Global Game Industry News Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Update: Crunching at Insomniac...

Thanks to Raoul over at Inner Bits for a recent blog post he made, which reminded me of a February Kotaku post that shows precisely what's missing from measures like those which indicated Insomniac is a "top" place to work:

Inner - Overtime
As previously discussed in the Game Developer Manifesto, the systematic, generalized recourse, on the part of industry employers, to sustained unpaid overtime remains one of the most reprehensible practice affecting game developers. By sustained we mean more than a few days or a week at most. While some relative progress has been made since EA_spouse (and the subsequent legal action, this recent Insomniac Games article serves as a stark reminder that the practice remains entrenched.

Excessive, uncompensated overtime drains talent away from our industry, hundreds if not thousands of skilled workers giving up on their professional passion, yet it persists, on a large scale.

Kotaku - Feature: Industry Lifestyle Drives Insomniac Dev East, Far East
2005. Insomniac Studios. Ratchet Deadlock was having its final touches applied, and Resistance was nearing the end of pre-production. Chris Pfeiffer, Gameplay Director at Insomniac and Max Garber, System Lead, were all busted up. Exhausted. Pfeiffer remembers it, none too fondly, as an "endless sea of work". Deciding a break was in order, the two decided on a trip to China.
Finding himself trapped in a seemingly infinite cycle of long days and working nights, Pfeiffer began to question the sanity of an industry that relies on work conditions rarely seen elsewhere in the Western world.

"There's something fundamentally wrong with an industry when making games is so expensive that the pressure to push your staff to their individual breaking points is completely understandable, if regrettable", he says.

Pfeiffer believes the games industry, as a business, needs to grow up. "It isn't the days when Atari programmers were going catatonic at their desks, but people haven't been able to wrap their minds around the fact that individuals are internally self-throttled" he says.

"When people work 16 hour days weeks on end, you may get 12 hours of work done on the first day, 10 on the second...but eventually the effective work completed per day drops below a standard eight hour day".

To be fair to Insomniac it's an industry-wide concern (recent EA and Activision lawsuits only serving to highlight this), but when nearly every major studio is forced into these conditions by the external pressures of the business, what you gonna do?
He soon learned that China has laws in place that make such work conditions as he was enduring at home illegal. Work days there can be no longer than 11 hours, and employees are only legally allowed to work 36 hours of overtime a month.

"There are places in the US games industry where the base work week is 50 hours and that doesn't even start to account for the extended periods of 'crunch time", he says. "In China, you couldn't legally run a shop that way. And heck, who wants to live their lives that way?"

Not Pfeiffer, and not his friend Max Garber either. So in 2006, with Resistance finished and the two fed up with the conditions they'd suffered getting it there, they decided to pack their bags, depart Insomniac and form their own studio.

Where? Where else? China.

Pfeiffer is at pains to stress that it's not Insomniac themselves that caused the move.

"Ted [Price] is an exceptional person and phenomenal CEO...we have learned a lot from working there"

But at the same time is insistent that "there's a better way to work, and live, than the way western studios currently operate".
"The industry is full of explorers, adventurers", he says. "We haven't had to 'sell' the idea of moving to China. People are drawn to it. It's been surprising how many industry veterans have offered to join us so far".

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Strike Out? Nintendo and WiiWare

Oh man. I wake up this morning, and for a moment I think to myself that I'm going to have to revise this paper I've just submitted, because Nintendo has managed to step up to the plate...

I was excited about the opportunity to proven wrong, that they might be able to lower their barriers to entry. Then Level Up had to go and dash my hopes against the rocks with the actual interview with Fils-Aime. "'First, the development tools and SDKs [software development kits] that enable developers to participate are already available,' he replied, referring to the standard tools that Nintendo sells to its licensees." Strike One.

DAMN IT. So the amusing thing is that to get in a position to buy these SDK's and development kits (later mentioned as "darn near free" - Strike Two) you are actually unlikely to get without a publishing company backing you. While it might be interesting and possible to hear that Nintendo will remove some of these restrictions, it doesn't sound like it. Basically it's an opportunity for established developers to bring games to Nintendo's electronic distribution stream. What the hell about that is "indy"? What they should have said is, "Established developers can create small teams with small budgets and big ideas to bring original games to the marketplace." That's not what they said though. They actually sounded magnanimous, much like Microsoft did with the release of XNA Express. Only Microsoft actually released it to the general public. Nintendo has not. Strike Three.

I honestly don't see how this is any different from what Sony has done already. This isn't big news, this is catch up. If Nintendo had opened up a little, that would be something. That would be big news. Now I get to hear about "user generated content" on the Wii for the next month. I just have to decide now if I argue or not.

*SIGH* That's what I get for having hopes this early in the morning.

"Independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit," says Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. "WiiWare brings new levels of creativity and value to the ever-growing population of Wii owners."

The possibilities for WiiWare are limited only by the imaginations of developers. WiiWare provides game creators a simple method by which they can get their games to the public. This approach, combined with the remarkable motion controls of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, will give birth to fresh takes on established genres, as well as original ideas that currently exist only in developers' minds. The reduced barriers to development provide developers the freedom to create and an inexpensive, clearly defined path to reach consumers who will ultimately determine which game will become the Next Big Thing.

