Monday, December 17, 2007

Positive Reinforcement

I'm a big fan of the PS2 games Katamari Damacy and I [heart] Katamari. It occurs to me, particularly in the sequel, the game is filled with characters egging you on and challenging you to do well. Other games, such the Pokemon RPG games, also have lot of characters that reinforce the notion that what you're doing is worthwhile. I think more games, particularly American games, could stand to have a bit more of that. When I'm spending hours at a time collecting arbitrarily large quantities of gems, or sparkles, or whatever, the more NPCs that come over and tell me how great I am for doing all this work, the better.


Monday, October 15, 2007

MMO, the Next Generation

World of Warcraft - Huge. Why? It's just Everquest, but better. Well, it is (was) the next generation of MMO. There was a gap between EQ and EQ2 and WoW jumped in there right when EQ aged and lost traction and EQ2 hadn't caught on (for a variety of reasons.)

There will be a time when WoW no longer holds up. Will WoW2 replace it, or will a new game by a new developer fill the gap? My guess is that Blizzard and every other developer who wants to release an MMO is working to identify that gap, and hit it with the best product they can. Blizzard's goal is to make that gap as short as possible, reducing competition's chance to wedge themselves in there. They've got a huge advantage...just like Sony and Everquest did.

I'm curious to see what supplants WoW. I'm glad I don't work for a company who's trying to shoot that gap (besides Blizzard, at least.)

Other sure fire hits: New Coke, Playstation 3, Everquest 2, and Godfather part III.

Most people are only going to pay $15 per month for one game. The best game. "Best", however, is defined by a lot of factors, many external to the game itself.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

How much would you pay for this game?

If you follow any of the popular news-feeds you know that Radiohead just released a new album and they're selling it for whatever their fans want to pay, including nothing. It seems most people are shelling about between $5 and $9 (based on a poll, I think) and that sounds about right. I'm not a Radiohead fan so if I get it, I'll be doing it the freeloader way. Why is that a good deal for Radiohead? Well, there's no way I'd pay for music I'm not sure I'd like, and if I do like it, who knows what I might pay for in the future?

I love the idea of download-able games. Games you can print and play on an inkjet printer. The logistics have stymied me for about a year now, but I keep my eyes open for technology that'll make printing on demand or printing at home an affordable and attractive alternative to traditional game manufacturing and distribution.

What if you could download PDFs of out of print card games (both traditional and collectible). How much would you pay? What if you owned the rights to some of these games? How much would it take to make them available in this manner?


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's a Bird, It's a Plane!


Most games have them. All successful games do. The Super-Fan. The 1%ers. The folks that are REALLY, REALLY into it.

Super-Fans build fan sites, some so elaborate they rival (or best) the publisher's site.
Super-Fans participate in on-line forum discussions, chats, and blogs. If the publisher doesn't host such things, the super-fans start their own.
Super-Fans buy EVERYTHING, and often more so their friends (or local deserving kids) can have your game too.
Super-Fans volunteer at conventions and run local events. (If you help them, sometimes even if you don't.)
If your Super-Fan owns a store, it's probably a top seller of your game. (With Clout, the stores where the managers/owners loved the game sold piles of chips. Unfortunately, there weren't near enough of those stores!)

At the Tangled Web, Clout tournaments were huge. The manager was a super-fan.

The key to getting the most out of Super-Fans is to understand why they are Super Fans (beyond you're game being awesome, I mean.) Like most people, they like being a part of something, and you're lucky enough that they chose you're game community to be a part of. What do they want in return?

Stuff? Sure, but not really.
Appreciation? Yes.
Recognition? Absolutely!
The inside scoop? Hells Yes.
Super-Fans want you to know who they are and they want to be a part of what you're doing.

Everything you can do to make being a super-fan an easier thing to be, will pay dividends. They'll have an awesome time, you'll sell a lot of games. In the game industry it means having communities tools in place. It means having customer service and/or organized play people that communicate two-way. Super-fans put forth extra effort. It's your job to recognize that. Shouting at them through boilerplate, press releases, and ads is NOT communicating. That sort of thing is for the customers, maybe the regular fans, NOT the Super-Fans.

Are Super-Fans worth it? Of course. Even if you're really into the games you're making, they're more into it. With TCG's, the average Super-Fan knows more about the games than the average employee at the company publishing the game (a fact many Super-Fans I've met don't like, but hey, it's their passion vs. our job!)

Also, Super-Fans are awesome to hang around with at conventions!


Monday, October 08, 2007

Boxes, Little Boxes

Before I spout about Super-Fans (the most important 1% of your customer base) I think I'll digress a bit.

Adam, how can you put all these people in broad categories? Well, of course, I can't. This isn't about individuals. Ideally, you should make decisions about your games that meet the needs of each individual customer, individually. If Allen from Wichita needs large type, and you could get it for him, you'd sell a game to Allen. Barney wants a cheap game and doesn't care about color or fancy graphics. Teresa not only wants high quality art, but she's an artist and wants a way to include her art in the game. Sadly, that's just not possible (yet.) You can't please everyone. Also, you can't choose who's going to like your game. That's their choice. What can you do? You can choose who YOU WANT to please, and you can make decisions based on that. If you don't choose, you're leaving it all up to luck. I don't recommend that. (Making a game for people who are just like you is a choice, and it can be a fine one, if you're cool enough. =-)

It's not just acquisition and retention. That's too simple. It's essential, but not adequate. That doesn't cover fans, and fans are the most important element to the success of a game. You can't just target fans, either, because they people don't start as fans. If you go up to a stranger on the street and say "join my fan club, you'll get special content nobody else can get." your success rate will be dismal. If you ask a customer who's just made their first purchase that same question, you'll find a slightly more receptive audience. If you ask somebody who buys everything you make, the response will overwhelmingly positive. Ask the right people the right questions. Give the right people the right benefits. That's all I'm saying.


