Merry Solstice!

Ahoy gentle reader and a merry turn of the seasons to you!

All is well in the James household. Eunice is peachy and Jude is doing great. I have quite a set of pics and videos I need to upload. He seems to have discovered the tantrum, but I am optimistic about my strategic response to this occasional flailing madness.

Talking of HWFO, Three Rings is also doing great. The big news is that Spiral Knights is doing really well! Last week we launched on Steam and, whilst I am not presently able to take my usual liberties with the numbers, I can point out that we seem to have been in the top ten games by concurrent players on Steam (Steam admirably publishes these numbers, Spiral has been around ~6-12k) more or less ever since. Exciting times!

I will pen a longer post about Spiral Knights’ development someday, but for now I would like to congratulate the team on a heroic job and a wonderful game. Thanks also to SEGA and our partners.

Other projects at ooo proceed apace, but I can’t say anything about those. I can thank the whole team from the bottom of my heart for their Herculean labours towards good works.

I still worry about the end of the world, but Eunice and I did Neighborhood Emergency Response Team training (often called CERT), so we’re a bit better prepared! I would recommend it.

This solstice greeting brought to you by Jessie J – Price Tag ft. B.o.B., a cheery tune that Jude likes, which was brought to you by DJ Earworm – Party on the Floor (another potent cocktail of pop, UK flavoured) and Jessie J – Price Tag (Rizzle Kicks vs Rural Remix) (Rizzle Kicks are good!)


Earlier Jude and I walked the dogs up the hill. The sun went down a little early behind the fog — rolling in over a very lovely day, just in time for summer. I regaled my captive audience with stories of sorcerers who made the day last forever, and the heroes that battled them.

Wishing you splendid summers, – Daniel

Merry Solstice!

Greetings loyal reader. I hope you are well!

As is traditional around here, I write to wish you a Merry Winter Solstice, the turning of the year and beginning of a new cycle.

Last night we had the pleasure of an extraordinary astronomical co-incidence, a full lunar eclipse on the solstice’s eve. I was fortunate with the weather and managed to catch some of the waxing through intermittent cloud and drizzle, out walking the dogs and then sneakily up on the roof of our building. The cloud came in just as the last sliver of moonlight winked away. Later I caught a glimpse of a mostly red full moon as the eclipse waned. If your hippy tolerance is high you might enjoy this post about the lunar eclipse on the solstice.

It has been a good year for the family, preoccupied in the main with our new master who is ten months old this week. Eunice has been keeping the ridiculously cute posts thick and fast over at Jude’s fabulous blog. Most of what I could say about having a child will sound familiar; it is wonderful and lots of hard work. Every day he becomes a little more of a boy and less of a baby, but I can foresee the quiet joy of cajoling him to sleep on my shoulder lasting for years, yet! You might notice the familial resemblance here:

For Three Rings it has also been a good year and I’m very proud of our team. We worked on some Facebook games, an iPad version of Corpse Craft, a couple of projects with partners that I can’t talk about yet, Puzzle Pirates (of course), and a very shiny new MMO that, after many years of development, is finally getting close to launch. Look for a post on that early in the New Year.

Given that last year it seems I did pretty well with my Predictions for Social Games, I will try to have another go-around with the crystal ball this year (and maybe bust out the scorecard, too…) So, you can expect another post or two before too long!

For now, though, the shortest day is winding down and I have to get to the pub! Life is good. Best wishes for the next turn of the wheel, friends.

‘Social’ Games Predictions for 2010

Merry New Year, righteous reader! As promised, here are a few predictions for the online games business in 2010. Facebook and ‘social games’ were the big story and virtual goods driver of 2009, and we spent a fair bit of 2009 struggling to create our own social games network and chasing Facebook glory, so that’s my focus.

1. Facebook will peak. I think we’ll see the flattening and beginning of decline in Facebook active audience (outside of some international territories, which may be enough to keep the overall active user numbers trending upwards in 2010, but with a shift to a more international and lower-revenue audience. There just aren’t many more people left who havn’t made a FB account, and people will start to churn out in significant numbers. Don’t get me wrong; Facebook is lots of fun and very sticky indeed, but there’s nowhere to go but down from a point where ~50% of the adult population are active users.

2. Facebook games have peaked. It may be that things pick up after the holidays, but a quick perusal of all the top Facebook games shows the same pattern — daily active users (DAU) topped out in mid-December with the viral changes. The holiday lull took another bite and it looks like things will bounce back from that, but overall I believe we’ve seen the peak of DAU usage.

3. Facebook will mandate exclusive use of FB Credits. We’ll see a cruel thinning of the proliferating payment providers as Facebook takes control of payments on its platform, marginalizing or eliminating by mandate all other solutions. Few complaints from developers, as conversion will improve and there’s a general feeling that ‘yet another’ payments solution is not going to move anyone’s dial. This assumes that Facebook integrates all kinds of localized payment options (SMS, prepaid cards, etc.), which of course they will given their shifting audience.

