My Simple Minded World

2009 Game Sale Predictions

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on June 12, 2009

I’ll just list out the criteria and rankings for each game, with the 12-month, world-wide all major platforms sales prediction. 12-months sales, means the number of units it will sell over 12 months globally. “All major platforms” refers to 360, PS3, PC, Wii and PS2. Not counting PSP, DS, iPhone, mobile, etc. I’m not big on the handheld space.

I’ll say it right now that if I can get within 7even 50% I’ll be extremely happy.

Some Highlights

  • Assassin’s Creed 2 will sell more than AC1
  • Modern Warfare 2 will sell more than MW1
  • Forza 3 will be the best selling game in the series by far (not counting packins)
  • Bayonetta, The Conduit, The Sabateur, and Dante’s Inferno are going to sell poorly.
  • Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus are going to do substantially worse than their predecessors (WSR will by default).

Final Fantasy XIII

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  3
  • Fresh experience: 4
  • Social: 1
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 4
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 5M

Splinter Cell: Conviction

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  5
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 3 (or 4 depending on multiplayer, details are scarce on that front)
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 3 (Double Agent didn’t sell super well AFAIK)
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 2M

Forza Motorsport 3

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  4
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 4
  • Life improvement: 1
  • Brand: 4 (Forza packin)
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 6M

Alan Wake

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  4
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 0
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 2
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 1.5M

Lost Planet 2

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  3
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 3
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 2
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 500K

Red Steel 2

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  3
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 1
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 2
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 500K

Assassin’s Creed 2

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  5
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 0
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 4 (AC1 sold 8 million units)
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 10M

Modern Warefare 2

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  5
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 4
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 5
  • Timing: 4
  • Prediction: A bajillion units.

The Conduit

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  2
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 3
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 1
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 300K (100K first month)

The Sabateur

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  3
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 0
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 1
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 300K

Dante’s Inferno

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  2
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 0
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 2
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 500K

Bayonetta

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  2
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 0
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 1
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 300K

BioShock 2

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  4
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 2
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 3
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 1.5M

The Beatles: Rockband

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  1
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 4
  • Life improvement: 1
  • Brand: 5
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 2M

Wii Sports Resort

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  1
  • Fresh experience: 2
  • Social: 5
  • Life improvement: 2
  • Brand: 5
  • Timing: 2
  • Prediction: 2M

Wii Fit Plus

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  1
  • Fresh experience: 1
  • Social: 2
  • Life improvement: 4
  • Brand: 5
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 4M

Tekken 6

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  2
  • Fresh experience: 1
  • Social: 3
  • Life improvement: 0
  • Brand: 3
  • Timing: 2
  • Prediction: 500K

Tony Hawk: Ride

  • Cinematic feel/presentation (0-5):  1
  • Fresh experience: 3
  • Social: 2
  • Life improvement: 2
  • Brand: 3
  • Timing: 3
  • Prediction: 250K (highly dependent on the price, which at time of prediction is still unknown)

Ideas on what makes a console game successful

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on June 11, 2009

With the release of NPD figures becoming a monthly ritual for a growing percentage of the gamer population, there is more attention being paid to what exactly goes into making a same sell well.

Obviously this is a challenge that all developers and publishers are tackling, and for the most part attempt to overcome. However, many fail at this, and with catastrophic consequences. So, rather than use my 20/20 hindsight vision, I’m going to come up with a criteria for what goes into a successful modern game, and then apply said criteria against games coming out this year. I will then be able to see how good my predictions are, and if they ARE good, well then great!

Criteria

  • Cinematic feel and presentation
  • Fresh experience
  • Social
  • Life improvement
  • Brand
  • Timing

Cinematic Feel and Presentation

This criteria is difficult to describe because it can be confused with cutscene-heavy or story-heavy, when that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, what I mean by Cinematic Feel and Presentation is that the very act of PLAYING the game results in an experience that FEELS cinematic. Meaning, it’s almost as fun to watch the person playing the game, as it is to play itself.

Aspects that go into Cinematic Feel are: lush environments, great character animation, little to no  HUD, minimal “gamey” aspects (such as points, loading screens, etc), and high level of interaction.

Ubisoft is actually very good at making cinematic games with titles such as Assassin’s Creed, and the to-be-released AC2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction.

Fresh Experience

Players seem to be demanding a higher level of NEW experiences. We’ve seen this with depressed sales of games like MotorStorm 1->2 and Resistance 1->2 where the arguably better sequels sold substantially less. Obviously, there are a lot of factors going into that, but my theory is that a major factor is the NEWNESS of the experience. Different gametypes, gameplay, game-feel, settings, etc.

What successful sequels like Halo, Street Fighter, etc demonstrate is that people like familiarity but there is a minimum acceptable delta when it comes to the experience itself compared to previous offerings.

Social

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Though some people limit social gaming to party-games and having a bunch of people hanging out in a person’s house playing some Wii. I look at social in a broader context that includes online multiplayer gaming, and even single player games that have things like broader competitive interactions such as leaderboards.

Life Improvement

This criteria is pretty new in the mainstream and has come to the forefront through Nintendo and the Wii. For a long time “Life Improvement” games were strictly under the label of “edutainment” and were more about education than games. With Wii Fit and Brain Age, Nintendo was able to strike an almost perfect balance between bettering your life, and having fun. The next key is that physical and mental fitness aren’t the only ways that your life can be improved, and Nintendo will prove that in a very profound way with the Wii Vitality Sensor. The interesting thing, is that there are quite a few untapped areas of Life Improvement that are open season:

  • Mental Health – Brain Age
  • Fitness – Wii Fit, EA Sports Active, etc
  • Relaxation – Wii Vitality Sensor (most likely)
  • Cooking – Kind of with Cooking Mama, and some other DS games
  • Spiritual – ?
  • Love – ?
  • Relationships – ?
  • Creativity – ?
  • Sex – ?
  • Making money – ?
  • Have a successful career – ?
  • Parenting – ?
  • Learning languages – ?
  • Leaning a music instrument

Obviously some of these categories are not as interesting as “mental” or “physical” fitness, but if you could make a compelling game that helped you with your social life… that would be amazing. This is an entirely new class of interactive software that we’re just now scratching the surface of.

Brand

It goes without saying that there are big franchises and not-so-big franchises. Any game that has the words “Mario”, “Halo”, “Final Fantasy” or “Madden” will instantly get a lot of attention. The size of the brand will determine the center-point so to speak on where its sales will lie that is determined by how much the previous game sold. For example of Halo 3 sells 9 million, then it’s reasonable to use 9 million as a starting point for Halo 4, and then adjust from there and incorporate the other criteria to move up and down.

Sometimes an entry in a franchise will be able to break out and bring the brand to the next level like with Call of Duty 4, or bring it down many levels, as what happened with Tony Hawk (though that may have been more gradual).