Fanatics, gotta love 'em!


It's likely that fans are your most important customers. Unlike normal customers, who may like your products and may purchase again, fans DO like your products and WILL purchase again (assuming you have other products to purchase.) This is great news, but they still need care. Special care, at that.

Fans understand you and your products. They assume you understand them in return. This may or may not be the case, depending on whether or not you stumbled across something they like (luck) or sought them out (strategy.) If you lucked into a successful product that gathered an unexpected fan-base, you better listen extra close to what they say. The chance of that luck holding out is slim. If you've gathered your fan-base with successful strategy, chances are you're more in the ball-park, but you still better listen to what they say. Listen, and act where you can based on Fan input.

Fans, unlike normal customers, have an emotional investment (as well as financial) in your product and/or company. Your success reflects well upon their choices, so they want to see you succeed. They also want more of whatever it is you do, because they like it. It's all good.

If you don't succeed, some fans will turn on you (regular customers don't care enough to), which is part of the emotional aspect of fandom. Working for Wizards, we canceled a lot of products, and it was always rough. When Clout ended, I was totally surprised at the positive reaction from our fans. They were upset, of course, but unlike Wizards fans, Clout fans knew we didn't have choice about whether to keep kicking the Clout horse or letting it go. It's not mindless emotion, gamers are smart people. Treat people right and it you'll be surprised how it comes back to you (often in unexpected ways!)

As I've written before (Viral, Hardcore, or Vanish), if you've sold any games at all, you've always got fans. When you're struggling, all of your customers are fans. They're often the first to arrive (early adopters) and the last to leave. If you have enough fans, you're bound to succeed, even if your game is never a huge hit.

Because fans are so important, and such a powerful part of your customer-base, I think it's essential to communicate to normal customers how they can become fans. Reward them for fan-like behavior. Make being a fan significantly cooler than being just a customer. I don't know how, exactly, it's YOUR game. =-)

Next: Super-Fans


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The People Who are Always Right


So you've made a sale. Whew! The hard work is over.

You wish.

Customers are great. They make up a huge segment of the buying population, but we make games. We don't need just customers, because odds are you'll never reach enough people to survive selling just one booster pack, starter set, or game (unless the game's really expensive...still, you're not making those expansions for your health!)

Just like Tourists, you have to treat you Customers right. In fact, the very fact they've put down some hard earned cash means their attention is focuses squarely on you, what you are selling, and how you support it. Unlike Tourists, customers really care about what they're getting. They've put their toe in the pool and now it's up to you to make sure it's the right temperature.

Is it?

If it is, some of your customers will become what you really want. What you really need. They will become FANS.

Next: Fans.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Giveitaway Giveitaway Giveitaway NOW!


Does your game company give things away for free? I bet it does.

Who are the people who download your demo, and play it over and over again?
Who are the people who play your website's free web games?
Who are the people that scour the convention floor for freebees?
And they haven't bought ANYTHING!

They are Tourists, and one of the best ways to get their attention is with free stuff. What you do with that attention, is up to you.

Some Tourists will never buy anything, no matter what you do. That's okay. Treat them right, but don't let them get in the way of potentials. The people who are interested in what you're selling. With them, you have their attention, you have something they're interested in. Now what?

That, of course, depends. We're selling trading cards. I think the biggest hurdle with a trading card product is making that first sale. That's a major threshold moment in your relationship with that person. That first sale elevates the person from Tourist to Customer. Everything Changes.
All your customers start out as tourists. The attention you get depends on how interesting you are to look at. What you can do with their attention determines how many become customers.

Next: Customers


Friday, September 07, 2007

Again with the Seth Godin...

What can I say. His world-view helped shape mine. Check out this interview

This quote sums it all up...
The thing is, the stuff that's for everybody is already sold to everybody. So you can't win by being more average than average, because that slot's taken.


Caring about Disney

As both of my regular readers can attest (hi guys!) I've been MIA for a couple of weeks. I didn't really mean to be, I just never had anything good to write when I was at the keyboard. Awesome ideas in the car, but but the keyboard...they were gone! Anyway, I was on vacation again at Disneyland.

Good heavens, I love it there.

If you have a young 'un like me, I really hope you can take them to Disneyland while they're small (my guy is 6, the age I went when I first visited the park.) Not only is it totally fun for everyone, but I get to look back on my experience as a child and realize I'm helping create these same awesome memories for Alex. It really is magical. He loves roller-coasters now. =-)

I've said this before. Disney sells awesome memories. They sell them at a premium price, but I don't mind. I'll keep going back again and again, because I think it's worth it. I have some friends I think would see things like the $2.75 price tag on each bottle of water, $8 for each sandwich and let it ruin the otherwise magical memories. When I'm on vacation, I just switch into 'vacation money' mode, and stop caring what things cost. At least for essentials like food and water! I still use discretion regarding what stuff Alex is allowed to buy. He doesn't ask for much that's unreasonable, thankfully. My opinion: It's expensive, accept it and go have an awesome time. The place is magical.

How do they do it? Well, most of all, I think the cast really cares about what they're doing. I know a lot of Disney employees (my wife's best friend works at the park now) and the best ones, the ones that stick around, really do care about making the guests experience a great one.

I also care about the customer's I work with for Bella Sara. Sometimes I care because the person seems really nice (via e-mail) and sometimes I care for selfish reasons because I want my product/company/job to succeed. I'm not sure one's actually better than the other, provided the motivation is genuine and positive. I think the same is true at Disneyland.

Why people care isn't as important as THAT they care. If you don't care about what you're doing, chances are, you're not doing it very well (certainly not as well as you could be.)


