Finally Independent’s Day

Trite but true: video gaming has come a long way since the days of Donkey Kong. No other form of entertainment or industry has ever grown so quickly and in so many iterations. I could continue with another banality about how this is “a particularly interesting time for gaming” – but hasn’t it always been? That there seems to be another innovation just around the corner all the time is one of the most exciting things about working in this industry.

Will indies take over the world?

That said, the landscape for independent developers is changing in this next-gen cycle (or perhaps, the upcoming cycle is illustrating a change that already happened). Indies have been in the spotlight since Sony’s initial PS4 unveil, and it’s clear that “winning self-publishing” is a major goal for both Sony and Microsoft. While Sony has led the race (E3 was an incredible win on almost every front), Microsoft isn’t slouching. Its decision, revealed at Gamescom, to set pricing for self-published games seems a brilliant move to help indies have a real shot at success on Xbox One. Because, after all, who has all the pretty monetization charts we’d all love to get our hands on?

While the support the next generation will offer indies is more robust, and high-profile, than many people expected, it’s not surprising when you examine the market over the past few years. Apple changed the game for us all with the App Store, attracting a huge community of both users and developers – and making tons of money in the process. From constantly tweaking discoverability to providing developers with the tools and resources they need to build products as efficiently as possible, the App Store has made an extraordinarily strong argument for independent self-publishing. That’s not, of course, to discount Steam. Valve’s platform has also been ahead of the curve, with recent updates like Greenlight and the Early Access program providing even more ways to help great developers meet interested gamers.

Of course, Apple, Valve and the others’ efforts towards indies aren’t just proof of the power of a self-published, digitally distributed model. It’s a natural evolution, sure, but the – oh fine let’s just call it this – the “indie revolution” isn’t solely based on increased support from platforms. We have to consider the changing attitudes of both game developers and players. Many genres and franchises have been done to death. If you’ve been a gamer as long as I have (call it 18 years), you’ve killed millions of aliens, terrorists and zombies over and over and over again. At a certain point, a longtime gamer craves a new, more mature experience. At the same time, many developers at AAA studios feel a similar lassitude about creating yet another shooter. Indie games fill a void on both sides – creator and consumer.

Indies come in all shapes and sizes now. Outlast (by Red Barrels) looks like a AAA game…

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of indies founded by developers who quit big studios to create the games they’ve always wanted to make. This is one area where the interests of gamers and creators align perfectly, and it’s been amazing to see such substantial interest for Papo & Yo’s unique, personal storytelling, Tiny Brains’s truly social co-op mechanics and Outlast’s full-throttled commitment to scaring the crap out of everyone.

There are fantastic opportunities for indies on the horizon, which is good news for everyone. Developers will find it cheaper to bring games to market, with a better chance at success through built-in promotion and distribution. Gamers can expect veteran AAA devs to leave their jobs to make the projects they’ve dreamed of for years. Alongside the efforts the platforms are making, this means more unique, meaningful games that are easier to find. Platform holders will develop, iterate and improve the digital model through which all content will be ultimately distributed. Microsoft may have put the cart in front of the horse, but it’s clear that the endgame for all entertainment is the consolidation to one, integrated entertainment unit.

…while FTL: Faster Than Light has been very successful with basic graphics

Ok, I’m going to go back on my word and proclaim this “a particularly interesting time” for indies. With all the efforts from the platforms, increasing consumer preference for digital distribution and big, AAA-style independent titles like The Witness and whatever thatgamecompany is working on, the next year may set a new standard for how games are brought to market.

I’ll be sharing more thoughts on the market for indie games, as well as some best PR practices for mobile, PC and console games, at the Boston Festival of Indie Games (BostonFIG) this Saturday.

John O’Leary



TPNY: Staying Connected Through Hurricane Sandy

In the tech and digital entertainment industries, late October and early November traditionally mark a particularly busy time, with product launches left and right, and a major scramble to finalize plans and promotions in advance of the looming holiday season. This year, busy East Coasters were slammed with an additional challenge – Hurricane Sandy, dubbed “Frankenstorm” for its agglomeration of several storms and pre-Halloween timing.

