Social Games and Race Tracks

2014
06.18

As many of you know, one of my big hobbies is racing Corvettes. Tim and I started racing about nine or ten years ago and I have to say it’s really just stupid fun. But because I spend so much time thinking about games.. and racing, it stands to reason that I’d find intersections between the two.

This past month we got some very sad news. Texas World Speedway,  in my opinion the best track in Texas.. the oldest with the greatest history.. is now on track to being bulldozed under and turned into a housing development. This is sad on many levels, but for me it’s because it’s the one I consider my “home track.”

Sure, there are other tracks in Texas. Some really NICE tracks.. MSR Cresson, Harris Hill, Eagles Canyon.. and more. But none of them have the feel of TWS.

None of them were tracks where I felt I could bring friends and easily introduce them to the world of racing.

Which led me to question.. why?

Why do I feel that way about this track and none of the others? What does TWS have that the others don’t have? Sure, it has a   banked front straight, which no other track in Texas has. It has two long straights for the high horse power cars to really stretch and run, but other tracks have nice long straights. But this is more than just the track map.

So I started to look at TSW vs the other tracks and I came upon one very unique difference.

Texas World Speedway is laid out to support social interaction.

OK.. let’s get some terminology first…

Pits, Paddock. The “pits” are the designated spots where participants can park their race vehicle and put their supporting gear. The Pits are located in the Paddock, which is the area where race vehicles and their supporting staff are parked.
Grid – the Grid is where you line up before you are released on to the track to race
TWS – Texas World Speedway, a track located in Bryan College Station
MSR Cresson – Motor Sports Ranch is a track located in Cresson, Texas.
MSR Houston – MSR Houston is a track located in Angleton, Texas

Texas World Speedway

Texas World Speedway

Now, if you look at the map of TWS, you will notice that the Pits are actual structures. They are long open metal buildings with a shared table that runs down the middle.  Race participants are all parked close to each other all weekend and this encourages interaction. Whether you are asking how each other did, or need help repairing something, there are always other people right there.. with their tools and chairs and ice coolers.

Instructors as well as participants all use these pits. This encourages mingling between “veteran” racers and “newbie” racers. It allows conversations and mentoring to occur the entire time, not just in the car.

Additionally, these pits are just yards from the track with no impeded view of the cars as they come down the front straight. This allows people to easily walk to the fence to see who’s doing what or see how long before their next session and still keep an eye on the pit where their friends are.

The grid (place where you line up your car in preparation for going out on track) is also adjacent to the pits. This allows drivers and instructors and even visitors to walk close to the cars as they prepare to go out. It keeps everyone involved in the action of the day.

Concessions are also within easy walking distance and view of the pits. This allows people to grab something to eat or drink without losing contact with the action… without losing contact with each other.

Unfortunately for other tracks in Texas, this isn’t true. While they may have a really great clubhouse. Or they may have good garage facilities, they are not designed in such a way that encourages making and strengthening social bonds.

MSR Cresson

MSR Cresson track map

MSR Cresson track map

This is MSR Cresson, outside of Fort Worth, Texas. First notice how far out I had to zoom to even get the Pit, front straight, grid, and instructor parking all in the same picture. Now this is a membership style club, and there are actual garages members can rent, but otherwise there are no actual designated pits at this track. Participants who are not members park randomly in a large parking area. Instructors pit in a parking lot up close to the grid. Because the Grid is so far from the participants, the instructors and students do not have any opportunity to interact outside of the car. This discourages socialization between veterans (instructors) and newbs.

As I mentioned, the participant parking area at MSR Cresson is a very long walk from the grid. This keeps people from watching each other go out on track, helping each other at the grid or from having friends and potential participants from easily observing what happens at the grid. Also, it makes it harder to keep track of exactly when you are supposed to get your car to the grid when it is your time to drive. Participants have to be keenly aware of track time and how long it takes them to get to the grid which increases stress levels and makes casual socializing more difficult.

Also, there are no permanent concessions at this track. Depending on the event, temporary concessions are usually set up by the clubhouse.

The front straight is visible from the parking area, but the best view is from the upper deck of the clubhouse. Now the club house is very nice. The view from the upper deck is pretty amazing, but that’s the problem. Visitors to the track have to go up to the second floor of the clubhouse to watch and this is a long walk from the grid, the pits and the instructors. All in all, while it is a very nice facility, it does not provide a grouping that builds social bonds.


MSR Houston

MSR Houston Track

MSR Houston Track

At MSR Houston, there is some covered parking, but most parking is in the open parking lots between the garages. The open spaces and the garages are located behind the grandstands and other buildings. This prevents participants or visitors from being able to see the track from anywhere but the grandstands; which makes for empty pit areas as everyone wants to be able to watch what is going on and can’t do that from where they are pitted.

