The Flaw

The Flaw

Just caught The Flaw on Netflix, and it’s well worth the watch. Director David Sington pulled together an impressive panel of economists and historians (including Robert Shiller and Joseph Stiglitz — my favorite was Louis Hyman).

The film borrows its title from Alan Greenspan’s 2008 congressional testimony but doesn’t devote a ton of screen time to the video of that testimony. Instead the film focuses on its luminaries’ analysis and opinions, who each have their own take on “The Flaw”. One thing everyone seemed to agree on was the asset-if-ication of real estate, exploited by market forces in unprecedented fashion.

I was fascinated by the film’s liberal use of clips from a cartoon developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1954. It’s Everybody’s Business, in addition to being a great example of Cold War capitalist propaganda, is stunningly good design. There’s a video game in that film somewhere…

The New Lotteconomy

Fabulous write-up from Dean after he moderated a panel on mobile monetization at the GDC this year. The room was packed even though it was up against other, much sexier sessions.

As Dean correctly notes, that’s a solid indicator that the toughest problem in mobile gaming is discovery and monetizing F2P games. Here are a couple of money-quotes:

It’s all about sustaining an audience that has a natural tendency to peter out after a few weeks. One chief executive at our Mobile Summit joked that the best strategy a game company can pursue, if it has a hit game, is to shut down and not try to do another one. That’s because the hardest thing is to keep a string of hits going.

The good thing is that the winners in mobile monetization can produce billion-dollar games. The bad news is that it feels like a lottery. For the rest of the companies in mobile, there is hope if they can just hang in there.

We talk about this all the time — it’s a lottery. We used to call it “hit-driven” but that term seems archaic now. Welcome to the new Lotteconomy.

FPS Done Right?

This looks promising. Great devs behind it. And DeNA. And Unity. I hope this game gets serious traction along the road to higher mobile quality games. They’ve been touting their control scheme as a major feature and, although it’s not exactly brand new or 100% unique (we were experimenting with one-finger-rotate and touch-move FPS controls back in ’09 — players were not quite ready for it then), it’s the right approach at the right time with the right team.

Remembering Silas Warner

I couldn’t get Silas Warner out of my head yesterday (The Digital Antiquarian — a fabulous blog — has an absolutely wonderful write-up on him, do go read it if you’re at all interested in the history of video games).

I worked with Silas back in the early ‘oughts, at Analog Devices, long after his legendary work at Muse Software.  I use the word “work” loosely, since we were on different teams (Silas was focused on bringing our audio product, SoundMax, to Playstation, while my job was SoundMax tools for PC and online). I didn’t interact with Silas more than a handful of times, but I can confirm that he was indeed one-of-a-kind, with an exceedingly bright mind.

While I’m 6’4″ myself, Silas was an imposing physical presence at almost seven feet tall. He was only a few years older than I am today, but suffered from kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis. He didn’t get around very well, and when he spoke, it was clear that his body was making it very tough on him. He seemed to be in constant pain.

I was smitten by his reputation and brilliance but repelled by his presence and suffering. I wish I’d been a real friend to him, as if through friendship I could have somehow brightened his day or eased his suffering in some tiny way.  He died just a few years later in 2004, a man who achieved great things despite life-long illness and difficult odds. I missed a chance to learn from him and an opportunity to practice compassion and empathy, perhaps making something better of my own character in the process.

Silas, here’s to you – may you glitter as stardust, wherever you are.

Co-development is, Uh, Key

This just in from GamesBeat. I hate when a write-up probably missed its own point. Quote:

[Kiloo chief creative officer Simon] Moller believes that this works because it pools knowledge and skills. Sybo worked as animators on a previous Kiloo project, so everyone knew they had development skills. Kiloo, on the other hand, understood the free-to-play model and how to implement it in the game.

Puh-lease. My guess is that co-development was key because the financial risk was spread out. That makes way more sense than pooling knowledge and skills — if it were just about the talent, one company would have probably contracted the other as WFH.

Trust in the Process?

Trust in the Process?

I’m disappointed by Marissa Mayer’s decision, as reported by AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, to ban all remote work at Yahoo. While there could be real justification for this move, the way it broke — through a memo from Yahoo’s head of HR, Jackie Reses — is a smoking gun for a case of company process replacing trust. Form suggests function.

Presumption: Yahoo identified a problem with the productivity of remote workers. This may be a big presumption, since it’s possible that no problem was identified and the move was good old unwarranted assumption. This happens all the time and has as much to do with individual philosophy as it does legitimate qualitative experience. I don’t really have a hard time imagining that meeting:

CEO: “We have how many people working remotely, again?”
HR: “Hundreds or more.”
CEO: “Well that doesn’t make any sense, we have to all pull together to make Yahoo the best Yahoo ever! We can’t have a bunch of hoos off running around with all us yas back here at the office! We didn’t do that at Google!”
HR: “Then the question is, do we accept lower productivity by allowing remote work, or do we increase productivity by banning it?”

But let’s give Mayer credit where credit is due and presume there was legit data behind the decision. There would have been data presented to her by her lieutenants showing that remote workers in various departments were less productive than their in-house counterparts. The data would have been mapped to ROI in some form and backed up by the research camp that suggests that working from home is less productive (as opposed to the camp that touts remote work — there is plenty in both camps). The whole thing would have been properly spreadsheeted and powerpointed. 

At that point Mayer could have either asked HR to make the bill into law (presumably what she did) or ask her managers to target the specific employees whose productivity was down and bring them into the office to see if they improve. Making law was the easy way out — it was a common case of adding a process instead of identifying areas that needed trust. The other way — to fix specific problems with productivity and trust within the organization — would have involved more time, effort, follow-through and data mapping. 

And given the bridge over troubled interwebs on which Yahoo is teetering, it’s a not a stretch to see that going the quicker, easier corporate-initiative route might make some sense. There are too many Yafish to fry as it is and Yahoos need to buck up and they still have a hundred more Yagenda items to get through and all that. But I can’t quite go there — too often companies make broad, easy strokes when detailed sketches are needed to draw forth real change, make direct impact and build and maintain trust. Productivity has a hard time springing forth from large-scale process alone, and Yahoo’s decision in this case sure seems like a little red flag. They have enough of those already.