Spore Community Generates 375K+ Creatures

19 06 2008


The Creature Editor for Spore was released just over a day ago. EA are following a phenomenally good strategy with this. It has digital distribution and will also have boxed product. It has a free price point plus a paid option that offers more scope for building creatures, allows direct uploads to youtube, and all you have to do to prompt your version to get a copy of a creature is get the png file from Sporepedia.

The community has made a staggering 375,000+ creatures since the editor was released. At peak rates, submissions apparently topped 1000 per minute, and even now about 100 are appearing on Sporepedia a minute. Just like creatures I made in early web games a decade ago, every single one of the creations linked to above is a personal investment by someone in Spore. The full game will cater to all levels of involvement, allowing everything from tinkering with the editor to building a civilisation.

Electronic Arts started saying a while ago that Spore would be more of a franchise than a game, and it seems perfectly crafted to work virally and make money. I would have laughed if, a few years ago, someone had told me something this innovative and well crafted would be coming out of EA.


PC Transitioning From CD-ROM to Broadband

17 04 2008

Discarded CD-ROM and floppy drives

Here’s the crux of publishing games for PC right now:

“Whether it really is all about piracy, or it just becomes the domination of consoles, or […] the ubiquity of gaming: there’s a way to get gaming so many ways now that thinking about the PC as a disc-based platform may in fact be old.”

I imagine those are pretty tough words for some publishers to get through, but it’s true: CD-ROM was a buzzword in the mid-nineties, and so was “multimedia” along with so many other now defunct terms. HD is (slowly) catching on, UK regulator OFCOM are talking about deploying optical fibre at reduced cost using existing utility conduits, private companies are planning to do the same with sewers, and broadband has already just about killed off commercial piracy in some quarters.

Some people I know at publishers claim that there will always be a market for physical product, and they’re probably right: Bandwidth can be at a premium in rural areas compared to cities, and some people really do like having each piece of media as a physical object (For instance, I have friends whose ongoing music collections are MP3s, but who also collect vinyl). What we don’t know is how big or small a niche each type of physical product will become: but “smaller” is the safe bet for most.

As consoles tilt toward HD formats and net connections a generation at a time, as a platform the PC is taking the same steps in a much more organic way. With boxed product sales shrinking and digital distribution (including web-based games) growing, the PC is in a transitional state. Unless something seriously upsets broadband development, or causes Blu-Ray to catch on for PC in a big way, it seems doubtful it will eventually settle back on disc based formats.

(CC image of discarded internal CD-ROM and floppy drives by Jeff Kubina)


9 04 2008

Wiimote slippage

The BBC have inked a deal with Nintendo to make the iPlayer a channel on the Nintendo Wii. It’s a smart move given the number of Wiis around, and the iPlayer as it stands is naturally more at home in the strictly orthodox confines of a console network or the iPhone.

Watchification really hit the difference between the BBC and much of the web home to me recently: typically, all of the iPlayer embeds in the lower half of the page are replaced with “Sorry, this program is no longer available” due to the seven day limit.

(CC wiimote image derived from flickr user Riggzy)

Metanet on XBLA

27 03 2008

N by Metanet

I have a lot of time for Metanet, mostly because they did such stunning work with the flash version of N. Now they’re finding their feet with commercial indie development through the release of N+, they’ve had a few things to say about XBox live, some of it controversial:

Live Arcade had just came out, and they were like, “Oh, it’s new. It’s not going to be like retail. There’s not going to be all this crap. There’s going to be all these small, great, fun things.”

But now it’s exactly the same. There’s all these big-budget ones with big publishers making them, and the real problem, I think, is that the same people who are deciding what retail games get greenlit are deciding what Live Arcade games get greenlit.

It’s a very important point: Digital distribution is very new, and an appropriate green light process is likely to be experimental and go wrong sometimes.

The interview was done a while back but only published a few days ago, and has provoked a bit of controversy. They explain on their blog:

the interview happened about an hour after we found out that the royalty rates for XBLA have been “adjusted” to the point where our whole business plan moving forward was totally shafted.. hence the bitterness.

