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Kyle and Erik
This is really one of the most amazing things I have ever seen on the web...

Here is a guy that took a simply retail Canon PowerShot digital camera, a weather balloon and a bucket of wires and reached 30,000m or 100,000 feet.

All of this for about $500 of parts.

I just get chills thinking of what we are capable of - and I get anxious for us to get to space NOW.

Let's raise the tax on gasoline to $6 a gallon, get off of oil, fix the grid, install efficient appliances, eat locally grown food and use the surplus energy and resources to get off Earth, go to Mars and the asteroids!



Ad astra!

-Erik

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Kyle and Erik
So now that I have been back in the states for a few months I have had some time to play some XBLA games.  There are a ton of great games out there.  However, I have the great fortune to be friends with the guys that have created the 3 games that I have played and enjoyed the most on XBLA!

DefenseGrid by Hidden Path Entertainment in Seattle


Age of Booty by Certain Affinity in Austin

and Schizoid by Torpex also of Seattle

DefenseGrid and Age of Booty are also available on PC via Steam and other digital distribution methods, Schizoid is alas Xbox only.

If you like or even kinda like tower defense games, DefenseGrid rocks.

If you even sort liked Settlers of Catan then how could you deny a game inspired by those mechanics but includes cannons and pirate ships!  My 7-year old Kyle and I played one Saturday for 10 hours straight.

And Torpex is a visual explosion that is simply a kick ass game to play in coop!






defensegrid.hiddenpath.com/



www.certainaffinity.com/ageofbooty/




www.torpexgames.com/index.php


-Erik


Kyle and Erik
We have been able to cut our hosting costs of GoPets by 90%.  In these times  

I thought I should share how we did this?  In short we got a lot of help and used VMware...

Chris Bradfield (chris at scribe dot net) started the project and identified ZeroLag  http://www.zerolag.com/ as our new hosting partner and Michael Bell (mbell0218 at gmail) as our  consultant  to perform the VMWare integration

Greg Strelzoff is the CEO of ZeroLag and I have to say he has been a great partner, he has repeatedly found ways to help us reduce costs as well as freely helped connect us with other companies who we might be able to do some partnerships with

We were able to successfully virtualize 35 services that previously required the same amount of physical hardware into six VMware hosts running the Linux kernel with VMware server on each. The combination of ease of management, resource utilization, and ultimately MRC savings speaks well of the concept of virtualization. The additional benefits of moving to this model were clearly recognized when increased traffic levels required additional web services, which were built, tested and deployed within days instead of weeks. The reduction of physical servers also allowed savings in rack space and power usage.

I really cannot say enough good things about Michael Bell and ZeroLag.  They have been fun and friendly to work with even coming over onsight to help us with the integration, and again I must stress saving 90% off of your fixed recurring costs has been a tremendous savings.

Boing boing said our RMT talk was creepy!

Kyle and Erik
Hey how cool is it when Cory Doctorow says your talk is ... creepy at GDC?

www.boingboing.net/2009/03/24/real-money-trading-g.html

It generated some good comment flow over there.  Much of it the normal gut reaction against RMT or item-based business models, that is common in the game design community and the digerati - but not so much in the actual players of online games.  

Ironically, they way that you find out f you are providing value to players is when the value present is strong enough to actually support a secondary market.  Free to play, item-based and RMT design in particular forces the designer to work the hardest to create system designs that work cleanly and solidly across all the major vectors: social, gameplay, simulation, monetization and markerting models.

Earlier this month virtual goods news carried a much more in-depth interview on the work LiveGamer and GoPets have done to integrate their RMT and auction system into GoPets:
www.virtualgoodsnews.com/2009/03/live-gamer-and-gopets-on-the-importance-of-training-users-for-marketplaces.html

Massively did a really nice long review of our talk:
www.massively.com/2009/03/28/gdc09-applied-rmt-design-with-gopets-and-live-gamer/
It looks like they really went to town in checking out our wiki and found lots of the cool limited edition huggable kitties that we have to illustrate the article.

