Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Gnomedex Day One

Note, this will be a stream of notes/conciousness, updated as the day goes along.

The first question of the day was “Can we have TVs for the World Cup?”.

Opening Remarks

Chris jokingly responded “We'll need a sponsor”, at which point Halley Suitt from Top Ten Sources agreed to sponsor it! So there'll be TVs here for the England v. Portugal game tomorrow.

Yey!

At the break before the first session I bumped into Kris Krug, whose photography I am a massive fan of. Cool.

Kris Krug

I also finally met Kosso. It turns out Kosso was the guy I was talking to while he was podcasting and streaming it into Second Life a few weeks ago.

Kosso

While I was outside and people were taking pictures, Eric Rice quipped “Damn Citizen Paparazi!”

Anyhow, up on stage now is Mike Arrington from TechCrunch.

Mike Arrington

I'm not even going to try to keep notes about the sessions - I wanna listen, so I'll rely on the few hundred other bloggers in the audience…

Anyhow, the TVs are now live showing the World Cup…

Cool. Now Dave Dederer is singing…

Dave Dederer

Senator John Edwards is up.

Senator John Edwards

  • JE: Not here to give a speech, but to learn from you.
  • Questions/Statements
    • Read Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki.
    • Marc Canter: I'm a red diaper baby. “We see a bunch of limpy ball-less democrats that won't take it to the mat.”
    • Can you tell as a politician when you slip into mealy mouthiness.
      • JE: Politicians are conditioned to never be real. Yes you can feel it. The next president is likely to be the candidate that doesn't sound like a politician. It's not easy. Especially when reporters are asking you questions. It's hard in that environment to be normal. I'm training my self to actually answer questions and be normal. My wife will punch me when I'm being a politician.
    • How involved should the government be on monitoring traffic on the internet?
      • JE: Have to be very careful. Needs to be very limited.
    • Republicans use language very well to get what they want. “Death Tax”, “Patriot Act”.
      • JE: I have a concern about to much energy being spent on strategy rather than doing the right thing. It's difficult to govern without winning. Presidential elections are decided by integrity, character, trust. Not the issues.
    • Are we doing what it takes to win.
      • JE: There is a battle going on for the soul of the democratic party. Need big ideas that we're willing to stand behind with backbone.

One person asked about having citizen media follow the presidential candidates around during the campaign - unrestricted access. He agreed and said that the candidate that had the confidence and trustworthiness to believe in themselves and willing to let themselves be totally open has the ability to gain massive trust from the country. They would also force the other candidates to do the same or appear false.

Up after lunch, Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon - Net Neutrality.

Werner Vogels

  • The phone and cable companies will fundamentally alter the internet in America unless Congress acts to stop them.
    • Until last year Internet content delivery was regulated - the premise that there would be fair access.
    • Consumers have little or no choice of broadband access.
      • There are no market forces at work.
  • The telcos' plan:
    • Closed fast lane (their content) and open slow lane.
      • Paid police escort within the slow lane where paid equals for bid or auction.
      • Preferential local on-ramp into the slow lane.
    • This is an international issue.
  • Consumer safe guards - this is the net-neutrality amendment.
    • Content can only be prioritized by type and level of bandwidth purchased by the customer.
    • Terms for local content injection must be reasonable and non-discriminatory.

My Photos Are Worth Something?

Earlier this year, shortly after I picked up the D200, I headed down to the local bar to take some pictures of the band that was playing there. I wanted to get some more experience shooting pictures in extremely low light conditions and was very pleased with the results.

Breadline at the Central

Anyhow, the band contacted me today to ask if they could use the pictures in promotional and media materials!

Sweet!

You can see the photo set over on Flickr.

Casuality Day Two - The Asian Business Model

Today started out with a session by the IGDA Causal Games SIG. They've put out an hundred page white paper detailing how the industry works. This is now on my reading list :-)

There was also a presentation called “Don't Roll Over”. This was basically a rant about the fact that portals don't share advertising revenue with developers. This is changing (Microsoft and Real Networks have said that they're moving towards this), but it's currently a lot of revenue being left on the table by the developers.

Next up was an interesting session about the business model for casual games in Korea. This model grew out of the fact that piracy is rampant in Asia - boxed retail products make no sense.

Nexon has been in the industry for a while - they have titles such as KartRider that 25% of the population play! That's right - 25% of the entire population of Korea play KartRider.

