There’s been tons of branding shifts, from Blizzard renaming its multiplayer game service Battle.net; Riot Games’ new title is a board game; and Ubisoft launching its very book publishing house to boost its cross-media brand power — all in this week’s TPOI!
Tag: video game industry
Oculus Rift has already won the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere, without a finished product on shelves. At trade shows like CES and E3, the chance to get even a brief demo of the virtual reality headset has spawned endless, snaking lines of near-Disneyland proportions. There’s no doubt that the Rift has the potential to change entertainment as we know it, but it’s a step in the wrong direction that will further divide gamers from the mainstream.
Over the past year, we’ve been hearing from developers who want PR support not for the launch of their game, but for their Kickstarter projects. Promoting a Kickstarter project bears some similarity to a traditional product PR campaign; however, there are some major differences that will influence the way you approach a PR effort. Like any game, product, or service, it must be of high quality and there must be a demand for it in order for PR to be effective. If you’ve got that covered, then the next step is getting the word out in the right way; here are some tips and best practices we’ve learned through experience and observation.
1) Ask Not for Money
A common complaint we’ve heard from members of the press is that writing about Kickstarter projects puts them in an awkward position, or worse, a conflict of interests. The reporter’s job is to inform their readers, not to help a struggling artist raise money. If one goal accomplishes the other, so be it, but in your outreach to press, you must avoid asking for help or assistance in reaching your fundraising goal. Your objective should be to show and tell about the amazing game you’re developing, not to put the pressure you feel to reach a fundraising goal on other people.
2) Early Access for Media
One of the greatest advantages any game developer has in terms of PR is being new and unannounced. Once you’re live on Kickstarter, you’re not quite as new anymore. So treat your Kickstarter launch as a proper launch and offer a select handful of press some early access to the info, assets, and/or game preview you plan to share when your Kickstarter goes live.
3) Target Wisely
Some journalists have tweeted or written about “Kickstarter fatigue” and not wanting to hear about or write about any more Kickstarters. Avoid these people. Before you contact someone, read their work to make sure they are interested in the type of game you’re making, and that they’ve shown interest in promising Kickstarter projects before.
4) Update Often
We’ve seen a direct correlation between Kickstarter project updates, and the flow of donations, so keep your community informed with lively and regular updates and your chances of success and building a fanbase will increase. You should prepare a schedule of updates before you go live so you can drip-feed them over the course of the campaign. Hasty or hollow updates can actually deter backers.
5) Tap into Nostalgia or Unmet Demand
The projects that fare the best on Kickstarter, for the most part, all have something in common. Some tap into a nostalgia we all have for a long-forgotten game franchise or defunct IP from our childhoods and the collective desire to bring it back. Some play into a sense of unmet demand for a game or product that people clearly want to have but no big company has yet devoted the resources to produce. Others instill a sense of confidence in their backers because the team behind it has an incredible pedigree and a track record of success. Most successful games on Kickstarter will tick one of these three boxes. Note that the successful “nostalgia” projects typically also offer something new and innovative, not just a revival of something old.
6) Get Ready Before Launch
You need to have a working game to show before you launch the Kickstarter. Don’t let Kickstarter be the debut of your concept — you should have a working prototype or more. John Rhee, an indie developer who recently ran a successful Kickstarter for his game Liege, wisely advised, “Your development progress should be inverse to your studio pedigree. Only established studios can expect to get funded off a concept. If you don’t have recognizable IPs under your belt, you’ll need to be well into development and have a lot to show.”
7) Time Your Project Deliberately
Think carefully about the launch, middle and end of your project. Be ready to wow people at launch, but sustain the flow of info and updates over the course of the campaign. Prepare for the “middle dip”, knowing support for projects tends to slump around the halfway mark. Know where your final 48, 24 and 8 hours will land. Like any other online business, purchases tend to increase on Sunday evenings. You’d be wise to end your campaign near standard paydays, when people have more disposable income handy. Likewise, avoid launching during major holidays, particularly shopping holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving (Black Friday).
