Archive for the ‘iOS’ Category

“You got fragged…” – Fragmentation of Intellectual Property — What exactly are we paying for?

January 25th, 2012 No comments

So today’s post was inspired by a lot of things, but most importantly, my wallet and our rights.

Let me open up with a really quick story. A couple of years ago, I was up for a game design job at Namco Networks out in San Jose, CA. I was really excited about it- it was for their mobile and PC gaming division, dealing primarily with casual games and iPhone games, which are my purview. I asked a friend of mine for advice, and he hooked me up with a couple of people to talk to, one of whom was kind of down on the whole idea. He essentially said, “Well, if that’s your thing, have fun, but with Namco, you’ll basically be making the 18th iteration of Pac-Man…”

You know what? He was right, at least in a sense. Over the past 10 years, companies have been raiding their storage closets to find ways to capitalize on our sense of nostalgia from our childhoods. While this parade of re-issues wouldn’t be a bad thing on their own, they do combine with the fragmentation of platforms and intellectual property to create a situation where the consumer (read: YOU) becomes continually screwed.

Intellectual property rights have been a hot button issue in the last decade and a little bit before, starting when Napster began to distribute music between users, but one might even rewind a bit further to the controversy that circled when cassette tapes (both audio and video) became available to consumers. For the first time, consumers had an easy way to determine how and when they would consume content. Unthethering from needing to be attached to the TV at exactly 8 pm in order to see M*A*S*H was the first wave in consumers being able to control their own content, but big studios fought the move tooth and nail, to the US Supreme Court, and of course, most recently in the big brouhaha over SOPA last week.

At the heart of the Betamax case and Napster, and its current forms (media fragmentation) is the ability for large companies to dictate to you how you can control the content that they create. They do this for several reasons: first, most content that is given away for “free” is done so with commercial sponsorship – the companies that give the content to you do so with the intent that you will watch their sponsors’ ads. In the pre-VHS days, it was easy to make the argument that if X number of people were watching the show, that same X number of people saw the ads. In the post-VHS days, that argument became harder to make, and as consumers began to take more control of their media consumption via tools like TiVo and the internet, that link became more and more tenuous.

Reeling this back to video games, essentially the same thing has gone on, but due to the more rapid pace of platform development (in television, there was a fairly large gap between the invention of TV to the adoption of color TV, and a larger still gap between color TV and HDTV), and the myriad platforms available, the consumer is faced with many more decisions about how to consume their media. And the bad news is that they’re largely getting screwed.

Look at the game Angry Birds. Originally an iPhone game ($0.99), developer Rovio has had a runaway success with the game on its home platform. But you can also get Angry Birds on the iPad (Angry Birds HD, $4.99), on the Mac App Store for another $4.99, or on your Android phone for free. However, getting it on your Android tablet may cost you more – $0.99 if it’s a Kindle Fire, and $2.99 if it’s a nook Tablet. This is not to mention the major console ports of the game. Suddenly a game that cost you a dollar is now costing you $11 to load on your phone, iPad and computer.

Don’t get me wrong, developers deserve to be compensated for what they do, and Rovio should be proud of their game and port it to as many different platforms as they can. And I get that you could make the argument that prior to this console generation, two editions of, say Street Fighter II on Genesis and SNES would exist, not entitling the user to each version for the price of one. However, the difference is that the iPad and iPhone run on the same operating system, and the underlying system architecture runs on Mac OS X. While there is development time and porting that needs to occur between each system, these are virtual impediments put in place by Apple, not by users. PC developers have always had to deal with making versions of their application that will be most compatible with the billion possible iterations of PC architecture under Windows, and factor that into development time. What you’re getting is much more purely the same game ported to different systems that run the same architecture. Imagine if you paid a separate and variable cost to put Angry Birds separately on your netbook (Windows 7 Starter), your work PC (Windows 7 Ultimate) and your home laptop (Windows 7 Home Premium) with your single install disc.

What lies at the heart of all this is who owns the media that you purchase, and how far are we willing to let companies go in creating these fragmented platforms and titles, and essentially selling you the same content over and over again? How many editions of Angry Birds should you have to buy, if you’re getting the exact same content in different resolutions? How many times are they going to sell Star Wars to you before you say enough?

I will have more to say as this relates to SOPA, intellectual property and piracy in general in the coming days.

