Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taking a run at the Defender World Record Marathon

It has been years since I threatened to go for a world record on the arcade game Defender. It has been a dream since I had found out that people kept track of these things back in the late 80s.

According to Wikipedia, "Defender is often described as one of the most difficult games in the industry. " Do some research and see what you think. Here's a place to read about it, historically. The History of Defender: The Joys of Difficult Games

The full article has moved to

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gamification Examination: The Week in Gamification, October 21-25, 2013

What the heck do I know?

Feel free to look me up here.

Two years ago I was introduced to the world of "gamification," which is using game mechanics to encourage user behavior. This is not a new technique (think Airline Miles), but with the infusion of Big Data into the picture, the ability to track and modify user experiences on a millisecond by millisecond basis became possible. 

With the experience I have had in making video games that must react to users' every whim and desire, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get into this new "field."

There are many ways to slice this onion, but one of the best ways to say it is that users that are experiencing gamified systems are more engaged and interested in what they are doing. In my opinion, it's because the people that are doing the gamification are being FORCED to listen to their users. Just like a good video game. 

But gamification is NOT a video game. As these blogs go forward, you'll see what I'm talking about. 

Let's discuss the highlights in this week's Gamification Examination!

Disclaimer: there are a lot of opinions thrown around in here. Consider yourself warned as well as invited to participate in a discussion through the comments below. 

Why gamification is the future of social TV

This article describes how the players in online / social TV and video delivery are finding ways to entice users to share content as well as become more deeply involved with it through contests, surveys, and additional material on the content creators' websites. It's as if they were using the content as a trap for their users! But if you think about it, don't you want your users more ENGAGED with your products and content? What are YOU doing to encourage deeper involvement with your product? Maybe you're an employer that wants to gamify your employees... what ways can you provide to get your employees more excited about your company and its products or services?  

Remember what we said about Big Data above? Well, it's really here to stay and the NSA isn't the only one with access to it. If you're using the internet on anyone's site... they know what you're doing and what you're clicking on. Get used to it. 

Oh yeah, I'm going to write about that article. On second thought... I won't. Because it's a paid Press Release that requires you to login to their system and then download the real information. 

Based upon my experience and what I've read lately, they won't be replaced, but they will have a tougher time. If gamification is implemented correctly in organizations, some studies show that turnover is reduced up to 37%. That makes it a little harder to dig someone out of a job. 

Get the Technology Outlook for STEM+ Education 2013-2018

Now this is something you can download and read. Here's my summary: It turns out that kids like games. No, they really like games. And they are highly motivated when someone makes their educational material into a game. Shocking, right? Well, it's backed up with a bunch of data now, so pay attention. 

The next round of employees are going to be bored out of their minds in your organization if you cannot figure out how to motivate them. Here are the keys to the kingdom: Big DataGamification, and Immersive Learning Environments. You're welcome. 

Here's the index to the PDF, in case you want to dig deeper. 

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less 

  • Learning Analytics 
  • Mobile Learning 
  • Online Learning 
  • Virtual and Remote Laboratories 

 Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years 
  • 3D Printing 
  • Games and Gamification 
  • Immersive Learning Environments 
  • Wearable Technology 
 Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years 
  • Flexible Displays 
  • The Internet of Things 
  • Machine Learning 
  • Virtual Assistants 

Why you were not wasting your time playing video games - an introduction to gamification

This article is all about the basics of gamification as well as a couple of good examples of its use. Again, it all boils back down to game mechanics, motivating and engaging users, and additional depth of content and experience. 

They warn about the risks of gamification to be mentioned later, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that their comments about it being bad or poorly accepted are going to prove to be either a poor implementation that doesn't resonate with users or, worse, a fire and forget strategy that was a failure before it started. If you are going to use gamification, you MUST fully commit to its needs. And those needs are based in what online video games have been doing for over twenty years: new content and user directed feedback. In other words, if you're not committed to adding new content and listening to your users, you have already failed. See #6 on my blog post: 6 Things to Consider Before you Implement a Gamification Strategy. You have to be committed. 

