Global Game Industry News Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

XNA Game Studio Express (beta) Is Loose!

It's enough to make me want a 360.

Microsoft launches XNA Game Studio Express beta //
Microsoft has announced the launch of the public beta for XNA Game Studio Express, a new development tool aimed at independent and student programmers.

The beta, which is available via Microsoft's website, allows developers to create games using Windows XP and Windows Vista. Games can then be ported over to Xbox 360, providing their creators are willing to join the XNA Creators' Club at a cost of USD 99 per year - or USD 49 for a four month trial.

The Creators' Club will launch towards the end of the year alongside the finished version of XNA Game Studio Express. A second version aimed at more experienced developers who hope to profit from their creations, titled XNA Game Studio Professional, will follow in the spring - with a price point yet to be announced.

According to Microsoft, there has been an "overwhelming" response to XNA Game Studio Express since it was unveiled earlier this month; more than 100 schools and nearly 20 universities from around the globe have shown interest in the project so far.

A Fascinating Typology of Gamers

This gamer typology is fascinating. It's quite interesting to see a more diverse understanding of what it means to "be a gamer". I'm also interested in what this means to the market. It is especially interesting that the "hard core" market is only about 11 percent of revenue, though this is who most games are marketed at. This is probably why "runaway hits" exist in the first place because they appeal more broadly to these other demographics.

GameDaily BIZ: Study: U.S. Gamer Market is Diversifying
According to Parks Associates, there is a new (and important) middle ground "with different motivations, gaming behaviors, and spending patterns." Three segments of this that Parks says are "traditionally ignored by marketers" are Social Gamers, Leisure Gamers, and Dormant Gamers. These three groups account for 53 percent of the Internet gamer population and 56 percent of the retail revenue.

Overall, Parks breaks down the market into six distinct segments, as follows:

  • Power gamers represent 11 percent of the gamer market but account for 30 cents of every dollar spent on retail and online games.
  • Social gamers enjoy gaming as a way to interact with friends.
  • Leisure gamers spend 58 hours per month playing games but mainly on casual titles. Nevertheless they prefer challenging titles and show high interest in new gaming services.
  • Dormant gamers love gaming but spend little time because of family, work, or school. They like to play with friends and family and prefer complex and challenging games.
  • Incidental gamers lack motivation and play games mainly out of boredom. However, they spend more than 20 hours a month playing online games.
  • Occasional gamers play puzzle, word, and board games almost exclusively.

Yuanzhe (Michael) Cai, Director of Broadband and Gaming at Parks Associates, commented, "If game companies insist on chasing the mythical hardcore and casual gamer segments, they will miss out on more than half of the market. The market is not black and white anymore, and game marketers need to understand these finer nuances."

The PS3's Ability to Produce Realistic Content isn't being Question

What's being questioned is its ability to be a platform for revolutionary content. While Yamauchi is probably right that the PS3 does offer unprecedented opportunity to create HD and realistic content on a console. I think the question becomes, what does this mean/matter? I think few people will question GranTurismo's position as one of the biggest racing game franchises ever. What they might question is just how revolutionary that in and of itself is.

GameDaily BIZ: PS3 a "Weapon for Revolution," says Gran Turismo Creator
As you'd expect from a first-party developer Yamauchi continued to boast about the power of the PlayStation 3. "For the first time in video games, we can render graphics that are on a par with movies in terms of realism," he said, then noting that the increased horsepower makes it more difficult on developers because of the level of detail required. "It's very gratifying, but also very hard," he said.

"To be honest, I can't really say the [original PlayStation] or the PlayStation 2 were able to sufficiently represent the realistically modeled physical world we wanted [in previous Gran Turismo games]," he added. "With the PS3, we will be able to perform true physical modeling for the first time."

As for the PS3's online capabilities, Yamauchi thinks the next-gen console will do wonders by bringing the Internet to millions of TV screens. "The PS3 is not just revolutionary for video games; it's revolutionary for television, to put it simply," he boasted. The PS3's full online plans have not yet been completely outlined, but Sony does have the advantage of offering its online gaming platform for free. We're not sure how the PS3 will "revolutionize" the TV market, but SCE Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison has talked about downloading movies or TV shows to the PS3 hard drive, so Yamauchi is likely referring to something along those lines.

Yamauchi's PS3 hype really entered the land of hyperbole later on, however, when he said, "Our job is to make games and deliver them to the user. But at the same time, we want to change society. So for us, the PlayStation 3 is our weapon for revolution."

To have "communication" you have to be talking first

I can't agree more. The unfortunate part is that Iain Simons doesn't know how right he is. It's not just "poor communication" its non communication. Its negative communication. Most of the platform holders (though MS and the XBox 360 might change this tune) give out next to no good information, and even to licensees. Imagine if people working on licenced games get little enough information.

The only good public/open tools are hacked together, and often times after enough time wind up better than the real deal. If the platform owners had opened up enough to allow development in the first place, most of these tool-chains could have been to that point within a year or two rather than close to a decade.

If the game industry wants to be taken seriously, it has to stop playing like the kid in the schoolyard stomping off with the ball because they got beat. Come to the table, take your licks, learn, get better. I guess that takes humility, of which Sony has little at the moment. My bad.