The Mobile Playground

August 22nd, 2011 2 comments

When I was growing up, there was an ever-persistent debate that had been raging on for generations before me and would rage on for at least a generation after me. I don’t mean human generations – I mean console generations. I hopped on board when I begged my parents for what must have been half of my short lifetime at that point, for a Nintendo Entertainment System. Knowing the system cost “only” $100, I even went to the trouble of collecting 100 pennies that I found around the house (and in change jars) and presented it to my parents as payment for the system (to this day, I can’t remmeber if I was being calculatedly cunning and precocious by thinking that 100 pennies = $100, or if I had just made the first of many arithmetic errors in life). And then it happened – December 25, 1988 – A shiny new Nintendo Entertainment System (with the Power Pad, orange light gun and 2 controllers – they just don’t sell consoles the way they used to…). This event, occuring 24 days after the birth of my sister, would form the pinnacle of my Christmas gift-receiving career, by the way.

But what was odd was that the Nintendo Entertainment System had a competitor, and a very worthy one, in the Sega Master System. I didn’t have a SMS – my neighbor Lacey did. I would go over her house before my NES arrived at my own and marvel at its graphics and beg to play Afterburner. After I got my NES, I decided that Afterburner was stupid and that Zelda was way better (and it turns out I was right – hey, it’s my blog, people). I had essentially received my NES banner and I was determined to carry it wherever it would go.

My parents were not without means but they also weren’t about to spend their entire savings on a child’s toy, so I completely missed out on the 16-bit era. My father always argued that I had a perfectly good video game system in the NES, so I sat on the sidelines and watched the war that raged on schoolgrounds and in the press (back then, magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro were the only source of information that existed about what was out, what was coming out, and how good any of it was). My experience with both systems was done in households of friends, coming in to play Mortal Kombat on my friend’s Genesis (which definitely had the better, more authentic experience) and playing Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting edition (better than Genesis if you only had the 3-button controller, or more often, only one three-button controller) on my other friend’s SNES. I would play Super Mario All-Stars on my cousin’s SNES and Sonic and Knuckles on my other cousin’s Genesis.

The point is that we were kids and we were at the mercies of what our parents would buy us. And since kids are ridiculously competitive and petty, whatever we had was the best and whatever anyone else had was automatically the worst.

Now, I and most of the people I know who want one, have multiple systems. Even at $200-600, owning an XBox 360 and a Playstation 3 and a Wii isn’t really all that hard if it’s something we want to do. We are inundated with more information than we can possibly read about the details of each console. We can literally download demos of the games to our systems to play them, or cross-compare the different versions of each game if we really need to see how many polygons are squeezed into our 89th World War II simulation.

So, a lot of the competitiveness over consoles has ceased, at least among our generation. Which would mean that we don’t really have any of that silly competitive sniping going on anymore, right?

Au! Au!, I say! Au contraire, mon frere.

See, with our ability to own any console, we’ve had to move on to the arena where we really can’t own every version of that device, and that is precisely what’s going on in the mobile arena right now.

Video game consoles cost what they cost. There’s a one-time fee for entry. Maybe a $60/year fee if you want XBox Live, but you can get by without it. A mobile device is the gift that keeps on taking. The iPhone’s service plan will run you $100/month. Even adjusted for inflation, an iPhone is at least a new NES system every 2 months. Couple that with the lack of need to bother with having more than one phone and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good, old fashioned system war.

And we see it all over the place. iPhone vs. Android vs. Blackberry is the war that should have been between the XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii. Even with Nintendo somewhat quietly winning the generation in terms of sales, the forecast on them is dismal because of their complete lack of any mobile or online strategy. As the 3DS’s struggle to gain marketshare shows, Nintendo isn’t just competing with the PSP (or whatever the hell it’s called now – Sony is in the same boat) but with the iOS and Android systems. The 3DS offers no functionality that an adult would need that they can’t meet or exceed with their phones – a device they must carry in their pockets. And the games don’t compete on the same level. A full-featured 3DS game like Pokemon Black is competing, ideally, with a console experience, but its platform is asking to be played in the mobile arena, where experiences are quick and to the point. And far, far less expensive.

For Nintendo and Sony to compete in the mobile playground, they have to give up the idea that users are looking for a single experience in their mobile devices. The Sony and Microsoft home consoles have proven themselves worthy home theater additions – most of the friends I have on XBox Live are watching Netflix, for instance. Sony is at least giving it a good ol’ large-corporation-try with the PS Vita (which I suspect will end up like the HP TouchPad), but none of the big companies are doing anything truly innovative to capture the mobile space’s attention. While Windows Phone 7 is a capable operating system, it is years behind both Android and iOS and its struggle to become adopted shows those scars. If Nintendo or Sony want to compete for space in my pocket, they need to offer an experience that eclipses both the function and the fun of the mobile offerings on the table right now. That doesn’t seem at all likely.

