Hey, Look, I'm The News For Lunch

I give a brief interview to Wagner James Au over at GigaOM.

I ran on at the mouth longer than would fit in that, so here’s my complete answers to questions he posed (reposted with permission):

In a nutshell, what do you mean by “where I think gaming needs to go”?

The current game development model is an arms race that few can even hope to compete in, much less win. Especially in the online/MMO space (which thanks to World of Warcraft is now almost synonymous with PC gaming), development budgets are spiraling out of control. World of Warcraft is estimated to have had a $40 to 50 million budget. Age of Conan cost $25 million to make, was Norway’s most expensive entertainment product ever, and is having retention issues – largely because they had to cut corners. $25 million wasn’t enough. And Grand Theft Auto 4 had a budget of $100 million.

The classic engineering dilemma is expressed as a joke: “Fast, Cheap, Good: pick two”. In game development, we *wish* we could pick two. We either crank out licensed console games on a one year cycle that literally burns through developers. Or we spend tens of millions just to keep up with the status quo. Or we have tiny budgets, which result in development that is neither fast nor good, and most of the time, consequently tiny results.

So in short: it’s broken. And to fix this, some out of the box thinking is required. Embracing open source development, crowd-sourcing content, targeting different platforms such as the Web or mobile phones, all of these are valid. But it entails leaving our comfort zones, both as developers… and as consumers. We need to be willing to see movies other than Titanic, and support games that don’t have Blizzard- or Rockstar-sized budgets.

Do you think the core game industry (big publishers/next gen consoles) are going where you think games need to go? Why or why not?

Is the core industry following this trend? Some are. Sony Online I think is going in the right direction with Freerealms – with a business model that’s new (at least in North America/Europe) and aiming at market niches outside the usual young adult male that we pitch to. Xbox Live Arcade is another example of a place where independent game development is thriving, and with it interesting designs like Braid. Raph Koster has been preaching this same lesson for a while – terming the current developers “dinosaurs” facing extinction-level events. And for the most part, he’s right: publishers and development houses are dinosaurs, they aren’t responding to the changing market because they don’t understand how to work things like web technologies into their current income models. So instead they keep doing the same things – just more of them, and with higher budgets. And, meanwhile smaller products like Club Penguin and Runescape post far higher profits than they are.

Do you see a larger trend of hardcore game developers shifting over to the web-based/casual/Web 2.0 space like you? Why or why not?

I think it’s starting to happen, slowly, because nothing I’m describing is particularly new or difficult to analyze. I think Apple’s iPhone App Store will drive a lot of movement towards small projects – like other mobile development, it’s easily done by small teams using small budgets, yet is the trendy hot thing, which gives a perfect excuse for moving into that market. But is Sony or Microsoft going to start putting games up on BigFish? Probably not any time soon.

What’s been the general reaction been among hardcore dev colleagues and fans at your announcement?

Among fans/players – overall happy for me personally, which I appreciate… some disappointment that the game I was working on was cancelled, and some requests for beta accounts in Webwars: Eve already (they had a public premiere at the Eve Fanfest in Iceland last year). As far as colleagues, the Austin job market isn’t a happy place this month, so I think everyone that’s looking (and there are many) are busy trying to find their own place to land to worry about mine.

Transitions

Today was my last day at NCsoft.

Although there are plenty of rumors flying around about what’s going on at NCsoft this week, most of them are pretty overhyped. However, my team was let go as part of ‘refocusing’. I’m sure there will be some sort of press release to that effect shortly.

I don’t hold any ill will about any of this. NCsoft enabled me to move to Austin, a city I love, and gave me one hell of a shot. It didn’t work out quite the way I had hoped, but I learned a great deal in the process. All in all, a pretty fair deal.

Next week, I’ll be starting at John Galt Games working on Webwars. It’s not quite an MMO, but it does share some similarities with where I think gaming needs to go (hint: $100 million budgets are BAD or at least very dangerous to long term stability and creativity). It’s a small company, and I get along great with the guys there already – it’s the first time that a Hearts of Iron 2 after action report actually played a role in the interview process.

Anyway, I wish everyone at NCsoft the best, both those still there and those hitting the streets looking for work. It’s not a good time to look for work in the Austin games industry right now – but it is an excellent time to put a kick-ass MMO team together (and if you are so inclined drop me a line, I have a whole list of people you should be talking to).

That’s all for now. It’s been a rollercoaster of a past few weeks.

Ceiling Cat Is Watching Your Team Leave The Building

News For Lunch 8/11/08

Two quick newslunchy squibs, and then we can all move on with our day:

MYTHOS RESURRECTED as Runic Games. They don’t own the Mythos license, but they do own the Flagship Seattle people who made the game. Well, not literally own. You know. They work there. MOVING ON.