Note that brand isn’t limited to just game franchises, but extends to all kinds of brands. NFL, UFC, Mario Lopez, musicians, movies, etc. It’s the reason why licensed games continue to be made despite their lower quality.

Timing

I was hesitant to put timing in here as a criteria since it is somewhat ambiguous and there is some overlap with “Freshness” but timing comes into play mostly as a negative factor. Even if a game is solid on all the other points, if it’s released in a period where there are some huge titles coming out then it can be completely looked over and squashed in the marketplace. I see this time and time again when it comes to the holidays. Publishers seem to be wisening up to this Q4 crush and have wiseley started to space out their releases, though from this E3 it looks like there’s going to be a Spring-crush.

If your game is huge then obviously the holidays can act as an amplifier, but for most games they need to be very wary about when they’re coming out.

Putting it together

Essentially each game has a scoring on how good it satisfies each of the criteria. Most of the time a game will focus on one criteria, though some games like Call of Duty and Halo are able to hit a couple (Social and Cinematic), or Wii Fit (Fresh and Life Improvement) and thus get super ridiculous sales success.

Now, this doesn’t supercede my article on Game Design Commandments, as that dealt with tactical fundamental gameplay issues, and this is a broader strategic analysis.

My next post will be with the predictions proper.

A Framework for Understanding Motivations

Posted in business, The Interweb by Omar Ismail on April 16, 2009

Audience. Community. Social. Viral.

These are all buzzwords that have gained popularity over the past few years to try and capture the fuel that has propelled success stories like Facebook and YouTube. But what does this actually mean, and how can we recreate them?

Based upon the work of Amy Jo Kim (Building Communities on the Web), Richard Bartle (Players who suit MUDs) and Andrew Chen (Futuristic Play) I’ve developed an analytical framework for evaluating ideas and initiatives on how they impact a person’s attachment to your site.

Motivational Taxonomy

motivation-taxonomy

I split up motivations into two broad categories, “External” which I qualify as things that will affect a person’s real life in some way, and “On Site” which is limited to things on the site itself. While the focus of this article is on the “On Site” motivations that isn’t to say that “External” motivations aren’t important. In fact I would argue that a large part of Facebook and Twitter’s success come from how the services affect a person’s real life. However, these External things are pretty self-explanatory and don’t need to be covered in depth. In my research I found the OnSite factors to be a more difficult thing to quantify and that’s what I’m attempting to model.

Identity (I)

identity 

This refers to a person expressing themselves to the world around them.

Who am I?

What am I about?

What do I like?

What do I want to do?

etc.

As a benchmark to illustrate what I mean by Identity: Facebook. People’s profiles are an incredibly close approximation to who they are as a person as people use their real names, real pictures, real interests, real friends.

MySpace is another obvious example but in a different way as the profile pages are focused on manufactured identies and creative customization.

 

Relationships (R)

relationship

This motivation is defined by a person being socially engaged with another person or persons. Humans are social creatures and we want to have a sense of belonging.

We want to communicate with like-minded individuals, have shared experiences, and shared traditions.

A benchmark for relationship building is MySpace in the old days, and Twitter now. These services are about building a broader and broader breadth of relationships. Some services like niche social networks, or hardcore MMO games focus on increasing the depth of people’s relationships to one another.

 

Content (C)

topic

This is the person’s affinity towards the actual content on the site. They may be passionate about a particular topic, enjoy the nature of the conversations, find the content funny/entertaining, etc. We all have interests and content that we like to consume, I like watching Street Fighter 4 videos instead of cooking movies.

A benchmark for content is Wikipedia. For any topic you might have an interest in, they have a wealth of high quality content to consume.

I would argue that for outsiders, chatrooms rank low on the content scale because the individual conversations present little value.

 

Weightings and Score

Every site/service can be graded on these three metrics and scored relative to whatever benchmarks you choose.

This isn’t the entire story though, as each individual has their own importance and weighting they apply to each metric.  And a person’s weightings will shift depending on the topic at hand.

These weightings combine with a site’s metric rankings to get a person’s individual site score.

SCORE = w1*I + w2*R + w3*C

The resulting SCORE determines how much attention a person will give a site. As long as the score falls above that threshold the more time/attention a person will give. Therefore stickiness is achieved when (I,R,C) increases the more time a person puts in.

 

Applying it to People

This is all well and good, but how do we apply this to people, and how do we know what people’s weightings are? Well this is where Bartle’s paper comes into play. From analyzing MUDs in the 90s he proposes that there are 4 distinct classes of users/members.

  • Achievers – get satisfaction from overcoming obstacles, gaining ranks, and improving their status
    • C >= I > R
    • Sees the service as a game (chess, checkers)
  • Socializers – want to talk and build relationships
    • R >> I > C
    • Sees the service as entertainment (bar, club, etc)
  • Explorers – want to see/experience everything the system offers and testing the boundaries
    • C >> I > R
    • Sees the service as a pasttime (gardening, reading)
  • Instigators – enjoy stirring up trouble
    • I >= C > R
    • sees the service as a sport (hunting, fishing)

So we can attract or at least make our sites more attractive to these personality types by creating features, policies and intiatives that appeal to them.

What makes things really nice and messy is that each of the people in the system has a substantial effect on one another. Bartle provides a nice interaction diagram (I call Instigators what he calls Killers).

mud-interactions

So you can see that the more Killers/Instigators there are the fewer Socializers. More Achievers and Socializers brings more Instigators, and Explorers are in their own world.

 

Bringing it all Together

This analysis brings a few questions up

  1. What kind of population distribution makes the most sense for your site/service?
  2. What initiatives do you do to appeal to each personality type in the context of your site/service given you better understand their motivations?

While these questions are still difficult to answer and require creativity/innovation they’re at least a lot more grounded and workable than generic statements than the usual “let’s make the service better”.

Thoughts on Watchmen

Posted in movies by Omar Ismail on March 10, 2009

So the Watchmen… a book and movie upon which many a word will be spent. Instead of adding to the heaps of ruminations, examinations, and analyzations of this body of work, I’ll try to keep it short and simple.

In one sentence: the movie is a fantastic companion piece to the book.

The presentation is first class, and the characters are treated in a faithful manner. Essentially the film recreation of the book paints a better picture than the combination of novel + my imagination ever could. So for that I really do thank Snyder.

However, on its own the movie is not enough to explore the themes, and points that are examined in the book. The book creates a ridiculously rich narrative setting that is unrelenting in its depth. Of course for a lot of people, this depth also raises to a barrier and can overshadow some of the more poignant aspects of the story.

This is something to keep in mind when and after you’ve watched the movie. There are substantial portions of the book that are completely omitted. When I say substantial, I really do mean it. A parellel side story that runs throughout the course of the novel, which constitutes about 25% of the story, and is essential for appreciating the whole. Furthermore, key development of certain side characters is missing almost completely.

I’m glad that I read the book first.

