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Omek Announces Motion Game System
Mar 17th, 2009 by worldblee

Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat wrote a nice article today on Omek’s Motion Game System announcement that I helped put together. Dean knows the 3D camera space so he was able to quickly summarize goings on in the category in addition to relating our news.

Here’s a quote from the article:

Omek, based in Bet Shemesh, Israel, isn’t developing the cameras itself. It will use cameras from companies such as 3DV Systems (rumored to have been purchased by Microsoft), PrimeSense and Canesta. Omek differs from its software rivals in that it is making its own games as well as technology. The company contends it can do 3-D skeleton-tracking in real time. Sony and Nintendo can capture the movements of parts of your body, but they can’t capture all of the subtleties of an entire body in motion.

The cameras it uses can detect how far away an object is at any given time. They can thus detect movement and translate those movements into the commands used to control games. So you can have very realistic user interfaces for game consoles. If you punch at the camera, for example, your character in a boxing game will do the same on screen.

Janine Kutliroff, chief executive, said the company has built its technology from the ground up and will make the initial games for PCs. The technology and camera could be adapted to game consoles at some point. It uses infrared technology in the cameras.

Virtual Worlds also had an article on the announcement today:

Omek Interactive announced today that it was using its Motion Game System to create games using 3D cameras for movement control. Omek isn’t developing its own cameras. Instead its system is hardware and platform agnostic, potentially integrating with both PC projects and console games. This isn’t directly virtual worlds-related (Omek seems focused on the games space), but any development of new interfaces, particularly like these, are of at least some interest.

Mitch Kapor’s Handsfree 3D, for example, has been working on 3D camera interfaces for Second Life, though I haven’t heard anything from the company since fall. More commercial applications, like games, could stimulate development and acceptance of new interfaces for 3D environments. If nothing else, it seems to be appealing to someone at Microsoft, which is rumored to have acquired 3D camera manufacturer 3DV Systems earlier this year.

If you’re in the games industry and motion games sound interesting, drop me a line to set up meeting and take a look at Omek’s software.

It’s Official, Exergaming Is an Important Genre
Mar 13th, 2009 by worldblee

As a person working in motion games myself I’ve followed Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2009 since it came out. The game itself is atrocious. I bought a copy at launch and it was worse than I could have imagined–bad controls, bad graphics, poor use of the Balance Board, and just really poorly designed and implemented mini-games that showed all the originality of a cloned flock of sheep.

But aside from that quibble, the game has sold very well to the huge Wii Fit audience (which itself is approaching 17M WW according to VG Chartz). Five hundred thousand units is nothing to sneeze, especially for a game that must have been inexpensive to develop. I can’t imagine the Jillian Michaels license itself could have been that expensive upfront although for her sake I hope she gets a good royalty since she is the sole selling point of the game other than the package’s white box look that suggests a Wii Fit lineage.

Here’s an excerpt from GameDaily’s ‘Chart Toppers’ article on the game:

According to the NPD, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2009 was the fourteenth best selling title for the month of January 2009. The game was the fifth best selling title on the Wii console over that period. Since launching in October 2008, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2009 has gone on to sell over a half million copies.

“Not all consumers might be aware of what Wii Fit is, but most weight conscious women know Jillian Michaels as a brand,” said Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter. “She’s branded as a fit person who helps people lose weight and that brand affinity could help more people see the Balance Board as less of a video game gizmo and more of a health product.”

If you put the pieces together you have to realize the power of the exergaming market. Thus far it’s only shown its strength on Wii titles but the demand is there. Which developer is going to be the first to create quality titles that not only replicate the fun of Wii Fit but go beyond it?

I’m working on an initiative with my friends at Omek Interactive that I certainly expect to rise to that level, but there are other companies exploring the space as well. There are huge numbers of people who want to combine fitness benefits with interactive entertainment, and I don’t think games that are based around exercise routines are the only way to tap into this demand. We’ll see what comes out this year but I think 2010 is when we’ll start to see some really quality stuff.

When you’re thinking of game concepts, don’t leave player movement out of the equation. There are tons of ways to incorporate it, from the Wii controllers to the new 3D cameras that capture player movement. It brings new challenges (like requiring floor space) but what new videogame opportunity doesn’t?