4. Virality will decline and may cease to be the major force on the FB platform. The changes that Facebook has started to implement will continue into 2010, causing a reduction in virality overall. Facebook is well-established as a great environment to acquire customers and generate revenue. By dialing down the viral component the platform will become less attractive to new developers who lack funding, but it’s not clear that Facebook cares. New apps, in any case, have more opportunity to grow under the radar, bending the guidelines to get a jump-start. Facebook may also address discoverability directly; for example by treating the ‘games channel’ more like a mobile carrier deck and editorially promoting titles.

5. Facebook takes ~50% of game revenues. The payment component is a part of Facebook taking back its rightful share of game revenues on its platform; the massive reduction in virality will be the other key component, driving paid acquisition models and more revenue for Facebook from ads, game placement, etc. Social games’ have been a bonanza because they’ve fed greedily upon FB’s extraordinary user acquisition machine, exceptional openess, and generous viral features, without necessarily returning a lot back to Facebook Inc. or the net user experience of most users. I think Facebook will change that in 2010, and I think they are quite justified in doing so. Successful social games can operate with 60%+ net margins, I think Facebook would quite like the lions share of that.

6. Investment in games continues at a lower rate. There will be a reduction in investment into the category as the hoped for all-boat-floating bonanza of a Zynga IPO does not occur in the first half, if at all (hence the DST $180M with liquidity to employees and perhaps investors) and liquidity prospects for competitors become more evidently muddy. There will be more acquisitions of social games companies by video game publishers and media companies, but I doubt that any will reach the heights of the Playfish deal unless Zynga gets taken out by Activision or a big media company. Early stage and scaling investments will continue as long as small teams continue to produce hits. The question is; will small teams continue to be able to produce hits?

7. Zynga still wins the big game, but doesn’t take all. Zynga will remain the dominant player, but not necessarily for the reasons that people assume (funding, cross-promotion, aggressive cloning). Zynga will continue to win because they have built a powerful learning machine that, as the environment changes, will continue to optimize relentlessly against that environment. They are very good at indentifying what people want, albeit if they make the first stage easier by copying winning game styles, and then bringing highly optimized product to the largest possible audience. I have trouble seeing their larger competitors (EA/Playfish, Playdom, other new big entrants) institutionalizing these skills sufficiently to beat them. I like Crowdstar’s ‘small, fast, profitable’ approach. That said, I believe the market will fracture, with more ‘big niches’, and I don’t think Zynga’s model will work as well — it won’t be so clear what to clone, and there won’t necessarily be enough money in these smaller niches to support the costs of Zynga’s approach, which requires big hits to work, especially in a reduced revenue environment thanks to FB taxes.

8. Sophistication will increase as Facebook games become more ‘really social’, playing to the strengths of small, agile game developers. I think by the end of 2010 we’ll start to see a broad spread of more genuinely social MMO-like games, each with smaller audiences (related to Farm/Pet etc. call it ~5M MAU) take a combined big chunk of FB revenues. Those games will get harder to copy, both because they are more sophisticated, but also because they don’t get big enough to be sure dial-mover for a larger company. For us and smaller companies like us, there will be lots of opportunity to create games with small or mid-scale success, becoming highly profitable in the process. Some of these games will be acquired or funded to large-scale success, but I begin to suspect that many of them will be implicitly niche titles.

9. A lack of any ‘new platform’ to flock to post-Facebook, the iPhone having too many games, too small an audience, an opaque distribution channel, and limited customer willingness to purchase virtual goods. Apple will ship a fabulous iPhone-based tablet, but until discovery is much improved (i.e. one is not reliant on the Apple deck) and pricing sorts itself out, I can’t see the iPhone/iTouch/iTablet platform as an attractive place to try to build a business.

10. The console and traditional video game business continues to decline. Price cuts may help the consoles, but overall I see the continued decline of traditional retail-sold video games as inevitable, particularly if the economy does not recover robustly or declines.

Bonus balls!

11. The Internet is the new Facebook As a consequence of the above a lot of small and large developers may start or resume pondering how to execute on the open web, not necessarily a friendly customer acquisition environment, but at least genuinely open, transparent and pretty much a level playing field. FB Connect will play a part in this, but as soon as you break the psychological safety net of ‘I’m just Facebooking’ by moving people off-site, I think you reduce significantly the customer acquisition advantages of Facebook. This direct to your customers on the Internet stuff is back-to-basics for us.

12. The apocalypse does not arrive, but the economic and political picture of 2010 is not pretty, either. The US economy and the dollar will continue to decline. Although catastrophe has been averted, it’s not clear to me how robust growth will resume. The ability for the US government to fuel growth by printing money has to be limited, not least by the patience of treasury bill holders. For now the house of cards totters on, but I don’t think it will be a return to exciting prosperity this year. The various intractable situations with failed states, political quagmires, interminable war and greedily self-perpetuating oligarchy will continue, but so will the cracks continue to show in at least the latter. I believe and hope that we will continue to be lucky and avoid a nuclear confrontation or other major man-made calamity. In the US the mid-terms will be brutal, doubtless cementing the ineffectuality of government, and in Britain there will be regime change. I remain optimistic that the world is becoming a better place, and I think there’ll be lots of good news in 2010, but I’m finding that hard to predict on a global scale beyond continued inexorable trends towards greater connectivity between people, more sophisticated and open trade, and the march of technology towards liberating us from our earthly constraints.