What I learned at RIS 2008

Posted in Religion by Omar Ismail on December 28, 2008

This was my first RIS Conference (Raising the Islamic Spirit) and I have to say it was much better than I was anticipating. While there were some talks on standard introductory Islam (manners, marriage, etc) a lot of the talks were focused on Tariq Ramadan’s “Radical Reform”. I’m not in tune with modern Islamic intellectual discourse, so this might be a bias sampling of Shaykhs and Imams, but it appears that the new trend is that as Muslims in the west it is OK to integrate (not assimilate), and contribute to the societies in which we belong.

I’m not going to go through each of the lectures and give a summary, instead in this post I’m just gonna talk about what I learned particularly since many of the lectures referenced each other and expounded on similar points and themes. Also while I wrote this blog post as if these are my thoughts that I believe, I still haven’t fully analyzed them and determined if I fully agree with them or not… I’m just jotting down what I *THINK* I understood, so if anybody wants to correct me in my understanding feel free! God Willing I’ll also be picking up Tariq Ramadan’s book to make sure I’m getting the ideas down correctly.

Obviously the big theme that I took away from the conference is this Radical Reform mantra. This is how I understand it:

There are a lot of problems in the world, and societies that we live in, Muslims should bring together experts in their respective fields (medicine, economics, technology, law, physics, etc) with Muslim scholars to strengthen our spiritual and intellectual weakness and generate transformational ideas, practices and policies to solve and improve these problems for everyone – Muslims and non-muslims.

There are a lot of problems in the world.  I don’t think I need to explain this phrase too much. Climate change, Crime, War, Terror, Economic Bankruptcy, Slavery, etc. These are major global forces in the world that are destroying people’s lives. And even locally there are problems, something like Canada’s parliamentary issues, or even more locally with the educational or transportation systems. These are all problems that can be solved/improved with Islamic thinking and ideas. And this doesn’t mean an all or nothing approach where the Muslims take over the government and run everything entirely by Islamic law/practices. Instead we can apply Islamic lessons to each situation to improve each problem.

Strengthening our spiritual and intellectual weakness. This was really focused upon by Imam Zaid Shakir, who made some really great points. He used yesterday’s Israeli attack on Ghaza to highlight what he meant by strength and weakness. Essentially, the rockets that some Palestinian fighters launch into Israel serve no strategic purpose; they don’t really kill anyone, and don’t cause much damage… however, what they do in reality is give Israel a psychological pretext to use disproportionate and overwhelming force in response. He states that the Israeli thinking goes “While these small rockets don’t do much damage, if these people got big rockets/bombs they would use them to wipe us out, therefore we must wipe them out before that happens.” And that’s when you see 160 people dieing in one bombing attack.

Zaid Shakir states that instead of focusing on military strength, as it is a wild goose chase/false path, Muslims should be focusing on strengthening our spirits, souls, and minds. And eventually the power of Islamic ideas and practices IN REALITY will be so compelling and alluring the people will convert on their own. He mentioned two examples one during the time of the Prophet (AWS) and one with the Mongolians. The prophetic example was when Prophet Mohammed (AWS) travelled to a town to call them to Islam, this was in the early days of the religion, and the town’s people treated him with absolute brutality driving him out of the city with sticks and stones. Instead of consenting to have the angels destroy the town he let them be, and the town’s next generation was entirely Muslim.

The Mongolian example is when the Mongols under Ghengis Khan and his ilk ravaged the core of the Islamic world with their overwhelming military might. The Muslims didn’t beat the Mongolians militarily, they got rocked. However, because the Muslims at the time were spiritually and intellectually strong within two generations the Mongolians had all converted to Islam. Now in the eyes of history who is the winner of that war?

Bring together experts and Muslim scholars. This point really hit home to me, since I’m not a Muslim scholar and don’t think I can become one. The underlying point behind this phrase is that you don’t need to be part of the “Ulema” or religious scholars to BE a scholar in Islam. If we limit the concept of “Scholar” to those who study the text, shariah, and history and rely solely on them for the answers the Muslims will always be behind in the world because it is impossible for a person to be both an expert in religion and an expert in other fields such as Economics, Law, Technology, etc. Therefore the solution is to get the field experts talking with the religious experts to share their knowledge and move forward.

Tariq Ramadan gave a good example with the medical field. In Islam the concept of organ donation isn’t clear cut because of some issues (keep in mind I don’t know much about this issue) including those surrounding the concept of “death”. When is a person dead? When is it ok to remove the organs? Which organs are permitted to be used? I think in Western science the concept of “death” differed from that of traditional Islamic thinking and therefore there wasn’t many Muslim organ donors because they didn’t want their organs removed before they were truly dead. So now the medical experts and religious scholars are coming together and defining ok, what does it mean to be dead? When is the brain truly inactive? These are questions that religious scholars cannot answer on their own.

Generate transformational ideas, practices and policies. It is an integral part of Islam to attempt to make life and the world a better place in all aspects. The world “transformational” is important here because it implies being ahead of the curve. It means introducing NEW ideas to improve the systems and institutions that govern our lives. What this also means is that we must be experts in the CURRENT systems and institutions otherwise we’ll constantly be playing catch-up. And transformational doesn’t mean totally scrapping the old and replacing it with entirely Islamic systems, we work and contribute to the systems and institutions that are already established to modify and improve them.

For example, if Muslims are only seeking to implement Shariah they will never be happy with Canadian law until it is entirely Shariah (Islamic law). However, if this is the approach, it will never happen. Instead we should look at the wisdom contained in the Shariah and use the lessons to transform and improve the Canadian legal system to benefit everyone. To reduce the number of false convictions. To reduce the strain on the tax payer. To reduce the inefficiencies and injustices that are contained within.

improve these problems for everyone. This is one of Tariq Ramadan’s points that he kept on hammering down.  Dr. Abdul Hakim Jackson was another speaker that reall really emphasized and clarified this point. The Islamic way isn’t to just worry about Muslims, it’s to worry and solve problems for all of humanity. Islam is a universal religion, and the teaching and practices are beneficial to everyone whether they follow/believe in the 5 pillars or not. For those of us living in Western countries we should stop thinking of ourselves as minorities. Stop thinking of ourselves as Other. Stop thinking of ourselves as a different culture.

We are Canadians. We are Americans. We are Brits.

And this means legacy of Canadian actions isn’t “another’s” legacy, this is MY legacy. When Canada goes into Afghanistan and does things I disagree with, I can’t just sit here and denounce them like it’s somebody else’s government. This is MY government, and if I want to influence them then I need to be a part of that system and contribute to it, not subvert and undermine it.

 

The speakers went into even more detail in HOW we can do these things and I’m sure it’s pretty much all covered in Ramadan’s book. One of the big points that Tariq Ramadan talked about is being confident in our Islam. When you’re confident in the religion then you will be able to communicate and think about topics far more effectively. However, being confident in ourselves mean that we must EDUCATE ourselves, we need to read, and be more active. Ramadan places a lot of onus on regular people to do more. This is something that I agree with whole-heartedly.

