Game talkMusings on the Oculus sale

 Posted by (Visited 15160 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.

Continue reading »

MailbagMailbag: breaking in (again)

 Posted by (Visited 2577 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:

Continue reading »

Game talkGDC Next call for submissions

 Posted by (Visited 4556 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Apr 292013
 

The call for submissions for GDC Next is now open. I am on the advisory board.

The conference will be in Los Angeles, November 5-7. This is the conference that is replacing GDC Austin; basically, it’s intended to be the most forward-looking of the GDCs, intentionally looking at what comes next, not what happened in the last year. Because of that, the tracks aren’t quite what one would expect:

  • The Future of Gaming is going to focus on things like second screen play, new kinds of play around mobility, episodic, and the like.
  • Next Generation Game Platforms will be digging into not just next-gen consoles but stuff like VR headsets, and glasses, microconsoles, motion tracking, smart TVs, watches, and whatever else looks like it is around the corner.
  • Smartphone and Tablet Games is a bit more here and now, but given the enormous worldwide growth that still remains ahead of these platforms, there’s plenty of cutting edge stuff to discuss, and current lessons to share
  • Cloud gaming will talk about game streaming — the tech, the business, the design
  • The Independent Games Track — we all know that indies are where the future lies. Lecture, postmortems, rants, covering design, business, and everything else.

We’ve got a mix of folks from the GDC Austin board plus a bunch of new advisors.

Go submit your talks!

Game talkThoughts from the LA Games Conference

 Posted by (Visited 5230 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Apr 202013
 

This past week I was on a panel at the Digital Media Wire LA Games Conference.

The big thing that I wanted to get across to people attending is that many publishers are really caught in a bind. They aren’t willing to take on speculative projects, which is what smaller indies want and need. They ask for vertical slices or even profitable titles before they are willing to sink money into something. But developers are starting to conclude that if they can get a title to that point, they may as well just ship it and make money for themselves. Stuff like the recent financial postmortem of Dustforce shows how many folks are quite willing to trade higher income for creative freedom instead.

With over 50% of developers now describing themselves as independent, and showing a marked preference for platforms with as little publishing friction as possible, we’re going to see a lot of smaller games, a lot of “at bats” for a lots of developers. And odds are greater that some chunk of those will establish a new franchise successfully than a big publisher will. I tossed some guesstimates for team sizes for next gen console development at Chris Early from Ubisoft, and my guess of six studios and 1500 people for a single game was too low for even current gen Assassin’s Creed (he said it took eight studios (!) which is a stunning feat of coordination).

So 1500 people for three years and one game; or half the active industry — let’s say 15000 people — making a game a year in teams of five. That’s a lot of smaller bets. That’s where the next Valves, Rovios, Blizzards will be born. And as predicted, there will be a lot fewer big AAA titles out there than in the past, as their manpower falls and risk aversion continues to rise.

Here’s a few bits of coverage of the conference:

Continue reading »

Game talkOscar bait

 Posted by (Visited 4291 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Feb 282013
 

side_oscarHollywood just got done with its annual parade of self-congratulation. And I don’t mean that in a bad way — the Oscars may have originated as a marketing gimmick, but they are more than that. They serve as a way for creatives to honor creatives. And every year, movies are made which get called “Oscar bait” — films clearly made without much expectation of huge profits.

At a time when big game companies frequently speak in terms of “it it doesn’t make a million a day, or have a million players a day, it’s not worth making,” why do Hollywood studios keep making films that are small, play to small audiences, and aren’t anywhere near as profitable as a summer blockbuster? Wouldn’t it make sense to focus all your resources on the titles that have the highest ROI? While many small films have great profit margins, the absolute numbers are small, and thus there’s a large opportunity cost to doing the small movies.

Don’t worry, there’s a business reason. The logic goes something like this:

Continue reading »

Oct 172011
 

Yup, a tiny bit more.

Side note, I am struck how little long-form coverage there is of talks anymore, now that so much blogging has moved to Twitter…

Oct 132011
 

Title slide for "It's All Games Now"Here are the slides for the talk that I gave today at GDC Online. I have to warn you that more than usual, you needed the performance, I think. So keep an eye out for when the video shows up on the GDCVault — I’ll be sure to let you know. :)

It seems to have gone very very well. Lots of positive feedback on Twitter and in the hallways afterwards.

If I had to summarize my message, I suppose I would rattle off this set of bullet points:

  • We are losing (or changing) some qualities of games because of the contexts in which they exist now, particularly social media. We let the real world invade more — such as microtransactions and RMT — and we also let the real world shape design decisions — for example, giving up on the notion of not having global chat in you virtual world.
  • We’re understanding games better than ever thanks to both design theory and real-world science. And also understanding ourselves as people better.
  • That understanding is going into applying gamelike features to real life. Not just stuff like gamification, but also common features of social media that clearly draw heavily from game inspirations, such as quantified reputation systems, achievement systems, and even how our profiles look on social networking sites.
  • This is made easier because we’re in a “cloud phase” in the evolution of computing. The pendulum always swings from cloud to local.
  • But our local machines have gotten more accessible, but a lot less open over time, and the net result is that we don’t really control the cloud or our local devices now.
  • The rub there for the game industry is that we have essentially ended up recreating the console ecosystem, only with iOS and Facebook instead of Sony and Nintendo, which doesn’t bode well for several segments of the industry.
  • Instead, it just increases the odds that the process will accelerate, as we will be the product. Indeed, already our perception of reality has been greatly filtered by social media, and is less objective and inclusive.
  • But we shouldn’t forget that we are the ones who define the rules here; we’re the wizards of the game world. Games are fundamentally social media and always have been.
  • We will be OK, as long as we don’t forget that the point of games is not the points structures, but the people we played with, and the lessons we learned.

But summarizing it that way skips the fairytale I told, and the rapid-fire science-fiction story I told, and my brief Jonathan Coulton musical quote, and much more. :)

I ended on this hope from Ted Nelson:

I hope, that in our archives and historical filings of the future, we do not allow the techie traditions of hierarchy and false regularity to be superimposed to the teeming, fantastic disorderlyness of human life.

You can read Gamasutra’s write-up here. I think it captures the essence pretty well!

Jun 302011
 

Warning: giant (4700 word) post on basic marketing principles, prompted by some recent discussion on a forum about what makes for a well-retaining game.

A lot of folks, especially in social, seem to use the word “retention” when they should think “conversion.” I tend to think of this as an emotional journey.

You can think of this sequence as going something like this:

  1. Sampling
  2. Converting
  3. Retaining
  4. Re-engaging

Continue reading »

Jan 252011
 

This afternoon I was on a panel on mergers and acquisitions in the social games market alongside a bunch of great folks. It was the last session of the day, and they asked me to go “all designery” so I did. :)

You can find a liveblog here:

ISA 2011: Live-Blogging the Mergers and Acquisitions Landscape for Small and Mid-Size Developers.

And a news article here:

ISA 2011: Small Developers Don’t Need to Sell Out Yet

You can also get the highlights of the entire conference by simply reading the search results for the #isa2011 hashtag on Twitter.