With major media coverage of the hurricane’s effects across the country, and especially New York City, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that TriplePoint NYC, with our Silicon Alley-located office (27 West 24th St) struggled to stay connected through the blackouts and other travails caused by the unexpectedly severe storm.

But the city that never sleeps earned that moniker through the dedication of its workers, and the thousands of downtown New Yorkers affected generally found ways to stay connected. Today, with fingers crossed that we won’t have to go through this again, we’d like to share a few of our own stories on Sandy and the blackout week after the storm.

Joe Ziemer, Account Director

“Surviving in Style”

Like my other colleagues living beneath 34th St., I was without power, Internet and cell service throughout Sandy and the week after. However, I wasn’t about to let that stop me from enjoying warm showers and warm meals. That meant long, but worthwhile, morning walks up to midtown to reach powered branches of the Health & Racquet Club and Smith & Wollensky, both of which featured Wi-Fi connections. Figuring that if I could only have one hot meal a day it better be a good one, I’d eat a steak and take a few conference calls before heading over to the gym’s locker room to grab a shower. I wasn’t the only New Yorker “working from bathrobe” that week, and met a number of other execs who were staying connected at the gym – it made for some interesting conversations, and great opportunities to blow off some steam with industry folks on the basketball court.

Samantha Qualls, Account Executive

“Panera Hopping”

I live on the fourth floor of an East Village walkup, avenues away from any water. While my building wasn’t damaged at all, like the rest of Downtown, we lost power Monday evening. With no timeframe for when the lights (and heat AND INTERNET) would be back, a close friend offered me her couch for as long as I needed – so I made my way up to Queens (getting there is a story in itself!). In comparison to Manhattan, Queens was warm, dry and bright. The restaurants were open and grocery stores stocked. The only problem was that my friend’s cable and Internet had been knocked out in the storm.

With client work on deadline and some essential international calls that needed to happen, I had to stay connected. So every morning in Queens I sought Wi-Fi (and LOTS of coffee) at a local Panera. Panera unfortunately limits Internet time (unlimited before 11, only half an hour between 11am 2pm, and unlimited again till 5pm), but, with many displaced workers all stuffed into the same shop, it wasn’t too hard to talk my way into sharing a rare hotspot.

It was amazing to see everyone band together – I will never understand the stereotype of the angry New Yorker because I only saw helping hands deliver warm food, volunteer groups cleaning up destruction and patrons flocking downtown to help bring needed money to business that were forced to close for days.

Zach Fuller, Account Executive

“Crammed Co-working”

Living in midtown there was no real sense of crisis prior to the storm – for example, even at the peak of the bad weather, my roommates and I made an ill-advised trip outside to watch the floodwaters rise over the East Side Highway, hanging on to the fence at the top of a retaining wall while 80 mph gusts threatened to send us tumbling backwards. We sat around with pizza, beer and power, watching football like it was any other Sunday night. It was only the next day that Sandy’s toll came into better focus.

My friends that live downtown frequently chide me for living in a place as “un-hip” as midtown, but such banter was unsurprisingly absent as Monday morning dawned and the first of them came knocking at the door looking for a warm shower and the exceedingly rare powered outlet. As the week progressed and power below midtown remained an exotic commodity, the population of our little apartment swelled from its usual three to six at night, and even more throughout the day.

Each morning the sleeping bags and air mattresses were put away for the day, replaced by a tangled web of power strips stretched in every direction as our living room transformed into an impromptu little co-working space. It was crowded and not terribly comfortable, but in between bemoaning the lack of dual monitor productivity, terse calls with IT as VPN servers crashed and chuckling as Chris Christie rescheduled Halloween, we all grew a little closer. While it’s a bit sad that it takes a disaster to remind us to slow down and appreciate the incredible people in our lives, I think we made the best of it.

Stephanie Palermo, Account Executive

“Library Living”

The Eye of the Beast had its sights set on every single part of New York – and living in a coastal town in Long Island, we were hit hard.  I had to be resourceful to keep up with the rest of my team and clients. With no power, I set out each day traveling a several-mile radius hunting for any open business, questing for the coveted Holy WiFi. Store entrances were sandbagged and some still have not reopened as I write this.

