Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Your boutique teeters atop a pyramid

Think of the video game market, or better yet any market as a pyramid.

This pyramid is also a graph, its a 3-D graph made up of golden blocks. Also it's made of people. Soylent Pyramid is people.

As you go higher, the amount of money that a single person is willing to spend goes up. The man sitting at the top of the pyramid has lots of money to spend on frivolous things that he doesn't need, but that he wants.

As you go lower the base widens on this pyramid, because there are lots more people here being crushed under the weight of those above them. These people on the bottom are willing to spend less, because thats how our X axis of this 3-D graph works.

So this market has a large amount of consumers who are willing to spend little to nothing, and a few who are willing to spend a lot.

Skill Games is at the top of the video game market pyramid. There are very few consumers of it, and its very hard to reach them and say "Here I am, waiting for you to come spend yer money at my magical pyramid of gold."

So Skill Games get smart and say "Where is there a surplus of people, and how can I trick them in to using us?" or to put it another way "How can I make money off the rest of this goddamn pyramid cause the pointy bit at the end is one guy, and I need a few thousand."

So Skill Games tend to be casual. Casual games have a large market, and attract people easily. Who can't sit down and play Tetris for a half hour? Ok my grandpa can't, but he is dead so he is excused.

Skill City on the other hand is sending its thick ropey tendrils all over this pyramid. We have avatars and experience systems that attempt to go after the dress-up crowd, casual games to pull in the inexperienced larger mass of gamers, competitive titles that grasp the serious gamer who values a good fight, all of this wrapped around subscription models that give you just a little bit more if you are willing to pay, and doesn't feel like it hurts those who aren't.

Will it work? Who knows... that's what we are finding out. So far it looks pretty sexy though, and now all I need is that million dollar budget to advertise it to everybody.

I think that means its time for me to talk about going after investment money, because unless your daddy is rich you gotta get that money from somewhere. Its the money that helps you make the leap from startup to success. Lots of people use it, lots of people need it.

Even I need it. I'm contact every VC, Angel, and Equity Investment firm on the planet right now.

It's a weird experience, once that I am hip deep in and wading through as one crosses a murky swamp filled with things unknown.

I am eager to share these experiences with you, so that you don't get bitten by the same snakes I am. I'll even leave little signs on the trees as I pass them, marking the way for those who come after me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Best Mai Tai Ever.

I don't think I have posted anything in a while that is at least somewhat off topic. I also think that in my entire life (that's a long 32 years this November) I have never posted to a blog while intoxicated. Do forgive the typographical errors, I will hope to use the spell checker to remedy these and you will be none the wiser as to my current state of manual dexterity.

Allow me please to share with you the most splendid recipe for a mixed beverage ever.

First gimme a second to turn on some appropriate music. Alas, I have none, so I will instead play something by Dukas. It has lots of strings and rythmn and I do believe I heard this in a Disney film once...

The best mai tai recipe ever
by: The Mayor of Skill City (a monkey who knows his tropical beverages)

In a shaker combine:
2 jiggers orange juice
2 jiggers pineapple juice
1 jigger rum (vodka works too if you are outta rum)
1 jigger of peach/apricot schnapps (of peach/apricot brandy)
1 jigger of triple sec (please dont use Grand Marnier)

Shake vigorously. As the sage bartender said, anything with fruit juice needs a good kick in the ass in to wake up the flavor.

Now, pour it in to a nice tall glass. A collins glass would work swell if you are a barware fiend as I am, I like to have all the odds and ends. I even have that stupid spatula with the spiraly wire going round the outside.

You are not done. A Mai Tai needs to look like a sunset. Pour in some Grenadine very carefully so that it gathers at the bottom. No worries, its heavy and sugary and will go there on its own.

Now for the layer of smog, this is Los Angeles after all. If you are more nature inclined just think of it as a lovely night sky slowly darkening. Pour some very dark rum on top (Meyers is my dark rum of choice as its very sweet and very dark) using a teaspoon or some other device that you have handy. It will float nicely on top.

