Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Defining the Brand and the Product with Care

In regards to things I really care about, I hate it when marketers or spokespeople refer to whatever their company creates or does as 'the brand' or 'the product'. Both terms are generic and emotionally detached. For the serious fan of the whatever-it-is, that lack of specificity and emotion is at best irritating and at worst insulting.

In general, I want the people who make or run or manage something I care about to appear to be as emotionally engaged with the thing as I am.  

I'm not that emotionally concerned about Tide, so they can call it "product" as far as I'm concerned.

While it helps, this engagement doesn't have to be 100% sincere. I'm sure Disney employees aren't (all) as jazzed about Disney* as the guests, but when everyone's doing their job right, the guests would never know.

Frequently corporate spokespeople don't show that sort of care for their charge, and it bugs me.


*Some totally are!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

ourWorld Mobile!

While we're just getting into what a cool ourWorld mobile app (or apps) might be, the latest version of Flash for Android has real ourWorld running, for real, on a phone.

I'm annoyed I have an iPhone for the very first time!

To be fair, it's runs pretty darn slow, but run it does.  


Monday, May 17, 2010

Don't Bring a Resume' to a Flaregun Fight

by Adam!!!

For my entire career in the gaming industry, people have asked, "how do I get to do what you do?"  It's a fair question but difficult to answer.  The real answer is you need to be connected and you need to have skills.  It helps tremendously to have friends in the gaming industry, and if you want to make your living working with them, those friends need to respect what you bring to the table.  It doesn't matter if you're an artist, designer, programmer, or just a nerd with people skills, contacts and skills are the surest way to get in the door.  I've seen many people do very well with huge doses of one and not so much of the other, but most people need both.

 Pick out the genius game designer or artist in this GenCon crowd

Social Skills.  It's a stereotype that geeks lack social skills.  I've seen this first hand at gaming conventions thousands of times over.  That said, as geekdom gets more mainstream, and it clearly has, this stereotype has withered considerably.  The people I consider the coolest people I know now fit squarely in the geek category.  They are good, funny, decent, friendly people who can and do excel in most social situations, even non geeky ones.  Also, they are nerdcore.  My point is that the nerdy talent pool is so large that the total social misfit may have a harder time than they did when the industry was younger, and less polished.  If you really have trouble with people, you'll need to be a genius in other ways.  Provided people don't hate you, being a genius can get you a long ways (so I've witnessed.) If you're a genius and are great with people, that's the recipe for geek stardom.

Do What You Do.  If you want to make games, the best thing you can do is make some games.  If you're a programmer, program. If you're an artist, make art. My view is that until you are making money, you need to share whatever it is you do with as many people as you can manage.  Don't get hung up on getting paid.  If you really are doing work worth being paid for, the money will come.  You have to get noticed and respected first.  If you're a paper games guy, like me, make paper games.  I'm not nearly as prolific as I'd like, and I believe that's why making games isn't my main gig.  My friends who really are game designers design many more games than ever get published, and some that really deserve attention.  I've designed maybe five truly playable games (spent nearly a year on one) and through a remarkable stroke of luck got one published.  That doesn't happen unless somebody is really lucky and really connected*.  At the time, I was both.

Share Share Share.  It doesn't cost anything to share your work, ideas, art, or games.  Do whatever is is you do and get it out to the world.  Do things that get people talking and sharing.  Gaming industry insiders do have expertise, but they have limited bandwidth.  If you don't know them personally, give them another reason to pay attention to what you bring to the table.  If you're standing in a crowded room, trying to get attention, get yourself flaregun.

I said at the beginning you need to have friends.  Doing something really cool is the most effective way to get industry people to talk to you.  Being really cool is the best way to make friends.  Skills and Connections.  Connections and Skills.

*Also lucky was the enthusiasm for our project my partner and co-designer, Luke Matthews, brought to the table.  I wouldn't even have the one game if not for him.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Personal Bandwidth, Personal Filters, and Wil Wheaton

by Adam!!!

