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Friday, September 18, 2009

AGDC: The Loner

I made one session amidst the day of mind-numbing negotiations, and that was Damion Schubert's "The Loner":
"This talk explores one of the more interesting puzzles of massively multiplayer game design: why do so many people choose to play these games alone? How should designers reach these customers? How important is solo play to games? Should game designers try to entice solo players to enjoy group mechanics like raiding, sieges or PvP? Or are MMOs destined to become 'massively single-player games'?"
I've known Damion (casually) for years, and I'm constantly impressed by his digging into the tougher (and/ or more important) game design challenges, with concrete takeaways. I don't like to summarize his talks, because theres so much rich content there. But I will anyway. Check out is blog,, for more of wisdom and wittyisms.

This talk was about the shift over the last five years in MMOs toward providing (really, requiring) solo play in addition to the "massive". He identified several types of "Loner" - both legitimate (personality type or good game design) and illegitimate (broken game states). Damion offered a large number of concrete design techniques that could help make great games (and avoid game-killing design mistakes)

Damion made an important observation that the "massive" is the differentiation for MMOs - "We can't compete in any other area". Despite this, it's not even an option to create an MMO without a solo aspect.

He also covered bits of psychology and usability -- like, many people don't want to learn publicly; but even more, they don't want to be embarrassed publicly.

Damion made some important real-world data analogies to MMO design (traffic, bars, casino design) that would serve game designers well to consider.

There are also gradations of solo players. Many people (like me) choose to play socially with friends, but solo if friends aren't online

Sociopaths, at their simplest, don't recognize social norms for the space they're in. But everyone who's new to a given MMO is a sociopath, until the designer explicitly trains them otherwise (you don't know the social norms for the new space until you're taught them, and they're ingrained). People who don't change or don't care need to be retrained, channeled, or booted.

From a game design perspective, being "a Loner" is OK; forced into being lonely is not, and is a borked game state.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

AGDC: Making an XBLA Game in 6 Months: A Splosion Man Postmortem

(Placeholder; full post coming when I get back to a PC.)

My final session of the day was "Making an XBLA Game in 6 Months: A Splosion Man Postmortem":

"Coming off the award-winning PC and Xbox Live Arcade title, THE MAW, Austin-based indie developer Twisted Pixel embarked on an unconventional XBLA title called SPLOSION MAN. In this in-depth postmortem, the lead programmer and lead designer look at how the splode-happy gameplay of the title evolved, including what went right and wrong during the project?s hyper-aggressive 6 month schedule, and lessons for indies wanting to make console downloadable games."

I'm a big fan of this game, so I was stoked to attend.

There were 4 full-time, 4 part-time people on the team for 6 months.

What went well: Iteration, Prototyping, Focus, Experience, and "One Level"

They had the game playable
The entire game is playable in the tools

"Ugly and quick"

Had room for only one in the schedule, so they chose "polish".

For milestones, they put harsh internal deadlines that were independent of the publisher milestones.

They made tough cuts (from 75 to 50 levels) prioritized, and (if necessary) re-prioritized.

Folks on the team were experienced, and people responded to that experience, check egos, and be open to criticism.

"One Level"
(Basically the vertical slice)

What went wrong
[I'll update this soon.]

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AGDC: The Blurst of Times: How to Make a (Shader-Heavy, Physics-Based, 3D) Game in 8-Weeks

Heading back to the indie summit, I attended the very polished (and perhaps most important) session so far, "The Blurst of Times: How to Make a (Shader-Heavy, Physics-Based, 3D) Game in 8-Weeks":
"Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink of (Flashbang Studios) discuss how it is possible to create games like MINOTAUR CHINA SHOP and OFF-ROAD VELOCIRAPTOR SAFARI in an 8-week production cycle. You'll be surprised to learn that each Blurst game includes a two-week prototyping phase, multiple publicly playable beta versions, rigorous user testing, and detailed stat tracking and analysis. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that each game is produced with the team working 10am-3pm, Monday through Thursday. It's AAA game development in microcosm; each game is an experiment, both in production and design. Come reap the intellectual benefits of the results of's rapid fire approach."

The company is 6 people, and they, for example, spent 4 months on one of their bigger games, Jetpack Brontosaurus.

