Monthly Archives: August 2006

CULTURE: The Value of Simplicity

This is a very thought-provoking article from Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh at Next Generation.

Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh examines the value in simplicity, and how developers need to use the tools at hand to create intuitive experiences before further complicating videogames and their respective genres.

The abstract doesn’t really do it justice, and neither would clipping bits of it here and there. I highly recommend you click over and read what he has to say.  He challenges a bunch of assumptions – including some I’ve posted about – and he comments on a bunch of important points, and he suggests what I think is a very sensible way of building on and polishing the good stuff that we have done in gaming, before flying off into the next far-out future.  If I were an exec looking at the bottom line of game development cost (and risk) versus game development revenue, I’d particularly like what Eric-Jon has to say.  And here’s the cool thing – as a gamer more concerned about my fun than corporate profit, I also like what he has to say.

Study says: There are SIX different types of gamers

Gamasutra today posted this interview with Yuanzhe Cai, director of broadband and gaming at Parks Associates, the researchers who put together this study and its results.

It’s nice timing after my post yesterday, which ended this way:

Another broad point that all this makes me think about: There’s room for lots of different kinds of games, and lots of different kinds of gamers.

Summary results of the study were posted yesterday as Gamasutra, and since I know you’re dying to hear them, here’s the bit about the types of gamers:

“Power gamers” represent 11 percent of the gamer market but account for 30 cents of every dollar spent on retail and online games.

“Social gamers,” 13 percent of the market, enjoy gaming as a way to interact with friends.

“Leisure gamers,” 14 percent of the market, spend 58 hours per month playing games but mainly on casual titles. Nevertheless they prefer challenging titles and show high interest in new gaming services.

“Dormant gamers,” 26 percent of the market, love gaming but spend little time because of family, work, or school. They like to play with friends and family and prefer complex and challenging games.

“Incidental gamers,” 12 percent of the market, lack motivation and play games mainly out of boredom. However, they spend more than 20 hours a month playing online games.

“Occasional gamers,” 24 percent of the market, play puzzle, word, and board games almost exclusively.

I’d highly recommend reading both stories in detail. But as usual, I’ll quote some highlights:

“If game companies insist on chasing the mythical hardcore and casual gamer segments, they will miss out on more than half of the market,” said Cai. “The market is not black and white anymore, and game marketers need to understand these finer nuances.”

A good followup to that:

How can publishers take advantage of this “middle ground”?

First, they must understand the demographics of middle market gamers, their gaming behaviors, and their interest. Second, they should design games, services, and business models specifically for the middle market gamers instead of treating them as an afterthought or wishfully thinking that games designed for power gamers will magically appeal to everybody.

Third, publishers should recognize that middle-market gamers are less likely than power gamers to talk about games all the time, and therefore it’s vital to know where they acquire information about new games and services. Fourth, they can leverage game advertising to monetize the middle market gamers. If the leisure gamers spend so much time (58 hours per month) playing games but not a lot of money, then generating ads revenue from their eyeball hours makes sense.

Here’s a bold one.  I’m not convinced people are so clearly limited to just one type:

Is there overlap between the groups – for example, wouldn’t many power gamers also be social gamers?

No. These are exclusive gamer groups. The names of the gamer groups are based on their most differentiating attributes.

And a great ending/challenge, on social interaction and gaming:

Why did the importance of social interaction to all these groups come as a surprise?

Right now MMOGs and online FPS games seem to be all the rage. MMOGs are essentially a big chat room, right? The result that middle market gamers also value socialization does not surprise us per se, but it is surprising in the sense that the industry has not paid enough attention to this obvious fact.

Many gaming services targeting non-core/power gamers tend to focus on content access and single-player games rather than community building and multiplayer gameplay. Club Pogo was successful partly because of its focus on community features.

It’s actually interesting when you think about this: MySpace now has more than 100 million registered users and even WOW, the most popular MMOG, pales in comparison [editor: 6.6 million].

