Q-CON in pictures

I spent last weekend at Q-CON. Though for me it was work, my 11 year old spent the entire weekend drinking from the fire hose of games.

Northern Irish games (http://bloc54.com)were also ably represented by Black Market Games, Troll Inc, Zombiesaurus, PlayForKicks, Predestination, Dugong Games and Straandlooper. And we had visitors from Ireland in the form of BatCatGames and 2PaperDolls.

Stop critiquing the darkness. Light a candle

Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about? – The Matrix

There are people out there who want to change the world.

I’m glad I’ve met some of them (thanks to Denis Stewart FRSA and in the last couple of months I’ve attended some of the meetings. It’s good to know you’re not alone. Denis has been tireless in his attempts to bring together a group for a “Civic Conversation” and recently it’s taken shape better than I could have imagined.

Some of the things I’ve learned about include the following visualisation diagram.

You have to visualise what you want, where you want to be and, most usefully, a transitional step towards getting you there. In reality you may need multiple steps – and there’s room in the model to allow for that.

I’ve always considered it a moral and human duty to work towards a post-scarcity society. Scarcity (or as John Barry would put it: inequality) is the fuel for poverty, war, hatred and crime. We have to work towards resolving scarcity issues but we have to be pragmatic about it. Our resources are finite (if not scarce). We have to decide which things we should change in order to bring about benefit to all members of our society.

One of the working groups at the meeting came up with a declaration.

We are here because:
1) all is not well
2) we can make a difference
3) we have exhausted all the traditional avenues and we are going to open a new one
4) we desire a vision for Northern Ireland
5) we will point out the folly in the existing system
6) and we are committed to taking small actions consistent with realising our vision

The last point is significant to me. Actions, even small ones, distinguish this group from a think tank or talking shop. It can be about inspiration, aspiration, hope, civic values, wonder, awe and providing a measure of leadership through positive change. It can be about taking control of something which is currently not moving in the right direction.

Stuart Mackenzie: Well, it’s a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows. – So I Married An Axe Murderer

How and what is to be done is something for the group to decide. As “Progress is disagreement among friends”, I welcome the opportunity to start planning the things to be done.

If you’re interested in being part of the solution, being a civic actor in a pragmatic vision, then get in touch.

Plenty of time to change the world…

I really like this Generation Innovation trailer.

If I had one criticism, it is that it looks at the young to sort out the problems of the current and past generations.

That’s not fair.

There are people in work today, more than 20 years from retirement, who can still make a massive difference. And they’re not doing it. They’re sitting on their laurels, managing vast empires of paper.

As the video says, we have turned into property developers, lawyers and accountants: a public sector paradise. But these people are the people with the power to change things.

Our streets are decked with the flags of banned paramilitary organisations. Their murals deface our walls. They’re the barnacles growing on the gleaming hulls of our ships – dragging us down, making us look old, slow us down.

Our politicians are sessile; concerned with the petty rivalries of party politics rather than making a difference.

We have plenty of jobs, but parents are not educating children to choose the careers of tomorrow. They want their children to follow them into the civil service, into law, medicine – careers for which we already train four times as many people as we need.

I’ve got more than 30 years of work/career before national retirement age (assuming it moves up again 🙂 ) and that’s plenty of time to change the world.

Games: Giving Credits Where They Are Due

I’m a little ambivalent about the whole tax credits for TV thing and I find myself expressing the same about the new tax credits for games coming to the UK next year.

This article in Mancunian Matters says:

George Osborne’s tax credits for video games producers may not be enough for Manchester firms
The video games industry is a global, fiercely competitive, and incredibly lucrative one.

I just reckon that if the industry is incredibly lucrative then it’s not tax credits that are needed but rather more support for small indigenous firms to start something. Tax credits are exciting to big studios and big money. If you already have the money then it’s going to be cheaper to make new games.

But most major international publishers seem to be closing studios rather than opening them. Activision shut down Bizarre Creations in February 2011, Disney closed down Black Rock in July 2011 and EA closed down Bright Light in January 2012.

