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Posts Tagged ‘business’

If you asked me at the start of the summer if I was an ngmoco fan boy I probably would have told you yes. Their level of polish and craftsmanship towards their games fascinated me and getting to meet their president Neil Young at the past GDC was a real treat.

At the start of the summer they had just released WeRule and had announced God Finger would be arriving in a few weeks and I couldn’t have been more excited.

But as the summer comes to and end I find myself respecting them less and less as a company. Why? Well with the release of WeFarm a few weeks ago it has become apparent to me that ngmoco is no longer interested in making fun, compelling, high quality games like they use to. Instead they are content with pumping out re-skins of systems that create traffic to their Plus+ network.

From a business standpoint you have to applaud them. They are making boat loads of money but I miss the early days when they made boat loads of money because they made awesome games.

If anything, this experience has made me more determined to not let money get in the way of me making video games. I wouldn’t mind being successful, but I’d hate to “sell out” and start pumping out clones so I could roll around in piles of money.

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Earlier this week I lost my valuable Internet connection to what I can only guess was a borked router. I spent three days huddled alone in the darkness at home with only the light of my iPhone to provide me with access to my email. Why is this so bad? Well, aside from not being able to post for three days I was also unable to play a number of the games I have been recently because they are all on Steam.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Steam. The platform has taken more money from me since I started using it again back in December than I have spent in the past few years on video games. I sometimes shudder when I look at my list of 50+ games and think about how I’m ever going to get through them all. Regardless, the past few days I couldn’t even touch them because of my lack of Internet connection. This is where I see the problem of cloud computing coming to bite the gamer in the ass.

The biggest hurdle I see with getting cloud computing working long term is creating a stable system for Internet delivery. I’d like to think that our network is stable and could handle something like cloud computing, but if this past week has been any indication to me it shows me how easily the system can be broken.  Cloud computing just adds more parts the equation (modems, routers, ISPs, stream size, signal strength) on top of all the computer pieces that need to be in order before you can play your games.

I’m not going to stop using Steam (I’ve sunk to much money into it to back out now anyway), but I will definitely keep my consoles around for the days when my connection to the cloud keeps me from playing my games.

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My apologies for the delays in posting. I had Internet issues the past few days which were finally resolved several hours ago. I will be posting over the weekend to make up for the lack of posts over the past few days.

Starcraft 2 landed on Tuesday leaving much of the gaming world silent for a few days as gamers tear into the long awaited sequel. The game includes access to the multiplayer and provides 30 Terran based missions for players to revel in along with tools to create custom maps. I must admit, I’ve been impressed with what I see and will probably buy the game at some point. The story looks very intriguing and the game itself looks gorgeous. Again, I will buy this game at some point.

I’m intrigued more than anything, however, by Blizzard’s decision to release the campaigns separately instead of combined as they did with the original Starcraft. It gives them more time to tweak and refine both the Zerg and Protos campaigns and it breaks Blizard’s “release when its done” cycle, both of which are good things.

But how much will the other campaigns cost?

At $60 the current release comes with a 30 mission campaign, access to multiplayer and a toolset. The Zerg campaign which could be months (maybe even a year) away will most likely cost an additional $60 (more if you want a collectors edition) that will have 30(ish) campaign missions access to multiplayer and a toolset; the same goes for the Protos campaign. I’m not sure how players are going to react to that. I certainly would not be interested in forking over an additional $120 for 60 new missions and two extras of the multiplayer and tools that I will never use.

Blizzard has an interesting opportunity to do some interesting things by splitting up the campaign. There are a number of things they could do to make the $60 easy to swallow, but will they do them. Their recent merge with Activision makes me hesitant about some of the recent decisions they have been making regarding their business. Admittedly, these are fairly unfounded, but Activision has screwed over many gamers and a few studios before, so I wouldn’t put it past them to have influenced this decision.

Here are a couple of thoughts I have on how Blizzard should offer the future campaigns so they are attractive to their audience.

Sell the campaigns as separate games to new customers and offer the campaigns as downloadable DLC for $20-$30

This would allow players who purchased the Terran campaign to skip paying for the unnecessary multiplayer and tools they already have access to. It would also allow anyone who comes late by buying the Zerg or Protos version of the game to access the other campaigns easily instead of slogging through stores trying to find old copies of the game (or maybe that’s what Blizzard wants).Blizzard has shown that they are not afraid of implementing DLC in World of Warcraft so it makes sense that they might try something like this.

Sell the campaigns as separate games for $60 but allow the multiplayer to be gifted

Steam did this when they released the Orange Box which contained Halflife 2 which many players already had. By allowing players to gift the multiplayer access it could generate interest in the campaigns which might get purchased. Blizzard has the platform already setup to make this work with BattleNet and they even implemented a similar system with the current release of Starcraft 2 which lets you gift seven hours to two other BattleNet accounts. Still, $60 is steep for a new campaign and a free pass for a friend.