Poor communication is holding back industry, says GameCity organiser //
In an interview discussing the GameCity event, which is set to take place in Nottingham this October, Simons said: "Our frustration, to a certain extent, has been working with the platform holders.

"The public sector has really gotten behind this, and a lot of developers have to such a large degree that we were hoping that platform holders would be more upfront in their collaboration too," he continued.

"If the games industry wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, and culture in general, it needs to be able to step up and work with external people - with the rest of the cultural industries, and think about how it’s going to present itself."

Discussing the thinking behind the five day event he's currently organising, Simons said: "The intention of GameCity is to spread games, talk about games and the experience of games across an entire city, to as many different places as we possibly can - cafés, pubs, libraries, universities, shops - to allow people to stumble across them in their everyday lives and create a real festival atmosphere."

But, according to Simons, videogaming won’t be taken seriously until the industry as a whole can learn better ways to communicate with other entertainment and cultural industries.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mommy, I want to play protein Folding@Home!

So, looks like Sony and Folding@Home have gotten together (I'm not quite sure who pioneered this idea) and are going to release a Folding@Home client for the PS3. It's pretty cool, and some of the advanced visualization options which are going to be available, are also super sweet, I'm a little bit concerned about what happens when mommy and daddy take a look at their power bills after all the little Jimmys and Jennys have left their PS3 on for weeks at a time. Then again those little Jimmys and Jennys mommies and daddies probably have plenty of money to burn, considering that they've got a PS3 in the first place.

Sony is probably using this as a technological demonstration, which is both good PR, and a reasonable way to demonstrate that power of the CELL processor. Not that they're wrong, but I'm probably not going to be the first or last person who says, "protein folding code ain't game code b*tch."

Why hasn't Folding@Home released a client for the PC that does the cool visualization that the PS3 is doing? Because they're using more of the CPU and GPU to do the actual crunching. In all likelihood the same is true for the PS3, but Sony needed not a good client (most efficient client), but something that looked sexxy but also did the F@H work.

It also makes me wonder what it takes to get this kind of partnership. It probably helps that Stanford is doing the F@H project, which puts them in closer proximity with game industry folks willing to work on something like this. I know from personal experience that Sony didn't have any interest in working with a tech school in the northeast on a piece of software aimed at inner city youth helping them improve standardized testing scores in math and science, despite the fact that said software's prototypes were award winning. It's good to be in California I guess.

Now in 2006, we are looking forward to another major advance in capabilities. This advance utilizes the new Cell processor in Sony’s PLAYSTATION 3 (PS3) to achieve performance previously only possible on supercomputers. With this new technology (as well as new advances with GPUs), we will likely be able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale per computer. With about 10,000 such machines, we would be able to achieve performance on the petaflop scale. With software from Sony, the PlayStation 3 will now be able to contribute to the Folding@Home project, pushing Folding@Home a major step forward.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Irony of New Consoles

Why is it that the best titles showing up are showing up on the older consoles? God of War, Resident Evil 4, ... Certainly there are interesting and innovative titles showing up on the Xbox 360, and soon the PS3 and Wii. But the coolest games are on the older systems. In large part because these are the systems developers have been working with for years. They're good at making games for them. They know the hardware, they have established pipelines, they know what they're doing.

Then you have new consoles, and especially in the case of the 360 and PS3, they are expensive. Again, smaller markets. It will take time and price cuts before they're widely available. The one system that gets around this problem in several ways is the Wii. It's going to be much cheaper than its "competitors." It's going to be different. And perhaps most importantly, developers actually know a lot more about that hardware than they do other systems. Many existing pipelines will work with some changes.

Its tough to constantly have this double movement, forward/backward. Now of course there are some great reasons for pushing into new hardware territory. But I think there is something to be said for console manufacturers doing it more out of a desire to drive the market, than at the behest of developers.

GC: Tough times ahead as next-gen consoles arrive - Daglow //
"Generally it's jostling between the hardware manufacturers that drives the move into next-gen. Nobody's in a hurry for that to happen inside the business, because instead of having millions and millions we can sell to, suddenly we're down to a few million real dedicated gamers."

According to Daglow, total sales in the industry are set to drop as the new consoles arrive, and business models will become stretched due to reduced royalty potential.
The irony, Daglow believes, is that although new hardware gives developers much more scope to produce innovative IP, their ability to do so is simultaneously constrained by financial pressures.

"When you stretch the industry, what we think of as creativity is pushed back, ironically by the introduction of the potential for future creativity," he concluded.

Nintendo Goes Pink Too!

I guess the market for pink consoles is pretty big.

GC: Nintendo reveals Pink DS Lite, new Wii titles //
Nintendo also took the opportunity to reveal that the DS Lite, which launched across Europe at the beginning of the summer, will be available in a new Pink colour from October 27th - a move which follows on from the massive success of the original DS console in pink.

PAX the new E3? Probably Not.

It will be interesting to see where PAX goes over the next year. I'm quite intrigued by the progression that an expo put together by those guys at PA has gone from it's original form to this. To an event that is even being perceived as a possible replacement for E3.

PAX venue will triple in size in 2007 - Joystiq
"PAX has clearly been growing in leaps and bounds. Even before the demise of the 'old' E3, this year's PAX was on track to attract more than 17,000 attendees with a big presence from Microsoft and Nintendo and scores of other big names in gaming. But PAX is all about the community, and Penny Arcade is committed to keeping it that way. We don't want to be E3. PAX is a place that hardcore gamers, whether they work in the industry, or not, come to be completely immersed in game play, game music and game culture.

