Category Archives: Personal Stuff

Happy New Year

2010 was a very special year for me. From founding Spry Fox (which I would never have had the courage to do without a great business partner like Danc), to releasing our first games, to winning the IndiePub mobile games competition, to finding ourselves at the top of Amazon’s “top rated games” page… it’s been a better ride than I could have hoped for. But all of this pales in comparison to the most important news that I received in 2010: Eve is pregnant with a little girl — our first child — and due to give birth on March 4th. So here’s to a joyous and sleep-deprived 2011!

And, lest I seem ungrateful, I’d like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your kind comments and encouragement. When I started writing this blog almost five years ago, I never really expected it to become a meaningful part of my life. I’m mildly astonished and grateful that it has done just that.

Happy new year, everyone. :-)

Kindle Game #2: Panda Poet

Just a quick note to announce that we’ve launched our second Kindle game, a neat little word puzzle called “Panda Poet.”. It’s a somewhat faster game than Triple Town, and it takes advantage of the Kindle’s keyboard. It also features really cute pandas, which is apparently the killer feature for many players. :-)

This is the fourth game in the word game genre on the Kindle platform (not something we realized would be the case when we first started developing it) so it will be interesting to see if Amazon’s customers still find it appealing. On other platforms in the “uncertain beginnings” phase, customers can definitely exhibit genre burnout.

That said, so far the reviews are good and Panda Poet is rising on the charts. I think the game’s success will depend largely on Amazon’s support of it, word of mouth, and the cuteness factor. We’ll be doing our own marketing, but thus far I’ve found it difficult to reach Kindle users — many of the traditional tactics (like using Google and Facebook advertising, for example) haven’t proven effective. I’ll do a post-mortem on both Triple Town and Panda Poet sometime in the next few months and will go into greater detail at that time.

Announcing Spry Fox

Spry Fox Logo

Since well before I entered this industry, I’ve wanted to make my own games. At first, I thought I’d make exercise games, but that was before the launch of the Wii and well before I had any credibility in this industry, so it didn’t work out. Then I thought I’d make downloadable console games, but in a bizarre twist of fate, I was instead hired by Microsoft to review everyone else’s creative work. Well, they say the third time’s the charm, so I’m pleased to formally announce the birth of Spry Fox, a new kind of game development studio that I’ve co-founded with my good friend, Daniel Cook. The fearless Tom Buscaglia is our general counsel.

What do I mean by “new kind of game development studio?” Put simply: we focus on the business and design aspects of game development. We do not employ developers and we do not outsource. We create games by partnering with other talented individuals whose development abilities we respect, and everyone shares in the profit. In this regard, Spry Fox functions somewhat like a modern movie studio — we form teams around a project that everyone is passionate about, and the team disbands when the project is done (or, in the case of a free-to-play game, when the projects stops generating meaningful revenue). With a bit of luck, a team will gel nicely and may reunite many times (ala a Kevin Smith production), but it isn’t strictly necessary. We work together on what we love, and we part ways when our interests diverge.

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On Vitamin D (notgames)

Several months ago, my wife Eve had a blood test and was subsequently informed by her physician that she was “very” deficient in vitamin D (also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies naturally generate it when exposed to solar UVB rays.) Since we live in Seattle, where it’s perpetually cloudy for approximately three-fourths of the year, Eve’s deficiency wasn’t too surprising. She started taking vitamin D supplements, and I started doing some research on vitamin D in general. I discovered three important things:

  • A very large percentage of 1st world residents are vitamin D deficient because we spend so much time indoors (and often use sunscreen when outdoors), and,
  • Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a disturbingly wide range of very serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease, autism, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis, and,
  • Because the “daily recommended minimum” intake of vitamin D is 400 IU (the amount found in many multi-vitamins), many people mistakenly believe that a multi-vitamin is a sufficient source of vitamin D even if, like me, you go weeks at a time without significant sun exposure. Even people who get sun exposure before or after work may not be entirely OK; most UVB radiation penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere from approximately 10am to 3pm. The National Institute of Health recommends 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between those times at least twice a week, sans sunscreen, to people who wish to self-synthesize the recommended minimum amount of vitamin D.

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IGDA Board Elections

I decided to run for the board of the IGDA this year. As part of that process, I was asked to write a “candidate position statement” and answer some questions, all of which I have copied below. (This material is also available on the IGDA website.)

If you are an IGDA member, I would really appreciate your vote. The poll is open now and closes on February 28th.