Secret lives: The games women play

The full article is here, and is by Diego Vasquez and Media Life Magazine.

According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for RealNetworks, two-thirds of these women [over 40] play digital, arcade, card or word games per week, and about 60 percent of them prefer games to talking on the phone, knitting or doing home improvement projects. Half say they prefer game playing to watching a movie or cooking. And nearly a third prefer games to TV watching.

The story is an interview with Michael Schutzler, senior VP of RealNetwork’s games division. Check out these RealNetwork financial numbers that I’ve reported previously – they prove that he knows what he’s talking about, that he’s on to something, and that RealNetwork money and lots of other money are sure to chase this trend:

Digital media firm RealNetworks Inc. multiplied its second-quarter earnings thanks to growth in its music and game businesses… Revenue rose 8% to a record $89.4 million, driven by a 55% jump in games revenue to $21.2 million and a 21% increase in music revenue to $30.1 million

Check out these projections for the casual games he’s talking about: The compound growth rate per year for the online short session market (eg casual games) is projected to be 34% per year, every year, from 2005 through 2010.

Important point from Schutzler about the different ways people like to play:

This audience, women over 40, are using them because they are inherently interruptible. [Gamers] can come back five minutes later or three days later and pick up where they left off. It doesn’t have an addictive element like a role playing game has, which require hours of investment.

And:

Where will it top out?

Well, last year there were 100 million people that played casual games. That’s a lot of people. I think we have a long way to go, probably a decade, before this industry starts to top out.

And:

we’ve known for a long time that women were a predominant factor here. But the bigger insight that’s come out of the research is that this population of customers isn’t really interested in head-to-head competition.

They’re not using it to compete, they’re using it to keep their brains sharper, to meditate, rejuvenate. They want to do it on their terms, how they want to, when they want to. There’re implications here about how we market these games rather than how we design them. If there’s growth, it will be, “How do we attract gamers other than women over 40?”

I really really like that: “they’re using it to keep their brains sharper, to meditate, rejuvenate.”

I have to respectfully differ on the point that it’s not about how we design games. Sure, the marketing is critical too, but many of his previous points imply that it’s also a lot about game design – at least about the aspects of game design that relate to style of play, and to how the player experiences the game. For instance, this demographic isn’t looking for an MMO lifestyle.

Another broad point that all this makes me think about: There’s room for lots of different kinds of games, and lots of different kinds of gamers.

Are you thinking a lot about user-created content yet?

Wikipedia – an online encyclopedia, written and edited by user volunteers, that is now nearly 100 times as large as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Check out this brief history:

Wikipedia launches in an English-language version on January 15, 2001. That’s five and a half years ago.

By the end of 2001, it offered 20,000 user-created articles in 18 language editions

By the end of 2004, it offered 161 language editions

As of this month, Wikipedia offers more than 5,000,000 user-created articles in 229 different language editions, with 16 different languages offering at least 50,000 articles. There are more than 1,300,000 articles offered in English.

According to Alexa.com, Wikipedia is the number 16 site in the world in terms of user traffic

On to MySpace‘s history:

The current MySpace service was founded in July 2003. That’s three years ago. MySpace is a user-submitted network of blogs, profiles, groups, photos, music and videos.

There are now 105 million MySpace user accounts, and more are being created at the rate of 230,000 per day. MySpace is the 6th most popular site in the world, and the MOST popular site in the United States.

On to YouTube:

Check out their brief self-description: “YouTube is a way to get your videos to the people who matter to you. Upload, tag and share your videos worldwide!” Note all those “you”s and “your”s.

YouTube is even younger than the other two sites – it was founded in February 2005. That’s one and a half years ago. YouTube has 50 employees. That’s fifty. Total. It’s getting 20,000,000 visitors a month, is one of the fastest growing sites on the Web, and is already the 13th most popular site in the world.

