Global Game Industry News Blog

Monday, November 27, 2006

GDC Stuff

I realized, that I had not yet said anything to many that I'll be at GDC (which is the Game Developer's Conference). After my extreme disappointment from last year at not being able to go, this year is actually going to be a perfect opportunity for me to either fall flat on my face, or meet, speak and work with a new variety of developers, for I've actually got two talks! (EEK!)

One is in the Business and Management track, and the other in the IGDA (International Game Developer's Association). I'm actually plotting to get together with developers from India at GDC already. With the shut-down of E3, I'll be curious if GDC attracts a different kind of crowd than it has previously.

GDC is run by CMP and is very professional oriented, so I've tried to make these talks very relevant for the people who I've already learned so much from. I think these kinds of academic and industry collaborations are crucial, and in particular, I think it reasserts the value of different kinds of social science in a world that is increasingly unsure of its relevance. By and large this is reflected in the game industry's attention to psychology, but to few other social scientists. You can see this same kind of focus in the game studies programs that have been developed in the United States as well. If you're not making a game, what do you matter? This has not been the case in the Scandinavian countries, but that is because they are cool like that.

Game Developers Conference 2007 - Casey O'Donnell Speaker's Page
Mapping Your Corporate Geomorphology
Speaker: Casey O'Donnell (PhD. Candidate, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
Date/Time: TBD
Track: Business and Management
Format: 60-minute Poster Session
Experience Level: All

Session Description
This session takes concepts from geology and geography and mobilizes them for managers to analyze their companies. This metaphor provides managers with a set of tools for understanding how teams are composed, how to effectively manage those teams, and how to encourage fruitful collaboration. Different mappings are used to illustrate the ways managers can examine how a company is arranged: physical, discipline, technology, organizational hierarchy, or project. The goal is for managers to be able to answer the question, "Why does our company look the way it does?" as well as "How can we effectively change our typography?"

Quality of Life in a Global Game Industry
Speaker: Casey O'Donnell (PhD. Candidate, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
Date/Time: TBD
Track: IGDA
Format: 60-minute Lecture
Experience Level: All

Session Description
The rise of game development shops across the globe, and the increased use of offshore and inshore outsourcing could have developers feeling like they are losing leverage in making arguments for good quality of life practices. But, do globalization and the ability to outsource work really abdicate the need for quality of life both at home or abroad? This lecture examines the ways in which the hidden costs of poor quality of life, such as, staff churn, rework, schedule slippage, and lost sales negatively impact bottom lines. It looks at the benefits of good quality of life and correlates with some of the sales numbers of different studios. Mechanisms for approaching management are discussed, what are they interested in hearing? Is making the argument to management purely a numbers issue, or is management interested in other metrics? Each of these areas is also examined in the context of globalized game production, and provides developers with new levers for making quality of life arguments in this context. Developers will find this session useful to petition for an enhanced QoL environment.


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Leaving Bangalore Soon

I figured it was high time that I post some photos of my place here in Bangalore, now that I'm going to be leaving here pretty soon. Below is a picture of my bed at Aranha Homes here. I was going to be staying at "The Haven" but instead wound up at "Park Avenue." It has been a very nice place to stay, and compared with the cost of hotels in the area, it is very reasonable. All told it runs for about 1500 INR (~$35.00) per night. It's comfy, and the help is very nice.

You can see that using Skype as my main communication back to home has meant that my laptop winds up next to me on the bed. It's just more comfortable than sitting at the desk talking to people. The bed is pretty stiff (which took some getting used to, but isn't bad), so you could probably jump on the bed (if the frame doesn't break) and the laptop wouldn't fall (until it did, because you broke the frame). Tequa (the dog) game along for the ride. I think you can see some Dhruva business cards, my headset, toothbrush, and iPod hanging out.

If you look on the back wall there are all the switches for things. Pretty much every outlet has an on/off switch, which is pretty impressive. The little night-light actually doubles as mosquito protection. I have no idea how bad it is for me, but these little lights are all over, so if I was going to grow a 3rd eye, I hope it would have happened by now. I have noticed that it kills more than just mosquitoes, it's managed to take out a couple of ants and little bugs that have wandered into my room.

