Snake Oil from Out of the Box Games

I helped out my friends at Out of the Box Games on a little project -  I narrated their latest how-to video for Snake Oil. Snake Oil is a new game that expands the emergent social fun behind their hit game Apples to Apples.  With a typically elegant design, Snake Oil makes a game out of pitching one out of possibly millions of silly products to a judge with particular perspective. A great game for families, friends and kids that is equal parts creative and goof-ball.

 

ToyTalk announces "The Winston Show"

I'm eager to check out the first effort from ToyTalk, a startup that uses natural language understanding to create storytelling conversation "shows" for kids on tablets & phones.

The interview below between ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob and Techcrunch's Greg Kumparak is a fascinating introduction to the principles behind the product. 

A ton of high-end tech is working behind the scenes here to make a transparent entertainment experience for grade school kids. AI, natural language understanding and an authoring system for his team to script conversation trees and for animating the characters.  The server-side work is fascinating here, offloading the AI processing, the animation and word are streamed down to the device.

The telemetry issues that ToyTalk are dealing with here is super interesting and right on the bleeding edge of kids and big data. Talking to kids in natural language will generate lots of potential insight into how kids interact with characters, but extracting that insight is a bit of a legal minefield. Anyone who makes games-as-a-service for kids struggles with this challenge, and it is great to hear Oren's take, as a parent, on the safeguards they have implemented to ensure informed consent and kids' safety.

Waaay back when I was an intern at Pixar on Toy Story, I distinctly remember Oren Jacob walking me through the Menv (aka Marionette) software he & his team worked up for the Pixar animators - all procedurally modeled NURBS characters, giving an amazing fluidity and power to the artistic instincts of the crew. That experience inspired me to constantly seek to combine technology and creativity in service of talent. I try to do that in every game development team I work with.

 

With 13 years in the game industry and time served in theme parks, internet and film before that, Martin Caplan has done some pretty fun and weird stuff. Currently he's consulting as an Executive Producer with Transmedia SF (Connected transmedia experiences) and Neomyx (Mobile / Location games). In the past, Martin has been Executive Producer at Robot 11, creating amazing mobile connected toys. Before that, he was a Producer at BioWare / EA leading teams to create amazing next generation experiences in mobile games with AAA brands. He was Senior Producer and New Business Director at Other Ocean, pitching and running projects in the mobile/social space. At Sixense, he served as Senior Producer leading an internal dev team to create innovative gameplay for the Razer Hydra motion control hardware in a Valve game mod for Portal 2. He was previously a Producer at Sega of America for 5+ years with 18 shipped titles. He has worked in the serious games industry as a game and interface design consultant for U.S. intelligence agencies, earning Secret clearance. Finally, he founded and sold Paragon Games, a tabletop RPG game company, developing and publishing RPG books and boardgames.

Marty can be reached at d33vle at gmail dot com

 

BERG on Connected Devices

I'm a fan of the London design firm BERG - they always have fascinating forward thinking ideas and experiments in consumer technology, networked objects, and more. Their Little Printer project is good fun, combining emergent network behavior with a home miniprinter to give you a little surprise every day. BERG Cloud is a picks/shovels platform for connected devices that I must try out... would love to build a bridge from it to Unity to have a truly cross platform software/firmware/hardware authoring system for connected devices. 

Anyways, a very interesting chat between GIGAOM's Katie Fehrenbacher and BERG's CEO Matt Webb. 

"I sort of regard the network as being like the next generation of electricity: it will end up hitting all products sooner or later. But we wont really think about them as being “networked products,” in the way we don’t think about things as “electrical products.” Take a sewing machine: in the old days you had to stamp or pedal it, and then sewing machines became electrified and you just plugged them in. So now people don’t buy an electric sewing machine as a part of their collection of electrical goods — they just know they don’t need to pump their foot anymore. The product is slightly better. There will be a bunch of that with connected devices…."

I heartily agree - like electricity, the network will disappear into every object around and on (and likely inside!) us. He discusses the creepy factor in these inanimate objects coming to life, which is typical of the technology adoption curve. We'll get over it, especially if there is playful interaction to be had from the swarm of connected devices that we will be swimming in.

Let me know if your company needs any help in preparing innovative entertainment products for this coming global platform!


With 13 years in the game industry and time served in theme parks, internet and film before that, Martin Caplan has done some pretty fun and weird stuff. Currently he's consulting as an Executive Producer with Transmedia SF (Connected transmedia experiences) and Neomyx (Mobile / Location games). In the past, Martin has been Executive Producer at Robot 11, creating amazing mobile connected toys. Before that, he was a Producer at BioWare / EA leading teams to create amazing next generation experiences in mobile games with AAA brands. He was Senior Producer and New Business Director at Other Ocean, pitching and running projects in the mobile/social space. At Sixense, he served as Senior Producer leading an internal dev team to create innovative gameplay for the Razer Hydra motion control hardware in a Valve game mod for Portal 2. He was previously a Producer at Sega of America for 5+ years with 18 shipped titles. He has worked in the serious games industry as a game and interface design consultant for U.S. intelligence agencies, earning Secret clearance. Finally, he founded and sold Paragon Games, a tabletop RPG game company, developing and publishing RPG books and boardgames.