Spotty, intermittent cell phone service allowed me to send several updates and information about my projects to a teammate who had power and was covering my responsibilities until I could get settled. But to do even that I needed a powered cell phone and that meant charging at any outlet I could get to – at the police station and even my local favorite fried chicken joint.

Finally a week later, the cup runneth over with WiFi when the library was up and running and offering residents to charge all electronics and use their WiFi. I didn’t have access to my desktop computer, so I purchased a new, emergency laptop, headed to the library, and was back in business.  Commiserating with fellow neighbors at the library was certainly a highlight, as people also working hard there to catch up with work gathered ’round, chatted and were all more than willing to offer a helping hand (after business hours, of course!) by providing things for each other such as food, clothes or clean-up help to those that needed it.

TriplePoint Long Island stands strong!

Sam Dalsimer, Account Director


While many of us lost power or more in the storm, a few of us remained largely unaffected aside from the need to work from home while the office’s power was down. My neighborhood (East Harlem) sustained little damage, although the gas station near me continues to have long lines and a constant police presence sitting outside as gas rationing continues. I stocked up on canned goods, bought new flashlights, filled every pot in the house with fresh water just in case, but never needed any of it.

Those of us whose power and internet remained online hosted friends who were evacuated and helped ensure that other colleagues were able to get updates out to press and clients alike.

At the end of the storm we were left feeling somewhat guilty to be so fortunate while so many others in our city were in the dark or worse. It was a huge help to have a few of us operating from powered home bases to keep connected with our NY coworkers, West coast office, and clients around the world.


5 Productivity Tools for PR Pros

It’s no secret that today’s PR pro faces substantial challenges. The advent of social networking and the continued proliferation of blogging have proven highly (warning, buzzword!) disruptive to the field, creating countless new influencers in virtually every industry. What’s more, influence is increasingly determined not by the publication one writes for but the ability to share and promote content through social media… thus influencers may “live” on any number of different platforms.

In essence, while an article in the New York Times is almost always valuable, true awareness is more likely to be driven by a critical mass of buzz from specialized, focused blogs (enthusiasts) and linking and discussion via social media.

Tasked with generating this buzz, the onus is on PR to filter through immense amounts of information and decide who to talk to and how. But with new influencers and ways to communicate popping up daily, as well as an unforgiving 24/7 news cycle, this is no simple task. The effective flack must be a lightning bolt of efficiency.

Luckily we no longer have to rely solely on cavernous cups of coffee to give us the edge we need. An ever-expanding internet may bring new challenges, sure, but also tools that allow us to be quicker and smarter than ever. Below are 5 of those tools I love for their ability to help me do more with less time:

Continue reading 5 Productivity Tools for PR Pros

The Curse of the Mogul and Popping Caps

2009’s The Curse of the Mogul theorizes that a rockstar mentality drives media moguls to make ultimately unsound business decisions. Two prime cornerstones of this theory are that CEOs of leading content providers pursue growth through costly acquisitions in the hope of achieving “synergy” and in the belief that “content is king.”

You’ve guessed where this is going.  Although respected analysts such as Michael Pachter have generally supported last month’s acquisition of PopCap by EA as a sound strategic move, some eyebrows have been raised at the price and my own quirked when reading interviews and quotes from EA CEO John Riccitiello. His rationale is strikingly similar to some of the thinking The Curse of the Mogul warns against.

Consider Riccitiello’s statement when the acquisition was announced: “EA and PopCap are a compelling combination…PopCap’s great studio talent and powerful IP add to EA’s momentum…

And the following tenets from The Curse of the Mogul:

  1. Talent is highly liquid and generally shouldn’t be a basis for acquisitions
  2. Content (in this case, PopCap’s IP) isn’t necessarily king as more content equals higher operating costs
  3. Moguls only pursue (and overpay for) the companies they consider “sexy” (i.e. the companies others want too)

At the very least the similarities should be enough to give pause, but you may be asking yourself if The Curse of the Mogul is really a valid filter through which to analyze EA’s latest move. After all, the games business is not the media business, and EA and PopCap are two strong companies that bring great games to the market. Furthermore, PopCap’s purchase is in line with EA’s other efforts, starting with Playfish’s acquisition in 2009, to develop a strong presence in casual/social/mobile gaming.