So, if this tax credit does make the UK more attractive to big publishers again, it just re-enforces the brain drain where our talented individuals are sucked into big companies again until the burn rate means they cry out for a bigger tax rate. To put it into perspective, in Quebec, 37.5% of games development salaries are government subsidised. And I’m reminded that I was told a couple of years ago that Scotland had risen to be one of the most expensive places to make video games. It was atop a throne that could be easily toppled.

We’re not going to build an indigenous industry with tax credits. We’re also not going to build it in the current mid-recession lending drought. And we’ll find it hard to build it when every college and university is trying to produce insufficient numbers of J2EE graduates as their entire Software Engineering output.


A few related links:

  • Digital First – describing how Netflix (and more recently Amazon Studios) are becoming a new force in television production.
  • KILL HOLLYWOOD – wherein we discuss the recent YCombinator call for new disruptive business models in traditional audience-based media.
  • Television – describing the imminent demise of television business models.
  • Made for App – a new way of distributing television without the television and without the broadcaster with a comedy-horror genre and a distribution model that is essentially “iTunes plus App”.
  • TheClandestineTV – a new NI-produced web comedy series – with a business model and a fresh approach to making money.
  • The C Project – Scattered Images / Marty Stalker taking on new challenges, new collaborations. His last work I’ve seen, the local festival showing Desecration and Coast among others, was a great example of what can be achieved by a small group of passionate people.

These are interesting because of the potential they bring. Ive spoken before that I’d like to make some short films, some television episodes, maybe even a feature – but the struggle is finding the right people with the right talent and the right amount of free time.

I’m thinking this Internet thing would be a great distribution partner.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring #wwdc

On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.

This morning at the BBC, there was a mockup of the Stephen Nolan Show with the man himself. I don’t like Stephen Nolan ever since he turned a real issue into a circus (the social worker-mandated imprisonment of young men and women with learning difficulties at Muckamore Hospital with no hope of parole). He’s a shock jock. And for that base entertainment, I reserve the right to despise him. I felt comfortable when answering his oddly phrased question though, maybe because I had rehearsed it a hundred times before in front of government committees, elected representatives, network members, senior people in both public, private and academic institutions and a few times, I suppose, in the car.

Also, the Media Innovation Awards were announced.

In the afternoon, I attended a Creative Industries Strategy Session hosted by Belfast City Council. I think we hit on a few killer ideas which, sorry to say, I’m not going to repeat here. I think it’s fair to say that a few of the individuals knocked it out of the park. And, frankly, I’m going to contrive to work with them again soon.

It’s worth noting that Momentum doesn’t send me to these things because they’re paid to. Because, frankly, we’re not. Digital Circle, as a separate project, ended last September and we’ve kept it going over the last 9 months by delivering other projects for other organisations and doing Digital Circle in our ‘spare time’.

While we all know that Digital Content, Software and Digital Hybrids are probably one of the only rapidly growing sectors, government has been slow to react. Demanding document after document, trying to secure promises that everything will work out fine (from people who can only guarantee their own performance) and generally giving every indication that this industry is beneath even contempt.

A local entrepreneur (originally from Germany) said that support in Germany is a lot better for digital content and hybrid companies. I know the supports available in Sweden, France and Norway are much better. When Denmark wanted to create a digital media cluster, they invested €9 million. When Northern Ireland wanted to do it, they invested £235,000 with an industry investment of £265,000. GAP supports are still overly complicated. Most of the other supports (other than Trade Dept) are complicated, unwieldy and designed for the industrial revolution. Even the Creative Industries Innovation Fund has a form that was designed by sadists and a process that is more obfuscatory than anything I have ever encountered. And I’ve worked with big corporations (Apple, NBC Universal). In the face of this evidence it would seem that digital media is not actually a priority in Northern Ireland (unlike every other country, region, republic, democracy and municipality in the world) and I would have to say they are right.