My resolution this year was simple; to make an improvement every day. So far that’s meant buying a giant iMac for the living room and resolving not to let small things annoy me, so I feel that’s progress already. Have a great year!

Merry Solstice!

Greetings loyal reader. I broke my rule of at least one post every six months by missing the summer solstice! Mea culpa. BTW, in case you are wondering, I try to post on the solstice because it’s an astronomically meaningful event that shakes me out of my blogging stupour, not out of any particular religious conviction. These robes are very comfortable, though.

Personal news:

– I got married in May to the lovely Eunice Moyle (now James)! She’s an entrepeneur, too: her company Hello Lucky makes beautiful stationary. It helps that we have obsessive industriousness in common.

– We went on a fabulous honeymoon to Spain, France and Venice, Italy (and London).

– As a consequence, we are expecting our first child in February! I am very excited to have a tiny minion that will do my bidding at all times. Yes, I have an optimistic view of child development.

I have also been busy with business. A few key things happened that I will probably blog / speak more about later:

– Three Rings adopted a new process for developing games. We call it ‘Customer Development’ after Steve Blank’s and Eric Ries’ entrepreneurial ideas. We’ve introduced testing and metrics much earlier in development, and greater clarity and objectivity to the process of deciding what to make and how to make it. So far it seems to be working pretty well, but the first half of 2010 will really tell.

– We started making Facebook games. Bite Me, a vampire game with WoW-like quests and combat, and Everything, a game about collecting things, are the first two to reach ‘minimum viable product’. Bite Me is doing pretty well. Everything is super fun and simple, but not at all viral, which is a shame. Suggestions welcome! We will release two more FB games early next year.

– With all this Facebook action we have had a smaller team working on Whirled. We remain commited to the project, but it has been hard to find a way to attract players in a sustainable way, and we had to reduce our ongoing investment. Whirled has an incredible group of creative people making cool stuffs, and a small loyal cadre of customers who are buying stuffs from creators for money. So, it’s got legs! Hopefully we’ll find a way to get her running in 2010. I’m grateful to the community for powering this modest success, and thankful that I’m not having to write a blog post like Raph’s today, announcing that is closing. It’s extraordinarily brave to shut down something that’s had so much love and work poured into it. Best of luck to the team there with the next thing.

– Puzzle Pirates continues to do well and remained remarkably resilient this year in the face of the collapse of Western Civilisation (narrowly averted). Look for more cool things next year.

The last year has been a challenging one for the company and for me personally as glorious leader. It’s practically a requirement as an entrepreneur to assume that everything will go according to plan, but it’s also a practical requirement to adapt as circumstances changes and plans have to be altered. These two traits can be hard to reconcile. Three Rings is getting better at adapting and learning fast, and that’s exciting, but it’s still tough to be wrong — and occasionally to shed a tear for spilt milk. In my case, the incredible rise of Facebook as a platform for games blindsided me, and I spent time trying to build a social network just when I should have been hopping onto theirs. I also failed to test the assumptions behind my grand experiment sufficiently until we’d over-invested in those hypothesis. These are good lessons to learn. I’m thankful to the awesome team at Three Rings for sticking with it and learning with me. In 2010 we get to play again.

Next up: predictions and commentary on the ‘social games’ industry for 2010! I’ll try to get that posted before the end of the calendar year. Paste the into your RSS reader and you’ll be alerted to my intermittant blogging, or you can follow me on Twitter where I tweet approximately as often as I blog, but past precedent is not a guide to future performance!

Merry turning of the world, loyal readers. Talking of past precedent, please bring the sun back tomorrow morning, if you would!

Metrics for a Brave New Whirled

This afternoon I delivered a data-packed 30-minute lecture at the GDC Worlds in Motion Summit: Metrics for a Brave New Whirled. In many ways this was an update on the talk Andrew Chen and I did last year at the Virtual Goods Summit (see Andrew’s cool spreadsheet, more info on the talk in my last post). Here’s the talk description:

    Join Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings, on a journey into the mystic realm of MMO metrics: a whirlwind summary of the numbers behind an online games business. The in-flight meal; a delicious serving of fresh data from Whirled, Three Rings’ web-based virtual world of rooms, avatars, games and more, created and sold by players. In addition, a side of metrics from Puzzle Pirates, the hit indie MMO, will be served. The focus throughout will be on the key numbers that define the success of an online game: the user acquisition funnel, retention, referral activity, and revenue generation. By understanding these parameters future pilots will be better equipped to lead successful flights into new online game territory, and hopefully avoid ending their journey in a smouldering crater.

