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GAMESbrief reading list for Q1 2017

By on March 20, 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.)

I would highly recommend both The Attention Merchants and The Master Switch.

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. Smile


  • 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.

Eric is running a Mobile User Acquisition Workshop on April 20th in London. Eight people only, at £1,000 per head. Head over to Mobile Dev Memo to find out more.

Technology and design

Politics and history

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.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: