XBox Live Console Update coming in November 2006!

October 30, 2006

Oh.  So wicked.
http://www.xbox.com/en-US/community/news/2006/1030-novemberupdate-completelist.htm

Check out these doozies:

1) Lightning-fast enumeration and listing of all Xbox Live® Arcade games on the console.
2) Stream music, pictures and video from a Zune device.
3) Improved UI performance in Media Center Extender

#2 is one of those things I’ve been DREAMING about.  Imagine walking into your home carrying your Zune.  Now imagine being able to play all the content on your Zune using your Home Entertainment system – the 60" Big Screen TV… the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound system…

…all without connecting a single wire.  Just walking into the same room, and kicking off your XBox360 is all you’ll need to play your videos in full screen… your music with BIG sounds… and share your photos with anyone in the room.

Oh.  So wicked.


My Soapbox Favorites

October 28, 2006

Check this out:  This is a new feature of our video service, Soapbox.  It allows me to post all my posted videos in a blog entry.  I have over 180 videos currently posted right now… not all of them will be there once we release, but if you’re interested in seeing some of this stuff, check it out below:

My Online Videos

Additionally, this is another feature of Soapbox:  My Favorites.  All the videos that I consider to be "cool" and included on my video favorites list, are listed below:

My Favorite Videos


Chris Roberts – the Voice of UCLA Football

October 27, 2006

Today, I received my copy of "Stadium Stories – UCLA Bruins" on tape.  "Stadium Stories" a collage of great stories from the early radio days of UCLA Football from 1981 to 2005.  I’ve been listening to UCLA Football on the radio for close to 18 years now and as any fan knows, listening to a game through Chris Roberts broadcast on AM570 is so much more fun and memorable than watching it on Fox Sports Net.

<rant>
In fact, with the recent introduction of
Petros Papadakis – former USC Running Back & annoying loudmouth extraordinaire – as the color commentator for UCLA football, it has provided even more incentive for people to "stop watching" UCLA Football on FSN West in deference to AM570 on the radio.  (It’s a common practice for Bruin fans to watch the game, mute the television, and turn up the radio and watch the game to Chris Roberts & Matt Stevens intelligent & thoughtful commentary instead of Barry Tompkins along side Petros Papadakis’ inane & idiotic ramblings)
</rant>

I distinctly remember tenuous moments in UCLA Football history where I sat with baited breath on Chris Roberts confirmation over the radio that a game winning field goal had successfully parted the uprights.  I think it was 1990 vs Oregon, where I sat in the car with my little brother listening to the words, "With 2 seconds on the clock…SNAP.  The kick is up and… it is………………. GOOD!  <insert obligatory background whooping and hollaring in the pressbox>

Chris RobertsAnyway, I purchased the 5 Audio CD set a week ago from Chris Robert’s web site at http://www.chrisrobertsonline.net/stadiumstories.htm.  I was surprised to discover that Chris Roberts himself not only created the content of the Audio CD set, he published it on his own, and handmailed the set to me with a note & his autograph on the front cover.

Just listening the the introduction made my face light up with delight.  There’s something eerily comforting about listening to Chris Roberts talk about UCLA football on CD.  I can see this being a staple in my car from here on out.

If you go to his web site, he even has a commentary area that I never noticed.  This might be a new thing but he writes his perspective of the Notre Dame loss on the web site, which frankly seems quite positive considering the outcome.  He even has a video clip posted (using Windows Media!) on the site.

If you’re a UCLA Bruin Football fan, and you’ve ever listened to a UCLA Radio broadcast, I’d highly recommend this 5 CD box set – you won’t be disappointed.  It’s only $19 for hours of commentary about our 1954 National Championship season, the 2005 season of sensational comebacks, the infamous 8 game winning streak against USC… and you can buy it completely online.


The Problem with “Lumines” on Xbox Live: My two cents on the Microtransaction debacle

October 26, 2006

Admittedly, I’m pissed about this myself.  And I work for the damned company.

What is it that I’m talking about?   A few days ago, "Lumines", a small Tetris-like game, was released for purchase on Xbox Live Marketplace – the convenient online portion of Xbox 360 that allows you to peruse, shop, and try out/demo games, purchase add-on packs for existing games, or download video clips.  It was priced at 1200 Microsoft points, which is essentially $15.

Okay.  No big deal right?  $15 for a small addictive game with great sound and graphics that you can play in 1080i on a next-gen system… that’s little "up there" but if it’s a quality well-developed game, which it is, it’s probably worth the price of 3 Starbucks Carmel Macchiatos.

Or is it?

Upon further inspection of your game, (which by the way I will remind everyone that you can download and try out FOR NO COST before you buy it) a gamer realizes that there are entire segments of the game that appear to be flat out missing.  For example, if you look at the interface, you see that there is:

  • a "Mission mode"
  • a "Puzzle mode"
  • an "Advance mode"

And they’re all completely inaccessible… even when you PAY $15/1200 Microsoft points for it.


Lumines Live!… Q Entertainment’s recently buy-by-the-module Xbox Live Marketplace game

In order to get access to the "advanced mode" a more complex version of the basic play mode, you need to pay an addtional $10.  And in an obvious attempt to compel people to buy the "advanced" pack by sticking an untouchable selection in the middle of the game screen that reads "advanced mode", they’ve essentially baited the game to get people to buy these "microtransaction"-based add-ons.

