Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Super Spin Tanks - Get It On Your iPad!

Happy New Year!

I know, I’m pretty late with that one, what with it being nearly February n’all. 

But if you think I’ve been remiss with my new year greetings, that’s nothing compared to my tardiness when it comes to saying GO TO THE APP STORE AND GET SUPER SPIN TANKS NOW!



It’s a two player game of total tank dueling awesomeness. Yes, you’ll need a friend play it with, but that’s not a problem, because introducing a total stranger to this game will instantly make them your friend. You each control a tank around your own half of the screen, tapping where you want it to go. And you have a stack of shells to fire at your opponent, which you unleash by tapping on your magazine. 

That makes it all sound so easy, but your turret is constantly spinnning, so you have to tap fire when it’s pointing in the right direction. There’s a bunch of arena layouts, weapons and play options to keep you playing for… well, ever really.

And it’s free!

You mean freemium Jon, with some devilish upsell somewhere in the mix. No, I mean actually properly free. No sting, neither visible nor hidden beneath the surface, this is REAL FREE! 

I like it so much I’ve even added it to the sidebar --- look -à

This is normally where I put stuff I worked on but Super Spin Tanks really has nothing to do with me – I contributed nothing to its creation other than encouragement, and some confusion. 

I did get to play test it a lot over the course of 2013 though, which pretty much amounted to the most enjoyable lunch times it’s possible to have.

It’s rare that anyone can truly say “my game” without making someone else feel forgotten and under-appreciated. But Super Spin Tanks is the creation of just one man, Peter Freer, who did everything, including the music.

I salute you Pete Freer and your wonderful game.




Monday, September 23, 2013

Hiroshi Yamauchi

Last week the video games business lost a legend. But Hiroshi Yamauchi shouldn’t only be highly regarded within electronic entertainment circles; he should be applauded for what he enabled others to do.

When I watch Dragons' Den (the original UK version) I’m nearly always astounded by what a complete lack of vision some of the so-called dragons have. Anecdotally, based on my own sporadic viewings, it seems that Duncan Bannatyne is the key offender.

Hiroshi Yamauchi - I bet he's not really playing anything at all...

He is from the insidious “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” school of thinking, it would appear, a form of thinking that caused British manufacturing to crumble under old practices while the Japanese decided that even unbroken things can be better.

I propose we introduce a new verb to the English language – Bannatyning. To Bannatyne is to put down an idea simply because something else that sort of does the job already exists. 

For example, if the elevator didn’t exist and you went on Dragons' Den to pitch the idea to them you would be Bannatyned in the following way: 

You’ve pitched your idea and mentioned all its virtues and Duncan starts, “Hello, I’m Duncan.”

To which you reply, “Hello Duncan,” for this is Dragons' Den etiquette, rather than saying, “No shit, I have watched the show!”

Duncan would then proceed, “In my offices I already have something that does this job. They’re called stairs, and they don’t need any electricity to make them work, I just move my legs up and down and I change floors. I don’t have to wait for them to come to me either, and for that reason, I’m out!” 

You’ve been Bannatyned!

As a kid that grew up playing games on computers, rather than consoles, and I looked down on Nintendo. After reading David Sheff’s excellent “Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World” 20 years ago my general point of view wasn’t altered much. I was left thinking it was a damn good read, and that Yamauchi was a dick whose company dictated what games should be, even demanding significant design changes of games that companies wanted to release on their console. To me they diminished the artistry of video games. 

I was only just an adult at that point in time and although I still agree with that original takeaway I’ve come to appreciate the virtues of the man and the company. Yamauchi created an environment where he believed in the power of invention. Not only that but he trusted other people with his money, his family legacy in fact, despite the fact that it didn’t always pay off. 

Okay, so his initial inspiration was the fact that the bottom was falling out of Nintendo’s core business of hanafuda playing cards and he didn’t regard himself as a creative person, but many have simply watched their company die in the same position. 

He believed in innovation, or did after fate coerced him, the real kind of innovation where you create something new and offer it to the world; not the more prevalent runt of innovation, where you just make things cheaper, which normally involves exploiting people. (Sadly these two forms of innovation aren’t mutually exclusive).

If Yamauchi was on Dragons' Den the other dragons would laugh at him and all his investments. But by my reckoning he was worth more than all the dragons put together, despite his Nintendo shares being far less valuable than they once had.