The water heater. This my favorite. No, not because it has horses, but because it's got an on/off switch! I know that ones in the US do too, but because they're so big, if you shut them off it will take a while for the water to get hot again, plus you typically have to go into a closet/basement/garage/etc there the thing is. Not this baby. I've got my own personal on/off switch, and it takes about five minutes for it to rev up. It also means that no one can steal all of my hot water. My guess is about 5 gallons, though it would be liters here...

Related to water, I figured out water flows in Bangalore, which is quite different from the states. Rather than the system being fully pressurized (which it is in the states, and I assume requires all those huge pipes that when they break gush water onto the streets) here they are much lower pressure. Water flows into a storage tank at the base level of the house (it's actually lower in the ground, so it uses gravity to help pull the water in). Then that water is pumped into another storage container on the top of the house. Gravity then does the trick of giving you the tap pressure. Pretty cool.

I discovered this, because apparently the storage container on the roof ran out, so I watch the young man that works at the house trying to figure out what had happened. It was fun watching him troubleshoot it, because it allowed me a chance to observe how the whole system worked.

Back to work with me, I've got three interviews this afternoon! Phew!


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The Trouble with Markets

Those guys at are always serving up some piping hot and superbly crafted commentary on the video game industry. Today is no exception.

I also have quite a few concerns about markets, and more particularly the way they are defined, constituted, designed for, developed for, and marketed to. Just in case they forget, this is the "mass/mainstream market":

The Mainstream Myth //
The industry has become so used to dismissing its own products as hardcore or niche that it has actually thrown a whole nursery school of babies out with the bathwater. Games industry conventional wisdom says that a narrative where space marines shoot aliens can't possibly be mass market - but yet Aliens is one of the most iconic films of the last thirty years. Independence Day was one of the top-grossing films of its decade. Need I mention Star Wars? Our conventional wisdom dismisses wizards and barbarians and their fantasy trappings as being too hardcore to appeal beyond the existing gaming audience, but it's perfectly obvious that franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have become a core part of global culture, with a universal appeal which far exceeds that of almost any videogame.

The problem is not the themes of videogames. It's an altogether more bitter pill to swallow, but the problem is that with a few unique exceptions, videogames aren't using those themes in an effective, gripping or mature manner. All too often, games fall short because while they do everything required to satisfy certain segments of the core gaming audience, they miss out on key aspects which would vastly expand their appeal - and from the gamer's perspective, it can sometimes be hard to tell why a certain game achieves a level of mass market recognition, when another does not.
This is another core truth about the mass market which the industry has failed to realise. The "mass market" is a myth; the reality is a huge collection of individual niches, some larger than others, but none of them all-encompassing. There is certainly scope for videogames to expand into new niches, as the example of Silent Hill - and indeed of Nintendogs, or Brain Training - displays. However, more importantly, right now videogames are failing to effectively harness their existing niches. Weak narrative, poor direction and pacing, unsympathetic characters, excessively complex control systems, bad music, graphics glitches and a host of other sins which are often forgiven readily by the hardcore are preventing the bulk of this industry's product from having any impact with the vast majority of consumers - and even our military sci-fi or swords 'n sorcery fantasy titles are utterly overshadowed by Hollywood's most vacuous blockbusters.

The question currently being asked in the games industry is, "what new kinds of games can we create which appeal to the mass market?" This is the wrong question. The right question is, "what is it about our existing games that limits their appeal - and how can we change that?" That's a harder question to ask, because videogame creators - from designers right through to publishing bosses - like to believe that their existing products are absolutely fine for their markets, and that it's now time to conquer new markets. Until that attitude changes, videogames will never achieve the success within our culture that other mediums enjoy.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Road Cows and Road Dogs - An Ecology of its Own

So, the other morning I woke up to find "Bessy" sitting just outside he door of the place I'm staying. Now, the thing is, it's not all that interesting, it's just the first time I've seen one of these cows just chilling out. I've seen a fair number of cows munching on random garbage and food leftovers.

There are also a lot of random "road dogs" as I call them (and Bessy was a "road cow") because well, they pretty much wander around the roads. I'm curious who they belong to. I mean, I can accept stray dogs mentally, but not really stray cows. I have not seen any stray cats, though I thought I heard a cat in heat behind the building a night or two ago.