 

Other Lessons

Some of the other issues discussed that I took away was Imam Shakir’s 3-fundamentals of the religion: faith, hope and love, also being more intelligent/strategic about dawa (calling people to Islam).

Shakir summarizes the 3 fundamentals:

Faith – I believe that God exists and can/has created a place called Paradise and Hell.

Hope – I believe that God will let me enter Paradise if I’m good

Love – I love God for doing all that.

In regards to Dawa one of the big things is doing it the proper way. If you just come to a person and say “You’re doing this wrong. You’re doing that wrong. Become Muslim!” you won’t get anywhere. My friend Abdullah explained how the Prophet Mohammed (AWS) spent the first 13 years of his prophethood just explaining to people that there is ONE God. That’s it. And it’s once people were strong in their faith that the more day-to-day rules and responsibilities were introduced. Another interesting point that was made by Hanaan Turk was how people always focus on what God has made unlawful, and not what God has made lawful – which comparatively speaking is MUCH more.

I also appreciated getting the opportunity to see/hear Maher Ahrar and his wife Monia Mazigh talk. I’ve been loosely following the Ahrar case on the radio, so seeing them speaking just brought things more into reality. I bought her book too so that should give more insight into the whole story. As it stands the authorities really messed up and abducted the wrong guy. Not because of him, but because his wife Monia Mazigh is a bad-ass that wouldn’t take the injustice sitting down. I think she is an amazing role model for Muslims everywhere, not just women but for men too!

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10 Game Design Commandments

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on September 14, 2008

Implement these fundamental rules and your game will be fun to play.

  1. Always reward the player
  2. Never punish the player arbitrarily
  3. Control is king
  4. Waiting should be avoided at all costs
    4B. It’s called multiPLAYer not multiWAITER
  5. Don’t prevent players from experiencing all of your game
  6. Don’t tack on half-baked new game modes to spice things up
  7. Be logically consistent
  8. Let players craft their own experience
    8b. Let players play any point in the game at any time
  9. Design as if this is the first game the player has ever played
  10. Design as if the player has played every game in existence

Explanation

1. Always reward the player

Each minute that the player is playing your game they should feel a sense of accomplishment and progression.

Good example: Call of Duty 4

COD4′s multiplayer has quickly become the standard by which other multiplayer games are judged. One of the main reasons for its massive success is the immediate and constant reward feedback the player gets. From the first second they hop into a match, they make their first kill and see that +10 pop up. Reward. From that first +10 to the last prestige 10 the reward feedback loop is highly tuned for maximum addictiveness.

Bad Example: Forza 2

Again, looking at the multiplayer side of things the way Forza’s reward system works is that the more competitive a race is, the higher the rewards, with 1st getting the most, and scaling down from there. The cardinal sin comes with the last place people who get ZERO rewards. ZERO! For people that aren’t very good it’s almost impossible for them to get more credits to improve their cars and experiment with different parts, and these are the very people that need the credits the most.

 

2. Never punish the player arbitrarily 

Failing a challenge/mission/task in a game is frustrating enough, don’t add even more insult and injury to the player just for trying.

Good example: Call of Duty 4 Multiplayer

It’s impossible in COD4 for you to lose experience points. Every point you earn is yours to keep, and it’s just constantly accumulating. If you experiment and try out a new gun, you might not get as many kills and earn as many points as your regular gun, but it doesn’t cost you anything to try the new gun out.

Bad Example: Forza 2

Buying a car costs 40,000 credits. I’ll modify the car, try it out in a race, turns out I just don’t like it, and now I can sell the car but will only get 20,000 credits. I’ve already spent considerable time playing with this car, and losing some races, now the developer is going to punish me even more by robbing me of those extra credits? Why? What purpose does this serve other than limit my desire to experiment with cars and enjoy all the game has to offer?

 

3. Control is king

Control is defined here by the marriage between controller-character relationship and camera. 99% of most games (Cutscene-heavy games excluded) is spent actually controlling the characters on the screen. The number 1 priority in game design should be to polish this experience to remove any imperfections, and any sources of frustration.

Good example: 2D Marios

Controlling Mario is an exercise in the sublime. The controls are so polished that you can turn that little fat plumber into a dexterous ballerina. Just watch some speed videos of Mario on YouTube and you’ll see just how precise this game can be.

Bad Example: LittleBigPlanet

Now it must be noted that there are few modern games that have totally horrible controls. Thankfully many designers already realize how important this aspect to games is and have paid attention accordingly. I highlight LBP here as a contrast to Mario, since LBP is hyped as the true next-gen 2D platformer. The physics-based gameplay brought many things, but making the SackBoy’s governed by those same physics was a significant sacrifice. The number 1 complaint by detractors against this game is the floaty/sloppy controls. There is a distinct lack of connectedness you feel in jumping with SackBoy that is jarring when compared to Mario.

 

4. Waiting should be avoided at all costs

Games are about interactivity, and loading screens are totally uninteractive. If you absolutely MUST have a loading screen, then take a note from Starbreeze with The Darkness, they at least made their loading screens somewhat interesting. But under absolutely no circumstances whatsoever is loading acceptable when accessing menus, or switching menus. Also, non-interactive cutscenes, while nice, should be skippable. This is particularly torturous when a particularly hard boss fight or sequence is preceded by an unskippable cutscene, so you end up watching it over and over again.

Good example: Halo

Before the beginning of a level there is a long load-time. This sucks and the experience can be made better. I highlight Halo as a good example because when you die you’re placed back at the beginning of the checkpoint instantly. This goes back to my point about not punishing the player, when you die, a lot, forcing the player to wait those extra 5, 10, 30 seconds starts to add up very quickly. This of course causes the player to play much more conservatively and not experiment and take chances with the game.

Bad Example: Project Gotham Racing 3

Maybe you can give it a little bit of leway for being one of the most visually impressive Xbox 360 launch times. But no, the horrible loading absolutely ruined the game for me. When it takes 30-60 seconds to restart an event that is only 2 minutes long, it’s just painful. Loading really can ruin totally great games.

Worst Example: Sonic the Hedgehog for Xbox 360

Just watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBkhh7n017o

 

4b. It’s called multiPLAYer, not multiWAITer

So many games are developed/designed in a controlled environment with the testers always having people to play with. Therefore all the time is spent on fixing bugs/improving the experience when you’re actually in a game. However, what is totally forgotten is the experience of actuallygetting in to a game. For many games this results in a horrible experience where you’re spendingjust as much time if not more time finding a game as you are actually playing. And for games that have a small community? Forget about it. You’ll never be able to find a game, which makes the multiplayer 100% useless.

As a programmer I understand that finding online games is a very difficult problem that will not be solved perfectly, ever. That’s why designers should take that into consideration and let people do stuff while waiting. Offer them little mini games, or let them check stats, just something other than a “finding match” screen.

