Why Portable Gaming is Still Relevant


If you check out IndustryGamers, there’s an article over there I read, and then commented on.  And the comment morphed into this huge wall’o’text so I thought that the blog might be a better medium for it than the comments on someone else’s blog.  Who knew taking credit for my own stuff was a good idea, eh?  Anyway, moving on …

To start, I think there’s waaaaay too much conjecture in this article.  True, Steve Peterson’s comparing a brand new product with a product that’s not released yet, but that begs the question – was this really the best time for this article?  I think the amount of conjecture and conjecture built on conjecture throughout the piece, suggests that this is probably pre-mature. 

As much as I dislike SCEA, the Vita has potential.  Right now, the social/mobile games market is horribly inflated with way way way more crap than anything good (a fact which people seem to be amazing at ignoring …), eventually the market will collapse into something more reasonable and sustainable.  trying to make long term conjecture about the well being of a device who’s life is probably upwards of 4-5 years in a market as dynamic and changing as gaming is a little bit foolhardy.  Then, going beyond that and comparing it to the drastically iterative tablet market, an emerging genre of mobile/social gaming with vast amounts of shovelware and poorly designed games designed for vastly different demographic is downright silly. 

This is a repeated problem – people continually make the comparison between mobile games found on tablets/cellphones with dedicated gaming devices.  But there really can’t be a true apples-to-apples comparison here for a few reasons.  A dedicated device will always be able to do things that a general device can’t — hence the fact it’s a dedicated device.  While not exclusively, within gaming circles this often takes the form of IP dedicated to specific platforms.  With this comes consumer expectation that a certain IP “feels” a certain way and changing platforms often monkeys with this “feeling.”  For example, moving a game like Uncharted from Playstation Vita to a cell phone would drastically change the “feel” and “play” of the game — and I would guess to the detriment. 

I think the other thing you have to consider is target demographic, and the kinds of games that you find in those demographics, and what kinds of games those demographics want.  For mobile games (those on cell phones/tablets), games are meant to fill small chunks of time, less than 15min.  With a game designed to only fill minute chunks of time before moving on to something else, it’s hard to get any real depth of game-play.  A mobile game player doesn’t have time to master complicated game play.  So all the game play is simple, infantile even.  Not to say this will always be the case, but it is right now. 

Portable games (like Vita, 3DS) fill a different market demographic.  While still not with the depth of experience as a full-fledged dedicated system or a PC, still provides more of deep gaming experience than mobile games.  These games are meant to played in longer stretches (I have over 100 hours logged in Pokemon White).  They are designed to be played for longer sessions that mobile games, which opens up for different game play experiences than what’s available on the mobile platform.  Gamers who pick up a portable gaming device do so because they want more depth of game than what the mobile platform offers — in short, the portable platform fills a need for gaming on the go, but with more depth than what the mobile platform currently offers. 

Now, there are a set of users for whom I can’t even guess a number that will not buy a portable gaming device because of the mobile gaming market.  But as I’ve tried to point out above, my thought is that number is going to be small–maybe not insignificant, but small nonetheless because the devices fill different needs within the gaming space.

This is, of course, not to say that this paradigm is set in stone – it’s still shifting.  As I mentioned in the beginning, mobile gaming is still a very inflated market, like the dotcom boom before it.  Hopefully soon the  market will collapse back to reasonable levels and more people will start doing better, more interesting things with the mobile space and be able to add that depth of gaming (which is challenging to define, I’m discovering).  One can only hope — until then, I think portable gaming still has a place in the gaming world, and one that is not going to be quickly subsumed by mobile gaming. 

The World Really Is Ending – No BlizzCon 2012.

Well, big news from our favorite developer here–reported by IndustryGamers, Blizzard will not be hosting a BlizzCon this year, and instead will be hosting a Battle.net eSporting Championship in Asia. 

I can’t help but feel a little bit betrayed by this.  Sure, there’s tons of money to be made in Asia, but what about some love for the states, which we clearly don’t have.  Even though I’ve never been to a BlizzCon, I’m pretty upset about this.  This shows a pretty big shift in focus that Blizzard/Activision (yeah, we can’t leave them out of this) is willing to shut down arguably one of the biggest events in gaming each year to instead focus on an event in a country that a signficant of people who would have attended BlizzCon can’t get to. 

In light of recent departures on the Diablo 3 team, the reworking of coresystems after 5 years in development, and the lack of a release date, the future of Diablo 3 is pretty unclear in my mind.  Combined with a shifted focus to Asia markets and what gamers will undoubtedly translate as a slap in the face with the cancellation of BlizzCon, I can’t help but think, What are they thinking? 

