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Archive For October, 2007

The Rise Of The Free Game - What Does It Mean?

October 19, 2007 8:07 AM | Simon Carless

- Serendipitously enough, I was intending to post Jamie Cheng's latest Klei Entertainment blog piece, called 'Disruptive Technology: Free Online Games', and then we happened to run Kyle Orland's 'The Flash Game Business: Making A Living Online?' over at Gamasutra - and now I can make a post with both of them in, huzzah!

In Jamie's piece, the game-biz centric gem is the first paragraph: "Most of you are probably familiar with the notion of low-end Disruptive Technology. In a nutshell, it happens when products focus on the least demanding, least profitable customers in a market... Eventually, the entrants create more value than is needed for the low-end customers, and the product moves up-market, stealing market share from the incumbent. Because they were forced to innovate and create better value-add with lower costs, the entrants give better value to the encumbent’s mid-value customers, and the encumbents are forced to serve an ever-shrinking high-end market." Hear that, AAA $20 million games?

So, Cheng claims, this is exactly what's happening with free online Flash games, and Orland's article is talking about that precise move upmarket, though the biz model is still extremely nascent: "Kongregate's [Jim] Greer thinks that Flash games won't really get out of the gaming ghetto until developers are able to charge for them. As it stands now, the advertising and sponsorship money involved is just too small. 'Let's say Armor Games gives you a sponsorship for $2,000. You get another $1,000 from ad revenue, another $1,500 from prize money, maybe Miniclip licenses your game for $5,000... you might make $10,000 to $15,000 on your Flash game -- and that's a really successful Flash game.'" So we still have a ways to go here.

Wright's Cannonball Run Past Unearthed

October 19, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at Wired, they have a really neat article discussing how SimCity/The Sims designer Will Wright competed and won the 'U.S. Express' race across America in 1980, making it from Brooklyn to Santa Monica in first place after "...33 hours and 9 minutes of nonstop driving."

The race, which is the subject of a new documentary called 32 Hours 7 Minutes (the time of the all-time record holder in a subsequent year!), was held for the first time in that year, and the article explains that Wright and co-driver Rick Doherty "...made sure they were well prepared for the journey, outfitting the Mazda [RX-7] with a roll cage and a larger fuel tank, as well as bringing along night vision goggles, radar detectors and a fridge."

Although "...Wright tried the night vision once, but quickly abandoned the idea", the duo still won, and apparently: "Wright competed only once in the race. He's very low-key about it, talking about it with a kind of "hey, that was neat" attitude. "Cars are my life," he says by way of explanation." The Wired article page has a couple of videos of Wright discussing his victory today, and showing off his car gadgets then, and it's entirely entertaining.

The Flow Of Intentional Gameplay - Or Why Wii Wins

October 18, 2007 4:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Game developer Kyle Wilson, whose blog, GameArchitect.net, has some really interesting essays on it, has just posted another, 'The Flow of Intentional Gameplay (or why the Wii is winning, yet people still don't play Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock)' - long title, crazy subject!

However, while a complex piece, it defines some of the vital and core problems in the game industry today, particularly in this section: "The more interesting reason for the Wii's success is the Wii Remote, the Wii's unique motion-sensitive controller. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 both come with slight variations on the standard modern console controller. The design of the modern controller--D-pad, two thumbsticks, front triggers--is effectively unchanged since Sony released the Dual Analog Controller ten years ago. And the design of the modern console controller is terrible."

He continues (and this isn't incredibly new, but it is expressed with clarity): "The player makes the most precise movements that any game requires by guiding sensitive analog joysticks--with his thumbs. No wonder the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 aren't selling as well as their predecessors. They're essentially selling to a subset of their previous audience: young men who are so interested in games that they're willing to struggle through the clumsy all-thumbs interface necessary to play them. Meanwhile, Nintendo has broadened their audience with games that offer the player a more natural instrument with which to express his intention. The player can control the game."

There's lots more sophisticated elements to the essay, which varies wildly across talk of game difficulty, violence in games, and 'the hierarchy of loops' in gameplay - but overall, the point is made that: "A great game provides a player with clear goals. From the goals he's given, the player forms a hierarchy of intentions." And guess what? The Wii does the best job of letting an average citizen reach those goals through executing on his intentions right now, because waving is easier than thumbing.