The interesting thing about these road animals are their ecology. The garbage collection infrastructure here is not so hot, so you wind up with a lot of garbage just being dumped along the side of the road, or over walls of discarded buildings, or fences that were put there for some reason or another. Garbage gets tossed into/onto these different areas, and it collects. But that's not to say it just sits there. First the road cows seem to get first pick (assuming they're around). What the cows don't eat, the dogs get a crack at. Just the other day I saw a road rat, which I suspect is what gets to eat once the dogs are through.

A day or two ago, on my way towards the office, I encountered the Bangalorian equi sewer rat. However, there largely isn't rain water drainage system, but there are rather large troughs dug out (and often even reinforced with stone, and some are then even covered with stones as well (water can then run through the cracks down below). Well, this rat (who wasn't far from a food vendors regular rat) had set up home invalent of a one of these drainage ditches. He was attempting to snag some food as I approached, but got nervous and scurried into his hole. He then poked his head out to watch me pass.

Tomorrow I'm going out on a little trip for a gathering of the SILK mailing list members. It should be a fun trip, and I'll get to see parts of the area surrounding Bangalore that I would not have been able to otherwise. The camera is going to join me. I'm trying to get a little less shy about using it. Sitting around with a notebook/laptop is one thing, the camera is a whole other ball of wax.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Remaining Bits and Pieces Settling Down

I don't have much broader commentary today. More experiential. I've been busy making sure all of the logistical bits and pieces are falling in to place. The two HR managers at RedOctane and Dhruva, have been extremely helpful in making all of this fairly simple for me. All of my internal airfare and lodging is finalized, so I don't have to worry about that any more. I've also managed to find a fair number of folks to chat with in Hyderabad, so that risk has paid off. Even though members of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) clamored that I must visit Hyderabad, I found very few developers actually willing to sit down and talk with me.

I'm going to be running a slew of interviews in the coming days, which will keep me very busy. I likely wont do much with these until after I get back to the states. Perhaps listen through them again afterwards, but no transcribing. I did realize yesterday just how much Rajesh here at Dhruva knows about the internal layout of the companies around him (I suppose that's part of his job as a CEO). It was pretty impressive. I'm hoping that he can draw a map of that world. We were planning on a meeting this afternoon, but something seemed to come up.

The nice thing is that it sounds like I've got a good cross-section of these companies, and even if I haven't been able to get sit-in time with all of them, I'll at least have an opportunity to chat with a few folks from many of them. I also got a good feel about some of the studios that I was hoping to visit, but didn't pan out, and while I'm sad that I couldn't check out India Games, I've also now got a better idea about what they're up to.

I'm going to move from the console group here to the mobile group to get a feel for what's going on over there.

Today is very nice out. Its the hottest its been since I arrived, though even now at a little after 4:30pm (IST) it has cooled down significantly. The sun is shining (we've had a fair amount of rain and cloudy skies) and I have every intention to take a slew of photos. I know I've been negligent in posting those.

Last night I ate at Friday's. Yes, I know... How very American of me. It was actually quite fun, because I ended up sitting next to a guy full of commentary about video games in India. Plus I just really wanted some mozzarella sticks. I've made it a rule that I cannot go to a place more than once while I'm here, and have stuck to that pretty well. Other than that I've made it out to many different kinds of places and had numerous different kinds of foods. I keep being encouraged to try places that aren't "Indian," but Indian versions of other foods. For example the "American" salad I had at Fridays was quite spicy, and very good. The mozz sticks were another story, you just can't adjust those too much. People keep recommending "East Asian" and "Italian" places, so I'm doing well with my goal. I'm also one go off a recommendation before I just start wandering.

Tomorrow night I'm going to have a couple of beers with guys from here after work, so that should be fun.


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Friday, November 17, 2006

Demonstrating the Game Industry as Index

I read this article, having just had a discussion with some folks here about the difficulty in finding the kind of talented help needed by game companies. While this article is (a) all over the place and (b) unclear on specificities , it is quite good at painting a picture of what's going on with work here. I've of course snipped it up a bit, and I'm sure something is lost in that trans(formation/lation). But, it illustrates why I think the game industry makes such a great lens/metric/index into work in a global economy at this current moment.

