Archive for the ‘ Gaming ’ Category

Problem with Climate Hawks

Climate change has a PR problem. It’s true. The spokespeople for climate change often feel like they’re preaching to the choir, or in a language few understand. While Bill McKibben’s writing is great, he’s still writing for a pretty intelectual audience about some pretty heavy science. Al Gore has been most successful at opening up the discussion from the movie An Inconvenient Truth, which was a call to action in lecture format. While it did well for a documentary, calling an issue as complex as climate change a moral imperative isn’t exactly actionable mass-market material (especially from a left wing politician).

This is where I come in. I’ve spent my whole career trying to make something for a niche audience and take it mass market. When we started PopCap, video games pretty much fell into the 15-24 year old male demographic. Sure, Nintendo skewed a bit younger, but for the most part, gaming was for 15% of the population. Thanks to innovations on the Internet and the advent of new platforms, we helped lead the wave of gaming for the masses. Twelve years later, most everyone plays games whether on Facebook, the web, or on your phone.

We didn’t succeed by making pandering games. We took game concepts that we loved and spent a whole lot of effort, energy and craft to make that fun accessible for everyone, even if the player had never played any games before. That’s what climate hawks need to figure out. Their message is good. The content is there. It’s just completely inaccessible, and as I’ve learned in games, something inaccessible is pretty much by definition unappealing.

 

 

PopCap – Now the Worst Company in America

The voters have spoken over at consumerist.com. Loud and clear they told me: We sold PopCap to the worst company in America (2012 edition). Wow. Of all the companies we could have sold our souls to, we picked the deplorable, evil, Electronic Arts. The company that has the gall to release a new football game every-single-year! The company that had the audacity to create a game which inspires anger with the ending! A corporation in America that has made hard business decisions and had to close studios! The company which has bought studios that didn’t work out! EA! You tricked me! You promised perfection and now I see the truth! YOU EVEN SELL DIGITAL GOODS! DIGITAL GOODS!!!!!!!

Every week I would check out Consumerist’s NCAA style bracket of evil companies and every week we won. We beat Sony, Best Buy, Comcast, AT&T and Bank of America to reign supreme as worst company. Why did EA win over other companies? Here are my thoughts:

  • The business of games is hard – Unlike movies the technology of games is constantly changing. Production values rise, new platforms come and go, sports games get outdated within days of shipping, acquisitions fail because of the acquirers, acquisitions fail because of the acquired, marketing costs are huge, customers are fickle, it’s tough
  • The art of games is harder – Come on. Make some fun games. Go ahead. Heck, just make one. Make a game that you have to update every year or customers complain. Make a game that has thousands of hours of dialog and story telling. Make a game that requires empathy. Make a game that excites, engages, and inspires. Now do it again. And again. For 30 years. In every genre. On every platform. I double dog dare you
  • Everyone makes mistakes – Yup. EA does not have a perfect past. It’s made HR mistakes. It’s made huge game design screw ups. It’s messed up studios, marketing campaigns and beloved franchises (sometimes all at once). It will do so again. There is no perfect company, and I won’t promise perfection from PopCap
I’m very glad EA acquired PopCap. I believe in EA’s leadership. John Riccitiello has a vision for EA that is important. Every year he’s been boss, the company has made fewer, better games than the year before. The transition to digital is a hard, difficult road, and John has been leading the company through since he started as CEO. Gamers may complain about paid DLC, but there has to be something that sits between Farmville and the $60 price point, EA has been relentlessly trying to find that balance. I’m proud to have my studio sit next to DICE, Visceral, Maxis, Tiburon, Black Box, BioWare and more.

It was a bit frustrating to read EA winning, but when I look at the list of companies, I only see one or two others that actually inspire any emotion or passion. Apple. Google maybe. I may rant or complain about DirectTV’s atrocious customer service, Comcast’s flakey connection speeds, Bank of America’s ATM fees, or ticketmaster charges, but do I really care? Naw. No matter how angry I’ve been at them, I ultimately don’t care.

But man… you miss my expectations on the ending of an epic three game space opera that I’ve spent hundreds of hours enjoying – go f yourself EA!

The Rules have Changed Back Again

When we first started PopCap there was no casual or  mass market gaming. There was no facebook, iOS app store, or Steam. There weren’t portal partners nor a downloadable business, and mobile phones couldn’t even play text games. When Bejeweled (then called Diamond Mine) first launched on MSN games it became the most played game on the Internet.

The idea that games for everyone would take over the world became believable. Games evolved. We released a few more web games. Discovered $19.95 downloadable business. Started making some revenue from other platforms. Success was all about fun, innovative new gameplay. Partners like Real Networks were growing the audience. Xbox Live Arcade was another place for new ideas. We invested in games like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, knowing that it was about innovation in gameplay.

Then it all stagnated. Big Fish Games and Real fought to steal customers from each other. XBLA became crowded. Big publishers started throwing money at the business. Developer margins were shrinking. It wasn’t about gameplay it was about market share. Merely a game of margin control. PopCap was lucky that we had hired a CEO and developed a publishing organization. We were lucky that our games appealed to hard-core gamers, lucky that we invested in retail, but the traditional casual channels were flat.

While that was happening Apple was experimenting with an app store on iPod scroll wheels. Facebook was opening up its platform to developers. Platform focused developers like Zynga and NGMoco were started. Their whole raison d’etre was to master a platform, not innovate on gameplay. Some were experimenting with gameplay. Doodlejump, Flight Control, and Pocket Gods come to mind, but they were still the exception. It was the era of these new, weird platforms. Companies succeeded not through great games, but by harnessing and mastering the new platforms. Angry Birds succeeded by pioneering the top ten lists while leveraging their charm. Zynga exploded by being one of the best online service operators in history.

Thankfully, Facebook is more known now. Developers no longer question the Apple App store viability. Microtransactions have ceased to be weird. Things have settled. Which is great. Gameplay innovation is in the air. Whether on Facebook, Apple, or Android new gameplay is coming out and thriving every day. Soon Xbox, Nintendo and Sony will join this new connected world.

Tiny Tower. Jetpack Joyride. DragonVale and Temple Run have all shown that great, new gameplay can happen. OMGPOP has destroyed the charts with Draw Something. Innovation is now vital again. It’s about great gameplay. It may look a bit different than it did in the downloadable days, but the audience is bigger, the developers more innovative, and potential for greatness amazing.

The rules have finally changed back again. I look forward to playing all the new games that are going to come out in the next couple of years. I look forward to PopCap making some of those games.

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