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Transfer in progress

... hopefully. I won't begin to explain what I am trying to do - all I will say is that I have to start pushing big red buttons now that will likely make my site inaccessible. Please bear with me.

The RSS feed may break. In a few days, all should be as before, only better. Thank you for your patience.

A thought on celebrity

Jason Della Rocca added the following aside to one of his recent posts:
(Tangential aside: In an odd way, on a meta level this plays into my previous post on “celebrity”. Not knowing anything about [Steven Johnson's 'Ghost Map'], I bought it solely on the strength of the author and positive past experiences with his work. In the end, I enjoyed the book immensely. Would the same have happened if books simply had the name of publishers plastered on the front?)

I answered in a comment, the comment got eaten somehow, so I'm turning it into a blog post.

His question is an old question, and it is rhetorical and the expected answer is 'no'. I don't think my thought on the subject can be pushed so far that the answer becomes 'yes', but I hope it might nevertheless be interesting.

The names of both authors and publishers are brands, and these brands have a relationship to products. Both the brand itself and the relationship determine the product's reputation - the level of trust that makes one buy the product without exhaustive research. The reputation compresses, or represents, information about the product.

In the case of 'Ghost Map', the relationship between brand and product is simple: Steven Johnson is the main creator of the book.

Another kind of brand-product relationship is 'endorsed by'. If a person I trust says a certain product is great, I am likely to believe them, especially if I feel my values and interests are aligned with theirs. The internet has made it a lot easier to create a brand based on yourself as a human being with taste and integrity. If, say, Neil Gaiman recommends a product on his blog, I am more likely to take a look at it than when Dan Brown says he likes it. Dave Perry has understood this very well, as can be seen by his 'David Perry Recommended' program (which I find hilarious, in a good way, and intend to shamelessly copy at some point). The relationship between Tantor Media Penguin, the publisher of 'Ghost Map', and the book is much vaguer.

I know little about the art world, but I have noticed that it has become less uncommon that the curator of an exhibition is considered to have made a greater artistic contribution than the creators of the works he or she has selected (e.g. Mike Kelley's 'The Uncanny' - although it's perhaps not the best example as Kelley does actually produce art himself, even if there was none in that exhibition as I recall). The same applies of course to DJs, who are judged by how they select music.

Similarly, I am sure everyone can come up with cases where an association with a publisher is considered a sign of quality. For me, if music is published by certain small labels (e.g. Warp, Ninja Tune, G-Stone), I am more likely to listen to it. Similarly, I am much more likely to try a book published as part of Gollancz's Fantasy Masterworks sub-label than J. Random Elf Saga, part XII.

Alright, branding 101 I am sure. The relationship between a brand and a product is affected by the amount of products that share that relationship. The chance that I will enjoy a random (ha ha) book published by Random House, one of the bigger book publishers, is very small - much smaller than with the abovementioned Gollancz sub-label, say.

And my point (finally!) is that, because of the mechanisms outlined above, if we lived in a world that put the names of the publisher on the cover of a book rather than the name of the author, it would make good business sense to fragment the publisher's brand into smaller and smaller sub-labels (perhaps including the name of the editor at some point?). Which, in theory, could result in a situation where the brand-to-product ratio is about the same as today.

So I argue that the underlying princples remain the same no matter what we put on the cover of the book. The name of a person is probably the most efficient kind of brand. It doesn't scale well, but I think no brand does, depending on the complexity of the product's identity (i.e. brands scale better for toilet paper than for fiction).

Enough theorizing about subjects I don't know anything about. What do you think?

Update: Josh Lee pointed out in the comments that the publisher of 'Ghost Map' is Penguin. I should take a closer look which Amazon product I'm looking at next time.

Temporary Offlininess

Pardon my dust. I am going to change some stuff about the how and where of Intelligent Artifice over the next few days, which may result in this site becoming unreachable through the usual URL.

Update: Things are looking good so far. Because I have an optimisim bordering on delusion and am clearly a danger to myself and others, I am going to switch blogging platform, hosting company and domain registrar all at once. Because clearly that makes the most sense. But despite tempting the gods, I already have this site running with all its content and a spiffy new design in WordPress on a different server somewhere. The only thing that's missing is the proper URL. The transfer should be through by the end of this week.

Dueling Banjos for Guitar Hero 2

I never really got into Deliverance, John Boorman's 1972 movie about suburbanites getting into trouble in the American country-side, but I've always liked the famous dueling banjos scene at the beginning of the movie:

Ronny Cox's character gets his ass kicked musically, foreshadowing more ass-kicking later on.

Now, apparently people have found out how to hack Guitar Hero 2 so you can play your own songs. And yes, someone did that with Dueling Banjos. Now I've seen a few impressive Guitar Hero videos, but nothing quite like this:

(It works so well with the hair rock antics in the background :P)

I wonder if anyone has ever tried playing Guitar Hero to a custom track by Al Di Meola, John MacLaughlin and Paco de Lucia...

The Simpsons Movie: The Game - Made in Vienna

After the WiiWare post a while back, more news about games made in Vienna.

It turns out the Flash game on the website of The Simpsons Movie (which I found pretty funny by the way (the movie, not the website)) was written by Root9, developers of local game phenomenon Yeti Sports. And in fact the Simpsons game is highly similar to the Yeti pinguin-bashing game.

Still, nice to hear some more game development news out of Vienna, and impressive that they got to make something for such a global website.

There's an article (in German) about the game and the company in Der Standard, a big Austrian newspaper.

(Thanks Clemens!)

Rockstar Vienna lives

This Gamasutra article about Rockstar Games contains a small anomaly: the Rockstar Vienna logo. Each Rockstar studio has its own color, light blue, the color used in this article, was Vienna's.

Not a big deal, but slightly amusing in the context of the somewhat 1984-like denial of Rockstar Vienna's existence ever since they got closed down.

(Thanks Markus.)

How To Get Into The Games Industry

I recently* was asked a quite common question which, oddly, I had not been asked before, namely: how do I get into the games industry?

To which I almost have to reply: I have no clue. I could tell you how I did it (I answered an ad I saw at a demo convention late 1990 and showed some of the demos I'd worked on), and there's a core in there that still applies today (be able to show something finished), but I doubt it's the most reliable way to get into the industry nowadays.

Apparently, these days you no longer get laughed out of the interview room when you mention that you have a degree in something vaguely relevant. Tisk tisk... things were different in my day - we wouldn't even invite people who'd gone to university. Excuse me, I have to go yell at some kids on my lawn.

Anyway, in lieu of actual advice, how about some links instead?

David Perry writes a ton of stuff about getting into the games industry. He's a good guy.

Tom Sloper's Sloperama is also a treasure trove of information about a career in the games industry.

Finally, CMP Media has an entire website dedicated to the topic:

I am sure much more can be found. Programmers need to show code and do tests, artists need to make portfolios, designers have it tough. The old start in QA move to production or design "hidden short-cut" still seems to work. Ack, don't get me started on QA.

Let me know if you have some favorite advice about getting into the games biz!

  • ... in February actually, zomg.

Update: Darius Kazemi has a series of articles about networking in the games industry, and Mark made a good point: the IGDA has some relevant information on their website.