Without further ado, here’s the deck, some of which might actually make sense without me babbling along over the top of it:

You will notice that there’s a metric crapload of Whirled and Puzzle Pirates metrics in there. People often ask me, with a wary look such as you’d give a lunatic, ‘Why do you dish out your numbers like this?’ It’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a direct business benefit to me or Three Rings. I am secure in my infamy. There are possible downsides, but they are limited; if a competitor looks at my numbers and then goes on to execute better than us, I don’t think that has much to do with our numbers. They executed better, that’s the hard bit. Well done to them. If an investor is at all serious about investing in Three Rings, they are going to dig through all these numbers and more. Sure, many of our numbers are not that pretty, right now, but many have improved by an order of magnitude in the last four months. If we can improve them another order of magnitude, then I think investors would respond positively. If we can’t then, well, we’re not executing very well.

The upside is that more information circulates the startup and games community, and more people will share their data. This rising tide will raise all boats. If I can shame my fellows into parting with their data, we’ll all benefit. I don’t mind leading the charge, and if nobody follows, well… I’m used to having arrows in my back!

Besides, everyone wants to know the numbers, everybody loves data. I get thanked every time I dish out some real, concrete information at a conference. ‘Wow, you gave numbers!’ they say, eyes slightly bugging. I’ve paid for enough useless talking-head ‘waffle waffle oh noes i couldn’t tell you our real numbers blah blah but they’re awesome yadda yes i agree ur awesome too waffle’ panels. I’m sick of ’em. If you’re going to stand up in front of a couple of hundred people who’ve paid their hard-won dollars and time to listen to you, the least you can do is deliver value. Think of the children! Or at least, the other entrepreneurs, because we are all pioneers in the wild west of wacky MMO-land, and we need to circle our wagons, share buffalo meat and watch out for rattlesnakes.

As I acknowledged at the beginning of the talk, I am not an expert on metrics. I think of myself as firmly in the ‘Product’ side of some arbitrary spectrum between ‘Product’ (as in wacky, creative and often big ideas) and ‘Iteration’ (small incremental improvements, usually driven by analytics). However, Three Rings and I are trying hard to learn the skills of the analytic, metric and iteration-driven company, in the hope that we can make our crazy big ideas more successful. A lot of my learning has been driven by three excellent chaps whose blogs you are much better off reading than this one: Andrew Chen, Eric Ries and Dave McClure. Specifically this deck is strongly influenced by hilarious ‘AARRR’ rant (Updated). I am indebted to these guys, hats off to ’em.

I’ve also been reading Steve Blank‘s book ‘Four Steps to the Epiphany‘ which I wish I’d read a few years ago. Eric introduced me to this and the related concepts around his ‘Lean Startup’ ideas, and hats off for IMVU for pioneering execution in this style and now sharing with the rest of us.

I was asked in the Q&A about tools and tech for these kinds of analytics. I meant to mention these in the talk, but forgot — that’s what you get for putting your deck together at 1am on a Sunday! Over the last year or so we built a very comprehensive and scalable Metrics platform cunningly named ‘Panopticon’. It’s yet another example our nutty (see ‘Product person above’) proclivity for building ‘yet another startup’ inside of a project (Whirled) that exists inside a startup with four projects (Puzzle Pirates, Bang! Howdy, Whirled, and a sekrit one — and that’s not counting all the Whirled games!) Panopticon is very clever; it writes log data out from our servers to Amazon S3 and then EC2 instances grind the data and then we generate web reports from it. It’s very scalable to large datasets. It’s very complicated. It’s still not quite finished.

Don’t do this. Hack together something as simple as possible — use the database, or start a new logging database if you’re worried about load, run the reports on a slave, etc. Glue in some graphing software. Do the simplest thing possible to get at numbers, just like you should make the minimum viable product. Then iterate. If you run into scaling problems, hurrah! You have scaling problems. Solve them. In the meantime, someone is working on a startup to solve your problems, like my friend Hiten Shah at Kissmetrics . He wants to solve your problem, and promises me that he will be shipping ‘real soon now’. Someone called out Orbus Gameworks, too. Like Billing integration with payment gateways, which I mention briefly, you really don’t want to build this stuff. That’s another one of our startups-in-a-startup, and we’d be happier letting someone else like Twofish, Gambit or FatFooGoo (or many others some of whom I listed in the deck) concentrate on it.

Whilst I am here I may as well list my remaining GDC sessions: tomorrow, Tuesday, at the Indie Games Summit at 11.15am I’m on a panel called ‘The Indie Businessman’ where we will definitely not waffle or nod sagely at platitudes. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I’m reprising the legendary ‘Free to Play, Pay for Stuff’ roundtables with Matt Mihaly. These are awesomely good fun; Matt and I coach a group of very well informed people to dish out numbers, argue violently and pontificate on the future. Worth every penny! This is a pretty light year for me, which is nice.

For the engineering-oriented amongst you, do not miss my partner in crime Michael Bayne deliver his Whirled Tour of Whirled’s technical innards on Thursday at 1.30pm. It will be awesome.

Lastly, many folks have asked if we’re having our usual ultra-legendary GDC party this year. Sadly not; we’re taking a year off as a nod to the collapse of Western Civilisation and our need to preserve our stock of whiskey and baked beans (we’ll need the ammunition to fight off the drunken gatecrashers who just think they didn’t get an invite). Fear not! We’ll be back next year, partying in the rubble and building the New New Whirled Order.