Good example: Matchmaking games (COD4, Halo)

Now the instant reaction will be that matchmaking isn’t perfect. I know. The early days of Halo 2/3, the early days of Gears of War 2, highlight the problems with matchmaking. However, 90% of the time you can get into a match in under a minute. COD4 does a great job in that even when you are waiting for a game, and waiting in a lobby you can still do things like check stats, check your objectives, customize your classes. You’re never not capable of interacting with something in COD4.

Bad Example: Grand Theft Auto 4

Dear God. The online portion of GTA4 is probably one of the greatest gaming travesties ever. Seriously, the wasted potential in GTA4′s multiplayer still pisses me off to this day. The actual gameplay isn’t horrible, in fact it’d be sweet IF YOU COULD ACTUALLY PLAY A DAMN GAME. The interface to getting into a game is so archaic and rife with problems it makes the entire online aspect of the game useless. And it was so close. They were smart by letting you access multiplayer from the cell phone, but WHY they have to kick you into a black-screened lobby where you’ll sit for the next 10 minutes while people switch between “ready” and “waiting” boggles my mind. And then they screwed it up even more by picking server hosts randomly, and then giving server hosts way too much power. They tried to combine server-based online with automatic matchmaking and the result was a frankenstein monstrosity.

 

5. Don’t prevent players from experiencing all of your game

And I mean this from the FIRST play-through. Many games have great endings, or fantastic setpieces that many players will never see because they get stuck part-way through the game, or don’t satisfy some archaic list of requirements that you’d only know if you bought the strategy guide or read a walkthrough online. The absolute worst is when you miss something earlier on in the game that is necessary to unlock something later, and you can’t go back and fix your mistake. Some developers try to chalk this up as “The experience is totally different on multiple playthroughs, the replayability is endless!” Give me a break. Subsequent playthroughs are 95% the same, so don’t make me suffer through your game AGAIN just to see that other 5%.

Good example: Wii Sports/Wii Play

There’s not a single thing in these two games that is “locked” from the beginning. There are no sports that can’t be played, there are no activities that can’t be done from the first moment you put in that disc.

Bad Example: Guitar Hero/Rock Band

I buy the game, invite some friends over to play the first time, and oh look, there’s only 10 songs available. Are you kidding me? This game is about just rocking out, not unlocking crap. Fortunately these games have cheat codes that rectify this stupid design decision, but if you don’t know/can’t find the cheat code, you’re screwed.

 

6. Don’t tack on half-baked new game modes to spice things up

If you have to spice up your game, that means there’s a problem with the core game. Every hour you spend on extra game modes is an hour not spent on refining and polishing the core game.

Good example: Halo

Bungie really lived the philosophy of “30 seconds of fun repeated infinitely”

Bad Example: Spore

Spore is pretty much just a collection of small games, and it suffered greatly as a result. The Creature Creation obviously had a lot of time spent on it, and was thus received extremely well, but the other aspects of the game were just pale imitations of their full-game counterparts.

 

7. Be Logically Consistent

One of the worst properties of modern video games is their complete disconnected motivations. On one hand you have amazingly better graphics, which motivates for more realistic atmosphere and presentation. However, this realistic representation is wrapped up over the same fundamental game archetypes: shooting, jumping, player control. You want to give the player control, but you don’t want them to break the game’s logic… unfortunately nobody has really figured out a way to accomplish both.

I do think it can be solved though. If you present the player with scenarios that are logically consistent they will ACT logically consistent even without force. The reason is that they will be the only entity in the game environment that is going against the rules of the world. A contrast that is so blatant will expose how silly the player’s actions are when they’re acting out of character/context. Also, if the player does choose to go crazy this will actually make their actions have more weight and meaning which can be fun in its own way.

Good Example: Steel Battalion

This game gave no compromises in its design and sacrificed accessibility as a result. From the onset you were forced to purchase a $150 40-button specialized controller just to play the game, the controller even had an “eject” button. Of course that eject button is necessary since if you “die” in the game world, your character is really dead, and you lose your save and all of your progress. This is logically consistent becaues if your character dies in the game world, there’s no way they’re going to “come back to life”.

Bad Example: Grand Theft Auto 4

This is a very famous and recent example. The world that Rockstar crafted is one of the most fleshed out and “real” that has ever existed. Furthermore, the characters also start out particularly deep and at times achieve the goal of sympathetic. However, you start Nico Bellic’s journey and listen to him pontificate on how he’s trying to change his ways and is struggling with a violent past… 5 hours later you’re going on a wanton rampage killing dozens of thugs to secure some drugs without batting an eye. This design not only devalued GTA4 as a game, but the whole concept of bringing mature presentation/atmosphere and gaming together at all.

 

8. Let players craft their own experience

Right now the term “sandbox” refers to open-world games like GTA and Saints Row. But in reality EVERY SINGLE GAME is a sandbox. Without exception. So give people the freedom to play in that sandbox how they see fit. And the mechanism for letting gamers craft their own experience has already been figured out, we just lost the art of it: cheat codes.

The king of cheat codes was Golden Eye for the N64, this classic game let players do all sorts of crazy stuff from making everyone have big heads, to invulnerability and infinite ammo. IDDQD, Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-A-B… the fact that these codes are so ingrained into our collective gamer consciousness means that they work and people used them. Let’s bring back cheats, and let’s taking them out of the ghetto of “cheats” and make them available to everyone.

Don’t make them locked. Don’t make them hard to find. Don’t punish me for using them.

If I want to turn god-mode on, then great, let me earn those points and go to the next level. But, reward me for not using the cheats by giving me more prestige and more points.

This also frees designers up from figuring out what the hell “normal/esy/hard” difficulty means. Just make your game for one default difficulty setting and then let players use the cheat options to craft the game to their own particular taste.

Good example: Grand Theft Auto Series

These games do it right. While there’s no invulnerability, they at least let you heal yourself, clear your wanted level and all sorts of other things like spawning cars, guns and helicopters. The PS2-era games did this the best, as GTA4 doesn’t provide as many cheats. However, the cheats let GTA4 go from a super-frustrating/annoying game to one that was very fun.

I want to make a special note on Halo 3 as the whole Skull system was a very interesting approach. I think it was far too complicated for regular people, and took too much work to first obtain the skulls, but the combination of game-changes with increased point scores is interesting and on the right track.

Bad Example: Too many to mention

So many games make this fundamental mistake, and is a huge opportunity for smart game designers to capitalize on. Very few designers have the genius to get the balance “just right” so the ones that try, usually fail.

 

8b. Let players play any point in the game at any time

Gaming is the only media in existence that doesn’t support random access. When you’re reading a book and you flip to the last page it doesn’t come up blank with a message of “you haven’t read enough pages yet”. And when I finish reading a book I can flip to any passage that I really liked and read it over again. Same with movies. Same with music. But with games if I want to play the final showdown sequence I first have to GET there, and then if I want to reply it I have to make a special save at the right spot.

Do people not see how stupid this is? Let players play my favourite sequences over and over again, whenever they want. And let them play the ending right away. Why not? Because it’ll ruin the experience, that’s THEIR choice! Don’t limit player choice because you think you know better. You don’t.

