Spy Sapping My Slot Machine

Everyone and their brother has commented (no links, too boring) on the new TF2 randomized loot system, so I’ll save a lot of venom. It’s not that it is broken, it just turns a game of skill+luck into a game of pure luck, like a slot machine.

When one is rewarded, they look to a condition that caused that reward to repeat. It’s Skinner. When there is no cause to the effect, there is no behavior to reinforce. Since games are “a series of interesting choices”, choices being behaviors, it ceases to provide the player with any means to achieve – there is no interesting choice for him to face. The game is less fun as a result.

But let me defend Valve – they aren’t stupid. Reading between the lines, they clearly ran out of time. They were working on two class updates, six new items, sixty new achievements, five new maps and a list of bug fixes. They had a system that was functional, but not enough time to drop the -ctional. Instead of delaying the entire update, they allowed a half-assed system to go out the door which was probably the right decision. From the backtracking on their blog, it looks like they know what they’ve done and will patch it to something useful in a minor update. In the meantime, slot machines aren’t so bad. Sixty thousand grandmothers at the Seminole Hard Rock can’t be wrong.

Not Getting Ahead In The Industry

Just read this. Even when you are one of the hotshots in the industry, helping to create some of the most lucrative and well-known franchises in industry history, don’t bluff about quitting your job for attention.

BR: To try to force that issue, to get them to talk with us, the four of us put in our resignation, with basically the trigger for us not to be resigning was to email us or phone call us, so like talk to us.

BF: So like, just care.

BR: Yeah, just talk to us. A day and a half later, we heard back from that chain. Mike called me and said, “I’m supposed to come up Monday and get you guys cleared out.” So, it wasn’t like we really wanted to leave.

Some TF2 Nonsense

It’s my first day of school today, oh boy. Let me gather up my pencils and little nubby eraser bits that go on the end and protractors and lunch tickets and trapper keepers… Actually, I’m not all that excited. I’m taking Accounting for six long weeks. No disrespect to accountants out there; it’s just not my game.

Speaking of games, I’m going to do another iPhone game roundup very shortly since I’ve amassed a few interesting titles since my last update: Chocolatier (!), Dream Chronicles, The Quest (Lite), Phase 10, Trivial Pursuit, Lemonade Stand, Phrase Party, Cooking Quest (Lite). Wow, that’s actually a lot more than I thought.

Also: Have you seen Team Fortress 2’s “Meet The Spy” video? They took it to a new level: Even if you don’t play TF2, I think you will enjoy this.

Oh, what the hell – these are great too if you haven’t seen them, but may only be funny to TF2 players. Since the Scout looks like Vince Offer, someone put this together:

But Heavy Weapons Guy wanted a piece of that action, so he sells household cleaners when he isn’t merc-ing:

Everywhere’s A Sausage Factory

Dan Baum’s tweet-story of working for the New Yorker and then being fired is fascinating not only because of its juicy inside-baseball-ness but because how it shadows the beats of my own personal story:

  1. Get hired somewhere prestigious for less than you would make elsewhere.
  2. Produce good work.
  3. Piss off the wrong people by being overly-candid.
  4. Get your ass fired.
  5. Become disillusioned with the lie of meritocracy.
  6. Cry about it online.

At least I didn’t name names. I’d be worried if I were him after all that’s happened to look petty to other potential editors.

This is pretty much why I’m trying to be my own boss.

There’s No Way Quality iPhone Development Can Be Sustainable

I spent three hours yesterday while sorta-watching the NBA playoffs playing Baseball Superstars 2009 for the iPhone after briefly mucking around with the free version.

To save you a review, this isn’t only a somewhat-casual yet complete baseball game for your phone, it also includes:

  • A 36-game season mode.
  • An RPG mode with accelerated games where you only play when you are at bat (other baseball games on the console do this but I can’t remember which. I know Madden‘s superstar mode does something similar in football.
  • Super Batters and Pitchers with special abilities
  • Mission Mode
  • Homerun Derby
  • Trading
  • Training
  • Special Equipment
  • &c.,

You can play it in short bursts or long sessions. It is dead simple to learn, but provides tons of options as you get better. In short, it’s the kind of game I kept pressing to create at my last job.

