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May 15 13

Why I love video game development

by Rita Turkowski

Do you remember your first video game? I’m talking about the one you made, not played. I remember mine like it was yesterday but it was more like 20 years ago. I couldn’t wait to learn how to make every aspect of it, it was totally addictive and I worked like 16 hour days to finish it. It took me three months. Alone. Thankfully I was being paid to make it. You see, it was actually a research project, and I was the young intern who “got multimedia” so I got the task as a young computer graphics researcher at a wonderful but now defunct research institute. So, what was the first thing I did? For me, it was learning how to do anything I could think of that would go into my game. In the early days, it involved everything from importing super simple art (never my own, often clip art like junk from the late 80′s or early 90′s) to crafting animation code so my characters would move in my simple scenes. After I had the basics (and it was very basic!) I then went on to think about adding some UI and interactivity in my game. I wanted to learn it all, and do it all, but I didn’t have a lot of patience. I was young (and probably stupid too). What I did have then was time. Now, I’m older, wiser, way busier but more experienced. I know I can’t do it alone and I know I would need a world class team. I also know the time to market for any game keeps shrinking, and the pressure to finish on time rising inversely.

The experience I’ve gained over the years has led me to a new understanding and appreciation of game development. When I think of a game I’d like to build, I immediately make a plan, even if just in my head. That plan always includes pulling together the best team I can find. I work on a storyboard and think about finding a great game designer. Whom do I seek out next? Artists, of course. And a bit later? Animators. The software developers and level editors come a bit later. And who do you think I would go to at the end? Right before publishing? The agency folks who find the right people to make a killer trailer. It’s always good to be prepared in case you want to go the crowd funding route, right?

Today, I wouldn’t think of doing all the art production in-house. I mean seriously, how few people in our world can create something like this amazing mythical bird from DeNA’s Chains of Durandal WhiteBirdFromChainsofDurandal
here?

I wouldn’t think of creating my marketing trailer in house either. Likely, you wouldn’t either. It’s just too expensive, too time consuming and too slow. Enter GameCo. They made this amazing creature for the good folks over at DeNA. I found these guys about six months ago and fell in love with their work, so much so that I offered to represent them at the Game Conference and GDC this year. They’ve already helped so many great studio’s get fabulous games out – on time and within budget. Look at Chains of Durandal by DeNA and Lord of the Dragons from KLab Games as just two awesome examples of game art by GameCo Studios. Now that I’ve moved on to new adventures in my life, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out for GameCo. They are just THAT good.

Contact my friends at GameCo if you want to learn more about how they can help or contact me next time you hit the wall and art production is falling behind or worse, is just not going to cut it. I’ll make sure you meet the right people at GameCo.

They’ll help you get that art production done and it will look amazing. I promise you that.

Jan 24 13

Five key lead generation strategies for game industry tech start-ups

by Rita Turkowski

Recently I was asked to pull together a simple “one-pager” on lead gen for a game industry start-up. While lead gen has been always been a big part of offline marketing (outbound marketing for sure), today any study of lead generation primarily focuses on online tactics (called inbound) lead generation. See HubSpot’s excellent ebook on the subject for instance and you’ll know what I mean. This said, I took it upon myself to think about what successful lead generation might look like both online and offline for companies providing tech solutions in the game dev space.

In my opinion, effective lead generation is a part of any creative, integrated, multi-channel marketing function that helps build brand awareness and reputation. It should provide a steady flow of qualified sales leads reflecting upon the effectiveness of your company’s marketing initiatives, both inbound and outbound.

Strictly addressing the problem from a marketing perspective, here are five ways you should address lead generation after determining the bait you are going to put on the hook to generate leads; in general lead generation offers are designed to motivate a response. The offer should provide a reason to act, or minimally, contact your organization for more information. It can be a consumer-like incentive with personal benefit to the recipient, or it can be related to solving a business problem.

Hare are my five key lead gen techniques:

  • Content marketing

Never launch anything without a blog, but your potential customers need to know the company, and especially the blog, exists, so you’ll have to work hard initially to get the word out.  Blog posts can be reseeded to analysts and game industry/enterprise industry news sites hungry for content. Start promoting your site and your blog on twitter, create a LinkedIn Group, or get very active in one in your area of expertise. Also consider answering questions on Quora as often as you can.  Write and publish white papers. Post your slide decks on Slideshare or Scribd or whichever site you like for publishing slide decks. Ask to get included in industry newsletters by writing some content. If you build any kind of tool, create repurpose-able content, or have an API or SDK you want to promote, try to get into any industry app stores, such as the Unity Asset Store  – minimally for market outreach (e.g., to send developers back over to your site to check out your product), or craft an SDK  to give away.