There will be some changes in store for PAX next year. In 2007, PAX will move to a venue triple the size of 2006, and we've already begun to receive reservations for booth space from AAA publishers. Based on recent conversations with our exhibitors and potential new exhibitors, we do expect publishers to continue - perhaps even more so than in the past - to reveal developmental phase games to hardcore game fans in order to get their direct input on unfinished products. In a way, PAX is like a giant 3-day beta test, which works really well for both developers and publishers. We're also seeing an increase in PAX interest from the media - both gaming and mainstream."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EA: "We're failing women." Sony: "Have a pink PS2."

Now, I know it's not entirely fair to Sony, but the fact that both of these reports came out today, I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

GameDaily BIZ: EA: The Industry is 'Failing Women'
Video games for the longest time have been dominated by men. The industry's workforce is largely comprised of young white males, and the people who play video games are usually male as well. While certain games have successfully attracted both genders (e.g. The Sims), there's no denying that it's still an industry run by men that caters its products to men. It's evident in the marketing, and it's certainly evident in the games themselves where it seems that every other character is a scantily clad female with unnatural proportions.

That said, with the casual games market becoming increasingly popular (particularly with women) and Nintendo doing its best to broaden the market with the DS and soon the Wii, there may be some hope that some balance can be injected into the industry. Now leading publisher Electronic Arts is putting a spotlight on women as well, as Chief Operating Officer David Gardner told attendees of Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival that the video game industry has "failed women" by not producing enough content suitable for them.

As reported by the BBC News, EA's own research found that 40 percent of teenage girls played video games compared to 90 percent of teenage boys; furthermore, most girls seem to lose interest in games within a year. According to Gardner, this is something that has concerned EA "for a long, long time."

"We are only reaching a small proportion - not only geographically but also genetically," he said, adding that if EA could solve the problem it "could add a billion dollars to its sales."

Indeed, attracting more women to games just for the sake of balance is valid on its own terms, but when you consider the economic opportunities doing so could create, it's something that should be top priority for the industry. The Sims certainly wouldn't have become the best selling game of all time (over 40 million copies sold) without women playing it. Gardner pointed out that 70 percent of Sims players are women under the age of 25.

"The Sims is really a game about relationships - and that's what girls want - they want relationships, they want to be able to chat," he said.

Part of the problem is that the industry has tried too hard at times to make games specifically for women, and it just hasn't been appealing to them. "They don't want 'pink games'. They are not trying to play girly games where Paris Hilton and Britney Spears go shopping and put make-up on," he explained. "Those kind of things have not been that successful."

GameDaily BIZ: Sony Slashes PS2 Price in Europe, Introduces Pink Version
In addition to the price cut, SCEE announced a new limited edition Pink PS2, which comes with two pink analog controllers and a pink memory card for the price of €159.99/£129.99. The Pink bundle will be available from "selected retailers" throughout Europe starting November 8th, and in the U.K. it'll come with the karaoke game SingStar Pop. The pink console will be on display at the Games Convention, Leipzig, which takes place August 23 - 27.

Why Indie Games are too Important to be Left to Indie Developers

While the article is a bit short, it is interesting to see folks at Vivendi recognizing the risk. They're definitely right, that the current structure lends itself toward one of "limitation." I think the real secret will lie in bringing new kinds of games, new genres, and new "IP" to the industry. This is where the most money has typically been made. It's risky however, because if you're too far out there you lose. This is what Sega proved with the Dreamcast. If you're too "safe" though, the same thing happens. That is what Atari proves (ET).

In-house developers are typically the ones with the best ability/skills for creating new content. They've got experience. They've got resources. They ought to be pushing the envelope.

In-house development will boost creativity - Vivendi //
"It’s my sincere hope that - as more publishers such as ourselves bring development in-house - we’ll increasingly see a change in this culture of limitation."

Roberts wants to see more risks taken with IP, rather than opting for the 'safe' sequel or limited use of a license which has plagued the industry over the past few years and could, if not corrected, transfer into the next generation of consoles.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

LucasArts Makes Good on Threats Against EA

There is a subtext to this new alliance between LA and Ubisoft, which can be summed up simply with, "Superman."

GameDaily BIZ: Ubisoft Forms Lethal Alliance with LucasArts
Ubisoft today announced Star Wars: Lethal Alliance for PSP and DS. This is part of an an already existing long-term licensing partnership with LucasArts, under which Ubisoft has made Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, all for portable systems. Star Wars: Lethal Alliance takes place between the movies Star Wars Episode III and IV, and focuses on Rianna Saren, who is a Twi'lek (the head tentacle race of Jabba's advisor, Bib Fortuna) and her security droid Zeeo and their attempts to uncover the Death Star plans for the Rebel Alliance.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Yankee Group Proves They Haven't Been Paying Attention

I don't care who they say "wins." But their Wii numbers are just retarded. I'm sure their basing these numbers off of GameCube numbers, but that just doesn't make sense. The excitement surrounding the Wii, the new control mechanisms, nearly 27 reported launch titles, and non-subscription based online support. Sounds like a good recipe for success.

They must just not read any news, talked to any developers, or really done much more than recycle the numbers for the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube.

