Tuesday, March 18

Games Developers Conference - San Francisco

A little late, but here are my thoughts on the GDC conference I attended back in February.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of Flash Lite content at the event. Adobe had a small stand during the mobile conference, which gained some attention from delegates, but I was disappointed that none of the speakers were from Adobe, nor that there was any key figures from the Flash Lite world speaking at the event. There were plenty of people talking about Flash Lite, and whenever it was mentioned; at least people had heard of it, which is contrary to events I’d been to over the last few years. However although it was on people’s radars, no-one talked about using it on current projects, or had any immediate plans to do so either.

There weren’t any really exciting revelations, or new thinking that I heard. There is certainly lots of scope for improvements in the mobile industry, but progress appears to be slow and difficult for all those involved. The industry in Korea is a lot more mature that the US and Europe, and this was made even more apparent with a speaker from ... who joyfully spoke about a number of projects they have worked on. I realised how far we have yet to go, when models that are only pipe dreams in the US are already second nature to the industry in Korea such as complex social multiplayer gaming and micro transactions.

Distribution and porting were the two most discussed topics over the course of the event, unfortunately with little being said on what the solutions might be for developers. Porting is an ever increasing issue, with more and more devices available, and the insistence of carriers to support all devices. The estimated costs of porting pretty much double the initial development costs for a game, and it doesn’t look like improving any time soon. Everyone is fed up with this situation, and yet as an industry we continue to follow this route blindly where there is clearly an opportunity for a disruptive change in this field. Obviously Flash has an advantage here, and as we reach a milestone of ½ billion Flash Lite devices shipped, and with Microsoft signing to ship Flash Lite on Windows Mobile devices, this advantage is always increasing.

Advertising was probably the third topic of choice, with the general consensus not being very positive to the money making potential for a sustainable business model. The large cost of development for current games has a negative impact on the ability to offset this with advertising alone. However this may be different in the casual space, it will have to been seen.

One thing that concerned me was that the mobile industry appears to be heading for a very hard core gaming audience, looking at advanced graphics, and complex 3D game play. Coming from the console industry I have seen what this means for an industry, and it isn’t necessarily a good thing. It worries me a little that we haven’t learnt anything from the success of the Wii, and the casual games, especially as the mobile platform has the potential to reach a much wider audience than consoles due to its penetration. However with download statistics at measly figures like 6% of mobile owners downloading a game it is worrying that as an industry we are targeting even a small percentage of this market with future technologies.

I believe that there is still a strong case for disruptive technologies in the mobile space, that either revolutionise the gaming experience or the distribution and from what I’ve seen Flash Lite has this potential. In the mean time, there is definitely the opportunity for companies to do conversions from current Java based games into Flash, whilst the Java development studios haven’t got the capabilities to do this in house.

Another point of mention is the undeveloped area of position aware and social games that are being developed. This seems like a very under tapped market and has huge opportunities for developers. This area has been talked about for years, and yet the most interesting games I have come across are Geotracking, with a bit of storytelling behind them, not exactly revolutionary.

Overall the Conference didn’t have much of a buzz about it, which was probably due to there not being many major announcements and the consoles being mid cycle. The two major areas of the main conference that were receiving a lot of interest were input devices and motion capture. Input was a hot topic on a number of fronts, including the Wii Fit, numerous different controller systems and even a mind reading controller. Mobile had its revelation, the Zeemote. This is a Bluetooth analogue controller for mobiles, which has great potential, but again it’s positioned to the hard core games, not the casual market. Other interesting mobile development lie in the areas of using the camera, accelerometers and touch screens for better input solutions, and as long as they are used in the right kind of applications, they offer plenty of opportunities. There were plenty of stands promoting motion capture all competing on ease of setup and cost, with some very cost effective solutions now available.

It was a really interesting conference, and I got to meet some great people. There is a lot of hope for the mobile industry, and I hope over the coming years we will see some fantastic developments and advances that really open the space up for more universal and disruptive mobile games and applications.

Saturday, March 8

Home to Kansas

Travelled back to Kansas for my three month internship at SoftVu LLC with the brilliant Tim Donnelly, founder and president.

I'm really looking forward to the experience and hoping to absorb as much from Tim as I can over the next few months.

Thursday, March 6

IDEO - Redesigning the World

IDEO, based in Cambridge are a world renowned design agency with a reputation for their approach and working environment. We heard from their team about their approach and got a deeper understanding on their design principles and why there have been so successful.

The whole structure of IDEO is built to let ideas flow and create an environment for innovation and new concepts to flourish. It appeared to be a combination of employing the right people (one employee had around 8 interviews), the space and the resources they have available.
The Cambridge office was chosen specifically because it of its situation between Harvard and MIT, and it was interesting to hear the wide variety of people they have employed from areas as diverse as anthropologists to accountants. All work in a very flat structure, with teams changing on a per project bases, with team leads picked for their skills, not their experience at the company.
I am very interesting in learning more about the IDEO approach, and have already ordered two of their renowned design books, with the hope of learning about how to create a similar working environment for my ventures.

It was a fascinating afternoon at the IDEO offices, and it was a shame we couldn’t spend more time there.

MIT 100K Competition

I had the chance to attend the Semi-Final ceremony for the MIT 100K Business Plan Contest, which has outgrown its name and actually has prizes in the 100's of thousands across the various tracks.

This huge event in on of the large halls on the MIT campus featured a keynote speach from Johnathan Seelig the co-founder of Akamai and now managing director of Globespan. Interestingly he's also on the board of Zipcar, the founder Robin we met earlier in the week.

