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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Comments

Charles E. Hardwidge

I caught the podcast a few days ago. Though it had a bit of sky is blue, grass is green about it, I did like its edge of realism on the development side and gauged tone on the marketing side. As an example of question and answers, and leadership, it was a solid performance. I had a sneaky suspicion George was buckling somewhere along the line and you’d overreached yourselves, so the news on more hires and estimated schedules ticked a box.

For some time, I’ve thought the DNF project had value in being a learning curve and promotional tool. By combining external studios, internal resources, and business relationships developed over many years, you look more like a VC company to me. I think, the big publishing houses need to consider what projects they back more carefully and what added value they bring to the show. The ratio of success to failures, market development, and one sided deals isn’t cool.

I know my design and technical vision is world class. What’s been emerging in the market recently has only confirmed that. Money and contacts is always great to put resources and a supply chain in your hands but developing the character, methods, and patience to deliver a good outcome benefit from being developed whether a sweet deal is parachuted in or not. I’m sure some people would benefit from help but going your own way has it’s advantages.

On the Triton and Valve thing. I think, your business plan for Triton’s technology and market solution sucked big time. Likewise, Valve aren’t being too clever. I think, you were right to draw a line on pushing one and getting sucked into the other. I share some of your uncertainty in the general sense but see solutions and the market coming together in the long-term. Again, it’s just another gaols, process, and outcomes thing. As always, who you are matters.

On the going back to your routes thing. Against a wider technical and cultural background of complexity, stress, and levels of global conflict, going back to basics strikes me as being the spirit of the age. Movies, politics, and anything you care to mention seems to be going through a process of refactoring. Systems tend to accumulated rubbish over time. Simplifying along purely strategic lines is a pause for breath, and why I feel confident things can only get better.

Everyone's a winner!

Peter Woodhouse

Scott said: "...our new business strategy of working with multiple independent studios simultaneously ... 3D Realms will become a studio polygamist, teaming up with more than one studio, working on perhaps 4-6 external projects simultaneously, creating new IPs..."

Isn't that what publishers do?

Anon

I don't think you should view episodic content as like Tv. It should be viewed as a normal game except shorter and cheaper. Maybe they shouldn't call them episodes. I don't think a developer needs to make everything a cliffhanger no more than a normal game would have to be a cliffhanger to get you to buy the next one. You should really be able to tell stories in 4-6 hours of gaming. If the game is fun for 4-6 hours at a decent price folks will come back to the next.

The real battle is getting some folks to see that shorter cheaper games aren't 'budget' titles.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Like a lot of things, a few people rushed into the episodic fashion ill-prepared and for the wrong reasons. I've been cooking episodic cross media content in my own mind for a few years, and got a real kick when I took a closer look at the Japanese animation and game development markets. I think, you're right. The market isn't ready but neither are developers. It's going to take a while to lock on to this one. The current road crash isn't helping but it's something that will pick up in time.

I can't nail a year down, but the reshaping of the market, the profile of available games, is heading in the right direction. Blockbuster, episodic content, mainstream production values, and art-house style content will find its level. I'm guessing, another 10-20 years will see a more rounded and robust games industry. No mystery. No need to panic. By then, most folks will have a measure of experience and new developers will have a clearer and more stable development path to follow.

Looking at Scott's market opportunities and hiring, I see it as being a microcosm of the bigger picture. Like politics and media, rapid expansion in the 1980's and onwards led to a lot of new entrants. Sadly, this undermined overall maturity. It's taken about 10-20 years to get to where we are now. As the more experienced people at the top get a grip and those at the bottom are better guided at a more proper pace, the whole thing will round out.

Sorry to be the harbinger of such unseemly good news!

Mr.DJ

Sounds good and all Scott, 3DRealms helping other studios...but I hope you carefully consider the amount of work/time these extra projects will require of you(and likely other 3drealms employes at times).

Spreading focus over multiple projects, will enevitable make it harder to realize a single title's full potential...hope you get my meaning!

