Behind Me

There is a group of undergrads behind me practicing a presentation for a product development class. If I was the professor, I’d flunk them.

They want to create a face scanner for the Wii and somehow they think that it could be magically backwards-compatible to all current Wii games where you could just drop in your face photo-realistically into any character in any game. MAGIC. They project sales would outsell Wii Fit even though there is no game experience with it. Despite that this has been tried in a bunch of games to middling interest.

Supply is impossible, demand is nonexistent.

UPDATE: I listened to them bitching after they come out of the presentation and apparently they were the second group in the class with the exact same idea. Words fail me.

iPhone Piracy May Be Rampant

I was taken aback when I read these iPhone piracy anecdotes on Gamasutra:

When indie game developer Bram Stolk detected 1,114 copies of his The Little Tank That Could being played online, he suspected something was up. He had, in fact, sold only 45 copies of the new iPhone game.

The piracy rate on the day [Rally Master Pro 3D] went on sale for $6.99 was around 96 percent. It has since settled down to “only” 80 percent after three weeks, reports CEO Michael Schade, sarcastically.

Only one in 200 people ever [install a legit version of a game after installing a pirated version].”

I had no idea that piracy was that bad on the iPhone. On other platforms, there is a higher barrier to purchasing the game legitimately than pirating it. Whereas a legit customer has to drive to a store, buy a box with a DS cartridge in it and then keep track of all his little slivers of plastic, a DS pirate just has to buy one of those Korean flash carts and then he/she can download as much as he/she wants and keep all their games together (and then sell it on half.com when you are done as I am prone to doing). I can certainly see the appeal. But on the iPhone, games can be downloaded from anywhere, most have a free demo version and the ones that don’t are generally cheap or at least transparent.

But what was Stolk supposed to do? The linked article makes this normative statement about devs being ostriches and ignoring the problem, but what can they really do? They can spend all their time trying to beat the pirates, but the pirates have more man-hour resources and always win. Or they can spend all their time making quality games. I don’t see that as an ostrich approach – it is a resource allocation approach.

Observing a piracy “rate” is probably a waste of time. I’d be interested in seeing the numbers. My guess would be that there is a large contingency of pirates that just download and try everything and that the quality-to-piracy demand is pretty inelastic. So saying you have 96% piracy infers that if you have a 100 players, 4 are legit but if only you would have 400 players that only 16 would be legit. I bet the marginal piracy rate decreases as users increase and that indie and smaller volume titles will always have massive piracy rates.

Meaningful Choices

There’s this interesting article up on Boardgame News called “The Tyranny of Choice” that argues against the popular notion from Meier et al that a game is a series of meaningful choices.

I don’t agree with it, but it is an interesting perspective nonetheless. It plays a little loosey-goosey with intent and definition. Are we arguing that a game needs meaningful choice to be a game or that it needs it to be good or that it needs it to be fun? I think those a three different questions that are kind of jumbled up in the article.

And how loose are we with the term meaningful?

And that’s when it hit me. We both like Crazy Chefs and I had a fun time playing it against her even though its clearly aimed at people one-tenth of my age. We both thought The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game was dull even though it too is clearly marketed at young children. What’s the difference? Choice. Not choice which is meaningful in any way, shape or form but simply choice. In Crazy Chefs we get a choice: we get to choose which tile to flip and even though the game is entirely random and the choice meaningless the act of making it alone involves us both in the game. We’re there. We’re chefs trying desperately to be the first to gather the food together to feed our hungry customers. In the other game, the name of which I can no longer be bothered even to cut and paste, there is no choice and we are merely observers of the course the arbitrary nature of the game forces us to take. This is boring, even for a three year old.

I fail to see how the choices in Crazy Chefs aren’t meaningful. Random does not mean meaningless, it just means the meaning is uncertain at the time of the decision. When I choose a piece to attack in Stratego, a game whose very name invokes strategy, I am doing the exact same thing. The opponent’s pieces may as well be random to me because the information is hidden. That doesn’t make my decisions on where to move and who to attack meaningless.

I think the definition of a “meaningful choice” is a choice that causes a dependency with regards to the objectives. I.e., Because I chose to buy Boardwalk, others can land on it and pay me money which furthers my objectives and it is thus a meaningful choice. My choice to play as the thimble causes no dependencies via the rules so it was not meaningful.

Anyway, food for thought.