It gets worse.  It turns out that even though you can’t see them, there are even more packs that you "get the opportunity to buy" to add to Lumines:

  • "Artist" Pack – For more music to play in the background
  • "Vs CPU Mode" Pack – For more computer players

Note to Q Entertainment, Xbox Live, whomever it is that did this…
SeriouslyNotCool
.
I mean really.  Xbox Live Marketplace has been kind of a great forum for purchasing stuff you like, and not purchasing stuff you don’t like.  This however is the first instance of a product that people DO like however the manner in which it is served to the consumer is frankly insulting

The key here is that Lumines’ creator, Q Entertainment, by pricing the game as one of the most expensive products on Xbox Live Marketplace, is essentially acting like that big brother that used to tease you by holding a your favorite Hot Wheels car over your head and saying, "What’s the matter?  Don’t you want your car?  If you want your car, why don’t you come and get it?"

Then after you’ve grovelled, begged, pleaded, and said he’s the greatest guy in the world and no other brother is better than him… blah blah blah… he then proceeds to physically remove the tires off the car, and hands you the body saying, "There!  I gave you your car back.  Aren’t you happy?"

You little snivelling ingrate.

Lumines™ Live!And on top of all of this… "The Cherry"
The cherry on top of this big ice cream sundae of fun is the fact that a lot of content has actually been stripped out of the game, in comparison to the original version of Lumines on the Playstation Portable.  Lumines was originally a launch title for the PSP and out of the box the PSP version comes with 40 puzzles.  Not so for Xbox Live’s version:  It comes with FIVE… with the opportunity to buy the other 35 and a new feature called "mission mode" with a "Puzzle Pack" which is probably going to be $10 at a minimum, bringing the total to $25 or 2000 Microsoft points.

Also skins as missing.  The Xbox Live version comes with only 12 skins.  The PSP version came with tons of skins.  Again, the "Artist pack" will likely fulfill this empty portion of the game… for the low low price of $10 again.  Now were up to $35.

Now let’s just put it all to bed by telling you that the PSP version with all it’s features and all it’s portability is $19 for a brand new cartridge at BestBuy.  Compare this to the $15 "disabled" version that you download and buy online which a) doesn’t have any physical medium for Q to pay for, and b) doesn’t have to be stocked on shelves and distributed, being that there is a very negligible cost for moving bits instead of physical discs.

I should point out that Lumines for Xbox 360 has a multiplayer feature that can be used locally or over Xbox Live.  There is also a Time Attack mode that allows you to attain Xbox Live achievements which is good. 

However the question is not, "Is the new UI and these new features worth the $15 difference?"  The question is more like, "Why does the customer get positioned to feel like  they were sold a bill of goods?"  At the end of the day, all because the game clearly has been "partitioned out" for upselling, and the missing components have been laid before the user in as obnoxious a way as possible, the user feels like he bought an incomplete product – especially if they’re used to the PSP.

The "You don’t have to buy it" Argument
Now for the record, I respect Larry Hyrb.  He’s a great guy and he’s answered several of my questions personally over our internal network and he’s even volunteered to fly down and talk to one of my customers.  The poor guy must be incredibly busy.

That being said, his argument around the Lumines/Microtransaction debate is simple: 

"You don’t have to buy it.  You don’t have to buy any of the add-ons."

This is where historical perspective I think provides me with a little bit of a benefit.  This is the same line we’ve given to consumers about a lot of things we sell.  Internet Explorer = "You don’t have to use it."  Windows XP Professional = "You don’t have to buy it."  "Office Professional = "You can buy Standard Edition"

From my vantage point, this is the wrong tactic and approach for pissed off users/consumers.  These folks aren’t like corporate customers – every nickel matters.  They’re not ones to blow things off… to them, it’s personal – not business.  We have a great deal of goodwill built up in Xbox Live Marketplace.  People like it and people look forward to new content that they can download on the console over the Internet.  And for many people, I think they believe we’re pissing all over them by insulting their intelligence and selling them a "shell" of a game.

We’re selling them a proverbial dinette set with only 1 butter knife, 1 dining fork, a bowl, and a bread plate.   We then go tell them that they can buy the salad fork, the soup spoon, the stirring spoon, the steak knife, the wine glass, the water glass, the dining plate, the placemat, and the napkin separately… only as they need them.

YES, you’re damned right you need to buy them.

I mean seriously.  How many people are going to buy the "base game" then not want the additionals.  Case & point:  Xbox 360 Core System sales vs Premium System sales.  People are willing to pay a little more, but don’t go nickeling & diming them right in their faces with "unavailable features" that they can only unlock if they cough up another $10.

I’m talking about Lumines… not other Xbox Live products
Now to be clear, I’m talking about Lumines specifically here.  There’s some debate about the viability of lame add ons like "Horse Armor" for your horse in Elder Scrolls 4 Oblivion that’s basically just an aesthetic upgrade.  This is a $5 purchase that’s just stupid and really shouldn’t have been posted.  I’ll bet they made less than 1000 sales of that dumb upgrade. 

However Larry makes the point that Oblivion was worth EVERY PENNY of the $60 you likely paid for it at the store so if you ended up paying a little more for a microtransaction for ANYTHING you might be interested in that’s posted on Xbox Live Marketplace, so be it.  The game was worth far more than the $60 paid for it and had far more content in the game than anyone could have really gone through.  I know folks that simply never expect to "finish" the game it’s so expansive.  And I agree with him on this point.

But Lumines?  The inclusion of "unavailable options" in the main Lumines game download, combined with $10 downloads for every add-on just smacks of greed and insults the gamer at large.

