The cycle of arrogance

Readers of my blog are familiar with my industry cycle articles. It basically describes a regular cycle which shakes up the industry whenever the consoles upgrade to the next entry. The Playstation 5 and the new XBox have been announced for second half of 2020 - welcome to the transition year.

If you want to read up my posts in the recent years on this blog about the cycle simply search for this word on the top left of this site.

One attribute of console cycles I have never written about is the cycle of arrogance. It means that whoever dominates the current cycle is getting arrogant in the next, forgetting what put him there in the first place - leading to wrong or often strange decisions.

These decisions will make it hard to third parties to develop on the new leading platform during the first 2 years. They will focus on big names & brands first, or their own first party titles. What also happens is that they underestimate the competition leaving holes for them to enter.

So expect the number 2 and 3 (Microsoft & Nintendo) to be more open to new developers, titles and approval processes while Sony will make it harder.

A sign to prove this? There is an internal shakeup at Sony management level where many of the key people who were developer relations or in charge of external titles were fired and replaced. This strangely isn't in the news as usually these key managers are known to developers of all sizes but not to the press or the public.
Still, as a developer, you should be worried if you bet on releasing soon on Sony PS5. You won't.

And as usual before transition years if you run a developer you should have been prepared and found alternative revenue sources or platforms. Did you? I hope you did. As this isn't anything new to the industry, its a cycle with similar attributes and effects to the industry.

And no, backwards compatibility won't help ;)


Live Streaming Game Dissections?

I don't like complex setups with PC, cameras etc., so I always want a solution to stream directly from my phone to Twitch, Youtube etc. to make quick analysis of new or older games, like an hour each. Would you be interested in something like this?

I found a little gem of app called Omlet Arcade which lets me stream to Twitch directly from my phone. I would do like bi-weekly streams dissecting a game and explain everything I find - what I usually do for clients. Let me know.


Coming up: GiC in Poznan

This GiC conference in Poland is a really good one, in case you never heard of it. Excellent speakers, venue, and the attached gamer exhibition draws several ten thousand visitors each year.

My talk:

about mobile f2p game segmentation. Doesn't sound advanced, but I am not doing the usual segmentation you find on GameAnalytics or other services, I do my own to show that some unusual f2p games simply need to be excluded in your analysis.

If they tape it I will post a video, if not my slides. And btw, Poznan is really beautiful and has excellent food and drinks!


Data Analysts and our future

In f2p we use data to make better decisions. Data is magic these days and many companies make the mistake to rely on data too much. The simple reason is that it seems data is easy to read and make decisions upon.

It isn't.

It takes educated data analysts to read data properly. They know the common mistakes of self selection bias or survivors bias, Correlation & Causation or many other data oddities which exist. They also know the validity of the data you try to read, i.e. is the data really solid enough to make conclusions.

And there is this: Data tells you WHAT happened, never WHY.

There is a common misunderstanding that data gives you enough to make meaningful decisions. It does not. Data is a tool to make better decisions, but doesn't replace your experience or the designers knowhow.

The danger which data inserted into our industry is that data seems so easy to read to make conclusions upon that people in your company who are NOT educated in reading data correctly will make decisions based on it. And you don't even know that these mistakes are being made as simply putting data transparent on dashboards for everyone to read is injecting this mistake into your company (thats why I don't support public dashboards inside companies).

It takes specialists to interpret data and present them in a right manner. I learned this the painful way. I saw decisions being made by people who read data wrong. I have seen decisions being made based on data presented by specialists - which was much better.

Why do I think this matters to our future? Because data is the future of everything in our daily lives. Internet companies collect data. Insurance companies collect data. Your phone collects more data about you than you even know about yourself. AI is dependent on mass data and leads to even more data collected. Some governments use data to know everything about you (look at China). Their tech is so advanced including facial recognition that they always know where you are, what you did, what you bought, whom you talked to, online or real life. And if you think China is the only country doing this you are wrong.

Now imagine these Governments like game companies doing the same mistakes I experienced. People not used to reading data correctly will make decisions - wrong ones - influencing our daily life.