Their model is free gameplay and the purchasing of items. These items may be decorative (personalization) or functional (speed boost, inventory bag, etc…) You have to be really careful about functional items as you don't want to skew competitiveness. Any item that changes game balance causes a barrier to entry for new players - they would have to buy the item to be competitive.

Strike Force is another of their games. This is basically a port of an FPS into the casual space, but it pulls in $5M per month in item purchases.

This model is in stark contrast to the US model which primarily revolves around try before buy. Revenue is purely purchase of game, advertising and subscription. The conversion rate of demo to purchase is currently at 2% in the US.

Casuality Day One

Yesterday started off with some interesting numbers about the casual games space. Online revenue for 2005 was $715M and is projected to be $1.56B in 2008. There were 60+ million visitors to online casual game sites in May 2006 of which slightly more than 50% were female.

That last statistic is very interesting and resonated throughout the day - casual games appear to have reached out to female audience - in large part due to the social aspects of casual games.

Another interesting number is that the average online casual game player sees 10{c|} of advertising supported content per month, whereas the average TV viewer sees $50. These will converge.

Big Gordon - Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Electronic Arts

Bing is a great speaker - his presentation was very “non-bullet point” and was full of amusing dead-pan humour.

Bing Gordon - EA

He started out by claiming that casual games are the next big category and challenged the moniker “casual”. More time was spent online last year playing casual games than World of Warcraft. The big pull, like with WoW is community and aspects that keep people coming back for more. Things like badges; collectables; IM; life time scores; bragging rights.

Bing is obviously a huge fan of EA's property Pogo, which last year surpassed one million subscribers. He talked a lot about the design process for new games for the site and the customers it attracts.

An interesting point he made is that though the site looks very busy, and could be described as ugly, “one click beats beauty every time”. Incidentally, Carson Systems posted a great article last week regarding this issue as applied to MySpace.

The most difficult part of the MySpace problem is that, despite what designers might think about it, and how they might have made it look, MySpace is actually a well-designed website. Who could argue with this? MySpace has grown faster than any site in the history of the Web, and in two short years garners nearly as much traffic as Yahoo! If that growth and popularity isn't a metric of good design, then what is?

Bing went on to describe some mechanics of casual games that have served PoGo well:

  • Cooperative play is key.
  • The good samaritan role - play a card to share winnings with the player in last place; help another player win a badge.
  • Non-threatening.
  • Fulfill fantasies.
  • Metagames - trading; campaigns; guilds
  • Expert features.

Other observations:

  • Core games1 typically contain casual games (mini games, puzzles, etc…)
  • People who design games for women are typically fathers with daughters or brothers with sisters.

Coming back to the MySpace subject, Bing went through the typical phases that game players go through and noted that the “MySpace generation” is not being served right now by the casual games industry. This is a massive opportunity for someone.

Although services such as Pogo provides personalization via avatars and such, the specific elements that the social site users are looking for (extreme self-expression, massive community features, friends, etc…) are not being directly addressed. Big opportunity here.

Another issue he brought up is pricing. He detailed the “good, better, best” model where you need three levels of pricing (where the lowest level may well be free). At the moment, “best” may be around 10{c|} per hour of gameplay. This needs to move to around 50{c|} which coincidentally is the same per hour cost of a paperback book.

During his talk Bing related a lot of great anecdotes. My favourite was the time when a young kid crashed a group of older women gamers with a lot of trash-talk. Apparently they gave him the kind of talking to like “only mothers who are dealing with a naughty child that is not their own” can do. He went away with his tail between his legs.

Another point was that casual games may be short in duration, but that it's easy to pull an all-nighter five minutes at a time…

1 This was a new term for me. A core game is what we would consider a traditional, $50 retail title.  

A Word Of Advice To Conference Organisers

So far, Casuality is providing some great nuggets of content that I'll be writing about in due time, but I had to get this one off of my chest. Sorry for the rant…

What's wrong with this picture?

That's right. The last bullet point.

This was the first slide that conference attendees at Casuality saw this morning and it effectively says:

  • “There's a cool party going on this evening.”
  • “You're not invited.”
  • “No one attending the party paid to attend the conference.”
  • “You're paying for the party.”

Of course, every conference has these parties/receptions and they're obviously a required “thank you” to the presenters, but why rub the paying attendees' noses in it?

In addition the schedule in the printed programme is chock full of sessions that are marked as invite only. Why put them in the program and again annoy the attendees with the information that they're not part of the “in crowd”?

Presumably the people invited to these events actually have an invitation and don't need the handy reminder in the printed schedule.

