Posts Tagged ‘ gaming ’

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 Olympics: Rockband Competition

Culture can be a double edged sword. One of the things I like about our culture is the amount of extra activities we provide and encourage employees to enjoy. While sometimes it’s abused these days, I’m very grateful we have a corporate culture that has a cornerstone of fun for the sake of fun.

Today marked the 3rd PopCap Olympics Rockband challenge. Five teams competed with voice, plastic guitars, and crazy outfits to best each other in an epic battle of the fake bands. It was awesome. Highlights for me were James’ cracking an actual whip (not his) to Devo, the band which combined sexy space uniforms, dalek costumes, facepaint and homemade unicorn horns, or my personal favorite, the anti-anchovy band which teamed up a singing slice of pizza to duet with the radical Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo**.

The weirdest of all was the passing out of buttons with my likeness on them. It started last olympics thanks to Sharon Bruhn and company making a John Vechey fan club song parody. Thanks to her tireless buttonizing, this meme has lived on. And to clarify, yes, those are rainbows out of my bum.

**I believe the eyemask was orange which is Michelangelo. It could’ve been red, which would’ve been Rafael. I want to make sure there’s no confusion as my memory of colors is bad, not my recollection of which turtle was which.

Wealth of Thirds

Met with a rather wealthy killionaire today. I inquired about his strategies for dealing with his success. He had put a lot of contemplative thought into the subject and had good insight to share. He tries to divide his time and energy into thirds. One third of his time he spends on generating more wealth (starting or investing in companies), one third on public / civic service (politics, charity), and the final third on contemplative activities (things that keep his mind flowin’).

I really appreciated the way he balanced things in a way that worked for him. My balance would be a bit different as I feel my job at PopCap is more than just a paycheck, and requires contemplative thought to be successful (even though on rare days it feels like civic duty). He also gave some very great advice, that marks some of the best I’ve heard. Paraphrased here:

Be wary of the path of least resistance. Everyone will want you to spend your time, wealth and energy to merely generate more wealth. The easiest thing to do with success is create more success. Though not bad necessarily, it may not lead you to the life you want to live.

It’s true. So many people have assumed that I’m going to become a VC, or asked me when the “golden handcuffs” expire before I start another company. No one believes me when I explain that I love making games, I love PopCap and if I’m making games I’m going to do so for EA / PopCap. Candidly, there would be a lot easier ways to spend my days, but few would bring more long term satisfaction.

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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