Gamasutra also made a transcript:
www.gamasutra.com/blogs/OlivierLejade/20090326/997/GDC_09_Applied_RMT_Design.php
I still get goosebumps when I think that gamasutra picked the AGC 2007 panel on RMT where I debated Marc Jacobs with Raph Koster and we go into Gamasutra's Best of 2007: Top 5 Most  Significant Moments in MMOs!
www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=16758


Just a quick notice at Lightspeed - but I will plug the blog anyways because it is a cool blog:
lsvp.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/erik-bethke-on-game-balance-in-free-to-play-games/

-Erik

Illegal company manifesto over at T=Machine

Kyle and Erik
http://t-machine.org/index.php/2009/03/02/manifesto-for-a-game-development-studio-or-any-creative-tech-company/#comments

I failed in the security certificate process at T=Machine, so I will post my comment here to Adam's very thoughtful piece on how he will design his next game company...

Adam,

Great post, great ideas here.

But you are breaking the law...

The amazing thing is what you have designed here with the manifesto is actually illegal in the United States.  I am not sure about Europe's interpretation of corporate laws (I suspect they are very similar to US at their root).

Let me explain why it is illegal - Dodge vs. Ford

This Supreme Court case established that the only purpose of a company is to produce profits for the shareholders.  Any acts of good that benefit employees, management, customers or the community MUST Be by-products of making even more money for the shareholders.

All corporate charity is at its core a marketing & PR program.

The Google 20% was established to enhance the profitability of the company.

Your manifesto was actually LEGAL until you responded to Osma.  The  manifesto itself you would have to argue will result in better, faster, cheaper products that will decrease costs, or increase revenue or both for the shareholders.

However, you screwed up by saying that you don't care about the sustainability (and even more important) the profitability of your company and that you hold your values to be more important than the shareholder's interests.

So, going forward with a very straight face, say earnestly that the manifesto will create a ferociously competitive engine for shareholder wealth due to the superior organizational structure.

Of course, you do not have a company yet, or even profits that a minority shareholder could sue over yet.  But conceivably if an employee was a shareholder they could bring a suit to the directors and charge that they have failed their fiduciary duty by not running the  company in the shareholder's interests.  As a result their property rights have been damaged etc...

While this main seem esoteric, it does explain the gut, blink reaction that investors would shy away from your manifesto and back someone who says she will squeeze the most value out of their teams.

At the end of the day, like anything this is a marketing problem.  You need to find someone with the cash to fund the company who believes that they will make more money by sharing this manifesto.

I agree with the general step back and ask what are we really trying to accomplish?  My ideal would be that everyone is free to work as few or as many hours that they want.  And that their pay would be directly proportional to the value added to the project...  Working 80 hours a week and coming up with crap is crap.  Working 1 hour per week and yet getting Walmart to pre-order a million copies of your packaged $19 client is quite a bit of value for an hour.

So it is a game design problem - how to measure the value of work?  How to transparently report that?  How to empower the team itself to iterate, find their own process flaws and rapidly increase value?  As part-owners the employees should then be naturally driven to be aligned with the shareholder...

-Erik

Stop killing trees to wipe your butt

Kyle and Erik
Okay so we really do not need fluffy toilet paper:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,502444,00.html

So where to get eco-friendly paper?
http://www.letsgogreen.biz/pages/paper.html

I have almost gone down to 0% use of disposable plastic cups now - I just carry around a big refillable plastic thermos...

But check out these pseudo plastic cups made from corn-has anyone tried these?
http://letsgogreen.biz/pages/utensils/cupsmain.html

-Erik

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Coolest Geek Week!

Kyle and Erik
Okay so I had an extremely cool week - and all of it in Seattle...

First off I got to hang out with my friends at Hidden Path Entertainment, and especially cool is Mark Terrano's Tiny House.  Every time I stay there it is amazingly comfortable and I sleep so well.  It always makes me think about how to get smaller in footprint.

Next off, i got to meet Jordan Weisman the creator of FASA (Shadowrun, MechWarrior, etc)... got him to sign my first and third edition Shadowrun pen and paper RPG books that I have been carrying with me from place to place since 1989! Oh crap that is 20 years now.  Anyways Jordan is a very cool and creative guy and is up to creating some very neat new products and I had to chance to see what he is up to.

Magic the Gathering.  Seiously, I am so lucky that I finished college before this game came out.  If I was still in school I would have filled out every student loan application I could grab a hold of and buy massive amounts of booster packs.  As it was I think I spent about $4k out of my first $24k a year game job buying magic cards.  So I got to meet Richard Garfield at the DICE convention in Las Vegas, and then as a follow-up meet him again in Seattle.