Now you have made a tropical three layered drink worthy of any puzzle game. Unlike puzzle games though, this is something you can then pour down your gullet slowly.

Warning: Not responsible for hangovers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A different angle.

If all these "at home" projects are making use of our computers idle cycles, those times when your CPU isn't doing something like running a web browser, when will I be able to plug in to the idle cycles of the human brain?

I have been thinking about a game for a while now, and I want it to be something that isn't derivative. I know, the post modernist in me says that isn't possible because everything has been done. The rapper in me says that it's played out. Yo.

While I use my idle time, the small spaces between emailing business contacts and writing up game design specs and making sure this company is still running, I think about how to make this game.

It's starting to drive me crazy that I can't think about how to come up with a compelling reason to play it. Then today I was sitting here in my office with this little wooden ball in my hand. Thank you macrovision for giving me this neat little toy at a trade show. It solved my problem.

You see, I was thinking about it all wrong. I knew I wanted to make a game and I knew how I wanted it to look and some of the key features. I was just having a hard time getting them all to fit together. I was trying only one approach, and then I saw that my problem is like a sphere and I only need to try another angle. The destination is the same, but my approach could change.

This is really really really hard to do. One suddenly has to shuck all their instinctive and learned problem solving skills from 31 years of life. Toss them away, and look at it with fresh eyes from another perspective that isn't your own. How would a concert pianist's approach differ from a molecular chemist's? The answer: one of their feet are both the same.

I know, that didn't make sense but I seek to guide you in a different way than simply spewing facts at you. Perhaps this is why nobody reads this blog...

Anyway I think that now I can see an idea beginning to brighten, that was once growing dusty beneath its star crusted vault of sky.

Where did I get the idea for a game like this? I dreamed it.

I saw this giant array of spheres in the universe and each one had a sound, and as I watched they all played their notes. It was neat, and pretty, and if I did it right I could make the galaxy do Mary Had a Little Lamb. This is a puzzle game, a challenge that is fun to look at and rewarding when done correctly. Well, thats what my sleeping brain said. It says lots of things, so does yours but perhaps you don't remember them as often as people like me? I don't sleep very deeply.

I'm writing it all down so that one day my music of the spheres can be played by others... maybe heard by them too. Then you can blog about how my universe opened strong but its current work isn't nearly as good as its first album, before it sold out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Addiction of a different kind

It has happened. There comes a time when the maker of a drug tries his own product to the extent that he becomes addicted to it.

This is such a drug.

In looking at it, and the many other kinds of games that people have labeled as addicting I find there are many easily quantifiable properties of addiction in video games.

1. Tasks
2. Persistence
3. Simple rewards

People like tasks. They like to click a person and have them say "Go forth young Druid Warrior and bring me hence the head of 35 yellow Squigglsproing." and you gleefully go out and do it because you get a simple reward, for a simple task, in a complex world. Feels good.

Persistence is just there so you come back, again and again you return because you know that your avatar is waiting. You know that when left the city of Harvest Town that people were busy there and when you come back things have changed. The raccoon in the store probably has turnips on sale, or a new desk perhaps. Its safe, you like it there.

The tasks you did and the rewards you gained are there waiting for you too. Killing 35 Bloodfanged Gnar Gnar certainly isn't all for nothing.

The addiction chain is easy to follow, its been around for as long as people so it's nothing new. What people miss, is that it's very easy to interfere with it. We aren't talking a physical need, so your body doesn't demand that you play WoW and cause you to feel like you are dying if you go too long without it.

I'm talking about getting those first few links in to the addiction chain and really shackling a player to your game. It's very hard. People try all the time. They tried and failed? (inside joke) Well yes most do. Its irony itself that a site called is mostly loaded with horrible games that repel every fiber of my being. It's hard to call that addicting. Maybe revolting?

One or two titles there fun, and I could see myself going back. I have no desire to though, because the more I play there, the more I realize that I'm getting nothing back. I'm not being rewarded with anything I can look at an hour from now and say "I did that."

