Monday, July 31, 2006

My kingdom for a bowl of rice

Continuing with today's theme of pet peeves (my apologies, ranting usually takes over when the blog muse is away)...

Just had dinner at Mao's Kitchen in Venice. It's tasty Chinese food that skirts the tricky border between authentic and Americanized. The atmosphere is trendy but not pretentious so a great place to relax and chat. Not a place to go if you're in a hurry since the service is questionable. But that's not the rant.

My genetic heritage is Chinese. As such, I am adept at the art of chopstick usage, I think the stubby Asian fingers help. In fact, as a kid I used to play a game where we'd compete to see who could move more M&Ms from one bowl to another. So needless to say, I like using chopsticks, Given enough incentive, I could probably catch a fly out of the air with chopsticks (albeit a retarded fly and with a very large set of sticks). What I can't do is eat rice off a plate with chopsticks.

So here's the thing: Americanized Chinese food places almost always put their food on plates. In addition, we all get individual plates; so everyone can share and do the happy family style thing. Sounds great, the Communists would be happy. Unfortunately, that's not how it works in China. The Chinese don't eat off plates, they eat off bowls. This is because chopsticks suck at picking up Chinese rice from a plate (it's loose, not sticky like Japanese or Korean rice). Here's how it's supposed to work:

  1. Pick food off plate with chopstick
  2. Place food on bowl of rice
  3. Pick up bowl of rice with food on top
  4. Bring bowl to face
  5. Use chopsticks to scoop food & rice into gaping maw
Unfortunately, here's what happened at Mao's (who, for the sake of authenticity, don't offer forks).
  1. Pick food off plate with chopstick
  2. Place food on personal plate with rice
  3. Fumble with rice, successfully grab 3 measly kernels and food
  4. Precariously bring loaded chopstick up towards mouth
  5. Lean ridiculously forward to catch food before it falls
Therefore, in the process of trying to be authentic, Mao's (like many other restaurants) has succeeded in making the process of eating Chinese food an entirely miserable experience. In what I can only describe as delicious irony: I asked for a fork. Seeing as I was the only Asian person at the table, this was kinda funny.

None of my companions asked for a fork. Most of them have not had the same experiences with how chopsticks should be used (with a bowl), so I can imagine that they were undoubtedly very frustrated at the entire process but were stuck in a dilemma. Do you give up and declare yourself a cultural invalid who can't use chopsticks? Or do you declare the Chinese a bunch of backwards savages that don't know how to eat? Either way, it's not conducive to impressing others at the table.

Anyways, my whole point is this: Don't hand out only chopsticks if you don't go all the way and give out bowls as well. You're dressing the part and speaking the part but you're busting out with the funky chicken when you should be bowing (I don't care how stupid that analogy was, it gave me a great visual so I decided to use it).

OMFG, are you kidding me?

After breaking the biggest story of the year, Next-Gen comes out with "10 Reasons for E3's collapse" and subsequently loses all journalistic respect. Well, at least mine.

Enough with the lists of 10! Have we become so braindead that we actually need ridiculous list after ridiculous list to help us consume information?

Writers, let's have more respect for our ideas than to give them this treatment. Readers, I know, smelling the roses takes too much damn time but give it a shot, you might enjoy it.

That is all. Carry on.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

E3 history? Not in an industry of cheats

Next-Gen reports that this year's E3 may be the last of its kind. The article cites "senior industry sources" as saying that the big budgets spends aren't justified for the media exposure gained. Therefore, big publishers plan to pull out next year and spend their money elsewhere.

Well, hmm, this is interesting.

Can this be true? More importantly, if it is, will it actually work? My gut feeling is that it won't.

We have a classic case of game theory here (pun intended). More specifically, we have a form of the prisoner's dilemma. Quitting E3 will only work if all the major publishers do indeed agree to stop spending huge bucks. But let's look at a simplified decision matrix:

  • Everyone decides to leave E3
    • Everyone spends less
    • There's no competition for media, no one has a media advantage.
  • Everyone decides to stay at E3
    • Everyone continues to spend
    • There's high competition for media, no one has a media advantage.
  • Everyone else decides to leave but someone cheats and goes big.
    • Cheater spends money
    • There is no competition for media, cheater has a media advantage.
Will all the big publishers be able to resist the temptation to cheat? Ha ha ha. Someone will cave. This news story is interesting in that I don't doubt a lot of executives are tired of spending money on E3. Unfortunately, I really don't think they have a choice. As long as E3 remains an event where someone who is willing to spend money can get exposure, this arms race will continue.

The only way to break this prisoner's dilemma is if the ESA (industry group, E3 organizer) mandates certain rules and budget constraints. Otherwise, the free market will demand that everyone competes as much as they can. So everyone may play nice in 2007 but I guarantee there will be cheaters the next year (if not in 07 itself). Therefore, it's not a decision for the publishers, it's a decision for the ESA. Do they have the guts to nerf the most exciting industry event of the year?

This should be very interesting. An industry without a major trade event? That's tough to imagine. If the ESA does this, they have their own problems. They're not the only organization that can put out a convention.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Tale of the PC Game Shopper

As Friday draws to a close, the collective souls of LA take a much needed sigh. Even the smog heads indoors to chill, hiding in the city's plethora of dive bar smoking rooms. While the smog retreats, a dull glow begins to take its place, spreading with each reborn streetlamp. In the Marina, close to where I live, this glow begins to infinitely loop between dark water and steel-glass apartment towers. Somewhere amidst this stream of light, like a submerged and forgotten pebble, rests a tiny store. But this is not just any store, this store is a purveyor of light and magic.

It is a store of curios and oddities, of fantasy worlds and fantastic beings. Although there is no ancient storekeep tending the register, no bell that rings when you walk through the door nor even a dark cat perched on a shelf, the magic and legacy of bygone shops is alive here. As you enter, a cacophony of sounds and images beckon you, enticing you to step up to bright kiosks. If you succumb, you are immediately whisked away to far away lands and dangerous places. This is indeed a store of magic but more importantly, it is a magic you can take home.

With wide eyes and a pocket full of cash, I enter the store. I ignore the beckoning kiosks, I avert my eyes from lascivious posters and I walk straight to the center of the store. I'm experienced in this magical stuff so I know exactly what I want. I scanned the shelves, piled to the point of bulging, and began to realize that something is wrong. This is the wrong stuff. Where'd all my stuff go? How could this be?

Repressing my panic, I asked for assistance and was promptly pointed to a corner, one that I must have missed earlier. I glanced over there and quickly realized that this corner didn't look right. It had the distinct look of a place where things were sent to die. As I approached, my instincts were confirmed. There were no displays here. The lights and sounds from the rest of the store don't quite make it into this section. Whereas items on the other shelves bulged from overpacking, the items in this corner leaned against each other... as if for strength.

This was definitely the right place but something terrible had happened. On the top shelf, a handful of items struggled for dignity, trying to represent a more noble time, though it was useless. I could feel my heart breaking. In a place of magic, the magic had left this section.

What had happened? I felt guilty, as if I was living my active life while completely oblivious to the slow death of a family member. Was I really to blame? I'm not sure. Regardless, I forgot what I was looking for. I got lost in the sadness. I left and I'm not sure if I'll ever go back.

Breaking news: Sheila was a man

Ever the Zeitgeist, Reuters reports that MMO players play it loose with their real and in-game genders.

In related news, they have the Internet on computers now. (Yes, my first quoted Homerism!)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Games help with post-traumatic stress

Games: It's not always about violence. It's sometimes about simulating violence to get over the real thing. Business week has an article about the military using games as part of therapy for veterans overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The point is not to retraumatize the patients but to allow the individuals to cope with painful experiences."
Cool beans. Well, except for this last part:
"Hoffman says his program has gotten off to a slow start due to a very involved training process for therapists. "We're going to go gangbusters once we get started," he says. "We've got our software ready, and we certainly have soldiers.""
"Oh I can't wait, all those traumatized soldiers coming back! We're going to be rich, filthy STINKY RICH!! Bahaha!" Ok, he didn't really say that but you know he was thinking it.

Oh well, I guess it's the thought that counts.

Nuke that popcorn, we got movies to watch.

2002 - The Ring: A young journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone in a week of viewing it. Evil comes out of a VCR. *

2005 - White Noise: A grieving widower begins to hear his wife in the static of consumer electronics. Evil comes out of a TV. *

2006 - Stay Alive: A group of teens is confronted with real death in the world of an online game. Evil wants to trade with you. *

2006 - Pulse: Wireless technologies have made a connection to the world beyond, opening a portal for evil. You've got E-vil. *

2007 - *666: High schoolers using their cell phones on a Ouiji board suddenly start getting text messages from hell. Evil is pocket-sized.