Even more impressively, with Nintendo starting life as a maker of playing cards, Yamauchi explored many angles on where to go and grow in the years after he took the reins. The company even owned a few Love Hotels at one point. But it generally chose “play” of a different kind to pursue its fortunes, and dance with bankruptcy. Imagine if Yamauchi had been cut from the same cloth as Duncan – “I already have a thing I can play games on, it’s called a card table! Because of that… Sayonara!”

Actually, he probably said that to lots of ideas, but he accepted plenty of crazy stuff too. The success of Pokémon is only obvious after the success of Pokémon, there’s nothing about it that fundamentally screams, “infinitely rich vein of cold hard cash!” We only think that in hindsight.

So, if you want to be great, get yourself some innovators, and then trust them, or at least pit them against each other in a dog fight for supremacy, as Yamauchi did. 

No one will remember the dragons ten years after the show ends, unless I do manage to get bannatype into the popular conscience, but Yamauchi will forever be a legend. 

If you want that kind of mighty reward, you have to take the same mighty risks.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

One Page Game Design Document Pt 2

Last week, when I was posting on the subject of gamification and beer I noticed that one of my first ever posts on this blog had been viewed a few times that week. The post in question was on the subject of the joys of creating a one page game design document. Without actually checking the post I wondered whether I'd actually attached the one page game design in question, or whether I was still keeping it under wraps at that point.

Then on Monday, Kah Chan from Victoria University of Wellington shed some light on these curious viewing stats by asking if he could have a copy of the GDD in question. It turned out that I didn't publish the one page game design document. 

So here it is...
This is an overview design for Warp Gun, which turned into Alien Avian Attack, which you can get for your handsome Android device...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gamifying the Core of your Product

Last week I wrote about the fact that you don't really need to use game elements in gamification at all, you can instead focus on interaction.

For smaller scale operations the interaction part isn't so much of a challenge - smaller companies are often closer to their customers. But if you want to do more, and your budget is tight (which it always is) you much make sure that any gamification couples well with their own ambitions. 



Down the road from where I live there is a brewery, called the Garage Project, which is a fine and good thing.

It was established a couple of years ago by Pete Gillespie and Jos Ruffell, with help from Pete’s brother, Ian Gillespie.

They began with not much of anything really, and despite the fact that setting up brewery is surely always a good idea, it’s still not a product that sells itself!

When the Garage Project opened a couple of years ago they needed a way to get some attention. Both Jos and Ian have worked in the video games business, which means that they must have known straight away that the plan they cooked up to get some attention had a good chance of success.

Humans have a very strong collecting instinct. Many of us like to accumulate stuff. Digital media has been a godsend for me because it means I can hoard music and games without having physical media clogging up my life.

Coupled with this is our need to categorise, so we get folk with collections of teapots or erasers or things with cats on. Further tied to this is a sense of adventure, because you have to hunt these suckers down, even if you're an ambient searcher, not going out of your way to find things, there’s still a part of your brain, always looking, wherever you go.

There’s only one problem with these things in real life – it’s rarely possible to complete the collection. Many collections have no end, although some do, and these can often be the most expensive - a complete set of Star Wars figures, first editions of the works of Beatrix Potter, every Ferrari.

Games allow you to collect, and collect ‘em all. In fact you gotta. It might take you a while, but it can be done. (Don’t talk to me about completely open ended experiences like World Of Warcraft, I’m not listening, la la la la la la!)

And this beautiful model of collecting completion is what the Garage Project took and brought to beer. In the first 24 weeks of their existence they launched a new beer each week. Over 24 weeks they released 24 beers and called it 24/24 .

They started with a 50 litre brew kit, because that’s all they could afford, so large scale production wasn't possible anyway. But they turned this to their advantage.

Few managed to sample all 24 beers, but that didn't stop folk trying, and it garnered the right kind of publicity. It also acted as a way to get feedback on each beer, via special beer mats, and help them decide what to make more of in the future. So customers weren't just getting feathers in their caps they felt like key players in the future of the brewery.

Importantly the game wasn't a distraction from the core business of the brewery, instead it had value to them. The Garage Project continues to create a wide variety of beers, making drinking in Wellington more exciting, I like to call it adventure drinking.

And no, I didn’t get to try all 24 beers, but tracking down re-brews and beers I haven’t had now makes my drinking a noble pursuit!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Print Us!