Concessions are also an issue as they are usually in the clubhouse area. While they may have a good view of the entire track, they are not close to the pits or the grid for easy access by participants. Also, the actual grid is located at the far end, out of sight of most of the paddock area.


Social Structures and Race Tracks

How does this relate to games? As a game designer, one of my jobs is to make sure that, in the case of multiplayer games, I create experiences that are “socially sticky”, meaning people make connections with other people and that experience keeps them interested in the game. In the case of race track layout in Texas, Texas World Speedway is the only track that is built in such a way as to foster a social atmosphere.

Also, in my experience building MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) we design specifically to keep groups of players together. We know without a doubt that every time you put players into a situation where they either can not get to their group or they can not stay with their group or even worse, can not FIND their group, you raise the chance that they won’t come back.  Racetracks in Texas are not only not designed this way, but they are designed in such as way that it is EASIER to not be in a group than it is to stay in a group.

I’ve brought many friends to TWS. Usually within minutes they are walking around, looking at cars, chatting with the people who are parked next to us, etc. They’ve been able to easily reach the concessions and grid, all while keeping an eye on where we are parked and where I am.

At the other tracks in Texas, I have found my friends feel isolated, and not welcome. They cling closer, don’t socialize and don’t begin to build the bonds that will help to get them involved in this hobby.

The loss of TWS is a blow to this racing community. But the other tracks in Texas should take this as an opportunity. By looking at their track upgrades with an eye toward building and sustaining a racing community, establishing a social space where people feel empowered to mingle, talk, ask questions and stay in the action of the track, they can quickly step up and have their tracks take the role of social leader in our community.

Congratulations to Anita Sarkeesian

2014
04.07

In March Anita Sarkeesian was awarded the Ambassador Award for her work on her vBlog, Feminist Frequency. In an interview regarding her award, she mentioned that she was the first woman to receive it. This immediately resulted in me getting numerous emails, tweets and facebook contacts from many people asking me if I felt she was attempting to take away from my work or my Game Developers’ Choice award. Some of this contact has even been from press.

I want to clear the air right now.

The award I received in 2005 was the IGDA’s Community Contribution Award. It was an award only given for seven years and I was the first and only woman to receive it. But it was NOT the Ambassador Award. That award did not exist at that time.

While I do believe the Community Contribution award contributed to what is now the Ambassador Award, I do not think it is the same thing. For one thing, I believe the Ambassador Award is actually a broader award where as my award was specifically for people who were working within the IGDA and working with community issues. If you look up the list of Ambassador Award winners, my name does not appear. My name does appear on the list of IGDA Community Contribution award winners.

So congratulations to Anita on her award and I think we both hope that she is the first of many deserving women who are awarded the honor!

Finally, thank you to everyone who showed concern about this. I am truly honored that there are those who really want to make sure my contributions are remembered and honored. That is a very humbling feeling!

The Pink Toy Aisle

2014
02.12

Recently there was a post on Facebook about Legos and how originally the Legos were just building blocks for all kids to use. But  now we have  “girls legos” and “boys legos.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  It seems to me that somewhere there was a misstep.. or rather, a kneejerk.

It seems that we (we being the female-supporting group) identified barriers to girls in some product advertising  and asked the manufacturers to reconsider what they were doing. We pointed out that the female market is a lucrative one and worth including in their plans.

The manufacturers and advertisers seemed to “get it” and we hoped they would change what they were doing. But, instead of removing the barriers in their ads as we hoped/expected, they  added a “girls version” of the product to their line up and didn’t change anything in their original product promotion at all.

I’m beginning to think that they just were afraid that by changing their advertising to be inclusive, they would actually jeopardize the success their product line had accomplished. And so, instead, they made up a “girls version” of their product, usually painted pink and often inferior in construction, diversity of use/parts or variety of options.

You know.. come to think of it.. this really reminds me of the issues we had happen in the “pink game” era of the late ‘90s. At that time, the game industry was absolutely certain that “girls don’t play games. So certain were they that even when shown the focus groups and study results, refused to believe it.

Then Barbie Fashion Designer came out and broke all the rules. This was a Barbie Doll game that sold 600K units right out of the gate. And all this in an era when 100K was a blockbuster title!

The game industry took notice. However, instead of realizing that girls really DO play games and revamping their marketing and development strategy on their existing lines so as to incorporate this new market, they began to pump out Barbie Fashion Designer clones at a furious rate!

Of course, these games were done with a fraction of the budget of their existing games. Heck, they did them for a fraction of the budget of the original Barbie Fashion Designer game. I was actually sitting in an exec’s office for a major publisher when he took a phone call in which he gushed excitedly about closing a deal for over a million dollars for ONE game title. When he hung up the phone, he looked at me and said, “A game for girls, huh? Well, what can you do for me for $150,000?”

