Flood Control

Friday, December 23, 2005

Take That, Christmas

You know all those trees? I mean, 'holiday trees'? I mean, 'Christmas trees, dammit'?

The Bible, once again, demonstrates that it has an insight for any occasion.

Also, I think it's time to experiment with Technorati, so green links lead back to Technorati and count as search terms. 'Cause I don't what I'm doing. Complete here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not Dead

I've been quite busy, waiting on a job call and being a ring-in at a post office.

There may be more details later, I'm just cleaning up now. I just got back.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Outpost Report From My Brain

There's been talk of episodic content as it applies to games. I think someone should call episodic games 'haikus'.

...because they're short, self-contained and they often have something to do with seasons.

This has been an Outpost Report From That Odd Place Called My Brain.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Oooh Shiny

Acclaim is having its publishing rights auctioned off.

I wouldn't mind owning the rights to Worms 3D or Ecco or something. I fully expect the interesting licenses will get snapped up, though, for more than my measly $50 or so.

Why Shallowness Scares Me

I have some misgivings about the current march towards collective intelligence and grouping with like-minded people. Nevermind for now that it's giving rise to dating services that split down party lines. I'm firmly of the opinion that conflict builds character - finding your weaknesses, and dealing with them, to me appears to be the way to learn how to deal with whatever life can throw at you.

"But Mr. Merus," you might say, "in this day and age one can never encounter something that will rock your world. Is it even necessary to learn how to deal with whatever life could throw at you when you'll probably never encounter it?" Which is a fair point, as I am a lazy lazy person.

The problem with that, though, is this: who ends up running the show? How does the democratic process deal with people who know lots about their own area but jack about anything outside of it? What about contentious issues for which there is no one right answer, like abortion? How about those issues where those who know nothing about it are nevertheless exceedingly interested in what happens, such as games legislation? How about issues where wisdom is more important than knowledge?

Is wisdom more important than knowledge? I would contend that, especially in cases where one keeps their areas of knowledge focused, wisdom is indeed more important than knowledge. It is impossible to avoid treading into uncharted waters at some point, and out there wisdom works where knowledge doesn't.

But then, I'm a fan of wisdom in general. Because I'm lazy, and I'd rather be able to extrapolate than to have to learn everything.

10 Things I'd Do If I Owned A Game Publisher

#1: In-House Prototypes Posted On The Website

The interest in the Experimental Gameplay Project and games like Cloud suggest that people are willing to give prototypes of experimental games a whirl. Although it'd be a real bandwidth sucker, polishing up the in-house prototypes and posting them for public consumption lets people 'prove' gameplay concepts by seeing which prototypes cause the most buzz. And let's not forget the publicity and ready audience you'd be fostering.

#2: Company-Wide Blogs

There's evidence to suggest that the growth of anime in North America and the general lack of pirated product is due to the strong community around anime. The main publishers keep the fans in the loop, and in return the fans self-police the community and will stamp out piracy in order to keep the anime industry profitable, and thus able to continue to release things. Joel Spolsky is trying a similar approach with his company Fog Creek, and suggests that giving a company a face and personality of its own might be an effective way for people to identify with the company and, you know, not pirate their products. I've personally seen what happens when the actual creator of the game comes and harasses people for pirating their game that they worked on, and you'd be surprised how cool people are about it. Building a community - absolutely critical.

#3: Don't Hire For A Love Of Games

I guess they say this because wages in the game industry are pretty bad. Honestly, though, if you can't convert people to loving games you're not making exciting games, and bringing people in that aren't traditional gamers means that you get fresh perspectives. Sit someone who doesn't normally play games down and watch them muddle through it and get their thoughts. (Here's what happened when I did it.) You'll be surprised just how much of the game-playing experience we take for granted. That non-gamer outlook is valuable, especially as games start asserting their worth as an entertainment medium.