8) Leverage Kickstarter for PR
Use Kickstarter as the powerful marketing tool it can be. Around 50% of your backers will originate from within Kickstarter, as opposed to referrals from external sites. Pay close attention to your project blurb and how it appears on Kickstarter and in search results. Also, look for opportunities to cross-promote your project with other Kickstarter projects. Many successful Kickstarters got a huge bump in backers from working with fellow projects in similar genres. You’re reaching an ideal demographic of existing backers who’ve already linked their accounts to Kickstarter and have shown interest in similar projects.
Just like the App Store, Kickstarter is a crowded marketplace full of many different products for sale. Both marketplaces share a common problem: discovery. It’s hard for users to find the content they want, and the platform owners struggle to surface the right content for the right people. Until this problem is solved, you must take it upon yourself to promote your Kickstarter and use PR to your advantage. Follow these tips and you will improve your chances of success on Kickstarter.
For those of you loyal readers who are less games-industry inclined, things got preeeetty exciting at the end of last week. Notable industry sour-puss Phil Fish, the creator of puzzle/platform game Fez, took a special kind of offense to some strong words from Marcus Beer, a journalist and commentator most known for his Annoyed Gamer segment on GameTrailers. Beer was upset that Fish and fellow indie designer Jonathan Blow had refused to comment when approached about Xbox One’s decision to allow for Indie publishing. Mean things were said, a Twitter war started, and at the end of the day Mr. Fish announced his retirement from game development, and the subsequent cancellation of his much anticipated game Fez 2.
It was a strange turn of events. Fish has long been an outspoken member of the gaming community, and has not been afraid of stepping on toes—he once declared that Japanese games, on the whole, “suck.” But despite his polarized opinions and regular flack he received for them, never before had he given an indication that he would quit the industry entirely. Journalists, commentators, and gamers are in a kind of stunned state, some siding with Fish against the very personal attacks leveled against him, others basically telling him to toughen up.
Fez 2 will not remain cancelled. Fish will return to the industry. Many commentators with more experience and understanding than I have already broken down the arguments for and against what happened. My interest in the story is not about the dramatic exit of a recognized industry figure: rather, it’s frustrating and completely predictable that attention would be given to the childish behavior of Beer and Fish, and not the actual topic that started it all.
Beer’s complaint with Fish and Blow was that they did not appreciate the two-way street of journalist-developer relations. Many journalists had worked closely with the two of them to promote their games, but when asked to give a thoughtful comment on this pressing industry issue, both had laughed in journalists’ faces—they very publically (e.g. on Twitter) stated their disdain at games journalists who dared to approach them for their thoughts and belittled the journalist trade on the whole. In short, Beer’s argument was simple: if developers don’t help journalists with commentary on industry issues, journalists should stop helping developers with reviews and coverage of their games.
The relationship between journalists and the people they write about is an interesting conversation topic that extends far beyond the realms of the games industry. The profession of PR is a testament to the complicated nature of journalist and subject, particularly in an industry defined by creativity and personal expression, such as gaming. Positive reviews make or break games: do developers “owe” journalists for positive coverage? If that’s the case, are they entitled to recompense from negative coverage? Is there a responsibility for successful people, people who define industries, to be available to discuss major movements?
Now, we’ll never know. A shining opportunity for a mature, adult discussion about the nature of gaming media and responsibilities of developers has been almost completely destroyed by the fact that some people are far too childish for the real world. Marcus had a valid point about reciprocity in the gaming industry, but he wrapped it up in name calling and cussing that completely obscured the kernel of rationality. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow (probably) had a rational reason for refusing the opportunities—specifically, they were being asked to comment on rumors and speculation before the news actually broke—but instead of being rational adults, they tried to turn it all into a rage against the media. Names were called, and one of the industry’s most talented creators has walked away.
On the surface, this is a sad story about a fight that got out of control, and how damaging trolls are in the gaming industry. But on a deeper level, this inability to engage in conversations stops the gaming industry from growing up. It’s remarkable that this conflict occurred, but it’s not surprising. Name calling and yelling louder than the next guy have become an accepted part of gaming culture, even at the highest levels of professionalism, just like rampant sexism and racism are the norm in online gaming communities. This is not the first time a journalist and developer will fight like children in the public eye, and it will not be the last, but this is the first time that the damage these childish spats cause is clear.