But the best of luck to you, I like your ideas! :)

0mar

I disagree with your views on episodic gaming. The two episodes so far (Sin:E and HL2:Ep1) are on par with just about any shooter that has come out this year. HL2:Ep1 had a start, middle and end that was much more cohesive than Prey's. It ends on a cliffhanger, but also provides a satisfactory end, how is this any different than Prey or any shooter for that matter (sequelitis :( ).

The only "bad" thing about HL2:Ep1 was it's short length. It took most people 4.5-5 hours to beat (myself included). However, a very large portion of the gaming public has completed many shooters in slightly more time, Prey, Max Payne, Max Payne 2 are the ones that jump to my mind the fastest. Each of those games were full-price, but barely offered more gameplay time than Ep1 did. I don't regret my purchases of those games, and Max Payne is still one of my favorite games, but people are really seeing what they want to see. HL2:Ep1 is probably the best shooter to come out this year; it should be noted that this year has been particularly lackluster in shooters though. Still, Ep1 was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and Ep2 looks to be even better. The biggest benefit of episodic gaming is reduced development times. More games, faster. I don't think anyone can be opposed to this.

Also, Valve has stated that Ep1 was a commercial success by their standards in several interviews. This goes in direct contrast of what you stated in your podcast :)

Pag

I don't think the current format of episodic games is the right one -- or anything new, actually. They're nothing more than expansion packs with a new name.

What I'd like to see is a format much closer to TV shows or comic books: every week, at the same days and time, a new episode is released with about an hour of new gameplay. It could be stretched to 1 episode per month, but no further imho. That way, players would really get a feeling of actual episodes and anticipating the next release each week. Payment would be by subscription (like magazines).

A game like Grand Theft Auto would be perfect for this: it would be fairly easy to release a new mission or two each week while keeping most of the game's assets (the city, cars, etc.) the same. Each season a new city could be added.

I'd be much more excited by that. Right now all we get is a few new levels every few months, but it's supposed to be exciting because it's "episodic content" and not an "expansion pack"...

Duoae

I'm glad Scott's views on episodic tally with what i've been saying for ages now. In fact even some of the comments here reflect my views, though they be different from Scott's. I'll just quote from my blog:

"In my opinion it's fine for sequels to have a different look, even feel to the original but in an episodic structure it is familiarity that brings people back for more. Episodes, by nature, depend on linking every episode over the short interval in between, driving the need to watch/take part in the next instalment."

"Episodic gaming is the wrong term and direction for this branch of gaming. Instead it should be more like it already is or was - a full game per episode, but cut into segments or chapters (like Duke 3D, Doom etc) or completely the opposite and make ultrasmall segments of games and release them quickly. 6-9 months for ~6 hours gameplay is too long to wait. Instead making ~1-2 hour portions of a game series with a tight narrative released every month (it would be quicker but i'm sure decent QA wouldn't allow it). People may balk at this to begin with, but put at the right price point and it would be fine. Episodes would also have to be linked by website story and community analysis as well as online play, with each episode bringing a new patch and added functionality (maps etc) to the online portion, allowing for between gap measures (such as ARG style hints etc) to make people savour the game more would really improve sales."

Omar said:
"Also, Valve has stated that Ep1 was a commercial success by their standards in several interviews. This goes in direct contrast of what you stated in your podcast :)"

So, being cynical, what do you think Valve's standards are?

Was said:
"The real battle is getting some folks to see that shorter cheaper games aren't 'budget' titles."

On the contrary, i believe that the real battle is that as we get down to shorter game spans we're directly competing with the TV and movie industry. They have a much greater wealth of experience dealing with maximising the time spent by the public watching a movie. It's hard to justify a good game purchase at £20 if it's 5 hours maximum when the game isn't anywhere as near as engaging emotionally as a 2 hour film for the same or cheaper price. I'm talking about mass market here and not us game otakus ;)

One of the problems i think we encounter in the game market is that because it is a fully interactive medium people's expectations are automatically higher...