Merry Solstice!

Greetings friends and best wishes for the New (solar) Year to you and yours. Another quick update on items on interest;

Andrew Chen and I did a lecture (y’know, those things with actual content) at this year’s Virtual Goods Summit. The video is embedded below, or can be seen here. Jussi Laakkonen did some awesome mind maps of the talks at the show and also links to more visible slides. The conference was again a resounding success, demonstrating that we’ll see a lot of innovation in virtual goods models in 2009, not least because many folks originally building to an advertising model are fleeing towards virtual goods as the ad market deteriorates.

– We went to New Orleans for Halloween with Because We Canners Jeffrey and Jillian and Instructabots Christy and Eric. It was a lot of fun, featuring a great deal of tasty and often fried foods, graveyards, parades, side parades, cafe burlot and $0.03c martinis! Highly recommended. Eunice and I also took a trip back to London for profit and pleasure (well, a couple of small conferences and visiting the family).

– Having completed (most of) the heavy lifting, we announced that Whirled is Open for Business (numerous press linkies from that page). This means that Billing is in place, with our three currencies (coins for playing, bars for buying, and bling for creators and affiliates earning) and some creators are making money! For extra bonus credit, check out the interviews with Massively and Gamasutra. Thanks to all the folks who covered the news.

– Whirled grew by leaps and bounds. At the end of October we started a Design Your Whirled contest in partnership with deviantArt which was very successful with awesome entries — so much so that we’re having new Contests for room-making and a big Game Developer Challenge with $25k in prizes! Tell your game making friends to get busy, the latter ends January 31st. I’ll be making another post with more detailed Whirled metrics before the end of the (calendar) year.

Let us all take a moment today to thank the sun for returning, and to focus ourselves on indomitable spirit and fearlessness through what may be adverse conditions in the year ahead! With cheerful willingness, we shall prevail… even in the event of Zombies.

– Daniel


Greetings, mates! A quick update from the Captain’s Desk:

* Tomorrow Thursday October 2nd I am going to Startonomics which looks really good.

* Penny Arcade were daft enough to ask me to write a piece on DRM, which I titled ‘Put down the pipe.’. As Tycho points out“… the conversation is wholly the domain of psychotics, dead-enders, revolutionaries, and sophists.” Your vote please as to which bucket I fall into. For the record, I am merely a part-owner of Three Rings, which has many shareholders including our employees and investors, I just have a big mouth and my colleagues extend me unusual freedom to exercise it.

* This is a great post on the role of the CTO on Eric Reis’ blog.

* I was in Austin for the Austin GDC and on a funding panel with Saar Gur, Susan Wu and David King of (lil) Green Patch I waffled something about how a strong CTO should be a member of the founding team. I was on another panel regarding open source and at the Worlds in Motion summit Nabeel Hyatt and I had a rocking session on user-generated content with special guests Merci Grace PMOG, Curt Bereton of Playcrafter and Nicole Lazzaro of Xeo Design. These are all awesome rabbit-holey sites of awesome, visit them. It was a fun session and we didn’t even have to serve drinks. Thanks to those bloggers present for not blogging my (too big-mouthed) presentation!

* I spoke at Siggraph (note to conference operators, please make individual links to talks, so we can uh link to them) on Jason Della Rocca’s panel on user-generated content in games. It was weird; a huge hall with maybe a hundred brave souls after the first hour(!) but I think we said a lot of clever things, aided by ‘user created’ sketches and a guest audience-member from Microsoft flight sim. Siggraph felt kind of sad, rattling around in the giant LA convention center.

* I spoke on virtual worlds on the web at the Virtual Worlds Expo. A lot of folks are betting on corporate applications for VW’s and maybe the time is finally right. Certainly if fuel prices continue to rise flying will become unfashionable. I’m not a huge fan of hurtling through the sky in a tin can, but it will be sad to see less of distant friends and family.

* As a teenager in the ‘duck and cover’ early 80’s I was an avid reader of John Wyndham, and I have a weakness for apocalyptic contemplation. This is an excellent analysis of the credit crisis by Douglas Rushkoff and I like his conclusions; move close to your friends and family (or move them to you, nudge nudge). See also other links from Marc Hurst’s awesome newsletter. It remains to be seen what the effect of the economy throwing a wobbly will be on our business and the small group of generous players who make our games possible. Thanks, and may the force be with us.

* In other portents of the end of the world, the Nautilus was attacked by a motley band of hideous pirates known as the Instructables. After some consideration, the appropriate fiendish rites and a short spell underhill to molder, we performed our Corpse-Craftian Zombie attack on Instructables. Be sure to watch the second half. On the way back I led a small deputation of undead to maraud Eunice and co. at Hello Lucky.

* Hot Facebook news this week as Eunice and I updated our profiles to say ‘Engaged’ and received a slew a congratulations. I actually popped the question back on August 10th, at sundown at the top of Buena Vista Park. We’d been throwing a muddy, drooly ball for Indie and Eunice’s hands were mucky, but she gamely popped on the ring. Hurrah!