Sticks and Stones

I’ve been stuck in bed for the past week with some flu, porcine or otherwise so I’ve had a lot of time to sleep and lament about my situation.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a no-nonsense kind of guy. If you would ask me if that’s a positive or negative trait, I would generally tell you the former. I’m not one to pull punches and if you ask me what I think, I will tell you. I have opinions, let me show you them. I don’t lack tact, I just believe in honesty in business and there’s little I despise more than folks who smile and nod on the surface and secretly wish daggers underneath.

That’s how I went about being a designer as well. I was given a paycheck to develop ideas and understand higher-level concepts and if I believed something wouldn’t work, I didn’t wait until the shit hit the fan to say so. But it was never based on gut feelings that I’d interject, if I had a criticism it would be followed by a reason and sometimes, if I could, a solution.

Needless to say, I wasn’t endeared by all for that trait.

It never really bothered me though because I was of the reasoning that we were all there for the same purpose – to build a killer product. I always saw bad reactions as their problem. I wasn’t challenging people, I was challenging ideas. They needed to get over themselves. And I wasn’t challenging out of ego; I didn’t think my ideas were best because I was touched with some talent. If I had an objection, it was always followed by a reason. And when people challenged my ideas, I generally took it as I would like for it to be taken, as long as there was an explained reason behind the objection and not vague gut feelings. We were all on the same team. Sometimes you just had to do a little digging to get from gut reaction to reason.

This honestly didn’t happen often. Most of the teams I was on went smoothly and this approach was a huge asset. It was only towards the end of my previous position that this started to become an issue. Feathers got ruffled, but it was fine. At the end of the day, we were all on the same team with the same goals.

It wasn’t until I had my figurative pink slip that I learned that, no, it wasn’t the case. Now with more and more layoffs here close to home and across the country, there are more talented people competing for a smaller slice of quality openings, many of which I’ve applied for to see what happens. No dice.

So I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t something that has been a great asset to me, my openness, that has done me in.

Twitter and this blog make it ridiculously easy to post my feelings and as we’ve covered, I have trouble self-censoring. And as the days go on, I watch the news in politics and I get angry and want to say something and I watch the news in the industry and get angry and want to say something. But to what good?

Let’s say I do a post on Borderlands. I finished it last week and had a blast. Fun game with some unique hooks. But I wouldn’t be able to write about it (and it wouldn’t be a worthwhile post) without commenting on what I didn’t like about it and what I would have done or tried to do differently. Now while that would be pretty par for the course for this blog, I’m starting to wonder: what if I apply to Gearbox? What if they read my blog and find it and it hits a pet issue or nerve? Would I be looked at differently than a blank slate designer with the same qualifications? Negatively?

It’s not that I write with malice. I had two separate posts removed by my boss when I was at EA which I complied with because I was a coward. I wish I would have just unposted rather than deleted each of them, but I didn’t. The first was a post about tuning, of all things. It’s when the NBA Live team announced their “Dynamic DNA” feature. I recalled a paper or talk by Richard Garfield that talked about the necessities of tuning to a visible result – i.e., if something is underpriced, bumping the price up by 5% will be unnoticed by users, but a 50% bump won’t be. And from the larger bumps you can triangulate a proper value rather than incrementing until no one cares anymore (boiling the frog by degrees, &C.,). Yet would Dynamic DNA be all about turning up the heat by a degree rather than twenty?

I thought it was a pretty reasoned critique of a feature that Peter Moore called something like “the most important feature” that EA Sports had put out in a decade. Of course, because I used Peter’s name and quote in the post and because he has some Google Alert that rings a red phone in his office whenever someone uses his name (Hi Peter!), people found out about the post and it was suggested that I take it down.

I don’t bring up this anecdote to cast aspersions (I see their reasoning), but to illustrate that any good intentions I have with this blog quickly go awry when it comes to business.

There has been great good, certainly. I’ve met a lot of awesome people. I’ve been on the national news. And it is a lot of fun. But is any of it worth anything if I start to self-censor myself because I think it is better for me to be a blank slate to a hiring director?

And Twitter! Twitter is so much worse! I can tweet (and do) from my phone, with almost no cycles of “should I say this?” It’s just from ego to fingers with that damn thing. If I didn’t have a 102 fever when I heard about all the things going down with my former employer this week, I definitely would have written some things that would have made me look ugly.

So I’m wondering if I should just quit or suspend the blog and Twitter. Or should I say “damn the man” and just blog myself into poverty? I don’t know.