STAR TREK ONLINE RESURRECTED as Star Trek Online. They promise Borg. Sold. (I’m easy.)

News For Lunch 8/8/08

News for Lunch was scheduled to appear earlier, but was pre-empted by the News for Lunch reporters watching Russian tanks enter Georgia and promptly tangled in a traffic jam on I-75.

Here you see a Russian relief convoy, which was reported to have come under attack from airstrikes earlier today. Note the ablative relief supplies deployed on the front of the humanitarian vehicle. Also, there was some Olympic thing going on, I think. But who cares about all that, MMO NEWS!

…oh wait, there wasn’t any. Well, Kings Isle’s Wizard 101 has gone open beta. So there’s that.

News for Lunch has been brought to you today by 808 State.

News For Lunch 8/6/08

Welcome to today’s News For Lunch, whose motto is “it’s always lunch somewhere!

MY ZHEVRA BRINGS ALL THE BOYS TO THE YARD World of Warcraft discovers the secret to successful buddy programs: bribe the crap out of your existing customers. It’s an open question whether there is anyone out there who is unaware of this World of Warcraft thing, but as Damion notes, their primary target for this promotion may well be the 11 million or so people they already have, saying “hmm, I could use some twinkage for my new Gnome Deathknight”.

3 or 4 also said “I was about done with Conan anyway”.  So there’s that.

WAR IS EVERYWHEN Apparently finished with burning errant heretics in funeral pyres, and surprising at least four people, Mythic announced that Warhammer Online was launching September 18. It is fairly adept timing, since

3 or 4 also said “I was about done with Conan anyway”.  So there’s that.

THERE CAN BE ONLY SO MANY PENGUINS AND PEGGLES According to Forbes, the casual games market is bubbling and bursting, with the major portals like Big Fish demanding hundreds of watered down games and choking the revenue stream.

3 or 4 also said “I was about done with Conan anyway”.  So there’s that.

I’M A DOCTOR, JIM, NOT A PUBLIC RELATIONS FLUNKY Leonard Nimoy takes time out from taking pictures of very large women to don the Spock ears for Cryptic’s Star Trek Online …launch of hype? Does hype have its own launch now?

3 or 4 also said “I was about done with Conan anyway”.  So there’s that.

That’s all for today’s edition of News for Lunch, brought to you by Funcom’s Age of Conan and your very sweaty reporter, pictured with Kevin Sorbo.

News For Brunch 8/5/08

News For Lunch will technically be News For Brunch for the next few days as my lunches will be ACTION PACKED.

GET PAID TO CRUSH Now you can whine about PvP balance and get paid for it. I only wish I was making this up. I’ll let Hotlunch know. Plus, I think this post is worth at least $14.

GET PAID TO BETA PvP not your thing? New Asian MMO Asda Story is offering you $30 if you don’t like their beta. Note: to collect the $30, you must show up at their offices in person riding a chocobo.

DON’T GET PAID TO MAKE GAMES Fury’s closing is official.

Short, but not every News For Random Meal is as action packed as my lunch hours are. Today’s News For Brunch is brought to you by the World Wildlife Fund, because 125,000 endangered gorillas were found in the Congolese jungle and gorillas make me happy.

News For Lunch 8/4/08

This is something new I’m going to try to impose some structure on my bloggery. I expect it to last about 3 days or so. It’s a wrapup of the day’s MMO news by noon Central, in bite-sized portions for your reading pleasure. I liked doing it a lot when I wrote lumthemad.net, because it wasn’t much work. ANYWAY.

MORE ABOUT GOLD FARMING THAN YOU EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER WANTED TO KNOW Courtesy of Terra Nova and someone who had a great idea about making their research paper involve World of Warcraft: “Gold Farming”: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games

FINALLY, GOVERNMENT ON YOUR SIDE Illinois mandates that MMOs have to have a nice clear cancel button on their web site for when you, you know, want to cancel.  This was done when an Illinois state legislature tried to cancel his son’s Final Fantasy XI account and got hung up on the “come to the Square Enix offices in person, riding a chocobo” step. Thanks to the Internet not having an easy way to distinguish which customers are not in Illinois, expect all MMOs to remove the jumping-through-hoops thing soonest.

GREENSKINS WILL EAT YOUR BANDWIDTH AND/OR PUDDING Mythic puts up a webgame called “Road To War”, which allows you to do various things. I’d say more, but right now the various things it lets you do include seeing a “we’re sorry, our server died from ALL YOU BORED CUBICLE PEOPLE COMING AT ONCE” screen. Note that by the time you read this, it will probably be up and make me look like a blithering idiot, which is fine, because apparently you can get custard. More webgames should give you custard.

That’s it for today. It’s a short lunch. Today’s News For Lunch has been brought to you by McCain for President.