fractals. I did manage to glean a bit of info from it (e.g. why it takes four rather than three satellites to accurately triangulate a GPS location), but mostly it wasn't of use to me.

Might be ok for a high school kid or for someone with little math, but otherwise pass.

*One of the downsides of using my Amazon wish list to manage my book consumption queue is that when I add a book on a recommendation, I later don't remember who it was that gave me the recommendation. :-/

Monday, July 19, 2010

A couple digital distribution points of interest

Sighted today, two different - but related - items on digital distribution:

"While our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books--astonishing when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months "Bezos says

Different than games you say? High price premium at launch - check, hit driven - check, most titles consumed once - check, atoms resellable buts bits are not - check, etc.

Still think people won't give up their shiny DVD?

Of course the last retailer with a boat-anchor of retail outlets that looked to Netflix for cues was Blockbuster, and it didn't work out for them so well. So good luck to you, Gamestop!

And the money quote:
"...The world won't be all digital tomorrow, even though that's what people are claiming. In this business, users still want physical content." said CEO Paul Raines.
Hey Paul. See item #1 above. KTHXBAI!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A couple VC Gems

I have a few of the better (I think they are, anyway) VC blogs on my feed reader, and just recently did some catching up.

A few snippets caught my eye:

1. Ben Horowitz, on "How we picked our first cloud investment" makes this point:

...the first attempts to build applications in the cloud from companies such as Corio simply fork-lifted the leading on premise software and moved it into the hosted environment. While this sounded like a good idea to many VCs at the time, it turned out to miss important details and advantages of the cloud...
Reading this should spin your gears if you are thinking lately about OnLive, Gaikai et al. (And thinking about it further, you might see why I was saying early on that MMOs are a really good customer for these services - Already architected for the cloud, just the network stack sits at a different point in the pipeline). Regardless, key point is that content that is ported is always second-rate compared to content authored from the outset for a platform.

2. Lightspeed Venture Partners has this post (2 months old now) estimating Zynga revenue at ~240M for 2010, down slightly from 2009.

a) It's a fairly thorough model, and they have the spreadsheet shared on google docs if you want to tinker with it.
b) The graph of Zynga's revenue over time sure made me think of Dave Edery's inevitable misery pitch.

Anyhow, something to noodle on.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

5 Things I'm Thinking Right Now

I've been very busy at work. Other than taking some time to write a few notes up about E3, the blog's taken a back seat right now.

However, Alice did a post on her current thoughts that I thought might make a nifty meme, so here are 5 Things I'm Thinking Right Now. (What are 5 things YOU are thinking?)

  1. The time is right for a explosion of funding models. Over the past few years, we've seen things like funding disaggregated from the other facets of publishing, we've seen government grants, Indiefund, Kickstarter, and others. But when on one hand projects can raise $10-20k on Kickstarter based only on a good pitch - and large projects can do retail pre-orders for millions, months in advance (GoW3 went on pre-sale *10* months before release!!), it seems there's a lot of play in the middle. If gamers are willing to part with $60 6+ months in advance just to ensure they get a copy on release day, are they willing to part with $100 a year in advance if it gets them an advanced copy and possible repayment from the developer? Seems there's a lot of room for play (and opportunity) in between these two extremes. (Right now pre-orders are rewarded, if at all, with a piece of DLC. Couldn't they come with a royalty or dividend check?)
  2. There's a new wave of growth coming. While down at E3, I ran into a number of industry veteran friends who've quit posts at large companies to pursue their indie interests. Then in the few weeks since E3, I've had four different friends (from very different areas of the tech industry) call me for feedback on their startup pitches. Maybe this is just symptomatic of post-recession exuberance? I don't know, but I put it to a friend that I felt like I was seeing a bunch of surfers waiting on the right wave. I'm suddenly seeing a bunch of people paddling hard to catch a wave I don't yet see, but there must be one coming.
  3. An explosion of graphics capabilities is good and bad for game devs. This deserves a much longer post, but the short version goes like this: People are becoming accustomed to sexy UI (iphone, ipad, win7, consoles - all doing UI leveraging GPU transistors to do visuals). As this trend continues, graphics vendors are going to be putting more graphics power into devices across the board (good for devs) but the 'top customer' dictating the requirements for these things is not always going to be the game developer (bad for devs?) and there will be wide variance in solutions (not just performance, sometimes DIFFERENT - like the stereo3D gap I mentioned in my E3 post).
  4. We are vastly underestimating the 'next wave of social'. Alice touched on this in her post, talking about how current social network games are only touching the basic 'slot machine/food pellet' buttons in folks. However, here are a couple things to think about: (a) There's a lot of money being poured into chasing Zynga's tail lights. Some companies will pour that into game design, production quality, and technical innovation - all of which will explode genres and offerings. (b) The console vendors have all learned a lot from MS's effort with Live. Last round we got a very basic stab at social with friends list, acheivements, messages, multiplayer, etc. Remember, this was a console shipped in 2005 and shipped before that. Pre-facebook-hysteria. The set of capabilities to trump that next time around has to be a pretty high bar. OnLive had some early glimpses of this at E3, but you could riff on this one all day. Forget Gamerscore and MS Points. Give me GamerWhuffie.
  5. This time the phone is for real. By that I mean that we've been hearing for years that "The phone will be the leading device connecting people to the Internet". To which many have replied, "well sure, if you count texting, or very basic services, or voip". The reality is that Apple reset everyone on what high-end phones are expected to do, and low-end phones will follow in short order. First-world, money-spending consumers are going to use phones more than PCs in many cases, and so there's a real market there. The Apple vs Android will look like a blip when we look at the bigger picture years from now.
OK, back to work now!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A belated E3 2010 post

E3's been over a little while, but work's been *crazy* lately so I'm only now getting around to posting some thoughts.