Again, older games used to do this fantastically well with level-skip codes.

Good example: Alone in the Dark (360/PS3)

The much touted “DVD-style” system let you choose the chapter you wanted to play, right from the beginning. Kudos. Though they still locked off the last chapter until you’d completed it. Stupid.

Just take this concept one step further and have every single checkpoint in the game accessible from the menu.

Bad Example: Too many games to mention

Again, this is an untapped design in current/modern games.

 

9. Design as if this is the first game the player has ever played

This is one of the most important commandments, and is one of the “secrets” to the Wii’s massive success. The Wii’s genius isn’t in the control. It’s in the fact that the entire ethos around the Wii is to bring in new players, therefore all of Nintendo’s games are designed for new players.

This means there are no implicit gaming assumptions made, there are no implicit control assumptions made.

I honestly can’t emphasize that point enough.

Have you ever seen a new player try dual-analog controls? Have you ever seen a new player run RIGHT past a barrel that looks oh-so-breakable?

Regular people don’t USE dual-analog controls in any aspect of their lives. Regular people don’t go randomly bashing crates and boxes for power-ups. These aren’t regular-people real-world experiences, so placing them in your game and just expecting the player to know what to do is setting yourself up for failure.

A 2-second “look up and down” tutorial isn’t sufficient to become comfortable with dual-analog. You should be able to PLAY THE ENTIRE GAME without using the two analog sticks; one should be sufficient.

Best example: Wii Sports

The pinnacle of this mantra. The genius of this design is so great that most people don’t even realize what’s going on.

First: the concept of Wii Sports itself. The game is just regular sports that EVERYBODY has experience with in game form. Nintendo relies on some knowledge to know how to play, but that is REAL WORLD knowledge, not GAME-DESIGN knowledge. Even then they still explain how to play each game.

Second: they don’t punish you for messing up. Look at Wii Bowling, watch what happens when you screw up a throw. The game doesn’t say “Sorry, wrong motion, try better next time.” It gives you advice, and lets you try again and again at no cost. It’s helping you have fun without punishing you. Ever.

Good Example: Earth Defense Force 2017

I highlight this example because it’s an obscure Japanese action game that offers a single-analog control option. This ONE feature is what made the game accessible to my non-gamer friends.

Bad Example: Every FPS title in the past 5 years

Seriously, it’s a travesty. So-called “hardcore” games are only hardcore because they are built on so many implicit game design assumptions that only the hardcore know what’s going on. But not a single one of these assumptions are necessary to these games. Every single one can be cast away. Why do power-ups have to be found in crates? etc

 

10. Design as if the player has played every game in existence

Gamer’s expectations are continually increasing. When a new game comes in and raises the bar the standard gets raised across the board and if your game doesn’t meet/exceed that standard it will suffer in the press, and in retail. Designers must know what the current standard is, and will be, and strive to match or exceed that. There is no mercy. Progress is unrelenting and that’s the price you pay for being in the game industry.

The good thing about this, is that it’s OK to copy other games. Putting matchmaking in your multiplayer system isn’t seen as copying Halo, it’s seen as the standard; so when you don’t put it in, it sucks. Same thing with regenerative health. Or cover systems. Or class-based multiplayer (which I hate).

Good example: COD4

They copied part and parscle the matchmaking/lobby system from Halo. Fantastic! They also copied the ranking system from Halo 2 and the class-based systems of Tribes and Team Fortress to combine them together to create their ranking-based class system. Genius, absolute genius! Infinity Ward didn’t reinvent the wheel, they just looked at the wheels that existed, saw how they could fit together, and added a few spokes of their own.

Innovation isn’t hard when you have no sacred cows, and are willing to copy everything.

Bad Example: Wii Music

Unfortunately, Nintendo has gone too far into the “new players” mantra and completely abandoned the seasoned gamers. The danger here is to think that you can’t have one without the other. That’s false. You can appeal to BOTH demographics if you just keep them BOTH in mind.

Wii Sports is a counter-example to Wii Music. Wii Sports is instantly accessible, but it also has a lot of depth that hardcore gamers can sink their teeth into.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s not a coincidence that the same games that are the best sellers in the world are also continually listed in the “Good Example” category. The success of these games isn’t luck. And it’s not a secret either. These games implemented fundamental game designs that made the games appealing, fun, and accessible to millions of people. These commandments are how you can do the same. The great thing is that even these super successful games are missing some key improvements, which means there’s still a lot of untapped potential.

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How to improve the 360

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on August 23, 2008

The new xbox experience is cool and to take it to the next level ms should be even more asynchronous. Have a new system called events that people can setup and invite their friends who can then accept or decline. If a certain threshold accept then the event is scheduled. Then the list are reminded by text message when the time/date approaches.

Also you should be able to invite people who are not online through integrated text messaging.

Also to help out games that have a low online player base they should publish when are the best times to play the game.

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The untapped potential of search

Posted in The Interweb by Omar Ismail on May 6, 2008

The shopping world is run with faceted taxonomies. You know, the standard drill of choosing narrower and narrower categories, and then adding filters on things such as price, manufacturers and features. All of this navigation is powered and made possible through highly structured data with explicit relationships stored in a database or equivalent.

The data is structured, with hard links and concepts, that are also inflexible. If I want to create new attributes to filter by I have to modify the database, create new entries and establish the relationships. In reality what ends up happening is that taxonomy designers spend a lot of time at the beginning of development figuring out what is the best Hierarchical structure because they know it won’t get changed a lot in the future.

Now, what if you could accomplish the same drill-down and filtering use cases without storing hard database relationships?

It turns out that you can. With a BUT.

Main point: Text indexing is a superset of structured taxonomies.

Let me say that again…

TEXT INDEXING IS A SUPERSET OF STRUCTURED TAXONOMIES

Remember that a service like Google indexes everything. You can search every page against any character sequence. Well, if you place your taxonomy information on the page in a text format then it gets indexed just like everything else.

Taxonomy information.. indexed? Isn’t that the same as hard database relationships? EXACTLY! Without the database! Or rather, Google’s index IS the database.

Here’s the huge boost from this: If the search index is an isomorphism of your explicit taxonomy, then it’s also an isomorphism of unknown taxonomies that you haven’t even thought of.

As long as you put as much information as possible on the page then Google will index it, and voila every kind of taxonomy you can think of is created and buried inside the search index. What this means is that you can go back and create taxonomies without any loss of information!

In the structured approach if I wanted to be able to filter on HDTVs that have a 120Hz mode, I have to create a new facet called “Refresh Rate” and then go back and add the 120Hz attribute to all those televisions that apply.

In the unstructured approach I just write down in the text somewhere that the television supports 120Hz, alongside the contrast ratio, and all the other specifications that may or may not be important. Now, I can just search for those features and I’ll have the filter applied automatically. Beautiful!

