Another Sneak Preview

This isn’t from the game.  It’s from another project.  I’ll tell you more soon enough.

World Map

Map:  Alpha World

HoWii Crap!

So, I got a Wii.  I paid about $50 over retail through craigslist, which I thought was reasonable to get it now.  I’ve never been a big Nintendo fan, I always thought they made kids stuff.  I mostly bought the Wii because I was curious about how the controller would work and how games would take advantage of it. 

So first I’ll admit:  I have only played Wii Sports – the basic game that comes with it.  (I have Zelda and Red Steel, but haven’t had time to try them yet.)  On Wii Sports I’ve played Boxing and Tennis.  And I have to say:  I like them

They are also seem to be good exercise, especially if you playing them standing up, which is how you should play them.  I can’t imagine playing them sitting down, that just seems weird.  The WSJ had a story about this called Wii Workout, which was pretty interesting. 

I’m pretty impressed.  The PS3:  not so much.  And I’m sure not paying a $400 premium for it.  I have an XBOX 360 (see my GamerTag in the gutter) already and I don’t see anything that makes me think the PS3 will deliver anything much better.  I’m sure in a year we might see something.  But until then, I think Gears of War is a killer 360 app.  And hey, in a year there will be Halo 3.

I generally prefer PC games anyway.

Hello, world.

I’m not sure why anyone will care about what I have to say.  Except, perhaps, for the occasional person looking for start-up advice, info on games and movies, or that wants to follow the projects I’m currently working on.  Maybe one day one of these projects will take off and become really cool.  Until then, well, you’ll just have to pretend to be interested.  Unless you really are, in which case I’m glad.

 So, you ask, what are the projects?

 This is a perfectly reasonable question and I will introduce them all in due time.  Until then, I’ll mention briefly and in a totally obscure and worthless fashion that one of them is called Oxygen Games.  So hey, it’s a game company.  It’s, as is typical of whacky start-ups, in stealth mode.  So, I can’t talk much about it right now.  But soon enough!

Note:  This is not the first post on the blog anymore, I went and grabbed my favorite posts (which I thought might still be marginally insightful) and posted them here with their original timestamps. 

Xbox 360 and “Scarcity” as Marketing

  This is a reprint from my old blog with the original timestamp.  

Ok, so I’m going to deviate a little from the norm. I’ve typically posted here about Shadows. So instead, I’m going to talk about the Xbox 360 and marketing. I waited in line at CompUSA and Best Buy to try and buy one last Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of waiting in lines, but I figured what the heck I’ll give it a try. CompUSA shut down the line about 15 people in front of me. At Best Buy it was three people in front of me. Let me tell you, that sucks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given my general unwillingness to spend the night in front of a retailer so I can get a new game machine.

What I am most fascinated by is Microsoft’s approach to this on a marketing level. Frankly, I’m kind of pissed about the whole thing. I am pretty sure the shortage was fabricated (or at the very least could have easily been avoided with some better planning) and, therefore, people like me that didn’t get there early enough wasted a lot of time for no really good reason. (I’ll take a little bit of the sucker label for this one too.) But I’m betting that before the end of the year there will be tons of Xbox 360s in stores. If I’m wrong on this I might actually have a very tiny degree of belief that the launch shortage wasn’t faked. But I think I’ll be vindicated in this – so much so that I’m writing it down.

Now scarcity is a great marketing tool. There was a news truck outside of Best Buy while I was waiting in line. (Of course there is such a high degree of news bandwidth now that they’ll cover almost anything – and nothing is more entertaining than a bunch of geeks standing around in the cold waiting in line for somthing shiny or weird.) But I think it can backfire. I think if more people could have gotten Xbox 360s out of the gate there would have been that many more evangelists out there – especially outside the hard core guys. With this “scarcity”, only the diehard fans got Xbox 360s – which is great for Microsoft if the console is spectacular and they love it. But if only the hardcore fans get it, only the hardcore fans will talk about it. And they are the most likely to be the harshest critics. If a broader group of people had gotten them (including slightly more casual gamers [read: unwilling to wait in line for hours]) the reivews and coverage might be more broad and balanced. I think in the current blog coverage on the Xbox 360, some of this is starting to bit Microsoft.

If I see enough lukewarm reviews, I might decide to wait for the Playstation 3. Or I might just stick with PC games (which are better IMO anyway). I’ll probably just end up waiting until I show up at some store and they happen to be in stock. I’m certainly not excited enough any more that I’m going to actively look for one. I am curious to see what, if any, impact this play has on the long-term success of the Xbox 360.

Well there is my wandering, random markething thoughts for the day.

Web 2.0? (It’s really 3.0)

  This is a reprint from my old blog with the original timestamp.   

So I’m getting ready to go to the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco and it got me thinking. And looking at the schedule. At the top they have interesting quotes from people that are generally relevant to Web 2.0. They are all pretty insightful – I think I saw them all hitting refresh to try to get back to the one I wanted to talk about. It is:

“Web 1.0 was making the Internet for people, Web 2.0 is making the Interent better for computers.”

-Jeff Bezos

Then it hit me. Have we already moved past Web 2.0? Because last year Web 2.0 was all about XML and web services and all the fun things you could do with them. Things like RSS, metadata, and other neat things. Things that are still really important and cool. But not the things I think most people are talking about when they say web 2.0 now.

People are talking more about user-created content when they say web 2.0 now. Things like social bookmarking, wikis, community search, social networking, etc. This is great (especially for (obligatory plug) Shadows(end plug), but is it signalling a redefinition of Web 2.0?

Or are we really in Web 3.0?