Now there are problems with it. It is obviously an up-port of an older cell phone franchise as it somewhat anachronistically puts buttons on the screen rather than giving you full touch control. It’s legacy probably largely defrays the cost. But I paid $2.99 for the game.

$2.99.

A spicy chicken sandwich at Wendy’s costs more.

The description said it was on sale from $4.99. They needed to have a 40% sale because $4.99 wasn’t selling with a fully featured free demo.

Unsubstantiated rumor pegs Apple’s cut of sales at around 30%. So Gamevil got $2 from my sale.

I’ve bought DS games for $35 that provide much less content. Let’s say that I am running a studio or publisher and I have to choose whether to produce my new project for the DS or the iPhone. Let’s say that average retail price per unit is $24 since later sales will be discounted. Let’s also say that it costs me $9 to buy & print a cartridge and support all the infrastructure that gets that cart to your store. (I’m just waving my hands in the air here, but I’m in the sorta-ballpark) My publishing concern gets $15/sale. I have to sell seven and a half times as many copies on the iPhone to yield the same amount. Now, I understand that the iPhone and App Store have a broad reach, but the difference between 50k DS sales and 375k iPhone App Store sales is stark.

Where Apple excels is that they set themselves up as the sole publishing gatekeeper. If I wanted to make a DS game myself, I couldn’t. Nintendo needs to license me dev kits which they won’t do unless I am already a developer. Even once I pay the premium to get the kits, I have to find a publisher who gets a cut both financially and creatively and then the game again needs Nintendo’s approval before it can make it to market. So Apple provides a lot less overhead on the front-end, meaning the market can be populated by titles from major corporations and one man teams of guys living in cottages.

But if quality titles by professional organizations can’t get even close to the money generated on consoles from the iPhone, they will either stop making quality titles or scale them down so far that it is cheap enough to not lose a lot of money. They’ll go with the DS because they can easily step over the hurdles that Nintendo et al set up so that every schmuck can’t make a DS cart.

And even the single-guy-doing-his-thing model can’t survive long unless it is with very small and unambitious projects. Let’s say it takes that guy six months to do his project and he can make $70,000 coding at a “real” job. He needs to make $35,000 per project. At $3 ARP and Apple’s 30% cut, he needs to reliably get 17,000 sales on word of mouth.

While Baseball Superstars 2009 and other titles I’ve picked up recently have been pretty great, we don’t and won’t see anything like Hatsworth, The World Ends With You, Hotel Dusk or any of the other top-tier DS games. If we do, it will be an aberration. And that’s sad because the iPhone can do almost everything the DS can do and it has the bonus features of carrying all my games simultaneously and converging with the phone/GPS device that I take absolutely everywhere.

Keep buying App Store games, even if they are a shocking $4.99. I’d be interested in seeing how the companies that are putting out software for $19.99 and higher (very specialized stuff I see in the app store all the time) are doing.

Postscript: The upcoming microtransactions capability that will come with version 3.0 might change everything. Or it might be a big waste of resources.

Update: I tried to do some searching for the most expensive games on the App Store, but you can’t search by price. I did find this game called Jet Setter which attempted to release at a $1,000.00 price point. Apple let it linger in approval limbo until they dropped the price, giving it the old pocket veto. Does anyone know of any games that are priced about $9.99 (and have stayed there?)

Freelancing and Board Games

As you can see by the change to the header, I am available for freelance design consultancy. While I’m going to graduate school, I want to keep all possible avenues open for income and practice. I think I can provide good, cheap value for someone out there, but I won’t be able to work the standard 40-50 hour weeks.

Also, does anyone have any ins with board game publishers? I have two games currently in prototype form and at least one on which I’d like to go forward. One is more of a party game (think Scattegories, Loaded Questions, in that mold.) The other is a rummy-style card game (think Uno, Phase 10).


Glo took this picture of me working on the card game when I thought she was using my phone to play a game. But it stil turned out pretty well.