2007 - iDooms: The latest catchy tune during Spring break turns co-eds into zombies. Evil + Itunes.

2008 - Piranha: Bluetooth-connected devices work together to take over an office building and then the world. Evil has a virtual office.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Land Rover dares you to Go Beyond

Do you like commercials? No?

What if the ad was inspiring? What if it made you hopeful of tomorrow? What if it swept you away for just a brief moment to soar on the heights of imagination? Oh heck, what if it had Ewan McGregor whispering conspiratorially in your ear?

Would you like an ad like that? Not sure? Go here. Let the whole video load; this isn't one of those online videos you want to watch in a stop and go "5 o'clock freeway" pace. It'll take a minute or two so go write that thank-you note you meant to send yesterday. When it's ready, watch and enjoy.

Back yet? Cool, wb.

I'm such a sucker for this stuff. I absolutely love the art direction, the writing and the overall message of this ad. It takes all those things we want to believe about our lives (and by proxy, our cars) and packages it in a nice visual postcard. What impresses me the most is that they pulled this off without appearing contrived and completely avoiding a hard sell. This is great stuff, is it Superbowl already?

via Adrants

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Want to be tactile with me?

You may have ran into this bit of news today: The newest version of Monopoly available in the UK doesn't use Monopoly money, instead, players use Visa branded credit cards.

Like a lot of other people, I flinched a little when I first read this. Then I thought about the neighbor kid (let's call him Lester) who used to come by now and then to play a friendly game. Regrettably, I have to inform you that Lester was a poor excuse for a human being due to his inability to stop stealing my $500's when I wasn't looking. He delighted in causing rushed bathroom breaks and the packing of the sofa cushions with Monopoly money (which would be wrinkled, forgotten and if found, never compelling enough to force a recount). Now I'm not saying that Monopoly plastic will solve all problems, but perhaps it could have saved poor Lester from going to hell.

And there, folks, is our silver lining.

But aside from Lester, most of my memories of Monopoly money are fond ones. Monopoly money creates a tangible and tactile experience. It's been a while since I've played but I can still remember the smell of the money, the lightness of it, the way it felt to slide it under the board and the greedy tug on it from Lester as I paid rent in North Carolina. I'm not a brain expert but from what I know, I'm pretty sure these memories reside in a unique place in my brain. So all this got me thinking: As a gamer, what has happened to this part of my brain?

If statisticians audit my life and what I've done for fun, I'm sure they'd find that I've spent an entire decade playing games. Therefore, I have no doubt that "fun" is deeply entrenched in a specific part of my brain, probably the visual section. Uh oh.

Have I in some way caused the other parts of my brain to atrophy? Quite honestly, it's very rare that I do anything fun with my hands (if you're snickering, you should be ashamed of yourself). I'm talking about the fun of "tagging" someone, the joy of catching a line drive or the heft of a bloated water balloon.

I recognize that I'm not a kid anymore, so chances are I wouldn't be experiencing those things anyways. But lucky for me, I did experience those things while I was a kid. With the risk of sounding like an old fart, will kids today have the same opportunities given the temptation of games and other "virtual" fun? Will they be able to exercise all of their senses as often as they should? Probably so, kids will be kids, but it brings me to my final point.

I now finally realize why the Wii is so exciting. I don't think it's because it's a new gadget that will allow you to play games in a new way. Rather, I think it's a new gadget that will allow you to play games in a very old way: with your hands and body. It's not throwing your first spiral but it's got to be better than just playing with your thumbs.

Take a look at Guitar Hero, DDR and EyeToy. The success of these products is no doubt because of the same reason. There's a simple formula here; the more of our brain that we engage, the more vivid the experience and the more enjoyable the memories. Let's face it, we are creeping up to the threshold of visual realism. The next step is to bring more of our brain into the experience with better physics and deeper interaction. I can't wait!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Your word of the day: Clogcast

Clogcast (klog'kast) v. To contribute, in social media, content perceived to have little value. A compound word derived by combining "clog" and "podcasting"; the latter, a form of social media expression.

"He's always clogcasting the comments so I wouldn't expect him to say something useful."

"Nothing good here, just clogcasts of the stuff on TV last night."

Usage: Clogcasts, clogcasted, clogcasting v, clogcast, clogcaster n.

Previous words of the day:

Top Ten Game Sounds of All Time!

We are proud to bring you the top ten list to end all top ten lists. Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Top Ten Game Sounds of All Time!

10. Blump blump!
9. Nar nar nar!
8. Dok Dok Waah
7. Beeboom!
6. Sha, cha, sha, cha
5. Bling bling!
4. Bloop bloop bloop BLOOP
3. Woka woka!
2. Whooosh, whoosh!

And the number one game sound of all time!

1. Yip yip!

Those were top ten game sounds of all time! Woot, top ten! That was awesome!

A quick thanks to our top ten sponsors, you guys are always on our top ten.
Produced by Top Ten Productions.
Numbers provided by Top10 Studios.
Written and directed by Tawp Tien Jr.
Tune in next week for: The Top Ten Game Fonts of All Time!

Please stop by the gift shop for your official Top Ten Game Sounds fridge magnet (not all sounds included).

Can you pass me an analgesic?

I think we'd all be better off if I didn't post today. I'm recovering from the weekend and the part of my brain that does this writing stuff is over in the corner, peeing on the ficus and chanting "Yoshima".

By the way, could you stop reading so loud? Thanks. Oh yeah, hey, can you maybe turn down the screen brightness a little too? Oh great, you're wonderful!

So this weekend... right, let's see. I learned several things:

  • If you chuck a glow-stick necklace really far, you'll have a darn good chance of hitting a yuppy. [Hollywood Bowl Flaming Lips concert]
  • Contrary to all forms of logic: The speed at which pot smokers find each other is inversely proportional to the number of guests at the party. [Neighbor's party, 100 people, less than 5 minutes]
  • If you're the only one sporting goggles at a pool party, you better have six-pack abs or be the guy on the tall chair, otherwise, welcome strange looks. [Saturday day, Cuban pool party, I was the idiot with the goggles]
  • Women are much better line-cutters than men. Just hold her hand, try to keep up and shrug if anyone looks at you weird. [Hermosa Beach bar hopping]
When ficus-boy over there sobers up, we'll be back to normal.

[Edit: Oh yeah, forgot to mention I hadn't been doing anything social for about 6 weeks prior to this weekend. (You can fact check me by looking for the last time I talked about doing anything fun here in the blog) I'm really not sure why everything converged the last few days. Therefore, my smarty pants reader that told me I was trying to look popular: I'm sadly, not.]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sneaky Peeky at Sony's New Ad

Sony is making a sequel to its wildly successful (virally at least) Bravia TV bouncy balls ad. Oh sorry, did you think this was about the PS3? (Via my buddy over at Interstractive, who has a couple more links about it).

Anyways, the first Bravia ad was amazing and now they're going to make another. Not just that, the savvy folks at Sony have also created a blog about the making of the sequel. So far, they've posted up a couple teaser images and stories.

I haven't been excited about a TV ad in a long time (boring old media). So I hate to say this but they've really got me hooked. How they heck are they going to top the first ad?! More bouncy balls? Giant bouncy balls? More giant bouncy balls?! Trying to figure it all out is kinda fun!

Well, here's what I know so far. They've revealed the location of the shoot. A big ugly building in Scotland. Looks pretty bland... like it's ready for some color.

Color eh? Well the blog is full of paint splash imagery. So colorful paint should be involved.

Read this post on the blog and they talk about explosives.

So let's see, big ugly building, colorful paint and explosives.

Here's my guess:

They're going to implode the building after filling the entire thing with paint. The whole building is going to blow up in a colorful SPLAT!

[7/24 Update: The latest post to their blog shows that the building doesn't go SPLAT. What a shame, that building had it coming.]

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bonus points if you touch it

This is one of those "I'm archiving stuff so this is not really written to be enjoyed" posts.

Massive, Anarchy, Yaris in a tree, k.i.s.s.i.n.g.
First comes ads,
Then comes game-age,
Then comes Yaris with some touch-me signage.
Massive to serve dynamic & interactive billboards in Anarchy Online for the Toyota Yaris. Interact with the billboard and you get more info on the car. Not quite as enjoyable as machine gunning the billboard to spell out "Nissan Rules!" but whatever keeps the game free.

