What a difference 3 years makes…

Blogs are an oddity.

I wonder how many professionals are brave enough to keep their thoughts public? To allow everyone to see if their analysis stood the test of time?

This is the first time I’ve looked at my own blog for 3+ years and I have to say it’s quite fascinating to see what I thought was fascinating back in 2007. To see what I read right (Metaplace’s lack of a compelling app – they sold out to Playdom) and what I read wrong (music games get bigger, Rock Band just the start – in fact it was the end).

I will try to keep it up this time as 140 characters are not enough to make the points I want to make.

I’m also a brave chap, so I’ll keep it all up to see what stands the test of time. You can’t fault my grit.


Tabula Rasa

Aside from sounding like a Moroccan dish, the scale of the financial catastrophe that is Tabula Rasa caused some eyebrow raising at GDC. A net loss of $95m or so is rumored so far and the payback horizon looks bleek to say the least. Frankly, two things surprise me about this: Firstly, that so much money was sunk into a new an unproven IP before launch (I know Lord British has a reputation – but that much of a reputation?); and second, that it was pushed onto the market clearly before it was ready and as such has tanked. I am not sure whether it represents poor financial management; poor game development process or just a strange lack of judgement,  but whatever it is NC Soft has dealt its own reputation some damage here.

2008 predictions for the gaming industry

1. Music games become even bigger. Rock Band is just the start.

2. Wii continues to outsell competitors; but the new content volume lag vs PS3 and 360 could enable others to make up lost ground.

3. Virtual world hubris takes a breather. Kids worlds still mainstay as Second Life stagnates.

4. The “mass market” by $$ is still very much consoles. But online is growing fast so “mass market” by audience volume remains up for grabs.

5. A cable or TV operator will make the XBOX360 their set top box.

6. A TV company will create a virtual world whose user numbers outstrip anything created by the games industry.

7. Avatars will continue to grow across all platforms as people struggle to create a 2 or 3D online representation of their personal brand.

8.  EA continue to falter, losing more key talent.

9. Activision will not capitalise on bringing Blizzard’s online experience into its portfolio this year, but watch out in 2009.

10. GTA IV will sell an absolute boat load of units, showing our our animation to the world!

Metaplace: a new vision in an emerging market

Raph Koster announced Metaplace at the Techcrunch 40 yesterday. 

Some elements of his vision totally resonate: open; reduced barrier to entry in creation of content; platform of solid tools.

Some things remain a little sketchy: Compelling content is needed to drive a good platform – this is still unproven; Do consumers want to search through thousands of worlds like they do thousands of casual flash games vs. going to somewhere with a compelling single game/community experience like World of Warcraft?; Can they actually implement certain elements of the vision – especially a 3D client and make that work within the vision?

What is for sure is that it is a more ambitious and thoughtful approach to virtual worlds than any other company I’ve seen right now. So it’s a watch this space.







virtual worlds continued rapid rise

Club Penguin’s exit for $350m plus $350m in upside is testament to the arrival of the kids virtual world. I do believe that the Toy industry is going to benefit massively from the growing importance of virtual worlds. There are so many more opportunities to connect directly with their audience, hopefully improving creativity in the process.

Meanwhile, Doppelganger raised another $11m today which bodes well for its brand of music/MySpace content.

Found|Read – simple, effective advice. I know it works as I tried it.

The Secret…

(not Oprah’s) … to talking to customers before you have a product — or even a company

By mike simonsen, July 20, 2007  —  3 Comments

Everyone founder knows they need to “talk to customers” and “get customer feedback” before they get too far. The other day on FOUND|READ Wil Schroter pointed out that you should talk to customers as one of the first five things to do.

What’s less well understood is that customers often give lousy feedback. They’re unimaginative, stuck in the status quo, and distracted. They already manage their day without your product, and life will go on if you don’t exist. Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers, they’d have said they wanted faster horses.”

How to guarantee that you’re getting good information out of your customer conversations?

It took me many years of pitching vaporware for venture-backed startups, and then co-foundig my own firm to discover The Secret: Use the Present Tense.

When conducting reconnaissance with customers for your as-yet-unbuilt product, speak about it in the present tense. This is what the product does. This is how much it costs. (Even though it doesn’t, yet.) And be specific.

Definitely never ask: “What do you want the product to do?” or “How much would you pay?” Customers have no idea what they want. But they know they don’t want to pay for it.

Rather, when you use the present tense, you get immediate, usable feedback. In fact, the more specific you are about what your product “does” now, the better your results will be.

Compare the two techniques: Hypothetical v. Present Tense

You: “What what would you like our product to do?”
Customer: “What I’ve been thinking about is…X, Y, Z.” (Read: something totally wacky and way outside your vision or expertise.)

Present Tense:
You: “We’re building our company, here’s the problem we saw. So we built Product X. It does this and this and this.”
Customer: “But does it do X, Y, Z?” (Read: completely obvious incremental feature that you’ve totally missed so far.)
You: “Not yet, but that’s a great idea. Tell me more. How/when/why do you need that?”
(By your next customer meeting you can decide if the product “does” that too!)

The corollary is that describing your product this way, using the present tense draws out important pricing information you need, too. When a customer has a product that meets at least some of his needs, his next question is, “How much does it cost?”

Again, the right way to handle this is not, “How much would you spend?” He wants it to be free. The right way is to say, “It costs $X.” Your most valuable insight is in his reaction. Did he jump out of his chair? Cringe? Write it down? (Now we’re getting somewhere!) Again, specificity implies action-ability to the customer. Usable insights come from actions.

By the way, it’s perfectly OK to say the product isn’t yet available. Because the absolute best result you’ll get when talking to early customers is a question –”When can I get it?” (Bingo! Stop the Release 1 feature set right there.)

The present tense gives the customer a concrete object to grab onto. Using the present tense shows you’re for real. Customers don’t buy ideas, they buy things. Once he has the thing, you’ll learn what you came to learn. What his needs are, how your product fits his needs, and how much he pays for these types of things. Mission Accomplished.