Candidate Position Statement:

I am running for the IGDA Board because I believe the IGDA is faced with a vital problem: many people in our industry can’t see why they should join or actively participate in the IGDA. It’s easy to understand why. First, our industry’s most prestigious publications and conferences are operated by other organizations. Second, our government lobbying is led primarily by the ESA. And lastly, the tangible benefits of IGDA membership – other than the recent health insurance offering – are unclear to many people. I believe that lack of progress on these fronts will jeopardize the IGDA and undermine its ability to tackle issues its members care about, such as quality of life and credit standards.

We — that is, *all* game developers, not just the large companies that comprise the ESA’s membership — need an organization that represents our interests and enhances the creative and business opportunities available to each of us. But we will never reach that goal without first building an organization whose value to potential members is self-evident. When people can’t see the value in paying $48 bucks for an annual membership, you know something is wrong.

If elected, I will focus on increasing the tangible value of IGDA membership. I’d like to ensure that content from the excellent IGDA Leadership Forum is freely available to all members, not just those who can attend the event. I’d like to enhance the ties between the IGDA and GDC to the extent that it benefits IGDA members. I’d like to grow programs, such as the IGDA’s webinar series, that bring useful business and legal information to IGDA members worldwide. And lastly, I’d like to explore the creation of additional benefits like the IGDA’s new group health plan; for example, a group legal plan.

In my time as portfolio manager of Xbox LIVE Arcade and as a consultant, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many game developers. What has differentiated those that succeed from those that struggle is a combination of skill, luck, access to information, and the ability (and opportunity) to promote themselves. The IGDA can’t give developers luck, but it *can* open their eyes to common stumbling blocks, teach them about business, enhance their networking opportunities and help improve their skills. It can reduce the financial burdens that developers face and arm them with the tools they need to succeed… and increase its own legitimacy in the process.

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Aid to Haiti

For those of you who have been considering making a donation to help the people of Haiti, but who have been deterred by the bewildering array of non-profit organizations currently asking for help, my wife has identified Partners In Health as a group that has been operating in Haiti for a very long time and has relationships, knowledge and infrastructure to leverage during this crisis, which will hopefully make them a little more effective. Here’s a note that we received from Partners in Health after making our own donation.

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Happy Dogs

My friend Terry took these fantastic photos of my dogs, Pooka (the white one) and Keiko (the black one). They were simply too good not to share. Check out the dirt that Pooka is kicking up in the first photo — she’s one mean running machine! :-)

pookabull
doggie-yingyang
pookajoy

Game Tycoon’s 4th Anniversary

I have been actively maintaining this blog for four years, as of today. There are very few things that I have remained actively committed to for such a length of time… my lovely wife, my garden, and of course, games. So it feels like a real milestone to me!

Anyway, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you for reading along. Whether you started recently or in the distant past, your interest in this blog means a lot to me. And to those who have taken the time to comment on posts or send me private notes, an especially big thank you. I had always hoped this blog would evolve into a dialogue, but I’ve learned more from you all than I could have imagined way back in 2005. I’ve truly appreciated your words of support when you’ve liked what I’ve written, and (especially!) your counter-arguments when you’ve disagreed with my opinions.

It’s funny to look back on my oldest posts… this was a very different blog back when. Oh, and I’m still waiting for someone to make an RPG that I enjoy as much as Planescape: Torment, dammit. :-)

DD Summit Video

Film Victoria was kind enough to publicly share the video of my keynote at the Digital Distribution Summit in Melbourne. You can find it here.

Quick summary: I focus mainly on what it takes to successfully pitch your XBLA/PSN/Wiiware/Steam game to a publisher or platform-holder. If you haven’t already endured too many talks on this subject, I think you’ll enjoy the video. I’ve gotten an unusually large amount of good feedback about it!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, when I ask “are you all right?” in the first few minutes of the talk, it’s because some poor guy fell on his face at the back of the auditorium. I, ummm, probably should have let someone else — someone NOT delivering a keynote at the time — ask after him.  :-}

Melbourne-Bound

Just wanted to mention that I’ll be giving the keynote at the Digital Distribution Summit in Melbourne on September 29th, organized by Film Victoria. I’ve been asked to focus my lecture on XBLA/PSN, but I think the other speakers will address iPhone, Steam, etc. Simon Carless and Jamil Moledina will be there as well, so it should be a good time. :-)

This will be my first visit to Australia, so I’m excited! Tourism suggestions welcome. And of course if you’re going to be at the conference, drop me a note.

PS. I’ll be traveling for three weeks (leaving this Thursday) so my blog activity will be light during that time.