So, with the limited quality that a very tight budget can give you, as well as being a  complete knock off of an already existing title with one of the most popular girls’ brands of all time, it is no surprise when the games didn’t do at all well. This caused the industry to throw up its collective hands and proclaim, “See!? We TOLD you girls don’t play games..” with the added zinger… “unless it’s Barbie.”

So what I’m getting at is, are we perhaps seeing the same thing here? Is this perhaps a way to ensure the original products do not get changed in any way, while the manufacturers pay lip service to developing these types of toys “for girls.” I’m not certain, but I do know it certainly feels like “déjà vu all over again.”

eBooks and Recipe Cards

2013
12.27

I’ve listened to many of my generation decry the problems with electronic media today; its impermanence, its lack of proper grammar. I’ve heard my friends talk about how they hate “e-books” because they love the feel/smell of a new/old book in their hands.. and I’ve always kinda just shrugged. I LOVE the quickness of electronic communication. I love using chat and tweet and Facebook. They keep me so connected to my friends and honestly, during the first few weeks after my mother passed away, it was the lifeline that kept me going. Just the little “I’m thinking about you” notes showed me that there was a “normal” world out there, somewhere far from the chaos.

But last night, I hit a point in which I may have changed my mind, on one aspect.

My father brought a Christmas card to our family dinner and handed it to me. Inside was a nice letter from my cousin Lynn. Lynn is actually my mother’s cousin and she and my mother had grown close over the past few years. In this Christmas letter, Lynn included something she told my father to give to me.

It was a recipe card.

The recipe was a simple recipe for hot turkey casserole. Nothing fancy, just diced turkey, mayonnaise, chopped onions, covered with crushed potato chips and baked at 350 for 20 min. But it was what was written on that card that stopped me. Across the top of the card, my mother’s mother had written that this was the recipe used for my mother’s bridal luncheon. On the back of the card was written the rest of the menu; olives, pickles, bread, coffee and cake. Under the list was a short note “Quadrupled the recipe and it still wasn’t enough. Everyone wanted more!!!!” (yes.. with the multiple exclamation points)

I took the recipe card and went to my own recipe box which was sitting neglected on the back of my counter, behind my iPad stand that I use to cook with now. I opened it and went through some of the cards. My mother’s recipe for nutbread, my ex mother in law’s recipe for Cherry bars, my high school friend’s recipe for cookies. It went on and on.

From there I went to my book shelf. There, tucked between the Cormac McCarthy and the Edward Gory was where I kept both my grandmother’s and my great Aunt Kath’s hand written cook books  I’ve  looked at these recipes many times, but this was the first time I really understood why they were so dear to me. The recipes aren’t all the fancy. Simple fare, mostly. Things you would serve to your family on a regular night. Some of them cite substitutions due to war rationing. They were the recipes my grandmother and her cousin  used in their daily lives.

As I sat there with my eyes closed, I could hear them laughing in the kitchen as they baked dozen after dozen of Aunt Kath’s oatmeal cookies to give out at Halloween. I understood then that there was something in these old fashioned recipe cards and hand written cookbooks that we just can’t keep electronically. Sure I could scan the cards, but it’s not the same. When I hold these cards, in one little way and just for one little moment, I  touch those women who meant so much to me.

I think I’m going to go out and buy a little journal, and write down the recipes I use on a regular basis. Just because.

Purebred dogs

2013
12.05

*** Just as a note, I’ve been breeding and exhibiting purebred dogs for almost 30 years. If you’d like to see some of my dogs, please go to www.silvar.com

I was looking at Facebook today when I saw that awful set of articles show up again. You know, that “documentary” by the BBC about how ridden with genetic problems purebred dogs are. Along with it was  another article that showed pictures from a 1915 article on dogs and compared the pictures to some dogs from today, pointing out the “flaws” in the modern dogs (tho how they can do that just by looking, I’m not sure.)

One of my friends expressed upset at the articles went on to ask if there where any “normal” bloodlines around any more.

I felt compelled to answer.

First, what do you mean “normal?”
Do you mean bloodlines full of hip dysplasia? Because that’s what the St Bernard breeders have spent the last 30 years breeding OUT of their breed.. and quite successfully, I might add!

Do you mean bloodlines full of cataracts? Because that’s what Cocker Spaniel breeders have spent the last 30 years breeding out of their dogs resulting in a vast decrease in the incidence of the disorder.

How about bloodlines full of copper toxicosis? That’s what Bedlington Terrier breeders have been working to breed out of their dogs, including working with Cornell to develop the genetic testing to identify the marker for the disorder.

Funny.. no one in those articles mentions that.

In fact, no one mentions that the purebred dog fancy, BECAUSE they keep careful records, have done more to advance health science and genetic health of dogs than any other group.

