Hidden away behind one of the Alienware booth’s walls was a secret room barely big enough to hold a couple of chairs and a small desk. Seated inside of it was one very hoarse Chris Sutphen whom spent the PAX Aus weekend doing his best to talk above the showroom’s deafening roar. Global Marketing Director at Alienware Chris was kind enough to grant me entry into his showroom sanctuary for a quick chat about the company’s move into OLED as well as their recent brand redesign and what that means for them moving forward. Continue reading
Recorded live at PAX Australia, Chris sits down with Raj for a frank discussion about all things [email protected] and important the program is to Microsoft & Xbox in the lead up to its 1000th release!
It would be difficult to be involved in the Australian game industry and not know the name Guy Blomberg. Co-creator of Australian Gamer and The Mana Bar, Blomberg, or “Yug” as he’s more affectionally known, is a figure synonymous with gaming in this country.
I first met Yug by complete accident back in 2012. I’d flown to Seattle to cover PAX Prime and was wondering the show floor with other media people just before it was opened to the public. There, beneath the towering statue of a Caterpillar P–5000 Work Loader, I caught a glimpse of what can only be described as a somewhat distinguishable hairstyle approaching.
“Excuse me.” I said as I walked towards the figure, “Are you Yug by any chance?” Not a particularly difficult question to ask but an embarrassing one should it have turned out not to be.
Smiling broadly and confirming my suspicions he gave me his card, chatted with me briefly and then continued on his way. Not thinking anything of the chance encounter it wasn’t until a few hours later when the news broke that PAX would be expanding to its first non North American location in Australia that it all started to make sense.
Today Guy is the Content & Community Manager at ReedPOP a subsidiary of Reed Exhibitions, one of the world’s largest exhibition organisers. His role there, primarily, putting on Australia’s largest gaming party: PAX Australia.
It’s a role that many would say he was born to play. Forever wanting to be the life of the party, Guy has a long history of party planning and fun. Whilst living in Brisbane’s nightclub district, Fortitude Valley, he told me of the lavish parties he’d hold. Over 200 people regularly attending to hang out on his balcony, be entertained by random international DJs, and play video games like Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) or Singstar — projected for all to enjoy.
“I just really enjoyed bucking the stereotype that people who played games were anti-social weirdos,” says Blomberg, ”and I did it by throwing parties that everyone wished they could be at.”
From video game-accented house parties to bars built around playing them, Blomberg’s Mana Bar was a logical next step for him and his friends Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, Pras Moorthy and Shay Leighton.
Opening in March 2010 after a series of lengthy delays – including a requirement by the Queensland government to prove that video games were art – the bar was a huge success. So much so a second site was opened in Melbourne in late 2013 with plans for a third in Sydney that would unfortunately never eventuate.
”I actually moved to Sydney with the intention of opening a third venue.” Blomberg told me reflecting on the bars’ eventual downturns and closures. ”The Mana Bar was my baby, my idea that had come to life, and for it to reach a level and not work out was heartbreaking.”
On the topic of where it all went wrong Blomberg had this to say: ”…it came down to the pressure of the Melbourne venue not working out, and a breakdown in communication and relationships between the original Mana Bar owners. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
Guy wasn’t always the centre of the party however, his upbringing definitely not what you’d expect. Raised a Pentecostal Christian by his parents he was a leader in the local Youth Group and church while also involved in prayer groups at his school.
“The only thing that predicted any of my later life was perhaps an addiction to crazy over the top schemes, and a desire to always be the life of the party… even if the parties back then were pretty tame.” he remarks.
It was also during his early school years where the infamous nickname “Yug” first originated. A pen-pal, Anna, with whom Guy joked about being able to pronounce her name backwards started addressing her replies to “Yug” in protest. It wasn’t until years later, while working at a web development agency, that the name truly stuck.
“One of the higher ups was Guy as well.” he tells me, “The second day after I’d started working there he was fired in such an overly dramatic way that the owner of the company went around saying ‘I never want to hear the fucking name Guy ever again’, so I figured it was best if everyone called me Yug from that point on. People who started after me didn’t know my real name was Guy.”
Web developer is just one of the many roles Guy has played over the years leading up to this point. A skilled graphics designer working in both print and digital mediums he also ran his own design company, DesignbyCode, for over eight years.
It was during this same period that Guy along with good friend Matt Burgess started the widely popular “Australian Gamer” website and podcast. He also began a new role with video games industry trade paper MCV as Marketing & Advertising Manager for their new MCV Pacific expansion. ”I think at the peak I was running 5 different companies,” he tells me, ”[it’s] as exhausting as it sounds.”
Everything changed in early 2012, the same year I would randomly meet Guy for the first time. Australian Gamer was acquired by Gameplanet and he had left his marketing role at MCV, having decided ad sales were not his thing. ”I went out and started a game specific PR agency called PUG Consultancy with some good friends.” he recalls.