The show got big again this year. Not much sign of recession other than on the faces of some friends who's studios either were casualties or are still standing after a grueling year. Signs seem to point to things being up though, and that's a good thing.

Short version of E3 was absolutely nailed by Penny Arcade and by Zero Punctuation:

So, E3 in short form:

Motion Control: MS and Sony *finally* show up with their Wiimote-killers. Sony's is a Wiimote with better accuracy (camera input to add some multiplayer capabilities) and MS's is the more ambitious Kinect. Why did it take so long? Because both companies went through the Five stages of competitor acceptance: "It'll never work", "It's a fad", "It's a novelty that appeals to a niche", "well, they'll never beat our installed base numbers", and finally "holy crap, we need to build us a wiimote!". Add product development on top of that, and you get five years of Nintendo first-mover advantage.

Ironically, there was a bit of ho-hum as maybe people are tiring of Wii style motion control and were hoping for dramatically better but didn't see it? At the very least, the hype has subsided from "In the future all games will be played this way!" to "It's good for some types of games"

Stereo3D: Sony's doing stereo on TVs with glasses, tapping their performance headroom to engage with developers and to the full cinematic immersive thing. Nintendo on the other hand impressed folks with the 3DS, which is using a lenticular filter/display to do no-glasses, single-player viewing.

One interesting point that I haven't heard anyone talk about (which I should do a longer post on at some point) is that the type of content that will lend itself to the handheld Stereo3D (DS, plus people are talking about doing this on phones, etc) will likely be different content. Rather than think stereo3D movies like Avatar, think macro-lens style close-ups of small objects.

I'll have to think about what that means for developers. Also, it makes me wonder where on the spectrum PCs will end up. Are they single viewer devices?

Onlive: There stuff looked good. Lots of interesting features that are one-up over consoles (e.g. jump in/out of spectator mode). Of course, the real question is how it runs in the field.

Favorite game of the show: A toss up between Pacman: Battle Royale (Warlords meets Pacman for a 4-player competitive arcade deathmatch), and Miegakure, a brain-twisting FOUR-dimensional puzzle-platformer. There’s a video here, but you won’t get it until you play it (and even then, it’s doubtful!)

Best graphics of the show: Many people claimed PS3’s Killzone 3, but I thought that was mainly cinematics and presentation. Personally, I thought Mafia 2 on PC was outstanding. I heard that Id’s Rage was awesome as well, but didn’t get to see it.

Best Game that wasn’t on the showfloor: I went to the Indiecade BBQ on Thursday and got to playtest Chris Hecker’s SpyParty , and even this early it’s a temple-sweating, nail-biter, multiplayer game.

Best Random Art Encounter: I was walking down the street after dinner and happened upon The Vader Project

Monday, June 14, 2010

Solid Netflix biz pitch

This is a really solid presentation from Netflix on their business (via Techcrunch).

It's good because it gives a really good overview of their strategy, who they view as competition, etc.

It's also good because it's a really well crafted presentation. Straightforward, simple, yet solid.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Slush(y) Fund: Piggybacking Bits on Atoms

Someone put this on my radar on Facebook today:

Short version is: Buy ice-cream, comes with a code, redeem code in-game for virtual items.

Gimmicky, right? Wrong. Brilliant. OK, why?

I wrote some time ago (wow, 3 years ago!) about how kids "connected toy" products like Webkinz and other entrants were bundling services with a toy.

The most brilliant thing about this is not that "you get a game with the toy!" or vice versa. The way to view it is that the physical product allows the virtual item sale/subscription/etc piggyback on a channel that the customer understands. And if that gets you over the hurdle of a massive number of customers not having credit cards or being afraid to type them into a browser, then it's well worth the cost of the plushy (or in this case slushy).

I'll bet that we're going to see piggy-back revenue models like this (you can call it a promotion, or a bundle) are going to grow significantly.

One way to accelerate it would be to think about ways to remove the friction of having to enter a lengthy code while in front of the PC. Maybe it's texting the code from your mobile to automatically credit your account, or a unique bar code you hold in front of your webcam?

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how well this does for Zynga. I'm betting it's going to be copied a lot

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Better, not simpler

I love this presentation from Daniel at LostGarden on the design of RibbonHero, his MS Office learning game plug-in. I love the point about culling features and complexity being an answer, but the wrong answer. The right, but difficult, answer is to help people to master the complexity.