Level Up: EXCLUSIVE: What is WiiWare? Level Up Gets the Scoop On Nintendo's Brand New Bag
A month or so before the March Game Developers Conference, Nintendo's PR agency approached us about a hush-hush new content initiative that the company had been cooking up, and wanted to know whether or not we'd be interested in being the first to get the lowdown. We were. But GDC came and went without any more information. From then on, we'd check in with Nintendo from time to time, but no new information was forthcoming, not even about when new information might be forthcoming. So we began to despair. But on Monday, the folks at Golin Harris PR reached out to us again to inform us that the time was now, that the offer was still on the table, and that Nintendo of America president Reginald Fils-Aime would be available to speak with us Tuesday afternoon. We spoke with him, and here's what we learned.

What's more interesting is that Nintendo isn't only seeking WiiWare from established publishers and developers like Ubisoft and Sega. At a Nintendo developer's conference earlier this week, the company informed attendees that it was seeking from indie developers as well. Shorter, original, more creative games from small teams with big ideas; these are the buzzwords that you'll be hearing from Nintendo when its Wednesday announcement goes wide. Fils-Aime told us that while Nintendo, as the retailer, would itself determine the appropriate pricing for each game on a per-title bases, the games themselves would not be vetted by Nintendo. Instead, Nintendo would only check the games for bugs and compatibility, with developers and publishers responsible for securing an E for Everyone, E10+ for Everyone 10 or older, T for Teen or M for Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board--Adults Only titles like Manhunt 2 aren't welcome. Look for the first WiiWare titles from Nintendo and third-parties to become available next year.

Level Up: EXCLUSIVE: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime Tells Level Up About His Big Plans For a Little WiiWare
"A couple of GDCs [Game Developers Conferences] ago, Mr. Iwata hinted at downloadable content; that we wanted to help young, promising developers overcome the limitations of small budgets and team sizes to bring their games to the Wii."

Would this mean a price cut for development kits, we inquired? Or would there be a new set of tools and libraries--easier to use, but less fully-featured--aimed at the indie and hobbyist game developer? No. "First, the development tools and SDKs [software development kits] that enable developers to participate are already available," he replied, referring to the standard tools that Nintendo sells to its licensees. "We enable the marketplace where consumers can buy these games using Wii Points. Developers and publishers bring their ideas for games and marketing to entertain and entice consumers." As for a price cut, Fils-Aime insisted that Wii dev kits are already plenty cheap. "All our SDKs and dev tools are already--I don't want to call them inexpensive--they're darn near free to developers. This is unlike our competitors, where you have to spend a lot of money building high-res assets to be competitive. So in that sense, there's almost no cost to developers; the tools are already available at rock-bottom prices. We're providing the venue and light of day for games that might not have gotten attention otherwise."

Fils-Aime also stressed that all WiiWare content, unlike that on the Virtual Console, would be brand new games. "WiiWare content is new content. It can come from Reggie's Videogame Garage or from EA." (Don't get your hopes up, fanboys; Fils-Aime has no plans to personally make any WiiWare games.) As for pricing, he reiterated that while Nintendo would make the final decision on the pricing of individual games, it would do so in consultation with the developer and/or publisher, with no predetermined limit on the high-end of pricing. In short, having conquered the kids, the Alpha Moms and the non-gamers, the Wii is now going after the brand new downloadable game market currently occupied by Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. The resulting fireworks should be interesting to watch. - Nintendo Set to Unveil new WiiWare Initiative
Nintendo is set to reveal details of its WiiWare downloadable games initiative later today, according to Newsweek games blog Level Up.

WiiWare titles will be available from the Wii Shop Channel in exchange for Wii Points, as Virtual Console games currently are. However, the WiiWare games will be original titles designed specifically for Wii

According to Newsweek Nintendo held a developers' conference earlier this week, where attendees were informed that games are sought from independent studios as well as established companies such as Ubisoft and SEGA.

Nintendo will decide how much each game should cost, but will not vet the games beyond checking for bugs and compatibility. It will be the responsibility of publishers to obtain age ratings for the games, and no Adults Only-rated titles will be allowed.

Joystiq - Nintendo takes wraps off of WiiWare
Nintendo is the latest on the indie console-development bandwagon with WiiWare, a "game-creation service that will allow developers large and small to create new downloadable video game content" that the company announced this morning.

The company is making it clear that they're looking for little guys to make games for the console, though it's currently unclear exactly how that will be done. Interestingly, Reggie Fils-Amie told N'Gai Croal of Newsweek that the games would be checked for bugs but not vetted by Nintendo.

User Comment #2 - I'm not quite sure how you can call this jumping on the User Generated Content bandwagon. There's no mention of hobbyists or home development, or anything akin to XNA (which many would argue isn't a pure example of UGC either). They may be courting the casual games market or encouraging development from small indie developers, but this is still very much focussed on professional development not end-users from my reading.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Revisiting EA Spouse - 3 Years Later (and a bit of Field Work's Insight)

Well, alright, it hasn't really been three years yet. That date isn't until November, but I guess sometimes you just can't wait to publish that anniversary article.

One thing that troubles me about this first article I link to is that (as much as I have love for SHRM) there is no mention of quality of life, reasonable work hours or anything of that sort in the ranking system. While I suspect that Insomniac has something figured out, having read some of their postmortems, I'd wonder a little bit if it is simply that their people are excited about what they're working on, and happy to put in massive numbers of hours. I wish we knew more about studios like this, but we don't.

But back to ea_spouse. I'm sure Erin Hoffman has gotten a little tired of that label, she works just down the street from me at 1st Playable, and also works as a designer/producer in the video game industry.