What should they have done?
Hindsight is 20/20 however I believe they should have:

  • Made the game $20 and included everything in the PSP version + multiplayer & Time Attack.  It would have been a shocker but folks that aren’t used to $20 XBL games but they’d get over it.  It is a killer game.
  • Made upgrade areas "invisible" unless you actually purchased it from XBL in which case the option "appears".  This would be less like link-baiting, and more like a real software "expansion pack".  Right now, the "unavailable options" that are listed in Lumines just taunt the player that just coughed up $15 for the game.
  • Apologize.  Concede that while it is within the right of Q & Xbox Live to set prices to whatever they want, this was an experiment that wasn’t received well and that this was a mistake.  Product marketing misjudged people’s perceptions of value of the product. 
    Continue to sell Lumines for $15 temporarily & make the Puzzle Pack available for FREE immediately to people that buy Lumines today.  Then after say 11/15, either reset the price of the Lumines game to $20 and continue to have the Puzzle pack a free download, or reset the price of the Puzzle pack but make it $5, not $10.   Everything other add-on can remain a microtransaction.

But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.  Here’s a video debate on the topic brought to you by G4TV.

VIDEO:  G4TV – Are you being ripped off by microtransactions?
http://soapbox.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=698cb537-20eb-4c63-a224-238eb5a2c965


OMG… the stuff my customers send me.

October 26, 2006

Unless you have no friends whatsoever, I’m sure you’ve received a "funny forward" email.  And I tell you, with the number of people I meet on my job, I get some of the craziest stuff sent to me by my customers.  (And former customers)

I’ve received this one particular forward a dozen times and I still find myself opening it because it’s that funny.  Basically, according to the flyer, some Malibu couple got divorced however part of their settlement was that they had to liquidate the estate – part of which was a Tuscan Villa in Malibu – a 3 story, 5 bedroom palacial palacial abode overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The master bedroom alone is 1600 sq ft.  For reference sake, that one bedroom is the size of my current condo.  And they’re including all the amenties as well – flat screen TVs, surround sound systems, refrigerator, antiquities, etc.

And they’re selling it for $2,999,000.

Now, I’ve seen brand new houses in Westwood that have gone for $2,500,000 unfurnished just a block away from where I live.  This thing looks phenomenal.  And it’s completely new.  And while I realize that it will sell for much more than that after the bidding is in, I can only dream… of being able to afford to ridiculous property taxes that would undoubtedly have to be paid on the property.

This could all be a big hoax of course.  I haven’t bothered to Snopes.com the thing, nor have I bothered calling the phone number.  But y’know, it’s still funny from an Internet lore point of view.  (Kinda like the infamous "Tiger Woods’ House in Hawaii".  Oh?  You didn’t get that one?  Sighhhh.)

MALIBU AD:  http://www.evilkoala.org/download/0718_001.pdf


Microsoft acknowledges: “Xbox360 USB HD-DVD drive WILL work on Windows Vista”

October 25, 2006

Holy crap!  We just acknowledged that the Xbox360′s USB-connected HD-DVD drive will work on Windows Vista seamlessly however it will still require a 3rd party player like Intervideo’s DVD.  (This is likely for the purposes of obtaining an H.264 license as well as using software that conforms to the rigid requirements of the DVDforum – mostly to prevent easy HD content duplication)

Xbox 360 HD-DVD PlayerI think this is a really big deal!  I think this announcement shows a few more of our bigger strategic cards on the table.   More importantly it also demonstrates how broad our decision maker’s thinking is – something I’ve always been proud of.   I mean, just think about it.  This move impacts:
- Windows Vista’s advancement against competitors like Apple & Linux
- Xbox 360′s advancement against competitors like Sony & Nintendo
- HD-DVD’s advancement over competitors like BluRay

NOT JUST MICROSOFT ANYMORE
I would surmise that a move like this implies that the XBox360 HD-DVD drive is not just a tool to develop interest in the Xbox360 itself.  This implies, liked I’d mentioned the other day that Microsoft is not the only source of subsidization for the Xbox360 HD-DVD drive’s cost.  In fact, I’ll bet (although I have no actual visibility into this part of the company – it’s just my hunch) that the DVDForum/Toshiba is in on this as well to help advance the standard on next-generation desktop systems and further permeate the hobbiest world that isn’t interested in purchasing a $1000 BluRay drive or a $600 Playstation 3 console. 

IT’S ABOUT WINDOWS VISTA
Another thing to note is that they clearly state "on Windows Vista".  I’ll bet $1000 right now that the drive is not supported on Windows XP.  This would be a good marketing tool to encourage individuals to adopt the HD-DVD standard along with Windows Vista for media-a-philes, which I think we can all agree will eventually become the next desktop OS standard.

SONY’S DILEMMA
WOW.  And the implications of this are huge relative to the next generation HD standard a.k.a. the BluRay vs HD-DVD war.   Sony’s discounted BluRay player is embedded into the PS3, and they’re marketing the PS3 as "the way to get a cheap HD quality video player".  By tying the drive however to their game console, they’ve essentially locked themselves out of a huge opportunity to move BluRay forward.

  • - On one hand, if they continue to make PS3 the "way to get BluRay", then they miss out on the PC crowd while people buy XBox360 HD-DVD drives for their systems on-the-cheap.
  • - On the other hand, if they subsidize the creation of a low cost PC connectable BluRay player for ~$200, they’ve just taken the wind out of their "buy a PS3 for a cheap BluRay player" argument.

They’re at a strategic disadvantage on either BluRay or PS3 – one or the other.  Given that PS3 is make-or-break for the company, I doubt that they will opt for the latter option and instead hope that HD-DVD doesn’t grab a foothold as rapidly as it could.

