Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: For The Win

After seeing my write-up of Makers, Cory was nice enough to send me an early copy of For the Win, his next novel due out in May.

I really loved it, proven by the fact that I had, for the first time in a long time, a late-night reading binge where I could not put the book down for the final third of it, staying up until the wee hours on a night that I really did need to get up early.

For The Win follows several characters, a so-cal high-school nerd, an Indian slum girl, a Chinese 20-something former factory worker, who share in common that they play MMOs, and do so for money - as gold farmers or similar. They share in common that they are tired of their rights being abused, in one case by parents, in others by mafioso-type bosses.

They then meet a mysterious figure online who proposes to organize them into a union. Postulating that while the MMO EULAs stipulate that anyone can get kicked off at any time for any reason, kicking EVERYONE off will be a nose-severed-to-spite-face thing, they team together to orchestrate a virtual walk-out.

From there the book takes off and becomes one part Halting State, one part Hoffa, one part Matrix and adds a pinch of Tarantino. If that wasn't enough, there's a parable about Wall Street and the mortgage crisis.

Here's the thing though. Cory is usually thought of as a science fiction author but I'm not sure For The Win counts as science fiction. The book is set in the near future and there are some passing references to tech that doesn't yet exist today, but most of the book is absolutely plausible today. The premise isn't based on tech getting to a certain point - its already there - but more on just the idea of a Hoffa-style union-forming organization happening online. Totally feasible, just difficult.

Just as Halting State provided us with some glimpse as to the future of games, For The Win provides with us with a glimpse of a near future where the one-sided EULA may come under scrutiny of the customer, and the customer may say "No."

Great entertainment, and a good perspective on the future of MMOs.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Class Acts at GDC

It's been a few days since GDC 2010 wrapped, and between the thoughts reeling in my head and the work that piled up at the office, I haven't had time to post much on what I learned.

Having thought about it though, I've decided what my favorite session was this year: the rant session. It's among my favorites every year, but this year's rant, "Fired and Fired Up: Jobless Developers Rant" had a couple of rants that I thought were worth calling out.

I had to dash out of the session halfway through in order to make my flight, so I missed a couple of the rants. However, the first half-hour had two sessions that shared a commn thread:

Justin Hall, former CEO of Gamelayers, now at NGMoco (disclosure: he's also a friend), presented on the rise and fall and eventual crash & burn, of Gamelayers. He talked about everything that happens when a graduate student takes on 1.5M in VC money and ramps a company rapidly up to a dozen-plus employees to build an innovative browser-based MMO. Raph koster has a detailed write-up of Justin's rant.

Paul Bettner, formerly of Ensemble Studios, spoke about the decline and eventual closure of Ensemble. Pretty different than Justin's case, where this was the decline of a well-funded studio with a long history of doing AAA titles. The rant centered on how the grind of crunch in trying to chase the high of hitting the top 10, over time wore away at quality, morale, and execution. At the end, Microsoft was shutting down a studio that was a shadow of its former self. Joystiq has a detailed write-up here.

So, given these very different stories, what did they have in common? Both Justin and Paul had one identical phrase in their presentations:

"It was my fault. I failed."

Justin could easily have blamed the gamers for not 'getting it', the VCs for not throwing more money at it, browser companies for lack of interoperability, or any number of things. Instead he blamed himself. He was at the helm and it was up to him to watch the bottom line. Raph's writeup has the details.

Paul could have blamed Microsoft for mis-management, the team for not crunching hard enough, HR for not hiring the right people, console vendors for their complex platforms, etc. Instead he pointed out that he failed by ignoring the wear of crunch on people and families and he apologized to the people who's years he stole.

Both talks were passionate and brutally honest.

I watched them and noted that we came out of 2008/2009 watching news coverage of a cavalcade of Wall street and Detroit CEOs shirking any responsibility for their companies tanking and taking out people's life savings and jobs in the process.

I think in an age where "The Buck Stops Here" has disappeared from the leadership vernacular, I think these guys deserve kudos for displaying leadership and, quite frankly, class.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Monday Night Combat teaser vid

It's like TF2, but with bacon. :-)

Seriously, these guys are super bright and have been working on this for a long time. It's going to be a fun title.