The Future of Free to Play

What is Free to Play (F2P) all about?

Back in the early days of PC gaming I can remember how coveted game demos were. Magazines often packaged a CD-Rom of current game demos as a value add to give you just enough of a taste to whet your appetite, hook you,  and get you to purchase the whole thing upon going gold (release). Traditional video games for as long as I can remember have hovered around the $50 mark.  Not today, some of the newest, highest production value games are free.

That’s right 0$

If you have the time but don’t have the money you can play a ton of games for free with either ad support or stripped of premium features. Faster game-play, better and additional items and goodies await you for nominal fee.

Getting you to pay for these features is the true goal of Free to Play which is essentially a Freemium model.

Does this work?

Yes , in the mobile space we’ve seen it work with Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Draw Something and many other titles. One thing they all have in common is the excellent job they do of roping you in.

dsome

Draw Something in particular saw explosive user acquisition initially as everyone with a new smart phone had a friend they wanted to try doodling with, limited selection of colours and all.

The typical strategy of these companies is;

1. Acquire you

2. Retain you

3. Monetize you

Developers know the first 20 minutes are key. If they can achieve this, they will keep you interested for as long as possible and retain your business.

Past, present,  future

back-to-the-future-delorean

In the past a mere taste of a game was enough but with companies competing for user’s time a midst a sea of time killers, what model is guaranteed to generate the most revenue? Can ancillary items like important marketing information for advertising make the game developers more money than the initial cost of the game?

As it turns out, the F2p model does this well and more. By the end of the year , we will see a social enabled free to play game in virtually every genre and internet enabled gaming device. What defines “gaming device”?

Anything with a browser. Use your imagination. In the future expect to see a whole lot more F2P.

Friction is the key

friction

Creating the right amount of difficulty or slow down with just the right amount of ability to progress in the game is what the ultimate free to play games strive for.

On PC I think Tribes Ascend has really nailed it. Great game engine and fun game-play with a ten-year legacy of Tribes players. You can play for weeks to upgrade a couple of your stats but you may be enticed to pay for different weapons sets or customization slots within days.  I expect to see the same thing with Hawken.

tribes ascend

On my phone you will find the excellent AOD army of darkness defense game (based on the movie with the same name). Free to play, spend money on coins if you wish to increase your stats and upgrade units earlier on. I found there to not be enough friction and I was able to beat the game without being tempted to spend any money. Still great fun and I am hoping for a follow-up from this studio, the more cult movie franchises tie-ins the better.

Aod

Another game I recently began playing is Clash of Clans. This game is a turn based city build/defend strategy game with social aspect of being able to join clans and attack other players. With this game the friction is almost too high, I know almost right away this game is going to be frustrating unless I give in to spending some money.

coc

The perfect amount of friction has the player eager to play forward without discouragement while clearly seeing the value of a purchase as an immediate benefit and thus will be compelled to spend a little bit.

The value proposition of these games is tied inherently to the core gameplay mechanics.

In more complex scenarios like Valves, Steam exclusive DOTA 2 game can lead to complex economic systems that are self-sustaining and rely partially on user-generated content to make new items and customize your players load out, sound effects and more. This is a really interesting prospect because of the ability for users to generate revenue, trade and contribute to the creation of its own self-sustaining economy.

Dota-2

The Social Element

We know games like Draw Something and Cash of Clans draw in the friends of users, as does DOTA 2 (I was given 5 invites for the pre-release access). It is widely known that generally people like to play games with friends, and because of this Facebook has been a great game finding and playing platform as web browser technology ploughs forward and better games come through the pipeline.

For those against Facebook, or at least gaming through it and for those publishers not cool with the 30% cut Facebook takes of the profits, there are publishers and independents with their own free to play game platforms.

Leaders

Kixeye, the bad boy of F2P has their own platform built into their website at www.kixeye.com

Kixeyebb

On their website platform you will find their premier titles War Commander and Battle Pirates which are MMORTS style games with true synchronous combat.

Kixeye is a pioneer of hard-core free to play MMORTS (massively multi-player online real-time strategy) style games with social elements and real-time synchronous game-play (instead of waiting for opponent to take a turn, the action happens in real-time on both sides) which is quite the technical feat with approximately 4.8 million users logging in monthly.

Having achieved commercial success through Facebook, Kixeye’s average player spends about 1.5 hours playing War Commander a day, with a 400,000+ DAU (daily average users) count.

As with many free to play games, the friction point of Kixeye games are primarily speed of play with base building taking the majority of the players time unless they choose to buy speed ups or purchase resources which many Kixeye players do. In fact Kixeye has one of the highest ARPPU’s (average revenue per paying users) in the industry at about $0.80 per paying user.

kixeye-900x575--BEPB

Then there are MAU/DAU (monthly and daily average users). This figure is essentially engagement, how many of the monthly users actually come back and play daily? After all, they can only spend money if they are in your game. Kixeye’s War Commander sees a very consistent 1 million active users per week (WAU) meaning they have an extremely high level of user engagement.

Kixeye will hope to repeat this success with a new exclusive F2P MMORPG later this year.