THIS MOVE HAS PRECEDENT
And y’know what?  This move actually has precedent in our history.  In 1995, Microsoft and Chinon subsidized the cost of a PC CD-ROM player to enable a next generation of developers and users to start installing Windows 95 via CDROM instead of installing using the 25 3.5inch floppies that the OS required.  I think the cost was something like $100 for the drive with the purchase of Windows 95.  It was a huge hit and people actively bought Windows 95 for the CDROM drive (and only Windows 95 supported CDROM using high throughput 32-bit drivers) or people that wanted Windows 95 likely took advantage of the CDROM drive just so that they could start to take advantage of the multimedia playback capabilities of the new OS.

It was a very successful move that put CDROM actively on the map.  Some might argue that CDROM would have been successful without this deal, but I think historians have acknowledged that the offer was one that made greatly accelerated CDROM’s adoption – especially on the Windows platfrom – and recognized it as the technology replacement for floppies instead of things like Iomega’s Zip Drive technology which, while it arrived on the scene later, never quite got a foothold in the marketplace because it was never recognized by either PC manufacturers or Microsoft as a "must have" storage medium.

Had it been, we might be booting up to Zip drives instead of CDROMs, USB keys, and external USB-connected Hard Drives like we do today.


Apple Advertisement Parodies Galore

October 25, 2006

I’m wondering what Apple thinks about all the parodies being produced of their ads. 

On one hand, there’s the old saying in business:  "There’s no such thing as bad advertising."  On the other hand, if the advertising brings attention to your products flaws relative to your competitor’s is it really advertising any more?  Take for instance this Mac ad parody that highlight’s the Macintosh’s inability to support pen computing well. 

I guess it is still advertising considering it’s getting the brand out there, but isn’t that overshadowed by the content’s focus on your product’s inadequacies?

The bottom line is that there seems to be an absolute torrent of Mac ad parodies coming out of the the woodwork at a rate 4x faster than the creation of actual Mac ads.  There’s a few that I can’t post because, while funny, their NSFW by any stretch of the imagination, so here’s a few that I CAN post for everyone to check out:


Motivational Posters… your way!

October 24, 2006

My friend Harry Pierson found this.  It’s a web site that generates JPEG motivational posters based upon your own uploaded graphic and your own title & description.

Here’s one I made of Sheepa our family dog.  And believe me, after reading nasty comments made about you and your company on the Internet by people half way around the world you don’t even know… this really is a great poster to have hanging in your cubicle.

Here’s the web site to go make your own motivational poster!

WEBSITE:  http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/motivator.php


“The Strongest Dad in the World”

October 23, 2006

My father sent this to me.  I read this article about Team Hoyt and I had tears welling up in my eyes.  I watch my best friend Ted run triathlons and I’m just in awe, but THIS IS JUST INCREDIBLE.  I can’t even run 2 miles by myself much less swim 1/2 mile, bike 18 miles, and do the 5 mile run… and now this guy does all of that all while pushing/pulling a full grown adult? 

I guess it goes to show what the human spirit can do with the right motivation.  I’ve posted a video documenting a triathlon the two of them did, here:
(http://soapbox.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=10665b07-2c3a-44bf-925c-d13e93c6c365)

The Strongest Dad in the World
[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly on 6/13/2005]

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he’s pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in Marathons. Eight times he’s not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and Pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars–all in the same day.

Dick’s also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. On a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much–except save his life.

This love story began in Winchester , Mass. , 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life;” Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old.  "Put him in an institution.”

But the Hoyts weren’t buying it. They noticed the way Rick’s eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate.  "No way,” Dick says he was told.  "There’s nothing going on in his brain.”

"Tell him a joke,” Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his Head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words?  "Go Bruins!” And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the School organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want To do that.”

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker” who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried.  "Then it was me who was handicapped,” Dick says.  "I was sore for two weeks.”

That day changed Rick’s life. "Dad,” he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”

And that sentence changed Dick’s life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

"No way,” Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren’t quite a single runner, and they weren’t quite a wheelchair competitor.  For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race officially:  In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, "Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?”

How’s a guy who never learned to swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they’ve done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii . It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don’t you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you’d do on your own? “No way,” he says. Dick does it purely for "the awesome feeling” he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time?  Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992–only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don’t keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

"No question about it,” Rick types.  "My dad is the Father of the Century.”

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged.  "If you hadn’t been in such great shape,” one doctor told him, "you probably would’ve died 15 years ago.” So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other’s life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass. , always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father’s Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

"The thing I’d most like,” Rick types, "is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.”

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/pr/subs/siexclusive/2005/writers/rick_reilly/06/13/reilly0620/index.html

VIDEO: 
http://soapbox.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=10665b07-2c3a-44bf-925c-d13e93c6c365


Mattel’s UNO is the #1 Xbox Live Marketplace game

October 20, 2006

GamerScore Blog just posted a ton of statistics about XBox Live and also posted a list of the "Top 10 experiences that you can only get using Xbox 360".

One of the big bulletins is that there are 4 MILLION users of Xbox Live today.  That’s a lot of people to play against.  They also posted that over 12 MILLION downloads have occured on the network from the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Mattel… I hope someone’s reading!
One big point they also make that I hope isn’t lost on anyone is the fact that our #1 seller on Xbox Live is UNO.  That’s right – Mattel’s card game UNO.   Y’all have a licensing success with this game.  To be honest, I could see this blowing up huge with other Mattel games and children’s toys.  How about a Hot Wheels racer?  How about a Sims add-in for Barbie?  After all, apparently Hasbro hasn’t gotten on the ball with home games based on their properties… and you KNOW that they’ve got a lot of properties that would translate well to Xbox online gaming.  Grab the gold ring while it’s still available!