Know what might be cool? Have a mini-game in the billboard. Maybe if I snipe something off the billboard, I get a coupon. Or the billboard is a map that'll lead me to a leprechaun, who will then grant me a wish. Here's my favorite, I touch an appropriate billboard and a sim of Ron Popeil pops in and hands me a "+4 Leather Cutting Knife of Unbreaking". Better yet, he hands me "Self-Targeting Grenades" - Just set it and forget it! Schweeeet!

Don't worry, I'm joking... mostly. And yes, I butchered the kissing rhyme but when was the last time someone actually enjoyed the original?

via Mediaweek

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Shhh, I'm evading taxes

It's a beautiful day in Playa Vista. The sun is hiding demurely behind a see-through sheet of clouds. And with the gentleness of a parent's hand, an invisible breeze coaxes the palms to draw curlicues in the air. Yes, this is very nice day in coastal California. In fact, a perfect day... to steal from the government.

There's a Coffee Bean downstairs that I frequent because it's downstairs. I'm pretty predictable: blended iced chai no whipped cream. Why do we need to whip cream everything? One day I'm going to order a glass of water and they're going to ask me if I want whip cream on it. Don't succumb, just say no to the whip cream.

Where was I? Oh yeah, so order my drink and get asked, "for here or to go?". Hmm, well this is new. I don't remember being asked this before, here or at Starbucks.

"What's the difference?" I inquired, while looking at my cup of chai (Who seems to be saying, "Meh, I could go either way.")

"If you get it for here, I have to charge you tax." barista du jour replied.

"To go please." I say, feeling like I just brought down a monstrous slam dunk before the disbelieving eyes of Dubya. Booya! Eat that Bushie!

I pay and walk off with my own very Dubya-like smirk and signature "hehe".

I sat down outside and immediately felt bad. It dawned on me that I'm pretty sure the IRS would technically classify my sitting outside as still within the realm of "for here". And with that came the internal monologue:

"Did the barista just whisper 'cheap a-hole' or 'cappuchino' to her coworker?"

"I wonder how they audit this kind of stuff."

"By saving a quarter, did I just start a chain of events that would ultimately end with a kid not getting a required textbook, thus becoming disenchanted with education, dropping out of high school, running with the wrong crowd, finally crossing paths in the far future with a middle-aged man with a cup of iced chai who doesn't give up his wallet right away (dammit, which pocket is it in?) and sadly, the kid goes to jail for the rest of his life because he shoots chai-man in the face. [worse sentence ever but hey, it's an internal monologue.]"

"Wow, I bet getting shot in the face hurts. Can't blame the kid, I was holding an iced chai, that just screams out 'mug me' in five different languages."

"Are you done, can we get back on topic? Yeah, I think so."

"They should put up a big poster that says, 'Save 8% by taking it to go!' How illegal would that really be?"

"Wow, you're really an evil marketer. Yeah, I know."

Do ads falling in a forest make a sound?

You cannot have a successful marketing campaign without metrics. It's a logical impossibility. Metrics, either quantitative or qualitative, form the foundation for decision-making and the absence of metrics means you're flying blind. A marketing decision without any form of measurability is just risky. Pay some kids to hand out flyers for you and chances are, you'll find some flyers in a nearby trashcan.

This is why marketers salivate over numbers. We are generally risk-adverse. Sure, there are some of us that take risks and are first adopters of the latest marketing tactics, even if those tactics have no measurability. However, the majority of us stay out of the water until it looks safe. The success of Google (and search in general) was no doubt due in part to the incredible tracking capabilities of their advertising programs. The result is a whole new line item on many marketing budgets.

Now I'm not going to vouch for the accuracy of any of these metrics, but what I am saying is that a medium is not marketing friendly until it has metrics. In traditional media, TV has ratings and print has subscribers. So the challenge for any new marketing tactic is trying to figure out how to measure success. Until that happens, money stays tantalizingly distant.

This is why I'm glad to hear that IGA Worldwide, an in-game advertising company, has created a system to measure the effectiveness of their advertising. This is nothing new. Acclaim's partner, Massive Incorporated, already has a robust measurement system in place. This is a signal to me, however, that the industry is taking another step towards maturity. Because of this move, some of the risk-adverse marketers will begin to move gingerly towards the water.

But this is not enough. The data that will be available from these companies will show that ads were shown and to whom. However, there is still a disconnect for the advertiser. Someone saw the ad but did it really sway them to do anything? What is remarkable about search is that it often can be traced right to the sale. With in-game ads, the tracking stops at the ad impression, which is not very different than television.

What I would like to see is an even more robust system. In-game ads are served online to one of the most web-savvy audiences in the world. Let's solicit some gamers to allow additional tracking of their behaviors, such as online purchases or simple site visits. A campaign that's supposed to drive users to a promotional site will then have that critical measure of success. An online retailer can get an actual read on their return on investment. Although the advertisers that are strictly offline may be out of luck, even they will benefit from the insights gained from their online counterparts. I think this is when we'll really start to see in-game ads take off.

Oh and to answer the title question: No and ads in a forest are a bad idea, not enough foot traffic.

[ By the way, if you didn't know, I do not favor too many in-game ads in retail games. I think if you paid for something, you shouldn't be bombarded with advertising. I do, however, support in-game ads for free games (such as BOTS [I'm shameless!]). I think the game industry has room for offerings based mostly on ad-supported revenue. These will essentially be like the tv model and the model of many high-quality online destinations. Everyone would be a winner in that scenario. ]

via Adrants.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Pixel Border

Via casual digging, an article on gold farming in China. This is well-covered territory on "the Newb" (what the cool kids call it nowadays) and you know I'm a sympathizer. I like the whole global marketplace feeling of it all and I had this crazy idea we should just hire the farmers. While I was reading some of the comments in today's article, I started thinking... [cue the thought bubble]

Gaming is an act of contractions.

There is a line we cross everytime we start up the PC, fire up the Xbox, flip on the PS2 or umm... (give me a second, one will come to me... oh, got one) juice up the DS. Let's call this the Pixel Border. On one side of the border is you, in your real life, doing your RL thing. On the other side of the border is the gamer you, in the games you play, packing plasma weaponry and tossing spells on a whim. One is made of cells, the other pixels. Yet even with those differences, across both sides of the border, the commonality should be you. Your experiences, beliefs, personality and quirks should transcend the border and be sourced by both sides.

But this isn't true for gamers. Depending on which side of the Pixel Border we're on, we are different, even contradictory. In regards to gold farmers, we are upset about them because we think they make things unfair. Thus on the game side of the pixel border, we believe in a 1 to 1 ratio of effort to achievement. Anything that messes with that formula is unacceptable.

Yet on the world side of the pixel border, we believe in a different type of fairness. Take air travel for instance. We understand that if you buy an economy ticket, you will have to wait in the economy ticket line to check in. If you buy first class, you wait in a shorter line. But what if you had bought a first class ticket and found someone, with an economy class ticket, in line with you and then plopping down in the seat next to you? We'd think that'd be unfair. In the world, money brings privileges. In games, we believe that only effort should bring privileges.

So you see, gaming delivers hypocrisy into our lives when we cross the border. This is especially true for MMORPGs. A couple more examples:

World | Games
Flaunting of material wealth considered crass | If it glows, I want it more!
Stealing is wrong | Anything unwatched is free game
Innocence is adorable | Get a clue newb!
Strangers do not trade or barter | LTS!
Dancing on tables is weird | If you're a dwarf, it's required
Stripping in public shocking | Hey, look at my underpants!

I could go on but most of the rest are silly. The thing is, there is a strange balance that we all seem to understand. The contradictions are okay. No matter how virtual, some things are real. So you can kill someone in-game, no big deal. But feelings are real, so attacking someone personally is still wrong. We have become experts at crossing the border and acting appropriately when in Rome.

What bugs us is when someone doesn't understand the border. When I'm playing WoW and someone in my group says, "I just got a speeding ticket", it completely throws me off on how to respond. What do I say, "I'm sorry, here, let give you a defense buff??" We like the Pixel Border defined, preferably guarded and only those with proper papers can pass.

Going back to the initial topic. The gold farmers are unwelcomed because they respect the Border. Gold farmers sneak across the Border, bringing with them things we don't like. They speak a different language, take our resources and don't do things like we do. So we say: stay on the other side and leave us alone.