Now that I’ve bombarded you with a few of the industry metrics and bored you to tears lets refocus

Of course there are many more ways to measure your game’s level of success, but making a great game that people want to play has got to be the core you work from. There are more games of varying quality using this free to play model than ever before and likely more games to come. It is conceivable that after the bean counters run the numbers, traditional subscription modeled and $59.99 one time purchased games will become free to play.

My only concern with this trend is that game-play mechanics may not translate well to a free to play model. Critical friction points may be out of alignment with user value perception and result in lost opportunities and players more likely free to stray to another game. With an emphasis on building micro economies as outlined in Gabe Newell’s vision of the industry ( http://youtu.be/PeYxKIDGh8I ) , there is a chance for creating longer running, organic, self-marketed and thus higher revenue producing games in this manner.

There are many games to play and  too little time to play them all. Let quality, variety, game-play and friction separate the wheat from the chaff.

rofl friction

Other free to play browser games can be found at:

www.Kongregate.com

www.wildtangent.com

www.mmobomb.com

If you are interested in learning more about free to play gaming check out:

www.gamesbrief.com

www.appdata.com

www.allfacebook.com

The Return of TableTop Gaming

Settlers_of_Catan

I welcome gaming with friends, it’s a great way to unwind, catch up, and have a few laughs.  Being of the video game generation , I never expected I would revert to board games.

I’ve owned everything from an old Atari computer with Basic and a floppy drive to load games, to a 286’s to Pentiums to the latest multicore systems of today. Along the way were consoles from Sega, Nintendo , Sony and Microsoft.

My PS3 has mostly become a Netflix machine connected to projector for large screen low definition movie watching and most of my gaming has shifted to free to play browser and steam games on the computer or *gasp Iphone.

My quad core workstation has a beefy video card if I need to push some frames but my 2010 MBP follows me to the couch and has become my companion.  When I burn out from watching all these glowing screens, I revert to my love of reading on my non backlight e-ink Kobo Touch.

So here I am with all this electronic technology never expecting to actually enjoy a board game again.

As a child I had my fill of Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue with family and friends before video games completely eclipsed these. The Original Social Games.

With my friend’s encouragement and frankly no choice but to play with them, I was coerced into becoming a Settlers of Catan player. A simple game of resource management, dice rolls and every changing strategy and diplomacy. Simple yet nuanced.

Sitting around the upside-down cork-board at my friends bachelor pad with four others to play a board game seemed weirdly anachronistic at first. Probably because we were used to playing Quake 3 over the internet on our own servers from the comfort of our own homes. When we were in the room together Gears of War was usually the choice for split screen cooperative play on massive projector screens.

Remember the poker fad from a few years ago? That was probably the only other analog experience we had as a group.  Interacting on a competitive level with your friends without the intermediate of technology is a shockingly refreshing experience. No need for to be mic’ed up on Ventrilo to hurl some insults, just say what’s on your mind, no need for emoticons, your face will do.

Then there are the “Feelies”, with Settlers of Catan, physical objects such as roads, settlements and cities are little plastic pieces with an air of quality and metaphysical as well as real weight to them as they get placed on the board.

Differents-Boards-settlers-of-catan-521934_1157_768

A particular arrangement of roads and cities popping off the board in physical space becomes somehow more striking as a symbol of attrition, perhaps as intimidating as scouting an enemy nuclear silos in StarCraft or a fleet of Protoss carriers coming your way. The development cards which you can buy as tech tree like skill boosters in many games, sometimes stack up to grant extra points or powers like taking all of one resources out of your friends hands (the monopoly development card).

My question is, with the resurgence of board games like Settlers of Catan, are we going to see a new half digital – half physical mash up of the genre?

Let’s look at another classic board game, Monopoly – consider all the different versions and interpretations of it. Pretty cool, but you need a new set for each one. I don’t know many board game hoarders with multiple versions of the same game. Personally I have a Star Wars version of Monopoly, but that’s it.

With newer multi touch interfaces, tougher glass like Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, and a decrease in screen costs as they scale larger and larger, it only seems logical that we will see a shift towards rediscovering board games in the digital realm.

Sure we’ve all seen the crappy digital versions of classics like Monopoly where you pass the tablet around to the next player, but something is lacking in the experience. Since all board games are turn based , passing along the screen from player to player kind of works, but it also kind of sucks, there no central focus for the group, the experience is numbed without the central source of attention and without seeing what individual players do as they are doing it. Worst of all, these experiences are made more ethereal without the presence of Feelies in your hand or on the board

So we lack holographic technology, but we have tablets that are foresee-ably going to be cheap and large enough to cover an average coffee table, powerful enough to display high end graphics, be connected to the internet and playback sound effects.

But the digital versions of the board games suck compared to playing the real thing!

As 3D printers come online, and new NFC technology gets even cheaper, old and new school game designers and hardware developers have an opportunity to do digital board games right. Half physical with printed pieces tagged with NFC (near field communication) codes for software identification and half digital with animation, sound and the ability to load infinite variations of game sets, brands, publishers, spin offs, mods, and more. Imagine playing a Settlers of Catan version modded out based on HBO’s series, The Wire (I’ve given some thought to it)

Everything that’s great about software gaming brought together with physical intermediary of game pieces to tie the experience together in a corporeal and social setting.  I think we are still a few years away, but we will start to see some leaders emerge with a standard sized multitouch tablet and a great viewing angle that will become the standard delivery method for these games. What pieces you can’t get sent in the mail or purchase from your local hobby stores will become 3d printable downloadable designs that will carve itself a niche with a new set of hobbyists, artisans and hackers to push the community forward and eventually make it mainstream.