So: what the hell were we thinking?

We didn’t intend to provoke outrage, we simply spoke candidly. Actually saying what you think rather than being fake in an interview situation is apparently just not done, but don’t shoot the messenger — it’s not our fault that the vast majority of XBLA games suck! Literally every single person we’ve ever spoken with is in agreement on this, and yet it’s apparently shocking for gamers in general to hear (assuming that’s who reads joystiq/kotaku).

If you think back to when these downloadable channels (XBLA/PSN) were announced, they were supposed to be the “anti-retail”: good royalties for all involved, smaller/less “epic” games (quirky ideas which would never have been approved by a publisher), basically a mecca for small teams. In hindsight we were perhaps naive to buy into what was apparently empty marketing speak, however we really believed that something worthwhile and interesting was happening.

Fast forward to now: royalties (allegedly) suck, casual games outnumber proper video games (this will have to wait for a future post for further discussion), the vast majority of titles are “disappointing” (this is perhaps a more politic choice of words than “utter crap”), and small teams are being actively funneled through publishers.

There seem to have been a fair bit of indie grumbling about XBLA, notably including Jeff Minter too. While Microsoft are more switched on than almost anyone as far as the technology of digital distribution goes, it seems very possible that they’re missing cultural parameters that could make digital distribution more successful.

3rd Dimension, 6 Figures.

13 02 2008

3rd Dimension

This is a pretty amazing story: 3 years ago, 2 graduates from Teeside University set up 3rd Dimension Creations because they couldn’t get jobs at existing studios. After a while doing outsourcing work, they have now been commissioned by Blitz to create an XBLA title for, apparently, six figures.

Last.fm: Free* Streaming Music

24 01 2008

Last FM music

Last.fm have struck a deal to allow free streaming of music and even full albums from their website. In a blog entry, they said:

As of today, you can play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Last.fm website.

Something we’ve wanted for years—for people who visit Last.fm to be able to play any track for free—is now possible. With the support of the folks behind EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner—and the artists they work with—plus thousands of independent artists and labels, we’ve made the biggest legal collection of music available to play online for free, the way we believe it should be.

Full-length tracks are now available in the US, UK, and Germany, and we’re hard at work broadening our coverage into other countries. During this initial public beta period, each track can be played up to 3 times for free before a notice appears telling you about our upcoming subscription service. The soon-to-be announced subscription service will give you unlimited plays and some other useful things. We’re also working on bringing full-length tracks to the desktop client and beyond.

Free full-length tracks are obviously great news for listeners, but also great for artists and labels, who get paid every time someone streams a song.

Emphasis mine: This could be a very good shift in favour of digital distribution and artist’s rights.

Technically, its a demo rather than “free” music, though as Toby pointed out: A downloaded track is 79p, so three plays is hardly that limiting.

Battlefield Heroes

21 01 2008

Battlefield Heroes

EA are releasing a free downloadable game this summer, supported by ads in the front end, and microtransactions. Called Battlefield Heroes, it blatantly has the aesthetic of Team Fortress 2, but the focus seems to be on casual gamers who might be moving toward more complex games. It’s interesting to see an Asian business model coming to the West with the backing of such a big publisher. They appear to be taking the right approach so far too; it’s hitting a huge amount of “2008 relevance buttons”, as reported on the BBC:

Ben Cousins, senior producer at Dice, told BBC News that no adverts would be appear in the game itself.

“They wouldn’t work inside the fictional world. Instead, adverts will appear on the website and the ‘front-end’ of the game.”

Gamers will be able to buy items which customise their appearance in the world, but will not be able to seek an advantage through buying weapons.

Mr Cousins said Battlefield Heroes was about exploring new revenue models as well as making a game more accessible.

“I’ve always felt there was some really good fun core gameplay which was locked away by several barriers to entry: the game is complex, it is full of skilled people, you need quite a high-end PC on which to play and you need to go to store to purchase a copy.”

“We’re removing all barriers to entry and we hope there is broader audience for the title. You will be able to play this game on grandma’s laptop.”