Thoughts on High Grounds.

Spry Fox, the creator of Triple Town, has a new deck building game out.  It’s a pretty good game and has gotten a good review from PAReport.  With Scrolls coming along slowly and methodically, online collectible card games should have a good couple of years coming up.  Here are some of my thoughts on what it means to have a deck building or collectible card game in a digital medium.

When you take a Collectible card game and put it online you have this interesting design issue.  What does a ‘card’ look like online?  Does it have to be square?  The size and shape of the cards are limitations of the physical medium used to play the game.  But once the game gets created digitally it no longer has the same design constraints.

High Grounds clearly demonstrates the concept of taking a ‘card game’ and removing the design constraints. What does a ‘card’ start to look like once you remove a 2 inch by 3 inch piece of cardboard?  The card art becomes the character avatar, the stats don’t need to be displayed all the time.  Executing the stack becomes the portion of the game executed live, while playing the hand dealt becomes asynchronous.  Conceptually High Grounds succeeds at deconstructing a ‘card’ from a collectible card game while still retaining the essence of the basic game mechanics.

Whether the game is fun or not, I’m not sure.  Having played four or five rounds against the computer, it’s starting to drag a bit.  While no where near the grind that other online CCG’s can become in single player, turns are starting to feel a little too long.  The progression a little too linear.  There aren’t enough random good luck/bad luck things happening during game play.

I have not yet purchased any packs yet.  So perhaps my brain is expecting the risk reward stimulus from my M:tG days and not getting it.  There is just nothing like opening a bunch of packs and finding terrible stuff to activate the hope/despair portions of the brain chemistry.  Except maybe those times when you actually pull something awesome out of a pack.  Maybe if TapJoy were integrated into High Grounds I could earn a few gems by selling my time to advertisers.

There is clearly some tweaking that needs to be done on High Grounds, but it’s an interesting game which pushes the boundary of what a CCG means.  Overall I think it’s a very promising game, and it’s interesting to watch.  Now that you’ve read my opinions, go over and play the game at!

"Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey A Moore.

Crossing the Chasm
by Geoffrey A Moore.

I wrote this post a long long time ago, and was shocked that it wasn’t posted yet.  This book is so fundamental to how I view technology, and the foundation of some of the blog posts about Minecraft.  In retrospect this should have been posted first to give you a chance to read it before jumping into a discussion of ‘the technology innovation curve’.

This book is key to understanding a significant business problem faced by almost every company.  Start ups feel this effect especially hard, but large companies have the same problems even when launching new product lines.  The book defines “The Chasm”, a period of time which every new technology must pass through in order to succeed.  Therefore every new company must pass through this phase to be profitable and successful.  Without preparing ahead of time a start-up faces the risk of running out out of money.

This book informs so much of my thinking on technology, disruption and innovation that to pay attention to what I’m talking about much of the time, you need to read this.  It was assigned reading for BU, and the information presented cropped up time and time again in class.  Businesses from Eli Lilly to Color Kinetics to E Ink have faced the issues in this book.  Some companies have faced these issues and succeeded, but many more have fallen.

Will you launch into profitability or fall into “The Chasm”?  If you have a new company or are about to start one, read this before finding out the hard way.  The link is to the edition that I own, kindle version available as well.

Razer Blade: Disruptive Technology that has missed the mark.

Razer released a full page Wall Street Journal ad telling us all the obvious. PC Gaming is not dead. Thanks. Mojang and I agree with you Razer. They made that claim as a teaser for the release of the Blade. A very thin, very portable gaming laptop. They must not have done much market research as they touted it as “the world’s first true gaming laptop.” Or perhaps they just don’t feel that Alienware machines are up to par.

Either way what’s remarkable beyond the terrible advertising, is the “Switchblade User Interface”. That little extra set of buttons and touch pad in the lower right corner of the Laptop. Almost like a mouse, but not quite.

This is an innovative product, perhaps even a ‘disruptive’ one. You can tell by the number of comments on various sites like Ars Technica (Great article Ben!), The Escapist Magazine, and Reddit that the community is divided. ‘Passionate discourse’ is a sure sign of disruption. That is exactly what a company wants in a product launch. The company wants half the people to love it (and buy it) and the other half to hate it (but not stop talking about it). It is a ‘good sign’ for the company that there are so many people making a fuss about this laptop.

However there are some things going on here which are amiss. They have missed the market(ing) for this device by a lot. Their WSJ add suggests a sort of ubiquitous gaming device that will ‘reinvigorate pc gaming’, but asking a very high price tag for it in a very bad economy. Any reasonable PC gamer with $2800 in their pocket is going to build a liquid cooled device with 6x 3.2 gig cores. Their brand narrative and their price point are at odds with each other. Learn from this my fellow business gamers.

These devices should have been put in the hands of a really competent WoW/FPS coder, and let them come up with a really swanky mod before release. Or perhaps sold to pro or semi pro game players. To stay at the present price point, their marketing should have targeted the ‘prestige class’ of gamers. They needed to do this because they need ‘early adopters’ who are capable of purchasing an expensive product.

All in all this could eventually be a big win for Razer, but in the near term the Blade will be a big flop. Razer has not respected “The Chasm“. They are trying to market disruptive (expensive) technology to every gamer. They should have sold it to the innovators first. This would allow some sales at this higher price point. Some sales, plus time would allow for refined manufacturing that lowers the cost of the I/O device before targeting the majority of gamers.

Instead they attempted to make a huge splash with the general gaming audience (and all readers of the Wall Street Journal). New tech is always expensive. But technology always lowers in price over time. This new input device is incredibly expensive, right now. For $2800 you get an under powered laptop… Using Alienware/Dell‘s website you can build a comparable machine for $1,649. That means that Razer is currently asking approximately $1151 for just the Switchblade UI. That is a huge percentage of the cost of the machine for a user interface that may not have any additional software functionality yet.

Then again the general PC Gamers may not be the target audience. Perhaps large corporations are the target audience. Lets assume for a minute that they actually know about “The Chasm”. Picking the WSJ to announce to the world that Razer is an innovative and disruptive company in a huge industry (I attempted to look for laptop sales figures, but was unable to find anything relevant, any help finding that data would be appreciated). Maybe they are playing a different game then we think they are. They could be really tricky, or really dumb.

I like the statements made by the CEO and Creative Director of Razer, Min-Liang Tan. They purchased their own Taiwanese company to produce the device. They use no focus groups in the design, they rely solely on making a device that they themselves want to game with. (All that quoted from ArsTechnica article previously linked, again thank you Ben.) Far from being a negative, in my mind this means they are directly in touch with the community. That means that when feedback hits them (and it will hit them hard), it wont be filtered through a third party. These are exactly the kind of things that disruptive companies do, and exactly the kind of thing that they need to do. While PC gaming was never truly dead, I hope this is a rebirth of Razer’s innovation. They just need to understand the difference between manufacturing technology and creating innovative technology. Razer does not get the difference yet.