There I got to go to his home (a castle as if it was designed by a hyper modern Scandanavian)  that inlcudes geothermal electrical power generation.  His brilliantly active and funny home-schooled kids demanded a house visitation tax.  So I handed them some very nice hotel soap that I couldn't leave behind from one of the countless trips that I take.

Their son demanded that I play him a game a magic.  I carefully selected my favorite Thallid deck (a mono-green deck that involves scores of counters of fungus creation).  The son's deck?  A random collection of 300 cards that included many rare alphas and betas signed by his Dad and many other early MTG founders and artists.  Well, lets just say that the boy came learn respect for the lowly Saproling.

After that we played a variety of board games, Richard like many of us is a local hub for a weekly game night that turned out to be super cool for all involved.  Especially fun was the game of Werewolf.  Later we played St. Petersberg and that was cool but Richard showed off way too much his superior PhD skills...

At the end of the night i got to play Richard 1v1 MTG.  He gleefully ran downstairs and came up with his own totally hand-written deck.  It was super cool.  It was an agnostic deck that had a touch of blue but other than that it was like an alien creature.  It had crads like The Exchange Student, 1 blue and 3 colorless sorcery, when brought into play exchange for a creature of your opponents.  The old Switcheroo, takes a card at random from your opponent and switch with this one.  I played a mono-black deck but I took 20 points of damage by the time I could deal just 6 to him - from no creature damage, simply tool cards that caused me damage from the number of HIS cards that I had in my hand or in play!!!

But the coolest part is after I asked him to sign 5 basic lands - he ran downstairs again and came back up with another hand-written card - a Secret Achievement - I accomplished by asking for the signing of the 5 basic lands - very cool huh?

-Erik

DICE 2009

Kyle and Erik
 DICE 2009

The DICE Conference was a good one for me this year.  It was truly great after 5 years in Korea to be back living here in LA again and catching up with so many people that I have not seen for years.  I also got a chance to meet a lot of cool people for the first time.  I met Richard Garfield of MTG fame, and I am looking forward to having a chance to play some games with him in Seattle this week.

When playing in the poker tournament was very cool to be seated between Greg Zeschuk of Bioware and Mike Mohraine of Blizzard.  Greg and I chatted affably and I enjoyed hearing what are the things that Greg is thinking about lately (it has been over 5 years since he co-edited my book on game development), Mike on the other hand had to suffer my fan boy shock of sitting next to him and I think he had decided a while ago he just did not need to add any more friends.

I had time to sit in only three of the sessions: Gabe Newell from Valve discussed Steam and service; John Ricatello  talking about EA and Bruce Shelley’s post mortem on Ensemble.

Easily the more interesting talk was Gabe’s talk on steam.  He broke ranks with the normal executive approach and showed actual numbers behind their sales and promotions.  He had a chart that declared on average a game with a 25% discount would generate about 250% more sales volume, a game with 10% discount something like a 35% increase in sales volume and a game that has a 75% discount has shown on Steam a whopping 1500% increase in total dollar volume!

I was a bit surprised that when I asked if the increase in new users

Even more exciting is that after the sale is over the new floor on the sales of the game stays up at about 2x-3x what it was before the sale.  We ended up “having to do” a sale at GoPets for about a week in GoPets and saw a great spike of sales and after the event we have seen a steady 2x on sales.   So it was very interesting to see the same sort of numbers happening at Steam.  The reason why we “had to do a sale” will be a full blog post in a follow up article.

Ricatello’s is getting grief in some blogs for his frank discussion of “junk” but I think he did an okay job.  It was yawn boring to me.  It was not inspirational, it was not really edgy, it was just corporate.  That is the problem when you are at that level, it is very hard to think of something that would have given true value to the audience and worth listening too without having non-trivial possibilities of causing the stock to jitter.

Bruce Shelley’s post-mortem was moving, for not only is a he a great game designer and a great guy – he was also one of our first angel investors in GoPets so I have come to know him over time.  He is truly one of the most thoughtful and decent of the people in our industry and there are so many good people here.

