Joho the Blog » games

June 2, 2012

Distribution models that work. Are we finally getting it (them) right?

Is it just me, or are we in a period when new distribution models are burgeoning? For example:

1. Kickstarter, of course, but not just for startups trying to kickstart their business. For example, Amanda Palmer joined the Louis CK club a couple of days ago by raising more than a million bucks there for her new album. (She got my $5 :) As AFP has explained, she is able to get this type of support from her fans because she treats her fans honestly, frankly, with respect, and most of all, with trust.

2. At VODO, you can get your indie movie distributed via bittorrent. If it starts taking off, VODO may feature it. VODO also works with sponsors to support you. From my point of view as a user, I torrented “E11,” a movie about rock climbing, for free, or I could have paid $5 to stream it for 10 days with the ability to share the deal with two other people. VODO may be thinking that bittorrenting is scary enough to many people that they’ll prefer to get it the easy way by paying $5. VODO tells you where your money is going (70% goes to the artist), and treats us with respect and trust.

3. I love Humble Bundle as a way of distributing indie games. Periodically the site offers a bundled set of five games for as much as you want to pay. When you check out, you’re given sliders so you can divvy up the amount as you want among the game developers, including sending some or all to two designated charities. If you pay more than the average (currently $7.82), you get a sixth game. Each Bundle is available for two weeks. They’ve sold 331,000 bundles in the past three days, which Mr. Calculator says comes to $2,588,420. All the games are all un-copy-protected and run on PCs and Macs. Buying a Humble Bundle is a great experience. You’re treated with respect. You are trusted. You have an opportunity to do some good by buying these games. And that’s very cool, since usually sites trying to sell you stuff act as if buying that stuff is the most important thing in the world.

4. I’m hardly the first to notice that Steam has what may be the best distribution system around for mass market entertainment. They’re getting users to pay for $60 games that they otherwise might have pirated by making it so easy to buy them, and by seeming to be on the customer’s side. You buy your PC game at their site, download it from them, and start it up from there. They frequently run crazy sales on popular games for a couple of days, and the game makers report that there is enough price elasticity that they make out well. If I were Valve (the owners of Steam), I’d be branching out into the delivery of mainstream movies.

There’s of course much much more going on. But that’s my point: We seem to be figuring out how to manage digital distribution in new and successful ways. The common threads seem to be: Treat your customers with respect. Trust them. Make it easy for them to do what they want to do with the content. Have a sense of perspective about what you’re doing. Let the artists and the fans communicate. Be on your customers’ side.

Put them all together and what do you have? Treat us like people who care about the works we’re buying, the artists who made them, about one another, and about the world beyond the sale.

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April 21, 2012

The semi-transparent Prisoner’s Dilemma

A British game show that I never heard offers a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As the host explains at the beginning, if both contestants agree to split the pot, they split it. If one chooses to split and the other to steal, the stealer gets the whole thing. If they both choose to steal, they get nothing. So, here’s the clip in which one of the players injects a new variable. [SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THIS POST]

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Why does the guy on the right (Mr. Right) finally choose the way he does?

If Mr. Left believes that Mr. Right will Steal, then Mr. Left will Split, so Mr Right might as well Split. If Mr. Left thinks that Mr. Right will Split, then Mr. Left will Steal, so Mr. Right can either Split (so Mr. Left gets the pot) or Steal (so neither gets anything); might as well Split. If Mr. Left believes that Mr. Right will steal and will break his promise to split the pot afterwards, then Mr. Left might Steal just to screw Mr. Right, in which case Mr. Left might as well let Mr. Left get the money rather than foregoing it for both of them, so Mr. Right should Split. No matter how you slice it, Mr. Left should Split.

If that’s right, and if Mr. Left were given time to work it through, then Mr. Left should have Stolen (assuming his aim is to maximize his share). But I’m pretty sure that I’m wrong about that.

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October 8, 2011

The font game

Mark MacKay has created a kerning game that is simplicity itself. Actually, it’s more like a quiz. You’re shown a word in a chosen font and are asked to slide the characters so that it is properly kerned.

It turns out that this is a more complex aesthetic decision than it seems, since it depends on properties such as the weight of the characters and the peculiarities of each face’s design. But you font people knew that already!

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September 18, 2011

[2b2k] Gamers solve molecular puzzle

How proteins fold over themselves has a lot to do with how they work. Envisioning such folds is a hugely complex problem for computers that human brains with eyeballs attached happen sometimes to be able to do better. The FoldIt game supplies humans with protein models and asks them to fold ‘em.

According to a post by Alan Boyle at MSNBC.com: “Video-game players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases.” The post is about an article in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology by Firas Khatib et al.

Way to go, human brains!

(I talk about FoldIt in Too Big to Know, which has now gone to press. Ohhh, irrevocably ink-stained paper!)

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September 9, 2011

[2b2k] Difference matters

I still don’t know why I started getting a free subscription to Game Developer magazine, but I sure enjoy it. The technical articles are over my head and frequently completely over my head, but I enjoy reading articles written from a hard-core developer point of view. (The magazine comes to me under the name Johnny Locust at Wild West Ware — not a pseudonym or anynym of mine. I find traces of him on the Net, but none that lets me contact him directly. Johnny, if you find this, I’m enjoying your subscription!)

The magazine opener this month (Sept.) comes from Eric Caoili. It”s about The Difference Engine Initiative, an incubator to encourage and enable women as game developers. Two sessions are planned in Toronto.