Monday, August 20, 2007

Winner Take All

With GenCon now in the rear view mirror, I had the good fortune to run into some old friends from Wizards in the lobby of my hotel. Not so surprisingly, talk quickly turned to games, gaming, and the games industry. This is the conclusion I came to following our discussion.

The games industry is a Winner Take All industry. Unless a company or product breaks the mold in a major way, it's also a zero-sum industry. Taken with my theory of Viral, Hardcore, Vanish, this means in order to go viral, and reap the rewards that come with viral success, you have to generate a new sort of game/category (and new audience), or you have to knock another game out of it's place at the top of the pile.

There is no room for another Fantasy TCG, unless Magic goes away.
There's no room for another Kids Anime TCG, unless Pokemon goes away.
There might be room for a non-kids Anime TCG.
There's no room for another plastic miniatures game, unless Clix goes away (which it might.)

And so on.

See how kids anime and adult anime fall into two different categories. That's important. The smaller the slice of category pie, the more chance to you have to gain traction and become the Winner-Take-All success of that more specialized category. Unfortunately, the category has to be small enough that you can dominate it, but also large enough that domination results in your game's success. It's a particularly tricky piece of the puzzle of success. If you create a new, smaller category, but aren't brining new people into the zero-sum equation, your success will still be limited to the number of people you can convert from other products.

While working at the Bella Sara booth, it was so clear. We were the only stop for girls at the whole show. The only question was whether there would be enough girls (or people who had girls in their lives) to make the show worth it. It was. Every other booth in the hall had competitors, except us. Blue ocean, smooth sailing.

Viral, Hardcore, Vanish
Winner Take All (for Viral success)


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Doctor is Out

I guess Dr. Phil is going to tackle violent video games. I don't normally have a problem with Dr. Phil, even when I disagree with him. He's already started with this article.

This is the quote that bothered me:
"If you shoot somebody in one of these games, you don't go to jail, you don't get penalized in some way — you get extra points!"
Extra points? What is this, 1985? Very, very few video games use points any longer. It's an antiquated term, based on an antiquated vision of what a video game is. What this says to me is Dr. Phil is speaking about these games from a position of ignorance. He doesn't play them, he doesn't know what modern games are about, but deems himself qualified to speak about them.

His advice to parents is sound, though totally obvious. Be aware of what your kids are playing, limit their time, pay some friggin' attention. Dr. Phil just needs to heed his own advice.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Hasbro on Fun and Profit

Boardgame news reports the Hasbro/EA agreement, then calls the Hasbro COO out for talking like a corporate stooge.

I totally biased on this point, but IMHO the executives at Hasbro don't see their products as games or toys. To them, they are brands. They are brands with profit potential. Some more than others.

Q: Can a company who sees it's own products in a such a sterile, uncaring light, really make things that are great?
A: Not unless they get lucky. Happily for them, adequate is still profitable on a large scale.

I'm a capitalist. I'm all over the idea of creating something great and selling it for money. I'm also an idealist. I believe profit is a side effect of doing great things. If the people at the top don't care, that feeling filters throughout an organization. I know. I've seen it first hand at Wizards of the Coast.

For the record, we've got plenty of caring where I work now, and it's awesome.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

It's a Small Virtual World After All

So I type "bella sara" into the Technorati search engine, as is my habit to do every now and then. I like to see what the world thinks of our little product.

As it turns out, the new temp who's joining us on Monday has blogged about his new gig. He doesn't sound too excited. Oh well. Another job fell through, now he's stuck with us.

It's a weird thing to run across, the blog of a person you're going to meet and work with in a couple of days. After reading a few back entries, I know more about him than any other employee I've ever hired, much less worked with as a temp. I suppose I could try and freak him out by referencing something from his blog. =-) Probably wouldn't work. Probably more grief than it's worth.

Ah well, it'll be fun to see how the internet person compares to the real-life person. It's still freaky feeling.


Monday, July 30, 2007

"Your Website" Prime

I just read a USA Today article on Amazon Prime where frequent buyers can pay $79 per year for unlimited free 2-day shipping. While the article is fine, it almost completely glosses over why the program works.

By signing up, customers have invested in

Not in the stocks & bonds sort of way, but in a more personal way. What customer would shop ANYWHERE ELSE after putting that money down? All Amazon has to do is provide their usual service (customers who pay $79 ahead of time know what to expect from Amazon) and come next year, those customers will do it again.

I don't purchase enough from Amazon to make it worth my while, but I certainly can see how many people do. Like the article says, one healthy holiday shopping list would cover it.

The question is how to replicate that for other sorts of websites. What can you do to get the visitors to your website to 'invest' in it? I don't mean just money, though it's certainly a good example, but anything. Forums are a good (if a bit typical) way to get that sort of investment. What other ways can you get people to buy-in to your site in a way that makes other sites seem like a waste of time?

Not sure...


Friday, July 27, 2007

Who's Johnny? (She said)

Johnny 5 robot for sale on e-bay.

I've just got to swing by a cash machine...


A big cash prize...ooh...aah...

White Wolf is offering a 'big' $25000 prize for the winner of their EVE CCG at GenCon this year.

That's a nice prize. I'm sure it'll lure some folks in. Still, how unremarkable is that? prize... It's all been done before, and better (I suspect), by Wizards and Upper Deck.

Just spit ballin' here.

If it really is all about the cash, what about giving:

the top 25 finishers a $1000 prize?
the top 50 finishers $500? How many players would that lure in?

The thing about giving a big pile of cash to one player is you'll lure in a semi-large group of really, really competitive players. The winner will be either a previous fan of the game (good, but not great from a marketing perspective) or players who are really good at learning games (but probably don't really care about yours.)

