Scott Howard
These are the personal musings of Scott Howard, Producer / Designer / Gamer

Over the last 15 years in the games industry I have worked on console, mobile, social and free to play games enjoying the nuance and challenges each of these brings. 
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Free to Play

What is there to like about Free to Play? Why would anyone like making games that seem to employ tricks, blocks in play, obvious frustration and other mechanics to seemingly try to squeeze every last penny out of a player? 

There has been much debate among gamers, developers, designers and product people as to the merits or evils of free to play vs pay to play game development. As someone who has worked on pay to play games for consoles (Dreamcast, Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube) and mobile (Nokia and iPhone), as well as free to play games in browsers, I can say I truly love the free to play space. There is a potential there that is just wonderful to develop for and it comes down to a simple Order of Operations.


Order of operations for F2P
  • Step 1 - Figure out how to make a fun game that engages people.
  • Step 2 - Figure out how to get a reasonable amount of the player base to spend enough to sustain the business.
Order of operations for P2P
  • Step 1 - Figure out how you are going to get people's money.
  • Step 2 - Figure out how to give them entertainment value greater than or equal to the money they just spent.
As a product owner on a F2P game, I get to spend the bulk of my time focusing on making a great game, something that hooks people in and delights them as they experience it. That is not to say I can afford to ignore the other half of the equation, but it comes secondary to the first part in the order of operations. Without a great game it is very hard to make a sustainable business for it. Possible yes, but not easy and not without churning through tons and tons of new players in the process.


On the other hand, when making P2P games, the first thing I have to ask myself is, "how do I get someone to spend <n> amount on this game before they know that it is any good?" that is what I have to send hours, days and weeks looking to solve. In the order of operations, if I can't do that, I can't get to step two - make a fun game that engages people. This is the aspect most people forget about when they erroneously believe that pay to play game development is all about making fun games. The cold reality is, making the fun game is actually step two for anyone looking to sell games as a sustainable business.


To me this is the promise of the F2P era and the potential that it has to push the games industry in new and different ways, finding new game mechanics, business models and even ways in which games evolve over time with the direct interaction of players. Is there a lot of bad along the way? Of course there is, seeing games like Dungeon Keeper on iOS and Heroes of Dragon Age on iOS, make me wince a little every time I open them up to play, since they clearly are examples of the wrong order of operations in F2P. They took the route of, "I have this valuable IP, how do I squeeze more money out of it in this new F2P space?"


For anyone starting up in F2P or for people who have been making F2P games for years now, I implore you to think about this order of operations and solve step 1 - Figure out how to make a fun game that engages people. Step 2 becomes a whole lot easier and more satisfying after that.

“We Dare” You to Buy This in the US

The Wii platform was ridiculed before it’s release as a kid only platform for dated graphics, silly name, unconventional controller, etc, but when it hit, it hit like a train wreck into Sony’s and Microsoft’s bottom lines. Even after a very successful launch with sold out consoles across the globe, people still made fun of the system as “for kids only”, but then there was Wii fit and whole gyms opened up with nothing but Nintendo Wii’s and balance boards in some futuristic digital yoga studio.

(Note this is about the right physical shape for the average Wii user)

Microsoft even had to make a quick 180 and run a whole campaign on “Let’s Play” attempting to re-brand the Xbox as family friendly when they originally billed the system as, ”The beginning of the HD era”. Fast forward and now we see this coming out from Nintendo and all I can say is, (in my best Liz Lemon voice) “What the what?”

Personally I applaud Ubisoft for making such a game and bucking the trend to make yet another motion controller wagging piece of shovel ware, but I am not sure there is a huge market demographic of 20-30+ year old, Wii owners, without kids, who throw dinner parties in miniskirts and ties. Then again, maybe it is a euro only thing, since this game is not coming to the US any time soon.

Blue Screen of Death - Now on Nokia Devices


Ok that was just some gratuitous sensationalism to get your attention and well because I am a visual guy and I tend to think in pictures. I really had no choice, but to make the above image, if for no other reason than it makes me chuckle a little on the inside every time I look at it.

Truth be told, I like Nokia, I worked there over 5 years, and I like Microsoft, I own an X-Box and play the hell out of it any chance I get, so the recently announced deal between the two should be music to my ears, but sadly it is not.

It is not that I don t want both companies to succeed, indeed I do, I believe that the mobile market and markets in general, are better when more companies compete to earn my consumer dollars, but Nokia has not been able to design and release a truly iconic, ground breaking piece of hardware in years and though they can ship boxes like nobody's business, their margins are getting thinner and thinner

So can they now, with the help of Windows Phone 7, release a great, incredible, amazing product? A product that might actually see the light of day in North America?


Personally I am skeptical. Window Mobile Phones have not taken off and Android continues to chug along like a giant snowball rolling down hill. Not to pour salt in the wound, but this was one of the comments I read today about the announcement;

Bing? What's that?
Let me Google it.

Even though I am skeptical, I have to say I am honestly hopeful that I am wrong and Nokia+Microsoft (Microkia?, NokiSoft?) snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.


The Awesomeness Manifesto

Highly interesting read over here at the Harvard Business Review - The Awesomeness Manifesto.

Not sure how much I agree with Mr. Haque about the end of innovation, but I totally agree with his notion of designing and building products/services you love, that add real value to people's lives. Summarized in the article:

Let's summarize. What is awesomeness? Awesomeness happens when thick — real, meaningful — value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That's a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.

Well said sir, well said.


Public Transit + Multiplayer Gaming = Win!

As videogames move out of the basement and into mainstream culture, I am sometime astounded where they end up. Being fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area I have the luxury of seeing such innovation as multiplayer videogames as part of our local bus system.

To confess, I have not actually had the chance to play any of these games, but I applaud the effort of Yahoo, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agent and Clear Channel in coming up with this concept. 


Looks like you can check out more details here at tons of shots from various bus stops and the latest news on how North Beach and the Tenderloin are still neck and neck. 

Now I think I need to go ride the bus to help the North Beach team out ...