There’s no way this can seem like a good idea in my mind.  So much uncertainty surrouding key franchises, and they choose to just ignore it and go play in Asia for a while. 

Ouch Blue, Ouch. 

My Response to Robin Kaminsky on Free-to-Play

This appears in the comments of section of Free-to-Play Is The ‘New Frontier of Western Game Development,’ says Former Activision VP — written by me.  Thought I’d re-post here cause I wrote a lot.  

Edit: Yah, totally forgot a title — whoops

Alright – so I have a lot of problems with this article.  First off, it reeks of hype.  The arguments about emotional attachment stable economies — basically everything she attributes to the Free-to-Play model also applies to the console and traditional PC markets that she minimizes.  The emotional hooks, the hours of game-play that she cites as being solely the realm of free-to-play, stating in no uncertain terms that she sees the traditional market as flawed because no developer cares about their product after the initial purchase.

This view of the traditional market is over-simplified and in my opinion–flawed.  Gamers are a notoriously noisy and close knit community with long memories and a propensity for prejudices.  If a developer wants to be successful beyond the first game — they can’t treat the product as if they don’t care about the product after the sale–and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a traditional developer who treats their games as “done” after they are purchased.  Games would never be patched, new content would ever be developed for these games.  Similarly, if a developer really doesn’t care about the game beyond the initial sale, the product is likely to be a lot “hype” and not a lot of content — meaning that gamers will likely not purchase from that developer again in the future ion their investment in the game doesn’t pay off. T

Kaminsky’s problem here is that she views each game as an island – not as a part of a greater whole within the developer/gamer ecosystem.  No developer can succeed by pushing inferior products with lots of hype–especially in the game industry.  Reviewers are notoriously unforgiving, and many gamers take reviews as canon of a game’s playability and value.  Bad reviews of a game can spell doom for the developer.

Obviously there’s a ton going on here — way more than I can write in here that determines a game’s success, but the idea I’m trying to drive home is that Kaminsky is oversimplifying a vastly complicated and dynamic system with one that developers only need to care about first sale.

True, she pays homage to a few of the biggest names in gaming, such as Epic, Blizzard, etc  – but only mentions the juggernauts – none of the successful small – to mid sized devs who have created successful games, like Minecraft, for the Magicka games or Funcom just to name a few (Funcom is a debatable as to whether it’s mid-sized dev or not … it’s definitely on the upper edge).

Now on to actual Free-to-Play models – this is insanely difficult to do well, on this Kaminsky and I agree.  However, the primary difference is that Kaminsky defines the Free-to-Play model by the few successes (Such as Team Fortress 2), which in reality the shovelware far far exceeds the successful Free-to-Play models.  If we take a look for a second at a company like GluMobile, which I think that Kaminsky and I might actually disagree on their success.  GluMobile makes F2P games, most of which are somewhat successful.  One in particular is “BugVillage” which I already wrote about on my blog, but basically the game is borderline unplayable without paying.  In my utterly anecdotal experiences, and those of my colleagues, this is par for the course with F2P games.

 In my mind, a free-to-play game needs to be playable the free way, without purchases.  The purchases should augment the experience, not be required for the experience at all.  In the BugVillage review I wrote, I make the argument the ONLY way to enjoyably play the game was to pay a not-insignificant amount of money.  And this is EXACTLY why I think that the F2P model is near impossible to do well.

Finally, I have some ideaological issues with the majority of the F2P models–that being they are too focused on making money.  As with most things that attract mainstream attention, F2P models have become, with the help of new concepts like gamification, the next “get-rich quick” thing.  This has the effect of shifting the focus of creating a good game that people want to play, to using shady psychological techniques to urge people to play and pay without any real substance to justify the urge.  A good game will create lots of emotional connections and drive through engaging story, appropriate pacing, balanced game-play, and challenging game mechanics.

 Most F2P games, again I’ll use BugVillage as my case study, use game mechanics designed to be keep the gamer playing through underhanded psychological exploits.  In BugVillage, I played, creating my village and felt the urge to spend money to make things goes faster, or so I could get things quicker.  There was no story, no mechanic, no emotional tie-in other than my hate of waiting.   Even EA’s “The Sim’s Social” does this – just better.  They have quests with a slight storyline the drive the game forward, and the waiting within the Sims Social caps out at approximately an hour.  While annoying, I can easily occupy myself for an hour to go to do something else.  The game is playable without paying — and it’s engaging for a bit.  Now, I didn’t play for long because the game just doesn’t have the depth of play I need, but it was enjoyable for about a month of very light (approx. 10min) play time per day.