Categories: Android, iOS, mobile Tags:


April 1st, 2011 No comments

So I haven’t been able to write for a while. February was a tremendously busy month for me. At Appiction, we both closed and finished off the biggest single-app deal that we’ve ever done in a project that… I can’t talk about yet. (But I was happy to be the lead designer of it!) Another one of our Appiction apps that I designed has been getting some major ink, but I don’t think I’m officially allowed to say anything about it yet either. And earlier this week I was happy to do the dev handoff for another project I designed that I’m not allowed to talk about (but honestly, I should be able to… it’s the coolest little application for its niche ever).

And my friends at OAK9 have been putting in some of the best work in that I’ve ever seen on an iPhone video game for an upcoming action title that… I can’t talk about yet. (But I was happy to be the lead designer of it, too!)

And meanwhile, production has kicked up on my desk as I’m working on the iPad (read: HD/enhanced) version of a game that has been bumping around at Appiction since I’ve been here (back in September). I was able to join the design team for the iPhone version, but the iPad version? I’m developing it myself. So believe me, I’m super excited about it and would love to talk about it, but I can’t yet.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Informative, no? 🙂

What iPad’s Rumored 260 dpi Display Might Mean for Developers

January 27th, 2011 No comments

According to MacRumors, the iPad 2 which should be coming along later this quarter, is scheduled to have a 260 pixels-per-inch “Retina” display, though there is some dispute over whether or not the display, which has a lower pixel density, really counts as a retina display.

As a guy who (happily) used a netbook for about a year and a half as his primary computer, I think people are missing the forest for the trees. A display at 260 dpi, at 9″ yields a screen resolution of 2048×1536! My netbook, and just about every one of them of its generation (frustratingly) is only 1024×600. Doubling that resolution (and nearly tripling it on the vertical end) will make a no-doubt better, more crisp viewing experience. I didn’t dive into the first iPad because of its myriad shortcomings (and a lack of initial content), but having played with them at work and enjoyed the now flourishing application support it has, I am probably going to (possibly literally) be in line for the next gen iPad as soon as it’s available.

When I started at Appiction, they had me slicing images for development, and a lot of the projects that I got into for graphic design came in a mad flurry, where I was getting and slicing up 2 or 3 projects per week. For those who don’t know, slicing involves taking those mocked-up final art pieces and making images out of them that can be used for development. Since Appiction rarely designs things with the standard Coco toolkit available in Apple’s Interface Builder (instead relying on flashier designs even for mundane things like navbars), we would have to export out fancy task bars for the developers. It took a bit longer (one method, the Interface Builder method, literally involves dragging and dropping the navbar you want, the other, what we did on projects, involves creating an entire new object from the image of a navbar), but the results are typically more visually interesting, especially compared to Apple’s standard apps, which can look a bit more mundane by their familiarity.

In slicing applications up, it was a joy to learn that the iPhone 4’s resolution was precisely double the iPhone 3GS and below, from 640 x 960 to 320 x 480. This allowed a very simple scheme for developing applications, where we would export out both sizes for development. If you’ve ever wondered why on your iPhone 4 some of the un-updated app icons for retina display look fuzzy, that’s why. There is a lot more detail that can be shown on the iPhone 4’s screen, since each pixel is doubled.

What this means for an iPad at 260 dpi is an extremely high resolution interface, but for developers, a relatively minor headache. Apple supports the double resolution with the “@2x” extension on file names, allowing devs to simply label a navbar at 130 dpi (on the original iPad) simply “navbar.png” and the 260 dpi “Retina” display “navbar@2x.png”. The compiler handles the rest. Simple!

My friends have been asking me to talk a bit more about Android but the thing with Android is that this ease simply doesn’t exist. While Android has a bit more robust feature set for slicing images and buttons that is integrated all over the application (for instance, you can make a start-up screen for an application compatible with every Android device, past, present and future, by instituting some smarter design standards that I’ve tried to help start here at Appiction), it’s not so simple in a fully immersive application where you are redesigning the entire interface, such as a game.

Android resolutions don’t neatly scale up – rather Android supports resolutions like 640×800 and 640 x 854 simultaneously. Some of this is philosophically consistent, but in terms of providing the same robust application space (especially in gaming) that you see on the iOS platforms, I think the jury is still out. I think it’s a bit unwise of Google to not instill some controls on the types of products their OS runs on, or alternatively, to provide a space in which users recognize that their device is not a “universal” device, but that it will have the horsepower and specs to run some applications, but not others. Kind of like what existed with Windows gaming in the 90’s, and to some extent, today.

What I do know is that as an iOS developer and designer, I’m heartened to hear that the iPad 2 might simply double the original iPad resolution. Doing so would demonstrate the sort of forward-thinking that will allow development on iOS to thrive for years to come.