Scott Miller

The thing to watch is how many more episodes Ritual and Valve will put out. My prediction is either none or one.

To be clear, I hope episodic releases catch on, as it would be great for the industry and especially smaller studios.

>>> The real battle is getting some folks to see that shorter cheaper games aren't 'budget' titles.

Yes, this is another big hurdle.

Duoae

Maybe budget titles are a problem in the US (i've had a few titles that were imported for me which i was a little bit shocked about) but over here in the UK (and possibly europe) the market for such low budget games just doesn't exist.

I mean, there are cheap games but they tend to either be re-releases of previous "platinum" games like the sold-out range or actual budget titles, of which i don't see many on the shelves.

Fact Checker

Hey Scott, a million units huh? I've seen the NPD data and you are nowhere close in the US. Unless the game is selling much much better in europe than it is in the US I can't see any way the game has sold that much. Care to explain yourself?

Scott Miller

My figures on Prey sales come from the publisher's royalty report from which we are paid. As I said, the figure represents worldwide sell-through. I doubt they're paying us for units not sold--when publishers make mistakes, 99.9 percent of the time it's in their favor, not ours. I've not seen the NPD figures, but based on a recent audit we conducted I know that those figures can be quite mis-representative of actual sales.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Pag is right to draw out the issues surrounding current episodic formats, and his observations on format and frequency are spot on. Off the top of my head, if I were producing episodic content, I’d be aiming for a way shorter game length, and release on a daily, weekly, or monthly cycle, depending on context.

Douae makes some good points about the game versus price ratio being too high. I don’t care what Valve et al say about that or their numbers hitting expectations. I don’t pay much attention to power, status, and wealth, and their emphasis on numbers meeting expectations stand out to me as a bit of a distraction.

For once in my life I’m happy to float along with this one and see where it leads. I’ve got some thoughts and expectations but as far as things go, I’m happy enough just building up my capacities and leaving it to the future to decide. What looks like a road crash today can turn into something valuable tomorrow.

Dusty

I swear my soul that I will find your Skype name. The hunt starts!

0mar

"Douae makes some good points about the game versus price ratio being too high. I don’t care what Valve et al say about that or their numbers hitting expectations. I don’t pay much attention to power, status, and wealth, and their emphasis on numbers meeting expectations stand out to me as a bit of a distraction."

I find the two episodes released so far provide very acceptable time:money ratios. HL2:Ep1 cost me $17. It provided about 5 hours of gameplay the first time through. If the next two episodes follow this model, we are looking at $51 for 15 hours of gameplay in total. The last shooter that was that long was Doom3/HL2.

Prey only had about 6 hours of gameplay total and that was a full price game. Max Payne 2 was even shorter; I beat it in about 3.5 hours and I can beat that game in under an hour now, if I skipped all the graphic novel scenes. Call of Duty 2 was about 8 hours long. Time:money ratio isn't the only thing, but the two episodes released so far can more than match recent shooters in that department.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Both 3D Realms and Valve made their play. Both succeeded in creative and sales terms to the degree that they’re happy with. As a customer, you’re fine with that as well. Both companies have the resources and profile to give it a go, and are likely to have learned some valuable lessons. In time, we may see further initiatives that build on this. I don’t have an issue with any of that. It’s just that I would’ve played things differently. Same pond, different fish.

Personally, I’m in a place where I’m letting go of intellectual and social efforts. It’s been a long time since I had a break, and floating along for a while will clear the mind and aid relaxation. It’s easy to get too obsessed with development and what’s going on around you. To some degree, this principle is reflected in 3D Realms corporate efforts and the wider market. Focus is great but learning to defocus is equally useful, and wielding both well doubly so.