Two gaming experts had the chance to have a real conversation to improve the gaming industry, but they were too busy calling each other “tosspots” and f***faces to realize it.
Can a room full of experienced VC’s learn some new tricks about digital marketing, from the perspective of video game PR? That was my hope today as I represented TriplePoint during the 7th annual TiE CON in Boston.
It’s a conference that brings together both established and startup entrepreneurs in Technology, Life Sciences, Education, and Cleantech. I lead a boot camp with help from two other marketers, on the topic of New Marketing for the Socially Digital Age. The panel touched upon everything from Facebook and YouTube to email blasts, lead-generation, and timing for advertising campaigns.
Almost exactly ten years ago, I finished for the first time The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was that moment when I first identified as a gamer and felt a devotion to video games that I was at the time too young to understand. But over the next ten years, that devotion grew to become the incorporation of video games into my own being.
For keeping in touch with who I have become and investing in what is important to me, I obviously then felt a yearning to attend PAX and of course Comic-Con, which I knew was not focused on video games, but interested me nonetheless. What video game devotee wouldn’t want to see just how much video game fandom she could soak up at Comic-Con?
We are at a point in time when Comic-Con attendees no longer enter believing the show is about comics. That is not to say comics don’t have a strong presence at the show; one end of the hall was covered in nothing but DC and Marvel merchandise vendors. Attendees costumed as Thor, Spiderman, Superman, and Batman far outnumbered attendees dressed as video game characters (including myself). Still, one cannot ignore that the most crowded parts of the convention hall were around the likes of Fox and Warner Bros, and the most popular panels were any that featured Hollywood celebrities regardless of whether or not the panel was about a comic book movie.
We are also at a point in time where the fandoms of comics, movies about comics, movies and TV shows about fantasy worlds in general, cartoons, anime, manga, and video games have all collided, with the resulting explosion manifesting as the San Diego Comic-Con. But as I took my first steps into the convention center, I asked myself, how many video game companies might I find exhibiting on the show floor? Will they take up as much space as the fabled comics that started the show? Or, will they be shoved off to a corner where only the most hardcore of fans will bother to visit?
After pushing through the crowd surrounding the Fox and Warner Bros booths, I found Ubisoft, Activision, Nintendo, Square Enix, Sony, and Capcom nestled into one end of the convention hall. Each game demo station was populated, each with a player and a crowd of onlookers. I later learned Nintendo and Ubisoft had the rest of their games featured at Nintendo’s game lounge next door, SEGA and Microsoft had set up across the street, and BioWare had their own station at the Hilton two blocks away. After visiting each booth, each game lounge, and finding a wealth of merchandise from my favorite video games from vendors on the show floor, I continued each day satisfied with the presence of video games at the show.
As a gamer and a fan, I believe my trip to Comic-Con was fruitful. I got to demo new games. I bought a wealth of fun merchandise (video game and non-video game alike) and received generous VIP gifts (a Sonic comic from Sonic Boom seemed fitting). I got to reconnect with video game industry people who were equally as enthusiastic about the show. I got to see how video games had joined the cultural lexicon. I got to take a memorable vacation to a consumer show with friends whom I grew closer to. And most of all, I was reminded of how the gamer in me grew into the person I am today. This was not done via the games I demoed, the swag I obtained, the parties I attended, or the characters I dressed up as, but by coming to this realization ten years later.
I have heard the multi-genre fiesta that is Comic-Con described as a “nerd Woodstock.” Unlike trade shows like E3 and video game-focused consumer shows like PAX, Comic-Con encourages people of multiple interests to come together and “celebrate the popular arts,” as proclaimed by the Wreck-It Ralph banners on each San Diego street. As someone whose being lies predominantly in the gaming realm of Comic-Con’s pot of genre stew, I wondered if the video game companies who exhibited off the show floor this year would be inside the convention center next year. And, for video game companies who exhibit on the show floor annually, I wonder if they will build their Comic-Con presence over the years. Will that draw more gamers to the show? Will that raise the interest of non-gamers who might want to learn more about video games and video game culture? Will it tip the balance of Comic-Con as a multi-genre gathering towards a more game-oriented event? Or, will it simply boost the video game industry’s positioning as just that: a popular art?
