Introducing our ‘curated spaces’ for GDC 2015

13229947794_1f2c29b3d2_z[Picture of Iam8bit’s ‘You’ve Got Game Show!’ from GDC 2014 – here’s the full gallery of curated spaces from last year.]

As you folks may have spotted, there’s just a week to go ’til we hit Game Developers Conference 2015 – and there’ll likely be 25,000+ game developers converging on the Moscone Center to check out talks, Expo, and everything in between, yay!

And actually, it’s the ‘everything in between’ I wanted to talk about in this post. When the organizers looked at GDC, 3 or 4 years ago, we realized we were providing lotsa neat stuff in the conference rooms, and on the Expo Floor. But some of the larger ‘common spaces’ when walking around Moscone felt, well, a bit empty.

So we started putting a lot more seating/hangout spaces in there, plus commissioning, paying expenses and giving free space to awesome people who were curating and showing ‘interesting things’. Best of all, these spaces are viewable and interactable by any GDC pass holder, from Expo to Exhibitor to All-Access. And we do them _solely_ to make your experience a lot more fun, thought-provoking, and social.

These GDC ‘curated spaces’ are listed, day by day, on the GDC 2015 Events page, but I thought it might be useful to highlight them and add a little ‘co-director’s commentary’ – with full credit to Meggan Scavio (da true bosslady!), Sandesh Nicol & Ashley DaSilva, plus our amazing ops team – and ALL of our partners listed below – for making this all happen: Continue reading

‘Share Of Voice’ – the most underdiscussed stat in video games?

azleeroyheaderSomething I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – oddly, since I don’t play it – is World Of Warcraft. Blizzard’s 10-year-old MMO behemoth has outlasted pretty much every expensively funded competitor, at least in the ‘pay a monthly subscription’ category. (Although I’ve heard reports that some of its ‘failed’ rivals in a galaxy far far away are surprisingly profitable on a monthly basis.)

Anyway, current profit/loss numbers for rivals aren’t really that relevant. What’s clear is that the dream of creating multiple $1 billion ‘hardcore’ MMOs, before the rise of F2P on mobile, was doomed to failure. World Of Warcraft was the first to get multiple millions of subscribers, and there it pretty much stayed, as the sole mega-success.

But why was that? Besides the fact it’s a beautifully crafted game, of course! Well, I think VCs, funders (& developers!) failed to understand that WoW players were a large percentage of the total market for ‘super hardcore’ games. Not only that, but the social networks built up with guilds and multi-hour raids meant that in order to tear someone away from WoW, you literally had to uproot their entire social network (and Leeroy!) en masse and get them to switch games simultaneously. That’s a high barrier.

It’s hardly a ‘duh’ mistake, though. I think it was reasonable to presume that, just as World Of Warcraft overtook EverQuest or Ultima Online, someone could make a game that would be ‘the next World Of Warcraft’. But in all the research I presume was done ahead of these investments, did anyone grok what I’d like to call ‘the Share Of Voice problem’ that games – and hardly any other creative medium – have? Continue reading

Video Game StoryBundle V – new eBook goodness for 2015!


[We’re going to be doing 3 or 4 Video Game StoryBundles in 2015, but this first one is a real doozy, including Darius Kazemi on Jagged Alliance, Leigh Alexander’s Clipping Through, a digital debut for the amazing Super I Am 8-Bit art book, and an exclusive ‘first time ever available’ debut for the hilarious full-length Game Toilet ‘game concept theater’ book. Go grab it!]

Continuing its popular “pay what you want” ebook bundles, StoryBundle is proud to present the Video Game Bundle V – the latest in the super popular series. The specially curated set of ten full-length game culture & history books/magazines and follows up four previous bestselling video game-centric ebook bundles.It once again features over $50 worth of books & magazines for a fraction of that price – including multiple books never available in ebook format before, and one world exclusive debut!