You want to talk about the “awfulness” of inbreeding? Or line breeding?  Understand that those are two VERY powerful tools in the hands of anyone breeding animals of any type. It’s how we got chickens that lay more than one egg a day, cows that give large quantities of milk or have meat that is lower in fat. Likewise it’s how we get border collies that do a magnificent job of herding, or Akbash dogs that valiantly defend their herds (and are now pivotal in the cheetah restoration programs in Africa.) It’s how we get Newfoundlands that, on instinct alone, will attempt rescue drowning humans. And it’s how we get animals that are clear of genetic health problems.

There are some things you have to understand about the purebred dog fancy before you judge us immoral or cruel.

  1. No *reputable* breeder in purebred dogs makes money. NO ONE. We put our heart and soul and checkbook into breeding high quality, genetically healthy dogs. Those genetic tests are expensive. Showing is expensive. Performance trials are expensive. Whelping is expensive. Food, housing, vet care are all expensive. We take personal time off to care for our dogs. With the exception of ONE major dog show, we do NOT win money. At best we win a 25 cent ribbon and maybe a coffee cup advertising a dog food brand we don’t use. But we do it because we love our dogs and we love our breeds. And we do it so that when you purchase a pup from us you are getting a dog that not only looks and acts like you expect but is also genetically healthy. And what do we get for it? The joy of providing you with a dog that is healthy, happy and beautiful.
  2. Dogs can not show if they do not enjoy it. Period. There is no way you can MAKE a dog like to show. You can’t beat them into it. You can’t bribe them into it. They either love it, or they don’t. There is no cruelty involved in showing dogs. There can’t be because a dog that doesn’t like to show, won’t win.
  3. There is a saying “form follows function.” Conformation dog shows are about a LOT more than beauty. When the judge has a dog move down and back for them, it’s not just to see how pretty the animal is. It is to evaluate the movement, the physical structure of the animal, as it moves. A dog that is not properly conformed expends more energy to move than a dog that is properly conformed. A dog that spends more energy to move can not hunt as long, swim as long, retrieve as long, herd sheep as long, drive cattle as long, etc., as well as a dog that is properly conformed. Thus, “Form follows function.”
  4. There are MANY types of AKC competition beyond the conformation ring. There are hunting tests and trials, tracking tests, obedience trials, herding trials, agility trials, earthdog trials, carting trials. Every weekend there are thousands of dogs competing at these events where they are tested on doing what they were bred to do. If we were, indeed, breeding animals that were so grossly malformed, they could never compete at these events, yet they do, every weekend around the country…. yes, even the German Shepherd Dogs.
  5. Not just anyone can judge an AKC competition. Dog show judges, whether conformation or performance judges, are people who have spent years studying the breeds and the performance sports. They are experts in what makes each breed unique. They do not get paid, other than a small per diem and travel. Most take personal time off from their regular jobs to attend the events.

Please do not fall for the propaganda that “mix breeds are better.” This is part of the hype the designer dog people are using to sell their mixed breed pups for thousands of dollars. First, they will tell you that their dogs are “healthier” because mixed breeds have “hybrid vigor.”

Let me quote from Wikipedia

The term heterosis (Hybrid vigor) often causes confusion and even controversy, particularly in selective breeding of domestic animals, because it is sometimes claimed that all crossbred plants and animals are “genetically superior” to their parents, due to heterosis[citation needed]. However, there are two problems with this claim:

  • First, “genetic superiority” is an ill-defined term and not generally accepted terminology within the scientific field of genetics.[2] A related term fitness is well defined, but it can rarely be directly measured. Instead, scientists use objective, measurable quantities, such as the number of seeds a plant produces, the germination rate of a seed, or the percentage of organisms that survive to reproductive age.[3] Within this perspective, crossbred plants and animals exhibiting heterosis may have “superior” production on these scales, but this does not necessarily equate to evidence of “genetic superiority”. Use of the term “genetic superiority” is a value judgement, generally in the realm of politics, and is not science.[2]
  • Second, not all hybrids exhibit heterosis (see outbreeding depression).

A clearly ambiguous counter-example to any value judgement on hybrids and hybrid vigor is the mule. While mules are almost always infertile, they are valued for a combination of hardiness and temperament that is different from either of their horse or donkey parents. While these qualities may make them “superior” for particular uses by humans, the infertility issue implies that these animals would most likely become extinct without the intervention of humans through animal husbandry, making them “inferior” in terms of natural selection.

Some modern geneticists refrain from even using the terms inferior and superior due to the association of these words with political movements that espouse genocide.

Second, mixed breeds or “mutts” can have all the same problems purebreds have, just no one tests mixed breeds for those problems. And certainly no one keeps records of mixed breeds.

Now, are there bad people out there who breed dogs? Of course there are. But you wouldn’t buy a car without doing some homework about the seller, at least getting a car fax and a clear title, You should do at least that same amount of homework when you are buying a living creature that will be with you for many years. The “car fax” would be a family history of genetic health and a “clear title” would be health guarantee against genetic disorder for the actual pup you have purchased.

