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 »

Game talkSWG is shutting down

 Posted by (Visited 54569 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Jun 242011

Star Wars Galaxies, a game I was the creative director on, is shutting down. It’s happening in mid-December. You can read an interview with John Smedley about it  on Massively. The short form, though, is that the contract with LucasArts is up.

I am sure there are plenty of people who are prepared to mourn; I went through my own emotional arc of moving on years and years ago at this point, so I am not going to dwell on it.

Instead, I’ll note that sandbox, worldy MMOs do not seem to have gone away despite the economic currents that run against them. It’s too big a dream, I suspect, and games like Arche Age, which isn’t out yet, Wurm which is, and of course EVE, show that there is a passionate audience for the sort of experience that lets you step into a more fully realized world and live there.

Some will say that SWG was a failure. They’ll cite the NGE, of course, and they’ll point out that it fared poorly against the juggernaut of WoW, despite the power of the license. My postmortem would be much like Smedley’s:

Here’s what I would have done differently. I would have made sure the ground and space games were launched all at once. I would have given the game another year to develop and really polish it quite a bit. I think we created one of the most unique and amazing games ever created in the MMO space. It is the sandbox game. Nothing else even comes close to what we did there. I would have really taken our time and polished combat right so we never had to do the NGE.

In the end, the game was quite profitable, it ran for eight years, and it entertained a few million people. I’ve been told it had a qualitatively different and more powerful community than other games, by objective metrics. It was built with some rickety tech — and some that won awards and led to patents (1, 2, 3). It was more casual and more broad appeal than what the license could even handle, in some ways, and many individual features that SWG had today power entire blockbuster giant companies in the social game space (hey look, farming where you come back the next day… where have I seen that before…?). And it gave us features that continue to amaze people who don’t realize what can be done: real economies complete with supply chains and wholesalers and shopkeepers, that amazing pet system, the moods and chat bubbles (anyone remember what chat in 3d MMOs looked like before SWG?), player cities, vehicles, spaceflight…

And dancing. Which everyone made fun of. But as far as I am concerned, it may have been the biggest and best contribution, the one that spawned a jillion YouTube videos and may well be the lasting influence the game leaves behind, an imprint on all the games since: a brief moment where you can stop saving the world or killing rats and realize the real scope and potential of the medium.

In the end, SWG may have been more potential and promise than fulfilled expectation. But I’d rather work on something with great potential than on fulfilling a promise of mediocrity. There’s a reason people are passionate about it all these years later. I’m proud to have worked on it.

Jun 162011

GDC Vault – Social Mechanics for Social Games [SOGS Design] is a link that takes you to the GDC Vault where you can watch a full video of the presentation, with the slides side by side, for free.

Of course, you didn’t need that, right? Because you already paid to get access to the utterly awesome GDC Vault. 🙂

There are a couple more free talks released today as well, including the AI rant and an inside look at the Humble Indie Bundle. You can check out all the free talks here.



Jun 142011

Sebastian Deterding has posted another spectacular presentation on gamification, but really on much more: the reasons why to make games, a great deconstruction of how they function from a social point of view, a lot of insights on game design in general… all in all, really wonderful.

MusicThe Sunday Song: New Year’s Song/1990

 Posted by (Visited 5919 times)  Music  Tagged with: , ,
Jun 122011

I wrote this in 1994. We were living in Alabama at the time, while we went to grad school. A lot of the stuff I was writing back then was kind of like “short stories as songs,” very under the influence of folkies like Bill Morrissey; this song in particular is one of those.

Needless to say, it’s entirely fictional; I was seven years old in 1978. 🙂 It’s supposed to be a tale told from the point of view of a man on New Year’s Eve in 1990, looking back at 1978 and looking at where his life is on that day.

download “New Year’s Song/1990” (mp3)

This was one of the tracks of an album called “The Land of Red Barns,” all of which had that short story vibe, pretty much. I have never recorded decent versions of most of them, and I am making it a project to get all the couple hundred songs I have written recorded and maybe even out there somewhere, so here’s this one.

Music geek stuff from here forward…:

Continue reading »

Game talkAre virtual worlds just for kids?

 Posted by (Visited 34270 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jun 032011


  • Virtual worlds have gained great popularity among the younger audience, dwarfing their popularity for most adults.
  • Virtual worlds take a lot of time to engage in.
  • Virtual worlds for adults have become less and less like worlds and more like single-player or multiplayer games.
  • Adults use virtual spaces regularly, but with a very different form of identity control largely focused around real-world ties.


  • Richard Bartle is correct in saying that virtual worlds are about self-knowledge. (“Virtual worlds are about identity” — Designing Virtual Worlds, p.433).
  • The Laws of Online World Design (in the humbly named “Koster’s Theorem”) are right that “Virtual social bonds evolve from the fictional towards real social bonds. If you have good community ties, they will be out-of-character ties, not in-character ties. In other words, friendships will migrate right out of your world into email, real-life gatherings, etc.”
  • Child psychologists the world over are right that youth is a time of identity formation and experimentation.


  • Users grow out of virtual worlds. They may grow out of one of them, or all of them, if they achieve sufficient self-knowledge.
  • Users might fall back into them if they lose their community ties or sense of identity, or have high amounts of available time.


  • Kids find virtual worlds, and being at the prime age for identity exploration, dive headlong into them.
  • Then they grow out of them, and don’t need them anymore.
  • Most adults don’t need that sort of identity exploration anymore. Some do, and some just enjoy identity exploration in its own right.
  • The virtual world boom was about those that did discovering this tool, using it, and then moving on.

A thought I have had for a while, but was brought briefly to mind by this post on NWN… basically, the question is whether it is in fact an inevitable destiny of the medium that it gravitate towards being for kids because of social and market pressures. This would make me sad — not because kids’ worlds are bad, but because they cannot fully express the power of the medium.

Game talkGame Developers Choice Online Awards noms open!

 Posted by (Visited 5488 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Jun 022011

Step one: be a professional game developer and Gamasutra.com member.

Step two: think long and hard about the best online game experiences you have seen since last June.

Step three: visit the Game Developers Choice Online Awards website and nominate them!

The categories include best online innovation, for pushing boundaries in how we play; best online visual arts; best online tech; best online game design; best online audio; best social network game; best live game; best community relations; best new online game; online games legend (for an individual’s career); and Hall of Fame, which Ultima Online got last year, for a game that, well, changed the game.

Go, submit!