GameDaily BIZ: Yankee Group Predicts Narrow Victory For Sony
In a study released today, the Yankee Group has predicted that Sony will maintain its position as market leader across the next generation of video game consoles. By 2011, the group expects Sony's PlayStation 3 to make up 44% of the cumulative console sales with an installed user base of almost 30 million units.

Microsoft's Xbox 360, however, isn't thought to be that far behind. Estimates place Microsoft's second console in a close second place, selling approximately 27 million units and accounting for 40% of the market. The group explains Microsoft's advantage lies with the Xbox 360's lower price point and earlier availability. The group also claims Microsoft is in a position to cut the price of the Xbox 360 in the spring of 2007 and each following year, which as the group puts it, would result in "significant price pressure on Sony."

But what's really surprising are the analyst's findings for Nintendo's upcoming Wii. According to the group, the Wii will only account for 16% of console sales by 2011, with an installed base of just 11 million, almost a third of its competitors. As Nintendo has yet to confirm a price point for the Wii, this seems an odd estimation, especially considering the importance the firm assigned to the respective price points of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Don't let Nintendo off that easily...

They're still pretty heavily invested in making money and a pretty rough and tumble licensing scheme. Of course I do tend to agree that Nintendo is doing something interesting. But MS is too. Sony is doing something, and it's interesting, but I'm not sure if anyone else understands.

American McGee backs Wii in next-gen race //
"I sense that Nintendo is going to capture the hearts of gamers while Microsoft and Sony stab each other in the neck for market domination," McGee stated.

"Nintendo is focused on innovation and games," he added. "The other guys are focused on making money."

It's McGee's assertion that the focus on high definition, cinematic graphics and the touting of immense technical processing power will be detrimental to both Sony and Microsoft's grip on the games market.

While the two firms fight for market share, McGee believes Nintendo's cheaper, gameplay-centric and highly innovative approach taken with the Wii console will capture consumer interest on a much wider scale.

"The only true next-gen console out there is the Wii. Everything else is just a video card and processor upgrade," McGee concluded.

How could you?

Provide a non-subscription based model?!? Cause that's what consumers want. There just aren't any other options right now. - Nintendo hopes Wii spells wiinner
Q: You're not pursuing a subscription model?

A: We view online gaming as essentially an enhanced way to enjoy the gaming experience and drive more sales of hardware and software.

Q: How do you extend your online strategy to Wii?

A: It's the same premise. We will offer online-enabled games that the consumers will not have to pay a subscription fee for. They'll be able to enjoy that right out of the box. The Wii console is going to be Wi-Fi enabled, so essentially, you'll be able to plug it in and go. It won't have hidden fees or costs.

Would you like to trade that in for a punch in the face and a kick in the crotch?

Ouch. Can't say that I don't side with the ESA here...

GameDaily BIZ: Game Industry Wins Over $500K from Illinois
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has happily announced that the State of Illinois has been ordered by Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, United States District Judge, Northern District of Illinois to pay the video game industry $510,528.64 in attorney's fees "for its unconstitutional effort to enact a law banning the sale of violent video games."

Illinois Governor Blagojevich's Safe Games Illinois Act was overturned in December of last year, and the ESA subsequently requested in March that the video game industry be reimbursed for legal costs. The ESA had asked for more than $644K.

The reimbursement of legal fees will be distributed among the plaintiffs, the ESA, the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

"Judge Kennelly's rulings send two irrefutable messages - not only are efforts to ban the sale of violent video games clearly unconstitutional, they are a waste of taxpayer dollars," said ESA president Douglas Lowenstein. "The sad fact is that the State of Illinois knew this law was unconstitutional from the beginning. Taxpayers have a right to know that over half a million of their dollars and countless government hours were thrown away in this fruitless effort."

I'm going to get sick of this democracy line fast

So, I do believe this is going to have massive and impressive repercussions throughout the industry, but I'm really going to get tired of the democracy line. The distribution and licensing of games is still controlled. This is allowing more people to learn the API's and systems, which is awesome...but it's not democracy. Democracy would be for Xbox Live, and I haven't heard them announcing a voting structure for moving games onto Live. Unfortunately that would probably mean that I'd be playing Taylor Hicks on Xbox Live. F*ING SWEET!


Microsoft to "democratise game development" with new dev platform //
Developers won't be able to sell games made using XNA Game Studio Express - but enhanced versions of the most successful titles could eventually appear on Xbox Live Arcade. A second toolset, XNA Game Studio Professional, is aimed at developers who want to create games for retail, whether via Windows digital distribution, Xbox Live Marketplace or high street stores.

Microsoft has already signed up several partners to help out with the new initiative. GarageGames has provided its Torque Shader Engine and Torque Game Builder 2D designer for XNA Game Studio Express, and Autodesk has contributed its FBX file exchange format.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Microsoft Wins...

Gamasutra broke news this morning which will have a huge impact on the future of the gaming industry. Microsofts opening up or "democratizing" move to allow indie and hobbiests to create games for the Xbox 360 is going to have a ripple effect. The console world has been closed for so long, that I really have no idea what this will do. They've made it clear that they still control what makes it to normal 360 end users, but this is a whole new ball game.