Last week at W00tstock I knew several people involved with the show and a couple of people who were actually in the show.  Being the geek that I am, I had hoped, but not expected, that these personal connections might be parlayed into meeting some of the headliners, particularly Adam Savage from Mythbusters or king of geeks Wil Wheaton.  My friend Paul, who went with me to the show, created a little game called Guillotine, of which Wil Wheaton is a fan.  This lucky situation gave Mike (our friend in the show) an excuse to introduce Wil to Paul in the crowded Moore Theater lobby just after the show.  Wil had a hundred plus persons long line of fans to attend to at the time of meeting, so the entire encounter lasted maybe 45 seconds.  The brief nature of the meeting was not a problem as the dude had pending business, and could not be long delayed.  I don't think Wil noticed me at all. I'm frequently in sidekick mode when I'm with my mega talented friends, so that's no problem either.

Wil Wheaton says "don't be a dick"

The entire encounter got me thinking about why Adam Savage or Wil Wheton would want to meet someone.  I have concluded that the accomplishments of a person are one way to define the value of a personal connection, when one of the people has a limited amount of personal bandwith available.  Paul had created a game that Wil played and enjoyed, and that accomplishment meant that Wil would appreciate meeting him.  If Wil was a huge fan of my game,Torches and Pitchforks, I suspect he'd have wanted to meet me as well.  (It's possible he is a big fan, and he totally missed out meeting his game design hero, but I sort of doubt it.)  The setting is a huge deal as well, as Wil had hundreds of fans to deal with.  If we'd met at a party or over drinks, things would have been totally different.

As soon as more people want to meet you than your personal bandwidth can comfortably handle, you need to start filtering your connections.  In the case of Wil, he had a few seconds for a special exchange with Paul, no time for me, and then he gave a long line of fans each a few moments.  For the fans part, they had to stand in a very long line for their time. Everybody understood, and I think it was rewarding for everyone.

I have become a primary representative of ourWorld, as I communicate more often and more directly with more players than any other single person at the company.  It's a huge responsibility because one false step can result in serious negative repercussions.  The number and manner of contacts I receive is such that my ability to filter successfully has become more and more crucial to doing my job well.

Most of my filtering comes in the form of prioritizing and narrowing the communication methods I accept.  I answer pretty much all support@ourworld.com email. Players who send me Forum Private Messages get replies, but not timely ones because lately I've only managed to check the forums weekly.  Players who send messages to my ourWorld avatar, itself a public figure in the game, tend to get ignored entirely and the avatar's About Me section says so. 

Like Wil on the evening of W00tstock, I have to decide who, when, and how I can deal with different people and who I have to ignore so things don't break down.  In most cases, I don't really know the person who's contacting me, so they wait in the line, just like the fans at W00tstock after the show.  This is the role of the support Email address.  It's fair and everyone gets a little virtual face time. Also like the meeting Paul had with Wil, the more one of our players brings to the table, the happier I'll be to set aside some special time for that player.  In the case of our players, being a paying customer is the easiest way to bring something extra to the table. Volunteers, moderators, and playtesters get special consideration as well.  I'd like to moderate the amount of time I spend handling the anonymous line of players and apply more of my time to the special members of the ourWorld community.  I haven't been very successful at it so far, but I will continue to strive in that direction. I firmly believe that much of a community's strength comes from a subset of highly active members or leaders.  In the case of a product like ourWorld, the strength of the community is directly impacted by our ability to support those leaders.

Just thought of this right this moment. All of the current communication options I have for ourWorld players feel like that crowded theater lobby.  It'd be great I could create a setting more like a small party or gathering.  That allows for better two way communication and stronger overall connections.  Just an idea, but worth considering...


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

100 Best x 2

Nice review of a pair of books published by my friend Chris at Green Ronin.

Wired - Best Family and Hobby Games

I know most of the people whose quotes are shared in the review, and they are all profoundly knowledgeable in the ways of games and gaming.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Cathedral of Enforcement

by Adam!!!

I proudly attended W00tstock 2.0 in Seattle Friday night. It was chock full of nerdy goodness, and most of it can be found on YouTube.

Ladies and gentlemen, my brother in enforcement, Stepto:


Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Hard to Change

by Adam

We update ourWorld every other Monday, pretty much like clockwork.  That's a lot of changes, updates, improvements, fixes, and additions to a site that was pretty darned modest when it was launched on April 1, 2008.