An excerpt from an upcoming article:
At the time the blog was published I was sitting with a group of developers working on a game based on an upcoming movie title for an unreleased handheld console. They too were in "crunch" mode, working to beat timelines which had arbitrarily been set to meet the demands of movie executives, game publishers, and console manufacturers. The game was later canceled, but those hours late at work fighting against pre-release hardware with pre-release software development kits (SDK's), new engine, in-development build system, and no proven "pipeline" for art assets or design data were not forgotten. Which is not to say that ea_spouse was wrong, but rather the situation is even more difficult and complex than we had previously envisioned.

And really, it hasn't changed all that much. Fast forward three years later and I hear more rumblings that things are amiss than I hear that they've improved. It's not a good sign, and from near as I can tell, the industry hasn't found a way to maintain some semblance of sustainability yet.

For the reason WHY that is, you'll have to wait until the dissertation is finished.


GameDaily.Biz - Insomniac Honored with Top 10 'Best Companies to Work For'
Resistance: Fall of Man and Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games has been named to the list of best places to work for. The list recognizes companies with "smart people management strategies to develop successful organizations with highly productive and satisfied workforces."

[Update: Insomniac's exact ranking was not immediately available. We have discovered now that the company placed 8th.]
The announcement came during the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 59th Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. This is actually the third straight year that Insomniac has made the list. Last year the company ranked fourth. Insomniac (southern California's lone representative to the small business list) continues to be recognized as a best company to work for despite an increase in applicants of more than 20 percent since last year, and a combined 50 percent increase since 2005.

Moreover, it's worth noting that Insomniac is the first and only video game company named to this list, they're the only company in the history of the small business category to earn a Top 10 ranking for three years in a row, and they're the only company in the "TV, Film and Video" category to be recognized this year.
GPTW based the results mostly on a randomly distributed employee opinion survey that measured categories such as workplace environment, management's responsiveness to employee feedback, and adherence to company philosophy. Then, each company evaluated was given a score based on the questionnaire responses. Other factors included assessments of company programs, practices and workplace culture.

Kotaku - EA Spouse Revisited
The article is filled with quotes from Hoffman, illustrating how game companies have changed since the whole situation started. It's an interesting look at how one voice can change the way an entire industry works.

GameSetWatch - Game Developer Revisits EA_Spouse, Three Years On
"In 2004, a then-anonymous letter writer, 'EA_Spouse,' penned an angry and outraged treatise to the game community chiding Electronic Arts for forcing employees to work egregious amounts of overtime. In the months that followed, development studios, the IGDA, and other outspoken individuals stood up and voiced their opinion of what it means to be in this obsessively dedicated line of work, with most of them calling for industrywide change, too. Nearly three years later, has any of it stuck? Or has the call to action petered out?"

Of course, since then, EA_Spouse has 'come out' as Erin Hoffman, and she makes plenty of comments in the article about how game company cultures (and EA in particular) has changed: "From what I understand, the Los Angeles studio has made a really big turnaround, for example. I've heard mixed comments from Vancouver, and I consistently hear bad things about Tiburon." We've heard that too, judging by a brief letter received after the article debuted, and some of the feedback on the forums, set up by Hoffman to help discuss the issues.

But is it fair to single out EA? Absolutely not - all major game companies have (or have had) some degree of problems with working long hours, an edgy extension of a job that can require a lot of creative dedication. But it's when working 60 or 80 or 100 hours per week becomes corporately mandated or 'tribe'-impelled and management does nothing to stop the burnout that we get into trouble.
[Have any (anonymous, if necessary!) GSW readers had experiences with quality of life issues being addressed thanks to EA_Spouse's publicity, or has it made little difference in your neck of the woods, I wonder?]

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Gamasutra Publishes Adverarticle on Patents

Well, typically I expect more from Gamasutra on this front. Rather than labeling it "Opinion:", they perhaps ought to have labeled it "Advert:".

The punch-line of the article: "The video game industry is at a point where patents and other intellectual property are becoming vital to determining who the future winners will be." Is dead on. That isn't to say that there perhaps should have been a counter opinion piece about the effect that this kind of patent arms proliferation could have to stifle the industry to the point of collapse.

If you read carefully the argument, I'm not left feeling, "Yeah, patents are a good idea to think about." Rather, I'm left feeling as if I'm envisioning an arms standoff much like that forming between Open Source Software and Commercial Software (like Microsoft). They are beginning a dance that may result in the criminalization of human inquisitiveness and innovation.

It's precisely this kind of environment that I suspect the creators of patents were hoping to not have emerge. It is this kind of article and environment that points to a call for massive overhaul of the U.S. Patent system.

Gamasutra - Opinion: Is Your Invention Worth Patenting?
Video games are big business. In 2005, the world wide market for video games was estimated at $28 billion, and is expected to grow to $46.5 billion by 2010. And the video game market is still growing fast; the latest estimates show an 11.4% compound annual growth rate.
Nonetheless, the pace of patent filings by video game developers is on the rise, and, more importantly, lawsuits involving video game patents are also on the rise. One need look no further than the recently settled “force feedback” suit, in which Immersion managed to extract over $110 million from Sony.
For purposes of this article, the costs of obtaining a patent in the United States can be estimated at $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the complexity of the underlying invention, and not accounting for the inventor’s time. Weighed against these costs are the benefits provided by patent protection. Estimating the benefits of patent protection is a more involved process, which is explored below.
In such a situation, maintaining such an invention as a trade secret is the most prudent course of action. A trade secret is any economically valuable information that is not publicly known, and for which steps have been taken to maintain secrecy. Unlike patents, no formalities, such as filing with a government agency, are required to maintain a trade secret.