This is a pretty good blog! While it only lightly touches on gamification, it does put it in perspective of how it fits within the "gaming" or "toy" realm. It has links to other blogs with much more deep material that you can dive into as you wish. 

His take on intrinsic / extrinsic motivation is a little different than mine, but that's okay. While he defines extrinsic as "points, badges, etc." I see those as ways to visualize intrinsic motivation. My definition of extrinsic is "something you can hold or experience," like a prize or a lunch with the CEO. Maybe I'm way wrong, but the point of intrinsic-ness is that it is inherently personal and there's no way to know what someone's intrinsic motivators are. If nothing taught me that any other way, video games have shown me the light. 

I constantly play games with people that have decided on their own "win" conditions. These are rules that they make up with the tools they have and may have nothing to do with the original game experience. It's like playing pool with someone and they decide that you have to shoot with the wrong hand and bank the cue ball off one rail before hitting the object ball. Using "badges," you can actually reward people for doing things like that, and you'll allow those players to show off the fact that they were able to play in that manner. I think that's rewarding because you were able to take that motivation and reward it. And you can only do that if you have built a gamification system that allowed for that flexibility AND you listened to your users to find out that they wanted to experience your system that way. 

What if your employees decided that the best salesman was the one that could close three sales between 4:45pm and closing time, 5pm AND those customers gave them 5 star ratings on their customer review system? What if they wanted to get a lunch with the CEO for getting to work on time every day for a month? Could your system adjust for that quickly? Do you have a plan in place and a person in place that listens to these desires?

Retail bank innovation focuses on mobile, location-based services and gamification

This references a report that you have to be a member to download. I'm not going to sign up for all of these services, but if you want to give it a go, here's the link.

For all of the hype in the title, here's the one quote that mentions it: "Gamification has been used by nine percent of banks, with 45 percent aiming to gaming elements to engage customers in future." Wow. Not much to go on, but still impressive given that banks are usually not taking risks like this. So, what does that tell you? I think it says that someone has seen the writing and the ROI and wants in. It's not giving a rifle to depositors, but it's taking a risk anyway!

I'm an online customer of CHASE, and I don't feel like their system is gamified, but there are tools I can use that help me manage my money more like a game if I want to. I can set alerts and get texts for whatever I want. I like to think of them as my little helpers that are managing my money. But again, that's MY intrinsic motivation. What would happen if they actually let me choose avatars that sent me email in their "voice?" What if I got badge awards for direct deposits or putting regular deposits in my savings accounts? Heck, what if I could participate in a greater challenge like Kiva or BOINC, where my badges added up to a group goal? Austin has saved $1million dollars this year, so CHASE is donating $10,000 to [insert charity you chose to "save" toward]. My goodness, that would be a win for everyone. How much does advertisement cost? And how much would that interest gain for them? You do the math. I'll keep dreaming. 

Signing off for today (10/22/13)

That's it for now. I fully expect you to share your thoughts here. Tell me I'm off base. I'll listen and adapt. I'm not "right," because no one is on matters like these, because this is a growing field, and I don't have all the information you do. More than anything, a discussion will help us ALL learn more. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Personal (i.e. political) blogs migrating to

I'm pulling my personal (i.e. political) blogs and migrating them over to


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Getting Noticed and Hired in the Video Game Industry


Everyone seems to want to get into the game industry one way or another. People ask me how to do it, what tools they should use, and all sorts of other details.

Today, the barrier to entry is so low that you can not only find a free game engine and free art, you can launch your game for free on a number of platforms that already have distribution completely under control. You can create your own webpage for free. You can run a social media campaign for free. 

So why aren't you already making a game? Exactly. 