Finally, it is very important to understand where that the documentary and subsequent articles are coming from. They are propaganda pieces from ALF and PETA and other extreme “animal rights” groups whose stated goal is to eliminate domestic dogs and pets in general. (see following references)

You know what really scares me? The fact is, it’s beginning to work. The public is beginning to believe the people who want to get rid of pets, rather than those of us who have spent years working with our animals. You are calling ME immoral, cruel and a crook when the organizations making the accusations have been accused of actual animal cruelty… and see no problem with it! (http://www.petakillsanimals.com/trial)

Right now, there are many delightful breeds out there that are vanishing because the public has begun to believe that all purebreds are somehow “flawed” and unhealthy, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.  And if it keeps up, we will no longer be able to find a lovely Irish Setter with its gorgeous red coat  or a darling little Affenpinscher with its monkey-like face.  I don’t know about you, but I would find that a terribly sad world indeed.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t adopt a rescue or go to the shelter to get your next dog. If that’s what you want to do, by all means, please do so!  In fact, all AKC breed clubs have associated rescue groups that work very hard to rescue and place any representatives of their breed that have tragically ended up in a shelter. We truly believe all dogs deserve a loving home.

But if you have a specific type of dog in mind, either in looks, size, temperament or performance, then by all means, seek out a *reputable* purebred dog breeder. You will not be disappointed.

PETA/Animal rights quotes

“In the end, I think it would be lovely if we stopped this whole notion of pets altogether.”
Ingrid Newkirk – founder and vice president of PETA
Newsday, 1988 February 21

“The bottom line is that people don’t have the right to manipulate or to breed dogs and cats … If people want toys they should buy inanimate objects. If they want companionship they should seek it with their own kind.”
-Ingrid Newkirk, President, PETA, “Animals,” May/June 1993

When asked about PETAs goals.

“For one thing, we would no longer allow breeding. People could not create different breeds. There would be no pet shops. If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child. But as the surplus of cats and dogs (artificially engineered by centuries of forced breeding) declined, eventually companion animals would be phased out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship; enjoyment at a distance.”
-Ingrid Newkirk, PETA vice-president, quoted in The Harper’s Forum Book, Jack Hitt, ed., 1989, p.223.

“Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles — from our firesides, from the leather nooses and chains by which we enslave it.”
-John Bryant, Fettered Kingdoms: An Examination of A Changing Ethic, PETA, 1982, p.15.

Women Only Events.. yes or no?

2013
07.24

This past month I had the opportunity to travel to Sweden where I spoke at the Gotland Game Conference in Visby, Sweden.

The interesting thing about this conference is that it focused on the topic of diversity in the games industry, specifically in gender diversity. I was very surprised at the number of men present in the audience. In fact, I would say it was a predominantly male audience. This is very unusual for a gender diversity conference. More often than not, when speaking on gender diversity the audience is usually predominantly female so I end up “preaching to the choir”.

Because of this, there have been demands for the elimination of conferences, panels or talks targeting “women in games”, even the elimination of Women In Games organizations! Several women speakers have come out and said they will no longer speak at “women in games” events.[i] Specifically they do not believe it does any good to only speak to “half the audience.”

Let me be blunt. I think that’s a pretty horrible idea.

Now hear me out. There are a couple of reasons why…

1. Recent articles and events such as #1reasonwhy have brought to light one of the unpleasant truths about the games industry. There is a pervasive hostility and even aggression toward women.

The type of “laddish” behavior being brought to light by these articles and events can be VERY intimidating to women who might be considering the game industry as a career.  By offering them a women’s event, we offer them place where they feel welcome, a place to explore the concept of the industry as a potential career choice.

For women in the industry, we offer them a place to find tools to grow their own career. We offer them the chance to talk to other women who are in the industry and experience it in a “safe” environment where they can feel more comfortable asking questions that might receive harsh responses in a mixed gender or predominantly male environment.

2. There is an amazing energy when you have a group of game industry women together in a room – energy you don’t find at a traditional game conference.

3. Besides the energy there is mentoring that goes on at these events as well as education and networking. These things may not always be comfortable or well received in a mixed gender event.

Over the past twelve months we’ve seen the tremendous amount of sexism that is in this industry brought to light. We’ve heard from women about how hurtful and damaging this type of activity can be to them, both personally and professionally. Until this type of thing no longer exists, I believe there is still a place and a time for events that are predominantly for women. I believe this gives women a place to find the courage to find their voice and experience some of the tremendous creative energy that is possible in that type of group.

Now, while I believe these events need to exist and veteran women in the industry need to be present at them, I also believe that we need to change the focus of those events.

The time for the anger and vitriol has passed.

In the early days we used that negative energy to build our own courage. We used it as a rallying point to gather other women together and find our voice.

But we have that now. We have found our voice. What we need to concentrate on now is building the positive and productive face we want the game industry to see.