* Back to Penny Arcade, Tycho writes that Corpse Craft is “… fucking banging, and may even bang off the hook.” Timothy Conkling and Jon Demos did an fantastic job with this game and are working on an expansion.

* Whirled is really picking up. Something good is happening when every time I login there’s new cool stuffs and when I browse ‘the graph’ (groan) I find pockets of new high-level peoples. More on this in due course, not least when Andrew Chen and I talk about ‘Metrics for Virtual Goods’ at the Virtual Goods Summit on Oct 10th. Apparently he is bringing the brains and I am bringing the data. Mmm, brains.

Having not even begun to catch you up on the last few months, I am afraid that that will be all for this evening. I will endeavour to return soon with more linkage on farming, sewing, bee-keeping and the best spots to establish post-apocalyptic enclaves of right-thinking folk, free of DRM and marauding zombies. Fair winds!

Whirled goes Open Beta

Like a delicious pie long-a-baking, Whirled emerged from the alpha oven this week into flavorful open beta. You can play!

We’ve been in closed invite-only alpha for just over a year, since we announced Whirled at GDC 2007, with a pretty small community of very dedicated and creative players. It’s exciting to see her with 200 simultaneous players. Send me a friend request!

You need Flash 9.0.115 and FF 2/3, IE 7/8 or Safari. Whirled is very Javascript (GWT) and Flash intensive, as Cory discovered. It helps to have Firefox 3 beta 4, which has faster javascript and has fixed problems we were having with Flash ‘starving out’ GWT.

We made most of the games, but only a small part of the other stuff (~600 avatars, ~2,500 pieces of furniture, ~60 pets, etc.) available in the Shop. More about making stuff and a whole bunch of code can be found in the Whirled wiki. The market is fairly robust, for example Starry Night by Pareia and Sassy Skelly by Moppy, each with 200+ sales so far. We have only implemented Coins, the ‘soft’ or ‘attention’ currency, and they are pretty easy to come by playing games.

From the selection of Games: LolCaptions (LOLcats / silent movie captions to flickr photos), Brawler Whirled; (‘A side scrolling crawl-n-brawl game involving swords, gnolls, and cuteness’) by Ian of Mac Hall / Three Panel Soul, Boomie Time (by player The Cosmic Cheese, no graphics, yet),  and Bella Bingo (an experimental in-Whirled game).

We had a plan to go beta in September 2007 with a Facebook app. We had it all working, but with the notable support of our new (as of June 2007) investor Jon Callaghan of True Ventures, we decided to delay and go back to work on UI and polish our selection of multi-player games. I’m glad we did. For the curious, we are not worrying about apps right now, yet verily, you can embed Whirled easily enough in ur myspace. Forsooth, tis old school.

Props to Sadiekate, SilentKnight, with first room embed, Matt, first to post in my reader, and Allakhazam who get first post!1!!

Merry Spring Equinox! All is well, and I hope with you. More soon!

There and (mostly) Back Again; A Solstice Greeting

Greetings loyal reader. Thank you for keeping my in your feeder! I failed in my promise to blog more often, but better late than never.

Some Three Rings news:

Whirled is going very well, but of course has been taking longer than we hoped to reach beta. We have been very much in ‘last 80%’ territory — polishing our multi-player games, fussing with our user interface, and making all the myriad of changes that a few loyal players illustrate the need for. We are optimistic about the prospects for a more public debut early(ish!) in the New Year. Before we do that, though, we will send invites to everyone who’s signed up already.

Puzzle Pirates continues to thrive, with the addition of Atlantean Sea Monsters this autumn and some very exciting things coming up that I’m not allowed to talk about.

The Nautilus continues to amaze; last week I was interviewed for a piece on NPR about Steampunk! I’ll post when I know the air date. I had fun talking through the office and shaking tentacles for the microphone. Those who’ve been for a visit to the office will know that my desk has been in front part of the office: ‘Terra Mundana’ (or ‘Business up front’ as opposed to the ‘Party in the back’ in our mullet school of design). In 2008 I’ll be moving back to Nautilus, to be close to my secret room and the bar, which many of you will know is quite exciting for me.

We’ve had a great year, and I’m very thankful — particularly for the new folks who’ve joined the team and the hard work everyone’s put in. We also have some fabulous new partners that I’ll post about separately in due course.

Some things that I’ve been up to:

As mentioned last time, I went to Ye Olde Burning Man and had a jolly good time pushing my gold box around. Eunice came out to for the weekend and I pushed the box around with her riding on top, like some deranged Pirate Queen riding her treasure chest. Unfortunately getting home turned into a bit of a fiasco, when our rental van was killed by a botched jump-start (tip from the pros: don’t agree to give jump-starts to crazed dusty people with crappy giant RVs when you don’t understand anything about how your vehicle works and a false move might convince the on-board computer to shut it down completely). Queue a two-day wait in white-out conditions for a tow truck to rescue us. It was surreal watching the city dissolve around us, when we could see anything. Fortunately we got home just in time for me to take a bath and roll back out to Austin for the Austin Game Conference. Once again I made to our session on start-up lessons with not a lot of time to spare. I don’t remember much else about Austin but I think it was fun! I believe next year they’re having the show a little later in September, which will be nice.