Though I refuse to make an argument for whether or not video games are art, I want to know how video game companies themselves feel about Comic-Con’s role in the video game industry, whether the industry can be celebrated there like it is at PAX, and whether video games will continue to have as much or more presence as comic books, movies, and the other media at Comic-Con.
Whatever the future holds for the presence of video games at Comic-Con, we can safely assume the next ten years will only keep San Diego as the center of the Aquarian Exposition of Comics, Movies, Anime, Manga, and Video Games. And for now, I can at least say I’m proud to be a part of the video game industry’s involvement in the movement for peace and love across all fandoms.
Last Friday, a few of us headed up to Boston for the Penny Arcade Expo. As a first-timer to the show, I was in awe at the sheer size at one of the biggest gaming events for consumers in the US. I could feel the excitement as soon as I walked through the door; I’d equate it to an insane amount of eight year olds at Disney World for the first time. Wait times to play games were up to three hours long and there were no complaints about the lines (you won’t find that at Disney World).
PAX East broke records this year with 69,500 attendees, surpassing every US industry event to date (including PAX Prime and E3). Attendees were able to play the newest and best games the industry has to offer, including getting sneak peeks at Battlefield 3, Duke Nukem Forever, L.A. Noire, Portal 2, Mortal Kombat 9, SOCOM 4, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Red Faction: Armageddon, Brink, The Hunted: Demon Forge, Gears Of War 3 and Bioshock’s Infinite.
We also saw some great work coming from the indies, too, including new games from Twisted Pixel Games, Halfbrick, Fire Hose Games, Hothead Games, Moonshot Games and Ska Studios. No matter what kind of games you like to play, there was something for everyone, including a separate section for tabletop games with its very own library in which attendees could use to check out games.
If you didn’t get the chance to check out PAX in Boston, make sure you attend PAX Prime this August in Seattle and mark off April 6-8 for PAX East in 2012.
See you in August!
Last week TriplePoint attended the 3rd annual MIT Business in Gaming conference in Boston. This series will break down some of the biggest and best ideas into tasty, digestible morsels.
Are you a hardcore gamer or a casual player? With each passing year, more and more people fall into at least one of these categories. To some extent, the console wars still rage on as players debate graphical prowess and the price of getting online. However, the fanboyism of the last two decades has fallen to the wayside as gamers take up arms in an even larger battle, one that pits Volvo-driving soccer moms against Mountain Dew-swilling video game fanatics. There’s been a great deal of discussion surrounding social vs. hardcore gaming, and this panel put forth some lofty ideas.
- Social gaming is dead …or at least the term “social” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. As social elements such as matchmaking, leaderboards and the automatic “I just trumped your score” pings from Geometry Wars 2 work their way into more hardcore games, their presence will be less notable. Features like the Autolog competition-between-friends system in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is destined for all upcoming Criterion releases. These are both clever ways to make that million-player leaderboard relevant to you and your gamer buddies. So even when you’re alone, you’re still playing (asynchronous) multiplayer.
- Play with your buddies, not just their scores. Synchronous gaming is on the rise; this occurs any time players are all participating at once, rather than just watering one another’s crops whenever it’s convenient. Gazillion’s Nik Davidson went so far as to say that synchronous gaming is “fetishized” by the industry, and that a hybrid of the two makes the most sense. Letting players take their character on the go means the game is always in mind and close at hand. More engaged = more likely to spend.
- Whatever you call it, it’s growing fast. Casual games that make money hand over fist, like Ravenwood Fair, are popping up like weeds. IGDA NY President Wade Tinney points out, “With each passing month comes a new MMO or casual title that changes all the rules.” This ongoing evolution is drastically outpacing all other entertainment markets.
