Skype Home – Clickoff!

Like many people I’ve been using Skype (and paying for Skype Credit) for many, many years. It’s been a highly functional, utilitarian communication tool that has stood the test of time, while programs I once cherished for their simplicity and function (ICQ, MSN) became bloated with garbage and were eventually removed from my computers.

Recently, the fine people working at Skype decided they had to jump on the “social” wagon by inserting something called “Skype Home” into Skype. This feature consists of a window which pops up each and every time Windows or Skype starts – and, best of all, in the middle of the day, while you’re working. It contains images/links and updates related to friends on various social networks. And it has no value whatsoever for me – especially not when wrapped into a communication utility that I expect to behave like a well-trained workhorse. It’s like strapping a blender to a hammer.

The worst part: There’s absolutely no way to disable it or keep it from appearing.

Even if this were a feature I liked and appreciated, I’d expect it to come with some visibility options. Perhaps people who like this sort of thing want to see it – but only at home? Maybe not a great idea to have random pictures of all your social online contacts popping up on your work computer for all to see?

In any case, I was moments away from uninstalling Skype completely. But then I found this:

ClickOff

It’s a nifty little app that works to close annoying window and automate the acceptance of those ever-present “are you sure you want to close that?” pop-ups. The guy who wrote it didn’t start out targeting Skype Home – his was a more general approach to automating the process of closing windows – whether they be annoying, useless or otherwise unwanted. Just so happens that it works great to close Skype Home’s annoying and useless popup. Great.

So, if you’re annoyed by Skype Home and looking for a way to get rid of it – I’d highly recommend ClickOff. And if the geniuses at Skype find a way around it – THEN it’s uninstall time.

Note to geniuses at Skype: Listen to your customers.

An End of Consoles

Just read with great interest an interview excerpt with John Carmack where he offers some thoughts on the future of mobile devices and consoles. Choice quotes from John:

“”It’s amazing to think that when we started Rage, iOS didn’t exist. There was no iPhone. All of that has happened just in the space of one project development timeline. That’s a little scary when you think about it, because major landscape change could be happening underneath our feet as we work on these large scale projects. And we’re going to be doing everything we can to constrain our projects more to not take so long.”

“… that means that almost certainly, 2 years from now, there will be mobile devices more powerful than what we’re doing all these fabulous games on right now.”

While he doesn’t come right out and say mobile phones will completely replace consoles in a few years, he does make suggest some increases in mobile tech which would create serious questions about the continued need for a dedicated “console” device.

While at this year’s E3 I noticed a number of mobile device manufactures showing off mobile phones connected to large flat-screens. The display resolution wasn’t even close to current-gen consoles (which are 7+ years old now!), but as Carmack points out, the delta of advances in mobile suggest it won’t be long before these devices catch up – and surpass current consoles.

All of this suggests a point in the not too distant future where our mobile devices become everything-devices, able to serve as mobile workstations, play-stations, translators, phones (how quaint) and more.

And back to John’s comment about the “scary” nature of the changes taking place while “big” games get developed. I wonder what he’d say about Minecraft? A success like that raises questions about the viability of hugely expensive, long-schedule console developments. When a java game developed by a lone individual requires only a week of development before initial release then goes on to sell 2.5 million units (June 13, 2011 stat) in less than 1 year…

Reminds me of a rebellious little developer we all knew 20 years ago, which was able to quickly create blockbuster, industry changing game titles with a team of less than 10 people. Those were the days… these are the days.

Pitching to Angel Investors on TV

angel's gate logo

Just read on sgEntrepreneurs that our friends over at Vickers Capital Group are involved with a cool new TV program called “The Angel’s Gate“. The premise is simple: Entrepreneurs are given a chance to pitch their dream to a group of Asia’s most successful investors.

Last time I was in the UK I saw a show with a similar premise running on the BBC called “Dragon’s Den“. What I like about the concept of these shows, beyond the fact that they promote innotivative thinkers and entrepreneurs, is that they make visible the somewhat mysterious world of VC and angel investment. Being witness to the pitch process, negotiation, deal closing and subsquent follow-up of a running business is highly informative and entertaining.

I’m looking forward to a spin on the idea with an Asia twist!

Spicy Horse Gallops in a New Direction

Really Spicy Horse

Christian Nutt over at Gamasutra covered the initial announcement of Spicy Horse Games’ new business and development direction. From the article:

Today, the Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse, which has completed work on Alice 2 for EA, is announcing that it has secured $3 million in investment from Singapore and Shanghai-based Vickers Venture Partners.

The company, from this point forward, will focus on developing 3D social, online games for a global audience. Spicy Horse is working on its first post-Alice 2 project alongside PopCap’s Shanghai studio — a 3D online version of one of the casual titan’s games, to be launched initially in the Asia/Pacific region.