I’ve just had an email land that’s pissed me off a bit. I was hoping a strategy I was pursuing would develop on its own but it looks like I’m going to have to do some donkey work. I could’ve wrapped the whole deal in hours but when you’re on the outside looking in outstanding issues can make moments stretch into forever. The positive side is somebody bit. Now, if I can eat my own dog food this could end better - being determined and relaxed helps things along.

Woof.

JC

Cool, I look forward to playing Prey 2 in 2015.

tu.agamemnon

I can see episodic content released on a quarterly basis for a well-oiled development house. Cliffhangers might work as they do for monthly releases in the comic book industry. Another parallel with comics would be episodes that cater to certain markets and nationalities, namely Japan or S. Korea, to be successful.

Good luck on your future endeavors, Scott. I would have thought a single project like Prey would keep you too busy to think of managing others. Clearly I was wrong. Here's hoping the studio-polygamy results in offspring that don't have to be incubated for close to a decade. ;)

Gwog

>>>So, going forward, 3D Realms will become a studio polygamist, teaming up with more than one studio, working on perhaps 4-6 external projects simultaneously

Drat, and I was just getting ready to email in a post request for an update on the supplements, exercise, and Kronos test scores. But now this blog is *really* going to go on hiatus!

Scott Miller

Gwog, I will have an announcement on that subject soon. I've partnered with a few experts to start a new website dedicated to supplements that should be up-n-running early next year. There are many cutting-edge supplements "out there" that are not being reported, but can substantially increase a person's health and lifespan, such as ALT-711:
http://www.fightaging.org/archives/000981.php
http://www.alteon.com/cross1.htm

The FDA does not approve such drugs because they, in their infinite wisdom, only approves drugs that have some effect on an existing disease. In other words, the FDA only approves *reactive* drugs. ALT-711, instead, is a pro-active drug that reduces and prevents vascular hardening and the hardening of most other internal organs (that accrue via normal aging due a unavoidable sugar-protein binding process called glycation), as well as several other preventative benefits. (It has significantly reduced my blood pressure to super healthy levels, for example, and blood pressure is one of the top overall indicators of health status, far more important, for instance, than cholesterol count.) There are many such well-researched drugs that will likely never get FDA approval, because the FDA is not in the business of prevention.

Anyway, kinda off-topic, but soon I'll have a place to talk about this a lot more. ;-)

Gwog

I'll keep my eyes open for it. Your comment posts in an old thread about your health steps have had a strong fascination for me for a while now.

Oh, and congrats on PREY's success.

Charles E. Hardwidge

The FDA does not approve such drugs because they, in their infinite wisdom, only approves drugs that have some effect on an existing disease. In other words, the FDA only approves *reactive* drugs.

In the industrialised West, the prevailing view is that people get ill and that causes the damage. The Chinese Daoist view of health is that the damage occurs first and people get ill later. Taking a step back from this, I think, there’s truth in both. This is why a medical system which looks at prevention as well as cure is a good thing. While more is spent per head on medical care in America than Britain, the average health of British people is significantly higher. The suggestion so far is that the X-Factor in this is character. The British Government is currently moving strongly towards a preventative healthcare system and evaluating alternatives to established prescriptions.

I’m a big fan of Feng-shui for a few reasons. It gets your environment in better shape, and careful application of these principles can have a positive effect on mental health and the physical health that flows from that. Also, there’s some suggestion that a better ordered and balanced environment can help reduce the chances of developing problems as well as alleviating them, including severe issues like depression, schizophrenia, and autism, but substantive research on this has yet to be conducted from what I know. My own thesis is that there are significant gains to be had in this area in a preventative and treatment capacity.

From a pure game design and development angle, I think, paying attention to form, colour, and arrangement can have a net benefit on design quality, character development, and management of the company and its marketing. It’s no magic bullet and depends on the people to do the grunt work of learning, absorbing, and trying things out, but I noticed it help give me a fresh perspective and a kick up the rear when things weren’t going so well. Good regular routine, fresh and varied food, and regular moderate exercise is the best going and it’s free. I don’t know much about Scott’s pills but if they can form a useful supporting role that can’t be a bad thing.