Buzz Cafe, ourWorld, circa 2008

Things that didn't exist when we launched:
  • Gems, or anything you now buy with Gems.
  • Friends (at least not like friends are now)
  • Condos
  • Marketplace
  • Gifting in any manner
  • Chat for under 13 year old players
  • Electric Avenue, Wonderland, Soho, Nevermore, Beat Street, and the Beach
  • Crews
  • About half of the Games in the Arcade
  • Poker, Pool, nor Dance Planet
Basically, ourWorld was a flash game site with a 3d chat feature were you could dress up your avatar.  Oh my, how it has grown. 

Buzz Cafe, 2010.  Note the massive changes to the interface, including the Friend's Bar

We get massive numbers of requests and suggestions for ourWorld, and most we can't act upon.  The reasons are fairly universal for a game of ourWorld's sort, and I expect the managers of our competitors (YoVille, SmallWorlds, etc.) base their upgrade/addition decisions on similar criteria as us. 

Will this make us money?
 That's the big question.  If the answer is no, chances are we're not doing it.  We can't. Every update and improvement, no matter how small, costs the time of our talented staff, and that time costs money.  What's the return going to be on that cost?  Features that we charge for (for ourWorld that means Resident Members only or items that cost Gems, our premium currency) are an easy sell.  If the idea is cool and it will obviously generate revenue, the team rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. Those sorts of projects usually have top priority.  Our new Critter Garden fell into that category. 

That doesn't mean that every update has to actually be a direct revenue generator, with a monetary cost to our players.  Non-revenue generating improvements happen all the time, but we weigh them far more carefully before tackling them.  If we don't think the change will move the needle in terms of the overall quality of the site, player retention, and ultimately subscriptions and Gem purchases, the project will likely get a pass.  We gets lots of requests for small improvements to this or that portion of the site, and while we often agree making the improvement would be, well, an improvement, the effort involved would not drastically impact the overall quality of the site. Such incremental changes are unlikely unless they are very simple to make happen.
Example: We get requests for improved Email tools, where players can review sent messages and recover deleted ones.  Yes, that'd be super, but there's no way that impacts the bottom line.  
 It's also the reason some of the older features haven't been improved, even though we know they could use the attention.  The same effort could create a new location that would generate attention and excitement, while renovating an old feature provides far less in terms of reaction.  Bummer, but true.  On the other hand, when we discover an actual problem, like when it was hard to arrange furniture in your Condo, we redid the interface so it was far more clear.  The change was simple to make and it made a distinct improvement to the experience for all of our players.  The effort required matched up with the improvement to the site, even though a better User Interface doesn't  contribute to the bottom line in any measurable way.  General improvements do have value, they're just more modest and harder to measure.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Snail Mail Mayhem

by Adam

We get a pile of mail-in ourWorld payments each day.  Most have $10 as that's the deal we promote for mail-in payments and it's a pretty good deal, overall.  In a few cases we've received envelopes full of hundreds, though sadly that doesn't happen very often. Sometimes we get things that are a bit out of the ordinary...

Four ones, thirty dimes, and twelve quarters. Before I opened it, I was afraid it would be pennies!

Very cute anime style girl. 

Coins! Gems! The little girl in the middle is saying "ourWorld"

If I could, I'd vote for more art and less coins (seriously kids, it's not a great idea to mail cash!) but both are awesome!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to REALLY get Free Gems in ourWorld

by Adam

There are dozens of blogs and sites dedicated to the unending quest for free ourWorld Gems.  Many provide the latest Gem Codes and details on any Gem related offers that might be going on.  I'm going to try to list every consistent way a player can get free Gems, plus the advantages or disadvantages of each offer.  I'm not including contests, like the Webhunts, as they do not provide Gems to a large number of players.

Invite Friends - ourWorld's original free Gem offer. Invite new players to play via Email or Link (like the one to the left), and as they gain levels you get Gems. 1 per level gained, awarded every 5th level.  This can be quite lucrative, as one player who linked from this blog reached level 100, providing my account with 100 free Gems.
Advantages: Once new players accept the invite and play, free Gems just appear without any additional effort from the referrer.
Disadvantages:  Players making fake accounts and leveling them have forced us to cap how the Gems are awarded. While this has no effect on players who use the program as intended (inviting new players) players who are cheating the system with accounts they make themselves become confused then the Gems stop coming.