And why was there no lunch provided? With only a one hour break for lunch, there's not a lot of opportunity to leave the venue and find something, plus the incurred cost of the reduction in schmooze time…

Gnomedex, with a similar size and similar price point seems to find a way to provide way more out-of-session value. Not to mention the incredible food…

Casuality: The Casual Game Developers' Conference - Day One Prequel

Today is the first day of Casuality, the Casual Game Developers' Conference being held today through Thursday in Seattle at the Benaroya Hall - home of the Seattle Symphony.

Benaroya Hall

Seattle is a hotbed of casual game development, with publishers and developers such as Microsoft, Real Networks, PopCap, etc… calling the area home.

With revenues from casual games in the millions and development costs an order of magnitude smaller than “traditional” computer games, it's no wonder that interest in the genre is hotting up.

Anyhow, why am I here?

Well, I'm a game developer (even though I'm working on something in a different space right now) and the conference is local. It was about time I learnt a bit more about the casual games space.

So today started just like normal when I'm attending an event in Seattle. I left way too early - 7am - as I never trust the traffic on the way into town, and arrived very shortly thereafter at 7.30am - a full two hours before the start of the conference.

Sigh.

I bet if I'd left at a sensibly late time I would've been stuck in traffic for hours…

So to kill some time I thought I'd find somewhere for breakfast - something I rarely do.

Breakfast

Just down the street I found a place Harried and Hungry, a bit hipper than my normal haunts, but cheap and they served up a great egg and sausage bagel. Shame about the side of avocado - it went untouched, poor thing. That was the “hip” bit. Recommended.

Back to the venue and it is now 8.30am - I register (first in line); pick up the requisite freebie bag and associated crap and boot up the laptop.

Only another hour to kill…

What do you “DO”?

In a recent post by Hugh MacLeod, he links to an older post that I remember reading, but only now has it really sunk in.

Hugh talks about the The Kinetic Quality of advertising. I believe that what he's talking about translates directly over to the startup world.

The often asked question about a new startup is “Why?”. Why would I buy that? Why are you building it? What problem is it solving?

For us, SwitchGear is solving a personal pain. We need to work harder at communicating why we believe everyone else also shares that pain.

They just don't know it yet.

Our product needs to make our customers smarter.

Startups need to flip Hugh's explanation of the kinetic quality of marketing to customers around to the “why” of their product.

How is your product going to solve a pain point, and how are you going to get customers to come to you to be educated? Will they be smarter and more informed now that they've chosen your product?

Will they feel good about it?

Conference Season

There's never one, and then they all come along one after the others.

No, not busses. Conferences.

Next week, I'll be at Casuality Tuesday through Thursday and then Gnomedex Thursday through Saturday. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to Gnomedex this year - last year it was superb.

This past week was Supernova and BloggerCon - neither of which I attended in person, but spent most of yesterday listening to Bloggercon via a live stream and lurking in the irc channel.

It almost felt like I was there.

Anyhow, if you're going to be at either of next week's events and want to hook up, drop me a line.

More Networking Meetups

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting up with a bunch of local entrepreneurs at nPost's monthly event. Thanks to Nathan for organizing it and Redfin for sponsoring it. Man, they seem to sponsor everything around here!

As well as meeting a bunch of cool people I also got to geek out with James Bullock about some programming language issues, including my particular vent on the lack of state as a first class primitive in languages. We chatted about a particular implementation of mine in a language I wrote while at Microsoft (that'll sadly never see the light of day) that supported thousands of threads and a state based model. I.e. perfect for world simulation (read: game).

Anyhow, this evening there's a meetup for Seattle startups at the public library put together by Chuck at Bill Monk.

Looking forward to it.

Swearing

A couple of interesting posts are making the rounds today by Brad Feld and Mark Cuban regarding the use of swearing.

Being a Brit and coming from a culture where the use of interesting colloquial vernacular is much more widespread and accepted than it is here in the US, I highly appreciated their posts.

But, of course, being a father, it's bound to be my fault when the anything “interesting” comes out of the mouths of the babes.

To quote Mark Cuban:

I mean come on, does it really matter if we say Poo Poo or shit ? Of course not. Unless of course your married and your wife tells you it matters. She doesnt want to be the one who gets phone calls from teachers and other parents getting blamed for all the 3 year olds in the little gym class screaming “Kiss My Ass you Mo Fo”… Me, i couldn't think of anything i would rather see and hear. but thats me.

Hehe.