Also unlike patents, trade secrets endure for as long as secrecy is maintained. If a trade secret is “stolen,” the holder of the trade secret may sue for misappropriation. For inventions that, if implemented by others, would be undiscoverable, the advantage of trade secret protection is readily apparent.

In fact, since an application for patent must include a clear description of the invention, applying for a patent directed to an invention that is not discoverable when incorporated within a product may do little but share the developer’s technology with the developer’s competitors.

Unfortunately, a trade secret will not prevent a competitor from reverse engineering the developer’s technology. Therefore, if an invention is valuable, and is capable of being detected in the product, patent protection is almost always more appropriate.
If a particular invention has sufficient financial value, but the video game developer has no intention of practicing it, the developer should look at the possibility of licensing the invention to others in exchange for licensing fees. To obtain licensing fees the developer does not need to practice the invention or have even built the invention. Practically, the amount of a reasonable royalty is tied to the additional profit enabled by the invention.

Patents also have defensive value, especially in hotly contested new markets. Often, a larger, established company can prevent a smaller video game developer from pursuing a business opportunity by threatening a patent suit.
The video game industry is at a point where patents and other intellectual property are becoming vital to determining who the future winners will be. Decision makers at video game companies need to be informed of the different types of protection that can be sought for inventions, as well as the advantages of each. Armed with proper information, video game developers can use intellectual property to establish competitive advantage over their rivals.

Konrad Sherinian is an attorney with Cook & Alex, with his offices in Chicago. His practice focuses on counseling small to mid-size companies, including video game developers, on the strategic use of intellectual property. In addition, Mr. Sherinian maintains a commercial litigation practice, and presently represents a number of patent holders on a contingent-fee basis seeking to obtain compensation for patent infringement. Prior to becoming an attorney, Konrad, who has an electrical engineering degree, worked for various high-tech companies and start-ups, and lead the development of many hardware and software technologies. Notably, from 1998-2000, Konrad worked at Bungie Software, and contributed to the development of Myth II and Halo, as well as Bungie’s game matching platform,

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Sony, THIS is the Problem

I always find it interesting when two Sony articles show up on the same day that actually show why Sony is having a difficult moment. I suspect that in the next year or so it might clear up, but they're going to have to get a bit less stupid in the mean time.

In the same day that a PSP firmware update actually enables the full CPU power of the PSP, Sony complains that developers aren't making full use of the platform. Hmmm, perhaps you're constantly throwing up artificial roadblocks which prevent them from actually playing with the hardware to learn its capabilities?

Oh, that would be stupid. Developers might get annoyed with you and not risk anything for a company that doesn't help them get work done...

Hmmm... Seems like someone wants to pee in the pool and play in it.

Joystiq - Sony Tells PSP Devs to get Creative, Attract Customers
"I think that rather than focusing on the gameplay side of it, we should be focusing on how to fully utilize what I think is quite a sophisticated piece of kit," he said. According to CVG, Buckley later cited MP3 playback, wireless and online functionality as ways developers could capitalize on the PSP's potential

Maybe it's a problem of perception. Games like Crush and Loco Roco show great creativity from a design perspective. The once-exclusive Lumines (now also a PS2 and Xbox Live Arcade title) was designed byTetsuya Mizuguchi with the portable specifically in mind. But we think Buckley is implying that the PSP lacks that killer app that could only be made on the PSP.

Joystiq - PSP firmware 3.50 enables full 333MHz clockspeed
It may not be the long-rumored PSP redesign, but if you've got a PSP, it underwent a secret upgrade last month when you installed firmware 3.50. Sure, Remote Play is nice, but what you'd really like is a PSP that's instantly 25% faster. We're not talking about fancy new UMD drives, or faster processors; it's the same old PSP but Sony's uncapped the existing processor from 266MHz to 333MHz.

Sony has confirmed to Shacknews that developers working on games currently in development (your existing games aren't going to run faster) now have access to the full CPU speed of the post-3.50 PSP. The clock speed was believed to have been limited previously to conserve battery power, leading to obvious speculation that this change would be made possible by a newly redesigned PSP, replete with increased battery life. If that's the case, what about these new 333MHz games running on our old battery-addicted PSPs?

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Thinking Through the ESRB's AO Rating

A couple of very interesting articles have emerged regarding the AO rating for Manhunt 2 on the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3. Besides the abnormal amount of attention being given to the rating decision, I was actually most interested in a little Joystiq article about Thrill Kill and the sexual content of most AO games.

It has also forefronted Sony and Nintendo's licencing limitations of AO content. I bet most people didn't know that. I'm also interested in what counts as AO in other markets, like Japan.

Joystiq - Remembering Thrill Kill, the 'other' violent AO-rated game
Searching the Entertainment Software Rating Board website by the Adults Only rating yields only two games without strong sexual content or mature sexual themes: Peak Entertainment Casinos for featuring "gambling" and Thrill Kill for Animated Blood and Gore, Animated Violence.