Check out the links below to see one of the emerging leaders (Epawn) in this upcoming market.

http://youtu.be/wcqKR1OihSY

You can clearly see from the video the benefits of the digital experience being brought to the analog turn based gaming age, move a piece, and watch the animated attacks flow over gorgeous textures!

More to come on gaming as I follow-up this article with a look at the free to play market and the future of casual gaming.

Oversensed – A Sci-fi short story

Forward

I wrote this for a creative writing class back in 2009. It’s been sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind since then. When I was writing it, the idea of mining asteroids wasn’t yet in the public eye and I don’t believe I had seen Avatar yet despite some of the themes and language now being considered a bit James Cameronish.  I was more inspired by William Gibson’s vision of the world of cyberpunk and combining it with something we use everyday like the internet and evolving it with time into a future that isn’t dystopian or perfect either. We still see a need for money, we still have a societal structure much like ours today, but we have explored our own solar system and we now are harvesting it, creating new jobs and new human problems in the future. Enjoy.

Alexander Kline

Oversensed

The surreal landscape unfolded in front of my eyes like a pop up story book. Mountains erected themselves in a linear, two dimensional manner, before becoming fleshed out in the Z axis. My eyes shifted focus as I began to feel a wave of stimulus overload the nerves in my body as the landscape reeled forward in all directions and filled itself out several more times.

A bright blue sky appeared overhead, clouds randomly popping in and out as the servers loaded and synced. It was always the larger objects, then the smaller more subtle ones. Layers of sight, smell and sounds cascading upon one another. Then their textures.  I can smell the flowers now and the tall grass, I can hear a bubbling brook and birds call.

This was supposed to be an alpine location. We’re going to need snow-capped mountains, I thought. Where is she?

We met on a vintage movie review site and decided to create a virtual world fashioned after the scenery from the Sound Of Music. The internet’s different than it used to be; well the old print and pulp site’s still exist as a foundational layer of contextual searchable information, but now the newer layers actually involves your avatar going to virtual locations on the SenseNet. With your avatar goes your consciousness. Sometimes it feels like doesn’t fully make it back. Like you leave a piece of yourself out there, floating in the qubits.

The ship’s doctor looked at me inquisitively, he reminded me of an owl with those horn rimmed glasses on. Not many people wore glasses since perfect vision was a laser beam away. He must be recording me.

“Go on,” he urged.

I still remember picking up a blade of grass had a sort of an unconnected feeling. Not like the definitive and tactile “snap” of a real blade plucked by one’s own hand. More of a “pop” really, like you just opened a retro glass cola bottle.

“I remember running and jumping through a field of poppies and daffodils,” I said.

“You enjoy this sense of freedom, no?” The therapist asked with a hint of an old world Middle Eastern accent

“Yes I do, very much, running is the most fun, a different sensation than the real thing altogether. “

Very different, our avatars are only a rough estimation of physical ability or dimensions.  Built from scanning our memory, the system builds this approximation from our own glimpses in the mirror.

“They certainly don’t mirror our physical truth always, do they?” The therapist asked with a hint of sarcasm, he crimped the pen tip with his lips awaiting my response. For a second I imagined it exploding black ink all over his mouth.

“No they don’t, clearly they don’t”

“So tell me Derrick, how does your avatar look, compared to your self-identity”

“I’ve changed my appearance because in real life I’m a little overweight”

“Yes Derrick, and this morphism is a result of your online courtship with, let’s see, ahh yes Jenxzgirl32?”

“Just Jen now, but yes….. of course it is”

And if she did not look like her avatar, how would that make you feel Derrick?”

It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought of this before, but she had sent me holo-pictures… Perhaps only clear from the chest up, shit, I don’t’ want to think about this, we get along great and I’ll see her when I get back to Earth.

“I think we’re done for the day, Doc”

“We’ve actually got 15 minutes left in our session”

“No I think that’s enough time for today, just really tired”

“Before you go, I’d like you to take a diary of your day to day events, summarize them, including any Sense Over’s you have”

He handed me a flat black leather bound booklet. It had a small electric pen sheathed underneath its faux coils. Piezoelectric notepads haven’t changed much since I was in school.

“Yea Doc, sure thing, but I’m calling it a journal, diaries are for ladies”

With that I turned and left his metallic oak patterned office. I didn’t mind the Doc but if I could choose between SenseNet and seeing him, SenseNet would always win.

I needed an outlet from being bored half to death on this asteroid mining rig in the middle of our solar system. It would be another two years before this contract would be over and I would return to earth.

The doc asked me to create a journal of events after I enter into SenseNet to log my time and experiences. He says I’m developing a serious need for it and that it could become an addiction.  I know he’s right, eventually streams will cross in my brain at the wrong time like while I’m working.