I'll make a prediction that whatever API they've released will be opened up within a year (OpenXNA anyone?) providing the opportunity for hobbiests on other OSes to develop games. This could also have a dramatic affect on Open Source game initiatives. Tools can be developed and their source code distributed this way.

The fact that schools have jumped on the bandwagon is no surprise, though it's interesting to see who was briefed on this earlier, so that they would be prepared to have "classes offered" in time for this annoucement is interesting. Game programs have been thirsting for the ability to teach their students how to develop for the console, but have lacked the ability because of the closed nature of console systems.

This is huge news. Nintendo may have started a revolution with the Wii, but Microsoft has taken it to the next level. This is truly a revolution that goes beyond controls.

Gamasutra - BREAKING: Microsoft To Enable User-Created Xbox 360 Games
The details of the new tech are as follows: XNA Game Studio Express will be available for free to anyone with a Windows XP-based PC, and will provide them with what's described as "Microsoft's next-generation platform for game development." In addition, by joining a "creators club" for an annual subscription fee of $99, users will be able to build, test and share their games on Xbox 360, as well as access a wealth of materials to help speed the game development progress.

In an official statement related to this major announcement, Microsoft suggested that the new product "...will democratize game development by delivering the necessary tools to hobbyists, students, indie developers and studios alike to help them bring their creative game ideas to life while nurturing game development talent, collaboration and sharing that will benefit the entire industry."
Microsoft has enlisted the help of several partners for this major announcement - indie publisher/developer GarageGames, technology provider and creator of Marble Blast Ultra, has migrated both its Torque Shader Engine and new Torque Game Builder 2-D visual game designer over to the XNA Game Studio Express platform, and Autodesk announced that game developers and enthusiasts can now more easily incorporate content into XNA Game Studio Express via Autodesk's FBX file exchange format.

In addition, more than 10 universities and their game development schools — including University of Southern California, Georgia Tech College of Computing and Southern Methodist University Guildhall — have already pledged to integrate console game development and XNA Game Studio Express into their curricula for the first time, and Xbox 360 will be the only console at the center of all coursework.
Microsoft's general manager of the Game Developer Group, Chris Satchell, commented on this major announcement: "By unlocking retail Xbox 360 consoles for community-created games, we are ushering in a new era of cross-platform games based on the XNA platform. We are looking forward to the day when all the resulting talent-sharing and creativity transforms into a thriving community of user-created games on Xbox 360."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Nintendo Has Known About This...

I'm thinking about all the games that Nintendo has "ported" to other platforms (their own typically). Think about how many places you can play the original Mario. NES, SNES, GBA, and soon the Wii. What you need are games that people want to play again. I think he's right that the online bit is going to be a revolutionary thing. MS, Nintendo, and Sony are all planning it. I think where MS has it wrong is that you have to pay a subscription just so you can spend money, but that will probably go bye-bye once the Wii and PS3 are released.

But beyond just being able to deliver a game to multiple locations, you need a model that is scalable. You have your block-buster movies, you have your budget and indy films. You need a model that supports the whole gamut. It would be even better if there was a way for the game industry to tap more readily into the work on Open Source Software (OSS). Game developers right now must often make their own tech repeatedly. Just like if film makers had to repeadely design how the film goes in the camera.

'Games industry business model does not work' - Ward //
"Right now this industry has a business model that does not work. This industry has been flat for the past six years; we've been selling games to the same people. Our revenue model is based on one shot at retail - we have no back-end revenue streams like a movie might in terms of DVD, TV, that type of thing."

Ward sees a huge opportunity in the nascent online model, though, particularly in the console space and believes the rest of the publishing community should throw its full weight behind initiatives like Microsoft's Xbox Live, insisting this is exactly "what the industry needs".

"We need to develop that back-end revenue stream - that can be done only online with transactions and subscriptions, all those kinds of business models," he explained.

QoL Beyond the Developers

This is an interesting development.

GameDaily BIZ: Store Managers Suing GameStop
Apparently video game publishers aren't the only companies in the games industry that have to deal with overtime lawsuits. Six GameStop managers have filed a collective-action suit against the company because they believe they should be eligible for overtime pay and were classified as exempt.

Quality of life issues have become a hot button issue for workers in the video game industry, with big publishers like EA and Activision having already faced employee lawsuits over overtime. You wouldn't expect to hear of similar complaints in the retail community, however.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yeah, and We Keep Getting Pantsed About This

So, if you can't push your new media format with a game console, how will you? In all seriousness though, online distrobution has already proven itself, so this future orientation makes sense. However, you must still wonder what it means, because you're not going to be downloading gigs worth of content...the US broadband infrastructure isn't ready for that yet.

Sony's Phil Harrison hints at disc-free future for consoles //
"We have to change the business model. We have to find a new way to reach the consumer," he stated.

NSF Award Page Finally Up...

The web page for my NSF award is finally up online. Kim Fortun is my advisor.

Award#0620903 - Dissertation Improvement Grant: Videogaming, Work, and the Play of the New Economy
This Science and Society Dissertation Improvement Grant examines the diverse forces and activities, namely, laws, technologies, collaboration, and workplace cultures, that shape console video game development, and make it tenable in today's globalized economy.

Something to Learn in other Disciplines

There is an excellent report on a recent talk by Edward Lawler on It's an example of what academic research can bring to the corporate table. His talk was to a group of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) members at the annual conference.