GameDaily - Official: No Manhunt 2 on Wii
Regarding the AO rating for the title, a Nintendo spokesperson told GameDaily BIZ, "Games made for Nintendo systems enjoy a broad variety of styles, genres and ratings. These are some of the reasons our Wii and Nintendo DS systems appeal to such a broad range of people. But as with books, television and movies, different content is meant for different audiences. That's why the ESRB provides ratings to help consumers understand the content of a game before they purchase it. As stated on, Nintendo does not allow any AO-rated content on its systems."
[UPDATE] It would appear that Sony is taking very much the same stance as Nintendo when it comes to Manhunt 2. A spokesperson told GameSpot, "It's currently our policy not to allow the playback of AO-rated content on our systems." - More Bad News for Manhunt 2
In Nintendo’s own Nintendo Buyer’s Guide the company clearly states, "Please note that Nintendo does not sell or license games that carry the ESRB rating 'AO' (Adults Only)."
Currently it’s SCE’s policy not to allow the playback of AO rated content on our systems.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

This is PRECISELY why we need More Homebrew

Not because we need MAME ported. Not so I can run my old Amiga games. This is why we need homebrew and why Nintendo ought to be opening up their platforms a bit more.

The thing of course to keep in mind here is that these guys are technically doing something illegal. It is illegal because of the DMCA. They have circumvented encrypted means of copy protection. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, but I certainly hope that what they've managed to do can be an argument for more development on consoles like the Nintendo DS.

I guess my only hope at this point is that they'll open source whatever tools and SDK's they've managed to create on the DS homebrew side. Not likely though. Game developers seem to not like sharing very much.

The other thing I find fascinating is that of course response to this kind of thing has been "phenomenal." Of course it is. We're finally seeing some game content that breaks out of the mold of the last 10 years. Of course gamers and even developers are excited about this.

Kotaku - Feature: In Plundr Size Matters
The team showed off a little of that magic recently at the Where 2.0 conference where they announced that they would be bringing pirate-themed game Plundr to the DS, hopefully within the next year. In the game you sail from island to island a ship, buying, selling and fighting for goods. But to sail around the uncharted seas you'll need to get up, get outside and travel. The game will use a special form of positioning software that will rely on the Wi-Fi built into the DS.

"We built a prototype for the DS, it's homebrew at the moment, we are beginning talks with publishers about how to bring the game to the market and develop other location based games for the DS. We are also interested in the PSP," said Area Code co-founder Frank Lantz. "The response we've received about this online has been absolutely phenomenal."
The idea is that people will come to establish their own trade groups, so they're not, as it were, just ships passing in the night. The routes between the locations in the real world often traveled to, like the office and the home, will become trade routes.
"The emerging network, that is the real world, that is the platform we are developing for," Slavin added. "There's a scenario in Plundr's development where some people are playing on their phone, on their DS, on their PSP but the world they play in will be persistent."

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India, Consoles, and a Global Culture of Gamers

The trouble with being a PhD student is that sometimes you see too many connections with stuff that is going on. But then again, perhaps that is what we're supposed to do. Take a whole lot of stuff and bring it together.

I'll start off with India. While I agree that India is ripe for the picking for console developers, I don't really think that the market is going to be very big for a while yet. There are several reasons. One of course is that the contender that actually has the best shot at growing the Indian console market (Nintendo) is at least thus far ignoring the market.

The 360 meets the need of hardcore gamers. The PS3 is astronomically expensive except for the uber wealthy, and no one in India is developing any games for that platform. The 360 on the other hand has XNA Express, which Indian developers are extremely excited about. If you need some indicator of this, I recommend the India IGDA forums.

What does a PS3 offer Indian gamers at this point? I'm just not certain.

The other aspect of this is that mobile gaming is huge in India, and yet again Nintendo has completely ignored India with the DS or even GBA.

So while "demand might be picking up," I read these reports and kind of squint my eyes and think skeptical thoughts. Not because I think they're wrong, but I think they're actually being used to encourage growth. They're putting the cart before the buggy if you will.

In the mean time, you have Indiagames who has largely ported games to the numerous mobile devices, and was recently bought up by a large multinational suddenly interested in games for other parts of the world? That's probably because they have more than handhelds there. The multinational is looking for more money, and they're NOT seeing it in India for the moment.

I think of course they're also trying to get their own developers exposed to making games, because for the most part they've been doing more porting of games than creating original IP. They know they must cut their teeth on some titles first.

Lastly, it is interesting that the Loco Roco developer talks about a Global Culture of Gamers, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. However, for the moment that Global Culture is more Japanese/American than it is global.

I would love to see more Global content. I've actually encouraged many an Indian developer to do just that. Bring Indian content to the US, it is possible, it just has to be done the right way.

I also think its important to think not must multi-culturally or uni-culturally. That we can be both multicultural and super-cultural.


Gamasutra - India's Gaming Market to Reach $125m By 2010
A new report from analyst group iSuppli has said that India's gaming market is showing a "steeper curve" than recent years, forecasting that by 2010 the industry could reach $125 million, up from $13 million in 2006.

Despite the "steep price tag," the company aims to sell 10,000 units by the end of the year, and has thus far sold 1,200, previous to the forthcoming launch of a country-wide promotional campaign.

However, says the group, the PlayStation 3 will face a tough fight from the Xbox 360, which launched earlier in the year, and Microsoft has already "extensively marketed the video game console in the country"

That includes a specially localized title with Yuvraj Singh International Cricket 2007 (pictured), showing what the group calls "its commitment to customizing its titles for Indian tastes."

The group notes that the Xbox 360 is available for the equivalent of $600, a "major price differential compared to its competitor," and notes that "gaming consoles attract high duties, which lead to higher prices. Duties comprise approximately 35 percent of the product price in India, limiting video-game-consoles’ legal sales and promoting the gray market."

