Love and Attention, Pt 3

Here’s a link to a web news story about JoCo. And here’s the important part:

“I like seeing somebody talented get out there and make the music that they want to create without really having to compromise at all,” says Coulton fan Brian Richardson. “As fans we try to reward Jonathan for that. There’s a reason … people go out and make music videos for his songs. It’s because they understand what he’s giving to them, and they really want to be able to return it in kind.”

Coulton nurtures this contact, now spending three or four hours a day interacting with his fans online, absolutely certain that this contact is critical to his success.

When I talk about Love and Attention, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Coulton’s business model…is not about selling his songs. It’s about selling himself, and his time.

Like most geeks, Coulton probably isn’t the kind of person to want 1000 friends, so the time he gives to his customers is probably one of the most difficult parts of his job. Musicians can usually count on the stage and the venue to provide a scripted, controlled structure that makes dispensing Love and Attention easier for the performer. But the fans want more, and meet-and-greets, and even e-mail, can be more emotionally challenging.

Of course, it could really be all about MY inability to render Love and Attention; I know there are fans of my old games that are standing by to receive some. But as I’ve discussed before, it’s really a big emotional commitment, and some developers are prepared for it, and some aren’t. It’s possible that I’d have more Love and Attention to share, for a project that I had an enduring commitment to. That’s not historically my strong suit, though.Here’s a link to a web …

Fear and loathing at the Gamestop

Many have talked about how Gamestop (and other stores) are getting rich by selling games more than once. Their trade-in and used game business makes big profits, and there’s lots of detractors who have problems with it. I want to weigh in about my personal experiences; well, two linked experiences that I’ve had.

I just bought Endless Ocean for the Wii from the local Gamestop, which isn’t in the best part of town (though there are certainly worse). I go in, and spot the…game on the shelf, with a used sticker, so I snap it up and walk to the register. At the counter is a 30ish man, hunched over the counter and talking in hushed tones to the store employee, who seems to be talking trade-in with the man. I get in line, and another store clerk comes up to me to chat.

Cool, you like the Wii? He sez, looking at the box in my hands. Yep, I reply, but I really like the oddball games like this Endless Ocean game. He sez Cool. Then I say I’m surprised to find this Wii game used, since it just came out.

His tone gets conspiratorial. He sez Yeah, we get a lot of used games, even one day after they come out. See, people steal the games from the Walmart just down the street, and bring the games to us to sell. They sometimes don’t even take the wrapper or the Walmart stickers off them. We can’t accept them like that, of course. We tell them to open the packages and bring them back tomorrow. The game in your hand might even have been one.

Just like that, he admitted to accepting stolen property. And I can’t believe he’s saying this, since such a deal seems to be going down right in front of us.

So who does this crime benefit? Well, me, apparently, since I can get a game used (and thus cheaper) so quickly after its release. And Gamestop profits handsomely from accepting stolen games; each one is pure profit, since they don’t have to share the profits with the publisher, and they don’t have to transport the game anywhere. Walmart loses, which is why you see the games behind locked glass doors now, and other draconian security techniques (not that it seems to be doing that Walmart any good).

And ultimately we all loose, since Gamestop seems to care little about stopping or punishing these crimes. Which brings me to my next anecdote.

Last summer, the eve of our move, someone broke into our house and stole 2 DSs and a PSP (plus a camera and some games). Now, when you buy any game machine these days, it comes with a unique ID scancode, and the clerk scans it and adds it to the database. I had purchased all three devices from the local Gamestop, so I knew they had the IDs of my devices, and I went to talk to them about the theft.

I asked the girl behind the counter, Is there any way I can check to see if the devices I bought from this store have been re-sold? No, she sez. If you had your original receipt, maybe.

But I bought them from this store, with a credit card, and I saw the clerk scan my serial numbers. Don’t you have them in your computer?

No sir, she sez. They keep that stuff at corporate headquarters somewhere, and you have to send in a written request to get access. But look, I said, every time someone sells Gamestop a used game or device, you have to take all their personal information. And you know you’ve already sold those DSs and that PSP before. So can’t you put those together and catch the criminal? Well, she replies, we only collect that information ’cause it’s required by law. I don’t think we actually use it for anything.

Grrrrrrrrrr.

It’s pretty clear that Gamestop, as a corporation, not only doesn’t care about accepting stolen property, they profit from it. And while the individual clerks in the store go through all the motions they think will protect them (and the corporation) from being liable, they know exactly what’s going on and they not only fail to stop it, they tut-tut like it was a car accident they just drove by.

I think the end result of all of this was best expressed by Penny Arcade (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/03/30).

http://www.penny-arcade…

HOMM 5

I’m playing and enjoying Heroes of Might and Magic 5 for the PC. Why? I don’t know exactly, and (as a game designer) it bugs me.

HOMM5 is the latest of a long line of games that, like the crocodile, haven’t changed much over the years. It’s a turn-based fantasy romp, with a strong…dose of tactical wargaming and control of strategic points on a map. You upgrade your towns, move your heroes (and their attached armies) around the map, and try to defeat the other players’ towns and heroes. Sounds fun, and it is.

When I first played HOMM3, it hit me like a fun brick to the face (ouch!). The overland map was colorful, complex, and dense. When you moved your hero unit, every 4 squares it could run into a witch’s hut, or a magic spring, or a scary crypt. The screen was dense with cool stuff, and I wanted to see it all.

Because of its turn-based nature, HOMM is completely mouse-driven, which lends itself to a relaxing play style, where I lean back in my chair and use the mouse while my cat digs her claws into my chest.

I played and liked HOMM3, even made a module for it. I was then surpised that my nephew loved it too. He grew up on the PS2 (how’s that for young? :)) and action games, but there he was, running his heroes around, and upgrading his towns so he could produce Bone Dragons. I think it was partially because, while all the stat-heavy parts of turn-based gaming are there, they were all covered (and correctly mirrored) in the art and animations of the game. You didn’t have to know the exact DOT of the Bone Dragon, you just knew Bone Dragons are big and dangerous. Mostly, though, I think he was attracted to the game by exactly the same things I was; the fantasy theme and the magic map-o-plenty-of-things-to-visit.

HOMM does a great job blurring the concept of avatar. Like RTS games, your avatar is the cursor, not a single unit on the playfield. BUT, you usually play with 1-4 heroes, and each hero behaves like a traditional D&D character, gaining experience, spells, and magic items during her travels. It becomes very easy to think of her as "your character" when you’re moving her around the map and collecting the magic sword.

This isn’t a bad thing, and players have no trouble switching between these two avatar contexts. I think this alone bears more study. Has anyone purposely tried to make a game where many different avatar contexts have been presented together in one game? ARE there more types of avatar, other than a single unit OR a cursor?

HOMM is terribly sticky; it’s got the just-one-more-turn thing down cold. It’s possibly because the turns are so short. Something fun (+1 to morale, sword of smiting, etc) is usually just one click away.

But I’ve also been thinking about a new (to me) concept of game design, the concept of Goal Arc Sets. The idea is that games can give you different goals (beat the level, collect the coins, dodge the fireball) and that the best games not only give you plenty of these goals, but have goals that span a range of lengths of time. Short goals include dodging the fireballs or killing the monster in front of you. Medium goals include escaping the dungeon and upgrading your armor. Long goals include capturing the northern city and winning the whole game.

The idea is that the best games give you short, medium, AND long goals, all of which you work towards simultaneously. HOMM has this structure, and it could be the source of a lot of its fun.