But how realistic is this request? Borders are notoriously drawn in an arbitrary and myopic way. As MMORPGs expand in the real world, each of us are going to have to constantly redefine our Border. When FFXI blended Japanese and North American servers and players from across the world were thrust together, the Border changed. Suddenly, I had to factor in Japanese players, their language and style, while playing my virtual game.

In the end, the presence of gold farmers is another contradiction that gamers as a whole will have to live with. This is regardless of whether or not you're supportive of them. I think by now we need to realize they're a part of the industry. But hey, don't worry, accepting them shouldn't be too tough, we're experts at this contradiction stuff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Day of analogies continues

Santa Monica, CA. Depending on which direction you face, it's either the end of Route 66 or the beginning. It is a city that embodies the identity crisis of that proverbial perpetually interpreted glass of water. You can't blame the city, it's stuck between the beautiful whitecaps of the Pacific Ocean and the grit of Downtown Los Angeles. Regardless of your perception of the city, one thing stands as an unblemished jewel, a flower that blossoms every Saturday morning: The Santa Monica farmer's market on 3rd Street.

It's got so much of everything you want, you're going to need two baskets on your beach cruiser. I'm not kidding, just about every time I go, I discover something new. A purple-headed cauliflower, bubblegum-scented incense and hand-crafted things I usually have to turn over a couple times before I figure out its purpose. It is the ultimate miniaturization of a free marketplace. Yes, this will do for my analogy.

Let's say the farmer's market suddenly became ridiculously successful. Oh, somewhere in the ballpark of a multi-billion dollar market. I vote for $16 billion (A). Sound good? Great.

Now let's say you're a busy little farmer. You work hard. Your offering goes from one little basket in some else's tent to your own piece of real estate. In fact, before you know it, your "little" tent has taken up 17% (B) of the space in the entire market. Not only that, you're the most popular (C) shopping spot in the whole place! Life is good, so so good.

One problem. At the end of the day, you open up your cash box and count your score. In the $16 billion market, you go home with $200 million (D). Sounds impressive. Except that's 1.17% of the market's take. One pathetic tiny flaccid percent. Sad day.

It's not that bad so don't go jumping into the ocean or anything. It's just time to change strategy. Selling fresh apples worked from the basket but with a whole tent, you can probably add a few things...

You figure out what we're talking about yet? Yup, MySpace.

Now I know I'm not bringing up anything new. Smarter industry people have been wondering why MySpace isn't a bigger money-maker and they've been coming up with great hypotheses and proposals. Unfortunately, I'm not sure MySpace has listened. The latest ideas coming out of there have been more partnerships with advertisers.

Since everyone else has taken a stab at it, here's my take, for what it's worth. I'm going to require another analogy. Yeah, I know, sorry.

MySpace is good at bringing people together. It's the new place to hang out, kinda like the mall in the 80s. Except it's not the mall. You can't grab a bite or shop for jeans or check out the latest book. The MySpace revenue model is to sell advertising to advertisers. That's like putting signs all over a mall but having nothing to actually provide consumers. You want those jeans? Sorry, can't get em here, you have to go across town.

Just about every mall store owner knows that foot traffic is good for business. When people go somewhere, they'll probably leave a little money behind. That's right, I think MySpace should sell stuff.

I'm not saying MySpace should suddenly turn into Amazon. However, I am saying that there is potential for them to provide services to their audience that would generate revenue and make things interesting. How about selling some of that music? What about offering some photo printing services? All those kids planning things to do, what about selling some movie or concert tickets? What the heck, sell some jeans! Then, keep track of everything they buy, let them use it as social capital. Kids love that social capital stuff.

There's no need for a hard sell, if you make the products relevant and part of the experience, your market should respond favorably.

Some of the people I know that use MySpace all the time would probably welcome some online services, if for no other reason than that they're too lazy to bother with other sites. Sure, I'm stabbing in the dark here, but when you're at only 1% given all those other great stats, the only way to go is up.

(A) (B) (C) (D)

Visual sorbet

If you're looking to get rid of the weird aftertaste from my last post, let me recommend a blog that consistently showcases the latest in good product design.

Design Sponge.

Think of it as a chaser or after dinner sorbet.

It's like an analogy

In the beginning, there was nothing [ nothing ]

Then something really big and loud happened [ ARPANET]

Suddenly, there was a universe and a lot of matter floating around aimlessly [ UUnet, BBS ]

Which coalesced into protostars [ WWW hypertext ]

Which ate up more matter and became actual stars [ Netscape ]

The stars themselves had loose matter surrounding them [ Geocities pages ]

Some of this matter became loner asteroids or comets [ My first site ]

Some effectively attracted other matter and formed sustainable planets [ Amazon, Ebay ]

On a bigger scale, some stars got so big they became black holes. Affecting a pull on everything [ Google ]

In the far reaches of space, time went on and whole galaxies disappeared while new ones formed [ AOL, Yahoo!]

And ever so patiently, the universe kept on expanding. [ Consumer-driven Web 2.0 ]

That is, until one day, when it reversed direction and started to contract...

The vast space between things became slightly smaller [ Digg, ]

and big things got bigger [ YouTube, MySpace ]

What was once the strongest, starts to weaken [ Google? ]

And in the end, sometime soon or very far from now, there will be another really big and loud event and all of it will cease to exist [ ??? ]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Enough stats to choke a hippo

Business Week covers recent data coming out of NPD Group, a market research firm. If you follow game industry stats like batting averages, you'll want to hit the link. Otherwise, let me summarize: June was a good month for games. Hurray!

Actually wait, there's one thing I'd like to point out. Hardware sales in June:

  • DS - 593,400 units
  • PS2 - 311,900 units
  • Xbox360 - 277,000 units.
Love the DS, good for it. But the PS2 beating the 360? Wow, that's surprising given that the PS2 is so freak'n old compared to the 360. Even with the price differences giving the PS2 an advantage, you'd like think the 360 would get a little more love. The article, anticipating my surprise (clever writer!), says,
"That Sony's current-generation console is still outperforming Microsoft's next-generation Xbox 360 might be a surprise for some. But with two more next-gen consoles coming out before long, it's not likely the PS2 will be able to keep its strong sales."
So reading between the lines, he's saying that the PS2 won't be ahead of 360 for long but not because the 360 is going to get more traction in the market but because the Wii or PS3 will probably come out on top. Wow, absolutely no love for the 360.

This is going to be a fun race to watch. Last month, I would have put the Wii on top, 360 second and PS3 third in sales coming out of the Xmas season. I'm starting to think it's a good idea to swap the 360 and PS3 positions.

Going to go out on a limb here and making a prediction of share of holiday hardware sales.

Wii: 45%
PS3: 30%
360: 25%

Anyone else care to make a prediction? Place your bets and we'll revisit in January!

Scrambled advertising

Was sipping my Cherry-Lime-Xfactor-Diet-Decaffeinated Coke this morning when I came across this article in the NY Times. The story is about eggs, specifically advertising eggs. As you can see in the image to the right, someone figured out a way to etch a message onto eggs. It's permanently on the egg. Kids nowadays, they get inked so early.

Anyways, Adrants covered this back in February, before the egg etchers got an advertiser on board. At the time, I was like: meh. Might be interesting but who's really going to go so far? Probably a poker site. But oh, I was wrong. According to the Times, CBS has just ordered 35 million of these suckers to promote their fall lineup. And if advertising on eggs wasn't cheesy enough, they're throwing puns on them. Ready? "CSI: Crack the case on CBS" Get it? Crack? Ha ha ha! Oh man, those guys are good!

That was sarcasm, please get the sarcasm. Well, at about this time in these posts, we play everyone's favorite game: Is this too much advertising? Today's answer is: Yup. Let's skip the easy step. Try to ignore the icky feeling you get with having advertising on your food (yeah, I know, at least try). Ok? Got it down? Well, with that gone, this is still a bad idea. Surely CBS can find a more effective means to reach their audience. I mean, yeah, they get novelty points but in this case, it's probably more anti-brand than pro-brand points.

If this was at least food related, like Food Network or Sur La Table as advertiser, then it would make more sense. It would be more relevant and people like relevant. Some might even chuckle at it. But for the first major launch to be CBS is dooming this to annoyance and people screaming "more advertising?!". Maybe it'll make the price of eggs drop, cuz you know, the price of eggs lately is killing my budget.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It's not a duck

[Warning: Individuals sensitive or allergic to criticism should avoid direct contact with this post or apply a topical cream prior to exposure. Thank you]

Have you heard about Second Life. You know, it's that MMOG that has no real goal other than creating a virtual life. Ok good. Have you heard about marketing in Second Life (SL)? Maybe? Well it's all the rage, Lego (story, via Clickable Culture) and American Apparel (story) have jumped on board. And check this out: Harvard (their paper here) & SL recently held a conference on "marketing in SL" in SL (that's not a stutter). In expected Harvard style, a lot of thinkers got together and they talked about how real-life companies should reach their audiences in SL.