Think about how you could spend $25000 to make the convention game experience top notch for all the players. Moderate prizes, comfortable play area, free food and drink for paid tournament attendees, massages between rounds for the tournament leaders. What would be the coolest thing you could do/provide to the players at your event? What would make everyone walking by the event jealous that they didn't get in on it?

Last year Spoils had I-Pod tournaments. Awesome. THAT's what I'm talking about. Creating prizes that stand out.

Be Remarkable or Be Boring. IMHO, cash is boring.

OP programs seem enamored with the 'pro' player. Of course, any store owner will tell you the pro players are crappy customers. A broad generalization of the pro-player is a male, high-intensity, win oriented, gamer, who buys like he plays. That is, very efficiently. They don't buy from the local store, and they don't pay full price. When they do show up for a local tournament, it's to collect prizes.

Unless your game is designed to cater to that sort of player, and Eve might be, I don't know. I suggest catering to a more casual gamer. It's what most retailers already do, because that's what most of their customers are (even if they want to be pros). They're an under-represented portion of the CCG market. Casual gamers also tend to have lives, jobs, and a tad more money.

Of course, big prizes are sexy. We do like sexy in this business, I guess.


A Model Post

I wouldn't be caught dead wearing one in public...but on the internet, why not? I hope I never run for office, this is bound to come up!

In case you're more insane than me, the 'hat' is Available here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dis-Organized Play

What do retailers want from organized play? Well, the easy answer is sales, but like most things, Organized Play isn't easy.

As a publisher, the most efficient way to create an organized play system is to put a bunch of stuff in a box, and get that box to the retailer. In general, that's what most publisher-based OP programs are, stuff in boxes. SIB.

What's good about SIB
A consistent OP system provides continuity for players. They know what to expect when they show up for an event, and thus the expectations are easy to meet. (Unrealistic expectations on the part of your customers are a killer!)

They provide an easy solution to the problem of holding events in the store. Everything's provided, including instructions. If there's a problem, the better publishers provide some sort of customer service support.

It's economical. Most SIB's are either free or cost so little that the bump in sales from the event covers the cost. A good deal for everyone.

What's bad about SIB
In markets where there is a high density of game stores, competition can be fierce. SIB events homogenize the store's events. If there's five stores running the exact same events (or worse, the same events on the same nights...say, Friday!) there's little reason to go to any particular store. As such, if there were 30 players in the area, but each simply goes to their closest store, each event only attracts an average of 6 players. Not the critical mass events require to be considered successful.

What's this mean? It means if you're developing an OP program, realize that you've got a different problem to solve depending on the store you're dealing with. Stores with competition are looking for ways to stand out from the others. Stores that are the only game in town are looking for ways to fit in.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

CSI - Customer Service International

Bella Sara has launched in Italy. That's really cool, but it's stressing both me and the website out. We've got a web upgrade scheduled for next week which will really take care of the speed issues, and a bunch of other things that have been chronic for months. Must...hang...on...a...bit...longer....

What's interesting is how we've got a brand new group of customers, BAM!, joining all at once. We've got a new partner who's just dived into the deep end of the Bella Sara customer service pool. Its sink or swim time. It's my job to be the life preserver.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Mmmmm...That's is something I've been peripherally aware of for years. I set up my page of links ages ago, but never used the service. Well, I'm still not sold on it's use for me, but I'm giving it another go. I read a fair number of blogs (about a 1/2 to 1 hour's worth per day) and my excuse for taking that sort of time is education. I'm alway looking for the next cool thing. Of course, when I find it, what do I do with it? is a way to share what I've found with the world, and save stuff I like for myself. Rather than 'save as new' in Bloglines, choking my blog list with stuff I've already read, I'll add it to my link list and maybe, just maybe, other folks will get something out of it.

Or not.

I've added my link to the top of my links list, there on the right. Not much there yet, but it'll grow.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Magic is Gone

Not really. In fact, I've still got boxes of the stuff. =-)

I'm done selling on E-Bay for a while. Partly because I've made roughly twice as much as I expected from my old Beta cards, but mostly because it's totally StReSsInG Me OuT!

Magic buyers are a lot more serious than RPG book buyers. They pay a lot for the cards and they're very particular about every little thing. I get that, but it's really hard to deal with. I got my first non-positive feedback (neutral, which isn't so bad...) and it bothers the crap out of me.
I offered the guy his money back, but that wasn't good enough. Oh well...

In case you want to know what Magic cards are going for in the new millenium...Click Here (The auctions are over. I wouldn't use this blog to sell stuff.

All I have left to do is ship...and fret that it all arrives okay.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Feels Borderline Illegal

I try not to get political here, but the FBI site for kids K-5th grade just seems wrong to me.

My favorite parts...

Today, there are over 350 violations of the law that the FBI investigates. We can't list them all here because there are so many...


Have you ever had your fingerprints taken? It's a great idea to do this...

Quotes taken out of context for humorous purposes. =-)


The Old Man's Got it Going On

Who in gaming doesn't respect Richard Garfield? I know I do. In the early days of Magic I think I could call him friend, though I suspect acquaintance is probably more accurate.

What strike me as interesting about Richard is, in addition to being a game design genius, is how he thinks about the way people play. (or is it the way he thinks about how people play?)

This interview really knocks it home how it thinks not only of the game, but of the gamers. In my experience, it's a rare combination.

"I also was scared of becoming a creator that wouldn't let anyone else contribute creatively. Instead, I tried [giving] the big picture for where I wanted to go and allow people to get there, creatively, on their own. I tried to offer advice and opinion rather than command, so that Magic grew with the best of many rather than the best of few."
This sort of thinking is actually both revolutionary and very rare. Many of the designers I know are vastly talented (more so than I) but often tend to be either independant maverics or a small cabal of independant maverics. The idea of allowing others to contribute to their games ranges from distasteful to horrifiying. Allowing the public to contribute, unthinkable.

