Monday, November 08, 2010

Kinect Acquired!

So I got a Kinect.

Next step ... plug it in and play with it! :-)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Social Technology and the Video Game Project Manager

If you don't regularly read Jeremiah Owyang's posts on his site Web, you should add it to your RSS feed / daily routine. You can also follow him on Twitter: @jowyang

The Social Media Business Software Suite

A recent post discusses 16 classes of the Social Media Business Software suite ca. Q4 2010. He breaks these down into the following categories:
  1. Listening and Learning (2 entries)
  2. Social Platforms (7 entries)
  3. Aggregation and Integration (3 entries)
  4. Publication, Sharing, Connection Technology (3 entries)
  5. Infrastructure / Core Technology (1 entry)
The Listening and Learning category contains brand monitoring, social analytics and social insights. Metrics are often the stuff of business analysts, but project managers play a key role in raising team awareness of the importance of gathering data. Producers and project managers should evangelize their value to engineering teams, and work to include the design for data-gathering systems in the GDD or project plan. The data collected will only be as useful as the collection mechanism is thorough - clearly this is an area in which planning and organization are key, and can be shown to provide real value.

I don't need to go into much detail about Social Platforms - I'm going to assume that you are aware of Twitter, Facebook and blogs. The real interest for most consumers is in the Aggregation and Integration categories where the user's social identity from one platform may be transferred, combined, or replaced by that of another platform. Today's Facebook announcement about Single Sign On (SSO) for mobile apps is a good indicator that this is the Next Big Thing for a lot of users.

Businesses who were ahead of the curve in implementing social media strategies are leading the call for Social Media Management Systems (SMMS), much as they cried out for digital Content Management Systems (CMS) when the web gained popularity and they recognized its power to communicate with site visitors. This, too, is a new frontier - I'd definitely look for more entries in the Publication, Sharing, Connection Technology category soon. SMMS is matched in the Infrastructure / Core Technology category by Social Customer Relationship Management (CRM). While Salesforce dominates the CRM field, sites like are gaining steam in the social world, providing opportunities for the company to interact directly with users seeking guidance and support. After all, Customer Service is the New Marketing!

Takeaways for the Project Manager

My key takeaway from Jeremiah's article is that the web is an ever-changing platform which enables collaboration for both work and play. Our users' experience with the web, and their resulting expectations of connectedness, directly impact the way that our users play games. Producers and project managers in the video game industry must keep up on trends not just in our own neck of the woods, but also in web technology. Project managers contribute to planning of new products, support of existing ones - there is clearly tactical and strategic value in the integration of social media and web technology into our products. During planning, the project manager can evangelize these technologies, and create a project plan that acknowledges the power of social media.

While some companies saw the Social Revolution coming and were well prepared, many others dug in their heels and persisted in the belief that games did not need to be social. They didn't understand that even a single-player, offline game may spawn a community of fans (something companies like BioWare have known for years). Harnessing the word-of-mouth generated by these fans is a way to improve ROI on the publisher's investment in a title - it's like free advertising by the people most likely to influence others!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last night I attended the “Changing Tides of Social Gaming” event held by SF Game Developer’s Workshop. The speakers were Blake Commagere (Facebook gaming pioneer) and Curt Bererton (CEO of ZipZapPlay). Here are highlights from that event, most useful to social game developers:

Don't wed game balance to Facebook constants
  • For one of Commagere’s games, team was relying on the # of users allowed in invites to provide game balance (at the time, you could invite 20).
  • Then FB changed this to be lower # at first, with increases later, which threw game out of balance and made it less fun overnight.
  • Then the team had to spend days trying to just get back to where they were before FB deployed their change.
  • Beware of the tendency for attaching to these “constants” because they become variable very quickly, without warning.
Three rules of FB games (as of today – take with a grain of salt as FB & FB games are always evolving)
  • Facebook games are played in small time increments. If you need a 5 min tutorial, you're too long – no one will play your game on FB.
  • Go easy on text. No one wants to read on FB.
  • Focus on accessible things. Cute has a larger audience than dark.
Development time for ZipZapPlay games – concept through launch
  • Cats Cove = 5 developers took 4.5 weeks
  • Happy Habitat = 6 developers took 5 weeks
  • Baking Life = 6 developers took 6 weeks
Make ads for undeveloped apps and look at click-thru rate on them to measure user interest
  • Create ad, place it on other games. (Point ad link to anything – competitor site, whatever. Doesn’t matter.)
  • Look at click-thru rates. That is almost always a good indicator of success of that thing, almost like prototype but way cheaper and quicker.
Iterate quickly on minimum viable game - engineer for the shortest time to market and then test test test.
  • A/B or Split testing is HUGE.
  • If you aren’t structured to do this from launch you will be unable to adapt to the audience’s wishes and you won’t have a long tail.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Project and Product Management & Metrics - A Simple Overview

