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Archive for May, 2011

Isn’t it obvious to all that the primary point of game design is crafting the modes and methods which govern the unfurling of a game experience?  And having done this, in placing the objects of the world to promote that experience?  Then we have to say game design concerns itself with the pieces and their assembly, and how they are placed, just so, atop each other to produce that final edifice: a container of an experience.  Game Design is architectures, their bricks are game pieces and their mortar is rules.

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Barry Ritholtz accuses Microsoft of being both outmoded and uncool, or as he puts it, “The rich fat kid just wants to be cool”.

This is a common assessment, as his comments section alludes to.  Seriously, there is nothing sexy about Microsoft (a fact which Apple’s marketing readily leapt on).  At least, there’s nothing obviously sexy about Microsoft.  They’re an enterprise software company first and foremost, and enterprise software tends to focus on things other then being sexy; things like stability, consistency, and compatibility (this one is huge).  It needs to work, people need to be able to use it consistently for a long time, and they need to be able to use their software on their OS.

Seriously, this is a major reason for the lack of new features in Windows, why various legacy UI and OS services remain in place: because if they were ever removed, no business would make the leap.  Transitioning their end users is a gargantuan task that has created many hurdles for the Windows OS over the years.

Anyway, Barry asserts an extreme lack of innovation at the Redmond software giant.  This tells me that he’s a tech consumer, not a tech developer.  Actually, Microsoft has been involved in nearly every major tech innovation from the start, if not well before it actually gained a market foothold.

Let’s start with the internet.  Ritholtz accuses Microsoft of indirectly killing huge amounts of innovation during the 90’s.  That’s interesting; from my perspective at the time, Windows was the great enabler.  Windows machines were the massive, free, unexplored frontier that dominated the tech landscape.  Apparently he didn’t use any software at the time; a plethore of little programs floated around the Windows tech world.  What was lacked was an app store.  There was no internet to support a network effect with the critical mass of today’s.  No, people floated these around BBSes, usenet groups, and bargain bins full of shareware.

The internet gave everyone the chance to break free of Microsoft’s rule!  Except not really.  See, MSFT would always insure it had core enterprise apps available on its OS…and that’s it.  It simply couldn’t build everything people might want, so it insured devs had tools to make…whatever.  They built a platform and tried to make sure it allowed developer freedom…as long as they stayed away from core applications.  Yes, MSFT did abuse it monopoly position to secure dominance in these related markets.  But that doesn’t mean it stifled innovation outside of that realm.

During the first dotcom bubble, MSFT was actually at the forefront.  It was at the end of the 90’s when Microsoft launched IE6, solidifying its place as the premier web browser, crushing Netscape (until its re-emergence as Firefox).  Through brute force it created a unified business platform and innovative toolset.

It was after the bubble burst that MSFT began floundering.

First, it screwed itself by allowing itself to be seen (rightly) as a monopolistic asshole.

Second, MSFT has always failed primarily at initial execution, not innovation.  MSFT offered one of the first smartphone platforms ever: Windows Mobile.  Unfortunately, it’s timing was simply too early.  The hardware and infrastructure couldn’t support it except for some early adopters, and eventually MSFT moved away from that market to pursue other opportunities.

MSFT has been working on tablet and touch-based computing for ages as well; once again, they were too early and failed to have a hardware platform to push their software.

Hell, google home automation?  Google TV?  Apple TV?  back when Windows XP luanched, MSFT launched Windows XP Media Center Edition.  This included a UI that could be controlled by remote, and allowed the computer to be more readily hooked up to a TV and used as the central location for serving visual and audio media in the living room.  MSFT imagined the PC as the centerpiece of the living room, because they felt we would begin consuming more and more digital, network served media…and you would need a PC to funnel that.

Media Center Edition didn’t go anywhere, so MSFT had a canny idea: a game console.  While the original XBox was completely dominated by the PS2, it still established Microsoft as an entertainment contender and put what amounted to a wintel machine, running a what was essentially media center and connected to the internet, in everyone’s living room.  Ritholtz refers to this rather disdainfully, accusing them of buying their way in, but as a game developer myself, I have to give MSFT credit: they’ve been one of my greatest friends throughout my career.  Visual Studio is something I’ve used every day for a decade, and I don’t think I can ever give it up.  No other IDE matches it for usability and sheer power.  No, not even Eclipse, though it does give it a good run.

The XBox 360 cemented that position.  Microsoft now has a large installed base of people using what amount to Windows PCs connected to their network, using their apps and their licensed services.  Why would I buy Google TV or APple TV when I have an Xbox 360 (or PS3 or Wii, even)?  That insight was important and successful, and this was one of the few times MSFT has actually managed to execute decently.

The point is that MSFT is a highly innovative tech company.  They’re often wrong, but then, so is Google, as evinced by their many rather public failures.  What MSFT is not good at is its front-end and consumer marketing.