Now for the problems.

A raw text search of “120Hz” doesn’t differentiate between Does have 120Hz, and doesn’t have 120Hz. Also there’s no way to apply your own sorting, and GOOG doesn’t handle ranges well. And this is why there is untapped potential. Google just announced that they’re creating an supplemental index for Custom Search, so why not add some extra extensions?

As the webmaster of ProductWiki I know the structure of the page better than a bot ever will. If I can provide search hints to say “THIS PART OF THE PAGE IS MORE IMPORTANT” that would be nice.

Also, these search companies need to handle date, and numeric ranges a lot better. I should be able to do $1000..$2000 and it’ll return me everything that has $1103.23 to $1,500. Same with dates, let me put in a variety of formats (isn’t even that important) and the parser understands what to look for.

Now I can do this kind of expansion of terms myself, but damnit this is their core competency.

In conclusion: I finally realize the power of unstructured search. It really does become the Database of Everything and that’s really friggin cool. Now with that power comes great responsibility, so search companies let’s step things up a notch and get some more advanced query handling happening.

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A new model for digital media

Posted in business by Omar Ismail on March 17, 2008

I’ve come up with a model that movies studios, consumers, and technology providers can live together in harmony.

Each party is responsible for their core competency, you don’t have inefficient redundancies, profit will increase, and consumers won’t be screwed.

Let’s examine what each party offers.

Movie studios – they are the content producers and IP holders.

Content Delivery – iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, Blu-Ray discs, DVD discs, Amazon Unbox, etc… all of these are just delivery mechanisms to get the content from the studios to where you can consume it.

Playback device  - Xbox,  Computer, Set top box, AppleTV, etc

The problem with the traditional model is that everything is bundled into one service. Xbox Live Marketplace and iTunes are perfect examples of this. When you rent/purchase media from these services you have to buy the IP rights from them, you have to use their delivery mechanism, and you have to use their playback device.

My proposed model decouples everything.

1. Let me buy the IP rights to watch the media in any way that I choose.

2. Let me use any delivery provider I want.

3. Let me consume the content on any device I want.

There’s already a lot of literature on points 2-3, so I’m going to focus on point 1-2. If I’ve already bought a DVD, I’ve paid for the IP rights to that movie, so why should I pay for those exact same IP rights when I buy a movie from iTunes? Make buying the IP rights a one-time deal. Let me take those rights with me to different providers. If I own a view-license then let me download the movie on Live Marketplace for my 360, let me download it on iTunes for my computer, and I’ll pay for the delivery SERVICE, but I won’t pay for the rights multiple times.

Have content producers compete on the CONTENT.

Have delivery services compete on the SERVICE and not the content.

Have playback devices compete on the PLAYBACK and not the service.

If we focus the competition then the space will innovate at a rapid pace. If we don’t price gouge the consumer they’ll be willing to pay for the content in a lot of different ways that is convenient for them.

We’re already seeing some movement in this decoupling.

There has already been some decoupling in the delivery mechanism and playback space. Amazon Unbox is playable on TiVO devices, Xbox 360/PS3 will play downloaded content (usually pirated).

Some new DVDs contain an iTunes digital file unlock code so you get the iTunes movie along with the DVD.

This is the way of the future.

Implementation

In this digital world, implementation is actually quite easy from a technical perspective. Follow the credit card model. Use a centralized licensing database. Give me some security credentials that are tied to an account that stores and tracks which licenses I have access to.

I can purchase these licenses directly from the movie studios, from the delivery providers, from resellers, whoever. Then I use those credentials with a delivery service who checks the database to verify I have the rights before sending me the content.

Criticisms

1. Too complicated – for the average person giving them direct access to these concepts would prove too much I agree. But let’s give people some credit. I’m confident that an abstraction layer on the interface could hide the underlying mechanisms so everything works seemlessly. This would be difficult, but would definitely be worth it. A model like this lives or dies on ease of use for the consumer. Though the decreased costs should give some leway of not being perfect.

2. Using a centralized mechanism – in general yes these are usually best to be avoided. But come on, centralized databases aren’t inherently evil in themselves, and are sometimes the preferred design approach. Having a 3rd party handle the licenses lets it be regulated, reduces the red tape that everybody has to go through, and should be a non-profit industry entity like exist with web standards. The benefit is that movie studios only deal with one entity, and content deliverers only deal with one entity. And make it an international body to make things REALLY easy.

3. It won’t happen – if this model results in more money for everyone, then it will. It will take a major force to create though. A company with vision, and the resources to make a big bet. Apple is too much in bed with the media. It’s too innovative for Microsoft, and the natural trust issues. Media companies won’t have the long-term vision. The best bet is on Google, since they’re all about platforms now.

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Mi-yahoo-crosoft

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on February 1, 2008

Well, the bomb has dropped. The 3rd biggest player in the online world is looking to buy out the biggest player in the online world. Details of the deal can be found in a million places (here’s one).

 My prognosis: Google wins.

In the key areas of competitions – search, advertising, local/maps, e-mail, IM, other services – all three companies have competitive offerings. Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses in each area. Now maybe the idea behind Microsoft is that the combined company will merge the strengths and drown out the weaknesses. Fine, maybe that’s true, but that takes time. And in the world of technology time is your greatest enemy.

Even Yahoo itself couldn’t figure out how to stick to ONE offering per sector and had internal competition with itself. Now you’re going to have competition between the two internal teams with different cultures, etc. What is going to happen? Let’s say in an ideal world that everybody gets along, the teams merge, and the best and brightest from each sector remain. In an ideal world that’ll take about a year.

This means that development on these core projects will essentially stall while the heads-up get their heads-out and manage the transition. Now through all that time Google with its cohesive teams will just keep on innovating and moving forward. All of a sudden Mi-yahoo-crosoft teams start pumping out work again and BAM they’re a year behind the curve with almost no chance of catching up.

Now OBVIOUSLY the business geniuses (and that is sincere) at Microsoft have thought about these things. So one has to imagine that there is a grand scheme behind all of this. Or maybe it really is a lesser of two evils, and the transition will happen slowly. Yahoo will continue to exist as a separate entity while Microsoft starts sending more and more of their execs over to “handle” things slowly transforming the culture. That’s how I would do it anyway.

Man… who knows what’ll happen. I wonder if Microsoft will buy Sony next.

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Ads on Video

Posted in The Interweb by Omar Ismail on September 26, 2007

TechCrunch takes a look at MSN’s new video site, and their new policy on showing advertisements. For fear of being cliche, video on the web is still an infant frontier and monetizing the hundreds of millions of eyeballs is the 64 billion dollar question.There are many options available, each one with their own advantages and disadvantages. Pre-rolls, post-rolls, overlays, banners, etc.