ourWorld Newsletter - About once per month, ourWorld releases an electronic Newsletter that includes the game's latest features and a Gem Code worth 10 Gems.
Advantages: Gem Code works once for everybody.
Disadvantages: Players under 13 don't get the newsletter. Newsletter is released on an irregular schedule. The Gem Code works once per account and expires a few weeks after the Newsletter is released.

ourWorld Toolbar - Every Monday, around 12pm PST, players who have installed the ourWorld Toolbar get a new Gem Code worth 10 Gems.  The code only works when the game is launched through the Toolbar, preventing non-Toolbar users from getting the Gems.
Advantage: More free Gems are awarded via the Toolbar than any other method.  Also, it's not a terrible Toolbar. I've installed it both at work and at home.
Disadvantage: Players who's accounts are created on Facebook and Tagged can't use the toolbar, nor can players using less mainstream web browsers.  Some players (and their parents) are afraid the toolbar will harm their computers. Despite false rumors to the contrary, the thing is not capable of harming anyone's computer. The Gem Codes work once per account and expire after one week.

Gambit & Super Rewards - Some game sites use these (and similar) programs as their sole source of income.  They are essentially sites with hundreds of promotional offers, both free and otherwise.  The companies that host the offers pay Gambit & Super Rewards when the offers are completed, and ourWorld gets a cut.  The reward for the player is paid out in Gems.
Advantage: These offers are the only way a player can get a large number of Gems without actually purchasing them. Some are very easy, requiring little more than a few minutes of attention.
Disavantage: The offers change rapidly and there is no way for ourWorld to review all of them.  ourWorld selects the 'safest' offers available, but there are still complaints about spam and other problems.  Not all the offers are truly free, so players must pay attention when selecting them. There are also many reports of 'completed' offers not paying out, though ourWorld has no say in whether or not an offer is checked off as completed. These problems have improved dramatically in the last few months, as the promo offer industry has gone through a bit of shake up recently.

TMPSocial - ourWorld's latest free Gem offer appears directly in some ourWorld players' inboxes.  Players follow the link, view the material or add the Facebook app, and up to 20 Gems are awarded.
Advantage: Easy, quick, and the Gem payout is larger than the usual Gambit or Super Rewards offer for the effort required.
Disadvantage: Not all players get the offers. New players and younger players don't get them.  Facebook has been required for most of them.  There have been a few reports of Gems not being awarded, but we haven't been able to verify the reasons. Like Gambit and Super Rewards, ourWorld only awards the Gems when TMPSocial tells us the offer was successfully completed. 

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but that's the basic list.  The business of games like ourWorld is to sell Gems, not give them away, so if somebody says you can get a lot of Gems for free, it's either a scam or there's a catch.  Even most of these offers aren't really free.  Players are being paid in Gems for performing an action ourWorld is getting paid real money for (not much money, but some.)

If you look at it, shelling out $5.99 for 150 Gems and membership is probably the easiest way to get Gems of them all.  Coming soon, $10 ourWorld Gift cards for 1 month Resident +300 Gems will be appearing in US stores everywhere! (Photo coming soon as well!)


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wylde's Critter Garden

We launched a new feature on ourWorld this week which might be our best yet.  I don't want to brag, which is good because I had very little to do with this one. 

The garden uses ourWorld's existing Condo system and adds a Farmville/Farmtown style game mechanic

The game is called Critter Garden and it has a lot of things going for it.  First, everyone in ourWorld can play it, for free.  Even better, players who want the fancier stuff can pay us for fancier nests, more nests, and garden upgrades.  

Also, the new garden features some of our best art yet.  The artists, animators, and modelers really outdid themselves, and more great stuff is on the way. I work with a bunch of geniuses, and I can't stress enough how lucky I feel to be on their team.  

If you're in ourWorld, feel free to stop by Wylde's garden.

That's right, sheep eggs. Got a problem with that?


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Roger Ebert, less wrong, more misunderstood?

Roger Ebert, of whom I am a huge fan, has taken a lot of heat for his "Video Games aren't art" stance.  Chris Anderson of Wired, who I am also a huge fan, has published a clarification, which if accurate goes a long way to soothing the pain of Ebert's betrayal of all I hold dear (kidding.)

Tasty Choices! Is the plate you construct art?

