Entries from August 2008 ↓

Blue Track from Microsoft

Microsoft are teasing us that on the 9th of September they will be announcing a new product with the wind up tagline: “Say Goodbye to Laser”.

Unfortunately in the age of the internet it is difficult to keep the genie in the bottle. And what Microsoft are up to here has leaked out via various global retail partners. Microsoft have to tell these people their secrets so that they can sell the new product from day one. Unfortunately they are not as good at keeping the secrets as they should be. However Microsoft have reacted and Blue Track has been removed from their sites. But too late, the secret is out.

So it is going to be a new sort of mouse technology taking over from laser, using a blue LED and a special lens. It offers excellent performance and accuracy on most surfaces, raw wood, granite and carpeting included. This is especially useful with laptops but you can see it also having uses with consoles.

Eight news stories 28.8


Credit where credit’s due

In the early 1980s at Imagine Software in Liverpool I was trying to give customers the most possible added value in the packaging content. The idea was to add more and more folds to the cassette inlay card, each with additional information. So I wrote a company profile for one fold and a profile of the game’s author on another and so on. Eventually, as more people became involved on each game, it became possible to concoct a list of credits to put on yet another fold. This may (or may not) be the first time this was done with a video game.

I liked credits because they gave the picture of a team behind the game, thus adding to its perceived value. Artists and musicians were obvious additions but I even put the tea trolley girl on the list, which pleased her greatly. This is nothing more or less than the film industry has done for years. They really do go to great lengths for the maximum credit list, no matter how insignificant a person’s contribution.

Games now have production teams that can be bigger than those for a film. So the credits have grown. However the implementation of these credits within our industry is still shoddy, inconsistent, unprofessional and badly thought through. Both from a marketing point of view and from the view of looking after your staff properly. The credits policy varies wildly throughout the industry, from zero recognition of any one’s input to a massive list of everyone possible, and all possible permutations in between.

One unfortunate practice is to only include members of the team still employed by the developer at the end of the project. And to leave out anyone who has left the team to work elsewhere. This is especially harsh on an MMORPG which can take a few years to produce. Here someone can put two or three years of their life into a project and still not get a credit. This has reared its ugly head once more with Mythic and their game Warhammer. The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) are not happy and their chairperson Jen MacLean said: “This policy is disrespectful of the effort of the game developers who worked on the game, and misleads both consumers and game industry peers.”

Equally misleading is the habit some companies have of giving production credits to senior management, even if they had nothing to do with the game. One of the worst for this was Bruno Bonnell, when he was in charge every Infogrames game was “A Bruno Bonnell Production”, even if it was created by a company that he had recently bought, so he could not have had any input whatsoever.

It is obvious that what is needed here is standard industry practice. A set of guidelines for credits for all publishers to adhere to that gives game purchasers the true story and which rightly looks after the people whose creative input makes the whole industry possible. Surely as an industry we should be mature enough to get this right.

Lively, another Google fail

Despite supposedly employing the brightest people on earth and having the riches of Croesus, Google continually fail to extend its business model successfully beyond search advertising. This must be infuriating when it sees tech rival Microsoft being so successful in so many areas.

Google’s latest attempt to break out is the virtual world, Lively, which was launched in July. Browser based, it is really just a  Second Life lite. And, apeing Second Life, there is nothing to do, so like Second Life it is deserted. It is a pity because Google have the in house expertise and technology to do this right and make a serious impact on the virtual world market. Instead it has concentrated on the social networking aspect, an area that is more than well served by entrenched competition. This at the detriment of the gaming side. Just like Second Life. Perhaps if it had been looking at Maple Story, Runescape, Habbo, Club Penguin, Guild Wars etc it would have had a better idea what people want.

Maybe Google could learn in this area from Rupert Murdoch, who has no campus full of geeks. With a low cost, low risk strategy he is leveraging his existing brand and customer base with a product that people actually want, TheLondonPaper casual gaming portal. This can be used as a template and reskinned as a bolt on cash cow for any of his myriad global empire of media. You can see that he is a businessman.