So the thing that made me finally write this particular post is Today’s news story about Yahoo Answers, The secret to Yahoo Answers’ success. The article is by Susanna Hammer of Business 2.0 Magazine. Check out the relevant subtitle: “The search giant has stumbled lately, but its popular Q&A service shows that getting people to create their own content can really pay off.” Umm… Yeah. 😀

Check out this highlight:

An online Q&A service, Yahoo Answers has become the second most popular Internet reference site after Wikipedia, according to Comscore. In June, Yahoo Answers attracted 12.3 million unique visitors, a 35 percent spike from the previous month. (For comparison, media sensation YouTube had 13.4 million visitors in June.) During the same period, 947,000 people clicked on Google Answers, down 4 percent from May.

The secret to Yahoo Answers’s success?

Get your tens of millions of users to create your next hot product – and then give it away. On Yahoo Answers, anyone can ask any question, from the inane to the articulate, and get a response from, well, just about anyone. For free. It’s a MySpace for know-it-alls and the perpetually clueless.

Here’s a fun highlight from Yahoo! Answers, which has been its own little news phenomenon all by itself:

Stephen Hawking (yeah, that Stephen Hawking) asks the world “How can the human race survive the next hundred years?”

Cool, ain’t it? So: why am I blogging about user-created content in my blog about games? Well, because user-created game content is exactly what we’re building KPL and Phrogram for, and we believe that at the moment noone on the planet has made that possible for more people than we have, with Phrogram. It also, by the way, is what GarageGames, our partner, is all about. And it’s what Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio is all about. It’s been a long time since development and gaming technology were such that hobbyists and end-users could make their own games. Way too long.

So we see how amazing the data is – and the social phenomenom is – around user-created content at Wikipedia and MySpace and YouTube and Yahoo! Answers. And if you’re here, you probably know how amazing the data is on games and gaming.

What’ll happen when we those two amazing trends come together? On more levels than one, it’ll be fun to see.

Modified home video game shows promise for stroke rehabilitation

Check out this news alert from Rutgers: Modified home video game shows promise for stroke rehabilitation

System opens door for economical alternatives to expensive equipment in clinical settings; promotes home rehabilitation possibilities

Engineers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, have modified a popular home video game system to assist stroke patients with hand exercises, producing a technology costing less than $600 that may one day rival systems 10 times as expensive.

Hats off to the researchers at Rutgers, to the XBox, and to Essential Reality:

Rutgers’ low-cost hand rehabilitation system is based on the commercially available Microsoft Xbox video game and Essential Reality P5 gaming glove that detects finger and wrist motions to manipulate on-screen images. The engineers made minor modifications to the equipment and created software that delivers two types of finger flexing exercises needed to help recover hand functions in stroke patients.

Check out the article for more details, a photo and a screenshot. Tell me that’s not a good “How gaming is changing the world” story? 🙂 Medical technology isn’t a new idea – but cheap game hardware that works effectively as medical technology that cost 10 times as much… And at home!

video games in 2006 = rock music in 1967

Chuck Klosterman wrote this feature in the July issue of Esquire: The Lester Bangs of Video Games. His subtitle is his point, actually: “Sorry, that was misleading. There is no Lester Bangs of video games. Why?” It’s pretty deep thought about games – something we don’t have enough of.

I’m just going to assume that you believe video games in 2006 are the culture equivalent of rock music in 1967, because that’s (more or less) reality.

The question his article asks is, in brief: why are there no video game critics, given that video games are such an economic and cultural force? His own clarification:

I realize that many people write video-game reviews and that there are entire magazines and myriad Web sites devoted to this subject. But what these people are writing is not really criticism. Almost without exception, it’s consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It’s expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself.

Tell me that’s not an interesting point? Two immediate thoughts come to mind for me, from my own experience of gaming:

1) Most games are way too shallow for that kind of analysis and criticism

2) User-created content is hot and getting hotter – and maybe games are the most ephemeral kind of user-created content

I’m not going to defend the first point. If you disagree, go read Heart of Darkness, or go play your game. It’s your life. :p

On the second point, think about a single-player game. Every time a player plays one, he or she is telling a kind of a story, creating as well as having a unique experience – but only for themselves. And when it’s over, it’s gone.