Despite the challenges, iSuppli says "the gaming console market is an indicator that demand is picking up for several electronics product segments that now are small in size. It also shows the interest by global electronics companies in tapping into the opportunities available in India."

Said iSuppli associate analyst Ashish Thakre, “The console gaming segment is not very sizeable in India. However, future growth expectations and consumerism are prompting companies to establish themselves in India." - India Set for Console Boom

GameDaily - Indiagames Launches International Division
Indiagames today announced the launch of its international mobile publishing and development division. Called IG Fun LLC, this arm of the company will focus on the European and American markets. Indiagames looks to be among the top 5 mobile publishers in its operational territories.

"At IG Fun we operate under the simple idea that the Customer is King and aim to provide fun and exciting games," said Sean Malatesta, VP - Business Development, Indiagames and new CEO of IG Fun LLC. "Our main goals are to provide high quality games, the widest handset coverage and to support our titles with clutter breaking marketing and merchandising."

GayGamer.Net - Loco Roco Developer Speaks
In the interview, he calls for a "Global culture of gamers". A culture that supports games from across the ocean, instead of the nations divided where gamers are not willing to try a game from foreign lands.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Microsoft Invests in Electronics Manufacturer

I don't really have anything to say at this point, simply noting the event. It is a little odd that whatever Changhong Electric Company does, that $12 Million is one percent is telling. I don't know much about this company, and their corporate website is adequately vague.

What I can tell is that Changhong is not yet a "developer" and rather is an electronics company. It makes more sense now.

Taken from the corporate website of Changhong
CHANGHONG commits itself to product innovation in the electronics industry. CHANGHONG has a state-level technology center and a first-rate scientific research workstation for post-doctors who work together to develop cutting edge technologies. CHANGHONG has established many joint laboratories with, Toshiba, Sanyo, GE, Microsoft, TI, Samsung, LG, and Philips etc. CHANGHONG also has established R&D centers in Shanghai and Shenzhen in China, American Silicon Valley, and Japan. CHANGHONG’s goal is to actively participate in the development of a global digital industry.

Joystiq - Microsoft invests in Chinese developer
Microsoft has purchased 15 million shares in Sichuan, China-based Changhong Electric Co., valued at 94 million yuan (about US $12 million). That's just one percent off the company, according to the Taipei Times.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Hackers and Homebrewers ARE NOT Pirates

So this is a common conflation in the video game industry. Anyone who wants to run something you don't want them to = PIRATE.

Sorry Dave, but you just totally stuffed your fist in your mouth.

This actually fuels my opinion that the focus on emulators by people in the homebrew world actually hurts prospects of having more open homebrew worlds for game consoles. Can we not worry about running NES ROMs (EVEN IF THEY ARE LEGAL) on our PSP's? Like just long enough to convince Sony and Nintendo that it is worthwhile to support hobbyists and homebrewers?

The conflation of homebrew and piracy is half the fault of those involved. Because in many cases piracy though perhaps not the end that was desired is an indirect consequence. We have to differentiate hacking our devices to supporting piracy.

Just because I want to run Linux on a device doesn't mean I'm going to then do dumps of UMD's to files so that I can transfer them around. Unfortunately that seems to frequently be the second thing that happens.

The world of homebrew needs more attention. Emulation and piracy needs less attention. I don't care if I can run old games on my DS. What I really want are some new cool games for my DS. - Sony threatens to pursue legal action against PS3 hackers
"Unfortunately, hackers will try to exploit any hardware system software," SCEA spokesperson Dave Karraker told
Booting games and playing them are two different things, however; so far, hackers have not been able to get any of the copied games to run, nor have they been able to run homebrew software.

Every hardware launch brings with it a race for hackers to defeat the system's protections, whether for the technological challenge, to run copied software, or to allow for homebrew games.

Despite Sony's attempts to prevent its emergence, the PSP has a strong homebrew community - and hackers are doubtless hoping to establish a similar base for PS3.

If legal consequences are not a deterrent, there are other risks involved. Like Microsoft, which has banned some modded Xbox 360 consoles from Xbox LIVE, Sony could easily stop PS3 units from accessing the PlayStation network. Hackers also risk bricking their consoles.

"Naturally, any use of an exploit on the system software does void the warranty on the PS3 system... Which could be a costly mistake to see if you can run an old SEGA CD game on it," said Karraker.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Or... Maybe The "Hollywood" Concept is Outmoded

I love grand sweeping statements. Oh, wait, they usually just make people sound like idiots. Now, I know half the time they are purely the function of journalistic attention grabbing, but I'm tired of that excuse really.

I think Asia is going to replace Hollywood with its own internal forms of entertainment. They're likely going to see some revenue from the US and Western Europe. I think we're likely to see more and more local supplies of entertainment. We'll have a disruption of the Hollywood model, though you'll then likely have a re-acquisition phase as these companies are brought into the fold of US Entertainment Multinationals.

Suddenly it looks like Hollywood again. Doh.

Unless companies in these new locations make a specific effort to not be acquired, then this is how I would suspect it will go. Even if they do attempt to avoid being acquired, you have the difficulty of those same multinationals setting up shop in town and hiring away all of your freshly trained workers.

I'm not trying to make this sound worse than it is or vilify the corporation, just stating that at least up until now this is how it seems to be going.

