May 072014
 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the financial future of developers.

The supply chain for creative work

To go back a ways, back in 2006 I suggested that you could look at the winding path a piece of media takes to the public in this way:

086260-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-dollar-solidA funder of some sort ponies up the money so that a creative can eat while they work. Sometimes this is self-funding, sometimes it’s an advance, sometimes it’s patronage.
020790-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-thought-bubble-ps A creator actually makes the artwork.
066167-rounded-glossy-black-icon-people-things-people-securityAn editor serves the role of gatekeeper and quality check, deciding what makes it further up the ladder. They serve in a curatorial role not just for the sake of gatekeeping but also to keep the overall market from being impossible to navigate, and to maximize the revenue from a given work.
033343-rounded-glossy-black-icon-culture-castle-five-towersA publisher disseminates the work to the market under their name. A lot of folks might think this role doesn’t matter, but there are huge economies of scale in aggregating work; there’s boring tax. legal, and business reasons to do it; it serves brand identity, making the work easier, to market…
002953-rounded-glossy-black-icon-media-loudspeaker1Marketing channels make it possible for the artwork to be seen by the public: reviews, trade magazines, ads. This is how the public finds out something even exists.
040733-rounded-glossy-black-icon-transport-travel-z-truck25 Distributors actually convey the work to the store’s hands. This role functions in the background, but it’s absolutely critical. There’s a lot of infrastructure required.
086385-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-tagStores then retail the packaged form of the artwork to the end customer. Stores have their own branding task, and likely serve as a curatorial and recommendation engine all over again, this time trying to find the right fit for the customer.
020767-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-smiley-face1The audience then gets to experience the work.
009311-rounded-glossy-black-icon-arrows-arrow-circle-refreshRe-users then take the creation and restart the process in alternate forms; adaptations to movies, audiobooks, classic game packages, what have you.

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MiscIs this the future?

 Posted by (Visited 2880 times)  Misc
May 062014
 

Premise: Goods made of bits offer tremendous advantages to providers of said goods.

Therefore, any good that can be described in terms of bits will be.

Therefore, any good that cannot be described in terms of bits that can cheaply phone home will, in the name of better service, causing it to effectively be bits even if it has a physical manifestation.

Therefore, any good that can be described and experienced in terms of bits will cease to be owned and instead be a service.

Therefore, there will be ongoing service costs to all physical goods.

Therefore, because of economics, anything that is a service will eventually get the service turned off.

Therefore, the more we move to bits, the more we have the dead media problem for physical goods.

Observation: Anything with a service that is turned off will get hackers reverse-engineering a fake server to try to keep it functional. That said, I think in most cases platforms die. Hopefuly, a lot of stuff can function with a fake loopback of some sort.

So how long until the Doctrine of First Sale is obsolete entirely? Just wondering.

 

Game talk2048: Game Design Theory Edition

 Posted by (Visited 1920 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
May 022014
 

gametheory2048I have to post this here for posterity even though I already tweeted it yesterday. Anyone better at 2048 than I who can post the full list of everyone in it? I’ll update the post with the details. :) See below!

2048: Game Design Theory Edition. Made by Brian Upton.

I can’t get higher than Eric Zimmerman… my daughter saw Frank Lantz though.

Edit: the full list, as provided by commenters:

  1. Chris Crawford
  2. Greg Costikyan
  3. Jesse Schell
  4. Raph Koster
  5. Ernest Adams
  6. Marie-Laure Ryan
  7. Jesper Juul
  8. Eric Zimmerman
  9. Frank Lantz
  10. Ian Bogost
  11. Brenda Romero

Game talkGDC Next Call for Papers

 Posted by (Visited 1335 times)  Game talk
Apr 292014
 

headerIt’s that time again — GDC Next, the inheritor of the GDC Austin slot, is requesting submissions for talks. The high-level theme this year is, more or less, “after the game idea, what’s next?” We all know that the idea is in many ways the easiest part, and in this climate of maturing markets, knowing what else needs to be done to have a success is mattering more and more for people trying to make a living at games.

The tracks, and the stuff that we the advisory board want to get submissions on:

Community: including Live community, how and when to use social media, e-sporty stuff, games-as-experience, and everything else that touches on.

Discoverability: Early Access! YouTube! Twitch! How to get seen on the App Store! This section of topics has gotten incredibly important in the last few years, and there are a lot of things that successful indies are pulling off that are worth looking at.

Biz and marketing: Business 101 for game creators! How to tell a good offer from a bad one. How to manage growth. Crowdfunding postmortems. Is there an international market for your game?

Production: Cross-platform — obviously, but how? What are the tradeoffs of the various x-platform engines? And maybe even more importantly, which platforms and when in your game’s lifecycle? How to do test marketing! How to build an IP that a player remembers.

Design: The usual goodness. GDC Austin, and then Next, have historically had sky-high ratings for design talks, some of the best of any of the GDC’s. So game mechanics, stickiness, revenue, smartphone and tablet, all that.

So head on over to the site to get the full details and submit!

Game talkOn SiriusXM tomorrow!

 Posted by (Visited 2014 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Apr 132014
 

I’ll be speaking on SiriusXM Business radio on The Digital Show Monday at 2pm Pacific/5pm Eastern, with Kartik Hosanagar of Wharton. It’s on channel 111, and the topic will be virtual reality.