For some reason, Julian has stopped using the word “fart” and is now saying “toot”. I'm disappointed. Day care indoctrination I guess.

Coincidentally, I was watching Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed last night where he makes the point that the verbal release of anger and frustration by swearing stops us picking up a tire-iron and beating the living crap out of something. Good point.

Actually, this also reminds me of an occasion shortly after I joined Microsoft, when I was meeting with some game developers in Redmond.

These guys were from the UK and prior to the meeting kicking off there was a good amount of light-hearted banter going backwards and forwards, with the usual amount of UK style swearing sprinkled in for good measure. The US Microsofties in the meeting started getting more and more worried looks on their faces and eventually asked me to step out with them as they had something to discuss.

“This meeting is going horribly! Everyone is being so unpleasant to each other!”

Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. We were getting along great.

Dorkbot: Web 2.0 Event

The August Seattle Dorkbot (hey really need to update their website…) is going to be focussing on the programmable web.

From the call for submissions:

The dorkbot overlord committee met this week and after a bit of discussion decided for August (Aug 2nd) we should examine cutting edge art that exploits new Internet tools: think the programmable web, web 2.0, mashups, and open source APIs.

For this Dorkbot we are soliticiting submissions/nominations for presentations and demos (we'll have a demo table). Priority will be given to artists with their own original art, but we're also taking submissions for folks who want to give “best of the web” overviews.

Sounds like a good opportunity for all those Seattle Web 2.0 startups…

Wtf?

Never once in my eleven years at Microsoft was I involved with a team that flew it's entire team to some distant resort to do absolutely nothing1].

What happened to Shrimps and Weenies?

What about the folks that couldn't organize multi-overnight babysitters? How was their morale?

What about the other teams in the organization that don't lay on that kind of extravagance? How was their morale?

Craziness.

1 Btw, I'm not railing on Kim here, just the event he attended ;-) 

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The Gig

The gig on Thursday night went wonderfully. Well, apart from a few brain farts on my part when my fingers refused to play the right things on command.

Thanks to everyone for coming out - it's been too long my friends.

And thanks to the other “Steve Lacey” and his bride to be for popping along.

It was a bitter/sweet night - great music, great friends, but the end of an era. We've been playing for five years and written some great music - our gigs were 99% original music.

Anyhow, CJ and I have now validated that we can exchange and work in the digital space via Cubase, so the music will continue!

Photos from the night are up on Flickr, but I particularly like the ethereal hand action on this one…

The hand

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Good Luck Robert

I step off the grid for 24 hours and miss the biggest news in Ye Olde Blogosphere.

Congrats Robert and good luck. I know you'll be missed at Microsoft, and on behalf of my former employer. Thanks.

You've been almost single handedly responsible for the “opening up” of Microsoft. That took guts.

Every interaction I've had with you has been a good one, a joy in fact. I hope there will be many more to come.

Now, what email address do I send our beta invite to? ;-)

Green Viper

Karl Jacob, serial entrepreneur (I knew him when he was the CEO of VRML startup DimensionX which we bought during the DirectX timeframe) and current CEO of Microsoft spin-out Wallop, is reconfiguring is Dodge Viper to run on e85.

Environmentally friendly at 1000HP. Who'd a thunk it?

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Farewell Gig

This Thursday night will be the occasion of Spank's final gig.

Due to the imminent departure of our lead guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire, CJ, to pastures new north of the border (well, Toronto, to be precise) practice night in Bellevue will be a tad impractical.

So, come out on Thursday night, June 8th, to the Central Club in downtown Kirkland. Enjoy the festivities and pick up a limited edition CD.

Well, limited in the sense that we only made 500 of them!

We'll be playing from around 9pm until whenever playing mostly original stuff. It'll be fun.

Programming Language Fun

Greg Costik recently posted about some fun programming languages including one who's syntax is entirely expressed in whitespace

Being a bit of a language geek, my favourite, and the one I always point people toward is SPL, the Shakespeare Programming Language. A good overview is here.

For example, here's a program to add two numbers (taken from the overview):

pre..

Romeo, A character to store the sum.

Juliet, An admirer who helps to calculate the sum.

Act I: A simple play.

Scene I: Juliet's conversation with Romeo.

[Enter Romeo and Juliet]

Juliet: Listen to your heart!

Romeo: You are as beautiful as a sweet red rose.

Listen to your heart.

Juliet: You are as brave as the sum of me and thyself.

Open your heart!

[Exeunt]

Wonderful.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.