Friday, January 12, 2007

Vista and downloadable games

Couple of days ago Gamasutra published quite an interesting article by Alex St. John, founder and CEO of WildTangent. In the article (called “Vista Casts a Pall on PC Gaming”), he describes serious problems which Vista will present to independent game developers (and casual game developers in general).

Two main problem areas outlined by Alex are program installation and parental control.

Installation. According to Alex, the enhanced security system of Vista might require users to enter administrative login and password every time they try to download and install game. This might sharply reduce the number of installs (and, therefore, purchases), since people might just get tired and frustrated by all the hoops they have to jump through in order to just try out a game, and, therefore, try less games.

Parental Control. It turns out that Vista has something called Game Explorer – some place where the games are being registered, which allows parents to define the allowed ESRB rating level for the games the kids are allowed to play, and which blocks the attempts to start the registered games from outside of Game Explorer. The problem here – again, according to Alex – is that since ESRB grading process is expensive, most small and indie developers cannot afford it, therefore making their games “Not Rated”. Since from the protection standpoint all “Not Rated” material is not safe, most parents will probably block it, thus locking out all small developers.

I didn’t install Vista yet (and not going to, until the time when I would have no other choice!), so I cannot validate Alex’s statements. But, assuming he is right, this might indeed have very unpleasant consequences for game developers. I have no doubt that it will be possible to turn off all these extra-protecting features, or to circumvent them. The problem, however, is that target audience for most casual games are not technical-savvy people, who will, most probably, have Vista running with default settings.

Interesting fact is that the parental control system does not apply to web games. So, if the downloadable games might lose in popularity – the web games might gain, and that, in turn, might lead to some quite interesting market shifts.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

iPhone craze

It seems like everyone suddenly went crazy over iPhone. The new gadget is being discussed in multitude of blogs, newspapers publish articles on it, and the stock prices for Apple skyrocketed over the past two days. My coworkers show each other web pages with photos of the new device…

Well, I knew for quite some time that, when it comes to marketing, no one can beat the Apple guys. They are geniuses. And I am sure that the craze over this new gizmo will just increase over time, and, most probably, it will become one of the most wanted and hyped devices of this year.

But, frankly, I don’t understand what’s so great or special about this new thingy. Let’s cool down a little bit, and look at the device more attentively. Yes, there are many nice touches about it: stylish design, more or less decent on-board storage size (up to 8 Gigs), camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS – everything is included. You can take pictures, surf the web, play music and movies, may be even play games. There are interesting new features, such as:

  • multi-touch UI;

  • different built-in sensors which, for example, detect when the phone is rotated and switch automatically between portrait and landscape mode (though I assume sometimes that might be annoying);

  • visual voicemail – a list of voice messages (I applaud Apple for this one!)
    integration with Google maps.

But there are also quite many drawbacks:

  • operating touchscreen with fingers means having grease, scratches and fingerprints all over it. A reporter from NY Times states that “You still get finger streaks, but they’re relatively subtle and a quick wipe on your sleeve takes care of them”. The reporter was playing with the phone in an office, with clean hands. I hate to thing what will happen to the screen on a hot and humid day.

  • The same reporter admits that “Typing is difficult. The letter keys are just pictures on the glass screen, so of course there’s no tactile feedback.”. The difficulty is somewhat relieved by some ultra-smart installed software – but, still, it’s not the same as having a real keyboard.

  • Speaking of the software – according to Engadget, the phone is first-party software only. In my view, that diminishes the appeal of the phone tenfold.

  • No removable battery

  • No expandable memory

  • No Exchange support

  • And a hefty price tag! 600 dollars for a phone (as far as I understand, with a 2-year contract) – isn’t it too much?

And, except the visual voicemail, there are no real phone innovations in this product! (though this seems to be a problem of the mobile phone industry in general – all new features have nothing to do with telephony.) Blacklisting and whitelisting of the callers, scheduling of the notification sound types (automatically switch to vibration only at night) – those and similar features existed in crude russian Caller ID phones in mid-1990s, but none of the features is present in the ultra-modern devices.

I will not rush for the iPhone. No doubt it will have an owerwhelming success – but not with me.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

(Yes, I know it's a little bit late - but better late than never, right?)

Happy New Year to all who read my blog! All the best wishes to you and your families.

One of my New Years resolutions is to blog more often - and I do hope I will be able to carry out this one.

Enjoy the life - and stay tuned!