At the other end of gaming, think about an MMO. World of Warcraft has (literally) millions of players playing at varying times on (literally) hundreds of different servers, each of which is its own self-contained “copy” of the game and its world. “Rules” of the server vary based on the style of gameplay a server is set up for. “Characters” cannot move from server to server, and thus the players playing those characters also do not (usually) move from server to server. Those characters are created, and grow, and change, and die, hour by hour, 24 hours a day, for years on end. Even within a single server, different players tend to play at different times during their day.

All of that adds up to an incredibly variable and dynamic experience of the game. No, MMOs aren’t as rich or complex or as large as the real world, and the clock does tick faster there. But there are hundreds of those worlds running alongside this real world right this minute. And they are rich and complex and large enough that, as in the real world, no moment of experience in one of those worlds will ever be exactly the same as another moment – especially when you’re playing with other people. And when a moment is gone, the only place you’ll ever return to it is in your memory.

(I know, you can make pictures and movies of game experiences, just like in real life, but no, pictures and movies still aren’t the same, and anyway, while machinima puts a very interesting spin on gaming and storytelling, it still doesn’t change the essential point that he is making and that I’m agreeing with.)

So an MMO’s story never stops, is vast in scope, and is being told interactively by the actions and the words of a shifting population of thousands. Old media assumptions about storytelling, old media assumptions about analysis and criticism – they just can’t apply.

Maybe an MMO is a bit like group improv, but it never stops, and even in smaller virtual worlds, it happens at a scale unlike any other improv. Unless maybe you want to look at this real life as improv? Maybe that’s a tangent I shouldn’t have added – it’s my thought, not Chuck’s. Actually, I can’t take credit either. 😀

What if this scene played out differently for every person who watched Gone with the Wind? What if Rhett occasionally changed his mind, walked back into the house, and said, “Just kidding, baby”? What if Scarlett suddenly murdered Rhett for acting too cavalier? What if the conversation were sometimes interrupted by a bear attack? And what if all these alternative realities were dictated by the audience itself? If Gone with the Wind ended differently every time it was experienced, it would change the way critics viewed its message. The question would not be “What does this mean?” The question would be “What could this mean?”

His challenge:

If nobody ever thinks about these games in a manner that’s human and metaphorical and contextual… this generation’s single most meaningful artistic idiom will be — ultimately — meaningless.

Yeah, worth thinking about. And worth clicking to read him, not just me.

Penny Arcade Expo 2006

Here’s a link to a story from PJ Hruschak of KGET TV channel 17 in Bakersfield, California. Why a UHF TV channel in Bakersfield should have this great web coverage of PAX is a good question. I’m betting it’s cause PJ fits his own description of PAX:

Tabletop games. Video games. PC games. Nerdcore music.

If you haven’t clicked to read the article yet, you really gotta. Not least to check out the smiling heads on the banner bar at KGET, and the surreal contrast they make with “Tabletop games. Video games. PC games. Nerdcore music.” 😀

Here’s a highlight from the article:

“We’re not a trade show,” Penny Arcade’s event coordinator, Mike Fehlauer e-mailed. “We’re not an ‘industry’ event. We’re a … call it a festival, that is the only place in the world where game makers and players can directly interact, share the love of games, participate in hot-topic panels, and rock out to nerdcore concerts.”

Here’s the data that amazed me:

Although only 3,300 people attended the first PAX in 2004, more than 9,000 attended last year and nearly that many have already pre-registered for PAX 2006. Fehlauer expects 13,000 to 18,000 attendees this year and has already booked a larger venue for next year.

