Archive for March 2012


Expect The Unexpected

March 26th, 2012 — 5:47pm

One of my startup philosophies is to always plan for two or three things going wrong, all the time.  New businesses are chaotic enterprises, operating on limited information in new domains, constantly adapting.  You have to set an expectation for the unexpected.  If your baseline is a couple surprises every month or so, they’ll feel less like threats and more like business as usual.

That sort of attitude shift goes a long way toward coping with challenges as you build a company.  No more “oh my, what are we going to do?”, just a calm, rational “ok, we thought something might happen, lets figure out what to do about it”.

And if nothing goes haywire?  Great, you had a good month.

Next week I’ll be kicking off a multi-part company postmortem on Knockabout Games, the development studio I founded in 2002 to build games for mobile phones (during the first wave of mobile, i.e. pre-iOS).

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90 Seconds vs. 90 Minutes

March 12th, 2012 — 6:17pm

There’s an old saying I heard when I first started making games almost 20 years ago:  in the arcade, you want a 90 second experience to feel like 90 minutes;  on a pc, you want a 90 minute experience to feel like 90 seconds.

Game play lengths have changed a lot over the past two decades.  There may even be a case against thinking in discreet segments at all.  Nevertheless, it’s worth applying the general concept to the wide range of gaming platforms available in 2012 (inasmuch as individual platforms tend to set certain expectations).

Which of the following should feel like more time has passed than actually has, which ones less?

  • Arcade
  • Console – Retail
  • Console – Downloadable (e.g. Xbox Live)
  • Console – Handheld
  • PC – Retail
  • PC – Downloadable
  • PC – Web (e.g. flash games)
  • PC – Social
  • PC – MMO
  • Mobile

I’d say arcade, handheld, web, social and mobile games want you to feel like more time has passed.  The rest — retail and downloadable games, plus MMOs, want your play experience to feel shorter than it is.  That may not be how they should or could be designed, but the current expectations of the audience suggest that breakdown.

Agree or disagree?  The original phrase isn’t exactly symmetrical:  the economics of the arcade drove shorter play times, so they had to feel much longer to create the perception of value.  At home on the pc, with more time available, you wanted the player so immersed they didn’t notice the passage of time (which is less directly about value than maintaining engagement).

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The Value Of Content Is Falling, The Value Of Content Is Rising

March 5th, 2012 — 6:46pm

I’ve written before about how value chain barriers are dropping, enabling a more product to reach consumers than ever before.  While a boon for consumers (setting aside for the moment the noise/discovery problem), this is a challenge for content creators:  more product means more competition, driving down prices and unit sales.  So the value of content is falling.

But it’s also rising.  Lower barriers make it feasible to bring niche products to market that couldn’t be justified in the past.  And consumers will pay extraordinary amounts for products that address a niche they find compelling.  The evidence for this is all around us, from low budget CCGs (e.g. the now defunct Warstorm) to high budget strategy games (e.g. League of Legends), and it’s been happening for years.

We’re talking about products that generate $50 – $100 per paying user.  Per month.  Do the math and ask yourself how small a niche you can serve and what it will cost to build the product.  You don’t need to spend millions like League of Legends, or even hundreds of thousands like Warstorm.  There are countless underserved niches out there just begging for a product.

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