It is my opinion we must refocus the goals of women’s game industry events. Rather than airing grievances and whipping up anger, we need to focus on the needs of the women who are attending the event. We need to concentrate on mentoring, networking, creative direction and positive progress. We need to focus on giving women the tools they need to be successful in this industry and then lifting up and celebrating those who are successful.

We need to build our networks, mentor each other, share our successes and lift up those women who are making a difference in this industry.

We need to make sure that when the industry hears our voice, it is a strong, united voice of positive progress, not a scream of anger!


[i] http://www.guardian.co.uk/women-in-leadership/2013/jul/03/why-i-wont-speak-at-women-only-events?CMP=twt_gu).

Travel Hints

2013
05.21

I will be attending theGotland Game Conference in Vispy Sweden in a couple weeks (http://www.gotlandgameconference.com/2013/) and my friend and co worker Heidi McDonald will also be attending. She and I started talking about what things a person should take on a long (4+hour) plane trip.  Here are my recommendations.

OK. .here are my hints and I will tell you they are ALL from experience…and mostly not good experiences! hehehehe

In your carry on I recommend..

1. An extra pair of undies and a clean shirt. This is for you to change in to before you land. Seriously. Sitting on those polyester seats for all that time can (as they say on those gawdawful commercials) “leave you feeling less than fresh.”

I had the terrible experience of arriving in London “not so fresh” and having the person who picked me up take me directly to their office to meet a bunch of dignitaries… oh gawds that was unpleasant. I stunk and had dripped food all down my tshirt… ugh!!

Also you never know when they will misplace your luggage and having to rinse your undies out in the sink only to have them not quite dry in the AM.. yah.. it sucks.

2. a small travel package of diaper wipes.. the kind you take when you go on a short trip with a baby.Use them when you go to the restroom. Keeps you cleaner than the see through toilet paper they have on the plane and helps prevent UTIs. If you don’t like the diaper wipes, you can use the travel pack of Preparation H wipes. (see above for ‘bad experience’)

3. Waterless toothbrushes. They are called “Wisps” and you can get ‘em in drugstores. You will want to use them before you land. (heck I carry a two pak of these in my briefcase all the time anyway)

5. Reading material and spare battery. They don’t usually have outlets on the overseas planes, so you’ll want a full charge and maybe a backup battery for your iPad or Kindle

6. Prescription meds

7. a snack. Sometimes you will want something when you wake up and if you are in a middle seat you don’t want to wake up your seat mate. (This is silly, but I usually carry a bottle of milk. It has enough protein to keep me satisfied until the meal is served.)

8. your jewelry if you are taking anything other than what you are wearing.

9. do not over pack your carry on. It’s a hassle to drag it through the airports and shove it up into overhead. Just take what you need.

HINTS for travel

1. No alcohol if you can help it. It dehydrates (the other big thing that causes jet lag) Use natural relaxants such as melatonin, passion flower, hops, chamomile.. I like a produce called  Naturemade Sleep http://www.naturemade.com/products/segments/sleep I take it as soon as I am able to once I’m on the plane.

5. I carry my own little pillow. I use the ones from the plane for lumbar support. I find those horseshoe shaped things are less than useless. I have one like this http://tinyurl.com/ltn4vmu and I can use it in the hotel to supplement the pillows they have.


6. I get up once or twice to walk the plane. I also do the leg exercises while seated. I have had a couple of friends pop up with DVT and it sidelined them for MONTHS :( It’s nothing to mess around with.

There ya go. I may add a “getting through security and the airport for new travelers” to help you get through to your plane like a pro. :)


The New Design Paradigm

2012
05.08

My friend Thomas Reid sent me a link to a Gamasutra article called “Manipulative Game Monetization Shows Gamers No Respect, says Super Meat Boy dev”

( http://tinyurl.com/793pq8o)

I did a talk at the Leadership Conference on this subject as it’s one I find myself worrying over a lot. Specifically I’ve been thinking about how this monetization strategy actually changes how we have to design games.

In the past, all we to do was  make really great games. Something that made us.. and hopefully our players jump up and holler YAY! We judged their success (or failure) on player response and feedback.. measured mostly on how many units sold and how long it continued to sell.

Unfortunately, today our goal is being changed. It’s no longer “make great games”,  it’s make games that produce X amount of revenue for every Y minutes the player plays. And.. that  change is being dictated not from our players but from our management.

The definition of a “good game” is far different now than when I started. Then a good game was one that made its money back and hopefully a bit more,  AND got great reviews.. both player and critic.

Today the only thing that defines a good social game is the bottom line. Publishers don’t  care what reviewers or players say.. unless they are voting with their wallets. This takes designers from the role of “make fun entertainment” to, essentially, part of the Biz Dev team.

Another way it has changed is in the design model.

In the world of pre-Zynga subscription games, as designers we had to do something really really egregiously wrong to get our players to stop paying. This is because to stop paying they had to log into the company website, log into their account and go through several hoops to stop paying. This was a luxury for designers as we could build deep stories with intriguing and tough game play and not have to worry about how much money per minute of game play we were generating.