I look forward to hearing how the numbers actually came out. Next year’s larger venue? The Washington State Convention Center in Seattle – three times as big as Bellevue’s convention center. I think the only question is whether they fill it in 2007 or 2008. 😀
So here’s an on-the-ground experience of this time. Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue is a fairly big convention center. I haven’t found people capacity anywhere, but its size is 48,000 square feet on four floors. This year’s convention also spilled over to three convention hotels in Bellevue. Despite that, yesterday afternoon the fire department declared the convention center over capacity, and was making people wait outside, only letting people in to match the people leaving. LOL, never heard of that at a convention before! Anyone else?

Phrogram rocks PAX!

Short post, I’m beat. From 10am to 6pm, as long as the exhibition hall was open, I had maybe 15 minutes of breaks between demoing Phrogram. My voice is half gone. Really. 😀 We went through 150 CDs and need to buy more blanks for tomorrow. Feedback was way beyond encouraging. My favorite comment, as a guy took our disk and left the booth: “You just validated my entrance fee.”

Oh, I should also mention KPL got Slashdotted: http://ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/08/27/000248

Things are hoppin! Synchronicities at PAX made me think of this:
Synchronicity tells us we’re doing the right thing.

Near Seattle? Come down to PAX 2006 this weekend!

PAX is Penny Arcade Expo – a really HUGE game convention. From the website: “a supernatural gaming event!” We were there tonight setting up and having a great time.

Here’s the PAX website, lots of info and directions.

HUGE is the word, though. Thousands! People were lined up the whole way around the long block waiting to get in this afternoon. PAX was already so big this year that it had spread events out from the Meydenbauer Center to 3 area hotels as well. Check out the list of sponsors, mainly because that’s also the list of exhibitors who have a huge rockin hall full of loud gaming action happening:

Ubisoft, Turbine, NCSoft, America’s Army, XBox 360, Nintendo, Fury, Sabertooth Games, Foundation 9 Entertainment, RoosterTeeth, Creative, Flying Lab Software, Prima Games, The Behemoth, Tablestar Games, Garage Games, NVidia, BFG Tech, Klei, Sweet Kitty, Pink Godzilla, Mythic, Privateer Press, Paizo Publishing, Arenanet, Tenacious Games, Bawls, Themis Group, Technomancer Press, Upper Deck, Rockstar Games, 1up, Cheats Mobile, MyCheats, DeVry University, ITT Tech, ATI, Wizards of the Coast, Cooler Master, Red Octane, Gametap, AMD, Nyko, Bandai Namco and Intel.

Everywhere you look there’s fun gaming happening! There are competitive tourneys of all kinds going on, panels on lots of gaming toptics, theaters, parties, concerts – even table top gaming events of all kinds. Yeah, it’s a blast.

And Phrogram is there, too, of course! Stop by the Garage Games booth to see it in action!

Phrogram release preview ready for download!

The page at www.phrogram.com includes an introduction, lots of example screenshots, and the information required to download, set up and begin using Phrogram today.

Phrogram is a fully functional programming environment, and is far more fun, productive and easy to use than any other programming environment in the world today. Phrogram is designed specifically to help beginners get started, but unlike other beginner-friendly environments, Phrogram is as capable as it is easy. Even experienced programmers will be able to write games and graphics programs more quickly with Phrogram.

Phrogram also has a formal partnership with GarageGames, makers of the Torque and TorqueX game engines. You might have heard the recent news about TorqueX and XNA. TorqueX is the game engine which runs atop the new XNA Game Studio which Microsoft is making available. Together, they allow for cross-platform games to be developed that run on both Windows and the XBox 360! Check out this analysis about how much of a danger this is to Sony and Nintendo, if users in large numbers are really able to write their own games that run only on the XBox 360.

So what does this have to do with Phrogram? Phrogram lets you do things like display and control a 3-D spaceship model with only 30 English-language-like Phrogram instructions. And the core game engine for Phrogram is about to become the same Torque game engine which, atop XNA, allows for user-developed games to run on the XBox 360 as well as Windows.

Do you like the idea of putting your own programs on the XBox 360? Yeah, we do, too.