But ultimately (and traditional games are NOT exempt from this at all), there’s been a shift away from making good games, to making games that make money.  These two things are not at all mutually exclusive, there are plenty of good games that make lots of money.  I think the difference is that there’s a new focus on primarily making money, and making a game second.  This is a subtle distinction between wanting to make a game and make money; it’s also a distinction one that I’m not prepared to expound upon right now.

For the TL:DR crowd : free to play games are hard to do well, and the result of a lot of hype of people trying to get rich quick.  They can and have been done well, but I think of them as flavor of the month, and not a frontier of gaming.

BioWare Claims to Take a Large Chunk of WoW

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bioware – they do some amazing stuff and they are a great at what they can do, but really this is like the up-teenth time that a game has claimed to a “wow-killer” or any variation thereof.  Forgive my extreme disbelief.

According to IndustryGamers though, EA is claiming just that … again.  As history has apparently taught them nothing about making broad, grandiose and ultimately unsupported claims (I’m look at you, Sony), TOR has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to a Juggernaut who couldn’t be less interested.  Claiming that WoW is a silent movie to their Walkie-Talkie (really, that’s the best metaphor you can come up with?), that the voice acting in TOR will draw gamers away from Azeroth.  That’s a pretty arrogant metaphor for stylistic choices within WoW.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt anyone is going to say , “Voice acting!! Yes!!! This will totally make the game so much better than WoW!!”  Lets be realistic here–true you’ll get a few converts, you’ll get the people claiming “WoW Killer,” as you always do at the launch of every new MMO.  But time has shown again and again and again that making foolish claims like taking a huge chunk of the WoW player base just makes you look delusional and out of touch.

People will disagree with me on this, as that is the nature of the internet to be contrarian, but new MMOs, no matter how great, how wonderful and meaningful will not have a significant impact on WoW – because WoW is more than a game — WoW is a cultural phenomenon.  Azeroth has a population larger than some countries.  Really.

So EA – don’t kid yourselves.  Bioware will produce a great game, and it’ll be polished and well done but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll take a large portion of anything WoW has right now.  Culturally, World of Warcraft is probably the most significant piece of media in the world today.

Via Industry Gamers: WoW to Lose ‘Big Chunk’ of Market Share to Star Wars: Old Republic, says EA

Sony finally announces NextGen PSP

Sony finally announced the NextGen PSP today — and thank god, it’s not a phone.  The yet-to-be-named device has a pretty impressive list of tech specs attached to it:

(Pulled from the Press Release)

ARM® Cortex™-A9 core (4 core)


Approx. 182.0 x 18.6 x 83.5mm (width x height x depth) (tentative, excludes largest projection)

Rear touch pad

Multi touch pad (capacitive type)


Front camera, Rear camera


Built-in stereo speakers
Built-in microphone


Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer), Three-axis electronic compass


Built-in GPS
Wi-Fi location service support

Keys / Switches

PS button
Power button
Directional buttons (Up/Down/Right/Left)
Action buttons (Triangle, Circle, Cross, Square)
Shoulder buttons (Right/Left)
Right stick, Left stick
START button, SELECT button
Volume buttons (+/-)


Mobile network connectivity (3G)
IEEE 802.11b/g/n (n = 1×1)(Wi-Fi) (Infrastructure mode/Ad-hoc mode)
Bluetooth® 2.1+EDR

No release date yet, other than by the Holiday season for this beastie.  Now, I’m not a fan of Sony, the only company that raises my ire more is Appl, but this sounds pretty impressive for a handheld (like seriously, remember the original GameBoy?).  However, to be completely honest, I think that Sony will probably screw it up by putting a huge price-point it, thinking they can get away with it because the 3DS is going for $250.  Then, Sony will talk big how great their platform is from everyone else, how much better than the 3DS, how 3DS is just a fad … all while having abysmal sales because they priced it too high, with features that, while nice, are not necessarily innovative.

You can view the full press release here:
Press Release 

Via IndustryGamers: Sony Reveals Its ‘Next Generation Portable’

Because Hearsay and Unfounded Conjecture Justify It….

California, despite being a hotbed of game developers, seems hellbent on alienating those large studios inside the state.  From the SCOTUS case Schwarzenegger vs. EMA, to Senator Lee, and now a repeat attempt by Sen. Joe Baca to add warning labels to games.

According to IndustryGamers, this is Baca’s second attempt at adding warning labels to video games, as the first attempt in 2009 died in the House.  While the exact text of the bill isn’t available yet, it’s fairly safe to assume that it’s pretty similar to the 2009 version.  In that version, the warning would read:

WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.