My advice to you if you're serious about getting started: go make a game. Figure it out on your own. There's plenty of information out there. Do some searches, ask people, download free engines, go take a programming class. Just go do it already!


I work as a consultant in the video game industry providing guidance on products, helping build products, and jumping into the fray at any point in development. One of my developers asked for advice the other day, and since he's at the beginning of his career, we discussed some fundamentals. 

Look at me!

Getting Noticed

This developer wants to land a job, so he has made a few demos to get the attention of some hiring managers. 

As a hiring manager myself, I often see demos that potential employees have created and, while they are oftentimes amazing game nuggets, they are far from ready to ship. 

If you want to get my attention, LAUNCH A PRODUCT! Completing games and getting them "live" is the thing that matters at the end of the day. 

Be an Entrepreneur

Everyone that I hire has to have some type of entrepreneurial streak. When someone comes in and can explain what they did on a product that they launched by themselves and what worked and what didn't work... they immediately have my FULL attention.


Throughout a few discussions with some younger developers, I have come up with a few ideas I'd like to share with you. Perhaps some of these notes might be of use on your game or app project. 

The Last 10% Takes 90% of the Effort

The phrase is trite, but it still feels that way to me after all these years. All of the little details that must be nailed down: the gameplay tweaks that are absolutely vital, the last bits of art that need to be polished, marketing, advertising, tracking users, and all of the "other" stuff that has nothing to do with making a "game" are all integral parts of making a product that will ultimately MAKE MONEY. 

They call it the video game industry for a reason. You need to make a living from it. 


1 Game to Market > 100 Prototypes

"FINISHING" is not just a step in the process, it's an actual skillThe skill of finishing a project is the most valuable skill to an employer at the end of the day. For me, the more times you have shipped product, the more valuable you are on my team and at my company.

If you can't close a project, you're actually a long term detriment to a company or team.

Focus Your Effort

Make, Market, Measure
To get your project launched, it's time to get to the real work. Here are three of the areas you need to focus upon.
  • Finish and publish the game
  • Marketing / Community Management
  • Data Tracking (Google analytics)
Each of these are major events that require a lot of work. And they are all vital. Divide your efforts between them as you move through development. You'll likely avoid burnout and start seeing ways that they are all part of the same experience for the players.

Design Eddies

A "design eddy" is some sort of block; a place where users are getting stuck because they can't figure out what to do. 

Eddies are bad for stickiness
Imagine your game as a sort of river or funnel, where players start in one part, eventually make it to the next part, and so on. Each group moves to the next "funnel." Your job as a game maker is to move as many people as possible through those funnels. 

To find these, think of a linear path for someone to find, choose to buy, install, learn to play, and eventually become a regular user. 

With good data tracking, and use of tools like Google Analytics, "design eddys" can be found and ELIMINATED.

Don't wait too long to ship!

Over the years I have listened to a lot of product pitches. Recently a pitch spent 50% of the time talking about business and monetization strategies BEFORE WE EVEN TALKED ABOUT THE GAME!

Now, he has spent all the time building all of that as well as the game itself. He's in a great place, and the game is beautiful, but he wants to add more features first. But... he's running out of money and time. 

My advice to him was: stop adding new stuff and release what he has ready. Now. Because no matter how genius, an unreleased game isn't worth shit.

Consider this mechanic: Coin Dozer

Certain games have figured out how to get you to come back and re-engage with them. One example that really got me to come back was Coin Dozer. Here are some of the things I noticed about them. Maybe some of these would make sense in your game?
I have to wait?!?
  • Coins always accumulating during play and when the game 
  • Accumulate FASTER when the app is open
  • Player constantly checks to see how many coins they might have, then they keep the app open for a bit to get them at a faster rate.
  • Because you are always getting coins, the attraction to the game actually goes UP as you are away from it longer, making it near-impossible to stay away. Stay away from a week and you suddenly think "Oh man, how many coins must I have NOW?!" 
There are a lot of people that will argue that this is a Skinner Box. Yep, it's pretty much true. But you should know that these mechanics are out there and you can use them whenever you want. And they do work.

