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EA Sports

There's an article on EA Sports in the January 2003 issue of Wired magazine. There's a little side bar that you (or, at least, I) cannot find online but is in the print version. In other words, I effectively paid over $10 for this little bit of information.

It contains a pie chart showing how market share breaks down into companies. According to this chart, EA had a 44% share of some market at some point in time. The companies named here are: EA, Activision, Sega, Acclaim, Midway, Sony, Microsoft, and Other. Is this overall market share? Then where are Take Two, Infogrames and Vivendi Universal? Is it consoles only? Then why does Sony have only 4%? Is it sports games only? Then shouldn't THQ be in there with their wrestling games?

At least the two pie charts showing how total industry revenue breaks down into genres, in 1997 and 2001, make a little bit of sense. A press release by the IDSA talks about a recent poll:

Console game players most often purchased action (25.1%), sports (19.5 %), and racing titles (16.6%), followed by edutainment (7.6%), role-playing games (7.4%), fighting games (6.4%), first person shooters (5.5%), and adventure games (5.1%).

The figures aren't identical to Wired's, but then Wired was using 2001 data, and the IDSA is referring to a recent poll.

Odd numbers aside, the article is interesting, as it discusses the biggest brand in the games industry. It also talks about Sega's attempt to attack this brand: allegedly they are spending $35 million on marketing their 2K3 sports brand.

Peter Moore, president and chief operating officer of Sega of America, resigned in early January, long after Wired's article was written. comments:

What they don't tell us is that Sega of America has already blown through nearly their entire 2003 budget.  Moore decided unwisely to take on sports powerhouse Electronic Arts head to head during the Christmas season, promoting NFL 2K3 to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.  Sales forecasts pegged the game to sell 1.6 million units.  Instead, it has sold barely 300,000.  The company's losses continue to rise, and Moore has taken the fall for the extremely poor business decision.  The marketing group at SOA failed to recognize the power of EA's branding, and SOA is now suffering as a result.

Business 2.0 also featured three articles on EA in their December 2002 issue:

  • one on the company as a whole, which talks about EA's possible expansion into other entertainment media, and why it's not competing with Take Two in the Mature games market,
  • one on The Sims Online, which talks about how EA might make a lot of money (surprise!), and
  • one on EA Sports, which talks a little bit about the development of the Madden series.

The 400 Project online

Noah Falstein has added a section about the 400 Project to his website.

But this post is not about this important project to codify design knowledge. This is about my name being mentioned in one (long) breath with Mark Barrett, Hal Barwood, Greg Costikyan, Noah Falstein, Dave Grossman, Sid Meier and Teut Weidemann, which is a great honor.

And while I'm at it I might as well get it out of my system: Another list I'm proud to be in can be found on Lee Sheldon's website. Scroll down to November 3, 2001.

Please note that I not only recommend these sites because they stroke my ego, but because they contain some of the best information on game design and development you can find on the web.

Collaborative filtering to encourage roleplaying in MMOs

So first I read "The Music Business and the Big Flip" by Clay Shirky, about how collaborative filtering could transform the music industry. (Read his other articles if you haven't, they're excellent.)

Then I read:


Lyra Studios introduces the New Personality Point System.

This could be one of the single biggest additions to Underlight, ever. We call it the Personality Point system or PP for short. Simply said, it is an OOC (out of character) mechanism for the following: rewarding your fellow players for positive role-playing, alternative advancement, and a way for dreamers to perform unique acts. The Reward (Grant) side of the system is completely OOC and thus allows you to reward -any- dreamer, whether friend or foe, for positive role-playing. 

Players may use their Personality Points to aid their character in ways not normally possible, including: 

Permanent Stat increases Bypassing Train requirements to learn or advance an art Evoking arts the character is normally unable to cast

"I'm incredibly excited about the addition of Personality Points, the roleplay opportunities are amazing. Besides that, I just think it is FUN!" ~ Lyra-Zephyr

"This system has incredible potential. Get rewarded for making the game fun for others, what could be better than that?!" ~Lyra-Dagger

(A press release copied from, which I find less interesting now that they only update once a month at best.)

My friend Tobias Sicheritz recently argued that Slashdot's collaborative filtering is a good compromise between restriction and the occasional anarchy that comes with anonymity. It looks like Lyra Studios is applying this mechanism to increase the quality of their community. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Links: The fine print about the Personality Point system.