  • Live marketing

Do webinars. Often. Many services exist to support webinars, but if you want free ones, check out FrechTechTips.com 9 Best Free Webinar Software For Marketers And Businesses. More recently Google+ Hangouts has become popular. Everyone from the tech support folks to the CEO can and should participate, time permitting. Often the webinars flow well when presented in Q&A or interview form. Attend and speak at as many conferences as you can. Many gaming and game industry small conferences and meet-ups happen in big cities such as SF and NYC, so be prepared to travel if you don’t live in a bigger city. Have your execs and top tech guys do interviews wherever you can get them in. This is not hard if you have the connections. Cold call if you have to to make the connections.

  • Channels marketing

Seek out and take advantage of any and all possible partnerships. Bring on a few choice resellers. Research and make a short list for US, Canada, Asia, Europe, LATAM and Australia. Set up an affiliate service on or off your web site. Don’t totally ignore education channels. Have a presence at a few big universities so students are aware of the company. Good way to get good interns as well, and when they join the workforce they will promote your company.

  • Social media marketing
Gleanster Social Media Deep Dive Survey

Gleanster Social Media Channels used by Top Performers

Set up a LinkedIn Group or get super active on other groups and enhance your Facebook page, or create a new one for each product. Be on twitter every day, tweet and retweet often. Create a Pinterest page of any good visuals from games helped by your tech, fun “life at my_company ” photos and/or create and pin infographics about successful customer campaigns thanks to your tech’s help. Perhaps get active on Instagram as well. Go wherever game developers hang out. Social is easy and there are many paths to great social media marketing. I would suggest trying out a lead tool such as Lead Rocket to manage this in conjunction with any email campaign strategy you are already thinking of.

  • Traditional media outreach and PR

Put out Marketwire press releases from time to time. Work the analysts. Get on the radar of a few large analysts and hopefully get mentioned in their reports, e.g., IDC, M2 Research, Newzoo (Europe), Screen Digest, NPD, Jaffe, etc. which should lead to better, pre-qualified leads. Ask analysts, thought leaders and pundits to conduct product reviews for your product specifically. Good reviews are gold, less than stellar reviews will yield useful feedback. Take out a full-page or back cover ad in Game Developer or Casual Connect magazines if you have a catchy tag-line or clever ad, but user test it before spending the big bucks this requires. Consider traditional lead gen techniques such as buying mailing lists from IGDA, GDC, IGN, GBR, etc. if possible (and if desired). Obviously host game jams and contests. Charity:  consider contributing some tech developer time to Humble Bundle and maybe get a little exposure from this while contributing to a nice cause.

Lastly, make sure everyone in your company, from the admins to the CEO know how to state your value prop and your mission clearly and succinctly, as word of mouth is still your best (and free) marketing tool.  A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services.

Dec 21 12

The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 4: Obstacles to overcome

by Rita Turkowski

It’s no surprise that HTML5 has not yet delivered on all its promises. WebGL has some major dependencies on HTML5 issues being resolved before we’ll see many awesome games, efficient 3D content creation apps, or secure 3D enterprise apps. For simplicity, I’ve dumped the issues into two buckets, technical and non-technical.

Technical:

In the specific case of 3D interactive applications, there are several issues that currently prevent HTML5 to be used as a practical delivery platform. In particular 3D hardware acceleration (GPU) is still not available as a mainstream feature. While the specification for WebGL exists, unfortunately it has not yet been widely implemented on major mobile devices (i.e., no WebGL access on iOS) and on major web browsers (no WebGL in IE 6/7/8/9/10 where the market is still so fragmented it will take years for IE users to migrate up to 10, even if it did support WebGL!) Google and Mozilla (Chrome and Firefox) have been providing an ‘experimental-webgl’ canvas 3D implementation for a while now, but it still suffers from driver issues (see the blacklist/whitelist for WebGL capable drivers). More importantly, the WebGL 1.0 specification is providing a subset of OpenGL-ES 2.0 specification while native applications on desktop have far more capabilities through OpenGL 4.x or DirectX 11.

Pretty much everyone with any knowledge of HTML5 (in general) will tell you that the largest challenge HTML5, and hence WebGL, face is security. Beyond the many blog posts, many Khronos meetings and HTM5 related conferences, security remains the greatest obstacle to HTML5′s adoption, particularly for enterprise and business productivity applications. HTML5 has other obstacles to overcome before becoming mainstream, and those coming from 3D support not the least of them. None of the outstanding API issues such as those maintained by the Khronos Group public WebGL forum will matter much until HTML5 architects and experts finds solutions to more pressing concerns such as security, but also UX (including supporting push notifications), the ability to handle a C++ API (a la NaCL beyond Chrome) or even compute on the GPU (WebCL) for web applications. Another issue with HTML5 is that it is limited on access to device specific hardware. In particular access to file system is very limited due to security concerns, but also to other important device specific inputs – such as camera, microphone, GPS, or simply USD (devices). This alone is preventing HTML5 to be used to create web “apps,” limiting its use to only web pages.