The Media Innovation Awards are not a big thing in the real scheme of things. They’re a first step for the BBC to become engaged with the local industry. The money that’s going into this scheme is coming from InvestNI and DCAL and it’s all about teasing the BBC out of the hole they have dug for themselves in Northern Ireland with a few decades of smug isolationism. The interesting things will be the second and third steps. The possibility of a “Salford” type development in Belfast with the BBC as an anchor tenant not just as a large name in the midst but as an active participant. The potential access to the BBC Archive to re-invent old things as new. The development of new “digital first” ideas. All of this is on the table.

Despite all of this. Maybe even because of all of this, I’m determined to work to change things. I will not let the Vogons get me down.

Pepsi? I wanted Coke. But if that’s all there is, I suppose I’ll drink it.

Yesterday I gave a presentation to Creative Skillset. They’re the Sector Skills Council for digital media which includes TV, film and computer games (and oddly, fashion).

One of the points I made was that we had to follow the market and follow the money. I said that in 2008, we asked for Objective C and Cocoa courses from universities and colleges and, to be honest, we got a half-assed response. A little bit of Cocoa, a little bit of Objective C. And a heap of Android. Because, in the academics esteemed opinions, Android was going to take over. Android was cheaper. It was all the same really. Anyone could, they argued, make a great IOS app if they could make an Android app.

This did not happen. This was not the case. This was not true.

Four years later and look where we are. Universities are not producing graduates with the right quantity or quality to populate our local companies. Academia ignored the industry. And worse – the Department of Employment and Learning ignored the evidence.

And on iPhone versus Android?

For every $1.00 spent on iOS, an equivalent Android developer makes around $0.24. And that number is probably boosted through advertising. And as we know, advertising makes for an amazing user experience.

We can blame a lot of reasons for the disparity. It could be fragmentation of software and hardware. According to TNW, only one device counts for more than 10% market share in Android-land. But really, the software fragmentation is where it hurts. In two weeks, Google will be showing off Android 5.0 at their annual Google io conference. This is while their 4.0 version has managed to get only 7.1% market share. All of the new APIs and features, the user experience improvements and the bug fixes (and security fixes) of 4.0 only reached 7.1% in 7 months. IOS 5 has managed more than 75% penetration since October 2011 (also about 7 months).

Whether or not you like a platform is not important. We should train people to be the best, but we’re just training them to compete. The market demanded IOS, our educators gave them Android.

But we accepted it because when you’re dealing with a starving man, even a shit sandwich starts to look tasty. I’ve given this to the CAL Committee. I’ve spoken to QUB and the University of Ulster. I’ve tried to talk directly to DEL. I gave this presentation directly to Creative Skillset (in front of NI Screen, DCAL, Invest NI, the BBC, Belfast City Council and others). And I’ve had to listen to all of the investment given to film and television in terms of training courses, new facilities and new tax breaks. Dozens of new apprenticeships. Two new sound stages. Tax breaks for high end drama.

They do not seem to understand that software, in it’s myriad forms, already vastly outnumbers the film and television industry. And unlike television (the BBC is currently reducing headcount, remember?), the software industry is currently growing. And it’s growing faster than our universities and colleges are training people.

This is why CoderDojo and similar clubs are important in the North of Ireland. We’re in the boom times and we simply cannot afford to wait for the Minister for Employment and Learning to do something about it. What we’re doing isn’t enough. We know that. But someone has to do something, however small.

You’re presented with this white room. In the middle of the white room is a black cube. [updated]

From Toucharcade:

Fable and Populous creator Peter Molyneux’s new studio, 22 Cans, has unveiled Curiosity, its first experimental release in an upcoming line of one-word “games” designed around pure concepts and ideas. This one focuses on a user’s desire to poke around inside a mysterious black cube, which is presented in a flat, white room.

What will be inside it when it’s released on PC and iOS (in six weeks)?

Who knows.

Will it be amazing?

I doubt it.

But I am interested in the gameplay and, probably more importantly, how this will connect across the world to gamers. Simple concepts. Simple shapes.

UPDATE from Eurogamer

But before the cube opens, players will be able to buy one of a limited number of chisels to improve their tapping strength. An iron chisel – 10 times more powerful than the default tap – costs 59 pence. The diamond chisel is 100,000 times as powerful – but it costs £50,000, and there is only one available.