Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Trouble with Trade Associations

I've never really found trade associations to be worthwhile, whether engineering, design, or whatever.  And yet many people seem to take them very seriously, pay a lot of money to join, and attend all sorts of conferences put on by them.

I think I've decided that they often end up working like a sort of credibility ponzi scheme (not that this is the intention of any association's founders).  It works like this:

  1. A trade association claims to be an important organization of minds in a field where new ideas are shared to the benefit of all involved.
  2. People in the industry join so they are seen as staying in touch with the latest developments.  They can put it on their resumes, display the magazine in their offices, and reference the conferences they've been to.  This lends them credibility.
  3. Other people write papers for the magazine or do presentations at the conferences.  They are seen -- at their companies and by their customers -- as experts, increasing credibility and career prospects.
  4. Dues are paid for access to this credibility, giving the association a pool of money with which to create the magazine, put on the conference, spam me mercilessly and other activities that increase the credibility of the association as a source of credibility, which allows them to pull in more members and higher-power speakers.
  5. Repeat
Nowhere in here, however, is there much motivation for anybody to bring quality information -- information that they truly care about -- to the table.  Presenters generally are there for the credibility of having done it, and present information that won't get them in trouble with their employer.  And members, just by paying their dues and attending the conferences, are already getting the  perceived credibility they want out of the bargain, so it's not as if they'll stop coming if the talks are weak or unsubscribe from the magazine if the articles aren't top-notch.  So you end up with an expensive magazine nobody reads and expensive conferences people grudgingly attend.

If I really cared here, I could look into why certain organizations actually do seem to bring a lot of quality information, like TED.  I suspect, however, that these organizations resist being a club;  you can't simply join up and reap the benefits of additional credibility.  The organization is the information, nothing more, so people only pay attention to TED so far as the information remains solid.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Casual Gamer's Curse

As an increasingly old person, I have less time for games than I used to.  And yet, games continue to really appeal to me, especially as the narratives have gotten more adult (pretty much, I'm sure, as a result of my increasingly old Nintendo-kid contemporaries in the game industry).  Stuff like Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Fallout 3 makes my wallet come forth -- I want to play in those worlds and experience those stories.

There's the obvious problem that if I have, say, one solid 3-hour gaming session I can get a week, then a 30-hour game will take me 10 weeks.  Annoying, since it kind of breaks up the story continuity a bit.  More so, though, this problem is getting to me:

Difficulty vs. Gameplay Hours

After each 3-hour chunk of play, I let the game sit for a week or two (maybe trying to play another game one week) and when I come back, I've lost the muscle memory and reflexes from the last session.  This repeats several times and pretty soon I have a stack of $50 games that I've played a fraction of. The last game I actually finished was Portal.

Right now I'm playing through Assassin's Creed 2, which is incredibly fun.  It feels like you are playing in something like the real-world Italy of the Renaissance -- cities just like the real things, characters taken from history, involved in a storyline that is plausibly Machiavellian.  I'm also bed-ridden after a surgery, so I'm able to play for many hours a day and so I'm tearing through the game, at a level of difficulty that's allowing me to enjoy the story and experience rather than getting frustrated with the mechanics. It's great finally being able to play on the red line in that chart again, like I was 15.

So my plea to developers is this:  make mature games that are shorter, but no less rich.  Movies are no more than 3 hours; I can enjoy one at one sitting and have a rich experience.  Why can't games be like that?  I like an iPhone puzzle game as much as the next dude, but it's as if I had to choose between watching sitcoms and watching the complete 10-DVD Ken Burns Jazz documentary set.

I still want all of the elaborate world design, latest graphics advances, refined complex gameplay, and entirely the complexity of story.  I just want it in less than 10 hours of complete experience rather than stretching it out over 30 hours with intricate development trees, equipment upgrades, and filler missions.  I'll still pay $50 for it, I promise, and if you want to use all that game structure you've built to release additional paid download episodes, I am all for that as well.