Not everyone has to practice a rigorous analysis technique such as Earned Value Management (EVM) or Six Sigma, where each deliverable is monitored, evaluated, and analyzed for delivery against a pre-determined schedule using milestones. I've found that establishing a schedule in the beginning of the project, and expecting all identified tasks to be listed and monitored, is a losing battle. In video game development, an Agile technique which includes flexible timelines and task lists is most effective.

Agile management techniques, Scrum specifically, focus on a simple set of metrics:

  • velocity - the speed of the team to complete a set amount of task units in a set period of time (usually one iteration)

  • burn-down rate - the rate at which items to be done are completed

  • number of defects logged against the finished iteration

If you are looking at collecting product metrics, then you have many more options:

  • Google Analytics can be easily added to gather data about visitors to a web site

  • KISSMetrics will gather data about specific events on the website or in a web-based game

  • Kontagent offers social analytics for online games

Once you have data about your user base and their usage patterns, you may wish to dig deeper and perform user testing, customer surveys, focus groups, or even one-on-one interviews with customers. Armed with statistical data from an analytics tool (or two) and interview feedback, you may now compare what the customer says they want versus what the customer is actually doing to determine the key junctions where the product can be improved. For example, if a customer complains that a game lacks a certain type of gameplay, you might learn from metrics that what they really mean is that the gameplay is available, but is too difficult - this could be established by looking at session times for an aggregate set of users in that level or mode and seeing where people drop off.

If you combine the data gathered in creative ways, looking for dimensions not previously visible when only one source was used, you can gain a deep understanding of your products' quality, your customers' satisfaction, and the deficiencies which need to be addressed to improve both!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Project Manager or Producer? The Great Debate.


I worked in the software industry as a Technical Support Engineer, then a QA Engineer, then as a Project Coordinator. When I moved into the interactive entertainment space, I was challenged with finding the right title. I began life at Linden Lab as a Project Coordinator, as that was my previous title and they hadn't yet decided on a name for what I did. (What I did, by the way, was: build engineering, release management, project management, and technical writing.)

In short order I progressed to Development Program Manager at Linden Lab. For a while, I was the only project manager and since I worked with all 25+ engineers on the team, I did indeed manage the program of Second Life.

Moving on to Garage Games / in 2007, I took the title Project Manager. Soon I found that the team needed something different, so I found a niche as Director of Customer Experience. Instead of managing someone else's projects, I managed my own. I staffed up, developed a plan for supporting our customers at launch, acquired software & hardware to run out support center, and hit the ground running.

When I determined that GG/IA wasn't the right fit for me, I joined a company that was right: BioWare. In the Edmonton office, I became a Project Manager. I was given the choice between the titles "Associate Producer" and "Project Manager." Being that I am interested in project management in a wider context than just video games (our longer-lived cousin, the general software industry, understands "project management" but not "producer") I took the latter. So, PM or Producer titles notwithstanding, the job was the same: I worked closely with the in-game, technical, and cinematic animation teams to ensure that animations were proceeding on time and at a high quality. I was partnered with the Lead on each of these teams, and interfaced with other leads from Engineering, Design, and Art to enable our work to flow into the pipeline smoothly.

And now, I am Sr. Project Manager at World Golf Tour. What does that mean? It means that I manage the process of getting our releases out the door, from concept to deployment. My role is actually that of Technical Project Manager, though when you work in software development you are perhaps inherently "technical" (or should be, anyway). In addition to the daily tasks of moving the product towards regular releases, I manage our relationship with recruiters & the hiring pipeline, coordinate meetings and some interactions with third parties, and provide general wrangling of Things That Must Get Done.


