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.