Top 10 Experiences on XBox Live 
BTW:  Here’s an excerpt of the "Top 10" on the blog post.

  1. Xbox Live delivers one identity across your entire Xbox 360 experience

o Your unique gamertag, gamer profile; gamer score; gamer zone; reputation and achievements stay with you wherever and whatever you play.

o One friends list across all games, so you are always connected to a global community of millions at any time.

o As we roll out Live across platforms, your identity will be available anywhere, anytime on Xbox, Windows, and mobile devices.

  1. Earn Achievements in every Xbox 360 game to compare your progress, skills and accomplishments with your friends on Xbox Live and Xbox.com

o Achievements are changing the way people play games, the way games are designed and chronicles your entire gaming history.

  1. The unified Xbox Live network means you are always connected to a global community of 4 million gamers across 24 countries

o Connect with your friends online, or play with new ones in a safe, secure, managed environment free from cheating, hacking and viruses.

o Xbox Live provides gamers with access to global tournaments and exclusive programs including online Game with Fame events with Larry Johnson, Matisyahu, Jack Black, The Fray and the forthcoming Pac-Man World Championships in February 2007.

  1. Download and enjoy the wide collection Xbox Live Arcade games that are taking the industry by storm

o Access the collection of over 30 highly addictive games to date from the world’s most creative indie game developers and the biggest game publishers on the planet.

o Sample the free, fully playable trial version for every Xbox Live Arcade game.

Read more here:  http://gamerscoreblog.com/team/archive/2006/10/18/538041.aspx


As predicted… YouTube becoming less relevant after being acquired by Google

October 20, 2006

UPDATE 10/24/2006:
Whoa.  This whole thing about YouTube tacitly allowing the publication of copyrighted video content just got a LOT more interesting.  Why? 

YouTube/Google just gave a movie studio the name and details of one of its users to Paramount Pictures to file a lawsuit against.

That’s right.  Apparently the DMCA protects YouTube/Google for prosecution.  But it sure as hell doesn’t protect anyone that posts copyrighted content.  Remember – now that YouTube is part of Google, Google is effectively "turning over it’s users" for prosecution. 

Ars Technica writes:

MarketWatch says that "YouTube’s decision to help Paramount track down Moukarbel stands in stark contrast to the philosophy of Google, which has fought the U.S. Justice Department over attempts to access data about consumers who use its search services." The author all but comes out and calls upon YouTube to fight such subpoenas—just like Google did! Unfortunately, the two cases are so dissimilar as to invalidate the comparison.

When Google fought to keep its users’ search information private, it was not being served DMCA subpoenas. No copyright violation had taken place. That case, in fact, was about pornography, and people’s access to it. The subpoenas were also issued by the US government, not by the copyright holder. In fact, it’s difficult to see why the comparison was even made in the first place, except for the fact that Google just bought YouTube; mentioning the two companies in the same sentence is apparently required now, even when it makes no sense.
(http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061024-8060.html)

In an elogquently put conclusion, Ars Technica writes that, "The real surprise here is how much idealism YouTube has inspired in people, people who convinced themselves that ripping off a script to a major Hollywood film and releasing a different version onto the Internet was somehow a legitimate venture, and that YouTube would stand up for the right to do it. They did not. It doesn’t mean that they sold out or "went corporate" (all of this happened before Google was interested). It simply means they followed the law."

Sounds like some users of YouTube seriously need to "check themselves".

——————–

UPDATE 10/23/2006:
Steve Ballmer, in a conversation with BusinessWeek, nailed this on the head, and while a skeptic might say that he’s "anti-Google" biased, I’d be interested in someone contesting the accuracy of his statements.  Here’s a few choice quotes from the article:

Steve Ballmer on the value of YouTube:

[You've got to ask] could Google do whatever it is they’re hoping to buy without paying $1.6 billion? Is YouTube really some permanent, long-term thing, or is it a fashion? I’m not saying it is a fashion. But every time we do valuations, I wonder if we can afford to keep this hot for 10 years. I’m sure somebody at Google has got to do the same analysis, because even $1.6 billion is more than 1% of their market cap.

Is there a business model? Right now, there’s no business model for YouTube that would justify $1.6 billion. And what about the rights holders? At the end of the day, a lot of the content that’s up there is owned by somebody else.

And here’s a choice quote that everyone’s talking about on Google’s usage of funds:

“The truth is what Google is doing now is transferring the wealth out of the hands of rights holders into Google. So media companies around the world are all threatened by Google. Why? Because basically Google is telling you how much of your ad revenue you get to keep.  They better get some competition.  Us.  Yahoo!.  Somebody better break through or you can short all media stocks right now. As long as there are two, you can hold onto media stocks.”

FULL ARTICLE:  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/oct2006/tc20061011_940241.htm?campaign_id=bier_tco.g3a.rss1011a

——————–
ORIGINAL POST 10/20/2006:

Mark Cuban has taken a lot of heat for stating something along the lines that "Anyone that buys YouTube is an idiot" but everyone knows deep down that he’s right.

For the folks that haven’t figured it out, YouTube wasn’t viewed as worth suing prior to it’s acquisition by Google.  After all, they really didn’t have any money – they were a start up that happened to make a lot of money by having users voluntarily break the law and upload other people’s intellectual property.

And let’s not kid ourselves:  This is the reason YouTube really has been as popular as it is.  For every "Free Hugs" video or legitimately published video that owners effectively released their IP rights by publishing the content online, there are 100′s of videos that are the property of other companies and individuals that never authorized it’s distribution, and it’s these videos that really draws people to YouTube.  From Weird Al Yankovic’s "White & Nerdy" video to the "Bill Gates’ Napoleon Dynamite" sketch… all of this stuff draws viewers and all this stuff is protected by copyright.  And this copyright is being violated.