But this 8-week production cycle as the norm (goal?) is impressive, and is broken into 2-week prototyping, 5-week production, 1-week launch segments. That's a wicked little amount of time, and the company has to be laser-focused to make it.

Granted, you can arguably do quite a bit with a 6-person company, but there are principles that apply regardless of company size. (Think "The Four-Hour Work Week" or "The Cluetrain Manifesto".)

Flashbang Studios really seen to have a holistic attitude toward the company and employee quality of life (cross-fit memberships, etc.), a ridiculous amount of fun and respect, and (outside-in) seems to be the kind of company to which all companies should aspire. That may just be due to Wegner and Swink, but as a company's leadership goes, so goes the company.

Blurst puts a lot of emphasis on higher-level working efficiency, high-intensity work blocks.

They implemented 10:05-3:30, Monday-Thursday work days for 8-weeks, which created intense focus and productivity (Fridays are Google-style personal development days).

Along with this they recommend 48-minute time-boxing (not unique to them, but their discipline with them might be), Growl as a communication tool, real-time source control commits and notifications, company-wide stand-up meetings (with goals captured individually via custom Google widget and shared publicly, including how you do against them), pivotaltracker (which is rigidly Agile-based, but worked for them), an open office layout where everyone could talk to each other and collaborate instantly, etc. (they don't use bug reporting software, which is unique).

I had to leave the session early, which bums me out, so I hope to catch up with the guys at the show later.

(Blergh. This post doesn't capture the awesome of the session. Need to think how to do that.)

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

AGDC: Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers

The final indie summit session I attended was "AGDC: Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers":

"How do you use your own website, social networking channels (from Twitter
through IRC and beyond), independent editorial content, and even pre-release
versions of your tools to build a robust community around your game before it
even ships? Wolfire's COO, John Graham,
explains in depth how his company has been building momentum around PC indie
title Overgrowth, what has worked, and what hasn't."

This was a decent little session, though it's probably better couched as case study of a small (4-person?) indie studio figuring out what worked and what didn't, and how they used what works.

It was interesting, not least of which because it's an be an advocacy for a formal PR function within an indie environment.

Graham's a sharp guy, and it's impressive to see what the team has done to build buzz and put out useful content for their community. I'd really like to understand the details and timeline of their core business, technology, and game, to have context on how the PR maps to the reality of the project.

Someone needs to do an in-depth case study on there guys (they'd totally do it).

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AGDC: How To Operate Your Indie Game Business - For Fun And Profit!

Finally breaking free from the toy job shenanigans (don't get me wrong, I'm grateful), I gave the independent games summit again - glad I did.

The session was "How To Operate Your Indie Game Business - For Fun And Profit!":

"One of the most stable indies out there, Ninjabee has made a large number of very diverse games for digital download. They?ve released games from CLONING CLYDE to A KINGDOM FOR KEFLINGS. These games were developed for XLA, WiiWare, PC, and iPhone. The down-to-earth Fox, talks about how NinjaBee can maintain the creative indie edge and still stay in business. He discusses how they handle contracting vs. self-funded games and compares development and success on various platforms. Hear tips and tricks on pitching your games to publishers or getting them approved from gatekeepers like Microsoft for XLA and much more on practical matters of interest to every indie game developer."

Brent Fox, from NinjaBee / Wahoo Studios, was a wealth of knowledge.

Starting out in weird way -- talking about the employees, all of their young kids, their need for insurance -- had a purpose. There is a higher need (speaking from experience, sometimes desperation) to provide for families that forces a company to run itself like a business and drive to profitability faster than what indie studios of a bunch of single folks might do. The game industry has been slowly moving this direction as the workforce matures, any way. Slowly.

(Blergh. The rest of this post has been deleted. I'll try to find it or reconstruct it from my notes.)

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Microsoft E3 presser


Three different live feeds, stuff was slow as all get-out.

Anyway, freaking exciting stuff.

It started out with the announcement that 1 vs. 100 should be live tonight, Rock Band Beatles looks fantastic (and had Beatles on-hand to amp up the coolness, and has exclusive song "All You Need is Love" for the Xbox).

Square-Enix (producers from Final Fantasy XIII) took the stage, and demoed the game running on the 360 -- A big (to me, kind of surreal) deal for gamers / industry folk. And they announced a spring 2010 release date.