It bothers me that overlays are starting to get attention because I absolutely HATE them. I hate anything that obstructs my view of the action that’s happening on screen. Personally, even though they get a lot of flack, I think pre-rolls have the best potential. Why? Because they’re inline with my experience. Look to my previous write-up about PPP and things being out or in context of the experience. The reason why pre-rolls ads have gotten such a hard time is because they’ve been executed upon so poorly. If I’m just watching a 30 second clip it doesn’t make sense to show me a 30 second commercial in front.

Instead commercials should be short, very short, engaging, and tailored to what I’m interested in. 5-10 second ads are bearable. Heck, just use the time before a video loads to display an ad, instead of waiting for the damn ad to show up in the first place! Don’t show me some animated circle, show me a deal on some new 360 games, or news about a new service launching.

 From my own personal experience I know that videos are incredibly popular and can spread very quickly. So even if people can’t monetize well right now everybody’s going to be trying their hardest to figure it out. In the meantime I’m going to enjoy this Golden-Age of minimal advertising on sites like Stage6 before someone DOES figure it out, and we’re stuck with ads, just like AdSense did to the text web.

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PayPerPost and Making Money Online

Posted in The Interweb by Omar Ismail on September 23, 2007

TechCrunch has another post about PPP and its evils. I don’t want to talk about this specific incident since it’s pretty silly all around, but like Arrington says, PPP always brings up discussion and this is a good time to share my thoughts on it. While some people disagree with PPP’s methods, there IS something to be said about rethinking the way that bloggers make money. Look at the current situation… you have:

1. Bloggers who write and want to make money

2. Companies that want to get their products and services known

It’s only natural that these two forces come together. Bloggers want to make a living. Companies want to promote. Nothing groundbreaking here. Traditionally the way these two entities have come together is in the form of advertising. On the web this includes AdSense, or other ad networks, or using banner ads through an ad agency like b5Media or Federated Media.

However, those kinds of advertising schemes are pretty broken. When you have technology such as AdBlocker existing, it shows that advertisements annoy a contingent of readers enough to take action, and maybe annoys more than that but are too lazy to do anything about it, or they bite the bullet and deal with the ads because they know the blogger has to eat.

But why does it have to be that way? It obviously doesn’t. For every blog out there, there is a corresponding business model that is a better fit than just throwing up some banner ads. Ads are very EASY to do, just go with an existed system, or even sell the ads yourself, it’s all very straight forward. But most of the time they’re not the BEST thing to do.

Look at ProductWiki, or any Price Comparison service. These are great business models because the money making is built directly into the service. People don’t consider the “ads” as being an out-of-context message, but an integrated part of the experience.  By using a model that is harmonious with your users expectations you end up making more money, and getting a better experience.

PayPerPost is another kind of way for bloggers to make money. The idea isn’t that bad in theory, it’s the execution that leaves you wanting. Personally, I looked at PPP to see if it’d make sense to have some bloggers write about the site and check it out. Looking at the blogs they recommended, most of them were crap. Garbage. Useless.

And it makes sense! A lot of bloggers that work with PPP make some decent money with it, so they use the service: a lot. The end result though is that most of these blogs have horrible quality where it’s just one payed post after another. That doesn’t benefit anyone, unless you’re just interested in straight link development. But if you were, you could get much better return on your investment through other means.

That being said, I’m not against having companies pay bloggers for their attention to review and examine their products and services. Bloggers don’t have infinite time to review everything. Looking at the web industry, you have your A-list, B-list and so on. These are busy guys that don’t have time to write about the 10 new startups that launch every single freaking day. What does that mean for the startups? You gotta pay to get noticed.

It’s already happening even if it isn’t explicit! Startups get funded, they hire PR firms, marketing agencies. They hold parties. They attend conferences. They spend A LOT of money to get themselves noticed by the people that matter. They spend A LOT of money in the hopes that they will be written about, and refered to by the people that matter.

You could say that bloggers just write about things they think are WORTH writing about. Well obviously. However, there’s a lot that they’re NOT writing about that is WORTH writing about but they don’t have TIME to. That’s where the paid model comes in. Let’s take out the middle-man. Using this medium why go the “old media” route of the payola to get bloggers to write about us. Just pay them directly. But you’re not paying for their writing. You’re paying for their attention so that they MAY write about you.

Naturally this creates a supply (blogger attention) and a demand (companies) and the result should and will be a bidding system to see which companies get covered first.

Let me take the side of a blogger for a second. I’m a busy person. I’m doing a lot of things with the site, I’m enjoying life outside of the Internet (try to), doesn’t leave much time to blog. However, if somebody comes to me and says “Yo, here’s $XXX so you can take time out of your busy schedule to check us out” I’d be down with that. And if I’m really busy they’d be like “Yo, we know you’re REALLY busy, so we’ll give you $XXX*2 for your time!” I’d be down with that too.

If these companies approaching me have a strong overlap with my audience, then it makes sense for EVERYONE.

Since it makes so much sense, then why are we left with such crappy options such as ineffective advertising or garbage PayPerPost? There’s a big opportunity here for someone to make a lot of money. But it’s definitely a balancing act because you can very quickly get into PPP territory of crappiness.

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First!

Posted in Meta by Omar Ismail on September 21, 2007

First post! The great thing about being the writer on the blog is that you’re always FIRST.

In light of the first post on this blog… I present: FIRST

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My latest obsession – skate.

Posted in Video games by Omar Ismail on September 21, 2007


Electronic Arts, are you finally starting to shape up? Was it an internal motivation that is causing you to raise your standards? Or is it an increasingly intelligent gaming population that got burned one too many times? To be honest, I don’t really care about the answer, as long as you’re fighting against the slide into mediocrity with standout titles like skate.

This game ROCKS.

Pure and Simple. I don’t know how else to put it.

I could talk about the satisfying nature of the revolutionary Flick-It controls. I could talk about the open ended world that is a pleasure to explore. I could talk about the awesome skate.reel feature for sharing videos. I could talk about the realistic sound effects that gives everything OOMPH. I could talk about the advanced physics based animation system.

Instead I’ll just share this one story.

I was just riding around the city practicing moves, grinds and looking for cool places to do tricks when I discovered this little area tucked away behind a store. It was simple enough: a ramp leading up to a garbage bin nestled directly against the wall. For the next 30 minutes I poured over the same area until I got the perfect line that I wanted. Yes it took me a little while. And I loved every minute of it.

You see, in my younger years I actually took up skateboarding for a while. My friends and I would skate on the street, or go to local places and generally try to land a kickflip, or two on a good day. The meticulous practice and reward for skill necessary in real skateboarding is captured perfectly in skate. That’s not to say it’s a difficult game. You can go quite far by just doing any old random move.

But if you want to get that perfect line. That line that lets you express yourself.That takes time and skill, and it’s worth it.

There are very few games that let you repeat the same task multiple times without throwing the controller out the window. The ones that do are something special. Something classic.

Thanks EA. I didn’t think I’d be saying that unless it was for a paycheck.

Now don’t mess it all up and release semi-annual installments with minor improvements! Let this one sit, simmer and gestate. Do a bi-annual release and make them substantial.

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