Some people think SL is the next big medium of engagement between consumer and marketer. They think SL represents the future of virtual spaces. They say: to prepare for the future, you have to think about how to reach people in these spaces. Finally, they believe that SL, with its virtual-ness (and accompanying nose-thumbing towards the laws of physics and constraints of real life resources) will allow for marketers to interact with consumers in a way never before possible. They believe SL will show us how marketing will be done in the future.

I call BS.

Second Life is a facade. You know... like a building in a movie set. You open the front door and there's nothing behind it. That's right, these are not the droids you're looking for. That is, it is not the jacked in world of the Matrix. It is not the future as written by Gibson or Williams. It is not the virtual universe that everyone is waiting for. SL is an MMOPRG: a massively multiplayer online public relations game.

SL is being talked about because it hints at the Matrix-y things of the future. I am not doubting that the "game" itself has intrinsic value. However, everyone involved also benefits from the ancillary value of feeling like they are on the cutting edge of something. It is this other value that I think is being overplayed. SL is no more closer to a virtual life than WoW or any of the other MMO games out there, probably even less so.

The main argument is that because SL has no story, no "gameplay", it more closely represents a virtual world. But that's not true, it does have a story and its story is that it has no story. This non-story is what players consume and what made them sign up. Unfortunately, it is this very thing that makes it the wrong droid.

Let's compare SL to WoW. WoW players have immersion to something greater and a sense of belonging. There is a collective consciousness within WoW that brings everyone together. In contrast, what is the nucleus of the SL community if it has no story, no purpose and no vision? I don't think it has one, hence, it is a facade. SL players are more like tourists and vagrants compared to WoW players. In all those great visions of a virtual future, our real selves are lost to something greater. Without this greater thing, SL is a glorified chat room.

So let's face it, SL is a waste of time for marketers. When the real virtual world comes (and it will), the experiences in SL will provide little value (probably as valuable as logos on Pogs). I'm sure many marketers know this but until they stop looking good posing with the facade, they don't care. For example, did American Apparel really open up a store in SL so they can market to the 300,000 registered users of SL? I doubt it, 300,000 nerds that never get out is a waste of time for a clothing company. What it is is good PR and that's all that really matters to everyone involved.

That's why I call BS. BS to SL, the marketers, the press and all the talking heads. Y'all can pretend all you want but you're not fooling me.

[Update: Follow the trackbacks for dissenting opinions and interestingly, American Apparel's comment in Managing the Gray. Ok, I'll ruin it for you, they did the whole thing for fun. Damn, I hate being the cynical bastard. Excuse me while I go out and kick some puppies.]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hide the potions, it's the cops!

Terra Nova and BN blogroll resident have been talking about the recent news that the Korean government will start levying taxes on RMT (real money trading) for MMORPGs. I did a double-take in the TN article when I came across this phrase, "a Korean prosecutor who is in charge of anti-cybercrime division...". What's that? An anti-cybercrime division!? Sweet!

Why don't we have a cybercrime division? What? We do? Oh... Well, that's not the same. We need something else like the Koreans, but better!

Yup, with a name like that, it's gotta cool. It'd be Miami Vice meets CHiPs meets MMOs. I can see it now... yes, the future will look like this:

Diary of a Anti-Cybercrime Detective

July 14, 2009:
1:06AM - Start of the day. The biometric thing broke down again. Frank just waved me in so why do we bother? Got to the desk and stupid Jones left a mess. The crumbs tastes like pumpkin muffin. Means he probably skipped dinner, not a good sign. His note says,

"Bot in Gnmrgn sell'n PWs. Shhut down Mem siphhon in Wilds, 3x-walled. HHh key stuck, gave up, tell IT whhhhhen they get in will ya? 'ave a good one bud."
Triple-walled. Ouch, that's bad.

2:31AM - Hmm, WoWii is surprisingly quiet.

2:51AM - Event log entry; suspected hacker:
CCUnit12: "Stop!"
L33t3rdanu: "fu"
CCUnit12: "Keep your hands where I can see them! Stop casting! Hey, don't you dare tp!"
L33t3rdanu: "bye!"
CCUnit12: "Dammit!"
3:31AM - Stephanie from the FF beat stopped by. She was holding her tea with both hands, slowly twirling her free pinky.
"Hi Ken"
"Hey Steph!"
"Whatcha have for breakfast?"
"Oh this? This isn't mine."
"Uh huh. Did you see that public? They need to install more cameras."
"I know! This is what, the fifth time?"
"Yeah. ... ... ..."
"Well, have fun."
"Ok... umm, I will."
Dammit! To her back and in my head: "I LOVE YOU!"

5:53AM - Found a repli-cloner. Had to call in the devs on this one. It was kinda funny, they all looked like Nixon. Final count was 3,200 when we got it under control, took a while. At times like these, I wish I had a piss bucket.

7:21AM - Finally made a kill today. He'll be back doing his thing in a couple hours. Why do we bother? I wonder if Steph is busy.


Hmm, ok, I take it back. That was mind-numbingly boring. What a shame, the phrase "anti-cybercrime division" sounds so cool!! Well, that just goes to show that crime fighting isn't cool if you don't get the possibility, no matter how remote, of blowing stuff up. That and getting sweet donuts.

(By the way, try this one day. If you get pulled over and cop asks, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" You say, "The donuts in the trunk?")

Oh yeah, Steph ends up dating Jones. Frank gets fired. Ken goes on to become President of the United States. The "H" is never fixed. The End.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I'm not worthy!

The game has 800,000 subscribers, 4 million free players. It's mostly supported by advertising with big name advertisers like Coke and Sony paying the bills. No, I'm not waking up from a dream about BOTS (though that wouldn't be so bad), it's Runescape.

Adweek covers the game's recent partnership with WildTangent whom Runescape is hoping can help them boost their banner advertising. According to the article, the free players play an average of 30 minutes a day on the game. So let's work the numbers they're not talking about:

4,000,000 free players
Playing on average 30 minutes a day
Equals 120,000,000 played minutes a day

Assuming you can serve 3 ads every minute,
Ad inventory is 360,000,000 ads a day

Let's say they can sell the ads at an average of $1 per thousand ads shown (called $1 CPM in industry lingo)
That means their inventory has the potential to make $360,000 a day!

This is with the assumed $1CPM, which is a low estimate. At over $131 million in potential in a year, you can understand why they would be trying to boost their ad exposure. In all honesty, I hope they hit those figures and more. It proves the model for everyone trying to play in the space and maybe they'll spend some money on making those hideous graphics a little better. (Oh come on, you knew I eventually had to say something salty)

Coattail surfing

Via Clickz, good news for mobile gaming. In the world of mobile games, download games are more popular (53%) vs. that of games already built into the phone (39%). A small percentage (8%) of games played were web-based. These figures are indicative of the growing mobile games market but that's not really the most "interesting" bit from this story. But let's give 100 Points to mobile games.

When consumers were asked what factors they considered in the purchase of the game, the top three were price, trial and familiarity (hit the chart for actual figures). This last factor means that consumers purchased because the game was a spin-off from another platform (console or PC most likely). In other words, they purchased because of brand recognition.

What interests me about this insight is what it says about mobile games. It's not breaking new ground in terms of content but rather is riding the coattails of general gaming. Oops -100 Points. This got me thinking, can we expect innovative content on this platform or will it forever be reduced to just a micro-version of something else? If anything, the relative low cost to produce for this medium should make it an exceptional testing ground for indy-like content. Frankly, I'm a little depressed by it all.

By the way, if you recall an earlier post, 59% of mobile game players are women. Therefore, I blame women for ruining this emerging medium. 0 Points. ::ducks and runs::

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's like online gumbo

Digg + MySpace + delicious (I refuse to spell it right)


Blue Dot

Try it out, we can regroup in a few days and share notes.

By the way, go ahead and search for me under "daceofhrts"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mini time waster

You must check out Ron Berg's site, he's a professional photographer. I love it because it's so damn simple and slick. Play around with it but make sure you check out his studio.

By the way, image is lifted from his site. His #26.