New games premiers:
  • Tony Hawk's new game (and new skate deck controller) looks sharp
  • Modern Combat 2 continues to impress, but the trailer looks like the one shown on Spike's E3 preview last week. The live gameplay by the game devs looks stellar (though I'm a bit bummed by it's presentation, because while things like first-person ice climbing and massive snowstorm particle effects are cool, they're a bit slow to show at a presser). Snowmobile fighting was very cool, though. Two Modern Warfare 2 map packs will be timed exclusive to Xbox 360.
Exclusives -- titles secured just for Microsoft's console:
  • Shadow Complex -- Epic's (Chair Entertainment, represented by Donald Mustard) next Xbox exclusive is a AAA XBLA title, and it looks like an uber bastard child of Gears of War 2 and Contra. Still gonna feel weird if Xbox gets an arcade exclusive and PS3 gets a full-title exclusive.
  • Joy Ride -- a Big Park Live XBLA title, which allow for in-game Avatar use,
  • Crackdown 2 -- I was so hoping for this, it looks amazing (though it was cut-scene only), and now the bad guys are super-charged, too. Couldn't tell if this is going to be more of the same(ish) crime family motif, or more adversarial / /co-op / multiplayer, etc. I would like all of the above, please.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 -- I am very surprised at how quickly this coming (I believe November), and that it's an exclusive (in addition to PC, of course; which also helps Microsoft).
  • Tom Clancy Splinter Cell: Conviction -- Looks like it got a much-needed makeover, and looks intense and grittier. I really like how mission objectives and info are projected on the in-game scenes -- almost like playing a French indie action film. Things like the "mark and execute" mechanic may make the thing much more usable (and brutal). It will be shipping this fall.
  • Forza Motorsport 3 -- The successor to the Microsoft racing franchise, from Turn-Ten Studios. Set to be the "best-looking racing game on any platform". The community-inclusion aspect of custom painted cars, community videos, etc. built into the game is pretty impressive.
  • Halo 3 ODST -- Joe Staten showed off new cut scene and playable footage. the playable character is primarily the "rookie" -- alone and separated from his squad. It looks to have nice gimicks for ODST visor and sound-suppressed weapons. And the pistol smacks of Halo CE awesomeness. I also like the gameplay device that flashes back to other playable ODSTs for gameplay diversity and "piecing together the mystery". I don't like that the voices sound like "Red v. Blue" cast voices, which takes me out of the gameplay. It will have co-op (yay!). Ships December.
  • Halo Reach -- The top-secret project from Bungie leaked though a forum gaffe this weekend, the game hits 2010, but people buying Halo 3 ODST will get a beta key for Halo Reach. Halo Whores, unite!
  • Alan Wake -- From Remedy Entertainment, the playable footage they showed gives me hope the the action genre is back. The flashlight-weakening mechanic to weaken enemies before shooting is cool, and the generator start up and flare gun was a cool twist on that.
  • Metal Gear franchise -- Hideo Kojima said the next title, Metal Gear Solid Rising, is in development for the Xbox 360 -- and will feature Raiden. Not sure this one is an exclusive, but given Microsoft's "everything from here on out is exclusive to Xbox 360", it seems like it.

Media convergence:

  • -- Microsoft announced a music deal with, making it available later this year to gold members for free. I know people there, and I am impressed they did not leak this to me. Though I would not have leaked the leakage.
  • Netflix -- They've updated the service to remove needing a PC to set up the download queue, and simplified it -- just click "play".
  • Sky TV -- Brings live TV to the UK. Hey, what about the U.S.?
  • Zune video -- Microsoft's updating the Xbox video library to full 1080p, there's going to be no delay in play, the user experience has been streamlined, and the service is expanding to 18 countries (from 8)

Social Technology -- special versions for Microsoft's console:

  • "Every Xbox Live game, music, and video experience can be an Xbox Live Party experience."
  • Facebook integrated with Xbox Live (friends, photos, status, and sharing screenshots to Facebook from in-game; sounds like games will need to explicitly take advantage of the functionality, and hopefully it's taken advantage of more than the PS3 YouTube functionality).
  • Twitter integration with the Xbox 360 dash (my office mate will hate this, and I will rub his face in it).