Chris Anderson's Clarification

The crux of the issue is how Ebert defines art. His definition centers on the intent of the artist more than the experience the person engaged with the piece.  I still disagree, but can respect his view now that I understand it better.  When I read his original article for whatever reason I missed this point entirely.  I may have been reading with emotional blinders on.

Ebert: I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist...Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices.

And there you go. The thing is, I still consider thought and emotion provoking games like Half Life 2 art, and I don't feel like I am the artist when I play them. Ebert may actually be giving games too much credit. Most allow choices, but the final results of the games are normally fixed, or a narrow set of fixed possibilities.  Games like Spore, where the player really does have a vast paint brush to play with, allow the player to be the artist, but the game itself is still, to my dismay, rather linear with a more or less inevitable conclusion.  Still art.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Some Weapons Bad, Some Weapons Cool

I'm not a fan of guns or tanks or most weapons of war. I do find them to be intriguing machines, but I can't get past the horrible reality of thier intended purpose.  When I see a tank, for example, I see a tool for killing first and an impressive piece of machinery second.  Guns, as a rule, hold no interest for me whatsoever. For some reason, warplanes are a different story. I am so impressed by them that I easily forget their purpose, and as such really enjoy them.  Even being aware of the horrors of the Great War, WWI planes, in particular, I just love.

 Get that limey, Red Baron!

Slightly on topic, I think this explains why I prefer fantastic combat games to gritty reality. From Warhammer 40k to Unreal Tournament (yes, I'm behind the times in my FPS's)  There is one exception. I seem to be able to mow down legions of Nazis and not feel even the smallest tinge of guilt.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Roger Ebert is both right and wrong. Mostly wrong

Ebert "Games can never be art"

Edit: A wonderful response to the article from Brian Ashcroft

 Half-Life 2 stirs my emotions in a number of ways. Does that make it art?

A game itself may or may not be art, but the components, be they physical or electronic clearly are. It's not even a question.  A masterfully crafted chess set isn't art? How about the backgrounds in a Final Fantasy game?  How much art in a game does it take before the entire thing is an artistic experience?  That's up to the artists and the person experiencing the game, and not anyone else.

I define art as something that stirs emotion in the person that experiences it.  This allows things that were not originally meant to be art to be presented as such and still succeed. Andy Warhol agreed with me.  It also means that some people aren't stirred and don't recognize the artistic value.  That's fine, too. In my world, that's how it works.

Most really great art also has detractors who claim it isn't art.  I kind of like the idea that appreciation is a zero sum prospect, where others' dismissal allows the rest of us to experience an even greater level of emotion towards the piece.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

What you can learn...anywhere.

By Seth Godin
If you have a teacher (of any sort) that you cannot please, that you cannot learn from, that is unwilling to take you where you need to go because he is defending the status quo and demonstrates your failure on whatever report card he chooses to use, you could consider yourself a failure. Or you could remind yourself...
  1. Grades are an illusion
  2. Your passion and insight are reality
  3. Your work is worth more than mere congruence to an answer key
  4. Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is a powerful ability
  5. Fitting in is a short-term strategy, standing out pays off in the long run
  6. If you care enough about the work to be criticized, you've learned enough for today

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Trust Comes from not Sucking

I get my internet from Comcast. It's expensive, but it's fast and generally reliable.  They also provide some cool features every now and then, and based on an Email I just received, I thought maybe they had a new one I could use.

It says: You now have acccess to Secure Backup and Sharing.  You see, I just lost a bunch of data from a failed hard drive, maybe I'm interested in this. *Click*

Here's the Email. Activate now...it's included. Sweet.  If I want more than two GB of space, I need to pay extra. That's how these things work, so that's cool.  Quick & Easy. *Click*

Activate, yes, I want to activate. Easier yes, it's easier. I get it. *Click*

What the hell?  What happened to 'included', what happened to 'easy'.  They sent the friggin' Email to this account, on this computer.  There are no instructions in the Email they sent me, not counting claims of how easy it is. I've invested less than 5 minutes in this "Easy" and "Secure" system, and I've already decided there is NO WAY I can trust them.  No place to click, no further instructions, just a big, fat, sorry, we didn't mean YOU, minus the sorry.



Sunday, March 07, 2010


Success of online games depends on 'going viral' and ourWorld is no exception. We continue to work on improving our presence on social networking sites like Facebook and Tagged as well as partnering with an ever growing assortment of gaming portals, including MiniClip.