The only way to win an argument is not start one, or sumfink.

Scott Miller

>>> The Chinese Daoist view of health is that the damage occurs first and people get ill later. <<<

Charles, this is the correct view with practically all diseases associated with getting older, they are the result of years--often decades--of accumulated ongoing damage. And a significant percentage of this damage can be greatly reduced, or even avoided altogether. The American diet has become the most dangerous modern diet in the world. The British have better control over the use of trans-fats and other cheap fillers that run rampant in American foods, leading to heart disease, cancer and a killer list of illnesses.

Most Americans merrily ingest these processed foods without a clue of their ongoing dangers, oblivious to the price they will pay as they pass 50 years of age and become ill and feeble. Also, there are dozens upon dozens of supplements that have a profound benefit to reducing the chances of cancer, heart disease and other age-related diseases. It's not hard at all to reach 100 years of age (in a healthy, still active state) in today's society. But most will not come close because it's too inconvenient, and the American medical system is more about treating than preventing. It is therefore up to us, individually, to handle the prevention part.

tu.agamemnon

Umm... so do you have a say in what goes into the Apogee snack room or is that all Joe? =)

Scott Miller

I wouldn't touch a thing that's in our really well stocked break room, except the water, and maybe the unsweetened nuts. The rest will put you into an early grave for certain. I heard that Google has a huge cafe with chef's that actually make healthy, organic foods. That would be nice for us too, but we're far too small. They feed several thousand employees each day.

Our break room is slam packed with unhealthy crap about like most other break rooms. Convenience trumps health.

tu.agamemnon

http://www.firingsquad.com/news/newsarticle.asp?searchid=12889 - Scott's Firing Squad Interview

Some nice bits to update this blog entry. Scott, what non-shooter genres are you personally interested in exploring with external studios? Do you look at it as a chance to stretch your (creative) legs again? A 3D Realms produced RTS would intrigue me, certainly.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I heard that Google has a huge cafe with chef's that actually make healthy, organic foods. That would be nice for us too, but we're far too small. They feed several thousand employees each day.

Didn't you start a restaurant business or did that flop? There's 1001 ways to skin this cat, from setting up your own restaurant, striking a deal with one, to hiring an in-house chef. Then there's the ready-to-go meal market for other companies and homes. Maybe 3D Realms can't make a case on its own but there might be enough businesses in the area who would invest in a share. With collective bargaining, perhaps, there may be the possibility of reducing healthcare insurance premiums by increased buying power and health cost calculations, which would sweeten the deal. If other factors, such as company environment, personal development, and health supplements can be factored in, there might be some scope for that to add another edge to the deal.

I'm a really big fan of in-house meals away from the desk. Rushed half-hour packet sandwich meals at the desk are a quick way to increase stress, ruin physical health, and dent long-term performance. Here in Britain lots of big companies shifted from full service to portion control, to contracting out, then shutting down of in-house catering, and many companies have shifted from full hour to half-hour lunch breaks. This was part of a bigger pattern of easily boosting profits by cutting costs and passing them on to the employee or customer. It makes the corporate balance sheet look good in the short-term but the long-term costs in terms of satisfaction, morale, and wellbeing come back to bite somewhere down the line.

Cutting costs, like negative criticism, is easy. Organic growth, like creativity, is harder. A great deal of the deregulation opportunity of the 1980’s went into cutting costs rather than developing new business. The asset stripping mentality slashed head counts, cut training, and concentrated power in the hands of management. Today, a sky high-premium is paid for the few at the top. By better investing in jobs and training this position can be reversed and the wage gap between the top and bottom reduced to historical norms and more psychologically productive levels. A similar attitude extended to the community level will help reduce areas of social deprivation, in the same way that foreign investment has helped level up large chunks of Asia and other parts of the world.

Reading that lot I can't figure out whether I'm a capitalist or communist. Everyone's a winner!

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