There’s a tremendous amount of excitement around these studio these days. We’ve just finished “Alice: Madness Returns”, which has turned out beautifully and marks a historic occasion in game development, the first-ever AAA console game developed entirely in China. Having finished with Alice, we’re returning to our roots, online games (like “American McGee’s Grimm“, on which we founded the studio). Best yet, we’re joined in this adventure by two great partners, PopCap (who’ve given us a really cool development deal) and Vickers Capital Group (who’ve given us a really cool investment deal).

Going forward the focus is going to Free to Play, Online, Multi-player games built using high quality 3D assets and distributed via mobile platforms and F2P operating partners world-wide. This strategy effectively combines two things Spicy has proven it’s great at – casual online games (Grimm) and AAA console games (Alice). My belief is that this combination will be the next big wave in the casual online space. Where audiences have had their fun with great 2D Facebook games, the market demands evolution, and we hope we’ve got the secret formula.

Over the coming weeks and months we expect to announce more details about a range of exciting projects, including the collaboration with PopCap. For the “Alice” fans, we’ve got some twisted fairy tales being adapted into F2P format – very dark stuff. And the creative minds at the studio are also stretching out, building a diverse offering of IPs which we hope will capture audiences around the world.

Stay tuned here and via our other media feeds like Facebook and Twitter for more info.

Outerlight and Indie Development

Just finished reading an excellent interview with independent game developer Outerlight’s co-founder, Chris Peck. It tells the exciting, then sad story of an indie development team struggling to keep their head above water while maintaining their creative core and staying true to the reasons they got into game development to begin with.

An excerpt from the article explains what’s wrong with the traditional publisher-financed model of development (the way games have been funded since forever):

The traditional publishing model is awful for developers, it’s their gilded cage. It requires costly pitching, to emissaries of publishers, who return to corporate rooms & badly pitch the idea to large groups who need consensus to act, and typically take 6 months to close any deal they offer. Publishers are motivated by greed, but restrained by fear of risk, and thus seek sure deals, licenses and sequels, which makes pitching innovation almost pointless. Should you get a deal, the usual is 20 percent royalties, but after the retailer takes their share of 50 percent, you are getting 20 percent of the 50 percent left (so 10 percent of retail price). That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that the developer is the one that actually pays for the development, the publisher has just advanced the developer their share of the royalties to pay for making the game.

What I find interesting about the revelations inside the article (which are in fact nothing new to long-time observers of the industry) is that where the industry has traditionally failed the developer, it’s also now starting to fail the publisher. The model which once served the publisher is now destroying the very development environment in which they live. It’s evolved “gaming” into an ever-tightening spiral of sequels and safe bets while starving the sort of independent creative ability which might help it to get on top of emerging trends like online, social, mobile, digital distribution, episodic and trans-media.

When developers can no longer survive in the poisoned environment they are absorbed (which just prolongs the inevitable) or they evolve (moving into emerging marketings like those listed above). Here’s hoping Outerlight’s people are able to evolve into a new and more compatible space – they’ve certainly proven they’ve got the creativity and smarts, too bad the system failed them.

Truth is, we’ll all be better off when the dinosaurs finally die out. Just be wary of being crushed under them as they fall over.

Bigger Budgets != More Quality

Read on gi.biz today of an interview with Romuald Capron, COO at Arkane Studios of his views on budgets and team size as they relate to the creation of quality games. He says of smaller teams and outsourcing,

“I think that’s a good way to maintain reasonable budgets, and I think a lot of companies are coming round to this way of working right now,” he continued. “They’re realising that having 200 people in a studio – okay, it can work for ten months of scheduled development, but is it the way to make a triple-A game?

“Maybe they could re-organise and say, okay, let’s keep to a three-year schedule again, but with less people – and more polishing at the end? At some point I’m not sure the markets can follow as fast as the development costs.”

From where I’m sitting it’s great to hear solid developers touting a method of production that we’ve been utilizing at Spicy Horse for the past 4 years. All of our 3D asset production is outsourced (nearly 99% of it) to nearby outsource shops like China West Coast and Nuke. These guys become a virtual extension of our team (greatly benefiting from the fact that we’re all in the same city) – allowing us to produce and wrangle content like a 150+ person team while maintaining an internal core size of less than 65.

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity in production teams – higher communication, accountability and quality output being the three most obvious benefits.

As 2nd-hand sales and piracy continue to threaten the viability of larger-budget games, this sort of thinking will become more and more critical to publishers and developers alike – the simple fact is that cheaper games (which maintain AAA quality) are better able to survive the drag placed on them by things like 2nd-hand sales and piracy.

Read the full article HERE.