Thats why data analysts should be one of the most important jobs we should train - and knowledge about data analyzing should be educated to everyone in our industry (and beyond). Management needs to learn, Designers by default. Train this. It will be the competitional advantage between you and your fellow companies.


Happy 20th Anniversary Panzer Elite!

20 years ago we released Panzer Elite, a World War 2 tank simulation which became an international hit over the years. Years? Yes, read on. Warning, long article.

In 1996 I was preparing coming back to the AAA game industry after having a short trip through Apple and afterwards doing Advertising games for companies like Kelloggs.

Anyway, I found a partner I knew from my Rainbow Arts time in the 80's, a really good programmer. He wanted to do the prototype, I did the design & pitch. We wanted to found a development company with this title and were looking for a publisher. But what game to make?

I did a list of all historical topics and wrote the best games beside it to see which was occupied, looking for a gap. And there it was: back then simulations was the king class of PC games and everyone did Flight Sims, but why wasn't there a proper tank simulation?

The answer was technology. Remind you, there were no 3d acceleration back then, all 3d was software only making development very complicated as you had to spend half of your time on engine and technology.

Still, Heiko was eager to try and came up with a demo of a Panther tank driving through a very detailed landscape. You could even see the suspension working. He did some crazy things to pull off the level of detail we needed: far reaching landscapes, detail and my idea to let everything be blown apart - as tanks needed cover and be able to go hull down - and of course blow away that cover.

Born was our destruction system, even synched over multiplayer, a first time worldwide back then. But we didn't know that.

As we were a German developer I knew we will have problems getting the trust of the big publishers, as back then the German industry wasn't known for potential worldwide hits. It was the 90's, when everyone did console games - but we weren't. Oh well, so I followed advice of a good friend of mine David Braben (yes, that one, who made Elite) to get an Agent helping with the deal.

So I approached Jacqui Lyons, his agent, a former book agent who widened her portfolio with game developers. She was very successful having sold many hits already, so all publishers had to be nice to her and not ripping of her developers - as they feared losing the next hit she has, right? A strong position to be in.

So armed with print outs of our pitch and a 3.5" disc with the demo (yes, print out, disc, you read that right, the internet wasn't there yet) we came to E3 (when it still was a good show) and had over 30 appointments.

Want a peek in our pitch doc? Here it is: DesertFox as PDF, our working title back in 1996. Unfortunately the prototype no longer works (and I don't have a 3.5" disc drive anymore).

Most publishers weren't even understanding what we were trying to do. Most were looking for console or the next "big thing like game ABC in the chart". Tank sims? Who plays these? They didn't have any reference.

Our favorite pick was SSI - Strategic Simulations, back then the king of War Games, Sims and RPG's. They immediately fell in love with ours and also said they tried to do their own tank sim but would stop doing it if we sign. Three more showed interest, but we went home with SSI being our favorite. Jacqui warned us to hold our breath as deals can go wrong, so we let her do her thing.

Faster than ever we had our contract and offer and Jacqui said this is a good one, contract was negotiated, and we send back the signed one. SSI was owned by Mindscape and they had to verify the contract - and Mindscape came back they would only sign if they got the IP rights (no go for Jacqui) and the source code (no go from us). Oh well, so we cancelled and went on the other three interested parties. As SSI continued their own tank sim they incorporated a lot from our design as they knew we were their strongest competition. Ideas are cheap, nothing you can do.

Second interested party was Acclaim, a big name back then. Contract negotiations dragged on and when everything was ready we flew to London into the CEO's office to sign - and we saw on entering his office that something is wrong. HE had to admit his boss from USA called and due to the situation of the company had to cancel all third party development. Including ours.

Ah well, lets go on should we.

Jacqui made an office invite party to show new products and invited publishers and we were showing Panzer Elite. A guy came up and looked at our demo and simply said "I want this". Which company? Psygnosis, awesome, a good name, a Sony company. So we signed a couple of weeks later and hired people, expanded to 7 developers and started the full production (yes 7 people, teams were smaller back then). Our fine little development company was called Wings Simulations. We were proud as we were a new triple A studio - in Germany. A rare feat back in the days.