We have another Second Life alike about to burst onto the scene with Sony Home. This time it has a huge potential to integrate gaming with social networking well. If it succeeds this could be a seminal product that changes the gaming landscape. We will see. Certainly it will be an extreme disappointment if this turns out to be another Lively.

Back to Google and another recent launch of its, Knol. This user friendly knowledge repository is a competitor for Wikipedia, and Google are relying upon user generated content to get it up to critical mass This has the potential to be another Lively, but it could be what finally gives Google a toehole in a business outside search.

Making gold in China

The most frequent spammers on the Harbury Villagebuzz websites are people trying to sell something called World of Warcraft Gold. They are selling virtual goods and services for players of video games in the West that have been produced by players of the game in low cost countries. This represents just the tip of the iceberg of a massive global industry that has remained under the radar and undocumented. But now professor Richard Heeks of the Institute for Development Policy and Management at Manchester University has produced an 87 page paper on the subject.

Let’s look at some of the facts that he has come up with:

  • Approximately 400,000 people are employed in China and other Asian countries to play these games to manufacture in game items.
  • These people work at this mining for 10 to 12 hours a day for a salary of around $145 per month.
  • Between 5 and 10 million game players in the West are buying these items.
  • Total revenue of this mining industry is between $500 and $1 billion per year.

So what can we learn from this?:

  • As a global employer the game industry supports 400,000 more jobs than people thought. This makes us a far more significant global industry in terms of employment generation than had previously been allowed for.
  • Maybe the grind element built into MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) games is overdone and excessive when millions of players are paying to bypass it. Possibly there is evidence here that game design need looking at.
  • Western games publishers are losing as much as $1 billion a year by not giving the customers what the customers want. They have underestimated how much their customers are willing to pay and what they want to pay for.
  • The game industry can be redistributive of wealth from the first to the third world. We have already seen this to some extent with development (especially art) outsourcing by Western game developers. Gold farming introduces a whole new element.

This is fascinating stuff and shows how big, all pervasive and global the game industry has become. And how different it can be to any other industry.

Peer to peer thieves pay the penalty

You have heard the mantra on here before, interweb downloads of games, music, films and TV programmes is the biggest binge of stealing in the history of humanity. Now people make all sorts of excuses rather than face the facts that they are thieves. But the simple matter is that the reasons they do it are because they think that there is zero chance of getting caught and because after they have done it they have the product and they still have their money. So it is truly excellent that at long last the game industry is acting.

Firstly five games developers, Atari, Topware Interactive, Reality Pump, Techland and Codemasters, will write to 25,000 people in the UK, asking each to pay £300 at once to settle out of court. Failure to comply risk being taken to court. Initial legal actions will be against 500 people who haven’t paid up. You can understand this action when you consider that Operation Flashpoint, a game I worked on, was downloaded (stolen) 691,324 times in one week.

Secondly a UK woman who put Dream Pinball 3D on a peer to peer network has been ordered to pay damages of £6,086.56 plus costs of £10,000 to Topware Interactive. Their lawyer said: “Our clients were incensed by the level of illegal downloading. In the first 14 days since Topware Interactive released Dream Pinball 3D it sold 800 legitimate copies but was illegally downloaded 12,000 times. Hopefully people will think twice if they risk being taken to court.”

It is actually very easy to catch these thieves. All you have to do is to join a peer to peer thieving network and record the IP addresses of everyone who contacts your computer, upload and download. Then use Whois to find whose the IP address is. Or ask the internet service provider. So, with application it is possible to close the whole den of vice down.

Obviously acting in this way is quite controversial. And Peter Moore, EA Sports boss, is more cautious: “I’m not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.”

Obviously this all applies mainly to boxed retail games. And any regular reader will know that this is a dieing business model. And the business models we are headed for in the future such as free gaming and server based gaming preclude piracy. But this is no reason to allow people to steal off you in the current business model.

Eight news stories 21.8