Saturday, December 20, 2008

game over... steams wins, best buy loses

In the previous and unbacked-up incarnation of this blog, I had a few posts gushing about how Steam was cool because it basically offered up online delivery of PC games.

A while back, Activision (now Activision Blizzard) started releasing their stuff through Steam, and now EA has jumped aboard for the big win.

I like Steam because it gets rid of the hardcopy, real-world product. That means it takes less time to purchase a game through Steam than it does to jump in the Spoonmobile and run down to Best Buy or Wally World and grab it from amongst the shuffle hordes of shopping zombies. After I get the game, I don't have to enter the ever-growing string of alphanumeric characters just to play it. Nor do I have to worry about finding the CD or hunting down a nocd crack and rolling the dice on picking up a virus when I want to play it later on down the road.

What the game companies like about Steam is that the authentication system providing proof of purchase. It doesn't make piracy impossible, but it does make your product more customer friendly and removes the need to license DRM and other copyright protection schemes. That decreases the cost to deliver the product to the customer, and oddly enough might contribute to actual legit sales because the lower price might make the hassle/risk of pirating a game less likely. They also like that Steam opens up the potential for episodic releases of game content, which further drives down production costs because instead of needing $10m and 2 years to produce art for a 30 hour AAA title, you can just break off $1m and 6 months for the first episode and see if the game is popular enough to warrant going on to episode 2, etc.

This is absolutely crucial for us PC gamers, because Steam is about the last ray of hope for convincing publishers to stick with the PC platform. They have been increasingly looking towards consoles as the solution to the problems of being able to reuse IP and reduce piracy, and the PC game market has taken a hit as more and more stuff gets designed for the Xbox first.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

no such thing as a free lunch

I think this guy was going for a Guinness record ponzi scheme or something.

He was basically taking cash from one client to pay off dividends to another customer. No one bothered to ask how, because, hey, who turns down free money and 12% returns, amirite? But now that the music has stopped, everyone's complaining about how there aren't enough chairs. $15,000,000,000 has already just disappeared, that could close in on $50B before all is said and done.

But the really sad thing? Think what $15B reinvested into your local economy to fund real startups (and I'm not talking about the "I have an idea for a website" crowd here) could have done.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

fallout 3

So, the dude who does Zero Punctuation has a pretty spot-on review of Fallout 3 (warning: naughty language... put the headphones on). I just wrapped up the game, and liked it a lot.

It's kind of like a mix between a first person shoot and an role playing game. You have the option of calling your shots with the V.A.T.S. system, or if you're set for ammo and have the twitch monkey reflexes you can just use the crosshairs and score your own headshots.

There's quests to run, and different factions (basically towns) that you can build rep with. Aside from a few core missions that move you along the story line, everything else is just kind luck-to-find. There's a surprising amount of stuff to explore in the game, and I found the levelling up part to be practically unnoticeable. I would recommend that you invest early talent points in stuff like lock picking, science, explosives, repair, etc instead of going for nothing but weapons and stats improvements. The game becomes a lot easier once you can "hack" into any computer (that's basically just a game of hangman where you guess the password) and pick locks. Also, figure out how to repair stuff early on in the game... you'll save a lot of money and improve the amount damage your weapons do.

The moral choices in the game are also interesting, in that they affect future quest opportunities later on. Much like the decision to go carnivore in Spore, I ended up going Good-Guy in FO3, which actually ends up causing more problems than you'd think as bounty hunters are out to get you, and you lose a couple of support options early on in the game.

Overall, though, it was well done and worth the price of the game. Thumbs up, Bethesda, and thanks for showing me around DC. ;)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

change != innovation

innovation -noun
1. something new or different introduced.
2. introduction of new things or methods.

change -noun
1. a transformation or modification; alteration.
2. a variation or deviation.
3. the substitution of one thing for another.
4. variety or novelty.

In the push to differentiate products, marketing folks tend to confuse the two together. The hype for Windows 95 (and now, for Vista) is a good example of this. Although the product had a lot of modifications and at least the surface was transformed, it's not really a new product. Going from win32 (Windows 98) to win32s (Windows 2000) was innovation because that was the point that they actively switched from bolting crap on to the old DOS kernel and used the new NT kernel as their base.

Apple showed innovation by dropping it's old and rapidly aging MacOS for NeXT (aka Rhapsody, aka MacOS X). The iPod was innovation, not so much because of the hardware, but rather because of iTunes.

This is a small distinction, but it's an important one that anyone who makes a product (including software developers) would do well to remember because while innovation is an opportunity to create and grow into a new market, change is usually little more than an opportunity for your customers to leave you. This is especially true for Software as a Service type offerings where your customer doesn't have the option of ignoring the new version and sticking with the old one (ie, World of Warcraft expansion, changes to iGoogle, Facebook pages, cellphone apps, etc).

The reason for that is because even though you might give advanced warning, and even though you might give people a perfectly reasonable amount of time to test out the new interface, you are still ultimately causing them migration headaches on a date of your choosing, not theirs, for your own benefit, not theirs. It's a disruption to their routine, and if you're not careful about it they can easily decide that the added cost of simply going somewhere else isn't that much higher than the cost of upgrading to your shiny new 2.0.