What is the difference between creating educated "employable" professionals ("employees") and highly skilled corporate assets (I'll use the term "associates" here, a term I'm borrowing from my wife)? I think the answer goes hand in hand with, "We're just not finding enough of the right kinds of people," that I hear from game developers here all the time.

Many people getting hired here to work in games, "employees," are costing companies a significant amount of time, money, and energy to turn them into "associates." What happens when your future working force is actually not coming out into the field with the kinds of skills that you need them to? You have to educate them yourself. I'm also extremely curious why more intern-ing or co-oping is not being done here. It's rare enough in the states the people actually do these sorts of things (though their schools may encourage it, and students ought to be pursuing it more) and it appears even rarer here.

Simultaneously, "associates" are actually assets. They mean more to a company, so it is in their interest to invest in them. I've seen this at my US field sites. Companies seem to be realizing the value of their people and their skills (by and large, there are of course notable exceptions), but I think that broader political, economic, or educational analysis is not understanding that human labor is different than it was a few years ago. You can't really take a software engineer (or artists, or designer ...) straight out of college and toss him in (well, you can, if you really want to) and expect to get much out of them. There are countless other systems, sub-systems, code bases, tools, software packages, etc. that must be learned before they're worth anything significant.

That's part of this article. The other aspect is also important to keep in mind, too. I'm not focusing on "jobs for the underprivileged, the undereducated and the underskilled," but it too makes total sense, and could use some analysis in The States as well.

Engaging India: Demographic dividend or disaster?
With the average Indian now just 23 years old, and with over half the population under 25, many see potential for a big demographic dividend and India likes to projects an image of a vast, English-speaking population of bright and ambitious engineers and scientists.

The reality, for the time being, is actually very different. As things stand, India’s demographics are going to be a source of profound social upheaval in coming years.

I was talking the other day to Dr Ifzal Ali, the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank. His analysis of the situation was bleak. India, he warned, with its working age population set to increase by 71m to reach 762m in the next five years, was heading towards an employment crisis that could lead to social breakdown and a rapid collapse in growth rates.
The first, in his view, is that there is a “huge global oversupply of labour” resulting from the growing integration of India, China and Russia with the world economy. The second is that this global oversupply has come at a time when companies around the world are pursuing competitiveness with “ideological zeal” and creating fewer new jobs per unit of extra output.

Now the idea has traditionally been that in a global economy it will be the lowest cost country that will win a race to the bottom. As Swaminaphan Aiyar, the economist, has put it, globalisation has for the first time in history made poverty an advantage. As companies are forced to scan the world for ways to cut costs, the lower the wages in any one country, the more competitive it will be, all other things being equal.

The problem is that in India all these other things are not equal. To ride the globalisation bandwagon, a country has to create a good investment climate, in terms of regulation, law and order, physical infrastructure and availability of skilled human capital. India is a very long way from doing any of these things.
The point I’m trying to make is that unless India makes a dramatic investment in its human capital, its demographic advantages will turn into a demographic disaster in the form of a massive unemployable labour force.
Although India produces millions of graduates annually, the raw numbers, as company after company finds in its recruitment drives, are a misleading metric for employable skills.

While 3m students graduate from Indian universities each year, only about 25 per cent of engineering graduates and 10-15 per cent of general college graduates are considered suitable for employment in the offshore IT industry, according to a recent study by Nasscom.
He added: “Our education system is not producing enough people with the skill-sets our economy needs. This could seriously stymie India’s economic growth.”

cent oThe lobby group has warned that the Indian IT sector faces a shortfall of 500,000 professionals by 2010 that threatens the country’s dominance of global offshore IT services. Shortages are kicking in even though, according to Nasscom, only 10 perf an estimated “addressable” market of $300bn for global offshoring is being tapped today.

With the industry as a whole struggling with annual employee turnover rates approaching 40 per cent, wage inflation is rising. Reports out this week in the Business Standard indicate that a shortage of skilled labour has resulted in salary increases of 22 per cent during the first half of fiscal year 2007 for the corporate sector as a whole, That figure is the highest it’s been in over three years, with the biggest jump coming from service industries, including banks, airlines, IT and telecom companies; where salary bills have risen by 30-50 per cent in just a year.
But none of these, however, has jobs for the underprivileged, the undereducated and the underskilled. A million mutinies are bubbling up across the country, with the most alarming being the ultra-leftist Naxalite movement, and they are deterring much-needed investment.