That was a really round-a-bout way to get to the discussion, but I think the background helps. Specifically, what does a project manager do? What does a producer do?

Is the video game world so different from "traditional" software development? Are producers different than project managers?

The answer, I think, is "yes." Here's why:

Project managers have long complained of responsibility without authority. We are negotiators, facilitators, mediators, pinch-hitters, bad guys, den mothers - whatever the team needs to achieve the goals of the company in a certain amount of time for a certain amount of money. When the desired outcome is beyond our grasp, we report to our superiors, and plan contingencies.

Producers do almost all of these things. However, it seems to me that they are more like a hybrid of a project Manager and a product manager: they organize and negotiate, and they are also able to provide creative input on projects. In some roles - specifically Senior Producer or Executive Producer - the Producer runs the show. The project leaders of Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins were called "Executive Producers," for instance.

Of course, it really depends on the studio or company, and possibly even the projects themselves. I'd love to hear from folks with experience in one area, or both, to better understand the difference.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Women in Games Conference 2008 Keynote Presentation

I had a great time attending the Women in Games Conference 2008 at the University of Warwick in the UK. My topic for this presentation was "debunking myths about video games."

Gamesauce 2010 Mentoring Panel

I was honored to moderate the Gamesauce 2010 panel "Building the Next Generation of Rockstars" featuring: Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch (CEO, Silicon Sisters Interactive, Inc. & Chair, WIGI Vancouver); Chris Oltyan (Director of Product Development, ZeeGee Games & Mentor Program Chair, WIGI); and Cordy Rierson (Director of Talent Acquisition, Microsoft Game Studios).

Mentoring for the Video Game Industry

I founded the WIGI Mentoring Program, and co-founded GameMentorOnline. I moved into the video game world from the software industry and was helped up by experienced professionals. My goal is to bring a higher level of awareness of the power of mentoring to my colleagues throughout the industry.

IGDA Leadership Conference 2009 Presentation

I presented at the IGDA Leadership Conference in November, 2009 on the topic of mentoring.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

High hopes for the Microsoft XBox 360 Kinect

I had a chance to play with the Microsoft XBox 360 Kinect motion system while visiting a friend in Seattle during PAX last week.

I was very impressed by the experience. There's no controller. None. Just you, your face, your hands, your body. You can interact with the system in a lot of ways - in Kinect Adventures, for instance, we played Dodge Ball. Rather than stop the ball with our hands, we were encouraged to use any part of our body that could connect with the balls hurtled towards us. It was a LOT of fun.

My main concern is with the Dance Central dancing game and its "feature" of showing you how your body looks in this weird trippy dance background thing. Not too flattering. My hope is that the Microsoft teams recognize that people (i.e. some women I know!) won't want to see their blobby figure moving about a spaced-out background, and allow you to disable this feature if you wish!

Anyway, I had a blast with it, and can see playing either alone or in a group. I'm definitely getting a Kinect for Christmas!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Another Horoscope to Remember

"Keep in mind that there's no need to be in a hurry. If you continue putting in a small amount of time toward your goals every day, you will be a success."

Monday, June 28, 2010

AltJapan blog awesomeness

Anyone who writes in English about Yokai is a friend of mine! Check out AltJapan's blog.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

WonderCon 2010 List 'O Favorites


Our new favorite thing: crazy Victorian-inspired intellectual humor in three panel chunks. We bought way too much stuff at David Malki!'s booth, but goddamn it is fabulous. Cool stuff like this is why we go to conventions!

Cursed Pirate Girl
Our next most favorite thing: Jeremy Bastian's amazing, detailed comic about the adventures of a sea-faring pirate. Look for the collected series this Fall.

Something Positive
Amazing web comic drawn by a super cool guy!

Monster Commute
Steampunk web comic.

Asylum Press
Home of Fearless Dawn and The Bomb, by Steve Mannion.

Action Figure Freddy
No, Sean's not gone! Action Figure Freddy has a new home at 112 Waverly Place in SF Chinatown (opening April '10). Check out the site for news on his collaboration with Clark Tate called "Tralocian: Guardians of the Crystal Buddha" - can't wait to see it!