The boys and girls of the NES Generation are now becoming parents, and the game industry’s growth will continue to accelerate. As more and more of the populous understands game mechanics and is willing to invest in gaming entertainment, this social/hardcore/whatever industry has quite a sunny future.
- Nik Davidson – Gazillion/The Amazing Society
- Nabeel Hyatt – Zynga Boston
- Daniel Witenberg – Lego Universe
- Wade Tinney – Large Animal Games & President IGDA NY
Last night, over one hundred video game players, journalists and scholars braved freezing temperatures to convene in downtown Manhattan and discuss their hobby of choice. December’s NY Gaming Meetup hosted the NY Videogame Critics Circle, a group of journalists committed to establishing an East Coast presence on the global gaming map. Moderated by industry veteran (and group leader) Harold Goldberg, the critics waxed philosophical on the highs, lows, and gooey centers of the 2010 year in gaming. Rising above the ranks of petty fanboyism, the critics touched on a wide range of topics:
- While 2010 was a good year for gaming, it may not have qualified as a “great” one. With an abundance of sequels, many developers played it safe. Blame the struggling economy for the dearth of new IP’s.
- The battle between indies and majors rages on. AAA titles like Call of Duty are reliable earners, but rarely grab the attention of this particular crowd, who often favor smaller games with shoestring budgets, games that have not been “developed by a focus group.” One glowing exception was Mass Effect 2, a blockbuster which is sure to get a lot of attention in the annual Game of the Year debates.
- Some independent games like Super Meat Boy and TriplePoint client LIMBO got love from the critics, illustrating the fact that the burden of proof differs greatly between indie games and titles from major studios. This also scraped the surface of the “rigidity in video game pricing” debate, a complex topic that deserves its own post.
- Red Dead Redemption was a great game, no contest. It was also responsible for Alan Wake’s disappointing sales. Chock this up to a marketing failure; for future reference, literally no other games should be pitted against a release from Rockstar Games.
- Red Dead was also a sterling example of the ways that DLC can not only bolster a game’s staying power, but also explore an entirely unique timeline or reality. Undead Nightmare was far more than just a bandwagon-inspired cash-in. Mass Effect 2 was similarly praised for giving players a complete disk-based experience, with DLC that provided a unique spin on familiar characters and settings. If nothing else, 2010 was the year that cemented downloadable content as an unavoidable part of a game’s development and marketing lifecycle.
- Borrowing the microtransaction model wasn’t the only way that 2010’s console releases were inspired by their social brethren. Players are becoming just as accustomed to in-game payments as they are to maintaining and upgrading virtual real estate. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offered gamers a chance to rebuild Rome, just as they’d expand an online farm or browser-based pet shop. Expect to see even more cross-promotional games like Gunslingers, the free (hype-generating) Facebook game that lead up to Red Dead’s proper release.
- Minecraft was considered the year’s Cinderella story. The baffling title came out of left field to build a userbase over 2 million strong. More importantly, over a quarter of those gamers actually paid $13 to play a game that’s still in its alpha stage infancy.
That was the year in games, summed up (and hotly debated) in 90 minutes. Let’s hope that 2011 delivers even more unique gaming experiences and spreads them out across the entire twelve month calendar.
To keep up with the motley crew of Gaming Critics, follow them on Twitter.
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.
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.
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.
It’s no secret that, when it comes to home entertainment, we’re in the midst of a distribution revolution. Content once tied to broadcast airwaves is now being ravenously consumed on the internet via computers, video game consoles and set top devices.
TriplePoint has the privilege of working with some of these new media startups. PlayOn (which recently made the jump to iPhone; CNET link) streams Hulu and other web video onto PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, without the need for a costly Hulu+ account. For those without a video game console, Softkinetic is providing a Microsoft Kinect-like experience to a massive install base via their set top box gesture recognition system.
With two cameras and a powerful microphone, Kinect knows who’s in front of the TV. For games like Dance Central, the technology will track all the poppin’ and lockin’ you can throw at it. But as an entertainment hub, a Kinect-enabled Xbox 360 will change the way that marketers convey their messages. Advertising is the backbone of media, providing the funding for programming and keeping content free for the viewer.