I went to Hawaii for David Hornik’s conference: The Lobby (I know, linking to Valleywag, but there’s no official public conference website afiak). It was really good fun, very interesting and nice people — some I knew, others were new. Lots of folks had family and SO’s out there, which gave the event a different feel. A big shout-out to Raj Kapoor for pulling of ‘I wanna be sedated’ with a crowd of pogo-ing entrepreneurs and VCs.

I was photographed for a fashion blog at the Alameda Flea Market, wearing the suit I found for The Lobby, where I’d met Evan Williams and his wife, and we’d talked about Mai who took the photo, of me wearing the suit…

Some industray action:

Since blogging last time that Thinglefin got funded, like a juicy minnow they were snapped up Big Fish Games. I can see a lot of sense in that — Peter Thelen (now Chairman) has been looking to get into the casual MMO business for a while, and certainly Thingelfin’s efforts will benefit from Big Fish’s awesome distribution. We’ve struggled a lot with that side of things at Three Rings, as I’ve ranted about here in the past, so I see this as an encouraging sign. Congratulations to all.

IAC acquired a majority stake in Garage Games with a plan to build out InstantAction a destination for rich, 3D in-browser games. I believe they’re going to do this via the Torque plugin. It’s my belief that getting the target audience, presumably folks who play on Miniclip, AddictingGames, etc. to install anything is very challenging, but I wish them luck.

FlowPlay had a brief Beta, which was neat — taking standard Flash casual games into a Flash (lots of Flex, I feel for their engineers!) virtual world. Welcome to the 80%-land I mentioned above, Derrick! Meez also has some of this game action going on.

LiveGamer announced with an enormous pile of VC and some impressive initial contracts to provide publisher-authorized secondary markets. As usual, I agree with Raph that this is so much of an inevitability that it should be uncontroversial. However, what LiveGamer is most definitely NOT is “eBay for virtual world goods”. As I understand it, LiveGamer is a technology provider to publishers allowing them to easily put up co-branded, walled garden marketplaces. It is not trying to facilitate any kind of cross-game marketplace. If it was, I think people like SOE and GoPets would have a lot more problem signing a contract with them — why send your most profitable players to a cross-publisher market? This would seem to only encourage the worst possible behaviour from a publisher’s point of view — liquidating your assets in one game to surf on over to another. I’ve been pitched such ‘opportunities’ and my response was a resounding ‘Bzzt’. The pitcher’s response was to say that I was taking an AOL-esque ‘walled garden’ view, to which my reply was ‘Flawed analogy, but sure, until there is an eBay with critical mass where I might reasonably thing I would attract users rather than lose them, I’ll stick with my nice walled garden’. Anyway, you’re not going to see a Puzzle Pirates LiveGamer marketplace soon… frankly I’m not quite sure what’s complicated about the technology — compared to building an actual MMO it seems pretty straightforward. Didn’t Sony do this themselves with the Station Exchange? Maybe they know something I don’t.

MetaPlace announced. Raph and I had a fun conversation around a year and a half ago where we revealed a few cards to each other about our ‘next thing’. We shared the same ‘flop’ but had different cards in the ‘hole’. I agree with a lot of Damion’s thoughts and the comments thereof, in particular I think creating a world is really hard, non-professionals creating one that works on the web and a phone, or in 2D and 3D, seems improbable. Our bet is more on the ‘social network with games’ than the ‘your own world’. I look forward to seeing us both out there in 2008 and kicking ass.

No sooner do I predict a wobble in the Second Life economy for the Virtual Worlds News 2008 Forecast PDF (well worth a read, post forthcoming on 2008 predictions in general) then Second Life releases metrics showing flat user growth. This could be just fine, but it’s my suspicion that momentum in key parts of SL’s economy, particularly real estate, rely on continued new entrants into the economy and existing property-holders retaining rather than liquidating their assets. I still lub Second Life though.

Some blog action:

Damion on repeatability — as some posters point out, this was exactly the problem I was trying to solve with Puzzle Pirates.

Jeremy Liew on well, pretty much everything. If you’re interested in making games and the funding thereof, this is a must-read.

Andrew Chen is awesomely smart and cracking some codes.

Janus Anderson has a new minty-fresh blog that starts with a guide to, well, making a blog. My version of first few steps: use Dreamhost, click butan to install WordPress. Also one might use which seems to work well enough for Jeremy and relieves one of responsibility for the potential security worries of running server software.

Brad feld on the 19% of users who matter is worth a read, back to the Pareto 80/20 rule.

Only in China would wealthy WoW players be able to ‘make it real’. The bad movie club at work just watched a Steven Seagal movie based on this plot premise (minus the MMORPG bit).