The basic purchase tier ($3 or above) for Video Game Bundle V, curated by game industry veteran Simon Carless, includes Darius Kazemi’s meticulously researched full-length Boss Fight Books take on Sir-Tech’s seminal TRPG Jagged Alliance 2, as well as the first three issues from under-appreciated gem of a video game zine Arcade Review, featuring smart writing on a host of unconventional games.

Also available at this tier is a world exclusive for this StoryBundle. The full-length digital version of the recently Kickstarter-ed Kb’s Game Toilet book is a delight, if you love witty cartoon goofs on wacky game concepts. Alongside that is Dylan Holmes’ A Mind Forever Voyaging, a super well-written romp through classic moments in video game narrative history.
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Video Games & Stand-Up Comedy – Subversion In Common?


[This is excerpted from the fifth issue of my new TinyLetter email newsletter, dealing with ‘musings on games, tech and life’ – go ahead and sign up if you dig it!]

As I noted on Twitter, one of my most beloved Christmas presents this year is Stewart Lee’s book ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life And Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian‘. And one of the things it’s taught me is sorta, well, chicken soup for the soul, in an underfed Dickensian orphan kind of way.

(For anyone who doesn’t know him, Lee – once half of British comedy double-act Lee & Herring, who I rather enjoyed as a callow teenager, is a master of edgy meta-humor – often on tough subjects like terrorism and religion – that’s more repetitive performance art than ‘real jokes’ at times. Which is precisely why it’s amazing. Check out his ‘Stand Up Comedian’ set – naughtily available in full on YouTube – and his ‘Comedy Vehicle’ series for the BBC.)

In any case, Lee has had an interesting relationship with ‘making things’ because of his history both writing and producing for comedy as well as theater – notably co-creating Jerry Springer: The Opera and being targeted en masse by protesters along the way.

The book, which is in majority annotated transcripts of 3 of his recent stand-up shows, also has narrative parts that talk about his life and method – and it’s clear he reaches way beyond the dick joke in an attempt to introduce theatricality into stand-up. But Lee is also caustic on how comedy is seen, and I thought this part particularly quotable: Continue reading

My Top 5 Video Games Of 2014

[This is excerpted from the fourth issue of my new TinyLetter email newsletter, dealing with ‘musings on games, tech and life’ – go ahead and sign up if you dig it!]

Since my colleagues at Gamasutra will be rolling out their personal Top 5s for ‘video games wot they played in 2014′ over the next few days, thought I could have a hack at my own. I’m super happy that lists of best games are getting a lot more personal nowadays, btw – as games widen their appeal, everyone should have different, personal lists of their favorite games.

Now, bear in mind that I tend to like certain times of titles which appeal to my borderline ADD issues – quick, (sometimes) replayable games that have some interesting skill elements in them. But then, that may be much closer to what all of you have time to play, vs. gigantic 150-hour RPGs or ‘games that are also your social life’ – see LoL, DOTA, WoW, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So without further ado, here’s the 5 games (OK, 6 games but I’m lumping two together!) that I dug this year:

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Game Info Discoverability – Top 5 Lessons From ‘Games We Care About’


[This is excerpted from the third issue of my new TinyLetter email newsletter, dealing with ‘musings on games, tech and life’ – go ahead and sign up if you dig it!]

There’s one blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a while now (talking of ‘regular newsletter forcing me to write things!) It’s about the things I’ve learned while grabbing info on 500+ indie games for the Games We Care About Twitter account.

For anyone who’s unaware of Games We Care About, as I explain in a recent blog post: “I was very excited about this concept when I launched it back in June, and it’s actually worked out fairly well. The Twitter account for daily discovery of playable games that I (and others!) ‘care about’ has almost 3,500 followers, and most individual game picks have a total of at least 10 Retweets or Favorites. And c’mon, ‘The Illogical Journey Of The Zambonis’? Yesss.”

So, after devs/other recommenders give me a name and a URL for a indie game, I have to compile the rest to complete/schedule a Twitter post. This is generally comprised of the following steps: ‘Is it paid or free?’, ‘What platforms is it released for?’, ‘What’s the best URL to link for it?’, and finally ‘Where do I get a clean screenshot to upload alongside the Tweet?’ Simples?