Creating games that allow people to participate in front-line creative roles remains my dream. I'm not sure Richard was going there, but I think he'd appreciate the goal.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Fan Dance

What makes a fan club cool? What makes is special? Those are the million dollar (I hope) questions. What would I be willing to do/pay to be a part of a fan club? More to the point, what would YOU do?

A fan club's duty to the fan. It should:

Identify you as a fan. You care more than the average person. Celebrate that.
Provide content that only you, the real fan, wants, needs, and can get.
Allows you to identify yourself as a fan in some public manner. Wave the geek-flag, as it were.
Allows you to participate in the success of the thing you love.

Embrace and build your fan community. If people care, provide them an outlet for that emotion. Listen. Care back. Be your fan's greatest fan. Act on their behalf as you'd have them act on your's.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Ace of Clubs

This week's task is a simple one. Write the skeleton of a new Fan Club, the success of which the company's entire future might depend. No biggie!


Actually, I've already done it once (with a lot of help from Lone Shark Games). The Bella Sara Dreams Club will premier and Gen Con Indy, and while I'm very proud of it, it's not 100% as good as it could be. For 2008, I want a fan club that'll knock the socks of any fan club that's gone before. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I read a combat robot message board regularly for my other hobby. It's a lot of fun and for my part it is pretty simple (comparable to any R/C hobby+model building, only my models are made from titanium.) A lot of the other participants are engineers, however, and this is how they talk...

F = A*P, so A = 1.063*pi = 3.34 sq in, P = 250 psi, so F = 834 lbs. With that and a 1" stroke you can fiddle with the geometry quite a bit and still have some impressive hitting power.

The volume of gas per shot is PI*r^2*h, or .884 cu in, times P/1 ATM. P = 250 and 1 ATM = 15 so you use 250/15*.883 or 14.71 cu in of CO2 (at STP) per shot.

So, how much gas is in a 16g cartridge? 16g of CO2 becomes .302 cu ft at STP, or .302*1728 = 521.8 cu in. 528/14.71 yields ~35 shots.

Of course, it isn't that simple...
I know the guy who wrote this. He's both a great guy and WAY smarter than me. =-)


It's a Bird, It's a Plane...'s SUPERFAN!

What is a super-fan? In the gaming community, it's a fan who enjoys the game in a way that transcends the casual. If you are a publisher, the more super-fans you have, the more likely your game will succeed. They aren't enough (you need casual fans, too) but cultivating them is essential. How does a fan become a super fan? They simply have to want to be. That's it.

Publishers don't define super-fans, they define themselves. While publishers can't define them, it is fairly easy to identify them through customer programs like organized play, volunteer programs, and fan clubs. Once you've identified super-fans, then it's time to take care of them.

  • Recognition - This is the big one. Let your fans know, in as personal a way as possible, that you know them and appreciate the investment they've made in you and your game. It is both the easiest and most important thing you can do. Note that bribery in the form of free stuff is expected more than appreciated. Send the freebees, people do love it, but don't count it as recognition.
  • Promos! - Super-fan only play, promotional items, web-content. This is tricky. The harder you make access to special content, the more special it will be. On the other hand, if you make it too exclusive, you won't get enough ROI to be worth the time it takes to create. Start small and build. It's always easier to add special content than to take it away.
  • Geek ON! -Opportunities to show off. Anything that'll let a super-fan get his or her geek on is a good thing. It strengthens the relationship between you, them, and the rest of the world. Web 2.0 is the ultimate Geek ON! tool. Don't fight it. Grow it, love it and it will grow and love you back!

-Adam!!! (Battlebots super-fan)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lying Liers and the Lies they Lie About

Sony has just announced dropping the price of the PS3. Good for them, but...

"Our initial expectation is that sales should double at a minimum," Jack Tretton, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said in an interview.


"We've gotten our production issues behind us on the PlayStation 3, reaching a position to pass on the savings to consumers, and our attitude is the sooner the better."


The price drop Monday was widely anticipated by industry analysts despite Sony President Ryoji Chubachi telling Reuters last week that the company had no immediate plans for one.

Last week's Lie.

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter said Sony's price reduction would not double sales but may boost them by 50 percent to about 120,000 units a month.

AHA!...oh that's not Sony. No wonder it sounds plausible.

What the hell, Sony? I guess Sony thinks a lot of stupid people have an extra $500 laying around. There's nothing wrong with lowering your price. There's also nothing wrong with being honest. How about they state the obvious? They misjudged what the public will pay for a game system, and are now fixing the problem.

Why is that so hard?


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Topper Deck?

,This is old news, and I recently read the deal is on the rocks. Nevertheless, I'm surprised more hasn't been made of this.

Upper Deck is seeking to buy Topps

What the mainstream media doesn't mention, because they have no clue, is that Upper Deck controls Upper Deck Entertainment and Topps controls WizKids.

If the deal goes through, Upper Deck will start to seriously rival Wizards of the Coast in the Hobby Game Industry. I don't think this is good or bad, just really interesting.


Goo-Goo Clustr Map

Hey. It looks like somebody from Israel viewed my Blog! I'd bet it's Yehuda. If it is, I love your blog! I doubt I'd know ANYTHING about life in Israel if not for you. Everything else I know about jewish life I've learned from John Stewart, which is, it is safe to say, a pretty sad amount.

(If it's not Yehuda, my apologies to whomever.)


E-What the Hey?-Bay

As you might imagine, I've got a lot of games and cards in my closet. When I need a few extra bucks, I haul out the stuff, take photos, and put it up on e-bay. I have a 100% positive feedback rating, and nobody has ever complained about my items or auctions...until just now.