Softkinetic and Microsoft face a major challenge with these user-recognizing innovations. The product must find the right combination of allure, cost and ease-of-use, or at least hit two sides of this triangle. Kinect is rumored to cost $150, putting it well above the $99 impulse-buy sweet spot and closer to the price of a new game console. Softkinetic, on the other hand, will have less features but will also enjoy wider adoption, since the system will piggyback onto cable boxes and not require additional equipment.
As these devices become a fixture of the entertainment centers in dens and rec rooms around the world, ultra-targeted advertising will be commonplace. In order to frame this in a positive light, marketers will highlight the family-friendly aspects of these targeted ad systems. For instance, “No R-rated movie previews if children are detected,” or, similarly “no beer commercials until the registered account holder turns 21.” Of course, there are many aspects of these targeted ads that appeal to advertisers, too. For instance, gender-specific commercials can now be tied to the actual gender of the viewers, rather than the network making educated guesses about the viewing audience based on the channel, program and time of day
Interactive ads are not far behind. Many of today’s preroll web video ads ask if you’d prefer to interrupt your show with 3 traditional thirty-second commercials, or watch a 90 second long-form ad before the show begins. By giving the viewer a choice, marketers engage the audience and have a better change of holding their attention.
With mics and 3D cameras in place, these ads will evolve into mini-games – how many on-screen Pepsi bubbles can you “pop” by waving your hands, before the time runs out? Sponsored gameshow-style quizzes are also possible, since the systems can detect multiple voices in the room. First one to finish this jingle gets 10 points on their gamerscore! “Plop plop, fizz fizz…”
Social media integration is already built into modern game consoles. In the future, before the new Top Chef episode streams, you’ll be prompted to invite other online friends who ‘like’ that show on Facebook to join you and watch together, virtually.
During the show, ads will feature music by artists from your Last.fm account that you’ve “favorited.” Local advertisements will pinpoint your self-identified exact location and give you offers that are relevant to your tastes. For instance, the Italian restaurant below your apartment is offering double-pepperoni for the price of cheese, and they’ll be open for another 45 minutes. Since your credit card is on file with your Xbox Live or PSN account, you can literally say the word and have hot pizza at your door before Padma calls the chef’testants to the judge’s table. Are you watching solo, or did you invite the whole gang over? Accordingly, you’ll get promotions ranging from personal-pan pizza to the ultra-jumbo feast.
There’s a great deal riding on the success of these gesture- and user- recognition systems. Their main strength is in eliminating the “input middleman,” giving users greater control over their own entertainment. They also give marketers new ways to reach consumers. While this new technology is exciting on many levels, it will also present unseen obstacles and take years before adoption is truly mainstream. Only time will tell if the universal remote can survive this Minority Report future.
It’s not uncommon to get a journalist’s perspective – after all, they’re paid to write down their thoughts, feelings and opinions. In the case of most game journalists, their primary task is to let the game-loving public know which titles are worth playing, in what boils down to a glorified “Buy It, Rent It, Skip It” rating scale. But last night on the NYU campus, a few prominent game journalists discussed their craft itself as part of the Game Center lecture series. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra and Jamin Brophy-Warren of Kill Screen (a new gaming print publication, gasp!) gave their take on a variety of highbrow video game topics like gender, violence and the death of print.
The three industry vets spent a good deal of time discussing the difficult nature of writing for such a niche audience. As Totilo pointed out, games are experienced quite differently than movies, and are thus a lot trickier to cover. Because modern games are both expensive and expansive, a journalist can’t assume readers have a “high gaming literacy.” That is to say, even with an extremely popular game like Modern Warfare 2, a writer can’t take for granted that players have beaten the single player campaign or that they’ve shared the same overall experience. This makes games journalism far more nebulous than film criticism, a field where it’s safe to assume that everyone has viewed the same movie in essentially the same way. It may take a player a few days to beat a game, or that quest may be stretched out over a year. Plus, as gaming becomes increasingly popular, the sheer number of must-play games can overwhelm even a dedicated nerd’s gaming time. Case in point – Totilo Beat 30 games last year, but played over 100. This abundance of games is one of the biggest hurdles for the PR industry.