Hardware announcements:

  • Super controller "Natal" -- Microsoft announced its own full-body motion capture, voice recognition uber controller. Looks ambitious, and if it delivers -- boy howdy -- "Controller free entertainment". It will work with every past Xbox, and will ship with every new Xbox. Steven Spielberg joined Microsoft's Don Mattrick on-stage in pushing the new technology, is at least tertiarily involved in the project, and will be "coming up with some good stuff" to take advantage of the technology.

    Kudo Tsunoda was on-stage to narrate the demonstration of "Natal" -- I was wondering what he was up to since the Fight Night franchise, and did not expect this. As an aside, I think paint party is great fodder for a drinking game over Xbox Live . I am concerned about the "stencil" functionality :- . Very compelling live demo, though.

    Peter Molyneux was on-stage to show what Lionhead is doing with the Natal technology. The Milo demo -- a virtual boy with emotional demonstration and response -- was stunning. I had shivers. You have to see the video to believe it, and if it's real ...

Anyway, Microsoft is first out of the gate, and their media blackout may have done its job -- I'm 90% ready to declare a presser winner right now.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gamebryo LightSpeed videos

There are new videos on the Emergent Game Technologies YouTube site, showing off some of the new functionality added in our Gamebryo LightSpeed product.

The videos are part of a series showing level editing in the new World Builder tool, data-driven entity and behaviour modeling for designers (in our just-added Entity Modeling Tool / EMT), and some Lua scripting shenanigans.

They're quick videos we put together for licensees and other partners prior to GDC09, and product manager Dave Bell is responsible for making them happen (and for doing the narration).

Not all of the videos are included, so it may feel like there are gaps -- but some of the videos are necessarily available only to folks under appropriate license or NDA.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

GDC 2009: The Media

OK, I'm not talking about the public media for the show, I'm talking about personal media.


Since it's a games convention, and I'm a gamer, I picked up far too many DS titles for my cross-country trip and week o' gamey goodness.

I'm finally giving up on Advanced Wars: Days of Ruin. Vince and Mike shamed me into playing it, it's awesome, but I've been stuck at the very end for too long, and there are too many good games to play for me to keep beating my head against a wall. Great Game, though.

I picked up Dragon Ball Origins, because it looks like a good lightish RPG crawler treatment of a license I like.

Then there's Lock's Quest, a strategy title which I've been meaning to snag for a while, and finally did. I hope it's deeper than Ninja Town.

I want to see what all the fuss is about, so I'm bringing a copy of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All. Probably going to be more interactive fiction-y.

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events surrounding Circuit City, I finally added to my library Chrono Trigger (dirt cheap) from recent EGT customer Square Enix.

And Vince gave me Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which he can't stop raving about, and it will hopefully keep me sated until the anime comes out.


I filled an SD card with SXSW tunes from this year's festival. I may have not been able to go, but I've got a bunch of fare from bands who did, including a ton o' tunes my beloved Rainbow Quartz Records.


Here's my odd mix for this year -- a gut-wrenching important book about being a father and man of honor for little girls, and 40 years of Spider-Man and Captain America on DVD. I shall switch back and forth between both.

So that's my personal media; but we'll see if I get to any of it; I still have to write up the all-hands talking points and floor demo instructions.


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Adam at GDC

I'm getting ready to head out to the Game Developers Conference, arguably the biggest industry trade show of the year.

We'll be launching our new product, Gamebryo LightSpeed, and demonstrating it in some pretty unique ways with a demo we built with the software suite.

I'm the product manager for Gamebryo, and the producer for this year's demo, so I'm pretty stoked for our showing this year. I also did the audio design, mixing, and VO, so if you don't like it, blame me.

If you're at the show, swing by Emergent's booth #5818.

I've said before, folks in the industry are talking about the industry's needs for rapid prototyping and rapid iteration -- but come by our booth so we can show you what it looks like in action.

I've also synched my Brightkite posts to my Twitter account, so if you're in SF and want to catch up, DM me if you're close, and I'll get the message on my phone.

Best of luck to all of us next week.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Competitive Positioning

GDC is next week, we're launching a new product at Emergent, and the competitive positioning and borderline mudslinging is getting hot and heavy.