Production was going fine, working with John Meegan, our producer at Psygnosis was awesome. Getting near launch we saw not everything went well with Psygnosis, the market changed. Everyone was going console as the Playstation was a huge hit and Psygnosis with being a Sony daughter company had trouble making a point with PC games - a competitor platform for Sony.

Additionally 3d acceleration cards became a thing and we had to implement hardware acceleration on top of our software renderer. Psygnosis gave us the time and budget though, so all was fine. We build up a community with a forum and web page, developing along with the community. Back then this was unique, so we had a fan base ready before we even launched. Oh, and Ultima Online shipped, distracting me from the game ;)

So 1999 we were ready - but Psygnosis wasn't. Word from Sony came that all PC products had to be cancelled and focus on Playstation. But they also said "Keep the best 3 to make money". We were among them - which was a pain as Psygnosis shipped the initial market order and shut down their commpany. Wait what? Yes. Over 30 simulations shipped during 1998/99, the market was flooded. Still, numbers of Panzer Elite were promising.

Psygnosis sold off their PC catalogue to GTE Interactive, a subsidy of GTE, the telecommunications giant from USA. They reprinted with a new packaging and released it again - only to be shut down 2 weeks afterwards. Wait what? Number 2.

Meanwhile we pitched out next games and CDV from Germany was ready to sign - when a new Austrian company called JoWood approached us and asked what we really want to do. I said we want to make a MMO called Getaway Driver, basically a GTA Online. They asked to purchase us, the whole company and we sold. My first exit.

When they heard the story and success of Panzer Elite they asked us to try to buy the rights back. Original copies of Panzer Elite were selling for $200 on eBay (Internet was here now) so there was potential. It took a while but we reached the lawyer of the defunct Psygnosis and paid 30k pounds sterling for the rights and had our game back. Meanwhile the mod community went crazy and expanded the game heavily. Remember, the community was still ours in control and the best mod teams even had the source code we gave to them - a new thing to do back then, not many developers did that ever.

So we remastered the game, called it Panzer Elite Special Edition updated it with a mod enabler and shipped all mods along with it with our new owner Jowood. It became one of the best selling games of Jowood and we sold more than Psygnosis & GTE combined, again. 2 years after release.

What we didn't know is how long the game will live. 10 years after release the game was still on the shelf - selling. When Jowood went away and we had to shut down our studio in 2005 the new owner of the IP THQ Nordic rereleased the game with the (bad) IP derivates Panzer Elite action it again appeared on the shelf. You still can stumble upon a $3 copy of the game sometimes. An everlasting title. And the mod community still releases mod updates for the game today!

Please take a look into the credits of the wonderful team who made it happen here.

Panzer Elite won numerous awards and did many things for the first time in games.

Panzer Elite had destructible terrain like trees could be run over, houses collapse, shells leave craters. And this even in Multiplayer. Something we repeated in our later game Söldner . secret Wars, with only Crytek managing this achievement 5 years after Söldners release.

Maps of the historical terrain were using elevation data to recreate the scenarios - often using historical maps from the wars found in archives by our scenario designer and history expert Matthias Siedlaczek. Many anecdotes around that, like one archive only giving us the maps when we do NOT mention them in the credits. Hmmm.

We simulated a lot in Panzer Elite, down to the experience gain of the crew and the stats of the tank depending on their skill levels. Yes, World of Tanks has that, but they shipped 2010, 11 years later.

Our terrain renderer was one of the most detailed of its time considering we didn't have the cool new tech from hardware acceleration like prebaked maps & lightning.

We were one of the first teams in Germany having a world wide publishing contract. We were only beaten by Yager who shipped a title earlier with Microsoft.

Panzer Elite was one of the rare games having three consecutive publishers and still be a success. But hey, we got three different boxes with art in return :)

For accessibility we had a "mouse tank interface" which allowed you to play the whole game without any keyboard shortcuts - yes, that was a thing in 1999.

Panzer Elite had a shelf time of way over 10 years. People still talk and chat about it decades later. Or release mods for it in 2018 ... 20 years after its release (click for link).

Panzer Elite was one of the first games using community driven development, which is sexy again today after it has been forgotten.

