Noah (8) does a Minecraft animation

Noah spent yesterday afternoon and evening putting together a short animation with camera control, rigging, motion blur and textures. This was put together using Blender 3D which he’s been learning at the 3D Dojo in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is how kids use their mid-term holiday if you give them the right tools.

Noah was amused that “in my day” we didn’t even have cameras to do stop motion animation. We had to write little pictures in the corners of notepads and animate them by flicking them quickly. These days he has the entire gamut of animation software to try things out.

This is why we need to do more of this across the region because the kind of thinking that got us to this place will not get us out of this. We need to re-brand Northern Ireland as a “creation nation” or an “innovation nation”. That’s the sort of rhyming that gets the PR truck running.

So, watch what else comes out of 3D Dojo. We have some of the best minds in the country. We have some of the best creatives in the world. And, perhaps for good or bad, the only way is up.

Take a couple of minutes to appreciate genius.

This morning I made everyone late by getting trapped on the Black North vimeo page.

Have a look yourself:

CLOUD SKY Main2x from Black North on Vimeo.

New forest from Black North on Vimeo.

forest test (Enhanced) from Black North on Vimeo.

There are heaps more videos on their page. You’ll notice they’re building “Finn in the Forest” in Unity. (I’ve mentioned that Digital Circle is offering free training in Unity RIGHT NOW)

WIPERS TIMES trench shot breakdown from Black North on Vimeo. (iPad, iPhone 4 & Apple TV) from Black North on Vimeo.

This stuff looks like magic. In other words – the technology is sufficiently advanced 🙂

Microtransactions: our free range days are over

Cliff Bleszinski writes an excellent post about how we should chill out about F2P/microtransactions.

And he’s absolutely right. But people forget.

People forget that in the 1970s, games were very different. You had to go to an arcade (which seemed much less sleazy than modern arcades) and you had to turn paper money into coins.

For your coin (when I was a child in the 70s, it was 10p, now it’s £1) you commonly got three lives. You had the game for a limited amount of time and when you were dead, you had to pump another coin in. We were being assaulted by the outrage of microtransactions from the very beginning!

It’s particularly odd when software developers debate over Twitter that the latest Real Racing game is poor value. It’s free to play but makes you play to get back in the race quicker. Some people are loving it, some people are hating it but the bottom line is – what is the game actually worth?

If Real Racing 3 was a pay up front game, how much would it be worth? The visuals seem to suggest that it would be almost a £40 console game. It should be commanding a great price on tablets as well but they give a different option. Or 18.

My theory is that being nickel’n’dimed isn’t the problem. I don’t believe that microtransactions are the issue. I believe the real issue is the impression there is no upper limit. The fact that you can spend $1700 on a ‘free’ game is not a good thing. The fact that some game developers refer to their most profitable customers as ‘whales’ reinforces a type of predator mentality. They’re gleeful that they have hooked a whale. Delighted to start carving up the blubber.

Whalers, like Captain Ahab, get a lot of bad press.

There’s nothing wrong with microtransactions, for anything, from any company. If Blizzard can sell a picture of a pony, then EA can sell you stickers for your race car. You don’t have to buy. But creating a ‘Buy Everything’ in-app purchase would remove many of the issues people have with these new business models.

We’re not going to get out of this mess with the thinking that got us in here.

From Pandodaily:

The 60-person startup is pulling in close to $750,000 every day, according to our reporting. That’s 50 percent up from the $500,000 the Times reported in early October. Not bad for a two-year-old company, whose two big-earner games launched in June and August respectively.

This is an important point for local investors and “business appraisal” executives. This company is two years old and they just launched their big earners in July and August of this year. It took them 18 months to produce a hit. Rovio, the other big game dev in Finland took 4 years to have an overnight success with Angry Birds.

Lesson for locals: it’s not going to be overnight but compared to biotech or ship building, it’s not going to be costly.