This is the message I got:

You're totally wasting your time. You're showing HORRIBLE pictures and giving completely useless descriptions of the condition of the cards. I'm referring to all these auctions you just put up and are wasting out time with.

Send me a list of the REAL conditions of each card you have for auction based on REAL grading techniques.

Or don't and watch all of these end at a fractin of their real value.
Wow! I'm a bit shaken up by it, honestly. I pride myself on being as fair and honest as I can be, and this person really attacked me. My crime? Not knowing how to grade used magic cards. I am totally guilty, BTW. I thought it was pretty simple - Poor, Fair, Good, Near Mint, Mint. Most of my cards are Fair-to-Good, though one was in pretty darned good shape, so I said Good/Near-Mint (with a clarification that it wasn't quite near mint.) There must be a Very Good or something that I'm missing. After a slightly calmer give-and-take, I've asked for a URL with the grading system I should be using. I'll update all the auctions once I know how to do it properly (at least in the eyes of this potential buyer.)

[sales pitch]
Well, since nobody is going to bid on my cards, I suggest you check them out. You'll save a bundle, apparently.
[/sales pitch]

UPDATE: Myself and the angry e-bay-er have exchanged a couple more e-mails, and I've since revised my auctions using this rating system. While I'm still not sure how I should take the original e-mail, my auction descriptions ARE better now. Show me the money!

UPDATE 2: Now we've exchanged a few more e-mails, and everything's cool. I even feel bad calling him (or her?) the angry e-bay-er, although it's still kind of funny. Luckily, nobody reads my blog!


Friday, July 06, 2007

Transform This!

Saw Transformers. Utterly ridiculous. Utterly Awesome!

Transformers is a popcorn movie in all the best ways. The plot...well...whatever. The characters were fun, cartoonish, often outrageous (the humans, I mean). The robots were robots. Big, violent, very good, and very evil. If you think you'll like the movie, you will. If you're looking for a complex plot with a lot of character development, you'll be better off renting Independence Day.


Pros and Conventions

,The last major convention we attended supporting Clout was GenCon SoCal last November. The World of Warcraft CCG was being launched, and unsurprisingly they took most of the collectible gaming crowd away from the rest of us. Obviously those folks wanted to play the new 'hot' game. It was easy for the rest of us publishers, who were working just as hard as Upper Deck, to get a bit jealous. I know I was.

Since then I've had a lot of time to consider what makes company sponsored tournament and demo events successful for collectible games at conventions. The format is basically set in stone. Have as nice a booth as you can afford, running demos as quickly as you can for as many people as you can. Run full games in the provided gaming area as frequently as you can, keeping them as full as you can.

The formula is so standardized, the conventions themselves resist breaking out of the format (NO DEMOS IN THE TOURNAMENT AREA!)

If you are a small game publisher, I want to start by writing off the convention gaming areas. They are often crowded, often hot, designed to hold the maximum number of people at a minimum cost. The big players usually have fancy structures, props, and huge banners. The smaller companies have table and floor mounted signs, and sometimes...sometimes...their own tablecloths. If your a small company, you might as well advertise..."Our game is just like theirs, only with fewer players and less cool."

Smaller games need smaller venues. Better venues. Conventions are amazing at bringing gamers together. For standard games (cards, board, and rpgs) they utterly fail at providing a upper-tier game play environment. The average living room is far more comfortable. As a game-publisher, finding or creating an environment that is even better than a player can manage at home should be a priority. If anyone manages to combine a quality game with a quality setting, the results will be staggering.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Defy Gravity?

I work in the Seattle PI building, here in Seattle. The PI (short for Seattle Post Intelligencer) is one of city's two maj0r newpapers. It's also the one that's likely to disappear first, so I've read. Other than it's failing as a medium, I don't know anything about the paper business. I don't really know much about the PI. What I do know comes from what I see when the secure elevator door opens on floors 2 and 3. On the second floor, clearly visible from the elevator, is a list of goals the paper seeks to aspire to. The last one says...Defy Gravity.

Now, underneath Defy Gravity there are some words explaining what it means. I don't know what they say. Above Defy Gravity are a number of other goals. I can't remember what they are.

That means, most of what I know about the PI can be summed up as this: They're trying to do the impossible, and they're failing.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tribal Gamers

Do you play or publish a game or group of games (like boardgames) with a dedicated community following? Hasbro can get away with publishing games supported by casual players, nobody smaller can.

The average customer won't do you any favors. She won't buy your game based on your brand, your history, your reputation, nor the promises of your advertising.

A member of your game's community WILL. If you live up to all those positive things you think and promise about yourself, she'll do it again and again. She may tell her friends. She'll feel great about doing it.

How big is your game's community? It's not big enough. A strong community means regular customers for a publisher. It means a more rewarding gaming experience for the players.


Monday, July 02, 2007

More than meets the eye? Hells Yes!

Just to be clear, I'm totally going to see Transformers. That doesn't change the fact that the Slate review is HILARIOUS!

You know the way a grade-schooler, attempting to recap the plot of a recently seen movie, will backtrack, repeat himself, get lost in trivia, then skip forward to the final fight scene, all the while sputtering adorably about how cool the monster was? The story line of Transformers proceeds something like that. stay on topic...well...WotC's making a Transformers Game. Knowing nothing about it at all, except this, I suggest not buying it.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pokemon Battle Revolution

I have been taken. I admit it.

The back of the box says:
"Although this Wii game can be played by itself, linking with Pokemon Diamond or Pokemon Pearl using your DS may broaden your experience."