Panzer Elite kicked off the career of many involved people, later joining companies like Wargaming, Sony, Blizzard and more.

Panzer Elite was a simulation, so we even simulated visibility depending on tank type and its vision slits and wether or not the commander was looking through his open hatch on the turret. We even tracked the passage of a penetrating bullet through the innards of the tank to see which modules we disable due to being damaged.

This game is still one of my most important ones in my career. And no, a remake won't do well, as simulations are unfortunately dead. Back in the 90's we could sell 250k of a simulation and it was considered a hit. Today 250k doesn't even pay development.

One of our lead and best programmers I met in my career died recently - far too young. I wish he would be remembered for all his efforts, but he always stayed in the dark and was too humble to tell everyone how brilliant he was. This is for you Markus.


Ah sorry

Wow, the last post is like months ago. Sorry for this but too many projects came to me and I couldn't resist. News will follow during PAX what I am up to and a general update whats coming next.

Also, the video of my talk at Digital Dragons is still not online, but I will post it here as soon as I got a link.

Next up is Baltic Dev Days in two weeks and then GiC, with all new content!

Talk to you soon.


Publishers fireing people all over

You heard the news. Activision fires 800 people despite best year ever in terms of revenue. Arena.net, the operator of Guildwars, seems to get large layoffs. EA will fire a lot of people from their Australian studio (For Americans: that's near the Hobbit place, not the one in the Alps).

Longtime readers of my blog know why this happens now. Others can read my 6-year-old entries here:



Let's take the Activision case. Why fire 800 people when you had a record year? The reason is, you don't fire people due to the current year's results, but what you see in your forecast of the next. If you look at Activision's portfolio for 2019/2020 there is a large gap of original titles. Even Blizzard, part of Activision, said there is no new Blizzard game coming for a while. So the next one or two years will look bleak for Activision. That's why you optimize your company and fire the bottom 10%.

I am not defending this, I am just explaining. The one thing you can blame Activision is that they knew this is coming, its poor planning (and letting Bungie leave, wtf?).

Activision needs to invest their best teams into the next console generation. As the current one will drop in revenue in terms of software and the new one won't do much at first that gap is what we call transition years. EA is very experienced in this and already cut off workforce last year and will continue this year. If you google back into 2012 you will notice the same happened.

This transition year might not be as bad as the previous ones though as the rumored backward compatibility of the next generation, the Switch and the mobile market might buffer some of the previous revenue losses.




So Bungie got Destiny back - and finally can run it as a proper game as a service, which Activision refuses to adapt for most of their products (aside from Blizzard). Mobile games go GaaS for some years. In fact, most successful games today are GaaS games, even GTA V or Red Dead 2 are managed as GaaS.

What is it? Look at this video from 2011 showing Knowledge from 1997 which again has been gathered for 20 years at that point. GaaS is old. The knowledge though is deluded due to the death of subscription MMO's - at least in the classic industry. To learn about GaaS all you need to do is to google - and watch talks from 1997 ;)


Happy New Year - here is whats up ...

2018 was a year full of travel. You will have access to most of my talks which were taped. I also published the ones online for download. So what's coming 2019?

I am busy with two large clients so I actually stopped taking new ones - but I do have partners I can recommend working for you. So don't worry.

I will also cut down my conference visits as I am starting my own mobile game project soon. Watch this space as soon as we can talk about it.

The next conference up is White Nights Berlin. I will talk about the "Lost Art of Immersion on Mobile". Something completely different but its a topic by heart.
The only other conference fixed so far is Devcom right before Gamescom. I do not know if I go to GiC or Digital Dragons in Poland yet - we will see. GDC USA isn't a place for me since years, although I have been on the first 10 since it started (yes, 1988 onwards) and triple-A and console aren't much for me these days although I am helping on a AAA f2p title at the moment. There is also the fact that the advisory board of GDC USA keeps ignoring my submissions, which is strange to experience when most other conferences fight about me but GDC isn't. Well, their loss.

So, if I visit other conferences which topic would you love to see? Let me know. I have covered so many that I might have lost track what you want to hear or learn about.