It was a great event from a number of perspectives. Firstly it was huge, with a good few hundred in attendance, showing the calibre of the competition and how popular the hard working volanteer students who run the event have made it.

Also Johnathan was a great speaker, and interestingly he re-presented his original pitch for Akamai from 10 years previous when he had entered the then 10K competition. Although a finalist, he didn't win the competition, and was the first to admit the flaws in his presenation. It was interesting to see how the business model has evolved, and how their original plans changed over time.

Unfortunately it will be a while until competitions such as Blueprint reach this size and stature, but at least they are heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 5


Today we had a workshop from Melissa Manwaring from Harvard Business School on negotiation and how to prepare for a negotiation situation. It was interesting to hear a detailed discussion on negotiation as it’s not something that I’d spent much time on previously, and certainly was surprised about how different a negotiation can be depending on how it is approached.

We were given seven key areas in a negotiation that you should have information on, and know where you stand on each area, but importantly also try and understand where your negotiation partner also stands. These areas are Interests, Options, Legitimacy, Alternatives, Communication, Relationship and Commitment. Depending on the negotiation, different areas can have more importance. It is often good to be aware when you are in a negotiation, which of the areas the discussion currently sits in, and that way you can make a better decision on how to steer the negotiation in a better way.

The seven elements are a way to analyze a negotiation situation with more strategy than just looking at it as a bartering, back and forth argument. By opening yourself up to new ideas in a negotiation, you can often forge a better outcome for all involved, or rescue a negotiation that looks lost.

The reading was really interesting, but also rather large and covered exactly the same topics as were discussed in the workshop. This made the workshop a little tedious, as it was clear we had a good understanding of the topic and found the day a little repetitive at times.

The workshop was great experience and has already proved useful in practical terms, and will hopefully serve to improve future negotiations that I will inevitably have.

Tuesday, March 4

FIRST Robotics

After the DEKA visit, we visited the FIRST Robotics building, and saw firsthand the exciting ways in which they are using robotic challenges to introduce school children to engineering, teamwork and involve them in a worldwide competition.
The work that’s been carried out is amazing, and it’s a great initiative started by Dean Kaman and supported by various companies, including the Kauffman Foundation. It was great to see such dedication on the part of FIRST to improving the opportunities for hundreds of thousands of children. I was glad to hear so many companies have got involved and invest not only money, but time with the children.

I am intrigued by the way the FISRT Robotics events involve schools and children and am going to look into how to spread the reach of the completion to more schools in the UK. It is also interesting to hear that they are looking to make the event software based in the future so it would be great to get involved with that aspect as well.


It was great to visit DEKA and have the chance to meet with Dean Kaman, the Founder. Dean gave us a large amount of his time to talk to us about DEKA, and his experiences in various projects.

The experience of hearing first hand from Dean, and learning about his passion for design, and pushing the boundaries of innovation and technologies was motivating. Although Dean went to university, he didn’t graduate, but not because he didn’t use the time wisely. In fact, instead of attending lectures and seminars, he simply made use of the faculty staff for the 5 years he was there and used them on a one to one basis to learn directly from them, understanding that this was a lot more valuable than regular classes.
I respect Dean’s approach to business, with the attitude of succeeding by raising the bar rather than pushing others under it, which is one of the reasons DEKA has been so successful in inventing new technologies that disrupt markets.
It was also interesting to hear about the projects they are working on, such as the iBot, the electric wheelchair with the balancing technology better known being used in the Segway. Amusingly Dean described the Segway as the iBot with all the complex technology taken out. Also seeing the work they are doing on a lightweight arm that is revolutionizing prosthetic limbs.

It was fantastic to visit DEKA and see the facilities they have, and the way the organization is structured. They are doing some fantastic things there and continue to push the boundaries on what’s technically possible.

Monday, March 3


We were welcomed by the MIT crowd, and it was good to hear from current students about their experiences at Sloan. They certainly work hard, and I was staggered to find out how much they get involved with activities in and outside of the school. It was a great atmosphere at MIT, and the social activities were great.

The 100K was a huge event and I’m glad that I attended the ceremony. The scale of the venture was a big shock and it was great to hear how involved the students are in the organization. To hear Jonathan Seelig, the founder of Akamai, one of the biggest internet services speak was a great opportunity. Especially to hear how far he had come since he had entered the then 10K competition 10 years ago. For Jonathan to give the same presentation that he gave at the beginning of his company was very interesting because it was obvious how much has changed since then, although he always has aspirations to be a large company, I’m just not sure he thought quite so large.

It was a shame that the evening pizza event wasn’t more organized and hosted at a better venue with more of the students available to meet with us. It seemed that the event clashed with two very high profile events for Sloan students, which limited its attendance greatly.

Tabula Digita

Ntiedo Etuk (Nt), CEO of Tabula Digita, spent an afternoon with us, openly discussing his experience in starting up a successful educational gaming company. He was extremely honest about his journey, and it was refreshing to hear from him. I was impressed with his dedication and drive to succeed, which was very inspirational.

Nt had a number of important lessons to share relating to his story, but it was his overall ambition and dedication that was most apparent to me. On a number of occasions Nt was in a position that I think a lot of people would have given up and thrown in the towel. However Nt pushed through these tough times, believing in himself and his company and has proved to have been a wise choice. He’s proved successful at raising capital, and also breaking into the very difficult educational system with his fantastic mathematics based educational multiplayer games.

I really enjoyed hearing from Nt and wish him all the luck in the future. I hope that I have the opportunity to work together on some interesting projects in the future.