India will need to create jobs in large-scale, labour-intensive manufacturing to stop these protest movements from turning into something more serious. Only when there are massive Chinese-style factories making Barbies, Kickers and Gap shirts for a global market will there be jobs for those potentially otherwise tempted by extremism.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Need an Address

So apparently it is difficult to get a cell phone if you do not have a permanent address where you're trying to get one. So I've discovered. Well, here's to trying. Haven't had any luck yet. I'm trying to get some kind of document from Dhruva that will help me get it, but folks have been busy. I partially just want one so I can tell what time it is without my computer. And also because the automated wake-up call system at the place I'm staying I suspect does not understand IST being GMT + 5:30. That extra thirty minutes seems to throw things off. Yes, I know I could just adjust my wake-up call setting by 30 minutes.

I've got a nice spot at Dhruva. They keep the lights on more than the VV folks, not that it's good or bad, just different. There's a whole lot of modeling and texturing going on. I'm currently hanging out with a rather large art team doing production work for a Xbox 360 game. Next week I'm going to spend some time with the teams doing mobile development, they've got artists, engineers, and a handful of designers working together on those projects.

Going to spend some time walking around a bit tonight. I ate at the place I'm staying last night, so I figure it's time to get out and look around. 100 Feet Road is a main drag, and it's busy. I'm going to try and get into downtown Bangalore this weekend and check out the pub scene which Mr. Kelty has written about. I'm going to try and get together with some of the Silk list boys for that. I hear from several developers here (one who is working on a billiards game) that apparently Hyderabad has some nice pool halls.

I saw my first road cow last night. It wasn't on the main drag, but I hear they wander out there once in a while. These road cows were just on a side street. Road dogs on the other hand are far more prevalent. One this morning was asleep on a pile of sand (being used to work into concrete for building projects) that was 1/2 in the road. Didn't budge as cars drove inches from it. I've also heard a goat, but I haven't seen it, yet. The 100 Foot Road is quite a sight, watching motorcycles, mopeds, motorized rickshaws, cars, trucks, and people all going along. I'm fascinated by the horn language that is employed. Chirps, double-chirps, blasts, it all means something, but I'm not sure what yet. I did try to get into the drivers side of a car, left side to ride white boy!

Dhruva serves lunch each day on the roof of this main building. It's been fun sitting and chatting with folks and munching away on some tasty food.

Today the power has been very iffy, I've seen the lights flicker and the generators kick on several times already today. The generators for some of these buildings are quite impressive. A significant part of several of them are taken up by their mass.


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Microsoft Owns the Indian Game Scene

More gamers in India know the Xbox and Xbox 360 platforms than any other. That being said, the mobile market here seems to still be the largest, and that isn't to say that PC gaming or PS2s are nowhere to be seen. Instead what I mean is that as far as "next gen" or any "gen" for that matter, the awareness is quite fixed on the Xbox, Xbox 360, and mobile. And really, in a market where "casual" and "mobile" games thrive, you have to wonder where Nintendo is in all of this. Even though the DS costs a bit more than a moderately nice cell phone, I suspect that many folks would be interested in such a gadget, except that there hasn't been any marketing of existing games, or research into games that might thrive here.

I was struck by a conversation with an artist here just today, where he was asking me where I thought things would be going in 4-5 years (a lot of folks wonder about this ya?). He saw an inherent weakness or limitation in the constant pursuit of polygons and photorealism. He asked, "What will games do once people get tired of everything just looking good?" While I certainly have no magic answer to this, I was amazed that the DS and Wii were not readily known to him as possible futures where pushing millions of poly's wasn't your goal, where certain kinds of user interaction was a main focus. We talked about "user created content" but also what I like to think of as group or party play, social play. What is particularly interesting is that this particular artist has only been working for a year now, prior to that the game industry wasn't something that he paid attention to, yet within that year, working on assets for next gen consoles, he's recognized a fundamental change that most gamers are hungering for.