Let’s take Apple, here.  Apple does not do tech innovation as us engineers think of it.  The iPod was nothing new…there had been mp3 players for years prior to its introduction.  What the iPod did was innovate the hardware front-end into an existing base app: iTunes.  They then marketed extremely savvily.

The iPhone did very little other pre-existing smartphones did, under the hood.  However, its front-end was innovative and its marketing brilliant…and it tied into a pre-existing ecosystem with a large base: iTunes.

The iPad is, by engineering standards, a pretty staid piece of hardware with a rather uninteresting OS.  Once again ,though, the front-end was brilliantly executed and mostly intuitive, the marketing was great, and it tied into the iTunes network.

What Apple does isn’t make cool new tech.  Instead, it discerns when the time for tech is right to be introduced to the masses and then makes a really pretty wrapper for existing tech, marketing it like a devil.

Tech generally isn’t sexy, outside of a very small subset of the population.  Innovation there just doesn’t really ‘zing’.  The huge Intel announcement of their new transistor was completely passed over by Ritholtz, despite it being a pretty momentous tech innovation.  It’s just not sexy.

That’s like MSFT…much of what they do simply isn’t sexy, and they really are the nerdy kid Apple pegged them as.  I guess I’ll have some sympathy for that because, well, I am that nerdy kid, too.  I’m sorry I’ll never be cool.

I’ll just make your shit work, and when the next Y2K rolls around, I’ll make sure to take advantage of your rampant cool apathy about tech.

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I just read (most of) this article on Credit Writedowns.  It’s a good article, discussing some of the ways cognitive patterns that in many situations help us also hurt us.  Really, I can find nothing to complain about with the thrust of the article except this: it can be said only to apply to Americans.

That is not to say it does not apply to other cultures, but rather that I am unaware of evidence suggesting that other cultures, particularly cultures with distinctly different basic mores, would assert quite the same heuristics.  Sure, they’d fall prey to their own shortcomings, but I think it’s safe to assert the shortcomings would differ.

Really, this is an ongoing – and well-understood but little discussed – issue with American Psychology: most of the research results come from samples consisting of Americans, and can thus only be extended to…Americans.  In fact, they tend to come from college students, age 18-22, as undergrads are the most readily available research subjects.

I’m aware people know this.  I’m just nitpicking.  It’s still a good article, and I recommend reading it.

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I’ve had some time to think (finally), and some of that revolved around ISPs.  Interestingly, we have a lot of Republican pressure to deregulate or maintain deregulation over a variety of things, including ISPs.  Into this they throw the whole net neutrality debate and data caps.  The assertion is that regulation destroys competition and, since competition is essential to economic growth, regulation stifles economic growth.

However, there exist situations within markets where various externalities enforce an equilibrium that involves one very large company controlling the entire providence of a single good or service: a monopoly.  Monopolies are not something that happens outside economics; they are quite normal within economies, when certain factors exist.

Let’s consider ISPs.  The capital required to build out a network is simply enormous.  A single cable switching station or DSL switching station covers a 3 mile swath of urban area, meaning that to efficiently make use of such an installation, you’d better be wired into everywhere in those three miles..and they’d better be using you.  So there’s a barrier to entry: cost.  Additionally, adding more infrastructure is increasingly problematic.  Frankly, we don’t exactly want companies continually laying down parallel wires and cables, new wifi towers, etc.  Eventually the benefits are simply nil…and it seems like that saturation point is hit extremely rapidly.

In fact, most companies that exist in the ISP market used existing infrastructure to leverage their way into place.  Cable companies, phone companies, satellite television providers, and cellular providers.  Google is funding a few fiber optics network installations, but consider: these have to be laid in beside networks that already exist.

The result is that any particular way of connecting to the internet is going to lend itself to being in the hands of very few local entities…and those entities have no real urge to compete once they’ve secured their own areas.  They’re not going to want to drop additional wiring in their competitior’s area unless they’re absolutely sure they can lock up the entire locale.  From here, standard consolidation points towards dwindling numbers of competitiors, until one larger competitor just buys them all out.

This is the same problem that affects utilities, which is why we’d tended to make them state run.  Competition simply doesn’t exist on the level that would promote the price stabilization of the more common broad market.

Now, monopolies themselves don’t necessarily lead to poor pricing for the particular good they sell.  A perhaps more dangerous effort of monopolies is their ability to impact nascent markets which would, without their interference, evolve into a competitive equilibrium.  The monopoly serves as an externality, using its dominant position in a related market to defeat fledgling newcomers.

This is the most pressing issue of Net Neutrality; the various ISP monopolies or duopolies in certain areas can use their dominant position to influence another market: the content market.

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Osama died

In case you somehow missed the massed uproar on the American internet.

And no, this isn’t Eve or economics related at all.

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