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GAMESbrief reading list for Q1 2017
This was supposed to be a reading list at the end of 2016. But life got in the way (those of you who know me IRL may know that I got flooded out of my house by an exploding sewer on Brexit day. We hope to move home just before Easter, so I am quite busy sorting out personal stuff. Oh, and I agreed something really exciting at GDC, and will tell you all about it as soon as I actually sign on the dotted line.)
The practical upshot of all of this is that the list of “things I found interesting” is much longer than usual. Enjoy it.
The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu
Tim Wu wrote one of my favourite books on the history of the Internet, The Master Switch, which shows how innovative technologies at first seem like a bold new frontier and then are inevitably co-opted by the state to become regulated and a part of the establishment. The Attention Merchants takes a different but similarly pessimistic angle on how advertising businesses have spent the past century figuring out how to capture our attention at every possible moment. Crazy as it seems, there was once a time when there were no advertisements inside your own home, and Wu traces how this has changed over time to our present day omni-present advertising in Facebook, in YouTube and, of course, the television.
However, Wu also points out that there are regular, seismic backlashes against the attention merchants: moments in time when an entire population spontaneously rebels against the intrusion of advertising, whether it be the desecration of Paris by lurid advertising posters at the end of the 19th century or the counter-culture movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Wu posits that we are approaching another great refusal, as the rise of clickbait and native advertising is making some consumers reconsider their relationship with their mobile and online content. (I have personally experienced Wu’s Great Refusal, withdrawing almost entirely from social media over the past six months, and trying to avoid the news. It is very refreshing. And I’ve read a lot more books.)
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Prisoners of Geography is a fascinating tour of “geopolitics”, the study of how the history and politics of a nation are influenced or even determined by the geographical facts around them. If you want to understand some big picture reasons why Russia had to invade Crimea, why North Korea is so terrifying or why there is little likelihood of peace in the Middle East in the near future, this is an excellent book.
Design Rules for F2P Games, by Nicholas Lovell and Rob Fahey
Apologies for the advert, but I have just revisited Design Rules for F2P Games, and think it remains worth buying. It costs less than a cup of coffee.
- Excellent (and lengthy) article on the rise and fall of Core Design, the company that created Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. It misses some of the fancy City shenanigans at Eidos, but is a storming read. Great piece of journalism by Wesley-Yin Poole. It follows his other pieces on x and y: I hope that he collects them into a book and publishes them. It would be good for the industry to have this sort of history in permanent form. 20 years on, the Tomb Raider story told by the people who were there
- I very much liked this analysis of the challenges of game design, and how stuck we are in a pre-industrial phase, where games look more like the artisan approach of “we do it this way but we don’t know why” compared to the professional approach of having conceptual frameworks to explore designs long before you make them. It’s a direct comparison to the way “self-conscious” design revolutionized engineering and architecture, and suggests we haven’t reached this stage yet. It’s a fascinating read.
- Some strong words on how the Gambling Commission is looking at videogames. This is particularly focused on sites allowing players to gamble virtual goods (like character skins) on e-Sports, but it does look as if the regulators are looking very closely at in-game purchases and in-app items to see if they should be regulated. In my view, it is only a matter of time before they are.
- And related: Osborne Clarke’s important summary of the approach the Gambling Commission is taking to gambling in games, with a particular focus on esports and social casino titles.
- Eric Seufert of Mobile Dev Memo on a different risk of regulation, that driven by the competition authorities worried about abuse of power by Apple and Google as they curate their respective mobile stores.
- A case study of NonStop Knights ad monetisation: Ads are a very important source of revenue for F2P games. And for anyone who has attended my masterclasses, an interesting case study in how to use revenue generation (i.e ads) as a return hook to bring people back to the game. This is Eric Seufert’s analaysis of NonStop Knight
- My third post from Eric: Excellent post on the nature of soft launch, and in particular the need to run targeted Acquisition experiments, as well as experimenting with Retention and Monetisation.
Technology and design
- Bruce Schneier on the political battles ahead under a Trump presidency.
- Benedict Evans on ecommerce. Online retailers have been extremely good at retail as logistics, but much less good at retail as discovery and recommendation – much less good at showing you something you didn’t know you might like
- Fascinating piece on the Internet coming to Myanmar very, very fast via Benedict Evans.
- Questions you should ask when interviewing for a “growth hacker” from Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, Gusto and Hubspot on Andrew Chen’s blog. We would call this person a User Acquisition expert, although there is value in having a wider remit than that.
- Letting your emotions be part of your design framework.
- How digital companies make money is changing. The Verge looks back on five years of its own history to explain how costs, revenue and technology have changed.
Politics and history
- Why the Industrial Revolution didn’t happen in China
- Alastair Campbell vs The Mail (a long and entertaining read)
- The politics of Judge Dredd – an entertaining retrospective on the 2000AD lawman’s track record of predicting some of the worst excesses of our 21st century world, and what the comic strip is saying about the horrors yet to come. (Although it is written by the 2000A PR guy).
- A long read from December on how Google is accelerating the erosion of consensus in politics, and how we believe we should live. Really worth reading, and also worth bearing the mind the recent backlash from major advertisers in the UK concerned that their advertising money is going to directly to support extremists and hate groups.
Note that the links to Amazon contain my referral code, which means I get a small percentage of the cover price if you buy one of these books.