That said, there’s speculation that social gaming is a bubble, with companies pulling inflated valuations and prices, and you only need to look at Murdoch’s Myspace mistake to see how a move like this can go south in the long run. EA is a public company: shouldn’t we use every tool at our disposal to make sure that the company’s decisions are coming from the right place and benefiting stockholders?

At its core (economics aside) that’s the lesson The Curse of the Mogul teaches: the powerful people running top companies can be as fallible as the rest of us. In this case Riccitiello seems to have made the right decision – but it’s worth thinking about how he may have come to it.

TriplePoint Rocks LOGIN

TriplePoint LA and SF made a trek to the great Northwest this week – not, however, in homage to the TP-admired classic Oregon Trail, but rather to attend LOGIN 2011, the growing, Seattle area-based online games conference.

On our agenda:

  • Moderate not one but two panels,
  • Demo the slew of Paradox Interactive titles nominated for The Escapist’s Extra Credit Innovation Awards,
  • And learn about and discuss the latest innovations and trends in the increasingly complex online games space.

Not on our agenda but also accomplished: learn a drinking game (Whales Tales) from Scott Dodson and lose handily in it to Richard Garriott.

With panels and lectures in the Social, Monetization and Business tracks there were many relevant learning opportunities on offer, including two panels moderated by our own Quinn Wageman. Game Discovery – Being Found in a World Filled with Games drew some deep thoughts on this emergent user acquisition strategy from a panel which included experts from IMVU Inc., Summerlight, 5th Planet Games and our client Sometrics, while So You Built Your Game, Now What? — Fast-tracking Your Online Game to Success tied together various methods of growing, maintaining and monetizing online games, with some choice contributions from our clients Rixty and AltEgo and representatives from GameAnalytics and RightScale.

For those looking for a gamebreak during the conference, TriplePoint was also on hand to support and demo the Paradox Interactive titles up for various Innovation Awards. Drumroll please, the nominees were:

There were many great titles up for awards and competition was fierce, but Magicka walked away with the highly coveted Most Unbelievably Awesomely Fun Award. Accepting the award on behalf of Paradox and Magicka’s developer, Arrowhead Game Studios, was TriplePointer David Martinez (video of acceptance speech forthcoming!).

All said, it was an action-packed time for TriplePoint and we look forward to LOGIN 2012!


Surviving SXSWi (for Fun and Profit)

We wrote last week about a select few brands that embraced the chaos and made a splash at SXSWi – but making the most of your time in Austin isn’t just about maximizing brand exposure. There are many opportunities (and pitfalls) facing any attendee. How do you ensure you best represent your company, make those all-important business connections and (let’s face it, you know you’re trying to) have fun?

Luckily, TriplePoint is here with some quick tips on how to maximize your time without breaking your back, busting your liver or being a nuisance.

1. Plan ahead, but not too much. RSVP to every event you think there is a small chance you’ll attend, but realize that parties and networking opportunities are sure to randomly pop up. You may end up attending only 10-15% of the events you were planning to, so prioritize what you really want/need to hit each night and get to them early. From there, keep your ears open and your eyes on Twitter to see where the action is – often some of the most valuable conversations take place away from the bigger parties, at hotdog stands, hotel lobbies and after-parties (thanks R Kelly).

2. Connect online first. You know what they say about the best laid plans? Never truer than at SXSW, where everyone has an aggressive agenda and often miss appointments. Your way around that is to make connections before heading south – check out meetups, Facebook groups and tweet at people who you’re interested in.

3. Research what’s expected to “win” SXSW. This year Hashable was one of the most buzzed-about products. For those that were familiar and using it before landing in Austin, they were one step ahead and found it easier to connect with the Technorati.

4. Prepare for the day – and night. Bring comfortable shoes, aspirin and layered clothing options – Austin in spring is often warm while the sun is up and chilly at later hours. Also, plan on getting your sleep before and after SXSW; if you’re in bed at midnight you’re missing at least three hours of valuable party and networking time.