Time to harvest!

Another good mechanic: Appointment Gaming

Finding a way to incorporate appointment gaming into your product is something worth your time. 

By scheduling out times (ex: this plant will bloom in 4 hours, these tanks will be repaired in 12 hours, etc.), the user has a reason to come back and PLANS to come back before the game even ends. 

Player expectations can be managed based upon their decisions of what they want to "plant" / "grow" / "heal" before they wish to re-engage.

"Breadcrumbs" instead of "arrows"

Leave crumbs for players to find
Breadcrumbs are used to provide users with visual clues and goals that lead the players where they want to go, instead of explicitly pushing them. 

These could be coins, food, or some other token that has some value in the game system itself. Some games use arrows to direct people to the right places to go, but arrows are not really well-integrated into most games. 

If breadcrumbs make sense, consider them. 

Publicizing a game

Half of the effort of making a game is getting people to find it. Really. In fact it may take even more than half of the effort. Without marketing, you may never have your game seen outside your friends and family. Consider these:
It'll sell itself! Not.
  • The app store is a mess, you can't find anything. There are over 150,000 games there as of this writing. Here's where I got the number. Maybe they update it over time. 
  • You have to get people to find your game in all of that mess.
  • Word-of-mouth is the NUMBER ONE way to publicize a game, so:
    • Give them something to TALK about (a good story)
    • Give them a way to talk to each other (social media)

Ship it. NOW!

When you are at a point where you have the basics of the game complete and players can experience the whole thing... It's time to launch. Too much fussing around is the death of a product in this fast paced world. Get ready to turn your game into a service business

Should I do another blog on gaming as a service business? Let me know!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reprint: Five Simple Guidelines That (Almost) Guarantee Success from Jake Simpson

There is a great article that has been deprecated from its original post and I want to reprint it here in its entirety. I have gained a lot of insight and direction from this article and want to share it with you, too. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom.
The Rules of Casual Game Development
Five Simple Guidelines That (Almost) Guarantee Success
Jake Simpson
Casual Connect Magazine, Winter 2008
Although the gaming industry may have started with casual games, the core of the industry (and many of its most intellectual developers) walked away from casual games many years ago, enticed by the style and multi-million dollar budgets of games built for true gaming enthusiasts. And yet in spite of all they have going for them—experienced developers, huge budgets, high production values, sophisticated game mechanics, excellent sound quality, exceptional graphics—core games are not always good games. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

I certainly have. I spent several years creating games for enthusiasts, including games in the Heretic, Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek series, along with some of the Golden Age Midway Arcade Games. I also worked on The Sims which appeals to demographics very similar to casual games. As a result of that odyssey, and my recent observations of the casual games space, I have developed a few rules for casual games that I think are worth following. They aren’t exhaustive (and they definitely don’t guarantee success), but following them will put you in a better position to succeed. 

1. The Fewer Clicks the Better
It’s always a good idea to get people into the game-play as soon as possible. That means you should get things started quickly, with a minimum number of clicks. For Quake III, id Software wanted players to be just three clicks away from playing the game. Even if you have many screens of text for players to wade through before getting into the game, enable them to click past those screens instantly. The same principle applies to cinematics. They may satisfy the inner movie maker in you, but they are unnecessary—especially to the casual gamer. Make it easy for people to skip right over them. Likewise you should minimize interruptions from pop-ups. Any unnecessary interruption of play is an annoyance.

Remind yourself that people want to play, not watch. That’s why they’re called players. 

2. Introduce Complexity Slowly
It’s OK for your game mechanic to be complex. It can have lots of effectors (power-ups or stuff that changes how you play). But do not include any of them on the first few levels. When people are just becoming familiar with your game, you want to pare down game-play to the barest essentials—leaving out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. You should think of it this way: In the early stages, you are literally training people to play your game. Introduce abilities or mechanic effectors slowly, one by one, and get people used to them before you add more. 