The basic process of "going viral" is to making it easy and rewarding for individuals to share what you do with their friends and family. The tricky parts are designing "easy" and measuring "rewarding" in ways that actually matter to both the you and your existing players.

Facebook has mastered easy. In fact, it became so easy that Facebook members who weren't interested in every last application began to complain about the massive number of referrals their friends were sending, both on purpose and through semi-automated systems. Facebook has began reigning in these referrals, making it a bit more difficult to get the word out if you're not already successful on the platform. Not impossible, just more difficult.

Rewarding is tricky because the purpose of referrals is getting new players. In ourWorld we give Gems (in game currency that normally costs real money) for referrals, but many, many of those referrals are fake, just people making accounts and leveling them up themselves for the free stuff. We've capped the awards players can make doing this, but clearly the goal of finding new players could be hit more squarely. The key to really nailing referral awards would be something that makes inviting actual, real, friends is really valuable, both to the player and to the friend.

Valuable to the current player is fairly easy. They've already bought into the game and in-game awards are meaningful. The people being invited, however, don't know anything about the game. Promises of Gems, Clothes, Furniture, or Power Items are essentially meaningless. The only thing in the game they know about is their friend. That means the invite needs to focus on spending online time in a cool world with your friend, and it has to be easy to do with no strings attached.

To the real keys to a viral feature: Easy, Rewarding, Easy, Friendship, Easy.

I think we can work with that.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Culture of Crime

When players find a loophole in a game that benefits them, most will exploit that loophole. In regards to online games, my view has always been that if it's possible, it's allowed. It's up to the designers and programmers to prevent and close loopholes, and not the players to police themselves.

In the case of ourWorld, a recent loophole closure prevented players from using 'dummy' accounts to buff up their main accounts through the game's gifting system. Many players had dozens of accounts, and a few had hundreds. Use of these dummy accounts let players get items that normally cost real money for free, in potentially unlimited amounts.

Here's the thing, we're not certain that practice was actually bad for the game. It may be that some number of Gems (the for-real-money currency of ourWorld) greater than we currently provide for free is what's best for the game's success. We're looking quite hard at this, actually. I'm not at all certain what the answer here is.

I am certain that closing the loophole was the correct course of action from a cultural standpoint. I think large numbers of players knowingly scamming a game is toxic to the community. Players shouldn't feel like they have to run what is obviously a scam to get the results they want from a game. Players who choose not to run the scam shouldn't feel like they're foolish for leaving 'free stuff' on the table. The entire situation creates discord and I'm glad that we've put a stop to it.

If it is decided that more free Gems injected into the ourWorld community is best for everyone, the process should be done inside the game, in a manner that's above board and for everyone. If it's not, well, then our job will be to make sure the game with the current level of Gem awards is still drop-dead-amazing. Time to go back to work!


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Let's Me and You Fight! (Old School)

For whatever reason, my favorite fighting game of all time has faded into obscurity. Likely the reasons I liked it so much are the reasons for its lack of enduring success.

Bushido Blade

Most people don't remember this game from the prime Playstation 1 years, but back in 1997, when fighting games were absolutely the dominant form of game, it stood apart.

Unlike nearly every game before or since, Bushido Blade didn't bother with life bars. Your attacks could have two effects. Wound or Kill. Some battles lasted a second or less. Because blocking was so very important, everyone who played the game got really good at it, and the results were amazing. Dodging, parrying, thrusting, and ultimately positioning yourself for that final blow. The battlefields were large and fairly plain (even for the time) but included a lot of cool touches. For example, in the bamboo forest, attacking too close to a tree would cut it down. Some battles would be put on hold for a bit of forestry, before the death-dealing could commence.

It included a fairly interesting solo adventure mode, but, like most fighting games, one-on-one duels where the highlight of the game. Ultimately, I think the lack of the expected life bar and the potential for really short games turned off too many players. Combine that with a sub-par sequel and a publisher that was more interested in making vast piles of money with Final Fantasy games and the book closed on this amazing and unique fighter. Bushido Blade never made the jump to the next generation.

Such is life...and violent, brutal, death.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Fan Site on Steriods!

Ladies and Gentlemen...The ourWorld Cereal Killers

Damn fine site. You got a better one? Let me know!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Deja What Again?