5. Book early. Have you tried hailing a cab at 2:30am to get to your hotel 20 miles from downtown? We didn’t, but saw plenty of semi-stranded people. Not a good way to end any evening, so secure convenient lodging before everything is snatched up (start looking now).

6. Stick around. Consider checking out the film and music portions of the show. It’s your chance to see some great bands and films, and you may meet some important industry contacts who have the same idea.

The show has gained the reputation as a huge, crazy party, and that’s very true in some respects, but it’s a crazy party that’s attended by some of the most interesting and important people in the industry. If you keep the above tips in mind and prepare your eyes, ears and liver, you’ll come out the other side battle-scarred but full of fond memories and valuable contacts.

How Rockstar Rocks It

Rockstar is justifiably one of the most well-regarded publishers and developers in the industry. The company has tremendous positive equity with both consumers and the gaming press, delivering one critically-acclaimed AAA title after another. Many of the reasons Rockstar is such a powerhouse are relatively evident. To name a few: technical excellence, engaging gameplay, “it’s not done till it’s perfect” development cycles and judicious choices of games to produce. But one thing that may not be so evident is the studio’s strategic focus.

Rockstar is strategically innovative in gameplay development and feature implementation such that it suggests awareness, if not pursuit, of Blue Ocean Strategy. At the most basic level a Blue Ocean Strategy, which was set forth by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in the 2005 book, focuses on value innovation such that a company is able to create an uncontested, new market of customers. While this is not what Rockstar has done (they still compete in an existing market for existing gamers) the company seems to nonetheless incorporate certain tenets of Blue Ocean Strategy into their game design.

Here are a few of the ways Rockstar seems to be strategically pursuing some of the precepts of a Blue Ocean Strategy, intentionally or not:

1.     In-game Entertainment

Rockstar has become well known for offering in-game entertainment: the radio and TV stations in Grand Theft Auto IV and the short movies in Red Dead Redemption are the most recent examples. In a Blue Ocean strategy that is also delineated in the college-favorite article Marketing Myopia, Rockstar is rethinking who their customer is and what they want. Condense it down far enough and Rockstar is in the entertainment business – so they offer additional, in-game entertainment for players. Rockstar is adding value for players and fulfilling additional needs not normally covered by an average game.

GTA IV has optional, non-interactive entertainment, such as comedy shows by Ricky Gervais

2.     Following Trends to their Natural Conclusions
One of the pathways to a Blue Ocean is following trends and becoming involved with an eye to where the natural conclusion of that trend would be. In other words, being involved but not taking extreme risks. This is another area Rockstar excels in. Take mobile and social gaming, two of the fastest growing segments in the industry. In both cases, Rockstar is there prominently, with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars their latest mobile release (the first mobile GTA game was released for the PSP in 2005) and Red Dead Redemption Gunslinger on Facebook. Rockstar clearly looks beyond their games and at what is happening in the industry.

3.     DLC Excellence
DLC is certainly a trend as described above, but Rockstar has demonstrated such expertise in the development and release of DLC for Red Dead Redemption that it deserves a special mention. In Rockstar’s hands, DLC is a tool to make money, generate press and engage players. By offering substantial DLC “packs” that are frequently and consistently released, the company ensures that each release generates additional press coverage and serves to further engage players – string them along in other words – by adding value over time, keeping each new addition fresh and exciting.

4.     Multiplayer – a Result of Reaching Across Strategic Groups?
It’s also worth briefly mentioning GTA IV’s and, especially, Red Dead Redemption’s multiplayer. Another pathway to a Blue Ocean is implementing features from strategic groups in an industry. In the case of these two games, features from MMO games are integrated into the multiplayer experience, resulting in a richer multiplayer experience and a more unique product.

Read Dead Redemption
Read Dead Redemption's posses are streamlined versions of MMO guilds

Rockstar may not have reached a Blue Ocean –yet? – but there is clearly deep strategic thought going into their game design. While a Blue Ocean Strategy is much more detailed and technical than described here, it appears that Rockstar’s strategic thought in game design is consistent with a focus on value innovation as described in Blue Ocean Strategy. And yes, that’s one of the ways Rockstar rocks it.