Someone missed something... Disney acquires Tapulous

July 02, 2010

I find this really strange... Disney acquires Tapulous.  I think my favorite quote of the piece is this:

“We will be at the center of Disney’s mobile strategy,”
 The reason I find this very odd is that less than 8 months ago I was contacted by their HR requiter for the Executive Producer position at Tapulous. We talked for about 30 minutes and one of her comments stuck in my head:

"We really have no process, and we need someone who can teach us how to make games"
When I asked about the background of my bosses, I was told they were lawyers had had zero game industry experience.  I was told what they really needed was someone with lots of experience who could lead the group.

So there you have it... someone with no game industry experience is now the head of the "center of Disney's mobile strategy.  This has disaster written all over it. I wish them well in their duel quest of leading the mobile strategy AND learning how to make games.



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Virtual goods and Magic Number Math

July 01, 2010

Let's get some things out of the way before we talk about economic problems with virtual goods. There are some bits of information that need to be accepted before you can fully understand the problem.

The first bit is, since these transactions are so small, it's very important that the buy have no real idea of how much they're spending.  Remember that the buyer is actually buying nothing.  The virtual hat is actually that, virtual.  So it's important that the exchange rate be difficult to calculate.  The worse position to be in, is where the buyer knows exactly how much they're spending with easy math they can do in their head.  You want them always to be thinking in terms of their virtual money, not real money.

Got that?  That's why songs in Itunes are 99 cents not 1.00 dollar.

The second piece you need to understand is that there are Magic Numbers. These are the numbers that people feel comfortable using in their head to do simple math.  These numbers are 2,10 and 5.  Other numbers, such as 3, although small they aren't as easy to multiply in your head, unless of course the other number is one of the magic numbers.

The next bit you need to grasp is that people in general select the first menu item.  With all things being equal and a long menu of options, the first is usually the one picked.

If you have all that... take a look at the picture to the left. This is a screen shot from Farmville iPhone. The first option... 5 real dollars, yes it shows 4.99 but for math people will use 5, and 25.  We know that 5 is one of the magic numbers and 25 is an easy multiplier.

Just like that the buy knows that for every real dollar, they're getting 5 Farm Cash.  What does that leave us with?  We still don't know the exchange rate.  But the numbers left help, 5 (a magic number) and 1.00 (100 is an easily multiplier of 5)

Just like that... 20 cents for every Farm Cash. This is easy "do it on your head math" using the magic numbers that breaks the number one online retail rule.

This isn't the end of the world.  I'm not suggesting that Farmville on the iPhone will fail, but this will be an anchor on the beautiful sailing ship.  I will give them credit, the second item listing, is not easy magic math. The downside there is, it's the SECOND item and most won't use the numbers for the math.

Your thoughts?

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Making a Schedule

June 15, 2010

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...
Scheduling game production is like herding cats, snakes and artists.  I'll leave it up to you to determine who is more insulted in that last sentence.

Scheduling comes down to putting the doers with the planners.  There are levels of decision makers that must be consulted when you have large teams.  I know of few products that shipped exactly according to their initial schedule.  While most of my products have shipped on time, I can't say they fit exactly to the first schedule.

Often the higher ups decide that a product must ship at a specific date and that requires you to constrict the features in order to ship.  Remembering time for QA, it always takes longer than expected, can be the key to shipping your title with high quality even if you have to trim features.

The best advice I can give you, small or large tam, is to conduct experiments.  If you make a schedule that has 15 levels, and each level is scheduled to take 4 weeks, that's 60 weeks just for levels.  While your tam is making this first level, monitor their progress closely.  If they take 8 weeks to make level 1, level 2 isn't going to take 4 weeks as planned.  Even if the entire team tells you that the next levels will go faster now that they've finished one.

Always identify those features that can be removed for time constraints.  Better to know a the start that you can remove features that have to kill something you love farther on in development.

Dive head down into the first chucks of development and watch closely the team interactions.  If the team is staying weekends or working 14 hour days, you need to remember this when you review the schedule.

Even with SCRUM, reviewing what you are developing as a whole is paramount to shipping with feature complete at the quality the market demands.  Remember that with waterfall or SCRUM, you should never bite off more than you can chew.

Making your schedule is as much a team effort as is the game development.  Building the schedule with your team gives them a sense of ownership that doesn't happen when you make the schedule and present it to them.  While it's fine to put required milestones up, and then work backwards, the teams respond better if they build it with your requirements in mind.

In the future I'll post about part two, maintaining the schedule.


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