Another hot topic was the divide between mainstream and enthusiast games press, which has increased steadily in the past years. But as the writers were quick to point out, some the most compelling pieces of prose stem from outlets like the New York Times, who approach their rare game coverage as a Times’ piece first and a gaming piece second. In short, the range of games coverage is as diverse as the quality of the games themselves.
From a PR perspective, the takeaway here is a bit muddy. At TriplePoint our goal is to connect with journalists and secure coverage in a wide variety of outlets, spanning the gap between the fanatically enthusiast and the widest-reaching mainstream press, preferably through a mix of print, web and televised content. We have our work cut out for us, just as these three journalists have a difficult task before them. By keeping the communication lines as open as possible, all parties stand to benefit. But with so many games and just one Leigh Alexander, for instance, it’s vital to stay in tune with her thoughts and opinions via persistent reading and social media monitoring. Because when the day comes when we’re working with an amazing new JRPG, I want her to be the first to know. As Jamin Brophy-Warren, points out, “When it comes to movies I just sit there and watch, but in games I’m the one making things happen.” That’s a very powerful experience – the glue that holds our industry together.
Players of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games have long known that working cooperatively and competitively within the game space has improved not only their leet gaming skillz but also real life abilities, including leadership, communication skills, creative thinking and adaptability. Lee Sheldon, assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, has taken the use of MMO design and terminology to the next level and applied it to his classroom education.
Referenced by Professor Jesse Schell in his talk at DICE, Sheldon has applied basic elements of MMOs to his classroom, including forming guilds (small groups within the classroom), quests (activities and projects – both “solo” and “guild” based), offering “Boss battles” (exams), and using XP points instead of grades. While the media has focused mostly on Sheldon’s use of a non-traditional grading system, they’re missing the bigger picture.
According to Lee Sheldon, the use of the MMO system for classroom instruction has resulted in better attendance, greater class participation and more quality coursework. By utilizing terminology that students understand, Sheldon’s ideas may help students become better prepared for the real world, having expanded their collaborative skills, adaptive thought patterns, communication abilities, and leadership.
While Lee Sheldon’s classes are specifically tailored for game design—he teaches courses in Theory and Practice of Game Design and Multiplayer Game Design—these MMO principles (and game design theory in general) could be applied to nearly any classroom situation.
It’s not so far-fetched for the workplace, either. According to IT News in Australia, companies are already adapting some of the basic tenets of good game design and applying them to the work place, even though they’re not necessarily using the terminology of “guilds,” “raids” and “questing.” Some workplace game-like offerings include clear, well-defined goals and gradual, incremental rewards, such as points for showing up on time…
Simple psychology explains the benefits of using gameplay principles in all aspects of our lives. Offer rewards, get better results; you don’t have to be Lee Sheldon to understand that.
Afterword: Later this year, Lee Sheldon will be reporting more of his findings and detailing this project in his book “Practical Game Design: A Toolkit for Educators, Researchers and Corporations.”
Prepare for trouble and make it double! March 14, 2010 was the launch date of the new Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver games on Nintendo DS, remakes of the 1999 original Gold and Silver games on Game Boy Color. For those who thought ahead of time and had a Reservation Card, Target was giving away gift cards per game, as well as Lugia and Ho-oh collectible figurines. For once daylight-saving time was actually welcomed in my home, as it meant I would get to play the new games one hour earlier. After several hours of anticipation and strategic decision making (“I’ll buy Gold if you let me play your Silver later…”), I finally had a copy in my very own hands. Pokémon HeartGold was my game choice and I am happy to say that it combines old-school Pokémon antics with some updated adventures.
As a new trainer, your journey in HeartGold and SoulSilver is pretty identical to the one back in 1999. Not too much has changed since the original Gold and Silver story—granted you don’t mess with the best. The new format is up to date and now any Pokémon can follow you, but the underlying basis still involves traveling to gyms and inevitably trying to halt the evil plans of Team Rocket (They’re blasting off again!). Pokémasters can now travel to the elusive Safari Zone and use the new Pokéathlon game feature. Pick your three favorite Pokémon to play in a set of mini-games on the Nintendo DS touch screen utilizing the wireless feature to play against friends.