Sense Overs are dangerous but only a small portion of the population is susceptible to them he tells me.  Can’t have a SenseNet flashback flooding into me while I’m operating these xenon carbide laser drills or I’ll be stuck here another ten years paying for damages.

Xterra 361 is a mining station in orbit just between the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, specifically, we orbit a partially habitable moon named Europa where we can draw upon is hydrogen supply to make water. We take smaller ships on tethers called Badgers closer to the asteroid belts and rings and scoop up the material necessary for harvesting. I’m an operator for one of the Badgers main laser drills.

My living quarters are a lot smaller than what classic flat shows like Star Trek had envisioned for the future, a lot grimier too, but hey its home and I can relax here.  Time to hit the SenseNet.

Next time, before I login I’ve got to get that poppy density up; Jen was mentioning how much she liked them.

The trodes of the neural visor massage their way onto my temples as I log in. I close my eyes and the familiar rush begins, as my mind is plucked out of my body and flown into an empty grid that expands infinitely in all directions. I focus my attention on the address of our favourite personal server, orbiting Mars. It’s a fairly neutral location for us so the lag is minimal on both ends. The mountains springboard out of the ether below, as pastel colours merge and become more intense. The familiar cool breeze begins, loaded out of sequence so that I feel it before I hear it. It’s a strange thing to experience senses out of order. The tall grass almost sprouts then multiplies without taking into account the wind until each blade is loaded. I look to my left, where are those flowers?  They begin to emerge in radiant red, almost overpowering the grass until opacity and shading are sorted out by the quantum processor my conduit.

No sign of Jen, I guess I’ll walk around and explore this modded out environment. Some of the mountains looked smudged with a god sized finger-tip. She must have been tweaking things.

SenseNet allow me to visit places back on earth and imagined, virtually lag free through solar internet. High frequencies of the sun proved to be the perfect carrier of huge amounts of information, in conjunction with multiple relay satellites spread throughout the solar system, the SenseNet layer of the internet was now virtually lag free.

My interface visor taps into my central nervous system and parts of my brain, including vision, sight, smell and touch. This technology is still relatively new but the boffins back at home have been playing with these for years without many problems; of course, they have a lot more contact with society then I do out here.  Billions of users from all over our colonies can meet and interact, including home, Earth.

I wait and wait, two hours have gone by, no sign of her, got tired of wondering around the Alps alone, logging off…

June 16th, 2216

I want so badly to have the warmth of a companion with me here. While I can’t, I focus on earning my credit bills, the monetary struggle continues. Our history books say this almost came to an end over a dozen times on earth in the past two centuries, ever since the Federal Reserve first tanked in the early two thousands.

June 17, 2216

I don’t want to have to care about credits, most people back on earth live well because of what we do out here. Pollution has been almost eliminated, but we still require resources. Mining and other polluting practices have been banned on earth since 2101. We finally realized we needed to preserve the few natural species left, or the ecosystems that sustained us would collapse entirely. When I get back to earth, I’m going to take Jen for an underwater cruise on one of those giant new luxury submarines. They say its nonstop entertainment and all the food you could want. Not to mention a great way to appreciate the ocean giants.

June 18, 2216

Another day another dollar, I didn’t have time to login to SN last night, but I craved it all day at work, the Badger hit a deep deposit of plutonium which could have had dire consequences if my co-operator didn’t snap me out of my SenseNet day dream… maybe Sense Overs could happen to me…

June19, 2216

Got my room setup for relaxation, most knowledge is available now and easily uploaded into our brain via the SN technology. I’ve been practicing my Shakespeare, I have at least 90% of the quatrains from Romeo and Juliet uploaded without much of a hitch…

June 20, 2216

Takes courage to be out here, far away from home, it’s what separates the men from the boys. My back hurts, time to get into the rejuvenation chamber. See ya tomorrow, journal.

Woke up in the middle of the night, terrible dream, was in the Alps scenario when I saw a girl in the distance, I kept running towards her but got no closer, I ran until my feet were bloody stumps and the grass turned crimson red.

June 21, 2216

I feel good physically. I stopped using gyms about the time I decided I could come out here. Instead of torturing yourself for hours while listening to up-tempo music and tearing muscle tissue, we can now bathe in an electrified gel, much like our mothers amniotic fluid I’m told, which completely rejuvenates skin, nerve and muscle tissue, it helps the body to feel healthy again and don’t need to sweat my balls off, so of course I friggen love it. We still got machines to build mass and slim ya down, but what’s the point when you don’t gotta see anyone you’re attracted to in RL.

*Logged onto SN again, no Jen, starting to get worried so I sent her an old fashioned message.

June 22, 2216

Hernandez from g-sector engineering says I spend too much time on SN.  Says the drill bit on the Badger showed signs of stress fracturing. Looks like SN daydreams are affecting my work, negligence induced broken drill bit equals partial lifetimes of being out here to repay it. Mental note, stay the fuck awake.

June 23, 2216

Got a reply back tonight, says she needs to see me tomorrow at the Alps on our favourite Mars server.

I need a real beer; this sythenol garbage tastes like club soda. My day dreams are getting clearer every day, experiencing withdrawal from SN, big-time.