Performance

In addition to pure graphics acceleration, performance in general is a major concern, as JavaScript is a bottleneck for any intensive CPU activity. While there has been a lot of progress made on this and more to come in the future, the path is not clear (Google Native App? Dart replacing JavaScript? Some serious improvements in Javascript?) on how it will all get resolved. WebGL does solve the plug-in issue, as JavaScript now has access to the 3D accelerated features without the need for a plug-in, but it only scratches the surface. For instance, physics, animations, AI and other CPU intensive operations have to be done in the JavaScript engine, which lacks the performance for that type of content now expected by the consumer. WebGL itself is also limited to generic 3D graphics features, and is available on a limited set of hardware and browsers. So for the time being WebGL applications will be limited to nice looking demos, experiments and 3D augmented web pages.

Non-technical:

When I look at the politics of WebGL adoption, browser providers such as Google (Chrome), Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari) all do a pretty good job supporting WebGL. However, Microsoft (IE) has yet to make a decision if they want to jump onto the WebGL bandwagon.  Whether they do or not, only time will tell if they lose market share for IE because of it, but their security concerns, and the way they look out for their enterprise IE customers, is admirable, if indeed that is their only true concern.

Mobile is a different story.

On mobile

You know WebGL for mobile has a way to go when one of the coolest things out there is actually a cute little platformer game that outlines the challenges of HTML5  game development for mobile. Look no further than the presentation game created by  Pascal Rettig on the html5gamedevelopment.org  site based on his own engine, Quintus, This said, the big takeaway here is the promise of  very efficient WebGL game dev that fully utilizes all the features of HTML5, paring a  small platformer game such as the one shown on Quintus down to just 60 or so lines of code! Beyond the write once, deploy everywhere mantra HTML5 developers espouse, let’s not forget that HTML5 and WebG should also bring developers greater efficiency and simplicity since HTML5 with WebGL will be providing so much of what they need.
Why have we not seen WebGL deployed on mobile, specifically for mobile apps. Why? Apple iOS lockdown and Google’s Android group’s aversion to all things WebGL, for very solid business reasons. Apple, (and even Google Android) garners no immediate marketplace advantage by openly and fully supporting WebGL for mobile, and what they provide for app developers in their iOS  and Android toolkits is not only sufficient right now, but also maintains their enviable profitable (and closed) mobile app development position. I suspect Google’s Android team will come around much faster than Apple will.

Regarding the competition

Adobe and Unity stand out as proprietary platform competition for WebGL. Adobe is not as much of a sleeping giant as one might think and Flash has nicely advanced to accommodate hardware accelerated 3D via Stage 3D. The Stage 3D platform   has also gained enough traction to have its own ecosystem of viable support applications such as Flare3D, Away3D, Alternativa and Minko, – all linked to from the Adobe Stage 3D website.

Unity continues to gain traction with significant software updates (Unity Pro 4.0 is now out, and includes advanced animation support via Mechanim) and a strong developer user base (1.5M developers and growing). It’s highly likely that for at least the foreseeable years, it’s proprietary platform will continue to be used by indies, non-game  developers, casino gambling developers and other kinds of developers who care more about using Unity’s easy to use editor (and/or require a cross-platform solution) than an open web platform 3D engine.

Standards

Khronos made an intelligent decision to open up the WebGL working group to stimulate and encourage open discussion, and their public WebGL forum - where most key discussions take place, was the right move for enabling the most comprehensive WebGL spec development. The other issue however is conformance. While Khronos has done a pretty good job with conformance test creation and testing for OpenGL|ES and COLLADA, they  did not initially a) make the tests freely available to be used informally by implementers and thus have their products improved upon because of such testing or  b) market the test suites to developers who may not also be Khronos members. Frequently I see complaints about COLLADA being too complex and that COLLADA’s complexity hinders the “adoption of the standard,” but if they knew they could conform to Khronos’ COLLADA conformance suites, they would be more successful adopting, implementing and supporting the standard. Fortunately, that lesson has been learned for WebGL and Khronos is ahead of the eight ball on this one, providing an implementer’s portal on Khronos.org from pretty much the beginning.

Summary

There is no doubt HTML5 will evolve into a fantastic standard framework for interactive 3D applications such as games, but it will likely take years for HTML5 tools to catch up to the quality we find today for proprietary 3D platforms. The entire industry is converging with the concept of HTML5, although this is currently a moving target with many different variations. Apple has rejected Flash (and it’s plug-in technology) in favor of native apps, or HTML5 content. Microsoft windows 8 will use HTML5 and JavaScript for their new desktop interface. Google is pushing HMTL5 technology, collaborating with all the web browsers such as Mozilla, Opera, Safari. The effort is on open source software (WebKit, chromium,..) and open standards to expose hardware to the web browser (not just WebGL, but also WebCL, streamAPI…).