Red Herring - Is Asia the Next Hollywood?
The explosive growth of Internet video gaming could transform Asia into the global entertainment industry’s next development hub, an audience at Silicon Valley’s Kincon innovation conference heard this week.

"I think Asia is the new Hollywood," said Susan Choe, founder and CEO of game publisher Outspark. “"t’s a big statement, but who thought L.A. was going to be the center of the [entertainment world]?"
So Outspark and many other companies are betting on Asia’s ability to deliver advanced forms of online entertainment to international markets. The San Francisco-based publisher of Asian games is still in stealth mode, but it is expected to begin testing a multiplayer online game called Fiesta this summer (see

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Getting Sappy about Penny Arcade

I can't really help myself. I get sappy when I think about Penny Arcade (PA). If I'm a "fan" of anyone in the video game industry (and it's really hard to think about them as "in it," because in many ways they're are both at the margins and in the center at the same time.), I'm a fan of these guys.

I guess it goes back to my undergrad years. These guys started PA when I was an undergrad sort of in the video game industry sort of not. I was coding a lot and playing a lot of games. I was still living in the dorms, the CS computer lab had just gotten a super sweet color laser printer. I managed to print too many of these comics, which I periodically pasted on the door to my room.

While I was at JPL they were a staple of my coding diet. When I was working for 3D Pipeline it was like water. When I was doing tools development it was like air. It just makes me happy to see that they've done so well for themselves, bootstrapping PA from what it was to what it is now. Time and again they continue to tell it like it is.

I was sad that their ire managed to fall recently on some developers which I'd spent nearly three years with, but I also understand what they were saying.

Anyway, the following interview on The Onion's AV club is fun. It is interesting to see them making the transition more to the development side. I'm sure it will totally change their perspective on games.

The Onion / AV Club - Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
AVC: At the same time, do you ever think, "Maybe we should be a little clearer about this," or "Maybe we should make it easier to understand this reference?"

JH: It's rare that we ever do that. I mean, there are a lot of jokes we do where we'll look at each other and say, "Is this a little too obscure? I mean, are people really aware of this game, or this particular game issue, this news clip?" And it comes down to, if the joke is funny, if we laugh at it, we just roll with it, and sort of trust that our readers will do their homework to find out why it's funny. Or we [explain it] in a news post, or something like that. It might sound silly, but we really focus on making the joke first, and then we don't really worry about, "Well, how is this going to come across?" If we laugh, then—that's so hard to do. It's rare we ever turn down a comic, man. If we've got something that makes us laugh, we just have to go with it.

AVC: And it is nice to have the news post to refer back to.

JH: The news posts are good because game news, like the gamer consciousness, is constantly in flux. And the news is worthless even two or three days beyond its shelf date. We started doing the posts sort of on accident, like we had to fill some space on the site, but now, it's absolutely critical if you're going back through the archives.
AVC: Would you like to do more things with the Web or the technology it offers?

MK: I think it goes back to what Jerry said. We're not really very ambitious.

JH: Which is true.

MK: We want to enjoy ourselves.

JH: Yeah. We're not trying to revolutionize or change anything. So we never really think about that.
AVC: What are your roles on the development team?

MK: Jerry is writing everything, the whole game. I designed all the characters, and the enemies, and the environments—pretty much everything you see, I drew at some point. And we know Penny Arcade better than anybody, so we're involved daily with the developers talking about the game and how it should play, and that sort of thing.

But we really are trying to leave the actual gameplay up to them. They're the experts in that field. We can make it look like Penny Arcade, and we're trusting them to make it fun to play.

AVC: As you work on this, are you finding it's harder than you expected?

MK: The amount of work and planning is really overwhelming. We're used to conceptualizing a project, completing the writing, and then finalizing the comic in the space of four or five hours, total. And we've been writing and drawing for this game for how long?

JH: Months! I mean, from the very first storyboards and stuff, probably a year. [Long sigh.] It's been a learning experience to actually see how a game like that comes together. I mean, it really is sort of like a trip through the sausage factory. We were not prepared, I don't think, for the process.

AVC: So are you more sympathetic to developers now?

MK: Absolutely.

JH: Well, I think… Well…

MK: I am.

AVC: The gaming community doesn't have many spokesmen, and since you're essentially writing an editorial cartoon—and getting into fights with Jack Thompson—you seem to be filling that job. Are you comfortable in that role?

JH: I'm comfortable speaking. The gaming community is too vast to have a spokesperson. I definitely think that the things I say represent a viewpoint that exists in the gaming community. But the gaming community isn't monolithic, in that way. I don't think it can have one spokesperson.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Emulators, the Virtual Console, and Opening up the Wii

It is always to see how the pile of news I didn't read over the weekend piles up and then ends up overlapping in odd/interesting ways.

One in particular was an article in the NY Times about Nintendo courting developers more-so than they previously had in the past, and this other bit about a Wii/Gamecube homebrew competition.

First of all, I really hope that the developers that put their time and effort into making games for the Wii and Gamecube spend more time on actual games than on emulators. Sure you can perhaps have a game up and running faster (?) if you're porting an emulator to the Wii or Gamecube, but I'm beginning to believe more and more that emulators on consoles tends to hurt homebrew efforts rather than help them.

Of course when I saw the Wii News article linked from Slashdot (/.), the emulation aspect was for-fronted. If you think about it, emulators are the very thing that most companies fear when it comes to homebrew. Why? Because it dilutes their brand, and prevents them from being able to re-sell you old content.