What else? Clicking. Nobody likes to have their flow interrupted by a menu. I hate it when I click "Play again!" after a game is over and it takes me to two different "OK or Cancel?" boxes before the game starts again. I agreed to them once already, let's not ask again.

That last one is an observation of my own site. I get playing Explodinator for an hour because it's so challenging, and yet so easy... but one tiny mistake and you are doomed but you just don't know it. I love this game, I play it about 30 times in a row. I loath when the game ends and I have to click OK 4 times before it starts again.

Getting addicted to your own games is great, I get insights I would otherwise have missed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Lately I have been thinking more and more about how we are automating our lives, and how wrong most people have been in their assumption that humans would welcome such advances with open arms.

Nobody wants to feel replaced by a machine, and nobody yearns for the existence of somebody who has nothing to do at all because robots do it all for them. How exciting is 72 years of life sitting on a sofa doing nothing? How horrible a fate that would be.

Anyway I was thinking along the lines of automation and how most tasks are being reduced to simply pushing a button. What if that pushing of a button was actually fun? Could you get people to do that task for you for free instead of paying them?

What if sitting at the console of a power plant watching all that information flowing around and monitoring everything was instead a game? Sure, it's a game where the lives of people are on the line but all video games have that. These are real people now, so its not so much a game as it is a job and you are all that stands between a city being powered and a huge explosion.

Still... what if that console was made differently, and the ideas and goals of a casual game were put in to it? Would it make your job more fun? Would it make you want to come to work every day and therefore get paid less?

See it has to come down to money at some point otherwise our reptillian overlords would never consider such a thing.

The power plant idea is just too over the top. But what about Taco Bell? I worked there once I kid you not. They have little bins with about 8 ingredients. Each menu item is really just those things combined in different ways. Didn't you notice how all their food tastes the same?

Replace the human workers with a robot arm and now make the entire staff just one person. He sits at his console playing a Diner Dash meets Cooking Mama type of a game where his moves are actually making real food and actually delivering these items to the pickup window. He gets efficiency bonuses, high scores, etc... they are compared to other workers at other stores and aggregate performance and customer feedback determines if you get paid a "High Score" bonus.

This is the psychotic world of the future I envision. Video Games will some day mediate our basic tasks. Children playing "shoot the zombies" really are controlling soldiers?

Hello. My name is Ender.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You get the ankles and I'll get the wrists

Couple of fun things to talk about today.

First, people are starting to cash out on Skill City. In the last week I have written checks or clicked submit on Paypal for an amount well over $2500 in total. People are winnin' the cash, and its pretty dang easy because most of you aren't playing for cash, so that monthly tournament for 500 bucks had like 10 people playing for it. Pretty nice odds, since the top 5 take the money.

Why is nobody talking about us on the news? I get a phone call from my sister in San Diego that there is a news story on Skill Games and how they are the new way to gamble in the US but since it's a video game that you play, and there is no house to benefit from the outcome, it's all legal.

Wow that's a hot news item, considering Skill Jam started doing this eight years ago. Then again the evening news on the telly has always been known for being written mostly by, and for, farm animals.

I'm bitter at the free press they gave to our competition obviously.

Second, things zip along here at Skill City too. I have four separate companies that are currently exploring our super skillful and ninja like grace with which we can make a game, an engine, and tools to support it. Development contracts with them would be nice, so would a paycheck. I'm on NDA with these companies so they shall remain unknown to thee, my reader. I'm also looking at another deal that would be extremely sexy, and the details of it shall also remain undisclosed at this time but suffice to say that it will make us all happy and therefore you should pray to your various pantheons that it works out. It's a vague prayer without my giving you details, but hey, if you have some sort of omnipotent superhero for a deity then he/she/it already knows.

Just take a moment to think positive thoughts in my general direction, if you are so inclined. For most of you that would be roughly southwest.

I have taken to daydreaming about new games lately. As I sit and attempt to distract my mind from important tasks (television) I have noticed that the proliferation of the internet is much like some sort of cold war between products.