He talked about what they did right and there were no big surprises there – build a great place to work, hire great people, and then make great games – and kill the merely good games (and bad!)  But getting on to why did Microsoft shut them down you could see real emotion from Bruce. Despite his words he still could not believe that a studio that developed more than $600m of revenue for Microsoft would be shut down.   If you assume that from 2001 to 2009 they had an average of 70 staff and if you assumed fully burdened they cost of each head was $25k per month (huge gross MS overhead amounts) at worst, worst case they consumed $170m of that $600m, with retail taking 33% there leaves a clear $230m.  A quarter of a billion dollars of free cash flow added back to MS.  Enough to pay for at least 6 weeks of Xbox 360 hardware cost overruns (read with dry humor) why would they not keep these guys?

In the end, Bruce shared his belief that fundamentally it was because Ensemble got relaxed – a sense of entitlement – no need to prove themselves again to Redmond after delivering the cash.  But as new management came into Redmond – they should have taken the time out to “You. Me. Drink. We Friends” as my friend Won Il Su would advise on just about any business situation.

There  were second order issues like having probably too many extra heads after cancelling projects, or an unnecessary new building but none of that would have counted if there was a solid line of communication back in Redmond.  So Ensemble was shut down and the free cash flow of at least $30m a year erased off of the P&L books to save some managers the air miles down to Dallas.

Of course it seems like a colossal error by the new Don Mattrick led management team, but instead I see it that business is done in the Asian manner everywhere.  Contracts do not matter, even profits do not matter – people will pay you and do business with you only if they really want to.  Communicating with other people and other entities is phenomenally expensive in overhead of time, flying, wear and tear.  In these tougher times, besides all of the thoughts of trimming costs – all of us geeks have to work a bit harder on our network maintenance…

PS:
*cough* I think that means more blogging on my part…

Thank you so much for the kind words Jussi!
 

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Way too long since I have posted

Kyle and Erik
 It has been a long, long time since I have posted...

So many changes in life... here are a few updates:

OBAMA!

I loved the sour look on W's face as he watched true greatness sweep him aside onto the pile of bitter ashes of history.

So after 5 years living in Seoul Korea - I am back!

Thank you Obama for accepting the challenge of leading us back from the darkness...

Switching gears....

The ShamWoW sales guy Vince is one of my new life heros:
http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=5490

I was already convined about the towels, Kyle and I nod at each other every time he pitches the towels, and I have been thinking he is much better at selling paper towels than I will ever be selling anything.  On top of that he if fighting the good fight of attacking the Church of Scientologists!

Adam martin over at T=Machine has just written a very valuable post on Tabula Rasa - it is a must read - he should be making money off of every read:

http://t-machine.org/index.php/2009/01/16/we-need-to-talk-about-tabula-rasa-when-will-we-talk-about-tabula-rasa/

He raises so many important issues, but the biggest central issue is why do we not talk about the failures of our games?  He gives many solid reasons, I agree with all of them.  One of the most crazy things about our industry is how game development teams usually make between 2 to 10 different games at the same time and passively aggressively refuse to work together.

With the Warm and Fuzzy team here in Los Angeles (great to be back home) and with collaboration with Neowiz Games we have created and released a very solid puzzle game that has been a big hit with anyone I know that has played it!  It is a mystery and puzzle game with jogsaw puzzles, find the differences, hidden objects and all together 100 different puzzles with 7 chapters (first chapter is free $20 for the full game)

www.puzzlesmash.com/BookOfSecrets/purchase




Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds

Kyle and Erik
Hey!

I have a new book out... this time I had a LOT of help!  Erin Hoffman did the heavy lifting on the editing and book design, and together we pulled in 15 great contributors!  Check out the list below...

Who wants to be the first to get a review up on Amazon??? ^^

But, seriously... this compilations of essays discusses in depth the state of thinking on how we manage this awkward transitional period of virtual property and human rights in our online worlds.

Today's users of virtual environments -- estimated to number 50 million by 2011 -- invest huge amounts of time, money, and heart into their online homes. But modern license agreements do not accord them any ownership over this investment. This book explores the complex relationships between virtual world inhabitants, creators, worlds, and the real-world law that now is closing in to mediate between them.

Joining editors Erik Bethke and Erin Hoffman are contributors:

Julian Dibbell
Bill Fulton
Laura Genender
Andres Guadamuz
Link Hughes
Sean F. Kane
Raph Koster
Heather and Susan Logas
Pétur Jóhannes Óskarsson
Russ Pitts
Cat Rambo
Chris Rettstatt
Ren Reynolds
and Allen Varney.


Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds

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