June 24th, 2216

Powering on neural implants in a moment, the solar strength is high. This is it, like a junkie my body is screaming in anticipation for its next hit of SenseNet. No sign of Jen.

June 25th, 2216

She came to me in drab clothes, said she wasn’t going to be able to meet me here anymore, and says she found someone else, back on Earth, a flesh date. I shouldn’t be sad or angry, but I’m crushed. Is this a bad dream?

Woke up to the alpines being swallowed by fire, felt the world caving in on me. Time to see the Doc.

“Hey Doc. “I entered the familiar office; the metallic overtones of the room accentuated the dark wood of the Doc’s horn rimmed bio metric glasses. No doubt reading and recording my stress levels for later analysis. Any erratic readings and he would hit a button that would signal security forces to bum rush me and be grappled to the ground within ten seconds or less. But I was more deflated then violent.

“Hi Derrick, It’s good to see you. I’ve been reviewing the journal notes and I’ve been rather concerned by these day dreams you seem to be having.

“Yes Doc, I can’t be out here paying for equipment”

“Derrick, your notes leave me with two options, either place you on temporary suspension or begin a new and experimental treatment I have devised. “ He looked like a man about to eat a steak.

My heart sunk, then began to beat fast, I sure as hell can’t afford to lose any time on the drills.

“I’ll take option two, what have you got for me Doc?”

He bent forward with his eyebrows furled and his eyes focused measurably.
“We need to purge your Sense Overs by cleaning your mind of the association of the Alps scenario being a healthy escape for it. Let’s try reprogramming the world of the Alps, which symbolizes your old relationship, and to purging the land with fire. Your dream was a representation of this, but now I would like to program the computer to cleanse the Alps via your SenseNet neural trodes.”

A part of me felt sad, ruining something which Jen and I had put so much time into perfecting. My vision felt blurry, I hadn’t slept properly for days. Maybe I would slip up at work in a matter of days, maybe it was only a few minutes away from happening. Then I would be stuck here for years or out of a job and living like a subhuman back on earth, I wouldn’t have the money to pay for my implants and upgrades that kept my place in society. Then I couldn’t think of a reason why I should preserve the Alps. Fuck the Alps.

“Let’s do it Doc”

Once it began, I wasn’t the least bit nervous about watching this world burn in SenseNet, maybe it would stop actually the Sense Overs I was having. Maybe I would sleep well again.  I watched from above as the mountains split and the grass became torched and spread up the mountainside, somehow not as scary as the dream, but decidedly therapeutic in many ways.

June 26th, 2216

Not touching SN for a while, I’ll stick to the standard Hollywood holographic films, maybe even some 2d vintage ones, can’t get my heart hurt and my head stuck that way again. Maybe I’ll workout using the mass builder/leaner. Two more years on this floating rig, I wonder what Jen actually looks like?

A Labour of Luxury – Manufacturing in the 21st Century

While Samsung and Apple fight for patents about who’s got round or square corners, a slide to unlock and other mundane and generally indiscernible features, workers at a major manufacturing plant are rioting and striking in the thousands for fair wages.

Of course manufacturers bid for contracts and the lower they go, the higher the chance of clinching it. That means design and engineering companies like Apple and their manufacturing contractors like Foxconn have a symbiotic relationships. One benefits from the other and this trickles down to us consumers in the form of savings right?

Not entirely.

See large telecom companies are still subsidizing these phones, hooking you with lower then manufacturer’s retail prices by taking a small loss on the hardware and taking a huge profit on service fees for the duration of your contract. Upwards of 10 billion in annual profit looks to be quite normal for the big wireless telecom providers. (http://www.vancouversun.com/business/all/Telus+wireless+segment+helps+boost+revenue+billion+profit/7038865/story.html)

So while giant’s battle in the courtroom over billions of dollars, the people at the bottom, toiling away to meet demand are being paid fractions of these gigantic profits (http://www.bgr.com/2012/05/03/apple-cell-phone-profits/) with company and factory owners and mid management taking the lion’s share of the wealth generated for their use personal gain and leaving thousands to squabble amongst each other to get out like the crabs in the bucket they have become. Foxconn’s parent company makes about 3 billion in profit annually but Apple makes closer to 30 Billion annually. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/12/fortune_500_foxconn_apple_profits/)

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what’s important.

Many of us if not all have smartphones now. This entwines our lives with technology on an intimate level. I say intimate because many of these devices come everywhere with us. For many of us they are moving from a luxury to a necessity. We seem to be using them and enjoying them and even creating a new thriving industry of app development making people wealthy 99 cents at a time.

There are a few argument’s, some intuitive, some economic for fair wages. Many of them discount the complexity and challenge associated with high technology devices. After all as design elevates many of these new devices are becoming more sophisticated and challenging to manufacture, requiring more skill and trained labour to develop.

Because of all the complexity and commerce associated with our technology perhaps manufactures should begin to place more emphasis on fair wages. What I mean by this is the ability for privileged societies on earth to raise their standards of ethics associated with the delivery of high tech products which are becoming more important in today’s modern society.

I realize this crosses into much contested ideological territory of what fair wages are and the cultural relativity associated with them. I’m going to make blanket statements here but I believe that wealth if even slightly more evenly spread out would have the effect of creating much less disparity in the world and therefore less tension, crime and unhappiness that lead to all sorts of nasty self-perpetuating problems.