Over on Kickstarter me and a splendid bunch of revolutionaries are trying to change the world of gaming with Pop, Lock 'n' Rooooll, a combination of cards and dice, which you can print and play for FREE. And it's open source to boot.

Below are some of our self advertising little Rumble Bots. Go on,, click on one to see it full size, then print and make it now!





Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Much Game Is There In Gamification?

Gamification can be a distracting term. Game itself is a very loose term, some will define it as something that requires challenge and a specific win/lose state, others will apply it to pretty much any activity that doesn’t really produce something. I’ve explained whole virtual worlds, like Second Life, to folk and asked them if they’d regard that as a game. The results of my small poll can be typified with the statement, “well it sounds like a game to me”. I’ve heard jigsaw puzzles described as a game. They’re puzzles, not games!

Christmas trees and light shows - read on...

Anecdotally I’ve found that women have a broader definition of what a game is than men, but there’s nothing at all scientific about my study, and far too many of the men I know make games for a living.

My old economics teacher (he wasn’t old at all, but missing out “old” made the phrase seem wrong, what can I say, I choose beauty over truth ever once in a while) once posed the question about an expensive footballer, “is he worth it?” Naturally, there was some debate in the class before he asserted, “Somebody thought he was worth it, so he is worth it.” Economists have a tendency to oversimplifying systems, but it’s hard to argue with the pure logic of this approach to price.

I’m a pragmatist at heart so I’ve chosen to apply this logic to defining games – if someone thinks it’s a game, then it is. I can debate with someone why they’re wrong, but where’s the point in that, it’s a waste of time because they won’t change their mind. And besides, why on earth would anyone want to restrict the bounds of their occupation?

When viewing the word game through the lense of gamification you’re instantly in a world of vague to the power of vague. One way to approach the problem is to think of gamification as a self-reinforcing and (hopefully) self-propagating way for consumers to interact with your brand. Interact being the operative word.

The simplest, most obvious way of doing this is to create a game that features your brand heavily, and taps into a core aspect of its reality. PikPok and Oreo did this very effectively with their OREO: Twist,Lick, Dunk game for iPhone. It’s a simple game but it breaks down into a fast moving version of what a lot of folk do with their Oreos – twist them apart, lick the cream and dunk them in milk. An interaction from real life is mimicked in the game.

I’m really, really, really, hoping someone makes a Rich Tea biscuit game. For those not in the know, the Rich Tea biscuit is popular in the British Isles and is known for dunking in tea. Yet the dunk must be perfectly timed to get some soaking of tea into biscuit but not too much. For to linger just one millisecond too long is to see the biscuit cascade into an over-soaked state and gasp with horror as the tea stricken section shears off into the depths of the cup. Then a spoon is engaged for a spot of biscuit fishing. Surely there’s a game in there.

But not all brands or events lend themselves so well to a game though, in which case you can focus on the interaction instead. Give people the opportunity to interact with your brand in any positive way you can.

Telecom, New Zealand’s former state telco, puts up the coolest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen. Each is a cone of strings of lights that flow from the star at the top to the circular base. A total of 375,000 lights, and they can all be programmed and controlled, allowing for extraordinary flowing multicolour patterns. This alone would make these trees excellent attractions in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, the cities that are lucky enough to have their presence, but they’re also interactive.

Firstly, the trees have telephone booths attached to them. Children can go in the booths and call Santa, whereupon their communication visibly travels up a length of fairy lights to the star at the top of the tree. It’s not a game, but it’s certainly interactive and nicely reminds people that this is a Telecom tree, and Telecom is all about things involving telephones. The ask of asking also helps remind adults that there’s also a collection campaign going on, where members of the public are encouraged to donate presents that can be passed on to underprivileged kids.

Secondly, all those light displays on the trees are designed by people. These trees are up for a long time, yet they display hours and hours of different patterns. The reason they can do this is because not all of the patterns are designed by someone working for Telecom. Instead, the public can go to the website and design their own light shows for the trees. Light shows have little to do with Telecommunications, apart from going online to design them, but that’s enough, because the whole interaction is so staggeringly neat and the trees look so good.

Is there a game anywhere in the whole process? Not that I can see. You’d have a hard time even saying gamification, there are no points or badges. But there is interaction, and that is the critical element if you ask me. And, like I say, gamification can be a broad term.