From Virtual World News:

Richard Garriott's Portalarium Aiming At A More Mainstream Second Life?

Later in 2010 the company plans to release CenterPort, "the virtual world social hub for the OpenLife ecosystem, a broad yet fully integrated meta-community." CenterPort will start as a social network app, though the company promises that it "will be more graphically advanced than what you see out there on social networks today." It will include a persistent avatar and "a semi-3D world" where users can buy virtual clothes, housing, accessories, and more. Currency can be acquired either through ad-supported mini-games or direct purchases.

Some of the development features may be new, but the general description of their product sounds, well, like another game I'm pretty familiar with, right down to the poker game.

When Ultima 3 came out, Richard "Lord British" Garriott was THE rockstar of game developers. Also, he more or less invented the MMORPG with Ultima Online.

Maybe the report is missing important details, but I don't see the innovation here. With Flash 10 coming, even moving away from Flash seems like an odd move. Still, the dude's got a worthy track record. I for one will stay tuned.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dantes Internet

Not sure where this came from, but I love it.


The Volunteer Train - CHOO CHOO!!!!

Somebody gets a lot more traffic than I do! One of the more popular ourWorld blogs must have posted about the volunteer program because over the weekend I have received hundreds of new requests from ourWorld players who want to be volunteers. As most of the requests have come from qualified players (over 13 years old and over level 30) it looks like there will be lots more volunteers in the next day or so.

This is very good news, as we'll want a lot of volunteers to make our new Helper program work.

Following the next update (scheduled for Wednesday, Feb 24th) all the volunteers will have the option to help other players. If they turn on the Helper tool, they will get alerts when somebody requests 'Live Help'. The system will transport them to the players room and they will (hopefully) be able to answer questions. It's a pretty simple system, but if our volunteers do half the job I think they can do, it'll be a great boon to new players trying to sort out our game, which has become quite complex as it has grown.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Step 3: Profit!

Flowplay got a great write-up in TechFlash

Step 2 is 'make a kick-ass virtual world' (Step 1 is just to impress potential investors)

To see ourWorld grow and succeed over the last couple of years has been and remains truly exciting. Big thanks to the players who have shown extraordinary support for ourWorld. Without you guys, it's all for nothin'.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Build a Combat Robot in one Day

If you didn't know, I build combat robots (or if you're picky about termonology, R/C fighting machines) and it's a lot of fun. It's also easier than most people think. Normally I have an idea for a machine and build it a hour or two at time over the course of a couple of weeks. Well, with a new baby in the house and Jeni with a new job, time's been against me. Now the event is Saturday and I only had 2/3 of a robot (I registered 3). I needed at least one more.

I have a lot of vacation saved up, so I decided to take the day off and re-build my son's robot, "Vision #9". Today was my only day to work on it, so I had to finish. And I did!

Vision #9 (front) and Mister Twister (back). Both 3 pound Beetleweights

My Build Photo Album

See these and lots more robots fight at the Northwest Model Hobby Expo!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pulling out the Rug

It's always easier to add features to a game than to take them away. A lot of games will put off taking features away until a major event, like a new edition or version, both from a practical standpoint (paper games aren't good at mid-stream changes) as well as a PR standpoint. Players hate losing things they are used to. If you wait for a big event, you add some sugar to the medicine by introducing an assortment of new features that are replacing those that are being lost.

We don't have that luxury with ourWorld, because our game gets incrementally updated every two weeks. Even a huge update is a smallish change in the overall scheme of things. This last week, we implemented a change in ourWorld that prevents players from buying gifts for other players unless they first make an actual purchase. The problem was that each coupon code for Gems (ourWorld's for-profit currency) we issued worked once for each account. This allowed one code to provide a small number of Gems to a large number of players. Free samples, more or less. The problem was that players were creating large numbers of 'fake' accounts, loading them up with free Gems from the codes, and bleeding those Gems into their main accounts. The problem reached epidemic status a couple of weeks ago when we accidentally released Gem codes worth more than the usual 10 and the number of fake accounts skyrocketed, throwing off all our statistical data for the week, and reducing the value of a single Gem to a fraction of its normal worth.