3. Make People Instantly Successful
If there is any secret to making casual games, its this one: The first few levels should be achievable by a brain-dead moron. The whole idea is to entice people with instant success and the feeling of power, and then very slowly turn the screws, doing so only after you know the player has mastered the basics. 

Don’t ever forget that the success of your game depends on your ability to make successful even those people who can’t figure out how to send email.

4. Test It Before You Release It
Prior to sending your game off (even to the publisher), put it in the hands of unschooled strangers and see how it performs. Think of it as a “Kleenex” test: Use people once and never again. The idea is to let your actual target audience try the game and tell you what they think. And when they tell you, LISTEN. Never dismiss them by saying: “Well, they just don’t know how to play it” or “They just don’t get it.” The fact is that if you don’t do something about their complaints, your game is almost surely destined for failure. User testing should be front and center in your design process. Listen to your users as if they were Angels from God.

5. Keep It Simple
Ideally, someone should be able to watch a friend playing your game and pretty much understand how to play it. New players shouldn’t have to practice or rely on multiple pop-ups or explanation screens in order to figure it out. If you don’t have a root mechanic that can be communicated via a YouTube video, then there’s something wrong.

In fact, it’s a good idea to record and watch a video of your game to see if it is obvious what is going on. You might try showing that video to a couple of your Kleenex testers and see if they catch on quickly.

If first-time players cannot determine game-play mechanics immediately, or if something basic isn’t clear and obvious, they will simply stop playing. Which, by the way, isn’t good.
Jake Simpson is an opinionated software developer and game designer who has been around the block more than once—and is still running. Jake can be reached at 

What do you think? Is simplicity wrong? Or is it the term "brain-dead moron" that turns your stomach?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our Newest Educational Journey

For those of you that have been following our AISD school saga, things have JUST changed for the better. Matthew Cain and Tuesday Cain have been accepted at Skybridge Academy. Matt started yesterday and Tuesday has decided to start tomorrow. She spent the past two days telling her friends goodbye and today took a bunch of popcorn and Kool Aid up to school for a "party."

Austin ISD -
hasn't worked out for us
While both the schools were good places for the kids, in general, neither were educationally right for either of them. I believe Skybridge is just where they need to be, because the classes "scale" based upon your ability and interest level. For instance, Matt was advanced to high school math on Monday because, well, he was ahead of where he was supposed to be.

I am so happy for the kids and I want to call out a few people that have made this happen:

Kim Brushaber for offering a "base of operations" for this year's Austin High experience. YOU ROCK! Truly an exceptional blessing to have her in our family.

David Brown just "knew" I was supposed to meet Maggie Duval, so he got us together and we hit it off. Maggie had heard of our kids' difficulties as school and she decided that I needed to meet Ariel Miller, the Director & "Chief Motivator" of Skybridge Academy. When I met with Ariel, we also had a great time discussing education and she ultimately asked me to help create a technology track for the school to use the kids' interest in computers and programming as a way to get them excited about learning technology. It has a cool side effect of differentiating the school from others in the Austin area.

David, you have made an amazing, amazing, amazing event happen for our family and your involvement in this can never be forgotten. Maggie, you're just as culpable, so you're getting props, too! Damn, we are so fortunate to have met both of you!

I just wanted to publicly share my thankfulness and appreciation for the universe for blessing our family with this opportunity. It is truly a life-changing event in our lives and there is no way to thank everyone that has participated in one way or another throughout this journey.

Yes, they are really running from an exploding car
ON school campus!
P.S. I will be posting cool stuff from this place from time to time. Oh yeah, IT IS LOCATED ON THE GROUNDS OF STUNT RANCH! You'll want to know more, I'm sure, so check it out.

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