Today, in the world of casual MMOs\Facebook games, it’s exactly the opposite. To get our player to pay, we have to do something SO exciting or thrilling or demanding that they go to the extra step to GIVE us money. And conversely, if we do NOT do something thrilling every time the player logs in, then they do not send us money and we fail.

This may not seem like a big difference, but it is HUGE when it comes to building stories or emotional content. Think of it this way.. it’d be like writing a book where you had to get the reader to pay a nickle for each page. Or a movie with a coin slot where you had to feed quarters in like a parking meter to keep the movie running. If the movie or book weren’t doing something very exciting every moment, it isn’t likely the audience would keep paying for it.

In short, we are designing VERY different games for the social market than we are for the traditional market. and the definition of a “good game” has drastically changed. I’m not sure it’s a good way for EVERYONE in the industry to be going.

Networking 101.3

2012
05.05

This seems to be a popular topic, so I’m just going to go ahead and write another bit on it.

We’ve talked about your social networks. We’ve talked about your resume. Now let’s talk about what you can actually do to build your network.

This is actually much simpler than it sounds, yet it’s another of those steps that most young developers just don’t follow through with. It is this…

Volunteer.

That’s right. Get active in your local IGDA chapter and volunteer. And the very best job you can volunteer for? Handing out name tags at their next mixer. Seriously! This is the best way to put names and faces together and see who is who within your local community.

Then, get active and not just in the fun stuff. Help clean up after a meeting. Help haul off trash. Help with the down and dirty details of running their mixer. Why? Because not only will you be seen as someone who “gets things done even if they have to get their hands dirty” but you will also be present. You will be seen. You will be noticed as someone active in the industry. AND you will be there when the conversations happen that might include the fact that someone is looking for a hire candidate!

Now, what do you do if you live in an area where there is no local IGDA chapter? First you make sure there isn’t another organization like it. Is there a computer gaming group at the local college? Is there a Casual Games group? Maybe a social games group? If you are so unlucky as to live in a place that is devoid of game industry, then you must get active on a National level. The IGDA has SIG (Special Interest Groups) that cater to nearly every discipline and group that you will find in the industry. There are groups for minorities, for designers, for programmers, for educational game makers.. just about every facet of the industry you can think of.

Take advantage of this. Join the mailing list.. and.. .. now here is the key to it all.. START READING IT!

That’s right, once you join you actually have to read the messages that come through. Even better, you must reply to/get involved in the conversations. This will begin to get you face time with people who are important in the industry.. and important to your career.

Finally, now that you are using social networks, gathering your business cards and sending out regular emails and have joined up and are volunteering for local IGDA events, there is one more thing you must do.

YOU MUST MAKE A GAME!

I don’t care if you are an artist.. designer.. programmer or marketing person. The way to make games for a living is to start making games! There is no excuse today. Yes, back 20+ years ago you had to pretty much be a C++ programmer to make a game, today we have tools that are sophisticated enough that you do not HAVE to be John  Romero to put together a game demo.

And if you really can’t get your head around scripting, then Mod! That’s right, start building mods for your favorite games. There are several really solid tool kits out there available for free! Build your mods, put them out for others to view and critique and then make another. This is invaluable education for you and also gives you something to show in your next interview.

SO, in a nutshell. Get out there and volunteer and if you want to make games, then do it!

RESUMES…. a quick “how to”

2012
04.23

BUILDING THE RESUME TEMPLATE

Sheri Graner Ray

There has been a lot of activity lately with people asking me how to write a resume.  I usually send this out to them, but for now I decided I would post it here.  You are welcome to print it out and use it, if you keep my name with it.. Thanks and good luck in the job searches!

People always want to know how to write a resume for a job. The problem is, you shouldn’t be writing a resume for ALL jobs. You should be writing a resume for EACH job you apply for. That may seem like a lot of work, but you can develop a template that you can then adjust for each job you are applying for.

NO GENERIC RESUMES

You must adjust your resume for each job you apply for. Otherwise you end up sending “generic” resumes. Generic resumes usually list all the jobs you’ve ever had with a long listing of all the responsibilities you’ve had in those jobs. These require the potential employer to sift through your resume to see if there might be anything there that matches what they are looking for.

Employers won’t do this.

They will scan the top half of the resume to see if there is anything there that catches their eye, then they will flip through the other pages and, in less than 30 seconds if they haven’t seen something that really catches their eye, your resume ends up in the slush pile.
You need to tell the employer just how well you fit into their job requirement in the first 5 seconds they look at your resume. How can you do this?

Here’s how….

STEP ONE –  Build your pool of qualifications.

To do this, sit down and make a list of all the things you’ve done in your professional life that you are proud of.

Yes.. all of ‘em.