I fell in love with a woman with that look. We were sitting at the beach, drawing hints of shapes and wishful surnames in the dew-kissed sand. I remember watching the sun rise in her eyes. As the light broke free of the horizon, she smiled, her cheeks doing the faintest little bounce of joy. When the light became too much for her to bear, she looked away and at me. The image in her eyes changed from the sun to my face and when it did, I saw her cheeks bounce again... she had me.

BOTS: Less snobby edition

BOTS goes open beta, no more invite only access.

GameSpot breaks the story.

Brand manager starts every conversation with, "Did you know BOTS is open beta?"... subsequently alienates friends, family and barista at Coffee Bean downstairs.

News in Tighty Whiteys

Here's how this game is played. I note a newsworthy article then place a witty remark after it. You chuckle politely. Round One:

via Joystiq: South Korean game market estimated to be $2 billion in '07. Not a penny is spent on Missile Commander. Let's get our priorities in order here people!(Lifted from my comment to the article)

via EVERYWHERE: The red paper clip guy I mentioned a while back got his house, the press goes nuts. Score one for stealing office supplies!

via AdAge: Dan Rather, like an alligator with its teeth in a Christmas ham, finds a way to hang on to his career. Way to never quit Dan! (Nothing witty, I just wanted to write a Ratherism)

via MarketingVox: MySpace crowned the most popular online destination, above Yahoo Mail and Google. 4.5% of all visits on the Internet were to MySpace. In related news, 30% of visits to MySpace are from NBC Dateline producers looking to catch a predator.

via NYTimes: China to demolish historic neighborhoods to make room for 2008 Olympics. The uninfluential and unpopular have the most to lose. In the US, art and science majors from public colleges with football programs sympathize, send Old Navy coupons by the truckload.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Am I already a winner?

You Google but do you Blingo?

Blingo is a search engine with a twist. Everytime you search, you automatically enter yourself into a sweepstakes to win stuff like movie tickets and gift cards. Cool concept, makes you wonder, "What has Google done for me lately?"

The story of Blingo got very interesting today. Witnesses describe the following scene: Several vans pulled up in front of the Blingo corporate office. Suspiciously enthusiastic people jumped out, some carrying balloons and others camera equipment. One guy, looking a tad bit more serious than the others brought out a check the size of a convertible Mini. They approached the entrance...

[Ok, that didn't happen]

Blingo was bought by Publisher's Clearing House. Yes, those guys with the big checks and balloons. So what makes this newsworthy?

PCH is old school marketing. The reason they were able to give out those millions is because they basically sold two things: magazines to you and your info to marketers. The first: everyone loves cheap magazines. This part is boring, let's move on.

The second: You could tell a lot about someone from the magazines they read. About to have a kid (Parent), like cars (Motortrend), cooking (Gourmet) or traveling (Conde Nast Traveler)? Every magazine you order gives them a little more information about you. Add that to the ton of info they already have based on your address and you have a very valuable list for marketers. The list is then used to send you offers and, more often than not, you respond to these offers. In terms of marketing tactics, it's grandpa walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, barefoot.

Contrastly, Blingo goes to school in a snowflake-white Aston Martin driven by Brad Pitt. Search marketing is the new evolution of selling magazines for info. You immediately know what someone is interested in and you immediately send them relevant offers. No more messy middle ground.

PCH acquiring Blingo is very interesting because it's like your grandfather bringing home a college cheerleader. You're happy for the guy but you worry about his heart. Are they going to be able to bring some solid experience to the Blingo model or will they fall flat on their face trying to play in this new world of direct marketing? This is one to watch.

via MarketingVox

"Target"ed search

This may sound extremely stupid (don't you love sentences that start with clauses like that?) but I'd like to think that what I do (interactive strategy) is a gift. Not everyone has this ability (more likely interest) and I've been told I'm good at it (after much fishing). So on dark nights, when the hour is so late that the actual hour doesn't matter, I find myself absorbing the radiation of my laptop screen and believing that I am a superhero. I stand for Internet marketing justice, albeit not very tall and of the minor super power variety. Yes, my destiny is clear: The Internet will be saved, the world shall be a better place...

[You hear a loud popping noise, as if an overinflated dream bubble had just burst]

Umm yeah. Right... OK. Where was I? As I was about to say, you should know that I'm more often just your average Joe Schmoe online. I don my nerdy glasses and surf amongst the common folk, who are oblivious to my powers. I prefer the lofty heights of superness but one must stay grounded to stay good. Like everyone else, I do my online shopping one keyword at a time. For example, last night's keyword was "chimenea" (my patio has been nagging me for weeks to get one).

Googling it gives over 2million results and a page full of sponsored links. The links make sense because the word is the name of a product. If you're an online retailer and you carry this product, it may make sense for you to buy the keyword and show up on the sponsored links. That way, someone like me looking to buy a Chimenea might just click on your link and see what you got. This is the most basic tactic for a web-savvy marketer engaging in search marketing.

Anyway, the Google result page looks like this:

Note the listings on the right and note the third one down. That's a placement bought by Target. This is where branding really kicks in. Since I don't know any of the names of the other retailers (though I'm sure I know what I'll find if I go to, the only "safe" approach is to go with someone I know. So I click on it. This is what I get:

"There is no page matching your request." There isn't? Where do you keep your Chimeneas? Are you saying there are no Chimeneas here?

The page continues to say, "It's possible that you typed the address incorrectly," Oh, now it's my fault?! I don't think so, I clicked on your link.

"Or that the page no longer exists." Obviously! But why would you buy a keyword and get me here if you don't have the thing I want? You are so wasting your money! My super-powered senses are tingling. Must look into this!

According to the Google keyword tool, a 4th -6th placed ranking on the keyword "chimenea" costs $0.22 a click. No one is going to buy a Chimenea from that keyword so, Target, you just wasted $0.22. Or did you?

"Shop" Wait a second, is this some kind of trick? Did you bring me here for some branding effort? Are you just trying to create awareness for You madman!

It turns out, this is more than likely their exact strategy. I randomly picked words representing products and found ones such as "lawn darts", "candle bottle", "metal wall", "ceramic pitcher" etc. where Target has bought the keywords but when you click on the link, they don't carry these products.

I imagine that this tactic must work for them. You drive people to the site, no matter how obscure your keyword placement and hope to create enough awareness that they come back later for some other reason. Given the short attention span, very aggressive pricing and loads of comparative shopping that online consumers do, I'm baffled that this would work. Again, my assumption is that it does since they're doing it.

I had thought the age of "traffic" as a measure of online success was over. That businesses now look for things like effectiveness and conversion. But perhaps I (and other strategist right now) are wrong. Given the incredible expanse of the Internet, we may be back to the time when traffic is everything. Once you go somewhere, it's easier to find it again later. Traffic could reaffirm the brand identity and or begin a new relationship. Maybe we've come full circle with Internet marketing.

Or maybe Target has a more devious plot that I have yet to figure out. Yes, that might be it. I must go, there is much to learn. WHooOSH!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mouthfuls of foot

I love double takes. Usually, I get hit with a couple good ones every day. Today, God was generous:

- There was that little kid outside Panda Express that let out guttural screams at passing cars for no apparent reason.

- The lady across the restaurant that put her cell phone in her cleavage.

- The guy down at the park all tangled around a tree with his three yappy dogs and their three impossibly knotted leashes.

- And just now, not one but two mind-boggling quotes. Let me explain.

#1 Via an E! article: Film makers scored a huge win in court today against companies that edit out "offensive" material in movies and then rent/sell the movies as "cleaned" versions. For instance, in Titanic, they removed the nude scene of Kate Winslet. The court sided with movie makers and ruled that the edited content was a copyright infringement and the "cleaner" companies must cease and desist.

In response to the ruling against him, Ray Lines, the CEO of CleanFlicks says to the Salt Lake City Tribune "We're disappointed. This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight."

::double take::

In my world, he goes on to say, "Damn straight! No one should be able to rewrite anything except me."

#2 Also via an E! article: Katherine McPhee is sick and is scheduled to miss a few concerts on the American Idol tour. In related news, McPhee revealed last month that she is a long-time sufferer of bulimia. She credits the Idol competition with helping her see the light. She says to People magazine, "That's why I say American Idol saved my life, because if I hadn't auditioned, I don't think I would have gotten a handle on food."

::double take + wtf?::

Did she just say that being on a tv show helped her stop an eating disorder?

Image borrowed from

Coke says me too!

Coke is soliciting consumer-generated videos on their site. Let me quickly recap my thoughts on consumer generated media (CGM).