One of the founders, Mare Sheppard, says in Game Developer:

“There’s this huge, homogenous, very insular, established set of developers right now in the game industry, and it happens to be mostly white and mostly male. From that, you can really only get a certain amount of innovation…If we had more voices and more opinions and more people coming in, then we would be able to take bigger steps in releasing games that represent different people, because they’re involved in the development process.”

As for the incubator, says Sheppard, “It’s like a crafter’s circle. It’s loose and low-key, and it’s about peer mentorship.” She sees it as just one step that might help some people get over the initial hurdle.

The project is named after Ada Lovelace’s contribution to Babbage’s Difference Engine, but I enjoy the implicit endorsement of difference as a source of innovation. In fact, difference is the source of all value, isn’t it?

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April 3, 2011

Social tagging games ‘n research

The GiveALink link-sharing site has posted two games thaty are actually research studies.

The first game is GiveALink Slider which the site says “is an interesting online tagging game in which you must annotate webpages with related tags and choose new webpages. You can accumulate points and win badges by accomplishing tasks and building links with other players.” They are giving iPods to the winners. It’s actually a study called “Social Annotations through Game Play” conducted by the Networks and Agents Network in the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research of the Indiana University School of Informatics
Here’s the description of the second game:

Great Minds Think Alike is a word association game that lets users build semantic concept networks and explore similarity relations.

Players form a chain of semantically related words, which comes from the GiveALink knowledge base. Users can browse through nine different social media, e.g. Flickr and Youtube, and earn points.

Words are geo-tagged, which helps to analyze the geographical distribution of terms. Players can also connect with other players via Facebook as suggested by the game.

Data from the game is collected by GiveALink.org to make the game more fun, support other social tagging applications, and for study purposes.

No, I don’t actually understand how either game works, and I haven’t signed up for them because the first one is a study that I don’t want to commit to and the second requires an iPhone. But, the GiveALink service is interesting. It’s an open bookmark-sharing service that also feeds a research program. [Hat tip to Julianne Chatelain.]

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March 21, 2011

Foursquare

Foursquare’s general manager, Evan Cohen, is giving a talk at the ILM conference I just spoke at.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He says there have been 381,000,000 check-ins so far. In every single country. The last country to check in was North Korea. The biggest single event was the Rally to Restore Sanity. “The most basic user experience is simply when friends check-in to their current location to find their friends.” “We help engineer serendipity” in which you discover a friend is nearby.

Their value proposition: Discovery, encouragement, and loyalty.

Discovery: They want to push people out into the real world. They’ve just launched an “explore” tag, a recommendation engine. It uses info about what your friends like to do, what people like you like to do, what people are saying in the “tips” review feature, etc. “We want to be like that best friend who knows every cool bar in Chicago, or every restaurant…”

Encouragement: Use gaming mechanics to get people to do what they wouldn’t have done otherwise. The mayor races have become really competitive. If someone loses it, they’ll go back to the place over and over. Their badges also encourage people to go out. E.g., go out to the gym a few times a week and you’ll get the gym rat badge. They have also improved their leader board. The Ambassador program enables users to bring merchants onto Foursquare.

Loyalty: They encourage merchants to offer rewards of various types. They’ve relaunched this part of the platform: easier for merchants, for users, and new “specials” types. They’re now offering “flash specials” to drive traffic when the place is under-utilized. Not all specials are discounts. “It’s an experience.” They also have a “friends special” that only works if you show up with some number of friends. Over 250,000 venues have verified on the merchant platform. Merchants have done creative things with Foursquare. Even when Starbucks offered a mere $1 off a frappucino to the local mayors, checkins jumped by 50%. “It’s about the experience and recognition as much as anything.”

They have a full and easy API, modeled on Twitter’s.

[I find Foursquare fascinating. To the users it's a game. To the merchants, it's a form of marketing. And as a blending of the virtual, the real, gaming, and marketing, it's amazing.]

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January 19, 2011

Your TV shoots back

As a diploma project, David Arenou has prototyped an augment reality game that turns your living room into a scene in a first person shooter. Here’s his description:

Before beginning, the user has to set action markers and hiding places with personal furniture. It can be a chair, an armchair, an overturned coffee table: whatever wanted. After calibration, the player sits behind one of his hideouts and the game can start. The position of the body will have a direct impact on the avatar that it embodies.

When the player hides, he becomes invisible for his virtual enemies. When he uncovers himself, he can attack but becomes vulnerable to enemy bullets. Following a shooting phase, the game forces the player to change hiding place or to touch one of the markers, in order to get to a new sequence…

On his site you can see a video of the actual prototype in which he places the computer-readable markers, and crouches behind his furniture in between firing off shots at his television. Here’s his concept video:

The future of gaming, the innocent-sounding origins of the apocalypse, or both?

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January 9, 2011

In honoring Quake, we honor all video games

You don’t have to fully understand these two brief videos from 15 years ago (I don’t) explaining solutions to tech problems building a 3D game (3D as in Quake, not as in putting on the funny glasses) to be reminded how hard it can be to do things that seem simple, and how damned clever our tech is.

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January 4, 2011

PacMap

As Gianluca Baccanico (who pointed me to this) says: What do you get when you mashup Google Maps, GPS, and PacMan?

From the SourceForge page on the project:

PacMap as a location based game for Android devices. To play the game you need a GPS signal and a working internet connection. There also have to be some streets nearby. Your goal is to eat all the dots. For each dot you will get a point. But beware!

What next: Google Theft Auto?

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