I think we are caught in a hard place right now economically – although it makes sense to outsource labour and disperse a portion of wealth to ailing countries, in the long run we know this hurts local economy’s by reducing spending power of its citizens and contributing to inefficiencies due to shipping and transportation logistics which inflate costs and further deplete and toxify the environment.

Personally, I would like to see a new era of responsible employment become the norm. What I mean by this is paying wages which allow workers to move to higher positions after learning their positions.

With a higher level of society has to come tweaks and leaps in the way we do things. As we work smarter, a major reorganization will transpire out of necessity. I believe we are seeing this now as companies stockpile enormous profits and hesitate to invest while lower end labour workers are either out of work or are working treadmill wages.

In today’s interconnected society, doing the right thing leads to profit and further survival. Paying fair wages may reduce the company’s overall amount of hires, or their profits in the short run, but in the long run people who care about these issues (generally anyone who hears about them) will be more inclined to purchase from companies who treat their workers fairly.

Looking forward, perhaps training robots will replace more tedious jobs and save companies even more money. However there will still be a need for humans to supervise and service them. New robots like Baxter from Rethink Robotics is the first step towards a major industry reorganization. See video – (http://youtu.be/rjPFqkFyrOY ).

These robots have the potential to take the monotony out of jobs and elevate people sense of self-worth. I realize robots may still displace some workers initially however a major shift to local product manufacturing could also bring with it the ancillary jobs included in the full lifecycle of the products, from raw resource harvesting to disposal and recycling creating many more jobs with a level of diversity unseen presently.

If we can’t pay people fair wages on the other side of the world, can we get away with it in our own backyard?

Probably not.

But think, if we paid people wages that kept them happy and moving forward in life on the other side of the world, what would stop us from bringing manufacturing back home and doing the same thing here?

Perhaps that’s the ultimate answer and North America could certainly use the jobs.

How to Save RIM: Part Two (Saving the Canadian Dream)

Instead of writing a eulogy for Research In Motion, I would rather focus on some ideas that might save the brand.

Perhaps it’s because I’m on optimist, or because I’m a hopeful Canadian entrepreneur and recent grad of Royal Roads University‘s Bachelor of Commerce program that I can’t help but think of ways to save “The Canadian Dream”.

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RIM stands out as one of the few high tech Canadian start-ups to play with the giants of a major industry and was actually winning for quite some time.

Mostly it represents great possibility to me of what can be accomplished from north of 40.

We also happen to share the birthplace, Waterloo, Ontario.

So how do we rescue RIM? Let’s examine the current market and some key players;

Apple

Has more cash than most nations on earth right now, a coveted brand and very good reputation for quality products. A tribal following that is gaining steam year over year and ability to out innovate and win patent wars that crush competition.

Where they are now with the iPhone is similar to where Blackberry was probably 7 or 8 years ago.

They seems to be erecting barriers as they attempt to claim the leadership in the market.

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Courtesy of http://www.comscoredatamine.com/2012/04/android-captures-majority-share-of-us-smartphone-market/

Google

The internet giant. The only entity still bigger then Apple and possibly more influential. Swallowed Motorola for patents, it’s Android OS pervades low cost tablets and a litany of cell phone that range in quality, perhaps peaking with offerings from HTC and Samsung.

Also gaining popularity and prominence – Apples number 1 threat (hence the Motorola acquisition – they seem to be prepared to play IP chess with each other for the next while).

Coming up third but still a major threat to the previous two’s market share is Microsoft.

Microsoft

Seems to be playing a game of catch up with its competitors, but should not be overlooked, is still a powerhouse. Think about how late it entered the gaming console market with the Xbox and yet now outsells the previous king of entertainment, Sony. The sleeping giant is waking up.

Microsoft is doing everything right these days. Not quickly, but right. They are taking time to reinvent their brand, working with more hardware vendors to compete with Apple’s consistency.

Their alliance with former cell phone heavyweight champ Nokia could pan out to be a very strong player. How?

Nokia is already a well-established communications brand – they only lacked a useable modern operating system. Windows mobile fixes this. Windows 8, Surface tablets and cloud services (Skydrive) form a very competitive and robust ecosystem that only Apple can match at this time.

Back to Basics

There is where we come back to RIM, without focusing on mistakes they have made, is there any way for them to compete with any of these giants? Is they brand worth anything anymore?

Yes.

Perhaps to a smaller set of business users that require higher level security, high quality communications and did I mention security?

The cloud is going to be an ethereal and magical place where many new computing experiences are to be had, until the first time a serious business reliant server gets hacked, then it will be terribly frightening.

Perhaps the R&D and acquisition budget at RIM has run dry, so my previous article about pioneering battery life tech may not be realistic at this point. But they can still focus in on their core competencies.

The Fix

How many models of Iphone are there for sale? Pretty much 1 (2 now), and the previous iteration at any given time?

Why does RIM have 17 models!!?

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Many of them hardly look different. Who are they building these things for?

Reign it in guys, you need 2 phones, tops.