This is simply the hardest part of writing any resume. It’s the part that takes the longest and it’s the part people just won’t or can’t seem to do -  and yet it is the heart of a successful resume.

The reason it’s so hard to do is most people (particularly women) are hesitant to “blow their own horn.” But, it simply is not possible to get that great job if you can’t convince people that you are worth hiring!

So, make that list. Think of what things you’d tell your grandmother or your favorite aunt about if they asked about your jobs.

Look at your old resume, the one with your job history and start at the oldest job. List two or three specific things you did at each job that you are proud of. If you have trouble thinking of these things, think of what you would say if your grandma asked what you did at that job. The list may look like this.

Sylvia’s Casuals dress shop
1.Top sales recognition
2. Won Christmas sales competition
3. Employee of the month

Now go back and look at the list. If there is a number and or a date you can associate with each bullet point, add it. If there is an award name, or certificate title, add it. Keep it to one sentence if possible, two short sentences at the VERY longest.

So from the example above:

Sylvia’s Casual dress shop
1. Top sales recognition for fiscal quarter 2001 with $8500.00 in sales
2. Won top sales competition for Christmas 2001 season with $2200.00 in sales and a customer service rating of 9.8
3. Received “Employee of the Month” award for Jan 2001. Award given based upon customer approval reports combined with sales figures.

STEP TWO – Build the Resume

Now you have developed your qualification pool to draw from and are ready to go on and build your resume.

TOP LINE:
Name and contact information
This is SOOO important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received resumes that had NO contact information on it! Some people will put an objective here. Hopefully you have told me what job you are interested in, in your cover letter. But if you have not, then you can put it here under your contact information. Just make sure you customize is EXACTLY for the job you are applying for. An objective statement of “A job working with people that utilizes my creative skills” is a waste of VERY valuable space.

First Section: Selected Accomplishments

OK..THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART AND IT’S THE PART YOU WILL CUSTOMIZE FOR EACH JOB YOU APPLY FOR!!!!!

And here’s why…

It is HIGHLY likely this is the ONLY thing the resume reviewer will ever actually read!!!!

So.. this is where the list of all the things you’ve done that you are proud of in your career comes into play. Look at the job you are applying for. Then pick out the top five things from your accomplishment list that would apply to the job you are applying for.
Put those five accomplishments in this section.

If you have trouble figuring out which ones to put there.. think which five things you’d like them to ask you about in the interview…which five things that, if you talked about ‘em, would show how qualified you are for the job…. Because it is highly likely they will ask you about them! Think of it as stacking the deck in your favor. You are priming the interviewer with the questions to ask you!

SECOND SECTION: WORK HISTORY

Now comes the work history. This is the second hardest part for most people. KEEP IT SHORT. Frankly.. the potential employer very likely WON”T READ this stuff, other than to get an idea of what companies you’ve worked for and what positions you held.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

List the company you worked for and where it was, your position, what dates you worked there (month and year or years only is fine) and then a VERY VERY VERY short description of what you did. (Did I mention keep it very short??) Here’s an example from my resume.

Sony Online Entertainment
Austin, TX
Senior Designer
May 2003 – December 2005

  • Served as Content Lead for Star Wars Galaxies, overseeing team of 7 designers.
  • Served as lead designer on an innovative, original IP MMO. Took design from concept to first four milestones of production

Do not go back more than 10 years… and only that far if it pertains to the industry you are applying for.

DO NOT LEAVE HOLES IN THE RESUME.

Make sure all time is accounted for. If you were unemployed, you can list “self employed” and mention volunteer work you did. Make sure time is covered.

THIRD SECTION: Titles

If you are not applying for a game industry job, skip this.
If you are applying for a game industry job, this should just be a list of the titles you have worked on and the platform they were released on.

That’s all.

FOURTH SECTION: Tools

If you use any specific tools that are normally used/required for your
job, list them here.

FIFTH SECTION: Education

If you have any higher education or certifications, they go here. List institution and date and any specific focus. Additionally any awards or recognitions you’ve received go here.

SIXTH SECTION: Interests

Now… this one is controversial, but I will mention it because it has done me well in interviews. I always list that I show dogs and participate in high performance driving. I can’t tell you how many times that has served as a great ice breaker. “Sheri, you’re the one that shows dogs, aren’t you? What breed?” or ‘Oh yes… Sheri.. you do the high performance driving! What kind of car do you drive?”

So, don’t put this in if you are just going to list “reading science fiction” or something.
The only caveat to this is, I think it’s important to list that you play games, if you are applying for a game job.

Step Three: References

On your resume, you should put a line that says “References Available Upon Request.” Don’t put anyone’s name.. or you risk looking like a name dropper.

However, when you go for an interview, take a sheet that you can hand out that has your references and their contact information on it.

And that’s it.

Now you have a resume that you can quickly and easily customize for each job you are applying for. Good luck in the search!