Because clearly–there is no evidence to the contrary, or that enough of the studies conducted to attempt to link games and violent behavior have shown at best, a correlation, not casual , relationship between the two. I know every new media has to have it’s day as the bane and inevitable cause of the downfall of society, but gaming is going on what, 10 years of oppressive attempts.  California, go find something more beneficial to do than waste tax payer money on pointless legislation.  Personally, I’m getting pretty annoyed with all the conjecture, intentional manipulation of the facts (and omission), purposefully misrepresenting outcomes to push through legislation for no reason other than some antiquate ideal from the 1940s that anything the breaks even minutely from the status quo or makes you slightly uncomfortable must be destroyed.  

Sorry, /endrant 

Via IndustryGamers: U.S. Representative Brings Back Game Warning Labels

A Few Facebook Related Articles …

While considering myself an avid gamer, I have never played a Facebook game.  I’ve been slightly intrigued to do so, but I haven’t really cared enough to do more than attempt to look up information about various games, gave some feedback on the development of a new social game, and that was it.

So it’s really more with a kind of academic interest that I look at the Facebook move to a universal credit system across all the games — the Facebook Credit.  In reality, it makes sense to be able to move currency between games and even between developers.  It’s no doubt that sleaze-dev (in my totally, utterly and completely unbiased opinion cough ) Zynga had a few choice words to say, which is pretty much implied in the IndustryGamers article about it, which states that there “tense” negotiations between Facebook and Zynga.

Speaking of Zynga, staying true to their sleazy reputation, is now going after developer “Blingville” for trademark infringement over the letter combination, “ville.”  Which is pretty ridiculous no matter how you slice it.  It’s been my (admittedly somewhat meager understanding) that you cannot trademark pieces of words – even Frankenstein’d works like “Farmville.”  Anyway, not at all surprising from a company with a repuatation as slimy as Zynga.

Via IndustryGamers: Facebook Confirms Plans to Make Credits the Mandatory ‘Universal Currency’
Via IndustryGamers: Zynga Tries To Enforce ‘Ville’ Trademark

A Different Kind of Game …I guess?

IndustryGamers.com has a quick little article about Jane McGonigal taking the Creative Director role a (for this guy anyway) previously unheard of gaming company – Social Chocolate.  

Being a pretty big fan of Ms. McGonigal’s work thus far, I bounced on over to the site to check it out.  It’s pretty spares on details right now, but gives just enough concept to get me really interested in whatever they are doing.  According to the website, the company is “making worldchanging games powered by the science of positive emotion and social connection.”  Judging from who they have on staff at the moment, I am really interested to see what they have coming down the pipeline here.  With some heavy hitters and lots of scientific-types on staff, they could really show us something in gaming that we haven’t seen before.  

Also, make sure you take some time to play with the dots on the home page.  It’s a pretty zen experience, and I gotta say, I really enjoyed it.  But, I won’t give it away – just bounce over to http://www.socialchocolate.com and check it out.  


An Argument for the Stand-Alone Avatar

I read this article over at IndustryGamers about the idea of a having a single avatar for all of your virtual interactions.  While I agree this is a great idea, I feel like they didn’t consider all the important pieces that I think they need to consider.  

First and foremost, the creation of the ArchAvatar, the avatar that travels between different services, is an artifact of cultural identity.  The urge for the creation of an Arch Avatar is driven around the desire for a continuity of identity within the new metaphysical cyberspace.  In a cyberworld where I could be everything, how do I define myself as any given thing?  Questions like, “What does my pure (outside the content of a service) avatar look like? How do I view my avatar?  Can my avatar only exist in the context of a ‘service?’ immediately come to mind.  The people you are trying to appeal to are those who want continuity to different disparate parts of their cyber-life, which you are attempting to give them through this very abstract concept of the “avatar.”

You should also keep in mind that people define themselves beyond just their physical appearance.  The kind of house I own, how I decorate my house, the clothes I wear, the books I read, the games I play, the banks and stores I frequent all play a role in the definition of who I am in a very tangible way in reality.

Even on something like Facebook provides this needed level of defining one’s self within the cyber-realm.  In fact, what is Facebook but the definition I who I am in a cyber context?  Everything that goes into who I am is contained within my Facebook page.  If you want to create a CentralAvatar, lets call it for simplicity’s sake, the ArchAvatar, you will need to take certain aspects of what Facebook does to assist in the definition of the self.