A lot of the rhetoric over the next few weeks is going to sound the same -- the industry knows a lot of the problems that need to be addressed. And there's a truism that says there are no new software implementations under the sun.

And while I do take issue with that assertion, even if it's true, I genuinely believe that the innovation is in the implementation, and there's plenty of innovation still to be had.

I'm incredibly excited about Gamebryo LightSpeed. Sure, I'm an EGT employee, so I hope I would be; but the truth is, I'm the kind of guy who needs to be passionate about what I'm building, and if I wasn't, I'd be looking for more exciting opps.

But like I said, the competitive positioning is ramping up, and while I hope this post is similar to my friendly back and forth with Brett Seyler over at GarageGames, The recent Gamasutra Terminal Reality / Joe Kreiner positioning interview -- I feel -- creates a good opportunity for me to talk about Emergent's particular business model.

The Gamasutra interview provides launching point fodder anyway, but Mr. Kreiner takes pains to call out EGT, calling some our statements "outrageous".

Oh, no he di'n't!

First, let's get a couple of things out of the way.

I don't know Joe, and so don't really have an opinion about him, per se. He's new to Terminal Reality and (as far as I can tell), direct licensing game development middleware, but seems to have a good (and well thought of) career at companies like Logitech and Cyrix. So he and I share some large-company background.

He also seems to be savvy, articulate, and polished (at least in print). All good things I look for with industry folks.

And outside of Joe, one of the things I'd like to get out of the way is our difference in business models. There are multiple game middleware business models, with the two I care about for purposes of this discussion being "middleware developer that also publishes a game", and "middleware developer that does not".

I think both business models have pros and cons. EGT is very committed to not making games, Primarily because our conviction is we don't want to take resources away from developing our tech for our licensees. That means we have to guard against not getting too distanced from game development, but it's not the all-or-nothing scenario Joe says it is -- and it's certainly not that "Emergent's statements frankly show that they really don't understand game development".

He said we were making some outrageous statements. But I'd call this one of his "ludicrous".

Our employees, besides coming from enterprise backgrounds like me (Visa, IBM, Siebel, etc.), come from the industries that provide our customer base (video games, serious games and visual simulations, academic, and so on). On the games side, just a small sampling of the companies from which our folks come include the likes of Codemasters, The Collective, Criterion, Destineer, Electronic Arts, Hasbro, Microprose, Red Storm, Softimage, Sony, Turbine -- not a bad pedigree for a game industry company to have.

Adding to that, we also partner directly with several of our licensees, where they give us immediate feedback into what works and what features they need (and you're going to be seeing more of this kind of thing).

So that's our business model. Other companies (like Epic and Terminal) include in their business model a studio that make games, in addition to having teams -- smaller than what EGT has -- working on the engine tech.

There are some pros to that. I think the model works better for someone like Epic than Terminal, since Epic owns their IP (Gears is pretty slick), and can give those assets as part of an engine license, as opposed to Terminal needing to "have to remove the talent and any copyrighted items" from the Ghostbusters starter they intend to ship to licensees.

Indulging in some competitive positioning of my own, as a potential licensees of the Infernal engine, I personally would be concerned that Joe says, "we're focused on engine development, but we also have a studio side, so we're not necessarily dependent on that licensing income to improve the engine and survive."

To me, that could derail a company from focusing on creating good, solid, repurpose-able middleware. Which one is Terminal's core competency? Or are they just hedging their bets in a down economy?

Speaking of licensees, Terminal has some good (and personally respected) ones in their initial six. I do think it's important to call out Kreiner is candid these "existing licensees were mostly developers that were familiar with Infernal just from either working at Terminal Reality or with us on other projects". And, almost without exception, these are not licensees exclusive to Terminal as far as middleware engine licensing goes.

And Terminal has six licensees. Emergent is in the hundreds.

Now, I fully expect (and am excited to hear) more announcements from Terminal (and Epic, and Garage, and ...) on the middleware front at GDC this week and next.

You'll certainly be hearing more from us.

I think things are going to get very interesting in this space over the next several months. I, for one, am excited about the challenges, and welcome the competitive motivation.