I think in particular his discussion of the three types of companies are of utmost importance for the game industry to think carefully about, especially as the industry globalizes.

Author Cites Limits of Going Cheap On Labor |
The low-cost labor route may dead-end in tomorrow’s economy. So says scholar Edward Lawler, co-author of the just-released book "The New American Workplace." The book aims to update a seminal 1973 study about work in America, and Lawler discussed the findings at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in June.

As he does in the book, Lawler argued to his SHRM audience that companies focused on cutting costs through measures such as low wages and skimpy benefits will struggle to adapt effectively in the fast-moving global economy. You can go "only so far" with a low-cost approach, he said.
The country is not creating enough new good jobs, Lawler and O’Toole say. They also see evidence of decreasing economic mobility. And while workers face a wider array of choices than ever before, the authors say that most American workers bear increased risk in areas such as employment security, health care and retirement.
In the wake of the traditional bureaucratic, hierarchical management model, Lawler and O’Toole see three alternatives today. One is what they call "low-cost operators," which concentrate on trimming costs in a bid to keep prices low. Work there, they write, is in many ways "similar to the routine, low-level tasks that were the norm in manufacturing in an earlier era."

The companies Lawler and O’Toole call "global-competitor corporations" are large and geographically spread out, and they compete for financial capital, skills, knowledge and technology. The firms may pay employees well and offer opportunities to develop new skills, but the relationship between such companies and employees is "transactional, not one based on loyalty."

Then there are "high-involvement companies," which provide workers with challenging jobs, a voice in the management of their tasks and a commitment to low turnover and few layoffs. The authors say employees in these firms tend to share in company profits or from gains in productivity and enjoy generous benefits.

During his presentation, Lawler said that the latter two management styles make the most sense. But, he said, "Our hearts and minds are with the high-involvement approach."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Big Budgets = Big Risk


Game budgets are getting too big, says creator of Broken Sword series //
Revolution Software MD Charles Cecil has spoken out against the trend towards bigger development budgets, suggesting that companies such as EA are sacrificing creativity for the sake of efficiency.

In an exclusive interview with, to be published tomorrow, Cecil said: "The bigger developers talk about games costing tens of millions of dollars; it seems patently obvious to me that they don't need to cost that much, unless, as with a big film budget, you're paying certain key individuals enormous amounts of money... There's something slightly strange going on."

According to Cecil, the games industry "is being split between the massive budgets that people are talking about for next-gen, and if you go to the other end, DS titles, which are still - in comparison - extraordinarily cheap to write.

"If a game costs $10 million to write, the chances of actually recouping and earning a royalty is tiny. If a game is costing, at the DS level, several hundred thousand pounds, then it becomes much more viable economically."

Cecil went on to question the need for large development teams, stating: "EA talks about the fact that they've got teams of 150 people working on a project. To me, that just can't be efficient, either commercially or creatively.

"I think they want to squeeze the development period, first and foremost. That in itself is probably dangerous, because you reduce by a long way your opportunity for any kind of creative flexibility."

The ESRB Does Need Some Revamping

So, while I'm usually not a fan of video games related legislation, I am interested in reading more about this. I do think that the ESRB ought to be tasked with (and funded for) playing some more games. The current model is largely dependent upon disclosure by game developers who in many cases may not be fully forthcoming simply out of confusion about what the heck made it into the final build. It would also be interesting if they had some savvy MODers on board to hack the games a bit. Seems like MODs are getting so much attention lately, it might be helpful...

GameDaily BIZ: Congressman Targets ESRB with 'Truth in Video Game Rating Act'
While the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection already held a hearing on the subject of video game violence and video game ratings in which the industry's Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) came under fire, several congressmen are continuing to target the ESRB with the introduction of a new measure called the "Truth in Video Game Rating Act."

Sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC), the act (HR 5912) scrutinizes the ESRB's rating process and outlines several terms that the ESRB would legally have to adhere to.

Currently, the ESRB rates games based on a combination of some play time and video and documentation sent to them by game companies. The ESRB simply isn't able to play through every game. However, that's exactly what Stearns is calling for with this new bill. The act would also make it illegal for publishers to withhold any content from the rating board and would hold the publishers responsible if they did so. The third term on the bill deals with "Gross mischaracterization of content." This term would prohibit the ESRB from "providing a content rating that grossly mischaracterizes (as defined by the Commission in such rules) the content of the video or computer game."

Finally this new legislation once again calls for an investigation into the effectiveness of the ESRB's rating system. The act would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study looking at the ratings to examine the following: whether an independent ratings system is preferable; whether the ESRB should be peered-reviewed; the marketing of video games to underage buyers; and the efficacy of a possible universal ratings system for all visual content including films, television and video games.

If approved, the "Truth in Video Game Rating Act" would go into effect one year later.

The entire bill can be read in pdf format here.

Patent Craziness

The thing about this sort of game between patent holder is that Nintendo already knows about the madness, and has many patents of its own. I suspect they can back up a prior art history for their controllers, but I'm curious about Microsoft, who I suspect hasn't been patenting this sort of thing, because it wasn't their territory, and to a large degree did copy what was out there.

Anascape is playing a dangerous game, because in all likelihood this will be harder for them to fight this case, unless the lawyer arguing it is doing it in the hopes of a settlement or a big win, neither of which seems in the cards. I've written previously about Nintendo's patents, and they've got plenty to make this claim look like the foo-faa it is.