HTML 5 is slowly but surely adding all kinds of technologies into the web browser and exposing it to web developers. Perhaps because of HTML5′s collaborative and open nature, as well as the complexity to create and deliver something that does not introduce security issues, it may take years before WebGL exists in a stable deployment environment. Also, Microsoft (IE) who still has a large part of the web browser market still has not decided if they will support WebGL in their browser, of if they will stay on the plug-in path with a proprietary solution, competing with Flash, et. al.

However, HTML5 is leveraging the web architecture, which provides technologies and lets the ecosystem decide how applications will be architectured between the client and the server. This is the strength of the web, the ability for the client(s) to collaborate with the server(s) and split where the data should be stored and processed for a given application, enabling content to always be up to date, and sometimes created on demand by the server. Because the server is visible to many clients, it also enables user interaction, made popular by social applications such as Facebook, twitter, etc.

 This concludes my 4 part blog post on The Promising Future for WebGL. I hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to comment.

How to get involved

If you want to learn more about how to get involved making WebGL successful, check out the Khronos web site for all goings-on with WebGL.

Rita

Dec 14 12

The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 3: Beyond Games

by Rita Turkowski

Beyond games,WebGL has broad applicability in the education, scientific and simulation space as well. In my opinion, the best compendium for WebGL experiments can be found on the Google Chrome site, with my favorite being the 3D aquarium: this one rivals similar ones I’ve seen built in the Unity engine. But I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention how gorgeous Alexsandar Rodic’s jelly fish experiment is which I first encountered back in spring or summer of 2010 at a WebGL MeetUp in SF. There are likely many strong use cases for WebGL outside of gaming.

To categorize just a few, here are just a few cool non-game related applications WebGL is being applied to:

WebGL Aquarium for the Chrome WebGL experiments page

Earth and Space

CAD Display and CAD Tools

More can be found on Pearltrees - CAD in the browser with WebGL 

CAD in the Browser by Pearltrees

CAD in the browser with WebGL

 Scientific Visualization

…and this is but a few!

3D Books

Not long ago I ran across a spectacular Google Chrome WebGL experiment showing a 3D flip books. Stunning. But also noteworthy is Google’s WebGL bookcase from their Chrome experiments workshop.Oh so useful WebGL bookcase!

3D Imagery

It was fun to add more daughter’s photo to Surface by Paul Lewis. This screen shot of Marielle inside Surface does not do justice to the fact that you can change some given parameters and make the image interactive. You can tweak the magnitude, elasticity, auto orbit, wireframe, and even add some raindrops to interject some mood into the your image demo.

Marielle in Surface

Surface by Paul Lewis. Model: Marielle Turkowski

Rutt-Etra-Izer is another fun image manipulation app from the Hongkiat.com WebGL Chrome Experiments site.

Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment

Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment

But wow, what a completely different look Marielle has ;). Lastly, if you’re into image data collection, check out the WebGL Demo – Picture map.

3D Printing

I recently came across a nice compendium of WebGL enabled 3D printing applications on the Developing Dream blog. One of the early WebGL supporters for 3D printing that stands out is My Robot Nation, acquired by 3D Systems, as has Cubify, (recall that I used a photo of the WebGL 3D “print” I made at Cubify as the first image in part 1 of this series) been acquired by 3D Systems. And while it’s undeniable that WebGL holds great promise for 3D printing technology, 3D printing is not without its detractors, as evidenced by being at the top of the 2012 Gartner hype cycle, where 3D printing is one of the technologies identified as being at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in this year’s Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.

WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen VerhagenWebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen

WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen

A thought…

At last count, there were hundreds of WebGL experiments on Google’s Chrome Experiments site, and some very impressive GL experiments on the Google code site for WebGL samples. As you can gleam from this post and the one before it, I think it’s becoming more and more apparent WebGL is on its way to catching up with the 2D and image manipulation applications already out there on the web. Sure, there is a way to go still until their UX catches up; in fact, I think this is the part of WebGL application development that gets sorely underserved but as soon as the framework developers and spec engineers take a step back, and the UI and UX web designers step up to work on the WebGL end-user applications, I think we’ll start to see some very cool stuff that will rival the best coming out of other 3D application development communities. I also predict there will be more and more scientific and enterprise applications taking advantage of WebGL over the next few years as the technology stabilizes, but more on that in Part 4! Please feel free to point me to what I may have missed, correct any mistakes I’ve made in this post or just plain rant.  I’m all ears!