But looking for these things – and not always finding them easily (?!) has led me to the following ‘Top 5!’ conclusions. Independent game developers – and anyone promoting things online, actually – should probably think about these when displaying info about their product. Most of these relate to any ‘official game website’ you have, but you probably also have a Steam page, an App Store page. So they all inter-related, and you need to have a strategy for updating all of them – please extrapolate from there!

So, here goes:

1. Make official screenshots and YouTube videos easily grabbable.

You’d think this would be fairly obvious, but I’ve found a couple of gotchas. Firstly, a number of people have fancy screenshot galleries where you can’t easily right click on the picture and ‘Save As’. If this happens, I tend to ‘tsk, tsk’ for a couple of seconds and then go straight to Google Image Search (where you may or may not like the results :P)

Secondly, some people seem to have custom videos or walkthroughs or various other mutant things in their videos section. Sometimes they’re not even hosted on YouTube. You always want (imho!) an official trailer that gets to the gameplay footage quickly, and explains the essential idea and features simply. Being able to play the video, click on the YouTube link and then grab the URL is just the easiest way to embed/rehost nowadays. Easy is good. (Feel free to have alternative, non-YouTube versions as well if you desire.)

2. Watch the (old) age of your game assets!Games change quickly, especially in always-evolving ‘Early Access’ versions. Sometimes developers can be embarrassed when an ancient screenshot turns up, for example, on a ‘Games We Care About’ Tweet. On that front, you should probably check out Google Image Search for your game’s name, just to see what’s coming up and if any of it is, shall we say, ‘unfortunate’. 

If it is, make _sure_ you have brand new screenshots you’re happy with prominently on your official site or Steam page. (How many people update their Steam page screenshots regularly through Early Access, I wonder?) I’ve also seen official indie game websites with screenshots that are as much as 3 or 4 years old (!). If you’re making a fast-evolving game, you might want to include dated captions on your screenshots if you want to show evolution – or just nix the old ones.

3. Issues with iOS screenshots with text/features included in them

When grabbing info and screenshots on iOS games, one major issue I’ve found is that Apple allows you to insert a bunch of extra info into your ‘official’ screenshots on the App Store. This is good for marketing the game on the store – you can add text, game features, calls to action and so on.

But if you’re a third party looking for a clean screenshot, it’s tricky. This is true not least because a lot of iOS-only games don’t have official standalone websites, cos the App Store public URL does a good (enough) job of it. So be careful. (If you’re fine with whatever pops up on Google Image Search, maybe it’s all good. But again, that can be your friend _or_ your foe.)

4. New platforms – updating your central info repository!

Probably one of the trickiest areas I’ve found is when a game starts on one platform, and gradually expands to three or four (or more!) My first question to you – when you added that new platform, did you remember to update the official website _fully_? I’ve often found non-updated sites, months after the new version debuted.

This is particularly difficult if you want one URL to sum up all the PC, iOS, _and_ Android (Google and Amazon store!) versions of the game – and when you get on enough platforms, you probably want your official website, which links to all of them, being people’s first port of call. So make sure you go back and clean things up for maximum discoverability.

5. Always have a backup ‘one URL to explain it all’

My final tip is sorta a fix for ALL of the above, since smart independent developers have already been thinking about these issues for a long time. You may want to keep your fancy official website with arty Flash effects. If so, fair enough, but for Klingon’s sake have a link to a presskit() for your game in the top corner of the site, then.

For those who’ve missed out on it, presskit() is a free ‘press-centric info about your video game’ website toolkit created by Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, and as the intro explains: “Developers only have to spend an hour or so creating well-laid out press pages with everything the press needs to write to their hearts desire. Everybody wins.”

I can’t recommend this enough – almost every time I’ve been to a presskit() page it’s got me the info I’m looking for quickly and easily. It’s well organized and easy to find the relevant info. And everyone should be running one, even if just as a header or footer link.