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User Created Content vs. User Created GAMES

I saw the following post, and thought two main things.
  1. User created content is WAAAY different than what Microsoft has done with XNA Express. [and]
  2. Anyone that compares Second Life or any other user created content with actually opening up the development environments for consoles needs to have their web-publishing privileges revoked.
While it is exciting to see Sony considering the value of users being able to create content and work with and within games to make their own worlds, art, etc. is powerful, it is nothing compared to the ability to create new games. I think it has been obvious thus far on Sony's stance on "home brew" games with their treatment of it on the PSP. At the same time I suppose there is some trouble there, because a lot of the "home brew" interest actually comes from people wanting to run MAME on their PSP rather than making new games.

Harrison Predicts Major Role for User Created Content on the PS3:
"I have to be really careful not to give the game away because we're keeping this secret, but don't think about it in terms of maps, think of it in terms of behaviours, environments, physics, rules... All the tools that you could want, but in a very consumer friendly way."
News that Sony is considering how to make use of content creation facilities is likely to draw comparison to Microsoft's XNA Studio Express suite, which is already up and running in beta, and will soon allow users to make their own playable Xbox 360 games using simple tools - albeit for the cost of a subscription fee.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Chicken-Fried-Turkey Has Landed

Well, I've arrived. Slightly harried by CDG's (That would be Charles de Gaulle International Airport) TSA equivalents. What a thankless job, really. Making people throw away makeup, toothpaste, eye-liner, bottled water, half-full soda bottles, or my empty Nalgene bottle and full and fully sealed bottles of liquor purchased in JFK's duty-free store including receipts for your would be new informants. I now feel much safer. Thank you CDG.

That however was not nearly as entertaining as having one of my abused pieces of luggage being tagged for inspection at Bangalore's custom counter.

"What's this?"
"My keyboard."
"What's this?"
"My mouse."
"What's this?"
"The adapter for the power for my laptop."
"What's this?"
"The adapter for the power for my iPod. I think I have a screwdriver over there. Oh, and a Leatherman." (Trying to helpfully locate whatever it is must have looked dangerous)
"What's this?"
"More cables, that ones for my camera, that's my iPod mic, that cable is for..."
"Get out of here."

But, all of that said, I'm here, I'm settled, and I'm happily sitting at some free horizontal space at Dhruva here in Bangalore. Everyone here has been very cool. I was led around the three different office locations earlier today and introduced to just about everyone. Now I face being completely unable to remember ANYONE's name. But at least most everyone knows who I am, and that I'm not too scary. I wore a nice shirt this morning, just in case. You never know really. Thankfully I wore my "The Scream" shirt by Edvard Munch underneath. This put most of the artists far more at ease. Nothing like a tucked in collared shirt to make a game developer nervous.

I ate lunch with the two art leads on the PC and console side today, as well as the engineering lead on the mobile side. It was fun. It started off with a discussion of my work, but quickly segued into a discussion on games that were CPU tied rather than on time. You know, those old games that when run on new hardware do extremely bizarre things because CPU cycles are no longer at a premium. You remember, that "turbo" button on your 486? Thus far the tummy is 98% at ease. Bottle water plus not going overboard on the hot stuff. I attribute the 2% to jet-lag.

Skype is now officially my favorite company. Without them I'm sure that communication with home would be much more difficult. It works and works well. I can't call the US for free (I guess the deal is just calling the US from within the US, though that wasn't clear on the website), but I can receive as many calls as I like on my Skyp-In number without costing me any more than the activation. And really, at $0.025 per minute, I don't mind making calls out.

I'm going to get a cell phone this evening. That will be fun. Apparently there is some ammusing bureaucracy associated with getting a SIM card for it. It, much like the TSA and it's international brother/sister operations, probably has to do with terror(ism).


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Global Game Industry Blog Goes Global

So it's about to happen. I'm set to leave for Bangalore, India on Monday. Of course I'll be getting there through JFK (NYC) and PDG (Paris, France). I'm set for nearly 24 hours of fly time over 36 hours. Should be good fun.

I'm planning to post updates here for lack of any better place really.

If you're looking to talk to me:
AIM: alphapo
@Gmail Jabber: caseyodonnell
Skype: caseyodonnell

I'll be trying to post images/thoughts as I meander through India's game industry over the next two months. It does make me happy that as I whip out the credit card continuously that the NSF has been so gracious as to fund this puppy. If I had something more meaningful to say, I would. But I don't.

In the mean time...