GameDaily BIZ: Microsoft, Nintendo Hit with Controller Patent Lawsuit
Just when Microsoft and Nintendo thought they were safe from the madness that is the United States patent system, a Texas-based company called Anascape comes along and sues both console makers over 12 patents relating to video game controllers. As you may recall, Sony has already lost its battle with Immersion over a patent concerning force feedback technology. Many suspect the Immersion lawsuit to be the reason for the lack of rumble in the PS3 controller, but Sony contends otherwise.

Anascape filed suit against Microsoft and Nintendo in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas this past Monday. Anascape has accused the companies of infringing on a dozen different patents that were issued between 1999 and 2005. The patents seem to deal with almost every aspect of today's modern video game controller, such as analog controls, analog pressure sensors for buttons, vibration and tactile feedback, and more. One would think that Sony's PS2 controller would come into conflict with these patents as well, so it's not clear why Anascape has targeted Microsoft and Nintendo and has not included Sony in the suit.

Anascape is looking to be reimbursed for damages along with interest. The company also has requested a tally of the revenues that Microsoft and Nintendo have generated from the use of these 12 patents. Furthermore, if Anascape is not successful in having a judge issue a permanent injunction against Microsoft and Nintendo, the company wants a enforced licensing fee to be instituted.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Good/Bad with Sony

While it's true that people have been hard on Sony lately (and now you're seeing all sorts of apologetic writing), it does not negate the fact that there has been some serious boo-boo's and foot-in-mouth incidences lately.

100 Games in development. That's good. How are their schedules looking? How are the games looking? Are they in full swing production? They've just gotten Blue-Ray writers, which is part of the very complicated aspect of loading and keeping those cores running. That's good, but also pretty late in the stage, especially considering the read-rates that were being reported at GDC.

But, perhaps they've got things under control, Blue-Ray is going to take off, consumers are going to suck it up and spend the $600.00 for it, and they're going to love Sony for it. If you're interested in those 100 movies here is a list.

It's too early to say really, but the point of the bad press is that they've made some assumptions that proved to be wrong. They ought to have paid a little more attention along the way.

GameDaily BIZ: Harrison: PS3 Development in 'Full Swing'
Harrison said that "it's all going well" and now that over 10,000 development kits have been shipped PS3 development is in "full swing."

"Developers now have final hardware in their hands, though there will be some upgrades to the operating system - there's nothing unusual about that. The new controller is now in developers' hands, so all the pieces of the puzzle are there," he said.

Harrison continued by pointing out that because many developers now have Blu-ray burners in their PCs they have been able to get familiar with the next-gen format and "they are now doing their first iterations of games running off discs."

"We have shown more playable games than ever before, so the signs are good, and right now there are more than 100 Blu-ray movies available today, in the US. More than 100 games are in development, and all the major third-party publishers have pledged their strategic support for the platform," he concluded.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Time and Again...

Simple economics are going to have a lot to do with the next couple of years in the game industry. I'm still intrigued about why everyone keeps calling the Wii Nintendo's NextGen offering despite the fact that they have said specifically it is not. It's about control, not about the hardware. NextGen seems defined by hardware. This is NinGen, and Nintendo is going to win that battle. NextGen isn't going to be won for a couple of years, as developers and tools catch up, but by that time MS and Sony are going to be trashing the NextGen for NextNextGen.

GameDaily BIZ: Ubisoft, Midway Pledge Strong Wii Support
Sega of America's Vice President of Marketing, Scott Steinberg, recently told GameDaily BIZ, "... there's no doubt that Wii is a more affordable [console] for developers and publishers to build games on... I think the economics with how the machine is going to be more affordable for the family and having games that are probably a bit more affordable for the family is really going to strike a nice installed base."

Gamesindustry.Biz Daily Update

So, I wish there was a better way to quote from these things, because often the best commentary that they offer is in this thing which is part of a daily emailing.

Ok, so while I agree that the 360 is being played up especially here in the states, and that there is no reason to ring the death knell for the PS3 just yet. At the same time, there is a significant tide which is mounting against Sony, and if they're not careful it could be insurmountable. Not to say that Sony would up and die, just that they're going to lose a lot of cash in the process. And he is right that the 360 hasn't really offered that much. PS2 games right now are looking more interesting than 360 games.

Perhaps this isn't a reaction against Sony, but rather a reaction against a practice in the game industry which has been demanding that consumers and developers do exactly what they're told every generation, only this time both consumers and developers aren't interested in listening so closely. I'm also continually sceptical of this Blu-Ray thing, because like DivX, I don't think that it's something that is fundamentally designed to be in a consumer or developers best interest. There is a reason the movie bosses are pushing it. $19.99 for a DVD just isn't hitting those profit margins enough any more, plus they can encourage you to re-buy that Harry Potter series this way. Thanks.

This IS a battle far from over. Sony has shot themselves repeatedly already. Time will tell.

Daily Update -

Pastime of the week for this particular part of the summer silly season - at least, among those who are quite finished scrambling to come to terms with the fact that E3 has gone to the great convention centre in the sky - seems to be coming up with new and interesting ways to cast doubt upon Sony's prospects in the next generation console race. Fanboy arguments supported by misconception and exaggeration abound - and that's just in the mainstream media and among analysts. What's going on on Internet forums makes even less sense.