  • Empowers consumers to define their favorite brands
  • Creates dialogue between brand and target market
  • Brings wealth of consumer knowledge to the marketing table
  • If well done, can be extremely rewarding for everyone involved
The Coke site is a good example of a CGM campaign. People can contribute unstructured videos (unlike the Chevy Tahoe CGM campaign that only had preset videos and had consumers arrange them with captions). The infrastructure and set topic encourages participation and creativity but doesn't make it too unstructured so that you get noise. Overall, I would say it's a well done.

So why am I feeling kinda meh about the whole thing? It may be the recency of the Diet Coke/Mentos fountain slight. Or my past experiences with Coke's marketing. Regardless, my gut reaction is that an entity as huge as Coke may not have the finesse to pull this off right. When dealing with such a strong brand, there are so many more rules and limitations to what they're willing to do. What if someone puts up a video that's a little edgy, are they going to allow that? If not, are they working in the pure spirit of CGM?

I'm going to try to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. Congrats on entering the CGM space... I'll be watching you.

::sips his Diet Coke and leans back::

Oh no, not this again

Dear Burger King,

Several weeks ago, I promised to be more positive in this blog. "I will not excessively bash every bad marketing campaign I see out there", I said. Overall, I've been pretty good about keeping my promise. In fact, it's been over a month since I last bashed one of your campaigns (and that was only the third time; one and two here). Unfortunately, with deep regret, I must now ask that you please re-assume the position.

Branded Newb
In 1999, author Max Barry (link to blog) wrote the satirical advertising novel "Syrup", which turned into a cult classic. The story is about one guy who invents a cola named "Fukk" and ultimately becomes incredibly successful because of pure marketing evilness. In a brilliant moment of satire, the marketers of "Fukk" decide to promote the cola by making an entire movie based on the drink. The whole thing is so preposterous, it's thrilling. Ahh satire, so funny... until it's true.

The ad agency behind Burger King has leaked that a BK movie is in the works. AdAge breaks the exclusive news (via Adrants). Contrary to my first guess, the movie is not about the creepy King. Rather, it's going to be a story that takes place "above" a Burger King restaurant. That's right folks, it's a movie ad.

I like advertising but not THAT much! But after initially throwing up a little bit from the news, I started to think. Let's play devil's advocate here. Let's say the movie is actually entertaining. Does the fact that it comes from the ad agency doom it regardless? Maybe, maybe not.

I'm sure at some point some of you have enjoyed a commercial or two on TV. You probably even quoted it for witty points at a dinner party. Consider this a very long commercial. Maybe the movie will be so good, it'll just be like that. There's just one problem. Money.

I'm paying for something when I watch a movie. I'm paying for the experience but in an extended way, I'm also paying to promote the movie as an artform. I'm paying the writer, director, actors and crew for being creative and bringing me this wonderful content. When I pay to watch an ad movie, what am I really paying for and what behavior am I positively reinforcing?

The answers to those questions are what make this impossibly difficult to digest. It's a bad idea. Even as an evil marketer myself, I can't swallow this blasphemy of an artform. Use some other evil distribution method like giving it away free in a meal or mailing like it AOL CDs. Don't put it in a theater and sully the art.

Future Job Posting: Interactive Game Analyst

I'm a data junkie. In my old job as a strategist/analyst for an advertising agency, I used to gleefully swim in data like Scrooge McDuck swam in his doubloons. I took pride when the data feeding my pivot tables broke Excel's 65,000 row limit. I savored the moments when my ANOVA statistical tests would show the tested F higher than Fsig. Why?

Data pulls back the curtain on the unknown. Unlike magicians, businesses can't make money off of mystery and clever prestidigitation. Businesses work when you find a formula that works and feed more resources into it. That's where data comes in. To sum it up rather simply, data lets you know if something worked.

Now let's talk about the game industry. Up until recently, the only data available to measure a game's success were sales and probably focus groups or surveys. Unless you sat with someone while they're playing the game, you couldn't really tell what worked or what didn't. This is very similar to how the advertising industry used to work. You made a commercial or print ad and you measured this by sales or focus groups; this stuff was way downstream of what actually happens when consumers see the ad (the sticklers out there will throw out a few more data points but the basic limitations are still there).

My old ad job was something new to the ad biz. Online gave us the opportunity to monitor how people were engaging and reacting to our ads right away. I could gather data about the effectiveness of our advertising in almost real time. That's powerful information that helped us improve our advertising when we channeled this to our creative teams.

Online games are starting to pick up on the value of this information. Yesterday I ran into this bit of news about the creators of Half-Life 2 patching their game and changing several gameplay elements because of data they analyzed. Check out these stats and graphs. Their data still pretty much descriptive statistics but I don't see any reason why they couldn't be more robust in their analysis.

I'm sure MMORPGs have been doing this for a while. They probably monitor how certain gameplay tweaks (nerfs) affect usage and/or balance. However, I question whether someone really digs into the data or whether their analysis is just based off of observation and qualitative analysis. To me, the real insights occur when you take incorruptible information and extrapolate true behavior. For example, the folks at PlayOn have been discovering great insights gleamed from quantitative data on WoW player activity. Some of the stuff they've found just can't be surveyed or manually observed.

Let's imagine the possibilities if an MMORPG utilizes some robust analysis (such as the stuff I did in advertising). You can monitor gameplay styles of every player and combine that with demographic data such as age or gender. You can then group players by profile such as "healer/builder", "high-use PvPer", "socializer", etc. The profiles then form a foundation for you to analyze usage. You then crosstabulate the users with their actual activities. Perhaps you find that "socializers" are actually very profitable because they help retain players to the game. For instance, you find that gametime for a group increases when there's a "socializer" in the party. Unfortunately, you also find that "socializers" are struggling with a certain element of the game and start dropping off when they hit that element. Well then, you better do something about element.

The example I provide above is actually something that is frequently done in the broader market. Data mining marketing companies have placed all of us in some profile or another. We are then considered "targets" for certain products, promotions or content. (You'd be scared if you knew how much marketers knew about you. Don't ask, trust me, continue to live blissfully ignorant.) But in the realm of games, especially MMORPGs, this could provide you with some real value. Instead of just throwing out content to see what sticks, game designers could base their decisions on what works for you. It'd be a whole new way of thinking about game design.

Before some of you get your undies in a bunch, don't worry, I'm not advocating that data replace good old fashioned creativity. What I am saying is that we have the ability to do things with a little more intelligence (multiple definitions of that word in play here). Online is providing that opportunity and I'm glad to see it being taken advantage of by some innovative frontrunners out there. This is going to be important stuff, I can just feel it!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

New PS3 Slot Found!

Tapping into my extensive network within the gaming industry, I was able to secure this image of a top secret PS3 slot. Codenamed the BTR slot, it apparently was a last minute addition and contributed to much of the PS3's high price point. It is located on top of the console and has several buttons hidden beneath a popup flap.

I've also been able to get my hands on the official press release originally scheduled to drop sometime next week. Most of it is blacked out but after extensive digital enhancement, this passage is legible:

"We believe this thrilling addition is consistent with our strategy of making the PS3 the most valuable home electronics device. At Sony, we are about anticipating consumer needs and delivering devices that add value beyond expectations." says spokeswoman Karen [illegible] "...5 settings, wireless scheduling and unique keep warm option."

All I can say is: MmmmmMmm!

At least there's no taping down involved

I'll admit, I've bent my gender whilst online from time to time (If you're snickering, please stop reading now. This is a grown-up blog. You cheeky monkey!). I'm talking about online games. As I'm fooling around in the character creation tool of an MMORPG, the variable of gender is a choice to make just like that of hair color or species. Lest we forget, you can't spell MMORPG without RPG (did I really just write that?). So my choice of gender is not automatic. I fancy myself a roleplayer at times and roleplaying a woman can be challenging and fun.

What I find most intriguing about online roleplaying (unlike say, tabletop roleplaying) is that no one knows who you really are to begin with. If I am roleplaying a female elf with bad ass weaponry and a wicked temper, no one knows that I'm really a guy with a penchant for paper cuts and a generally obsequious demeanor. Online, there is no point of reference. There's no one thinking, "Wow, that's a really cool female elf... for a guy".

But all this is thrown out the window when you introduce voice chat. Voice chat kills roleplaying. I won't go into the evils of this (since you can find a great post by Richard Bartle that tackles the subject). What I want to focus on is that is voice chat reveals something about the player which forever changes the perception of the character. When the character loses it's integrity, the game experience suffers.