But there really wasn’t much room to every litigate against YouTube.  After all, there wasn’t much money to be had.

Follow the money
Until Google acquired them.

Now, with YouTube’s valuation sitting at $1.6B through its acquisition and its parent company, Google, having a market capitalization of $139 BILLION DOLLARS, it becomes very attractive to target YouTube’s IP rights violations and attempt to quantify the losses associated with illegally posted IP rights violations.

Witness the first major culling of content from YouTube:
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061020-8038.html

As more professionally-developed or privately-held content that is posted on YouTube is contested, YouTube will be seen as a more and more restrictive location for "sharing" content that people want and content pirates will move on to other illicit locations on the web.

Napster Redux
Gee – this sounds a lot like Napster doesn’t it?

While some might argue that "independent publishing" is still very valuable and how people get good small production types (kids with webcams for example) can get some exposure.  I’m sorry but of the millions upon millions of multimedia posts out there on YouTube, I’ve found personally that only a small subset of the independent videos out there are really "golden" relative to the rest of the garbage posted.  And trying to find those "gold nuggets" is getting harder and harder.  And boy… there are just some people that shouldn’t be allowed to own webcams.

Of course this is all subjective but the proof will be in the pudding:  If viewership drops off of YouTube, and if publishers stop using YouTube in deference to Putfile and other multimedia publishing services that aren’t placed under the same level of scrutiny as YouTube is right now, then you can bet that there are a lot of other people that feel the same way as I do.


The Best Friends Super Adoption Fair… a.k.a. “How to get 7 dogs adopted in 4 hours”

October 18, 2006

This past Sunday, Anne and I spent the day with Save-a-Life Pet Adoptions, a animal rescue organization that we originally got Sheepa, our dog, from.  (http://www.sheepa.com)

You see, every weekend, Anne & I work from 2PM-7PM at a PetCo where Save-a-Life brings their dogs and cats.   Ever since we adopted Sheepa a year ago, we’ve been volunteering there to help get other dogs adopted and take care of their needs.  On the average, they bring 6 or 7 dogs to show while at PetCo and we seem to get about 2 of them adopted a day, which is quite good considering that there’s not a lot of traffic going through PetCo.

So Sunday was a big day.  Thousands of people were coming to see the 65 different adoption organizations that were setting up shop to showcase their adoptable dogs.  We were to bring 12 dogs and an unknown number of cats (I work with the dogs so I don’t know much about the cat side which is completely separated from the dog side.) to help find them homes.

TED’S TRIATHLON IN THE MORNING
The problem was that I had to support my friend Ted in the morning.  Why?  He was doing another Triathlon – only his second in his life.  This one was in Redondo Beach and frankly looked like a real bitch because the surf was pretty strong and the bike run was sort of uphill initially which is really tough when you’re just coming off a long swim.  In fact, while I was watching the swim, I saw 2-3 guys fall out of the race just after hitting the water and trying to get through the breaking surf.  It was that strong.  Ted said that he’d swallowed a fair amount of water getting through the swim.

In any case, the triathlon required me to be up by 5:00AM and he finished up by 9:00AM which left me enough time to get to the fair with my wife along with the 6 dog cages we had in the back of our BMW Convertible.  (The fact that we drove up to the event’s unloading area in a BMW Convertible with the cages was a funny thing in it of itself but I’ll write about that at another date.)

GETTING STARTED
After we got set up, it was time to turn on the sales… uhhh… I mean the adoption charm.  Over a period of 4 hours we proceeded to get 7 of our dogs adopted, breaking the original record of 6 dogs from our last Best Friends Super Adoption.  Most of the dogs were the 5 remaining lab shepherd puppies that we had had trouble getting adopted – primarily because our hunting grounds for adoption families is in an area that is dominated by condo complexes and apartments, where larger dogs like our puppies wouldn’t be as welcome.

Not so at this gig though.  The puppies went one by one to new families… and to REALLY GOOD adoptive families too.  We had one NBC Programming Executive… a couple Registered Nurses… a couple lawyers… a TV Station Marketing Executive… and a family with 6 occupants where someone would be home all the time.  A great group of families indeed and it was great to see the puppies go before they were "no longer puppies" and lost their "cuteness advantage" with the public.

That was the good news… but the "glass is half empty" part of the day was that there were still 5 dogs that went unadopted… and these were the 5 that REALLY needed adopting.  That’s sort of what this blog entry is about.  I’ve got photos of almost every remaining dog that still needs homes.

A WORD ABOUT BEST FRIENDS
Incidentally, I have the utmost admiration for the people at Best Friends.  I keep looking for some indicator that they’re not all "honey & roses" and that there is something somehow wrong with the organization (call it the skeptic in me) but these folks are absolutely phenomenal.  They have coordinated help, they have great leadership, they fund so much of the assistance at the event… and they manage to remain 100% positive about everything.

And that’s a huge thing:  100% positivity.  I can’t say that I’m like that because that requires the tolerance of a saint.  The forgiveness of the Amish.  The steadfast smile of Pollyanna.  However it’s totally the right way to go about things.  They never bring up the petty arguments between adoption organizations, they never complain about the abuses animals have, they never put the call out to "damn" anyone doing evil in the animal kingdom.  All they do is concentrate on the positive aspects of animal adoption and animal care and keep things from deteriorating into angry fighting and finger pointing.  (If you want an example of this, read their free online magazine at http://www.bestfriends.org – it’s so amazingly uplifting because of it’s positive nature, you can’t help but feel good when you read it.  It also comes in physical magazine form if you want to subscribe to it or you make a significant donation to the organization.