Sony only has itself to blame for this, of course, and we can't say that our hearts are bleeding with sympathy for the Japanese giant. The arrogance displayed by SCE boss Ken Kutaragi and his US right hand man Kaz Hirai every time they open their mouths on the topic of the PS3 can be explained by their success in dominating the last generation with PS2, but that certainly doesn't justify it - and the genial manner of the firm's studio boss Phil Harrison can only go so far in terms of repairing the damage done to the firm's image by his overbearing bosses.

However, even if Sony is failing to endear itself to the media, to analysts or to gamers at the moment, that's no reason for the reality of the next generation console battle to be ignored. Judging from reports in the past fortnight, it would be easy for an outside observer to assume that it's all over already; the media paints a picture of Microsoft being victorious before the first shot is even fired, with Sony's overloaded battlecruiser set to sink before it even leaves port.

The fact is that there's little evidence to support that assertion. Even if Microsoft reaches its 10 million unit target by the end of the year - which does look likely - that's still not a lead that guarantees dominance in a market where the top-selling console last time (the PlayStation 2) sold over 100 million units. Both Sony and Nintendo are planning to ship their new consoles at such a rate that they could, in theory, have caught up or passed out Microsoft by the end of 2007; a scenario which is not exactly likely, admittedly, but certainly not impossible either.

Equally certain is that Sony's price point will dissuade some consumers - but a host of factors could conspire to outweigh that price point. If Sony has software with massive appeal to the mass market - something which Microsoft will still lack even coming into 2007, with the resolutely hardcore Gears of War being its key title for Christmas - or better again, if Blu-Ray really does prove to be as popular with consumers as movie bosses seem to believe, then the price point could prove inconsequential, at least for the first ten million units to pass through the channel.

This is quite an optimistic way of viewing Sony's chances, of course - but it's worth balancing out some of the pessimism which has been doing the rounds so often that it almost seems to be accepted as fact in some quarters. Much of this, it's clear, is influenced heavily by the American dominance of English-language media. Microsoft is so hugely successful in America relative to other territories that it can skew the global perspective; whereas the Xbox 360 has sold 3.3 million units in North America, it has sold only 1.3 million in Europe and just 400,000 elsewhere, making it fair to say that North America is still the only territory where the Xbox 360 has seen major success.

However, to listen to the media you would think that the success of the console has been replicated everywhere - which is simply not the case. North America is unquestionably a very important market, but Europe is expected to overtake it in size terms in the coming years, and despite the waning importance of Japan, it is still a key market - and other Asian territories are growing in importance. Microsoft is, in a sense, picking up the easiest consumers first. It is converting Xbox customers into Xbox 360 customers, and playing to a highly receptive home crowd - which suggests that the second ten million will be a lot more difficult than the first, because it will have to expand its reach not only demographically, but internationally.

That's where Sony already has the advantage; the PlayStation brand is synonymous with gaming around the world and across a huge demographic, not just in North America and with a narrow range of players. When reading the various reports which seem to imply that Sony has already failed or that victory is in the bag for Microsoft, it's important to remember that. Microsoft's use of first mover advantage has certainly been more impressive than many observers expected, but come November, the firm will still only have its home crowd in the bag. 2006, and even 2007, are only a warm-up - the battle for hearts and minds among casual gamers, international markets and wider demographics hasn't even begun yet.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Simple Economics Right?

In part of course this is simply because it ought to take less production time to produce Wii games. Preproduction cycles will probably be longer, with developers figuring out how to make games that take advantage of the Wii. Hopefully this will be offset by a known hardware pipeline and toolchain.

One thinks.

Wii software pricing will be "broadly in line" with current-gen - Nintendo //
The confirmation follows a suggestion by Electronic Arts that Nintendo's first-party titles will go on sale for US$49.99. That would put games like Super Mario Galaxy on store shelves for US$10 less than their first-party Xbox 360 equivalents.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So, Who are the 5000?

The original press release for the E3 changes were pretty vague, but details are starting to come out now. Something that I'm nervous about, is that these changes may make it difficult/impossible for a researcher like myself to attend. While E3 tended to be open for anyone willing to pay, I suspect that the 5,000 people they're talking about below will not be anyone and everyone willing to pay. I suspect that there will be a predetermined list, or at least partially pre-determined, that I may or may not be able to get onto.

I mean honestly, what's one NSF funded researcher compared to a game/fan site person who will likely get them more exposure?

Lowenstein reveals name, date and venue change for E3 //
Around 5000 people are expected to attend, a dramatic drop from the 60,000 visitors who were at this year's E3. According to Lowenstein, this is in a bid to meet the needs of exhibitors who felt the event had become too big: "Some companies were frustrated because E3 was such a huge, sweeping event it became increasingly difficult to get their messages out."

I ♥ The Escapist

So, while so many (myself included) were thinking about race simply in the context of the Sony adds, someone writing for The Escapist took it to a new level. Totally impressive.

The Escapist - You Got Your Race in My Video Game
C-Note is a joke about being clearly, unavoidably black in an online space where everyone is assumed to be white and male until proven otherwise. While there's nothing bad about fish-out-of-water humor, per se, laughing at Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour is substantially different from mocking some hapless kid for committing the social faux pas of being black in white-space.