What that means is:
"Although this Wii game can technically be played by itself, linking with Pokemon Diamond or Pokemon Pearl represents 90% of the game's functionality. DO NOT BUY THIS GAME IF YOU DO NOT OWN A NINTENDO DS AND POKEMON DIAMOND OR PEARL."

Now I have a game that my 6-year old loves, until he realizes that in the 30 minutes he's played it he's explored pretty much all the game has to offer.

If you don't have the DS games (like me) you get to play with your choice of two "Rental Passes" each with a whopping six Pokemon to choose from. Custom Passes, where you get to choose the Pokemon you want to play with are only available to the DS players.

You know what you get for playing with your Rental Passes? Virtual coupons that allow you to upgrade...are your ready?...your Custom Passes and your DS Pokemon.

The WiFi functionality, which was the other reason I bought the game (the first being my son loves Pokemon), is essentially useless because I'm going to be trashed by the players with custom passes. That is, if I'm allowed to play online at all with the Rentals...I haven't tried yet.

Two player functionality, as it's marked on the box. Nope. You need Custom Passes for that too.

I've been duped, and I feel stupid. If I take it back tomorrow I'm out $25 and my six year old will be angry at me. Mostly I'm mad because I waited months for this game, only to find out I'm not allowed to play most of it because the Wii is the first Nintendo product I've ever purchased.

Thanks Nintendo. For everyone else, just to be clear...

Don't by Pokemon Battle Revolution unless you own a Nintendo DS and Pokemon Diamond or Pokemon Pearl.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

User Generated CCG - Interesting!

It looks like somebody is has taken the step I never did and started the process of building a user designed CCG.

I've only given the forum a cursory look, and already the drift seems to be towards the Magic model -> expansions, set rotation, etc. I certainly plan on stirring the pot a little bit.

Check it out!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

All Barriers Big and Small

Ideas that go viral are the sort that spread easily. Some of the best ideas in the world never gain traction because even the most enthusiastic supporters can't explain them. Most people don't embrace things they don't understand. Even if folks do 'get it', price, complexity, and the ever present catch-22 of 'if it's popular, I'll buy it, but not before' issue can all be stumbling blocks in the success of a product.

When Magic was released in 1994, the barriers were low. The game was complex, but not too complex. The cards were cheap. Players were EVERYWHERE. It was a lot of fun! In hindsight, it's not too surprising that the game took off.

Fast-forward 10 years. Now the game is (or at least seems) very complex. Ten years of new rules, rules revisions, additional cards and abilities have created what appears to be a hard game to learn. Barrier. The cards are no longer cheap. While the cost has only gone up a bit, per card, you now must buy hundreds-to-thousands to compete with any existing player. Barrier. Players are harder to find, outside of tournaments. Barrier. Tournaments are hyper competitive affairs, focusing on prizes and victory more than fun. Barrier (to many). It's easy to see why it's harder to find new Magic players now than it used to be.

In the eyes of the general public, I think these same concerns bleed over to all trading card games (fairly or not) and publishers should take pains to address them, at least internally, when releasing a new collectible type game.

What barriers does your game have? What might crop up if it succeeds?


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Hang Six, Baby!

I took my son to see Surf's Up today. Honestly, he didn't like it very much. Jennifer and I loved it. First off, it had a lot of slacker humor, which I really enjoy (all it takes is meeting me to see why). Second, The Geek was voiced by Jeff Bridges in what amounts to a reprise of his Big Lebowski role, The Dude. It was like buttah.

In the genre of CGI films, I rate it below everything Pixar and the Shreks, but above everything else.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Four Copy Rip-Off

I'm babbling about trading card games again. I've covered this before, but not for a long while.

Whoever decided it would be a good idea to limit the number of cards allowed in a a deck was a moron. (I actually know who thought it was a good idea, back in the early Magic days, and he wasn't a moron, but...)

Marketing Disaster - Successful TCGs have a uncanny power to drive repeat sales. Buy, buy, buy! It's a sales and marketing dream. Of course, if each player can only use four copies of each card, that sets a cap on how many cards are useful to a player. You've just told a customer that they shouldn't buy any more. It's like Coke making a soft-drink that stopped tasting good and quenching thirst after the fourth can...

Value Disaster - TCGs always have rares (which I also don't approve of, generally) which means to get four of a particular rare by openening booster packs, you normally end up with 30-40 copies of every common. By telling the player they can't use that many copies, the seller is effectively devaluing those commons to an amount close to ZERO. Players have figured this out, and the TCG market has suffered. Companies have not, and the TCG market has suffered.

Game Balance Disaster - The reason cards are limited to 1, 4, 6, or whatever, is because game-balance is put a risk if too many copies of a "Bad" card are released into the pool. I suggest making better games, where this is accounted for from conception to finished product. Unlike the previous two points, this is easier said than done. NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

My point to future TCG publishers. Stop trying to squeeze players by charging them for cards you know...FOR A FACT....they don't want or need, so they'll get those precious rares. Make ALL the cards useful ALL the time. Attached to a quality game, a sales goldmine waiting to happen.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are you happy you bought it?

Board games have an advantage over trading card games and miniatures games (not many, but this is one.) Once you purchase and play a board game, if you don't like it, it's pretty much too late. If you really don't like the game, you might think twice before purchasing again from that publisher, but really each game is independent, so quality varies greatly, even from particular designers.

With a strong license, good word of mouth, or a powerful marketing campaign, enough people might buy a bad board game and it'll still make money. Even if the the game is terrible, it'll still be in the game closet, fully playable.

With trading cards the games require that the fans buy into the game and not only purchase the 'base' game, but also expansions in the form of boosters. If the buyer doesn't like the game, they won't follow up with more purchases, won't play the game *at all* and likely won't find opponents even if they wanted to play.