Now, that isn't to say that old content is all bad (because sometimes they make it look better), but as far as Microsoft is concerned, running your old NES games on the Xbox 360 isn't going to help them. Nintendo doesn't want you running Sony PS1 titles on the Wii or Gamecube because it dilutes their brand.

What I see as the interesting overlap here is that Nintendo really is pushing developers to think about these new platforms in new and interesting ways. What they haven't done is engage with home brew-ers, hobbyists or open sourcers. The other thing is that they haven't provided a way to get around the uber-conservative publishing companies, especially here in the US.

It is also interesting that Nintendo, of all the current console manufacturers, has yet to release an original title for their Virtual Console. What a great new medium which would circumvent timid publishers. Heck, it might even push them in such a way that they would HAVE TO publish some new interesting titles. In the mean time Nintendo would likely reap higher margins on those titles.

But, you know, it's easier to keep things closed and snuggle up with your existing developers, than to take a chance on all those people just itching to get a chance to develop for your system. If only the number of people playing with their Wii-motes on their PC's gives you an idea of the number, it's a lot. Not to mention even at RPI's game symposium this spring, several games used the Wii-mote as a control mechanism.

NY Times - Technology - Putting the We Back in Wii
"The relationship is warmer and more active than before," said Jeff Brown, the spokesman for Electronic Arts, the giant game developer based in Redwood City, Calif. The push appears to be bringing results. Analysts say one reason for Wii’s popularity has been its larger number of available game titles. At present, there are 58 games on sale in the United States for Wii, versus 46 for PlayStation 3, according to the Sony and Nintendo Web sites. That is a huge contrast with the previous generation of game consoles: to date, PlayStation 2 has 1,467 titles, overwhelming GameCube’s 271 titles.
The Wii’s simplicity is also the selling point for software makers. Mr. Wada said developers had been slower to write games for PlayStation 3 because of the greater complexity of the console’s main processor, the high-speed multi-core Cell Chip. He said PlayStation 3’s production delays had also made Sony slow to provide developers with the basic codes and software needed to write games for the new console.

At Namco Bandai, Mr. Unozawa said PlayStation 3 was so complex, with its faster speeds and more advanced graphics, that it might take 100 programmers a year to create a single game, at a cost of about $10 million. Creating a game for Wii costs only a third as much and requires only a third as many writers, he said.

Wii News - Coding Contest
DCEmu via its Wii-News and Gamecube Emulation Sites are proud to present the first Dual Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Gamecube Coding Competition. This Coding Competition will hopefully ignite a mass of interest for creating homebrew and emulators on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Gamecube.
Entries for the competition must work on either Nintendo Wii or Nintendo Gamecube or both via SD Load.

All entrys must work with SD Load or with an as yet Unreleased Exploit for Nintendo Wii. Modchip Versions of any releases must have a corresponding SD Load Version.

Entries can be Emulators, Homebrew Games, Demos or Applications that work directly on the Gamecube/Nintendo Wii.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

GameDeveloper Magazine and Gamasutra 3 Months Behind

At least I beat someone to the punch. Of course if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to listen, does it make a sound? Apparently not for Gamasutra or GameDeveloper Magazine.

At least it is someone respected in the industry saying these things, but for the most part his punchline is one in the same with my own, "So, Sony? Nintendo? The time has come for you to feel the winds of change. It's your game to lose, and your princess is going to be in another castle if you don't choose wisely. It's time to open things up a bit."

Gamasutra - Opinion: Why Indies Can't Thrive On Consoles
Imagine the following unlikely scenario: the movie theaters of America are divided into three groups, each of which requires a different aspect ratio and delivery format for any movie showing in it. Perhaps the three different formats don’t actually encourage easy conversion between them.

Just think what a chilling effect that would have on some filmmakers who wanted a shot at showing their independent movies nationwide.
The ham-fisted point I’m trying to make is that the same chilling effect is currently happening with downloadable games for consoles. While Microsoft has a clear outreach channel for independent games with Xbox Live Arcade, the company hasn’t been working with Sony or Nintendo to create standards so that those games are available to PlayStation 3 and Wii owners.
It seems that Sony’s PlayStation 3 E-Distribution Initiative is keenly focused on first-party or second-party exclusives, such as Super Rub-A-Dub, fl0w, and Blast Factor, which take advantage of the PlayStation 3 hardware in some way. These are all fine titles, but they’re emblematic of a Sony-centric portfolio.
Why isn’t that happening? I can only presume it’s because Sony has not set up a good mechanism for more loosely tied indies to easily and swiftly convert their games. Things are even worse in Nintendo’s corner, where retro titles are spouting out by the gallon, but new downloadable games are completely absent as of press time.
Oddly, both Nintendo’s and Sony’s reluctance to come out swinging in this area seems to be down to insularity or issues relating to corporate control. Why not relax a little and give the consumer a bit more choice and make indie development much more viable along the way?

The Wii-volution will not be Televised: The XNA-cution of a Business Model
But we can now. All we have to do is sell our souls to Microsoft's C#, Windows Vista, and Direct X 10 API for this opportunity. All Microsoft gets out of it is an ability to disrupt the business model that has until recently kept them at the middle of the pack and gain the efforts of the hordes of developers itching to try their game development skills on a piece of next generation console hardware. Does it mean that they've given up control of distribution? Heck no. But there is a contest if you're interested.

So, Sony? Nintendo? The time has come for you to feel the winds of change. It's your game to lose, and your princess is going to be in another castle if you don't choose wisely. It's time to open things up a bit.

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