All hope is not lost... maybe. A company has released a device that allows people to change how their voices sound in voice chat. Its marketed towards female gamers. That's also how the story is mainly being picked up by the press. To paraphrase the marketing message: female gamers can "hide" their true identities to let their skills do the talking or simply to avoid harassment. Can't you just hear someone saying, "Hey girls, it worked for Hua Mulan."?

Frankly, this marketing strategy is a mistake. (Though not for the obvious reasons, I'll let the more 'feminist' bloggers deal with those issues.)

I say: Why not market the device as a voice changer for everyone? Men/boys need this just as much as women. In fact, I'd like to see voice manipulation added to every device and game that allows voice chat. I'd like to see this as something you can do to your own voice or to incoming voices as well. It's probably too much to ask that people become better vocal roleplayers so let's bring some anonymity back to online games.

I don't think I'm alone in calling for this. We've all had bad experiences. I think I can sum it up like so:

For the love of all things good and holy, make that burly-looking special ops sniper stop sounding like Screech in Saved by the Bell.... Please?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Oooh pretty

Or not.

I changed the look of the blog. Let me know if you hate it.

Also test driving Google Adsense (hence the new ad bar); not because I think I'll actually make money from it but because I want to see how it all works. Don't feel obligated to click or even pay attention. I'll get rid of it in about a week.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Arrr, where be dar boat?

This weekend brings the release of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In a perfectly timed move, Atari pens a deal to distribute a game based on the movie. Unfortunately, the game is not slated to be released until September. DOH! (via Red Herring)
[Image from game based on first movie]

So I guess you could say they missed the boat with this one (Oh Ken, you witty devil you). We all know that this isn't a rare occurrence for the spawn of movies and games. A lot are badly done due to lack of time or motivation for excellence. The only game of this type I've actually enjoyed was one of the Matrix games (note that I don't even remember which one).

All this got me thinking, why separate the two types of entertainment? Sure, consumers want different things from each form. They want movies to tell a story and games to give them feedback. But I'm going to step into my time machine here and try to predict a movie-game of the future, something that'll make everyone happy. Ready for this? Here's how it'd worked in three easy steps:

  1. Build an interactive world
  2. Fill world with interesting characters and settings
  3. Write a linear story with a protagonist and plot
Consumers looking for a movie can "possess" the main character and watch the story unfold. Consumers looking for a game can break away from the story at any point and explore.

Let me use some current content to illustrate. Imagine a World of Warcraft movie-game. You possess a night elf and watch an elaborate story being told in the "game" world. At some point, if you don't like where the story is going you can rewind and "jump out", thereby beginning your own story. Now that's convergence!

Current technology can make this happen. Obviously, the movie part would provide a much more "elaborate" experience than after jumping out of the story. Frankly, it's because NPCs are still horrible conversationalist and I'm sure you can think of a few other technological hurdles. But even in this limited state, I would love to experience something like this.

This may ruffle a few chocobo feathers

News bit via Joystiq:

Square Enix President Yoichi Wada, speaking at a Tokyo games press conference "spoke about the importance of online gaming" (as covered by IGN). He specifically speaks of online's ability to push episodic content (Cool, I'm in favor of that).

"Online will also allow for easy ad placement in games, Wada said." Hmm, this is interesting. As you all know, I'm a fan of in-game advertising's potential to bring value to players. However, I'm not sure if this is going to sit well with Square Enix's fans if they retain the retail model. They may not be so happy to pay $60+ for a game and then be thrown ads.

You know what though, I've been a long time fan of their games and I have a feeling they'll be smart enough to put together a tit-for-tat system that will give some benefit to players for seeing ads. If they don't, well, let's cross that bridge when we come to it. =)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sad day

Rocketboom and Amanda Congdon have parted ways. She explains in her blog here. In addition, for her loyal fans, that don't do the thing the rest of y'all call "read", she also has a vlog post you can watch here (via Adpulp).

I had a feeling something was up since there hadn't been a post for a over a week. Sad day, the Blogosphere Fun Index dropped 10% with this news. I'm sure she'll be back again in some online form (guest writer for Branded Newb?) but it just won't be the same as the groundbreaking Rocketboom we all know and love. Good luck Ms. Congdon!

Hmm, what's with the April 1, 1995 searches?

I'm getting a ton of hits today from Google as people search for variations of "April 1 1995", "Santa Monica" and "launch". The searchers come up empty since I have no post that has all three of these things, only an archive with these words scattered in multiple posts.

But hey, what's this about? If you're one of these people, leave a comment, I'm curious.

Please use as directed, pretty please?

As a reader of this blog, you know that marketers are evil, myself being a prime example. Although evil, marketers are people too. That said, we do our jobs just like everyone else; with one eye closed and the other staring at the clock. We too succumb to the monotony of the day as we exploit third-worlds, sell sex & drugs to kids and puppies, make everyone fat and slowly kill individuality. In other words, we have our daily grind too.

So like you, we don't like it when a wrench gets thrown into things. We prefer things well-planned, you know, with at least a dozen meetings and half as man phone conferences logged. We prefer consumers to use our products as suggested, in vast quantities. When this does not happen, we are forced to make decisions and decisions are toughies. Let me give you a few examples:

Improper Use: A man, named Jose Avila, with a vision builds furniture out of FedEx boxes, proceeds to furnish house. Posts images up on his site.
Response: FedEx sues Jose.

Quoted in Wall Street Journal,"The FedEx brand is one of our most valuable assets," says Howard Clabo, a FedEx spokesman. "In this particular instance, we simply asked that the violator stop using our brand for their personal benefit."

Mr. Avila takes down site but brings back up when The Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society assists him with some butt-kicking letter writing (pdf).

Improper Use: Bored MIT college kid builds a raft out of empty Gatorade bottles. Then gets on raft and crosses the Charles River. Everything is posted on a site.
Response: Gatorade sends the kid two $2 coupons and 2 lanyards. They write,

"It sounds like you and your roommate are very ingenious. Making a raft out of Gatorade bottles and rowing it across the Charles River is certainly an accomplishment. Although we would not be able to use your pictures we would certainly love to see your work. You can send them to this email address as an attachment. Also, please respond with your complete mailing address sot that we can send both you and your roommate some coupons via US Mail."
The story breaks all over the Net. College kid posts picture of his coupons and lanyards, looks kinda sad. Via Adpulp.

Improper Use: Many bored consumers realize they can create a soda geyser by dropping lots of Mentos into Diet Coke. This has been around for ages but is boosted in popularity by posts on YouTube.
Response: In same WSJ article quoted earlier, "It's an entertaining phenomenon," said Coke spokeswoman Susan McDermott. "We would hope people want to drink [Diet Coke] more than try experiments with it." Followed up with "the 'craziness with Mentos ... doesn't fit with the brand personality' of Diet Coke."

Improper Use: Same as above.
Response: Mentos says, "We are tickled pink by it," says Pete Healy, vice president of marketing for the company's U.S. division. They even want to work (so far sent them 3,000 Mentos) with two guys that did this trick with 101 bottles and 523 Mentos, you really have to see this (the image to your right is from their video). Reuters news story here.

But wait, there's more. They are so tickled, in fact, that they started A site to host a video contest for the trick (via RandomCulture).

So let's see here, which marketers do you think made the best decision? Let me summarize:
  • FedEx panicked and went crying to their lawyers... more than likely sending paperwork through UPS.
  • Gatorade was lukewarm and you all know lukewarm Gatorade is about as attractive as urine.
  • Coke is Coke, and as we've seen from one of my previous posts, their noses are way too high in the air to figure out this Internet nonsense.
  • Mentos, well Mentos, they get more than a bullet point...
These guys seem to be the only ones that get it. When your consumers are using your products in an exciting way it apparently does take rocket-scientist-level intelligence to know you should be excited too. It baffles me why these other brands just let these opportunities slip away.

It doesn't seem that difficult. You don't have to worry about your precious current campaigns. You don't need to do anything outrageous or shift your brand messaging. Mentos played it just right. Put up a site that facilitates all this fun. Give it some brand support, see where it can really go and sit back and enjoy like everyone else.

Consumers are going to do what they want with your product, you can't stop them. If they do something cool (cool as measured by a whole lot of people paying attention to it and it doesn't kill anyone) you better pay attention too. Better yet, you better look like you're having a good time along with them. Otherwise, you become a tired old brand that's still broadcasting your message rather than engaging with your actual consumers. That's right folks, it's the age of engagement, consumers have stopped listening for a while.