We’ve also heard that the startup has very low costs, spending as little as $60,000 a day. Again, Paananen wouldn’t confirm that figure, but he did say that user acquisition costs are very low, because the vast majority of its traffic is organic. The games spread by word of mouth because they are inherently social, he said.

They’re bringing in $750,000 a day and their costs are less than a tenth of that. Think about that for a minute when you consider the “high margins” that companies like Apple commands. 90% margins for this game. 28% margins for Apple.

Supercell has venture backing, but not a lot given this torrid growth. It has raised $15 million, including $12 million from Accel Partners alone.

This is the rub.

Northern Ireland has several venture funds but all of them are little. None of them would be able to meaningfully contribute to a $12M funding round. Also, Supercell is based in Finland but has operations in San Francisco. With backers like Accel Partners and London Venture Partners, it’s plain that Northern Ireland is attempting to play in the big leagues with their local venture capitalists. But having the plaque on the door isn’t the same as walking the walk.

Northern Ireland needs to accept that it has seed capital and treat it as such. The terms in the average term sheet from [local venture capital firm] are so punitive that I can honestly say they’re aimed at idiots and anyone with an ounce of savvy would just leave. There are bigger and better funds who actually are motivated to succeed (compared to tiny local funds who don’t give a shit whether you succeed because they get their fees anyway).

For a country of just over 5 million to produce a Rovio and a Supercell in just the last few years…well, that can’t just be coincidence can it?

No, it’s not a coincidence. Of course it’s not. They have a different environment. It’s a wealthier nation, but they also apply that wealth appropriately. In June this year, they launched a new €70M programme to support the games industry. In comparison, Northern Ireland has contributed almost nothing to sectoral development of this industry. They contributed £235K over three years from 2008 to 2011 but only if industry contributed £265K in effort (and the industry effort had to be given first).

This is separate from grant schemes for “creativity” or funding for R&D. I’m talking about direct sectoral development.

€70M versus £235K is considerable. Is it any wonder that the NI Digital Sector is lagging? I’ve come up with half a dozen ways that government could help develop the sector, at incredibly low risk to the public purse. I’m getting tired of thinking of new ways to push things forward when local companies cannot afford to take risks.

Now, if a local MLA comes up with this:

And everyone agrees that something must be done and nobody does anything, is it any wonder that we never seem to get the results we are looking for?

“We’re not going to get out of this mess with the thinking that got us in here”

Ruminating on Android Engagement

Horace Dediu has an interesting article on Android engagement considering results from web activity on differing devices. In short, though there are a lot more Android devices, their usage on the web is a lot smaller than iOS (and we also know that Android users buy fewer apps) so what are these people doing?

My theory is that they’re using them to make calls and send texts.

On Android Activations:

Increment the Activation when the unique device ID associated with the user’s Google account was different than the previous reset.

Which works great when the market is not saturated. But as soon as an Activator hands down a device to another user (Mom, Pop, Little Brother), it counts as another activation. That means that sales of devices are probably a lot lower than reported Activations.

On devices sitting in drawers:

I know when I got my Nexus 7, there was a screen with loud banners and widgets trying to get me to buy stuff, and my primary reaction was irritation.

Apple, of course, relies on device sales to make its money, and so there is no sales pressure present anywhere in the device. You can use the iTunes store and the App Store, but they are just icons on the screen; they are not given any particular prominence, and you are free to ignore them if you want.

That seems like a strange advantage when it comes to getting people to buy stuff with the device, but my working theory is that the hard sell on many of these devices causes them to be dumped in drawers and never looked at again, while Apple’s soft sell makes people more engaged and happy with their purchase.

I don’t entirely agree with this. I think that the devices he refers to in his comment (the really low-end tablets and phones) do get dumped in drawers but I don’t think it’s due to the hard sell. Certainly the advertising on these devices is tiresome but you don’t get anything for free.

On making it up with content:

But the “give away the razors and sell the blades” model they are employing relies on selling a premium blade. For example, printer makers and game consoles virtually give away their hardware and make it up from the exclusive – and high margin – sale of ink and gaming cartridges. There is nothing premium about the content or the advertising that the Nexus or the Fire are selling. Therefore the model fails.