TIGSource's B Game Hunt Topped By Cottage Of Doom

October 18, 2007 8:08 AM | Simon Carless

- We've previously reported on TIGSource's very fun 'B Game Competition', in which "...a princely total of 29 games (one of which is a 100-game-in-1 'masterpiece'!) have been entered in the quest to find 'games that are bad in the right way'. And - yay, looks like they've worked out who won.

As Derek Yu writes on the Halloween-enhanced site: "And the winner is… (dun dun dun) Cottage of Doom, by haowan! This zombie survival game interpreted the theme well on a number of levels, from the theme, to the presentation, to the game mechanics. To top it off, it’s an incredibly fun game. Congratulations, man!"

Also notable from the TIGSource post and the mouth of Yu: " For our first competition, it was a rollicking success. All 29 games had something unique about it that was worth playing to see. If you haven’t tried them out, please do! And be sure to check out the Random Gnome’s 3-part write-up on the competition, as well as TIGSource and Indygamer editor Terry’s picks from awhile ago! Thanks, guys!"

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Pet Projects

October 18, 2007 12:06 AM | Leigh Alexander

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

We’ve discussed before the ways that hentai games tend to rely on archetypes to make the impossible possible. Because the common h-game protagonist tends to be a regular, shy young boy – studious, socially awkward, perhaps a bit insecure – only a coup of fate would put him in such intimate contact with a selection of beautiful women. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but Let’s Meow Meow! is not one of these.

In fact, Let’s Meow Meow!, which revolves around a subservient cat girl and a host of other strange creatures from her homeworld, takes both archetypes and fantasy to an unusual extreme. It only makes sense, though – girls with cat ears, or rabbit ears, or puppy ears don’t actually exist, of course, so it takes more than a little stretch of the imagination to create an entire plausibility background for a rather long game employing all of these and more.

Highly fetishistic, anti-realistic, silly bubblegum – Let’s Meow Meow! is all of these and more. But is it really so strange?

GameHotel Sets Up In Zurich, Tells Us Just In Time

October 17, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- This is a little bit close to the event, and we missed the first announcement 3 or 4 months back, but Bruno and Tina of the TNC Network, producers of GameHotel are putting on a new hybrid event in Zurich on October 19th and 20th.

As noted in the press release they sent over, GameHotel is a 'cross-media production' company that held a pretty interesting 'show'-type event at Game Developers Conference 2004 here in California, and has done various other carefully picked, game culture-aware events since at multiple European venues.

In Zurich this time, there's both a show and 'grand game battle' "...featuring Jade Raymond (Assassin's Creed), Cevat Yerli (Crysis), Gareth Wilson (Project Gotham Racing 4), Doug Church (LMNO / The Steven Spielberg project), and Alex Rigopulos (RockBand)", as well as a two-day game conference featuring a number of the same people, as well as ARG expert Adrian Hon and various local notables.

The GameHotel events tend to be bright, diverse, and very European, so it should be a fun time! Anyhow, if there are any GSW readers in the area who might be attending, tell us - we wouldn't mind some coverage for GameSetWatch/Gamasutra. Also coming soon on the ol' GameHotel radar, we apparently have: "GAMEHOTEL 'SEASON FIVE'. December 7-8, Paris. The new edition of the legendary Paris Extravaganza. GAMEHOTEL 'THINK TANK'. January 2008." The latter of these sounds... thinkytanky!

GameSetMicroLinks: Cake Or Death?

October 17, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, the GameSetMicroLinks are upon us again, and they include an inevitable ode to Portal, as well as some 'state of the fighting game scene' talk and various other fripperies, as follows:

- Of course, everyone loves Portal (including the Rock Paper Shotgun folks, who are already turning their freezers into Weighted Companion Cubes), but the Schlaghund's Playground blog has a detailed, intelligent critique of Valve's grav-'em-up, for example: "Portal is a clear tribute to player ingenuity and an allegory for the gamer’s struggle to be treated as more than an automaton - in both the mainstream media and the mainstream design philosophy." Vaaguely spoiler-y, but v.readable.

- Over at Grey Goo Games, they've pointed out that the latest issue of Playboy has a 'video game blowout', and as they say: "For those of you without the latest issue on hand there are additional extended interviews on Playboy’s website" - including ones with Phil Harrison, Dave Jaffe, Tim Schafer, and more - and all of which are extremely readable. Uhh... go Playboy?