The Game is the Message
Mar 12th, 2009 by worldblee

Before I started working in the videogame industry, I had the common artist’s conception of marketing: that it consisted of lies disseminated by weasels. There certainly is some of that in the worst marketing campaigns, but good marketing has neither of those elements. Good marketing amplifies the truths that exemplify a game, and a clear product vision can make a good game better.

A game’s identity shouldn’t be something that’s tacked on after the fact to try to sell it. The game’s identity should be agreed on at the start, and while events–a great new gameplay innovation, resources leaving the project, a competitor coming out with a similar vision, etc.–can alter it, everyone working on a game should know the game’s identity all the way through the process.

An example of this is the EA SPORTS brand. Along with its catchphrase of, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” I and a lot of people working on the games and brand internalized this as, “everything you love about sports, in a box.” If you were working on a hockey game, you knew that scoring, fighting, and smack talking fit in the game. Other things that might appear in the real-life sport–long periods without a score, playing for a tie, favorite teams that never, ever win the Stanley Cup–obviously didn’t belong in the game. That clarity made game development simpler since most of us were on the same page from the get-go. This is not to say that all EA SPORTS games were great (they weren’t), but they were better than they would have been if we had conflicting visions.

Contrast that with a game that sprang into existence to fill a revenue hole, exploit a game engine, or capitalize on an existing genre (and we’ve all worked on at least one of those if not all three). The programmer thinks he’s making one game, the producer another, and the executive a fourth. Meanwhile, the product manager is struggling to come up with a vision that all parties will approve.

Publishers have tried to alleviate the situation with  development milestones that require signoff by multiple shareholders, and that’s a step in the right direction (although process is not a substitute for organic agreement). But how about the independent developer that is trying to make a great sci-fi game based around rhythmic fighting. How does the developer ensure their vision makes it all the way through the publishing chain to their potential customers?

I believe the answer is that a) they can enlist the help of someone like myself to craft an identity that includes a strong positioning statement and strategic marketing document supported by audience metrics and backed by the game’s feature and development plan, or b) hunker down and work on said documents themselves. You don’t need to spend a lot of money if you’re willing to put in a lot of work and research on your own–marketing is not rocket science (and if it is, it’s of the vinegar-and-baking-soda variety).

The alternative is plowing ahead and throwing yourself on the mercy of your publisher. But, like a band that signs a bad contract with a record label, this gives away a key component of your identity, and your destiny. If you put in the effort to create a coherent vision from the get-go you’ll always be in a stronger position.

The Identity of Racing Games
Mar 11th, 2009 by worldblee

I wanted to give a shout out to my former EA colleague Mike Lopez’s good article on Gamasutra on the racing games genre. I managed the marketing for EA’s sports racing games (NASCAR, Supercross, F1, Superbike) and worked on the Road Rash and Need for Speed series so I know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s hard to sell a new racing game!

Personally, I’ve gone from playing racing games a lot to hardly playing them at all. Is this because of a lack of innovation in the genre, or is just me? The last racing series I really liked was Burnout, but even then I didn’t play it for very long because my eyes would get tired over a session because of MNBOIWC (Must.Not.Blink.Or.I.Will.Crash) syndrome.

I think Mike’s right that people use inaccurate and sloppy terms to characterize racing games, but I’m not sure that more sharply defining them will help matters. I think the lack of kick-ass new ideas is one problem, and the incorporation of fun driving elements in games that fall outside the genre (such as the behemoth GTA series) is another issue. Maybe racing by itself is no longer that appealing.

Here’s a snippet of what Mike has to say:

Cue 15+ years of racing game evolution. Now it’s 2009 and the simplistic and archaic arcade/sim categorization struggles inadequately to describe modern racing games that have evolved in many different directions, and that no longer have such clear-cut differences.

The racing games of today have truly blurred the lines between arcade and sim descriptors, with executions that vary wildly in physics model (deep vs. simple), racing style focus (technical vs. non-technical) and track type (circuit, point-to-point or open-world).

Because the industry marketing and press have not kept up with advances in gameplay variations and provided more granular descriptions, many racing products of today suffer from an acute identify crisis and are poorly differentiated from their competition.

If that sounds interesting, read the full article to get Mike’s POV.