Moral of the story: Don't make a trading card game unless you really think your fans-to-be will be moved to purchase boosters. 99% of the time, they won't. On the up-side, if you're a 1%-er, you're probably going to get rich!


Playstation Thrii

The media's starting to jump all over the PS3 and how it's failing compared to the Wii and the Xbox360. I admit it, even though I was a faithful Sony fan (PS1 and PS2 owner) the PS3 was simply too expensive to buy. It's funny, because when you say that, I always get the same responses:

It plays Blue-Ray
It plays DVDs
It Plays PS2 Games
You get the On-Line Service for Free
Look at the graphics!
If you add it all together, it's worth what you pay.

No. It isn't. I don't want any of those things, except for the graphics and the on-line service (which Wii purports to support, but so far, nuthin!)

I'll go on record as saying I don't get Blue-Ray or HDDVD. It's easy to see why CDs are better than tapes and records. It's really easy to see why DVDs are better then VHS. I don't see any reason AT ALL to ditch DVDs for the new, 'better' format. How clear does the picture need to be? Yes, I have an HDTV, though granted an older one.

Somebody please explain why my DVD collection needs replaced? Also, Super Mario Party 8 on the Wii is mucho-fun-O!

As for the PS3. It'll only really hurt when Grand Turismo 5 is released. Oooooooh...that's going to hurt a LOT.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Squidoo, Part Two (Woo Hoo?)

I'm still not sure how successful is. I've set up several lenses and they get some traffic. The Bella Sara Lens gets around 400-600 hits per week, which is by far my most successful. Roughly 100x the traffic of any other lens I've built.

Here at Hidden City Games we're hoping that fan sites for Bella Sara start popping up, but even more so than our old game, Clout, the user-base for Bella Sara doesn't seem to interested in Web 2.0. Oh well. I suspect that's to be normal when dealing with what is really a product for youngsters.

While doing a web search, a Bella Sara Facebook site came up, and while I'm a little dubious of that sort of format, I added a link to the Facebook site to my Squidoo site. So far, I can't tell if anyone from the either site has checked out the other. I wish I could. I do know my Squidoo site's rating fell from #111 (out of 150,000) to the mid 900's since adding the Facebook link. I worry that there's a connection. Normally when I add content and links, the lensrank goes up slightly. No so much this time.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fourth Option - Softcore Games

Softcore is icky sounding. Really, I'm talking about commodity games.

While I technically specified hobby games in my last post, I did forget about commodity games. That is, games produced by the big toy & game publishers for the mass market. These games aren't hits, don't really have a following, but are reasonably profitable in any case. Games that serve one purpose, appeal to people who want 'a game' but that's where their interest and knowledge ends.

In my cupboard, right now, there are two jars of peanut butter. A nearly empty jar of Jif and an unopened jar of Skippy. I have no idea what the difference between these two jars is, other than how much scrumptious peanut butter remains. Go to Toys R Us and check out the game section. You'll certainly fine some fine games and bona fide hits (viral successes). You'll also see a collection of games that sell primarily because they happen to be sold in big stores like Toys R Us. They're like my peanut butter. Nothing special, and designed for people who don't care about differences between them any more than I care about the difference between Jif and Skippy.

I'm talking about Operation, Payday, Trouble, Sorry!, and all the games that surely sell, but don't really have a following and aren't going to be replacing Monopoly anytime soon on the "All Time Best Seller" list. Even if somebody wanted to, I don't think it's possible for an individual to create a new game in this category. The market is already full and firmly controlled by the big players (Hasbro, mostly). Even they have trouble adding to the stable, and typically rely on old games dressed up with a shiny new licenses to keep the catalog fresh. (It's a good strategy! I don't blame them a bit!)

When I worked for Hasbro (ala Wizards of the Coast) we believed that most of these games were bought as gifts and seldom played. I tend to think that was largely accurate.

This all reminds me, I need to bid on The Magnificent Race on e-bay. I loved that game as a kid!


Viral, Hardcore, or Vanish

All hobby games (not video/computer games) go viral, go hardcore, or vanish.

Viral – Enough people play that the game becomes a staple of play in gaming settings. Examples include: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic, Pokemon, Settlers of Catan, Risk, Monopoly, HeroClix. Board games don’t tend to go viral with the same energy as collectible games, but I do believe the all the top selling board-games owe their success largely to a viral-type effect. Nowadays many games are designed from the outset to go viral, and if they don't their failure is assured. Games from big publishers that are canceled quickly almost always fall into this category.

Hardcore – Relatively small fan-base, but large enough to sustain the game provided their needs are met. Precarious situation because new fans are hard to attain and the existing fans are hard to keep. Nearly all games (all things, really) have a hardcore following to some degree. Hardcore games are often discussed online far more than they are played (because they never went viral, opponents are hard to find.) When games are designed to be hardcore games, they can be very successful whether or not they go viral. It is more difficult for a publisher to support a game designed to go viral but instead gained a hardcore audience. Hardcore friendly games are easier to create because almost anything can achieve some level of hardcore following. The only question, is the following big enough and spendy enough to support the game? Spendy fans are often important to the Hardcore game. The more you charge, the less you have to sell to make a profit and the smaller your Hardcore audience has to be in order for the game to succeed.

Vanish – Cease to be published. In some cases a game is meant to be a limited run, so vanishing isn’t always a failure. Usually the goals of the publisher haven’t been met and it’s obvious they never will be.

Many games aren’t designed from the outset to ‘go viral’ or ‘go hardcore’, but in hindsight it’s usually easy to see why games had the success or failure they had. TCGs are largely dependent on going viral for success, and tend to be designed with that purpose in mind. Most RPGs, on the other hand, are designed for hardcore success only.

On the other hand, making something go viral is relatively hard to so (despite what the viral marketing books tell you!)