Marty can be reached at d33vle at gmail dot com

 

Analysis of the mobile games business - Summer 2013

I'd like to highlight this great data-driven article by the folks at AppAnnie on what's been going on in the business of mobile games over the summer. 

Usually summer for the console/PC game is usually the doldrums and launches of new games start in September to run up to the holidays. With mobile, there is a separate peak in June/July as kids who are out of school buy game apps to entertain themselves. Worth remembering for launch strategies in 2014.

girlsgamessummer2013.PNG

Love this chart. A preponderance of 'girl games' in children's apps show the continuing gender equalization trend in games on mobile, and in general. Videogames are no longer just for digitally native boys, which doubles the number of potential players!

topgrossingsummer2013.PNG

And the ever popular iOS top grossing ranking as of July 2013. The diversity of companies verses the number of apps on the store is amazing to me. Small companies like Supercell dominating giants like EA is indicative that we are still at the early growth part of mobile gaming. Eventually these bigger companies will dominate this chart as app discovery costs continue to increase.

Cheers and please get in touch if you'd like to know more about how I can help your company succeed in this growing market.

- Marty


With 13 years in the game industry and time served in theme parks, internet and film before that, Martin Caplan has done some pretty fun and weird stuff. Currently he's consulting as an Executive Producer with Neomyx (Mobile games). In the past, Martin has been Executive Producer at Robot 11, creating amazing mobile connected toys. Before that, he was a Producer at BioWare / EA leading teams to create amazing next generation experiences in mobile games with AAA brands. He was Senior Producer and New Business Director at Other Ocean, pitching and running projects in the mobile/social space. At Sixense, he served as Senior Producer leading an internal dev team to create innovative gameplay for the Razer Hydra motion control hardware in a Valve game mod for Portal 2. He was previously a Producer at Sega of America for 5+ years with 18 shipped titles. He has worked in the serious games industry as a game and interface design consultant for U.S. intelligence agencies, earning Secret clearance. Finally, he founded and sold Paragon Games, a tabletop RPG game company, developing and publishing RPG books and boardgames.

Specialties: Computer Game Production Management, Computer Game Design, Computer game QA. Tabletop Game Writing and Design. Company management.

Marty can be reached at d33vle at gmail dot com

Meet the Makers - Marty Caplan

THIS JUST IN: An interview with me about toys, games and transmedia in Global Toy News: http://www.globaltoynews.com/2013/08/meet-the-makers-marty-caplan.html

BR:  What is it like developing digital games with toys and real world elements in mind so that these are integrated into the game mechanics rather than being parlor tricks?
MC: It’s all about utility that supports the core gameplay being built in and enhanced (but not required) by the connected real world element. If the game is fun without the toy, but super fun with it, then you have succeeded.

 

I'll be at the World Congress of Play - say hello if you'd like to meet up!

Decision Modeling in Game Design

Great article on Decision Modeling from Gamasutra.com. I'm looking forward to this series as I love tools that allow exploration of the decision space a given game exists within. 

"Many design questions are subjective, with no “right” or “wrong” answers.  But in some cases – many more than you might think – there undeniably are.  And in those cases, we should want to know how to get the right answer, or at least understand how we would go about defining the “right” answer and searching for that solution if it exists."

 http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PaulTozour/20130707/195718/Decision_Modeling_and_Optimization_in_Game_Design_Part_1_Introduction.php

Excellent Candy Crush Saga Teardown

As usual, Deconstructor of Fun delivers a fine teardown of Candy Crush Saga, a game I'm currently playing a lot myself.

The breakdown of meaningful virality into "shareworthy" and "clickworthy" conditions is particularly interesting:

Shareworthy conditions
·   Instrumental: The feed is a result of rewards, or, it is incentivized i.e. it signals a prospect of rewards in case another player responds – asking help for progress unlocks in CCS is a great example
·   Hedonistic: The feed allows to show off personal achievements and/or creativity
·   Socially obligating: The feed seeks others’ commitment via the promise of mutual benefits, 
or via a social gesture, e.g. a partnership or investment
·   Altruistic: The feed provides an increased feeling of self- worth while giving something out 
for free or helping (‘Jack helped Timur to build in Millionaire City!’) 
Clickworthy conditions
·   Rewarding: Responding to the feed is incentivized; promises instant rewards or progression
·   Provocative: The feed provokes to return back to the game through competition (‘Have 
revenge’), empathy (‘save the panda’), or curiosity (‘Jack just earned a million dollars’)
·   Socially obligating: The feed is persuasive through a reciprocal gesture (e.g. gifting, cry for 
help), or a social tie/ gesture that it represents (‘Linda made an investment on You’; ‘Jim has new buildings in his/her city. Thanks to those who helped!’) 

I try not to get too wrapped up in guidelines like the above on the creative side - a good game design comes from the heart first, and is then refined by principles like these. In fact, this is the dynamic that has emerged between game designers and product managers. Get that right, and you have a powerful team-up that can build a business on fun.

The full post is visible here: http://deconstructoroffun.blogspot.com/2013/05/beating-candy-crush-saga.html