Neo Software becomes Rockstar Vienna

Last Thursday, exactly at midnight, Neo Software, one of the oldest game development companies in Austria and certainly the biggest in Vienna, changed their name to Rockstar Vienna.

The fact that Neo was bought by Take Two Interactive in February of 2001 - almost two years ago - was not very well-known outside of Austria, as evidenced by the fact that last Thursday's news was occasionally reported as 'Rockstar buys Neo'.

Although some people in the Austrian game development scene regret the passing of the name Neo Software, the name change is positive for the company itself. It shows the confidence and commitment of Take Two: worldwide, there are only five Rockstar development studios.

But as Harald Riegler from Sproing Interactive observed, this is good news for Viennese game development in general. It draws attention to the fact that there are world-class developers in Vienna, which will help attract talent and investment to all of the game developers over here.

The name change was the big surprise announcement at Neo Software's ten year anniversary party, which was held at the Palmenhaus in Vienna. It was the perfect occasion: a symbolic, yet meaningful change, at a party commemorating a symbolic, yet meaningful anniversary. The symbolism was pervasive: at midnight exactly, the Neo Software website changed to the current Rockstar Vienna website, including a new URL and new email addresses for everyone. Even the little picture of the office entrance in the Contact section sported the new logo, which I found a most impressive detail. At the party, the Neo logo which was projected onto the Hofburg changed to the Rockstar Vienna logo, and the game covers which were hung up outside had been exchanged with Rockstar logos.

At the party, the fresh Rockstar Vienna employees took it all in stride: Me: "Hey, congratulations!" Rockstar Vienna Employee: "Are you a rockstar?" Me: "No." Rockstar Vienna Employee: "SECURITY!"

Some things never change.

A new blog, an old question

Greg Costikyan has just started a blog called Games * Design * Art * Culture. This is good news because it's been a while since I last read any essays by him, and he always has something interesting to say.

It's also good news because it will give me a little more motivation to work on my blog...

His first posting addresses the question: Are Games Art? Discussions involving the A-word can get pretty hairy, because there are so many points of view on art, some of them quite hermetic for a layman (me). Although discussing this question can be illuminating - as Greg shows in his posting - how about another question: Who Cares? It's not as if I am absolutely unable to imagine any reasons to ask the question, or to convince others that the answer is yes. But I don't see any pressing need for it.

My position is that computer-based interactive entertainment is patently one of the richest communication media we have right now. Seeing as how we have been able to create art using much more constrained media, obviously interactive entertainment can be art - or rather, it already is art, just most of it is bad. Yes, there are many ways to attack this argument, but it works fine for me.

What counts for me is finding effective techniques to affect the emotions of the player, to create rich and vibrant worlds, to say strange and subtle things. What others call the final result does not affect my efforts.

The limits of process

The last few years it has become a lot more popular to think about process in game development land, doubtlessly caused by lessons painfully learned in train-wrecked projects and a dawning realization that even our brethren (and sisthren) from the non-entertainment software industry are doing it. However, wearing a T-shirt saying "yay process" and reading Steve McConnell before bedtime is not enough. It is easy to succumb to Magic Bullet Syndrome and figure that, as long as you do everything Kent Beck says, you'll be alright. In other words, it is easy to stop thinking about what is really going on. I speak of course from experience.

I was recently reminded of the limits of process when I read an interview with Maryam Mohit from on Good Experience, a website "monitoring the online customer experience". About Ms Maryam:

Maryam Mohit started working at in 1996 and soon after became's V.P. of Site Development, with responsibility for the online customer experience. More recently, since returning from maternity leave, she is in charge of reviewing the UI of new developments on the site.

I found the whole interview interesting, but the one key bit for me was this:

Q: But you need the right structure within the organization to get you those e-mails [about a new feature] from customers. I'd disagree with you there. You don't need an organization structured so the e-mails get to product developers, but rather product developers who care enough to go and get those e-mails. At we started out with people who cared enough to go get the information they needed. Now that we're bigger, we need those structures and processes. But organization is no substitute for passion. If the people aren't passionate about the right things, your organization doesn't matter.