About Concepticate
Mar 11th, 2009 by worldblee

Concepticate is a specialized studio dedicated to creating and communicating concepts for videogames and other forms of digital entertainment. Whether it’s a strong game concept that needs an equally strong identity, a game that needs characters and a script, a strong technology that needs a game concept and a brand, or a game that needs a full marketing campaign plan, Concepticate is ready to help you succeed.

Concepticate can provide services as large as planning a full marketing campaign or concepting a range of game designs and brand extensions or as small as a single one sheet, press release, or character bio. Everything we create comes with a coherent identity to facilitate communication, for communication is critical to all creative projects. Whether it’s the development team, a sales force, retailers, or media, people need to understand and relate to your game or brand quickly and easily.

With nearly 20 years of experience in games, technology, and entertainment, we can work well with most partners–whether it’s designers, development teams, artists, production, marketing, creative services, agencies, media, retailers, or game players, we understand the importance of every link in the chain that leads from a game’s first inspiration to the customer that buys the disc or downloads the file. Every stage of the journey is important and all partners deserve respect and understanding so the good idea can reach its audience.

If you’re interested, contact us to start the conversation. Even if we can’t take on your project, we’ll give you the best advice we can and may be able to help you find an appropriate partner.

Contact Concepticate
Mar 10th, 2009 by worldblee

Concepticate is located in sunny Chico, California, a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The best way to reach Concepticate’s Chief Concepticator, David Lee (aka worldblee), is through Gmail at worldblee.

You can also reach me at worldblee on Twitter, AIM, MSN, and Gtalk.

You can view my LinkedIn profile and connect to me–and I encourage you to do so!

You can view my Google profile at http://www.google.com/profiles/worldblee.

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The Tao of Marketing
Mar 10th, 2009 by worldblee

Ying-yang symbol

I didn’t come to marketing from a marketing background; I was just a writer and editor who kept getting promoted. After a few years I eventually got a mini-MBA marketing course on EA’s dime that gave me some good retroactive training, but I’ve always tried to keep things as simple as possible when handling the marketing side of a game launch.

My general philosophy is this:

The right product with the right message for the right customer at the right time.

If you have all four of those elements working together, you will have something special. Of course, the hard part is knowing when you’re on the right track and then executing and communicating your concepts successfully. To judge whether I’m on the right track I use all data (hard and soft) I can get my hands on, previous experiences, and my gut as I interpret the who, what, where, and why of the intended customer or player. It’s a lot easier to state in a blog entry than it is to execute it in real life, no doubt about it…

I had to give a talk once to a group of Berkeley MBAs so I broke this down a little further to stretch things out before I got to examples of videogame launches:

Natural Simplicity

  • The right game with the right message for the right audience…
  • Keep It Simple, Sugar

Effortless Action

  • Know where you’re going and you can get there
  • Keep your messages in harmony
  • Many paths lead to the same goal

Spontaneity

  • …at the right time
  • Remain open to positive changes

Compassion

  • Listen to your customers
  • Look at your situation from the point of view of your customers (and your partners)

Let me add in closing one thing that I preach constantly, which is, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” I’ve learned a lot more from my failures than my successes. You want to control the scope of your risk when you’re on shaky ground–don’t bet the farm the first time out–but you’ll never have a great comeback if you haven’t failed first.

About David C. Lee
Mar 10th, 2009 by worldblee

David Lee of Concepticate

David Lee (aka worldblee) of Concepticate

Concepticate is the brainchild of David C. Lee. David brings almost 20 years of experience in the high tech and entertainment fields to his marketing and design consulting services for videogame clients. He has worked in videogame marketing, development, PR, and writing. He worked for over ten years at Electronic Arts, then the world’s largest independent developer, as a PR director, senior marketing manager, and managing editor while helping to launch and build a number of franchises including Harry Potter, NASCAR, and NBA Live. He also worked at Streamline Studios as VP of Development and Marketing before and after becoming a consultant working with Activision, SEGA, EA, Sony, the ECA, LucasArts, and other leaders in the gaming industry.

As a consultant, Mr. Lee’s contributions range from evaluating, concepting, and positioning new interactive franchises to planning full campaigns to bring them to market. He has planned marketing and PR campaigns as well as writing and editing game scripts, articles, websites, and other materials—utilizing all aspects of marketing, branding, writing, game development, and PR experience depending on the needs of the client.

Mr. Lee also writes an (almost) daily column on the games industry for The Examiner.

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