To be clear, this post isn't at all meant to be a pissing contest (the problem with pissing contests is all parties get wet). This is just a response I felt is warranted by Joe's direct reference to EGT, and what I feel is an inaccurate (but purposefully chosen) characterization of our business model and our claims.

Plus it gave me a good springboard from which to post.

More next week.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Video game criticism that matters

Here's a decent article (and part of a series) on more mature video game criticism: "Zarathustran Analytics in Video Games, Part 9: Flaws in Criticism Today".

You should read the article (and the series), but -- in essence -- it's a call for the importance of meaningful critical review of games as genuine feedback to the teams that make them, as opposed to the "this is fun" / "this sucks" or review scores model that is endemic to the review world today.

(As an aside, does anyone else find it ironic that versions of numerical scores are used to grade non-numerical, creative experiences)?

I do think a model that creates -- in essence -- post mortem input to creative teams is far more useful for driving the games industry forward in a meaningful way than the aggregate Metacritic scores currently used by publishers, and (unfortunately) sometimes used to penalize creativity.

I think there's probably some middle(ish) ground between the prevailing system, and ivory tower(ish) critiques like "Repressed Homoeroticism in R-Type" (no disrespect meant, but I'm looking for a subset of enabling criticism that helps development teams, as opposed to "just" cultural implication assessments).

I do have a pet peeve, though: historical pop culture memory gaps.

While I appreciate references to Lester Bangs and Alan Moore, why reference Enders Game, as opposed to Kobayashi Maru? Or perhaps more appropriately (given this particular article), why use Mirrors Edge, rather than precursor (and dead-on candidate for the particular point being made) Breakdown? (Admittedly, I'm perhaps overly a fan of Breakdown, and think that team did something gutsy and innovative and didn't get its due props.)

But those are nits compared to my overall appreciation of this article and its sentiment.

Check it out for yourself.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dipity Timelines

I discovered's (you gotta love 2.0 naming) timeline generation tool.

Here are my game-related timelines:
The timeline implementation is a bit rough, but it's around 70% of the timeline mashup I was building myself, so I'm all for someone else building and maintaining it. And I've made requests for things like reverse chronological sorting, color-coding different feeds, a hierarchy model for promoting / minimizing timeline entries, "timeline includes", tag sorting / viewing, and so on; here's hoping.

Interesting. This post itself will show up in the first two timelines. Clicking on it will open the post. Clicking on the links will open the timeline. Ad nauseam.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Parkour for the People!

I'm so looking forward to Mirror's Edge, EA Dice's parkour- (and I think, Breakdown-) inspired first-person ... thing.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Target has your indie games / Tees

Indie games in the mainstream!

I'm wicked impressed, and want to file this under "little guys with great marketing concept make good".

2D Boy -- "a brave new indie game studio based in San Francisco, making games the old fashioned way - a team of two, no money, and a whole lot of 'love'" -- has struck a deal with retailers (Target stores being possibly first out of the gate).

You can buy independent game game T-shirts, which come with a demo or full version of the game, for like $12.

A bunch of the titles are a la the
Experimental Gameplay Project (clothing company egp apparel looks to be an offshoot of the effort), and this is a slick way to get indie cred mainstream recognition (the tags talk quite a bit about the games and creators).

More info at the 2D Boy Website, and (interestingly) waaay more info at Kevin Allen's blog.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

New models for MMOs

So, I'm bummed Microsoft and Marvel pulled the plug on the Marvel Universe MMO.

And I'm not just upset because I've Made Mine Marvel for more than two decades. It's not just because I'd like to see a quality, heavy backed version of City of Heroes with 50 years of backstory.

Naw, I'm bummed because the MMO space needs some innovation, and this franchise was a chance to see that happen.

But let's back up -- why cancel the game?

From Microsoft's Shane Kim:
For us we look at our priorities and all of the things we have to do. It’s a tough space. It’s a very competitive space. And it’s a space that’s changing quite a bit. …When we first entered into the development and agreement of the development of ‘Marvel Universe Online,’ we thought we would create another subscription-based MMO. And if you really look at the data there’s basically one that’s successful and everything else wouldn’t meet our level or definition of commercial success. And then you have to look [and say]: ‘Can we change the business model for that? Is that really viable given how far we are in development? And so forth. Does Marvel want to do that?’ There’s a whole bunch of factors.”