Who is your market? It’s not kids, it’s not grannies, and it’s not even teens anymore. Come back to centre. FOCUS on your target market, your core competency.

Business people.

Make it attractive to have one, make it the BENZ of cell phones for business people but most of all make it functional, make it an ESSENTIAL tool.

Consolidate your 17 designs into 1 or 2 which focus on the business user’s needs (yes I’m going to come back to battery life).

Perhaps a larger screen, a superior keyboard, class leading security, a cloud service for documents and perhaps MS Office Mobile, built in.

This is where a strategic play can be made. Business people still love Microsoft products (admit it, you’re excited about Office 2013)

A partnership between RIM and Microsoft to meld the Windows platform onto RIM hardware would expand MS’s mobility presence, as well as draw more business users back to Blackberry.

A new Playbook could be made as a Surface tablet, which I will write about later in the month as I think it is poised to become the king of tablets.

So there you have it, RIM + Microsoft = the rebirth of mobile business domination.

Either that or Rim goes the pay of Palm, and that would just be sad.

How to Save RIM

RIM has been a flash point of conversation throughout my business program. Almost every tech and business focused writer has had some criticism for the ill fated company.
Quite simply, the Blackberry was the worlds entry to text messaging, push mail and security. Perhaps they were caught sleeping at the wheel, while Apple design began to revolutionize interface and capability, lackluster revisions of old hardware continued at RIM. In a delayed reaction, the tablet (Blackberry playbook) was released (and more recently the 16gig version pulled) to combat the Ipad. It’s a shame the ecosystem for RIM lagged behind the unstoppable power of iTunes and the development community behind it’s app store. At this point, its safe to say RIM will probably never have the opportunity to catch up… So let’s leave that issue alone for a moment and focus on core competency and target demographic. You aren’t going to convince the teens, gamers, or hipsters to convert to BB from their Iphones and Android devices.

But Business users, particularly older ones probably still have a soft spot for BB and it’s high level security. They don’t need access to millions of silly apps, they need focused reliability.
This is where RIM can still shine. Notwithstanding, I firmly believe RIM needs to take a new direction with it’s design to produce a more capable phone then its competition.

Features and horsepower aside, the one thing plaguing the entire smartphone/portable tech industry is battery life. RIM could acquire a specialized company and perhaps be the first to market with a hydrogen fuel cell powered device with double digit days of power in between charges. This would probably require a larger handset design however this would benefit RIM’s older, business focused customers who probably find the Iphone screen a tad to small for their fingers and their eyes.
So there you have it, Battery life could be RIM’s savior.
What do you think? If Blackberry had a phone that lasted for 2 weeks without needing to be plugged in, would you ditch your current cellphone?
[polldaddy poll=6299417]

The Prodigal Son


Jeremy Calhoun was on the cusp of his 11th birthday when his father decided a camping trip was in order. Hunting, fishing and living off the land were hard lessons only learn-able in the wild spaces between civilizations. Cornelius Calhoun liked his meat pure and his data well cooked. He was a Statistician by trade and quite well educated. He had fulfilled a lot of roles in his life, most recently he had humbled a health care labour dispute in his own way. As the labour relations arbitrator he locked out the striking workers until they caved for less money then what they has originally asked for. Jeremy Calhoun thought of his dad as more of a military leader, something like a corporal. He liked the forest’s lush green background and the damp smell of the northern interior of British Columbia was still untamed and wild. Like father, like son so the saying goes.
“Hey Jeremy, come here and help me load up”, barked his father authoritatively.
The USS Enterprise as Jeremy’s dad called it was a shimmering metallic ex military vehicle. Wide tracks ran down the length of both sides which imbued its unstoppable off-road capability. Although it was capable of month long expeditions in the woods, they would only be going for a weekend perhaps to catch some venison to make sausage. Jeremy could taste it now, flavoured with all the spices of an Italian deli sitting on his plate in the morning. It was almost worth seeing the life snuffed out of a helpless buck just for that taste.
“We’re taking the rest of the armaments” Cornelius detailed. Jeremy bundled the rifles and crossbows under one arm, barley able to reach down he grabbed the drab green ammunitions box with the other hand and heaved them into the great machine. With the vehicle fully supplied, Jarhead’s father climbed his large six foot five frame into the captains chair s and fired up the old turbo diesel inline engine. It’s rumbled to life activating a deep urge in Jeremy to be deep in the forest. The cabin had plenty of room, among various dials, pressure and temp gauges there was also a stereo with CD player and room for a small envoy of another six people with supplies. This trip would just be the two of them and a CCR album. “Engage” said Cornelius, his tone not changing. The tracks dug in and they were on their way to certain adventure.

Jeremy or Jar Head as his dad sometimes called him, didn’t talk much but when he did it was one pearl of wisdom after another. Jar head’s young and impressionable mind would fill with memorable quotes and philosophies forever. Cornelius recounted stories of teaching college kids, saying they asked too many damn questions and how he wished he could fail all those cocksuckers for not being able to follow simple instructions.
The path became more ridged, the enterprise steamed forward as they approached camp. The horizon was dimming from its earlier bright hues to a sleepier looking yellow and orange.
Jeremy looked out through the side windows and spotted deer off in the distance.
They found a spot on a ridge not far away from a stony riverbed to park the vehicle and make camp before the lights were turned off on them for the night. Jeremy’s dad got out of the car and sniffed the air like a big grizzly bear “someone’s nearby, scaring away our deer with fire”
Jeremy detected the faintest hint of hickory in the wind, it smelled nice he thought, envisioning smoked meet. They made camp for the night.