  1. (1.0) The web is, well, web pages. People can consume them.
  2. (2.0) There are now web services. Value-added and affiliate sites, RSS, meta-sites, etc.
  3. (3.0) User generated content. Social bookmarking, wikis, community search, etc.

These make for nice integer versions, but I’m sure there was 1.5 (Google) and maybe something else. And obviously there were at least some blogs before 2.0 and that is clearly user generated content.

Really though, I’m not going to give you an answer. I merely raise the question.

The Network is the Brand

  This is a reprint from my old blog with the original timestamp.  

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about word of mouth marketing or generating buzz or getting the blogosphere on board recently. This is all well and good, but the problem is you can’t tell people what to think and you can’t force people to believe something is good. But if you convince a group of people that your product is great and they become fans – they will spread awareness. (And btw, convince doesn’t necessarily mean clever marketing, it probably means the product is really good and people like it.)

Traditional marketing is about convincing people to buy or use your product or service and, ideally, convincing them to pay a premium. This has to do with trust, visibility, awareness, etc. But I’m not here to teach a marketing class. The point is companies spend a ton of money so that you’ve heard of their product and that, hopefully, you believe you need it and that it is better. Therefore will buy it. People routinely pay more for Duracell or Kodak than the generic brands – even though often times the branded and store brand products are the same. This works when people walk into stores and make decisions on purchases. It doesn’t quite work the same on the web.

On the web, or at least the Web 2.0, people are connected with others. More and more that network influences their decisions. On LinkedIn people use their network to find jobs, check references, generate leads, and more. On Amazon you might find new books through lists or make purchase decisions based on comments or ratings. These types of things are changing the way people buy and, therefore, the impact of brands.

This will change marketing in a dramatic way. The networks of people that buy or use a product will heavily influence the success or failure of the product or service. Even getting the initial network will imapct the success or failure of new products. Not having a network of fans will hurt you, badly. This won’t happen in the real (physical) world in a meaningful way in the near future, but it will happen. As opinions are become readily available on mobile phones and tvs the networks will start to invade the physical world. But right now we can see them impacting the way people buy, discover, and use, things on the web.

In the future The Network will be the Brand.

“Products” on the web

 This is a reprint from my old blog with the original timestamp. 

On product creation:  I wish we could think up everything people would want to do up front. But that would imply some uncanny brilliance or omniscient view – and we have neither. When creating new things (or more realistically combining old ideas in new and interesting ways – I mean, really, how many new ideas are there? — hmm this might be my next blog post…) it’s easy to think of the one application you thought might make sense. It’s also easy to think up the one use case you thought was interesting. Well, again, maybe not easy but it’s much easier than the next thing.

Which is figuring out how it will actually work in practice. If you are Microsoft it takes years to ship a new OS or Office because you have to think through all of this stuff up front. This pretty much sucks. Trust me I know, I’ve been doing product management from the beginning of my career. And that’s what product management is:

  1. Come up with a baseline idea.
  2. Figure out the many permutations that it might have.
  3. Narrow them down to the most important things that the product needs.
  4. Add constraints where necessary so users don’t fall off a cliff.
  5. Write it all down in a way that UI folks and engineers can understand.
  6. Herd cats to get it all done.

This doesn’t seem really hard. But it is. You have to understand the limitations of:

  • Computers: specifically the OS(s) and browser(s) you are developing for.
  • User interfaces: both what can be done and what people can parse.
  • People: this is the hardest one – it might seem obvious what to do when you’ve been thinking about it for weeks, months, or years, but how is someone new going to expect to use it? E
  • Engineers: they think about things in a linear, logical way so you have to explain it to them differently. Constraints are key.
  • User interface designers: Imagine you are the writer/director, this person is the cameraman. If they don’t understand what you want to see then your movie isn’t going to make sense.

Ok so with that basic primer in hand, let’s look at how the web changes product management:

  • Most important: You can change stuff easily. If you find something doesn’t work on the web it’s relatively straight forwad to change it. This is not true in software – even downloaded software – because once people get it, you have to deal with it – patches, new installs, CDs, notifications, etc. etc. etc. It sucks. So you basically want to make sure you get it right if you make software. On the web you can mess up and then fix your mistake.
  • The rules of innovation are different. Because you can change things you do not have to think about every possible use in advance and constrain the system to prevent other usage paths. You just unleash and see both how you and your team use it in practice (as opposed to in theory) and how your users use it. This leads to all sorts of neat stuff.
  • You can perform post-release polish: find any things you missed and fix them or add them. Often times the things you forgot are not so much broken but incomplete. A few small changes can often make things more dynamic, interesting, or compelling. For example, we launched groups (which I discussed in a previous blog entry) and it worked well in one or two groups. But people weren’t discovering other groups so we added a “related groups” feature which pointed them from groups to other groups that might be interesting. It’s worked great.
  • You can learn from actual user behavior to correct interface problems. Discussions, another feature we just launched seemed good when we put it out there. But we started getting a lot of contact from people clicking “report abuse” – a feature designed to enable users to report other users who were abusing the system. However, in the automated output generated by the report abuse system we saw the comments people were reporting abuse on and what they “complained” about. Well, as it happens they weren’t reporting abuse at all they were replying. So even though the link clearly said “report abuse” its positioning was confusing people so we fixed it.
  • Finally, you can leverage emergent behavior. This is really important because no one knows exactly what people are going to do in any new web system. A good system evolves to meet the demands and desires of its users. Cerainly we have an idea of what we want to happen and we encourage behaviors down that path, but ultimately our ability to adapt to emergent behaviors that arise can create new, very compelling opportunities that are exciting both to us and to our users.