Be evil and expect people to pay $60 for a bunch of stuff they don’t need

I don’t see Blizzard doing this, but its definitely a possibility. They might go along the route of World of Warcraft and offer the Zerg and Protos campaigns for $40 like they do for the WoW expansions. Trying to sell players a bunch of stuff they already have seems like a way to make a lot of enemies really quick in this industry.

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The big news floating around the net yesterday concerns the Library of Congress announcing jailbreaking cellphones to be protected under fair use. This is big news for iPhone users who are now free to jailbreak their phones without fear of being penalized $2,500 and spending up to 5 years in jail. An article released by Ars Technica outlines the Library’s decision on jailbreaking along with several others including DRM circumvention for security research and cracking eReaders so programs can read the text aloud.

This development originally concerned me, because in my mind jailbreaking is synonymous with illegal app copying, but upon further investigation I discovered that this is not the case. In fact, jailbroken phones retain all of their abilities including the ability to access the App Store and purchase apps. This is probably why the Register commented that jailbreaking holds up under the four factors of the fair use test stating that, “since one cannot engage in that practice unless one has acquired an iPhone” the act meets all four requirements.”

So what does this mean for mobile games? Well, it means that we might see more people using iPhones either jailbroken or on T-Mobile which is rumored to be getting the iPhone as early as this Fall. More phones means more potential customers which translates to more sales potential for the platform. It also means that if Apple wants to keep their precious ecosystem within their walled garden they are going to have to find a way to keep the jailbroken phones out which is a lot easier said than done.

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So I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m mindie. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve decided to start dressing in drag or that I’m a girl trapped in a mans body or anything like that. I’m referring to being somewhere in between mainstream and indie (mindie).

The made up title comes from an article written by Alister Doulin that sums up some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the differences between mainstream and indie development. Doulin breaks down what being mindie is by addressing how mainstream and indie view profits, competition, publishers/investors, project size and art and then presents the middle ground where mindie fall in between.

Having been developing games for nearly two years now and co-running a studio for a little more than half a year I think the mindie label fits our philosophy on both business and game design well. Since we work the company as a hobby project and are lucky enough to have received our capital from an angel investor we don’t have to worry about creating a successful game (although that isn’t stopping us from trying). Our current market focus, iPhone and iPad, are markets that move fairly fast so there isn’t time to worry about competition. We simply look at what others are doing and try to incorporate what is successful into our own game designs. We keep costs low by working in our free time and spending money only when we need to and we make games that we hope are more than just “fun” but also appeal to a large audience of people.

I think we are very mindie minded.

What I find more interesting than this article, however, are the critics of the article. Many of their comments bring up good points, even Doulin admits he stereotypes mainstream (and even indie!) a bit, but I feel like they’re ultimately misguided on what the article is saying. Many of the comments bring up how continuing the mainstream versus indie discussion isn’t helping the industry (which I think they are wrong about). Even Johnathan Blow chimed in (rather pretentiously I feel) on the Gamasutra posting of the article to comment on how he believes talking and thinking about “petty things” such as this wastes a designers energy that should be spent making their games.

I want to come to Doulin’s defense on this because I feel that this article is very helpful for someone like me who felt a bit lost in where exactly they fit in this industry. Yes, I will agree that it probably doesn’t matter much to the industry what I label myself as, be it mainstream or indie or anything in between. I also agree that arguing about who is what and what it means to be this, that or the other isn’t going to get us anywhere. I do think that a conversation like this is important for those looking in from the outside who want to understand the differences between design and business philosophies. Talking about things like this also helps designers like me put things into perspective and realize there are others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. That may expose some of my own insecurities about my position in the industry at the moment, and I’ll admit I have them, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit more comfortable knowing there are others out there who share the same ideas and principles.

I also don’t think Doulin’s article meant to paint the industry as black and white and gray. I see it more as a gradient where the extremes of mainstream (all money) and indie (all art) sit on the ends. There’s plenty of room in between to organize this company and that studio into the spectrum. Doulin uses extremes on both ends (although he is a little kinder to indies) to illustrate his point so don’t expect them to work with everything (although some recent rumblings over comments made by Mark Rein of Epic might help prove Doulin’s point).

As for Jonathan Blow’s comment, I think that anyone who spends 100% of their time making nothing but games is going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. The quote from Jordan Mechner that I like to use as my mantra speaks to this point in a sense. If someone wants to devote themselves solely to their craft and ignore the discussions going on around them they are going to miss out on chances to  impact the community in meaningful ways. If Blow wants to focus on letting his products do his talking that’s great, but he’s only going to get so far before his product fails to make the impact that his participation might have created.

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It’s always been the opinion of the Men With Money that nothing is popular because it’s good. According to businessmen, things are popular because someone succeeding in duping the public. This isn’t, necessarily, the worst way to approach things, as a businessperson. It’s always helpful to consider that your success might actually be because you made a mistake somewhere.

Tim Rogers

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