And now to the silly section:

This Zero Punctuation review of Tabula Rasa cracked me up… ‘all a bunch of pointless timesinks for socially maladjusted freaks with self-diagnosed Aspergers syndrome’ indeed.

Timely with all this secondary market stuff, but ancient and already blogged to bits Excel the MMO.

Likewise, if by chance you don’t read TechMash or whatnot, this Richter Scales ‘Here Comes Another Bubble’ is hilarious. Note: I am firmly on the side of ‘if your photo is on the web you should be happy someone used it’, but I guess considering what we’re making with Whirled, that is no surprise.

I heard this catchy tune on the radio and looked it up on YouTube. Turns out the talented and pretty (and, nsfw warning, rather underclothed) singer Natasja died in a car crash. This is sad. Wait, I thought this was the silly section? Anyway, hopefully being listened to (and possibly ogled) on YouTube is a legacy of sorts. Woop woop!

Awesome Puzzle Pirates Fake Movie Posters, if you scroll down/page through enough you really get to the embarrassing bit.

That’s all folks for today! I don’t blog often, but when I do a giant bubble of saved up blogliness bursts all at once, so thanks for making it this far. Once more I’ll try to post more frequently ‘going forward’ into 2008.

Merry Solstice! Take a moment to ask the sun nicely to return today.

A Whirlwind Update

Ahoy mates, it’s been too long again. I am a bad blogger. Bad Cap’n! I promise to be better. Apart from whiskey and wench (note the shocking lack of plural there) here’s what’s been keeping me busy and amused;

– Whirled proceeds apace. We will be making announcements soon — for now we’re still in super secret closed alpha, but there are a few invites floating about. Lots of fun watching people create new stuff.

– All kinds of excitement on the high seas of Puzzle Pirates, which I’m not allowed to talk about either. Monstarrrs!

– I spent a lot of time talking to prospective investors earlier this summer. More on that soon.

– Conferences: The Virtual Goods Summit (videos on the site) was fascinating. This emerging business model is obviously capturing the attention of very smart entrepreneurs and investors — lots of competition for the likes of us, which is great. I very much believe that the best thing that can happen is for the market to be grown and lots of experimentation to take place. It was also noticeable at Casual Connect that a lot of investment is going into casual MMOs from the likes of Viacom. I remain sceptical that large corporations will lead the charge here, my bet is with the startups. Nonetheless, it does seem that 2007 is the year of the online game.

– Talking of startups, competition and investors, there’s been a rash of funding announcements recently; Thinglefin raised $1M (congrats Toby and co), Conduit Labs raised $5.5M (congrats Nabeel, Dan, and co.) and Kongregate raised $5M (congrats Jim and co)! All three of these seem to have great prospects (what little I know of Conduit and Thinglefin as they are very sekrit), playing in the same space as us. Good!

– Like many others, I noticed that Club Penguin got acquired for loadsamoney. Congratulations to the founders and penguins! I think this is great news for ‘the industray’ and, given $30M in net profit on $60M revenues, I don’t think the price is outrageous. That said, it looks pretty rich on the per-registered user or subscriber side, but I believe that Disney can make Penguin grow. I was annoyed but unsurprised when the press releases and coverage generally gave no mention to Miniclip who have powered the majority of Penguin’s growth, along with Runescape and Puzzle Pirates (miniclip have contributed ~1M out of our ~3M registrations).

– Second Life banned Wagering on non-skill-based games. I’ve been waiting for their move here a while, and I think that this is probably the best policy they could adopt. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out. I share some recently blogged concerns that the Linden might not do well in a liquidity crisis without a bail-out from Linden Lab, but we shall see.

– I was very, very drunk when they shot this video at our GDC party.

– I love the Paleo Future.

– Finally I’ve been quoted by the Beeb. My legacy is complete! Actually I was paraphrasing A. C. Clarke; This medium is going to destroy TV – and it’s going to happen in short term.” I’m pretty sure I gave attribution at the time!

– Talking of legacies, I was immortalised in Toast.

– The office, much more deserving, got immortalised in Wired.

– If you fancy working somewhere this fabulous, Three Rings is hiring.

Next week I am off to the desert for ye olde Burning Man. The theme this year is ‘The Green Man’ which slightly annoys me for such a totally entropic event in the same way as would a self-righteous hippy lecturing about recycling, organic food and cycling everywhere before holding forth about their fabulous trip to Bali (thus negating their low-carbon lifestyle in one fell global warming plane flight). Still, I am being ‘green’ by recycling last year’s art project, Dora’s Boxen, and trying to generally avoid buying any new stuff to cover in dust. Talking of recycling, last night I put a bunch of old dusty rubbish out on the street and lo! this morning it was all whisked away by eager passersby. Go San Francisco!

Back from BM and I’m straight off to Austin for ye olde Austin GDC where I’ll be on a panel about startups with some of my friendly competitors. I’m also going to be speaking at the Virtual Worlds conference in October. Then I think there’s a conference breather until next year. I can’t make it this year, but I recommend anyone who’s not heard of it to consider Project Horseshoe which was totally fabulous last year.

Fair winds!