Apple have always maintained the iTunes Store is “break even”. It’s entirely possible that the margins they get from apps and music are very low (for Apple) and therefore they consider it to be negligible. It’s entirely possible that these margins are high enough to sustain a very successful business. For example, Apple sold 1.3 million of the Apple TV in the June quarter of this year. For most, that’s a brilliant business; for Apple, it’s a hobby. And do you think the margins on the Apple TV are close to zero?

The average tablet is capable of surfing the web and other than advertising revenue, when someone surfs the web or reads email they’re not contributing a cent to the content ecosystem. Apple can take that on the chin because they make money on the device. It’s in their interest to make that experience worthwhile

On Android and the Web:

The reason there is a disparity in that Android users are not browsing the web is because they simply cant (effectively). The majority of Android users are running 2.3 [sic] which is a horrible internet experience. So though, yes, it is true that Android Popularity surged and has gone over the iOS, the main reason for this is simply just because it was an alternative

I don’t think this is the only reason, but it’s contributing to the mix. We have two Android devices in the house and both of them are “orphaned” by the manufacturers (HTC, Samsung). And being out of date means malware.

On the marketing of devices:

Apple devices seem to be marketed as devices that do something. Commercials show the device in use, doing stuff like editing a photo or drawing a picture. People who respond to this marketing do so because they too want to do these things too.

Android devices, on the other hand, seem to be marketed around other factors – you almost never see the device being used to solve some need. Instead, they seem to be marketed around emotional factors. Droid is tough. Galaxy is for folks who think Apple fans are iSheep.

I think Samsung is changing this, especially with some of the Note marketing I’ve seen this year. Their examples may not be as clear as Apple’s but they’re certainly trying to appeal to folk trying to get stuff done. Maybe they figured out that insulting customers wasn’t a way to win.

The Note commercials, while not attracting me to buy one, are interesting me. That’s a subtle difference and reflective of my demographic.


Conquest Dynamics will be demoing a tactical simulation game at CultureTech this week. I’m not going to post any screen shots. You’ll have to come and see us.


Several times a year I get wheeled out in front of undergraduates and I’m expected to say something that will inspire them. Like I have a secret or something. Some folk listen intently, some folk don’t. Some ask questions, some stay silent. Some never look up from their device or their notes. I feel guilty every time I don’t get a question. Like a lack of clarity on a point is an opportunity for engagement. I feel the need to polarise, to incite some sort of debate and I feel like I have failed when this has not happened. Sometimes the students file out silently, avoiding the gaze of this old bloke who has turned up to prance around in front of a projector. I’m the thing standing in the way of lunchtime, or worse, beer. Every now and then I see some rare gems. Like an artist who sets about a stop motion animation with nothing but a phone, a pen and a packet of post-it notes. Or a passion for music that sets the individual apart. Or a pair of comedians who love their art and are teaching themselves fire-breathing.

In truth, I am consistently the one inspired.

Greg Maguire posted this on Digital Circle. It’s a showreel from one of his Masters students, Gerard Dunleavy, who just won the Computer Graphics Student of the Year Award. An international competition, with the most amazing competitors.

The message I try and give students I meet is that the pieces of paper that a college or university gives you are not the worth of you. Things like the showreel above show your passion, commitment and talent.

I’ve said before that my big plan is to start a games company. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the right people with the right attitude. I’m looking for guns and tanks and aliens. But to attract the attention you want, you might need to make birds or grass or tables and chairs your subjects. I remember an interview with a comics guru who said that he was inundated with pictures of impossibly muscled men and ludicrously buxom women in spandex. But he would invariably give the job to the guy who could draw normal people. Who could make unreal things seem real in the context of comics.

I think Gerard has excelled in this, even among his competitors. My suspension of disbelief is almost complete when watching the sequences with the alien ships and the zombie assailant. It’s just amazing and I can think of nothing else. Someone will be very lucky to work with Gerard in the future.