#4: Find A Better Collective Name Than "Video Game"

Totally an image thing, this, but it has some practical considerations. A fancy name is useful for overcoming limitations in thinking - "interactive model" has much loftier ambitions than "video game" even though a video game is basically an interactive model designed for entertainment. But see what I did there? You can make 'interactive models' not expressively designed for entertainment.

#5: Use Your Technology For Other Things Than Games

Serious games look like they'll be a valuable market, especially for training and simulation purposes. Fostering a strong game design team means you can reuse your technology and chase after the business sector, which while unglamorous, is a great way to insure yourself against the expressively hit-driven games business. (I'm glad that Double Fine is still alive, even after their most excellent game Psychonauts flopped.)

#6: In-House Developers Probably Shouldn't Be Craftsmen Designers

I'm leveraging off Danc's terminology here: craftsmen designers are people like Ron Gilbert, who are very good at designing within certain genres but can't grasp game design theory. You want people who do, so you can move with the genres as necessary and get a lock on any new genres your in-house designers come up with. You'd be able to afford this so long as you've got business customers from #5 and prototype extensively in line with #1.

#7: Re-Use The Engines

Build a modular design for your graphics engine and use it for all your in-house projects. It takes ten years for software to get good, and so if you have people from multiple projects writing on an engine that's well-designed, in ten years you'll have a good engine, which will be a huge asset.

#8: Use Quadrant-Style Product Line Development

The quadrant is the famed old/young male/female demographic breakup used by movie studios and radio. It's been successful enough for movies, except they don't have quite the same distribution options we would. The AAA titles, naturally, would go to stores, but then you'd have the comapny store, which if set up well enough would go gangbusters if it leveraged the prototypes and web traffic from #1. The appeal of this is that the female, particularly the old/female, part of the quadrant is traditionally underserved, which makes it highly profitable to shore up your spread of demographics by shipping a couple of AAA titles for that market and filling the rest out with web sales.

#9: Fund Explicitly Artistic Games

Video games/interactive models are a new medium. We don't know their implications or what they can do. Thankfully, there are people who can find out for us, and these people are called artists. Governments probably won't give art grants to artists explicitly to make art using interactive models, but companies might. And the potential for art is there - you have the ability to express ideas, sculpture, possibly landscapes: what forms the eventual artworks take give you a good indication of what you're able to achieve and which directions might be profitable. And the goodwill and buzz you generate, especially if you organise an exhibition, is worth more than some crazy marketing scheme.

#10: Experiment With Alternate Business Models

Development costs are rising, and getting money off people has never been easier. Why not exploit the possibilities? I can see two interesting experiments right now. The first, which Caravel Games is trying at the moment, is to sell after-game support and additional content as a subscription service. People pony up $20 a year or something, and they get expansion packs, hand-selected fan content and new content and bug-fixes and game play and so on. Not only does this give people clamouring for a sequel to a new franchise the ability to put their money where their mouth is, it means that you have two possible directions for a franchise - using the same engine, but with new assets and expansions and essentially mission packs, and an actual sequel that's allowed to play much faster and looser with the premise because the people who just want the old game but newer are already being served.

The other option is derived from an idea by Ernest Adams, which is basically to set-up a preorder tank for a beloved but ignored franchise, and say to people to Paypal the company money to fill it up. After enough money is collected, they'll start development, and the contributors get to beta test it if they want; at a certain money level they'll release it as a retail product; at a larger value they'll send out free copies to everyone who chipped in some money and at some final value that properly reflects development costs with a little kick-back for the company they'll release the thing public domain instead, open-sourcing the engine (which would, after all, be a competitive quality game engine), opening the property and assets for anyone to do whatever they wanted with it, and did I mention a free full-price game available for anyone to download? That'd just be huge if it worked.

So, that's ten things I'd do if I owned a game publisher. Some have the potential to be profitable, some would be expensive but good from a marketing/PR perspective, and some would be very useful for just preempting more conservative competitors.

And I've just guaranteed that I'll never get to own a game publisher, haven't I? Ah well.