Sunday, March 28, 2010

PAX East Day Two- Hurry Up and Wait in Line

(This is my Day 2 recap from PAX East, cross-posted at!)

As if the Disney World-like lines to see Wil Wheaton weren’t enough of a test of one’s stamina and willpower, it appears that every event and/or panel here at PAX East has a queue going out the door, down the hallway, around the rotunda, and back down the hallway in the other direction. One the one hand good for PAX, as this is the surest sign that this East Coast spinoff of the Penny Arcade Expo is an unqualified success, but on the other hand a conference this well-attended is really pushing the limits of the facilities. I wonder if Penny Arcade will attempt having PAX East 2011 at the Seaport Convention Center? There’s a ton more space, the building is still virtually brand spanking new, and judging from all the Twittering librarians the wi-fi there is lightyears beyond what Hynes has to offer.

Also daunting are the crowds in the Exhibit Hall for the product demos. All but the smallest indie booths are mobbed with gamers waiting for a few minutes at the controllers, but that doesn’t stop JP and myself from pushing our way through the lines to try and talk to as many developers, CEOs, and PR folks that we can about games and gaming in libraries. And how cool was it whenever we met a developer whose face lit up when JP said we were from 8bitlibrary and they told us that they’d seen us online? It’s interesting to take in the reactions to JP’s 8bitlibrary “elevator speech”- some game companies clearly see how gaming, education, and librarianship all potentially intersect, but other shops seem just as at a loss as do our librarian and educator peers when we try to demonstrate the relevance of gaming to our discipline. This suggests that the silos we’re trying to break out of are not entirely of our own making, and that maybe the game content producers themselves could benefit from thinking outside the traditional confines of their current business models. There’s a lot of fertile ground here for advocacy.

The Death of Print- a panel lead and moderated by The Escapist’s Russ Pitts, featuring freelancer Julian Murdoch, Jeff Green from EA, Chris Dahlen, managing editor of Kill Screen, and John Davison, E.I.C. of Gamepro

Niche printing as a craft market
In the US % of newsstand sales ae pulped
Print has copyeditors and fact-checkers- how much of this can carry over?
Advertiser balance with media changing over time
No ads can result in a “pure craft” product a la McSweeneys
In the US people expect free magazines whereas in UK customers pay for premium print content
Ipads and the new tablet magazine format- you can charge for content without the waste of print
Social media will always win in terms of delivering information
E-print pubs need to focus on content that isn’t news, because paid news is dead
However, sometimes people just want something on your shelf, and Kindles on a plane still need to be turned off
Q: How many of you have a magazine subscription? Most of room- half are game-related pubs
Q: How many go to game websites? All in room. How many use Adblock? 3/4’s of room.
“We (the industry) may have killed print but you guys are killing online”
Online is all about reach- print is still disproportionately valued in publishing and critical circles however
What does the media future hold?
Print on demand future?
Small print run business is getting very interesting
Problem is that it’s all happening in China so you have to allow for lead time and lower quality
Higher quality and local printing equals a very expensive product
Q from audience: re: the packaging of content can we learn anything from the mp3ification of music? Can we succesfully monetize “chunked” print content?
A: Look at e-comics and Dark Horse, it seems to be a viable model for certain niche markets
Why are we buying this content? As a consumer or as a collector? If you are a consumer why not get it digital?
Can we get away with timely digital content for premium pricing (i.e. download now for $15, buy next week for $5)
What about the New Yorker? Can that mixed/exclusive model survive?
Q: What about a “freemium”-tipjar model for opt in payment? Didn’t Penny Arcade do it this way in the first place?
These kinds of operations can work but they don’t necessarily scale
Q: How do you fit online features like streaming video etc back into print? Tell the right story for the right medium.
Some stories will work in some media but others will fail miserably- e.g. do people really want a transcription of a podcast?
There’s a palpable difference between a print byline and An online personality
Online is still evolving as well
Journalism is suffering from the “flight instructor” problem. There are alot of people who are passionate about games of which a fair percentage who can write. Do the math. If you want to make money as a freelancer, you need to do more than just game rviews
Tablet editions are a “big f***ing job” and are extremely labor intensive. Can you do this with a niche publication?
Final thoughts: print isn’t dead, it’s undead.