Cyborg Mice
Web comic about cyborg mice who've outlived their human creators and now must survive in a post-apocalyptic environment.


Christian Alzmann
Gorgeous work. He starts with a traditional drawing then works digitally to complete the piece. Amazing stuff from a very talented guy.

Steam Crow
From the folks who bring you Monster Commute, the steampunk web comic, comes an awesome line of prints, plus, books, toys, and more.

2D animation, including the "esurance" animated ad campaign, Scary Girl, and more.

Super fucking cool guy with amazing art. He was our favorite "traditional media" artist at the show. We're really looking forward to his show in SF this August at White Walls!

David Colman
Wickedly talented artist with an eclectic portfolio. His main offering at WonderCon were animal drawings.

Trained Eye Graphics
Attractive illustrations, and some cute boxes. Our favorite was the coffin with a devil kitty painted on front, and an angel kitty inside.

Crude Dude
Messy, evil art. If you like the art from TV show Super Jail, or artist Joe Coleman, you might like this.

Van Eaton Galleries
This vendor had an amazing collection of high quality animation cells and animation-related art. Prices range from low to *holy shit* but the pieces are definitely worth asking price on all counts!

Haunted Memories
You know those cheesy holographic pictures you get at Halloween of things like a pretty woman who, when looked at sideways, becomes a horrible witch? Well, these are a bit like that, except about 1000 times more creepy and of much higher quality. I'll never buy a crappy one from Halloween Superstore again!

Dark's Art Parlour
He makes impressive photo collages, she does crazy photo-realistic paintings on canvas.


Nerd Kung Fu
Hipster t-shirts.

Retro Outlaw
Even more hip hipster t-shirts. Original designs such as Che(wbacca) Guevara, and those Planet of the Apes shirts that seem to be everywhere (cool) right now.



Latin Lords gear, and more about the movie that inspired it, Lords of Chaos.

Chingaso the Clown


Toffee dolls
Very cool cosplay-esque dolls, including the awesome Hellboy edition!

Lauren Venell
Makes amazing custom dolls to your specifications.

Squid Kids Ink
Home of the very cute Squibs line of collectibles including plush, zipper pulls, painted (or paintable) toys, and more.

Blamo Toys
Amazing hand-made toys. You have to see them to believe them!

Lost World Productions
Trippy hand-made dolls. Lots of warrior women with large, exposed breasts.


Altair-4 Collectibles
Dan Medart
328 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, CA 92866

Sci-fi and fantasy books, as well as a wide variety of military books.

Books and Treasures
Phil Davis

Some antiquarian books, and some hats. And some sci-fi memorabilia.


Swing Goth
Swing Goth operates at DNA Lounge and other clubs in SF, offering couples dancing to modern, New Wave, and Goth tunes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Ada Lovelace was the only child of Lord Byron. She was the first computer programmer, having written a set of instructions for performing calculations on Babbage's Analytical Engine.

On this day, March 24, 2010, we celebrate Ada's accomplishments by honoring the contributions of women in computing. The woman that I wish to honor this year is Grace Hopper. Her amazing career includes a Ph.D. in Math from Yale, a stint in the Navy, and finally work at Harvard and Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation where she wrote the first compiler in 1952.

Each year, the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology honors Ms. Hopper through the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing.

It's fascinating to know that the first program and the first compiler were both created by women. Quiz your programmer friends the next time you see them, and find out how many people are aware of these awesome facts!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sunday, March 07, 2010

New ice cream obsession

Wow, man. Have you tried this Cold Stone ice cream "Shock-a-cone"? It's pretty amazing. James and I are totally obsessed with it.

Check it out on the Cold Stone website.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goodbye, Emily

We loved you very much, Emily. You were a good rabbit. You were a kind and sweet creature.

We hope you are happily running through fields with your rabbit friends and family!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Strength Finder Assessment 2009

I recently took the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment, at Kim's request. I wasn't particularly surprised by anything that I found, but some of the "action items" were eye-opening. I've listed the items below, along with a brief overview of their meaning, so that I can come back and review them often:

1. Restorative
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.

2. Responsibility
People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

3. Relator
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

4. Intellection
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

5. Connectedness
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

Friday, January 01, 2010