- A couple of folks have referenced Valleywag's rather amusing 'Field Guide: The Six Types Of Journalists (And How To Deal With Them)', which - yes - is dealing with the tech journalist rather than the game journalist. But I'm pretty sure that a lot of the stereotypes fit into the game biz - particularly phrases like: "Being a cub reporter isn't just a career phase; it's a lifestyle." Can anyone list the six different types of game journalist, then?

- Regular GSW readers will know that we like printing items on the fighting game scene, and James Chen's super-detailed retrospective of the Evolution 2007 fighting game championships is well worth reading for coverage on the micro-scenes, even if you're not a player yourself: "I firmly believe a strong community generates a strong game. And what, exactly, do I mean by a "strong" game? I am referring to how a game is received by the Fighting Game community as a whole, not how well the game is designed and such."

- In my native UK, the inaugural Games Media Awards have just been given out, and Kieron Gillen has a slightly sodden account of the whole evening, which had a regrettably PR/profit-driven background, but actually gave out some awards I agreed with. Kieron sez: "Here’s the secret: the awards don’t really matter. Actively boycotting them makes them matter, because it implies the results of any award ceremony are worth getting pissed off over rather than just rolling your eyes. It also makes you a big dirty prima donna who has an incredibly over-developed sense of your own importance."

- Former colleague Jane Pinckard continues to post thoughtful, un-Au-like editorials on games for GigaOm, and her latest is called 'What Can Games Learn from Music’s Mistakes?'. Notably, it includes a genuinely interesting, odd concept entwined in there somewhere: "Kim Pallister, who works on strategy for Microsoft Casual Games, noted this when I asked him what he thought games could learn from the music industry. 'A really interesting thing is to think about the ‘If it’s all free, the money’s in concerts/live performance’ angle for music. Is there an equivalent for games?'" Whoa, brainfreeze.

- Finally, you might know Alexander Brandon's music from games like Tyrian, Unreal Tournament, and Deus Ex - here's his MobyGames profile. Well, nowadays the former Game Developer magazine audio columnist (and old Kosmic-related .MOD scene colleague of mine) is working over at Obsidian - most recently on the Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion, which he recently blogged about. He's also launched a new non-soundtrack website, sensibly called Alexanderbrandon.net, where you can cower beneath his visage and listen to/buy his latest non-soundtrack catchy synth album, which is less Celtic than the artwork might lead you to expect. (He's now working on the Aliens RPG soundtrack, the lucky blighter.)

Independent Games Summit: Daniel James On Making An Indie MMO

October 17, 2007 12:08 AM | Simon Carless

-Here on GSW, we're proud to present the latest video from this year's Independent Games Summit, which took place at Game Developers Conference 2007 last March as part of the Independent Games Festival - look for an initial announcement next week on some IGS 2008 speakers

The eighth lecture is from Three Rings' captain Daniel James, most famous for his shepherding of Puzzle Pirates, of course - though his company has also released IGF prizewinner Bang! Howdy and are working on the distinctly intriguing-looking user-created online game experience Whirled.

What I particularly appreciate about this lecture - apart from James' caustic, battle-tested opinions on a variety of topics around online games and being an independent operator in the biz - is that he's unfailingly honest about Three Rings' monthly revenues and splits between products, as can be seen in the freeze-frame below (you might want to download the MPEG4 version to see it better, though James explains it verbally!) This really helps potential online indies understand how you can grow in a measured, smart way.

In any case, here's a direct Google Video link for the lecture, plus a higher-res downloadable .MP4 version and an embedded version:

Here's the original session description: "The business and creative mind behind games such as Puzzle Pirates and Bang! Howdy discusses the practical logistics of handling heavily invested online game players as an independent developer, discussing elements such as when and how to update content, community management and keeping players interested, how to approach Beta tests, technical support, and much more - a key hands-on lecture for all those considering making an indie online game."

(Other IGS 2007 videos posted so far are the indie innovation panel w/Mak, Blow, Chen, Gabler, Swink, and Matt Wegner on physics, alongside the Gastronaut founders on 'Small Arms' for XBLA, the Telltale folks on Sam & Max/episodic gaming, Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman on 'The Casual Cash Cow', and Braid's Jon Blow on indie prototyping, as well as Russell Carroll on 'indie marketing'.)