The dog’s names are in this order:

If you are interested in adopting any of these animals please contact Save-a-Life Adoptions at http://www.save-a-life.org or email info@save-a-life.org.


Steve Wynn & the Picasso painting, “Le Reve”

October 17, 2006

OMG.  Some of you know I love Vegas.  Las Vegas is the greatest escape on the planet.  I’m treated like a king, I reside and sleep in the best accommodations, I’m provided service and selection like no other place on the planet.  And for the most part, I’m not expected to pay for a damned thing.  And being a chowhound, there are very few places where I think you can get a better meal and even fewer where you can remain entertained for the rest of the evening after dinner.

One of my heroes is Steve Wynn, Las Vegas casino magnate.  Say what you want about Steve Wynn and his history with the Mirage and his back and forth with Kirk Kerkorian.  While most wealthy folks are stodgy, engrossed in business, and overly-focused on competing, very few people on the planet have the spirit, entrepreneurship, intellect, "gumption", and… oh yeah… money that Steve Wynn has.  Think Sir Richard Branson.  That’s sort of what I think of when I think "Steve Wynn".

So I say with great respect and admiration that I absolutely laughed my ass off when I heard about this story.

STEVE ELBOWS A PAINTING
Apparently, the story goes that Steve Wynn was about to execute the sale of "Le Reve", one of his most famous painting by Picasso.  He was in front of an audience talking about various paintings that he had in his collection I guess, and during the process of discuss the painting "Le Reve", the very painting that was about to be sold, he accidentally elbowed it. 

HARD.

Yep.   It was said that the painting has sold in 1997 for $48.4 million dollars before Steve Wynn purchased it and it doesn’t seem to be disclosed what he bought it for but I’ve heard $139 million dollars.  And he was about to sell it.

RIIIIIPPPP.

His elbow punctured the painting and there was an audible rip the sailed across the room.  It was dead center on Marie-Thérèse Walter’s left forearm and produced a 2 inch tear.  He even stuck his pinky in through the painting to verify that his elbow had really gone all the way through.

Silence.

Steve apparently suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa which makes it difficult for him to judge distances.  Apparently the distance between his elbow and the paint was an example of an "object that was closer that it appeared".  So with everyone looking at him and the damage he’d done… with a room full of people staring on in uncomfortable silence, what did Steve say in response to his actions?

"I can’t believe I just did that.  Oh, shit.  Oh… man."

He then turned to his guests and said, "Well, I’m glad I did it and not you." Then he went on his business, talking about the other paintings that he’d been describing throughout the night.  He didn’t throw a fit.  He didn’t overly curse after throwing the "$40M elbow".  (Hell – give the man a break.  If you just seriously damaged $139 million dollars in front of a room of people all staring at the painting, you’d be pretty pissed too.)  He just calmly moved forward.

 

OH, THE HILARITY
I guess that’s what I found so hilarious.  It’s such a foreign perspective to have… the ability to take a bad situation… one so colossally bad that any of us would have been reduced to Jello if we were in the same situation… and just forget about it.

I pride myself in the ability to refocus when things go wrong.  I see so many of our more junior (and some senior) employees just go ape-s#$% on stage when things go wrong.  When a LiveMeeting session won’t start because the Internet connection’s not working and they didn’t plan ahead for just such a catastrophy… when a demo fails and they can’t get anything working… when a presentation computer locks up leaving them without a Powerpoint deck to go off of… that’s when experience comes into play.  That’s when professionality and objectivity are best demonstrated.

But man.  If I ripped a $139 million dollar painting, I’d seriously crap my pants.  Like a deer in the headlights, I’d squeal like a pig, and quickly exit stage right.  Or left.  Or whatever.  But when you’re Steve Wynn, a multi-billionaire hotel & casino mogul, not only is $139 million really not that big a deal, the embarrassment and action of wrecking a treasure is really what’s at stake here.

Even in situations of sheer panic, everything’s relative.

MORE HERE:  http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/articles/061023ta_talk_paumgarten


Battlestar Galactica Season Premiere… WTF was THAT?

October 11, 2006

Battlestar Galactica has jumped the shark.

Y’know that expression that’s always on Chloe’s face in "24"?  The look where her forehead is crinkled and she looks like she’s thinking, "WTF?", "You annoy me", and "Why are you wasting my time? all at once?

That’s the expression I had on my face throughout the entire episode.

I watched through all 2 hours of the Season Premiere and between Starbuck’s mystery baby and the supposed execution of Mary McDonnell & Richard Hatch’s characters (Oooh – I wonder if they survive?!? <feh>) I all but was ready to hurl.

It seems that Battlestar Galactica has changed writers or something because next to the "everyone got married on the planet" plotlines and "we’re going to torture everyone to intimidate the audience" subtext, it seems they don’t have a single original idea left in their pens.

Oooh.  Starbuck’s married, has a baby, and is now becoming domesticated.

Awww.  Apollo’s married, is now something of a slacker, and now has a gut bigger than mine.

Huh?  Cali lost her baby and is miraculously freed.

Booo!  Baltar is faced with the timelessly unoriginal "sign-this-or-else" dilemma.

What?  The rebels "crack the jamming frequencies" of the Cylons.

Jeez.  Cylons are now arguing and shooting each other.

I swear, I was almost happy that at the end of the premier, it looked like everyone was gonna get shot execution style.  Probably to put them out of their misery from this horrific story.  I swear to God, it’s so bad, I’m expecting a "Dallas-style" conclusion next week when Jamie Bamber/Apollo wakes up from a horrific nightmare and everything that transpired over the premier episode was a dream.