This was to be a short lived venture however. A few months after its inception Guy received a call from Penny Arcade president Robert Khoo to discuss the possibility of developing a PAX in Australia, which up until now was only a rumour. ”I remember meeting people at a gaming conference in Sydney, and they talked about the possibility of PAX in Australia. I was sceptical, until I got a call from [him].”
Now, about to open for its third time in Melbourne, PAX Australia is a very real, very big part of Guy Blomberg’s life. ”I started working on PAX Aus 2015 pretty much a week after PAX Aus 2014 had wrapped up. Hell, right now I’m working on plans up until 2019. It never, ever, stops.”
PAX Australia isn’t his only responsibility at ReedPOP however. While it does account for around 80% of his time he also contributes to the community aspects of other shows both in Australia, such as Oz Comic-Con, and in the US like New York Comic-Con and PAX Prime, East & South much to his delight: ”It’s great fun, I pretty much get to spend every day planning the biggest parties of the year!”
If you’re attending PAX Australia this coming week and happen to encounter one of the most genuinely happy and excited people there it may very well be Guy Blomberg. If that person has a hairstyle akin to what Guy himself describes as “homeless chic” then that’s definitely him. Be sure to say hi.
On a not too recent trip to the US I had the good fortune to meet the wonderful hosts of the gaming podcast Weekend Confirmed, Garnett Lee (creator of 1UP Yours and Garnett on Games) and Jeff Cannata, (creator of Totally Rad Show, NLB and DLC).
The show, sadly no more, ran for an almighty 202 episodes—akin to around 10 years in podcast time—and remains one of the most prominent gaming podcasts created in terms of guests, content, production value and listenership. It definitely had a head-start though; Lee was a driving force behind another of the gaming world’s podcast behemoths, 1UP Yours.
“like a bunch of your best friends sitting around chatting ’bout vid-yah games”
On paper, the 1UP Yours and Weekend Confirmed weren’t too dissimilar; a round-table discussion centred around gaming. All of the participants were in the same room being potentially mischievous (often due to a few drinks) and a mammoth run-time upwards of two hours.
Backed by Lee’s new working home at Gamefly Media (where he took a position as editorial director post UGO buyout of 1UP) he and Cannata took the proven formula to the next level. They introduced studio-quality recordings, a more structured segment-based format and fostered a phenomenally high level of constructive community involvement. At the same time managing to inject some of the often Cannata-mentioned whimsy; an important element to the show’s success that welcomed them into your homes like a bunch of your your best friends having a chat about “vid-yah games”.
Raj Deut (RD): How did the two of you meet?
Jeff Cannata (JC): I was working at Revision 3 and Patrick [Norton], who was there as well, knew Garnett and I was like “You gotta introduce me to this guy, I love his show and I want to meet him!” Pat did the introduction via email. Garnett was so nice & cool, he invited me on the show in San Francisco around Christmas time when I visiting family and we became friends from there.
RD: Then after intro and Garnett’s move to LA to start work for GameFly, the intention was always to do a show together?
Garnett Lee (GL): Jeff and I had actually talked, even before I’d come down here (LA). It had always been like we have to figure out a way to do a show together. It was almost a given?
JC: I was real excited that he moved down here and then it was just a matter of talking about it.
GL: Yeah. We just sorta had to figure out the details.
RD: So everything kind of fell into place once you moved down?
JC: I mean [Garnett] made it happen.
GL: Well, to a degree. It wouldn’t happen at all if it weren’t the both of us. I don’t think.
JC: Thank you, I appreciate that. I love doing the show, it’s one of my favourite things of the week. Also credit should be given to [Brian] Lahey too. In the beginning. That’s how it kinda all started, with the three of us.
RD: A lot of the show began with fairly similar structure to the old conversational style of “1UP Yours”. What did you take from that in starting with Weekend Confirmed?
GL: Putting the show together there was definitely some pre-planning based on the various iterations of the shows I’d done at 1UP and in addition to that we’d follow listener feedback as it continued. One of the things I felt we had to do with a new show would be to make it something that people could listen to and feel like they were able to break it down. It’s like playing a role playing game, right? You’re playing a Japanese role playing game and you don’t get to a save spot often enough, it’s frustrating!
I felt like the shows that we’d done at 1UP though they were really interesting, they were like that. There was no natural save spot. So that’s where the whole segmenting thing came from. It was definitely one of the principal objectives, to break it down into pieces.
Also reducing the show from, typically back at 1UP, a three hour run time. I have to tell you that three hours of content is a lot and what I was seeing was that even if I was jammed up and pumped for it that it was really difficult to keep four people or more really engaged and going and exciting. So reducing the show length has made it a much tighter, more fun show.