The Kevin Patterson Experience – Video Games’ ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’?

ww[This is excerpted from the second issue of my new TinyLetter email newsletter, dealing with ‘musings on games, tech and life’ – go ahead and sign up if you dig it!]

One of the most wonderful performance art happenings in recent history has been going on under our noses for the last few weeks – I’m really surprised that not many have picked up on it in more detail. I did Tweet about this briefly – but luckily, now I have this newsletter, I can expand upon it a bit.

In involves video game prankster William Pugh (the co-creator of the sublime The Stanley Parable - check out this demo playthrough in case ya don’t know) and a gentleman called Kevin Patterson, who is making a game called Waiting Room, downloadable for free right now on PC, Mac, and Linux.

What’s it about? Uh… it’s “a playful exploration of time and how we spend it as a society and as individuals.” Apparently.
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Several Updates, November 2014!

Hot-Chip-Atomic-Bomb-William-Onyeabor-CoverIt’s been a few months since I updated on this blog (although I’m a regular poster on Twitter, of course), so I thought it might be nice to do a brief update with the state of various ‘not my dayjob’ projects I’ve been working on. Let’s go:

Simon’s Email Musings - sparked by a wish to get a bit more ‘personal’ and write more often and informally, I’ve joined the hipster bandwagon to bring email newsletters back, heh – focusing on games, tech, and what I’m up to personally. Other smart folks like Dan Hon have been doing it for a while, and I’m archiving the newsletters publicly if you want to peruse. Here’s the first one, which includes Spike Jonze, William Gibson, Inkle’s ’80 Days’, & more. Subscribe now

MobyGames – well, the ‘canonical video game info/credits’ site that we saved about 11 months ago is still truckin’ along well, after we (site owner Reed and myself!) reverted its code to the original version (and improved it quite a bit!) Our news section has all the regular updates around new content – here’s a recent post that I wrote that made me happy: Continue reading

Video Game Storybundle 4.0 – onto the next age.

bundle_34_cover-6ab5b04b1113a5ec306694fa94431a0fIt’s that time, again – after the third Video Game StoryBundle that I curated debuted back in April, I’ve been working diligently with a bunch of authors, magazine editors, and even musicians (!) to curate the fourth one, which launched this morning. Lots more info below – with books from Anna Anthropy, Zoya Street, Colin Campbell, Jeremy Parish, and music albums ft. Manami Matsumae (Mega Man) & Austin Wintory (Journey) – but I’m super proud of this bundle’s diversity and readability, so please go buy it and support the authors if you have a chance.

“Continuing its popular “pay what you want” ebook bundles, StoryBundle is proud to present the Video Game Bundle 4.0. The specially curated set of thirteen full-length game culture & history books/magazines & follows up three previous bestselling digital game bundles.

It once again features over $50 worth of books & magazines—plus two full-length all-star music albums—for a fraction of that price, with the gaming non-profit SpecialEffect our lead charity for this bundle.

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Why game discovery is vital – introducing Games We Care About.

games_we_careEvery few months, I get an urge to try something new as a side project, related to a problem. This time – though I make no claims it will FIX EVERYTHING – it’s intended to address this simple issue:

“I like playing video games, but there are so many damn video games nowadays. How do I find out about video games I might want to play?”

Obviously, the discovery issue isn’t new – though it’s been getting much worse of late. Video game discovery woes extend past mobile to PC and even console, as my indie dev friends are bemoaning. As someone who spends a LOT of time reading about video games, I’m dazzled and very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beautiful pictures, videos and playables of games made by small and medium-sized teams all over the globe.

Our experience? You see a great-looking game, you see 10, you see 100 – after a point, you can’t situate them all in your brain. (Especially if you have to worry about other things, like making rent or having a pleasant social life or talking to your family.) And many of these titles you read about you can’t actually _play_ yet – you have to file your positive vibes away for when that game is available – and actually spot that it came out.

So where do you go to find out what you might want to play right now? The video game platform holders (iOS App Store, Google Play, Steam, etc) certainly have front pages where you can see a whole bunch of games. But there’s two main barriers to you finding what you want: Continue reading