Wait -- "there’s basically one that’s successful"? Seriously?

And whether Kim's saying there's one successful financial model or one successful MMO in the
form of World of Warcraft (the interview is a bit vague), both assertions are a crock.

And it shows short-sightedness counter to the "Can we change the business model for that" question.

Companies need to leverage licensed IP to create innovation and revenue streams from the existing fan base, and create a cross-over hit with non-fans. Not just milk it shoddily when a movie based on the franchise launches.

So, how could you leverage a licensed IP -- aside from doing it non-craptastically?

Play to the limitations.

I'm guessing there are a lot of folks that all want to be the Hulk, or Wolverine, or the Punisher, or Spider-Man. But they can't all be Spider-Man (unless you want to do a Clone Saga thing -- and if you tell me you want to, I will find you and rip out your fingernails).

Same problem exists for my proposed Transformers MMORPG (still waiting for that call, Activision). Or the recently announced Hasbro / Electronic Arts G.I. Joe (which, really, you could take all of my Transformers ideas, and reskin them with the Joe equivalent -- with factions galore (COBRA divide among Cobra Commander, Serpentor, Dr. Mindbender, Tomax / Xamot, and Destro).

What if these limitations are a good thing? What if that's how you divide up your worlds? What if servers /farms are load-balanced across a geography (or even worlds) limited to one of each character (that's what, two thousand with Marvel? Rolled out over the course of years?), and you get your friends together and pick who wants to be what in your little click, and it's more accessible for folks who don't want to do massive WoW raids, but it also panders to the MMO hoard whores.

You could do the same with any of the big franchises (Marvel, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Sony's upcoming DC MMO, etc.) -- and this could actually increase your user base.

Say I want to jump into the Marvel MMO and play as Captain America. What, Captain America's taken on existing world servers? Well then, I'll take my shield and go start up my own instance with my friends who lost bets with me and get to tag along as anything from Rick Jones to D-Man.

But here's the big opportunity for IP holders -- Hasbro (and Warner Brothers and Marvel and everyone else who owns large-cast IPs) should be begging to do these games. Not in the craptastic - minimal - dollar - game - budgets - to - create - a - mediocre - game - across - a - billion - platforms - so - they - - can - milk - a - few - more - dollars - from - the - franchise - during - the - movie - tie-in kind of way. But in a market research kind of way.

Do people not get the goldmine a focused online game could bring? Does Marvel not see how they could mine surprising data as to how many people are playing as Frenchie, and how few are playing as Ben Riley? Don't toy manufacturers think -- in much the same way Hasbro in the 80s could introduce a G.I. Joe character as a toy or in the Marvel comic book or on the TV series -- they could now do so as a new playable character (or NPC) in the game, and find out if it floats or sinks with the fanbase? That they could allow for some "character customization" (that is really only a version of the remaining options available from their focus group efforts as they try to figure out whether the Buzzer redesign should be more Mad Max or more Village People)?

Marketing gold people. Marketing. Gold.

I've got other ideas for MMO mechanics, too. Like say you've got a level 35 Hulk, and you jump on a server and Hulk's already taken -- but you can jump into an unused character of the same class (bruiser, say, the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing), and take a slight "penalty" (say, to level 30), which let's you play as another character, incents you play more (rather than not at all, because your character's not available), and doesn't make you redo the grinding for the class you've chosen.

I personally think there's a lot more to mine from MMOs. We just need to tweak the models and memes -- like adding bits of this and that from other genres, vertical markets, and geographies (take a nod from Korea, for example, with their casual massive online games, or hard-core, constrained worlds games).

Marvel -- bring back Marvel Universe Online -- I know you must be itching to get into the game publisher biz.

Hey, how about a Captain Britain MMO? You could populate that solely with Captain Britains. I bet Alan Moore would love that.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Shadow Monsters amazement

I'm grateful to Kotaku for pointing out Philip Worthington's Shadow Monsters project.

You basically need to go look at it to get how amazing it is, but here's a motivator tease from Kotaku's Mark Wilson:
"Game devs, take note please. There is more innovation in this one product
than the entirety of next gen motion control—by a long shot."
Oh, and check out Worthington's whole Website -- I really like the design and implementation (and he's the same dude behind the Lineriders phenomenon).


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