When they awoke it had been raining for some time, Jeremy had heard the soft droplets at first become tiny bullets assaulting the sheet metal of the enterprise. It was close to six am now and the enterprise was so well integrated with the landscape it was hard to differentiate it from the rocks and trees. Colonel Corn was perched against a side window portal; he opened it slowly, deliberately. “My Winchester, now please” Jeremy dove into the bundle of guns, cocked, loaded just like his father has trained him to. He handed the rifle to his father who then clicked off the safety and poked the nose of the gun out the window at an approaching large buck, he fired, and six hundred metres away, the shot registered as it hit a deer in the top of the spine.
Jeremy watched as the impact misted, the deer collapsed instantly.
“Hooo Haw, got me one!” said Cornelius.
Jeremy’s job would now be to go retrieve the carcass so it could be skinned and butchered.
He was given a set of ropes and with hooks and a knife in case the animal was still breathing when he got too it. Cornelius readied his butchering equipment, clearly excited at the prospect of bringing this animal back to the household.

The water from the river bed was raised easily by a couple of feet. Jeremy noticed immediately as he jumped down into it to collect their bounty. The rain wasn’t relenting. He would have to drag a sizable deer back to the Enterprise. When he got to it it was still twitching slightly and barely breathing. He took his knife out and slit its throat quickly. Jeremy perceived some kind of force leaving its body that filled him with a wild energy.
“Thank you for giving your life to be a tasty sausage on my plate”, he thought silently.
When he got back to the enterprise his muscles ached, the deer was heavy and soaked.
Jeremy’s feet were wet, he could see his father inside trying to start the vehicle and move it higher up the bank. It was stuck. He climbed into the cab with his father and was instructed to keep the vehicle in gear while Cornelius went out to move some debris around. It was no use the river bank has risen so quickly that it eroded some of the footing of the vehicle away.
They recovered the deer and went inside the cabin to formulate an action plan and take some solace from the rain.

It was then that they heard a rumbling engine sound; a 4×4 from the nearby campsite was heading in the opposite direction down their path.
Cornelius leapt out and started making his way up the bank to wave down the car. The rain kept coming down and they were going to need a tow now or face peril. Three fellows came back to the vehicle, all pretty young looking Jeremy though, but still much older them him.
One wore his hat backwards and had large headphones on the two other looked like his caretakers he decided. Cornelius explained the seriousness of their predicament; they needed to be pulled out quickly. He explained in his matter of fact, all business voice. Jeremy could tell he wasn’t taking no for an answer. The sheepish looking tallest one and the other normal one spoke together briefly while the one wearing headphones drooled on itself. After a quick conference they had decided it was too risky and they would flag someone else in the next town to come out and get them unstuck.

Cornelius did not accept this answer, it was immediate but discreet as he turned to his son and asked quietly for his Colt 357 Python handgun. As the ungainly group of three turned to go back to their 4×4 they heard a click’ sound as Colonel Corn cocked back the hammer of his 357.
“You aren’t going anywhere until I get my tow” he said
The boys looked shocked; Jeremy was quite unshook by all this.
“Boy, hold my gun and keep it pointed at them while I use their winch to get us out of here”
“Yes Pa” said Jeremy as he pointed the gun straight at the disabled looking man in the centre of them. Cornelius demanded compliance at the highest level.
“Keys” he spoke in monotone and stretched out his hand to the smartest looking of the bunch.
Within seconds he was parking their jeep on the banks edge and rigging their winch system onto the enterprise. All the while Jeremy never flinched; he held the gun steady, pointed, trained.
The small 4×4 heaved backwards and lifted the front of the Enterprise high enough to gain traction under its wide treads. Jeremy lowered the gun as his father came back towards him, job complete. The group of three stood there sheepishly, not knowing what to expect next. The one with headphones spoke saying “I like Jazz, jazz keeps me warm, not like that rock music!”
“He hates Coldplay”, said the frumpy one. Jeremy just nodded, missing the humour of the situation. The three young men scurried into their 4×4 and drove off.
The rain eased down now, as the Enterprise pulled itself up the steep ridge, gaining more footing every second; they rejoined the path taken by the 4×4.
Cornelius pressed a button on the console “Have you ever seen the rain by CCR” started blaring, he turned to look at his young spawn, “Happy birthday kid!” he said with an affectionate smile. With the deer strapped to the top of the vehicle, they headed back home. Jeremy was twelve now, and he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then eating those deer sausages.

Health 2.0

After taking a couple years of foundational science courses to satisfy my curiosity I find myself for interested in human health then ever. Expects posts and insights here.

Case Analysis

Hey World (specifically Victoria, BC Canada).
So it looks like I will be the live case writer for the RRU sponsored Case Competition. If you or anyone you know has a business they would like worked on by a 100 bright business minds, you need to get in touch with me!