This is of course occasioned in part by my post on the sale of Oculus to Facebook, but I hope we spend time talking about the broader context: how VR is one of the things that a beleaguered core gamer audience is looking to as a great saving hope, and how VR has the potential to link into long-dormant Metaverse dreams, and more. And of course, whether VR is really where it’s going to be at, or whether AR is really the hotter space… though really, I am of the opinion that they are more or less the same thing… about which more on the show. :)

Game talkMusings on the Oculus sale

 Posted by (Visited 12958 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 252014
 

four-square-1Rendering was never the point.

Oh, it’s hard. But it’s rapidly becoming commodity hardware. That was in fact the basic premise of the Oculus Rift: that the mass market commodity solution for a very old dream was finally approaching a price point where it made sense. The patents were expiring; the panels were cheap and getting better by the month. The rest was plumbing. Hard plumbing, the sort that calls for a Carmack, maybe, but plumbing.

Rendering is the dream of a game industry desperately searching for a new immersion, another step in the ongoing escalation of immersion that has served as the economic engine of ongoing hardware replacement, the false god of “games getting better.” It was an out: the plucky indie that bucked the big consoles but still gave us the AAA. It was supposed to enable “art.”

But rendering was never the point.

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Game talkGDC: Building game retention tips

 Posted by (Visited 2831 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Mar 252014
 

Aside from the ten minute talk at Critical Proximity that I posted yesterday, I spoke for an additional six minutes at GDC2014 (yes, that’s unusually low commitment for me!). It was a microtalk on retention tips for free to play games in the “build and invest” genre — stuff like farming games, city games, all those isometric games where you plonk down little objects. You can find the archived presentation here.

Quests work against self-expression. They force you to build what the developers want, not what you want.

Most of the panelists focused on the “modern” use of the term “retention” — which is to say, they focused on how to get people to come back for the second day, or for a week. The phrase “daily login bonus” was a common reference. But I knew that would be the case, and so took the opportunity to continue my hapless crusade to get social-style games to greater heights of community and user involvement.

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Mar 242014
 

The debates about “what is a game” happened between multiple overlapping circles that have very little to do with one another… “Games” is never going to fall into one bucket or critical lens… We enrich ourselves and our mutual understanding not by claiming pre-eminence of one circle, but by learning to move between them.

On the Sunday before GDC, I attended and spoke at Critical Proximity, a games criticism conference. It was quite excellent. I am left with many thoughts, which will have to go into a separate post on the subject. In the meantime, there are write-ups available in several places:

As regular readers know, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about “formalism” in games over the last few years. This talk was an attempt to reset the conversation with insights into “formalism in the real world” as Brendan Keogh put it on Twitter, a look into the ways in which looking at the formal structure of games is able to help out and illuminate all sorts of games criticism. Including “softer” or more humanistic approaches, such as historiography, study of play, and cultural studies approaches.To that end, I deployed a set of analogies from other media: fine art, and poetry, and music, to help draw connections between the ways formal approaches and even notation are used in these other fields, and how we might use them in ours.

My talk is below the fold (hover over the slides for the notes text), and for the full transcript plus a link to the video, go here.

There were many other talks I highly recommend… the entire Twitch stream is available (see that same link) and lasts 8 hours!

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Game talkMe at GDC 2014

 Posted by (Visited 1530 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Mar 132014
 

gdc_2014As usual, I will be in San Francisco this year! It’s a relatively quiet year for me though.

I’m giving a talk at Critical Proximity, which is a brand-new conference held on Sunday, the day before GDC kicks off. It’s a conference all about games criticism. My talk is called “A New Formalism,” and it’s about ways to apply various sorts of picky craft approaches to games in ways that hopefully enrich the non- formal styles of critique.

I am also giving a microtalk as part of the GDC F2P Summit, on retention tips and techniques specifically for “build and invest” style games:

Microtalks: Retention Tips for Free-to-Play Genres

The two pillars of free-to-play gaming are retention and monetization. Because players monetize over time, you need to keep as many of your players coming back for as long as possible. But how do you accomplish that? In this uniquely-formatted session, seven battle-hardened free-to-play veterans will give microtalks about retention techniques for seven different free-to-play genres: builders, hidden object games, card battle games, RPGs, word games, shooters and social casino. Learn the tips and tricks that the pros use in each of these genres.

That’s on Monday, Room 2016, West Hall, at 4:30pm-5:30pm. Remember, my part is all of six minutes — I share the time with a bunch of wonderful folks.

Beyond that — a whole bunch of business meetings, dinners and networking and whatnot. I will have a copy of my card game with me at all times, so if you see me, expect to get dragooned into playtesting. I will also have a variety of other game prototypes too…

 

 

MailbagMailbag: breaking in (again)

 Posted by (Visited 2161 times)  Mailbag  Tagged with: ,
Mar 082014
 

Hello Mr. Koster, my name is J___ A_____ and I am a recent college graduate with a computer science degree. I came across your name on the Wikipedia article about MUDs, and noticed the link to your website and in turn this contact form. I realize this is a complete shot in the dark but I’ve gotten so many friendly “no thank you” letters recently I figure the worst that happens is you never reply.

In 1993, I began playing a hack and slash Rom 2.3 mud called Creeping Death, and completely fell in love. In 1999 I taught myself C and with the help of a friend, we put up our first MUD. I have been actively coding them off and on ever since. A few years ago I went back to school and pursued a Bachelors in Comp Sci and am desperately trying to break into the video game industry. Outside of mud coding I have little expertise in game design. My question then is this:

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