BUT what Facebook lacks is a cyber-reality by graphical representation.  Within Facebook, the abstract avatar you created (meaning it has no identifiable manifestation–either physical of cyber) can never truly be seen by anyone–there’s not “Home Space” for it, though Facebook has become a bit of a “Home Space,” within cyberspace, but ultimately an imperfect one.

So the issues are, 1) creating a unified graphical representation of myself 2) In such a way as to make it simple for developers (and time/resource saving) 3) Simple but not restrictive for users while creating a value for using the service and making the user actually “care”.

This is a pretty tall order, I think.  BUT not unsurmountable, but I’m not sure if the author of the post is going about it the right way.  There are 3 main ways to look at this issue – the interaction with user, the interaction with the developers, and the interaction with the cyberspace.  These are by their very nature all very much interconnected and related, so talking about one without referencing the other two is pretty much impossible.

First, the interaction with the user–this is pretty self-explanatory.  How does my avatar relate to who I am really am?  What do I get from my avatar?  How does that make me want to do anything with it.  Does it have a gateway (Do I have to sign up for it?  To use avatar services, do I have to log in a different way?)?  What barriers does having a unified avatar present to the user in terms of playability and utility?   What options of customization do I have?   How do those effect my disparate avatars within the different services?  How do those different services effect my unified avatar?  Do they effect my unified avatar?

With the developers–instead of forcing the developers to confirm to the unified avatar (let’s be realistic, not the most feasible expectation), why not create a spec for if they choose to, you can import certain features of your unified avatar into their disparate avatar.  That way, instead of forcing (and limiting) the representation of disparate avatars, you put in on the developers to take what you send and determine how much it can effect their disparate avatar depending on how much customization/which customizations they offer.

Then, create a standard protocol for sending the information from the games back to the avatar.  This is where it would get a bit tricky because invariably people would want to use the images of l33t gearz they have–which might run into some copyright stuff, but assuming that the game opted to use the export protocols, it stands to reason it would be OK.  Similarly, you run into a manpower thing–most companies are not going to have the resources to model/skin/texture items twice – once for the game and once for the export to their unified avatar.  I think the easier way to solve this would be to create a framework where if the developer doesn’t export the models, the community can work to recreate the models they want from their individual games–potentially pending source-developer approval?  The increasing popularity of achievements would be easy to centralize, just exporting from the game in a standardized protocol to be imported into the the unified avatar service.

One of the most important aspects, that the IndustryGamer article doesn’t tackle is the idea of having a graphical “home” within cyberspace.  There are bits and pieces of my avatar that I may want situationally.  Typically, this handled via a menu in other games.  While this isn’t a horrible way of doing things, image a virtual “space” within cyberspace that has a PublicSpace, where I could put achievements from games, games I play, places I’ve been, and pictures and additionally pure vanity items–windows, wallpaper, room layout, furniture (think living room).  Then I could have a PrivateSpace – a place to keep those things I wouldn’t want people who visited my public space to technically be able to see all the time (think: bedroom).  Or even be able to have models of those bosses I’ve beat from games, that legendary item I won in WoW hanging on my wall in my public space–my “taxidermed” familiar.

The idea isn’t radical– it’s essentially the concepts of Facebook, SecondLife, and an RSS aggregate all put into a virtual space.  It’s technically possible, just hasn’t been done yet.  You could even expand on it by creating the use IM, Skype, GooglePhone all from your HomeSpace.  Your email gives you a visual indicator within HomeSpace.  Open it up the community–allow them create APIs into the HomeSpace and the avatar, create plugins, themes.  Maybe I can access Amazon via a wall-picture–when I purchase an item a virtual model of it appears for me to use in the HomeSpace.  Create the frame work and let the community (being users and developers) fill in the gaps.

The fun part is all of these pieces of what I just mapped out exist today, they just don’t play well together.  They don’t mesh on the level I’ve mapped out.  True, SecondLife creates a platform where you can create a “HomeSpace,” but it’s not user friendly, and difficult to learn.  It also doesn’t play well with other services–it’s pretty well silo’d.  Facebook solidifies your virtual existence, but without a space to call you “own.”  Most of the feeds from games are text or achievement notification– not the whole of true interaction of data.

All in all, I think this is the way things are heading in the virtual realm, and on the venture, we’ll get it wrong along the way … a lot.  I’m sure there are a thousand and one reasons why what I mapped out won’t work, but it’s not meant to be the end all.  It’s a continuation of an idea started by Mr. Gerson and which will undoubtedly be continued well beyond both of us.

Via: http://www.industrygamers.com/news/industry-insights-one-avatar-to-rule-them-all/