I am not trying to argue for passion over process here. Process has its place. However, it is easy to misapply. It is easy to select or design the wrong process for the people who will execute it and the goal they are trying to achieve. And process by itself does not magically change people.

I do not have an easy answer about how much or what kind of process is right or wrong. The rule of thumb I would like to apply the next time I need to make a decision about process is: Process should make you do the things you might forget in the heat of battle, and nothing more. When you're in the middle of a project, you may be tempted to not write that meeting report and not ask everyone's opinion on some decision. But during the post-mortem, if not before, you will realize you should have done so. The problem is, the next time you're in the thick of things, when your eyes are fixed on the next milestone and not on the long run, you will probably make the same mistake again. I know I have. Codifying this knowledge in a process and then sticking to it is, I believe, the best way to avoid this problem.

Designing and executing a process is, of course, another story.

Hogshead Publishing is closing down

This does not directly involve computer games, but I have just found out that Hogshead Publishing, a pen and paper role-playing game publisher in the UK, is closing down.

Hogshead was responsible for a number of innovative products, including Nobilis and the New Style line, which consists of small, innovative role-playing games by top designers such as Robin D. Laws, John Tynes, and Greg Costikyan. (On reading the news, I immediately ordered all five New Style products. They only cost about 8 Euros each.)

Hogshead Publishing also published a sophisticated magazine on pen and paper role-playing games called Interactive Fantasy. Sadly, back issues are hard to get, although they are worth the effort.

Their website contains the following explanation: "Please note that the company is not going bankrupt. It is refreshingly solvent. However we are bored, creatively frustrated, and increasingly despondent about the future of the specialist games industry. After our successes in 2002, particularly the mould-breaking and critically acclaimed games Nobilis and De Profundis, we think we've gone as far as we can, and this seems a suitable high-point on which to call it a day."

I found this especially thought-provoking after a year seemingly filled with bankruptcies and financial trouble in the entertainment software industry in Germany and France, and one high-profile development company, Presto Studios, closing itself in the US. There are many possible interpretations for this year's troubles, but here we are seeing innovative and creative people quitting because they no longer see a long-term future for what they want to do. The pen and paper role-playing game industry may be different from the entertainment software industry (for one, it is a lot smaller), but it has some strong similarites as well, and I would not be greatly surprised if parts of our industry will suffer the same fate. If, in fact, that hasn't happened already.

Links: The Hogshead Publishing website. Their New Style line. An online shop selling the New Style games. Some commentary from Kenneth Hite, another gifted game designer. (This link will probably become obsolete.)

Battle of Helm's Deep: game technology

I have recently been reading about Massive, the technology used to create the climactic Battle of Helm's Deep segment in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and I was struck by the similarity with game technology.

Massive, which stands for Multiple Agent Simulation System In Virtual Environment, was developed by Stephen Regelous for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. It is now available (more or less) as an independent product.

Rather than simulating crowds as simple particles - the state of the art until now - Massive uses a relatively sophisticated AI model to determine the actions of each individual crowd member, and then selects and blends motion-captured animations to display these actions. It also simulates both melee and ranged combat and movement on non-boring terrain, among other things.

The parallels with game technology are obvious: games have done, or tried to do, similar things for many years. However, that does not mean Massive is inferior to game technology. My impression is that it is superior to the AI in many games, although of course it does not have to perform in real-time, nor does it have to deal with irritations such as interactivity, fun, and 18 month development cycles.

One implication of this technology may be more interaction between animation software developers and entertainment software developers, in terms of people, know-how and actual technology. However, I don't think there is a general consensus on how to effectively use this kind of technology in games, although Take Two's State of Emergency and Electronic Arts' Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers give some indication of what can be done.

And yes, there are now three entertainment-related software development companies called Massive-something-or-other.

Links: An article in Popular Science. An article in c't (in German). An article on Wired News. The official homepage of Massive Software, containing links to other material.

Get Ready Player 1

Well, here is the first proper post. Basically I have no idea how this is going to develop over time, but I figure getting into the thick of things and seeing what happens is a good way to find out. So here goes.

I will initially be using this blog to post and comment on various news items and articles on interactive entertainment that I come across, no doubt to the delight of some of my friends who now no longer need to mine their ICQ logs for all the stuff I bombard them with.