"General, Lucky Charms has built a website sir." said the nameless soldier handing his report to the superior officer.

"Dammit!" The General slammed his fist in to the desk hard enough to knock over his pencil jar spilling its contents across the smooth wooden surface. "We must respond in kind and show them we are just as strong as they are! Execute these instructions immediately. Fruit Loops will come out on top of this!" He growled, sliding a binder across to the waiting soldier.

The cover was labeled clearly: Plan 47A - Website with Casual Games. Probably Something With a Bunny

So as each warring product builds a website, then a bigger website, then a big website with games... someday they will build a website with games so big that it will destroy them all, or it will take over 20 minutes just to load and then people will stop going there.

I see myself as the guy who walks in to the office of Decision Maker and says to him "I hear you are escalating your defensive position against Product X. You need something to keep your brand in front of people. You need casual games, branded and dripping with the sweet honey of your intellectual property."

I'll smile and they will hand me a briefcase full of money that I will use to build them a game, cause that's what I like to do, and I'm good at it. Building the games is what I'm good at, not taking money. I don't have a lot of practice in the taking money activity.

Saving some of that money so I can mosey over to Decision Maker at Product Y so I can sell him the same thing seems like a good idea.

See how I just equated being an arms dealer with making games? Did you like that?

Coolest job ever.

Oh here. Have a screenshot of the new game. It's awesome. I would go so far as to say it's expletive deleted awesome.

Click for a larger view!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Game news

What am I particularly opinionated about today?

Mostly the total lack of interest I get from site owners who advertise. I send email like:

"Hello. I run a business and I would like to purchase a banner ad on your site. I notice you have ads up there already in the format of blah-blah and I have an ad formatted and ready to go. Please quote me on running a campaign for 15 days, include your CPM, and if you have stats on your site please include those too."

Lets pretend you run a site, and you sell a service. Somebody walks in and says "I have shopped around and chosen you. Here is a pile of cash." What is your response to this?

Thats right! You ask them to leave, because you don't want their money. Your bills pay themselves and you are independently wealthy, so why would you care about somebody who wants to pay you for the service that you sell and currently run a business to promote?

Sarcasm aside, that's the general response of many of the advertisers I am trying to buy space from. Project Wonderful has been nothing but wonderful. They are slow as crap and their website takes an age to load, but the prices are low and the impressions are high, so who can argue?

I can. Once you have run an ad on there for about two months you realize that the 500 hits a day that most sites get are the same 500 people day in, day out. Running an ad there for more than a few days every month or so is not going to get great response.

So off I go to various big traffic sites like Casino City where they rate lots of online Skill Game sites, as well as our less savory relatives: the gambling establishments.

Getting on their directory is easy, but getting them to return a phone call or email me a rate sheet has been a struggle I have been fighting with for over a month.

I gave up today. I sent an email to their ad rep basically stating that since they are clearly kajillionaires who don't need any more customers to toss cash at them I will be moving on and not inconveniencing them with my patronage. How dare I try to buy an ad from a website whose entire reason for existence is to sell ads?

I'm nervy like that.

Mostly though, I'm seeing that webcomics don't have the high returns on a product of the type that I have here. I need to find someplace else to put up my name... Maybe I'll tattoo it on the foreheads of sleeping hobos! I hear thats pretty cost effective.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I see good spirits, and I see bad.

I have been spending the majority of this week sitting in my office writing out proposals for the various companies that want to work with us. It's taking up all my time this "CEO" thing and last night I was thinking on my bike as I rode home how funny it was.

I started the game company so that I could be my own boss and avoid all that bureaucratic junk. How silly of me to overlook that as the company becomes more successful I would get more and more bogged down with business stuff.

But thats a good thing. That means my business is growing. So it has come full circle. I left the corporate world only to build a company that is slowly becoming corporate.

At least this time a big jerk isn't in charge though.

Sorry todays blog entry is stupid, I'm totally distracted by 800 things and I can't focus.