With yet two more versions of Pokémon game play, Nintendo had to do something to capture our interest—introducing the Pokéwalker. Basically a glorified pedometer, the Pokéwalker allows you to upload a Pokémon and then bring it around with you as you walk. Walking earns watts, which let you level up your existing Pokémon and catch new ones. Game enthusiasts can train Pokémon while getting their daily amount of exercise—or if you are like me, you can simply attach the Pokéwalker to your dog. Believe me, it works exactly the same.
The Pokéwalker peripheral is the fundamental piece of the HeartGold and SoulSilver launch. If you happened to be in New York City yesterday, perhaps you even saw giant Pikachu footprints around Broadway Plaza, celebrating the release of the game. Festivities were in full swing as Pokéfans followed Pika’s trail (pedometer in hand) around Times Square, ending up at the Toys ‘R’ Us. Such an anticipated launch couldn’t have come at a better time for gaming giant Nintendo and the Pokémon craze. Ten years since the original Gold/Silver has left fans craving more, and the timing of such a combination invites both new fans and old Pokémaniacs. Pokémon truly cross generational gaps—after all who doesn’t love a cute Pikachu or a cuddly Jigglypuff?
[UPDATE – IGN’s editors weigh in on the PlayStation Move.]
Advances in hardware technology are encouraging gamers to get off the couch, but do the games actually warrant the price of admission (and broken lamps)? New gesture-based controls for Microsoft and Sony are novel, but in order to be truly innovative they have to benefit the gameplay. Otherwise these features will quickly be written off as tacky add-ons designed by marketing experts to keep consumers jonesing for the “next big thing.”
A few days ago at GDC I observed/tested a variety of new high-tech gaming devices, but wasn’t bowled over by any of them. Sony’s wand controller, now officially titled Move and set to launch this fall, does not seem to offer much beyond Nintendo’s Wii remote, which debuted three-plus years ago. It’s more responsive and nice-looking, but as with any of these new peripherals, there’s no way to judge the hardware in a vacuum. Rather, the software will determine the Move’s fate, and even if it’s compelling, to me this feels like a “day late, buck short” response from the historically-conservative Sony. Even if EyePet: Move is an amazing experience, the PlayStation does not stand much chance of moving in on the Wii’s immensely diverse userbase. Just because grandma can hold her own in Wii Tennis doesn’t mean that Little Susie is going to take an interest in dad’s Blu-ray playing, manticore-slaying PS Triple.
Generally speaking, hopes are higher for Microsoft’s camera-based Project Natal, but without substantial software demos, skeptics are outnumbering believers five-to-one. With that in mind, E3 2010 aught to be pretty exciting this year. With all three console giants committed to increasing console lifecycles, these unique add-ons allow developers to experiment with new game designs without starting from scratch on a brand new SDK.
While I can’t fault either company for wanting a piece of the motion-control pie, it seems that an entirely new kind of peripheral would garner a great deal more excitement and attention. As Dan Ackerman points out on the CNET Crave blog, the Wii owes a great deal of its success to its affordability and Nintendo’s reliable, family friendly reputation. The Wii-mote/Natal/Move debate will push gaming even further into the mainstream, but isn’t necessarily the be-all-end-all of gaming’s future. The dual analog-stick controller has gone largely unchanged in the last eight years. As opposed to the waggle revolution, I’d much rather see a design overhaul for “normal” controllers wherein each button, stick, d-pad and trigger is put under the microscope and thoroughly tested and refined. Tomorrow’s best console games will be played via a truly innovative controller that will take cues from the most unique and high-end PC gaming peripherals. Its weight and sensitivity will be user-customizable like today’s gaming mice, it’ll have a variety of force-feedback options and triggers will alter their “give” according to the on-screen action. Yes, this technological marvel might cost a hundred bucks a pop, but it’ll be the official controller in the inevitable two-console future – the gamepad of choice for the decidedly hardcore console.