We had to make a change, and our choices were to reign in Gem Codes or reign in gifting. We think there's a lot of value in releasing a modest number of Gems each week for everyone, so we addressed gifting. The problem isn't gifting, the problem is free Gems combined with gifting. The solution turned out to be simple to implement. Players who have collected all of their Gems for free can't give gifts. Once a player contributes to the site monetarily (and there's a lot of ways to do this) they can gift normally after that, including with their free Gems.

We aren't really taking away a feature, really we're taking a way a loophole that has been badly exploited. Of course, many players don't feel that way. The ourWorld forum has erupted with complaints and polls and "how can we get ourWorld to change this back" threads. I totally understand. Players used to be able to get something for nothing, and now they can't. Even so, I've got to take a hard line with this. I know people are mad, but I've been to this rodeo before, many times, and the furor won't last. The best interests of the site and my company are my primary goal, and I know this is the correct call. It was true when the first Magic cards were banned (not a lot of fun, that) and when any game I've ever worked on was canceled due to lagging sales (BattleTech TCG, Harry Potter TCG, Clout: Fantasy...and more.) Sometimes the rug simply has to go, and there's nothing to it but to do it.

If anyone really wants to know, the gift limitation was my idea. Direct your hate mail thusly.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

High Maintenance Customers

Some customers require a disproportionate amount of attention from the support team. They write or call nearly everyday, often with some sort of problem. Usually the problems are legitimate, if not a bit on the nit-picky side. The question isn't what to do with that one customer. She's a great customer, so you help her as best you can, every time. The question is whether everyone is having these same problems, and only this one great customer cares enough to tell you about them.

The question stresses me out.

It has been my experience that a small percentage of players have far more problems than the average player. I'm not sure exactly why this is, exactly. For computer games like ourWorld, it's most likely an unusual system set-up or poor internet connection, but there's no way to know for sure. Some people are a lot more picky than others as well. It's not surprising that some of the bigger spenders are also some of the most vocal about problems (I would be too!) I'm also hopeful that I'm correct that it's only a small percentage, because if lots of people are having these problems, and simply not letting us know, that's bad news.

Now that we've added a forum for ourWorld, it's easier than ever for players to share their experiences with us, and so far it's been good. We've certainly learned things we didn't know from the extra input, but nothing earth shatteringly wrong has been discovered (that we didn't already know.)

Maybe some people do have more problems than others, and that's just how it is.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show

This was AMAZING last year. Check out their video (which I haven't watched with sound, so who knows what they are saying.)


For a single entry fee of $20/day there are hundreds of pinball machines and video games set to free play.




Just got this Facebook notification:

"Warning! Pet Society Is About To Explode! It's so packed with Valentine's Day stuff it could blow at any minute!"

Me no likey.


Are you a Hunter or a Farmer?

This is my interpretation of a recent Seth Godin blog post as it relates to online social gaming.

The difference between hunters and farmers in the gaming public has been apparent for years now, but only recently, with the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook, have games for farmers taken off as successful. I don't mean just social games like Farmville and Farmtown, though they certainly fit into the category. I mean any game where the barriers are time, patience, and social skill rather than direct obstacles to be defeated as rapidly as possible.

ourWorld is primarily a farmer game, populated with an assortment of hunter games. Most of the 100 or so flash games in the ourWorld arcade are hunter type games. The disconnect between the games and many of the players who just aren't all that into them has been obvious to us for a long time. Changes like allowing basic chatting and other activities to replace gaming as the means to level up have addressed this disconnect, and things seem to be fairly well balanced now, though I believe the disconnect still lingers.

I believe the contrasts between hunter and farmer games are already known, but are being labeled differently and perhaps incorrectly.

Hunter - Farmer
Male - Female
Traditional - Social

Are all three of these pairings the same? In a very, very, broad sense, I think it's fair to say that more hunters are male and they tend to play more traditional games. Conversely, more farmers are female and tend to play more social games. As soon as you start to get more specific, however, things get less clear. What exactly is the difference between a traditional game versus a social game? The two get more intertwined every day. Sure, a lot of girls and women play social games, but lots and lots of guys do as well. Mafia Wars is a farmer game, but not targeted specifically at women (as far as I can tell.) Same for Farmtown.

I think it's a good idea for a game designer to have a clear idea of who he or she is making their game for, but finding categories that are stronger than just "boys vs girls" or "traditional vs social" will make those ideas more successful.