The solitary confinement bit is getting redundant after Colonel Tye got his eye plucked out. Every storyline seems unsurprising, derivative, and unoriginal. And strangely enough, even with all the "been-there-seen-that" plotlines, nothing seemed "believable", which was the hallmark (in my mind at least) of the series. The combination of the original story plus touches like the handheld camera shots in space and the realistic physics of the Vipers made it at least somewhat possible that this could be real. (Although that whole "firewall" bullsh-t from season 2 really threw me out of sync with the show for a few episodes. I’m surprised the "firewall" didn’t have Cisco-branding on it.)

But I was so hyped for the show that I kinda forgave most of the horrible story… up until the Baltar-must-sign-this-directive incident and which point, I started reading my football insider subscription at BruinBlitz.com, because it was more entertaining than the episode.


Self-stirring coffee mug? Bought 4.

October 9, 2006

product imageOh, come on.  How can you pass this baby up?  It’s a self-stirring coffee cup powered by 2 AAA batteries.  Push the button, and it stirs your coffee for you.  $30.

Not impressed yet?  It comes in a set of 2 mugs for $30.

Still not impressed?  It runs at 3,000RPM.  That’s right.  It’s approaching the speed of your laptop’s lousy hard drive.  This makes it easy to mix in hard to dissolve additives to your coffee like syrups, honey, and other things.

http://www.hammacher.com/publish/73062.asp?promo=hl_kitchen

Now, go buy one for your geek girlfriend or boyfriend.


Commercials, Microsoft, and me

October 3, 2006

Sigh.  I’m no fan of Budweiser.  There’s really no beverage that Budweiser makes that I like.  I’m more of a Beamish – Guinness – Bass kind-of-guy.  And my friend Tim, a beer connoisseur, hasn’t helped in that area either being that he abhors Budweiser along with most of the US’s mass manufacturered, what he calls, "piss water".

So it bugs me that I realllllllllllly like their Budweiser Select commercials.  I’m sure you’ve seen them.  They flash scenes from nightclubs and ultralounges around the world with trendy folks wearing hip threads and leather jammin’ to the sounds of the Chemical Brothers song, "Galvanize".

BUDWEISER:  The King of Commercials

This is a good commercial.  As a guy with sales experience that once lived that life, that’s a damned good commerical targetting exactly the right segment.  Granted, I’m biased being that I like the Chemical Brothers and frankly smouldering hotness in leather isn’t something you’ll see me protesting against, I know something about those folks affectionately called "urban connectors" and to be blunt these folks ACTUALLY DRINK BUDWEISER.

These are those folks that used hit spring break every year in college.  The ones that live in NoHo in a 2 person flat that spend more money at Kenneth Cole or Salvatore Ferragamo in a single day than at Ralphs all year, while working their way to partner at their father’s law firm.

I swear, these folks will drink anything – Corona, MGD, Coors – I’ve noticed that the beer brand doesn’t actually seem to matter.  "Heinies" are considered exotic to these folk.  It seems that as long as it has alcohol in it, and they’ve heard of the brand as being something everything else will drink, they’ll consume it.  I’ve even heard that the fact that the light watery color of American lite beers gives it an edge "because that way it doesn’t stain your dress if it gets spilled on you."  Bottom line is that getting a buzz with the opportunity to hook up in a live social scene is the priority – and let taste be damned.

Which is what makes this commercial so smart.  If you assume that these urban connector types will drink anything regardless of actual taste, and that these folks are more interested in subconcious brand recognition.  Aligning the beer’s symbol & name over and over and over again with the same environment, the same music, the same clothing, the same club-goers… it’s "alignment advertising".  Simple, easy "exposure through association" and they use their 30 seconds of TV time well.

V-DUB:  Volkwagen’s Advertising for the GTI

Now compare this with the "V-Dub" commercials featuring a German-accented guy dressed in white advertising the New Volkswagen GTI.  In the ads, they usually take some guy who’s tricked out his car, and basically smash it on TV using a large crate that gets dropped on it, a catapult/trebuchet that hurls it overhead,  then introduces a white GTI as an alternative "hip" car.

The target, contrary to what one might think, are individuals that "see tricked out cars, don’t own one, but would like to buy one that it fairly cool, and off-the-shelf hip".  The car is presented as a clean, stylish automobile for the younger set, and to some degree they succeed.  They poke fun at the "Japanese rice-rocket", chrome rimmed, big muffler, overcharged, whale-tailed, pimp-my-ride set, while giving viewers a "refined" choice to go with.

So you might say, "What’s the difference?"  They’re doing the same thing as the Budweiser commercial.  They’re aligning themselves with an audience that doesn’t have a tricked out car, and would like to buy something a little more "in"… a little more hip. 

The problem is, the commercial was played during the Baltimore Ravens vs San Diego Chargers football game.  If you’re watching the Ravens beat the Chargers in the final 34 seconds of the 4th quarter, you’re NOT a member of the wanna be soup-ed up car set.  You’re likely into horsepower, Miller Genuine Draft, and Man Laws.

Why anyone would choose to advertise a wanna-be cool car to football game viewers is beyond me.  Marketing decisions these days aren’t questioned enough by higher level executives I suppose. 


Bungie’s first Blogcast

October 2, 2006

Bungie went and created their first Blogcast/Audiocast/P-dcast.  (Gotta avoid using that P-d word for fear Apple will sue me.)  Download it and listen to Marty O’Donnell talk about the Halo 3 Music.

WARNING - 60MB file! Click here to download.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.