Monday, September 29, 2003

Here I go again with the e-mail

Got this in my inbox today:

I'm at the source of all game-degree-rumors itself, Full Sail. I'm not asking for some kind of critique of this school in particular, but just your general opinion of video game design/programming being taught.

On the 'outside' you always hear rumblings that many people think it's sad. That anyone who's serious would teach themselves how to program and by creating an 'assembly line' mentality there'll be subpar workers who just thought it would be 'cool'.

I'm one of the folks that think having an area where people can experiment without having to worry about the financial side is great.

Obviously getting a degree doesn't make someone better by default, or vice-versa. But I was curious about your opinion on the topic.

That, and they need a 'search' feature on blogspot. Oh, if you feel strongly enough to bother feel free to make this a part of your blog or whatever.


Well, Jeffool . . . I said consummate v's. Consummate!

I mean, um, once Matt Rhoades and Tomo Moriwaki were having a conversation about "game schools." It went something like this:

Tomo: Game schools? That's silly.

Matt: You're part of the problem, Tomo.

I agree with Matt.

Game schools are just as good an idea as film schools. You'll get your Martin Scorsese types out of Full Sail, and you'll get your Quentin Tarantino types out of Electronics Boutique. Treyarch has hired at least one employee from a game school, so it's not a horrible career choice, although we're definitely more likely to hire someone with a computer science degree from a reputable university.

But check your teachers' credentials before slavishly adhering to their dogmas! Have they made good games? All you have to do is write some shit down and people will think you're more of an authority on games than you really are. Wink.

If they've made good games, slavishly adhere to their dogmas all you want.

And on the search thing, try "yoursearchwordhere" on Google. This works great with Metacritic, too. Much better than their slow-ass search engine.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Multimillion dollar idea

I've always wondered why The Sims Online wasn't as big a success as I thought it should have been. I was so sure. If I had a pile of money free, I probably would have put it in EA before the launch, and been a little bit poorer for it. Anyway, last night I was reading Positioning by Al Reis and Jack Trout, and the answer is in there.

It's the name.

First you have to accept Reis and Trout's thesis, which is: people are stupid. Once you've accepted that, you can see the problem. The history of the American marketplace is filled with stories of companies that had a succesful product, introduced a similar but different product with the same name, confused the consumer, and then some upstart introduces a nearly identical product with a new name, and that's what everybody buys.

You and I know the difference between The Sims Online and The Sims. But Joe and Mary Sixpack don't. Electronic Arts realizes this, now. If you go to, you can see this quote:

"Part of the reason for this price drop was that players and potential players told us that they didn't understand the game's value. (That isn't exactly what they said, but that is how we interpreted it.) People were used to seeing Sims products on the shelf for $29.99 to $39.99, without an added monthly fee, so when the apple green TSO box appeared with a $49.99 sticker on it (plus subscription) players probably reached for one of the less expensive Sims expansion packs instead."

Which is one of the things Reis & Trout say about line extension: you don't broaden the market. You just suck away customers from your established product. (At least they're paying subscription fees now, but still.)

Still, EA isn't about to change the name of their product. Which means a company like Mythic, the kind of company that can make an MMORPG in 18 months, could come out with a TSO clone, market it as it's own new thing, and become the market leader. Especially if they marketed it smarter than EA. Your first hit's free and all that. And don't call it "Dark Age of America" or "Modern Day Camelot", for Christ's sake.

Caveats: Al Reis and Jack Trout like to pile a mountain of anecdotes on you and twist the facts. Diet Coke, supposedly a line extension and therefore a bad idea in their book, is still the leading diet soda as far as I know. They tell you that "Vaseline Intensive Care" isn't in fact a line extension, because people supposedly think of it as just "Intensive Care", and that's why it succeeded over Jergen's Dry or whatever. And they predicted that Microsoft would be the next IBM, as more and more people, disappointed with products like Project and Sourcesafe and Outlook and the Xbox, pull away from cash cows like Word and Excel. They'll tell you that we're just seeing "the short-term gain" from using an established name to sell a new product, and eventually Coke and Microsoft will pay.

Also, I don't play MMORPG's. To me, the very idea sounds like an excruciating chore. I gave *Tale in the Desert* a whirl, and when I got to the part where I was supposed to spend twenty minutes watching flax rot I uninstalled it. So how much can I possibly know about the market?

So nothing is certain. This is a risky proposition. I wouldn't use my own money to fund this hypothetical Sims clone. But if I was a CEO at a publisher, I might think that the opportunity justifies the risk.

I'm assuming that games should be marketed like products in a supermarket, rather than like movies. Should they? I'd say it depends on the game. If the selling point of the game is some cool intellectual property - characters or a world that are popular - a Lara Croft or Max Payne or Matrix (is there a world born in videogames that's popular because it's a cool world?) - then cross-marketing is a decent idea, although it has the side effect of turning something that could be a long-lived trend (James Bond) into a passing fad (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) Still...I think most of us would rather milk all the blood out of a fad as quickly as possible than wait for what might be more money to slowly roll in on a trend.

On the other hand, if the selling point of your game is that it's the best in a category, and your characters and world are incidental: don't line extend. Don't make TSO or Command & Conquer: Renegade or a Wing Commander or Final Fantasy movie.

Let me throw out some predictions. In a few years we'll see if I'm right.

StarCraft: Ghost and Worlds of Warcraft are going to weaken Blizzard. "XCraft" used to mean RTS.

Lords of Everquest is going to weaken Everquest. "Everquest" used to mean MMORPG.

The Matrix is a fad. They're going to milk it dry this year, and nobody's going to want Matrix anything for a long time.

Deus Ex, the movie: won't be half as succesful as the first Tomb Raider movie. The point of Deus Ex is player empowerment, not J. C. Denton and his dark future.