Fail Now!-

Jason de la Rocha
Rock band stated at MIT Media Lab- Harmonix had a very rough outing
Branded as “horrendous failure” at first
Overnite success is not the rule- failure needs to be embraced as necesary risk taking
Professor assigning game design students to create a breakout clone. Why? “I don’t know how to grade innovation” !!!
Risk aversion= reward aversion
Example of console sales- PS3 and XBox tightly coupled and steady whereas Wii and DS are much stepeer. Why?
(Note to @librarianjp- check out for gaming metrics!)
Playfish doing social networking- wildly rampant growth, and of course Zinga with Farmville
Traditionally there has been a stark delineation betwen games and causal gamers
Now the data is much more granular. You have power gamers, social gamers, even incidental games (like the star collector in Super Mario Galaxy)
Gaming demographics have changed radically
Traditionally “horsepower” was the driving factor in game development and the industry optimized itelf along those lines
Once you hit the saturation point you need to find new ways to break into the market- e.g. the Wii, a new interface or a new approach
The new thing is hard to predict, so established powers have no incentive to take risks
Example: Sony PS3 is wicked powerful but they don’t had a new hook
The Medici Effect- interesting things happen at the intersection of ideas
Quantity can lead to quality
You have to do a lot of crap and work through the creative process to create something good… failure is the critical ingredient
Article from The Escapist : “Why your game idea sucks”
There’s no value in “ideas”- everyone has them. The value comes from the execution.
Mark Surney (Robotron, etc). Famous for the “Surney Method”- put many ideas into production all at once – nor sure which idea will work , axes the ones that are crap
Out of this winnowing process comes one completed game which has already beeen tested
Initial risk for future benefit
Identify where your risk costs are low- that’s where you permit yourself to fail!
If you want to fail, fail fast
Agile development does two to three week schedules and reevaluates constantly rather than setting two to three year schedules- have an iterative project plan that allows for failure
Alexander Siropian (Halo) – Set up an “idea funnel” idea meetings every week would result in ideas on sticky notes
Making ideas “not precious” is key
Changing the pitch to publish ratio which is usually 1:1 in gaming circles
People who are less attached to one idea are more likely to come up with good ideas
World of Goo people, @ Carnegie Mellon a class with 50 games in one semester
Every week would be something new = more risk taking
Crayon Physics Deluxe. Petrie makes a new game every month.
Cactus. Flash development. The extreme end of this.
Jonathan blue GDC does presentationss of gaming failures
Locked a bunch of game designers in a barn and had a gamer “jam”
IGA does a global game jam
Little Big Planet rapid iteration- if someone had an idea they were sent off to make a quick prototype AMA experiment molecules. If they worked they were added as features to the game
The Apple app store is another great example. The barriers to entry are so low that it’s easier than ever to innovate
This is changing the business model of gaming radically
Traditional model is that you spend a lot of money out the outset launch and hope you make a lot of money (and maybe you’ll break even)
Now the risk model spends just enough money to get a viable game then launches
The engine is sound but the games are not necessarily content-complete
Risk is being managed in real time
If a game isn’t producing you pull the plug- similar to the tv model
Instead of one fifty million dollar bet you have ten five million dollar bets
Understanding your users better gives you tools to manage your risk and failure.
Graph of ludic to story horizontal abstract to simulation vertical
Story is more expensive than ludic simulation is more expensive than abstract
Higher costs come with less risk tolerance
More risks hapening in the ludic and abstract quadrants
Q and a time!
Unless you actually build a prototype you’re just not going to be able to evaluate whether an idea sucks or not
Indie gamers utilize the open community to test their prototypes
When have you failed? Persisting through failure is a real danger this is ESP so when ideas are “precious”

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