GameSetNetwork: This Post Is Not Yet Rated

October 16, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Aha, it's early in the week, but there's actually been a number of notable features on Gamasutra and associated CMP Game Group sites, so thought I'd throw them in your general direction all at once.

The ESRB and Kojima Productions articles are particularly edifying, I think - but who knows?

- This Game Is Not Yet Rated: Inside The ESRB Ratings System (Gamasutra)
"The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is a key part of the game industry, but do you know exactly how ESRB employees rate video games? Gamasutra spoke to Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB, to analyze the process and a day in the life of a game rater."

- Q&A: EEDAR's Zatkin On The Theory Of Achievements (Gamasutra)
"Do better achievements in games lead to better sales? Research group EEDAR claims games that with online-related achievements have 50% more sales, and Gamasutra talked to analyst Geoff Zatkin, who explained the findings, how achievements were born in MMOs, and the one 'masochistic' game with the overall hardest goals."

- - Blackwell Revisited (Game Career Guide)
"Independent game outfit Wadjet Eye Games recently released a 2D adventure title for PC, a seemingly manageable creation for an indie. Company founder Dave Gilbert shares the unexpected issues that cropped up during the development of Blackwell Unbound that resulted in it becoming a game he never intended to make."

- IBM, AMD, Nvidia, Intel Talk The Future Of Gaming Processors (Gamasutra)
"AMD, Intel, IBM, and NVIDIA were brought together to discuss the current state and future of processor designs as regards to gaming, touching on the PS3's Cell, the way in which consoles drive innovation in processor design, and more."

- Infiltrating Kojima Productions: Ryan Payton Talks Metal Gear Solid 4 (Gamasutra)
"Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the most significant video games of 2008 -- but what design decisions and artistic sensibilities are going into the game? Gamasutra talks to Kojima Productions' Ryan Payton about the political and design-based underpinnings of MGS4."

- Opinion: 'Serious Games - Are We Really A Community?' (Serious Games Source)
"In this impassioned opinion piece, PIXELearning CEO Kevin Corti discusses the nature of the 'serious games' movement, suggesting that the fragmented nature of the sector, which includes games for education, business, health, and military uses, is adversely affecting business."

- Innovation in Casual Games: A Rallying Cry (Gamasutra)
"Casual games are sometimes criticized for 'lack of innovation' , but in this exclusive Gamasutra opinion piece, game designer Juan Gril compares classic arcade games to today's casual market, arguing for a blend of incremental and radical innovation to move the sector forward."

The Rise Of The Niche Game Import Bidding War

October 16, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- Though just a tad on the imprecise side, I really enjoyed reading Jess Ragan's recent 1UP feature, 'Filling A Niche: Swimming Against The Current Of The Mainstream', an in-depth article that tried to explain how targeting specific submarkets and pockets of gaming is a good idea in today's increasingly fragmented society.

Skipping over some of the overly broad characterizations (I'm not really sure why THQ could be described as 'niche' just because it started with licensed games, for example), there is one particularly good section which deals with prices for licensing import titles:

"Gail Salamanca from Aksys Games tells us that a relatively low-budget title from Japan, like Sky Gunner or Guilty Gear XX Accent Core for PS2 can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 to license, but that's if the game first passes concept approval at Sony, for example. Prices for games like R-Type Final or Bumpy Trot can escalate if a bidding war erupts between smaller publishers scrambling to scoop up whatever scraps a larger publisher like Ubi Soft (Enchanted Arms) or Midway (Shadow Hearts) leaves behind."

And further goodness: "Salamanca says "Midway when they picked up Shadow Hearts, it was a decent RPG, but they probably paid a ton of money for it and only sold 70-100k. A localized game probably wouldn't cover their overhead, let alone make them a profit. Whereas if we sold 70-100k, for a smaller publisher like ourselves we would be like "Woo-hoo!" assuming we didn't pay overly much for the game." Salamanca told us that for an average $50 game that requires localization and voice talent, of which 50,000 pieces are manufactured, the typical investment is a million dollars or more, depending on the quality of the packaging, manual and marketing efforts. A lot of money for a smaller publisher, for sure, and picking up a game, even in market saturated with 40 million PS2s, it's a gamble every time." It's very rare to get specific figures like this - so thanks to 1UP for digging these up.

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