JC: The other point, that Garnett probably won’t make because he’s too modest is that all audio game podcasts now basically ripped them off. A derivative of what these guys started and I really like the fact that when he came to GameFly and we started Weekend Confirmed, Garnett looked at that with fresh eyes and said we’re not going to just do the same thing that now everyone is doing and I think that that’s healthy and the show evolved a little bit.
It’s still sitting around and talking about games for two hours and I think that at the heart of it we all really try and preserve that feeling of friends sitting around talking about what they all really care about. If you’ve got that you’ve got something that’s listenable. Then putting structure on that and adding a really high quality, fantastic, professional audio studio, I think that really makes a difference.
RD: I have that as my next point actually. That difference of a recording in a studio does it make you stand out that much more?
JC: I think so. We’re not really the right people to judge though. The listeners are the good people to judge that but I really like the fact that it’s high quality and it sounds great. You can tell that there’s that high level of production quality and I’m proud of that and I feel like we put out a really good product because of that.
GL: I have a huge degree of appreciation for it because I did all the engineering and production on the 1UP podcasts. I built a studio in our offices there in San Francisco, crashed coursed myself on how to run microphones, amps and how to set compressors so that you’d get the right peaks & limits and not sound crushed. Even with all of that and some decent equipment there was no way we could touch anything [Atlantis Group] have.
At the same time if someone’s out there who wants to be a podcaster it absolutely matters what quality of recording you can lay down. You may not be in a position to buy studio time but spend the outlay on a good mic. Grab a “Yeti” or similar. The better the quality of recording you can do the more likely you are to have people to listen to you over and over. The same thing as anything else you listen to, the better it sounds the more likely you are to keep listening.
JC: The other thing that I think Garnett was really smart about too, is that he doesn’t allow Skype. It’s about the “in-person” experience which totally comes across. I think that A, you have better quality, but also that the conversation is a conversation. It’s not a I’m-sitting-on-my-end-waiting-to-speak. As much as I have loved doing TWiT and other shows that are Skype shows and those shows are great, successful in their own way, it’s different when you’re in the same room with people and yes you’re talking into mics but you’re there!
I think that adds a more personal quality. We try to make it very much a discussion.
RD: That’s another thing in terms of professionalism. A hard release date and schedule is something Weekend Confirmed has stuck by really well yes?
JC: People like to know when they can expect stuff.
GL: Yeah, one thing I was pretty hard core about was that it wouldn’t be released any later than 11am PST because it helps us serve all the way over to the east coast and the UK still on Friday.
RD: The show has definitely changed in a number of ways over the three years it’s been running. How has the recognition for change come about?
GL: You follow listener response and do so in few ways. You follow what are people saying the forums, and that’s great. You have two sorts of listeners there. You have the really engaged positive listener and they’re the ones that’ll have you coming back week in week out to do keep doing the show. They’re listening and engaged and really a vibrant part of what you’re doing.
Then you have the folks who seem to at some point in time realise that they’re not perhaps on the same page as you but are like a moth to the flame. They’re always wanting to “jibe” with you, like get that written back and forth but we all know hot the internet is and that can easily fall into name calling and personal stuff.
Then the really hard part are the bulk of your listeners that are neither of them, they don’t use forums or comment on posts. They’re folks who are listening every day. That’s where twitter has changed the engagement a lot. Twitter offers a way for people who don’t want to spend the time writing out a long post and can just say “Hey, you did this, that was cool”.
JC: It removes the need to register for a forum. I think that is the biggest impediment for feedback pre-Twitter. It was like “I gotta register for your forum? I gotta have a handle to give you feedback? Too hard.”
GL: Yeah. It’s quick and direct.
RD: The majority aren’t providing feedback though, even for your show which you’d agree has a higher level of engagement?
JC: Most people that like something don’t bother to comment on it. I think it’s always super-important for people in any medium doing anything to realise that if you have an audience that most of the people aren’t giving you any feedback at all because they’re enjoying what you’re doing. They’re happy! It is so much more common for someone to write something about what they didn’t like than when they do. So the fact that you hear from a tiny, tiny fraction that actually listen to your show is very important for people to keep in mind that most people that are listening are having a great time! And that’s the majority of your audience.
GL: I give a tremendous amount of credit to the ShackNews community. I came in from 1UP and had great plans and ideas for shows but at the end of the day a significant number of the folks that post are “Shackers” and it’s because we were able to connect with them and they’ve been a great community. ShackNews has been on the net for 14 years and has earned a reputation as being a really great inclusive gaming destination.
It’s a real community, one where Shackers from all over the world get together to meet up and play their games together. It’s a very genuine group of folks who are quick to knock down anyone who comes in and acts like a jerk in their house. Naturally self-policing, in a way in way that’s not seen so often anymore.
On ShackNews yes, there’s a core group that’s always there but then there’s also consistently new people coming in and out depending on what we’ve talked about catching their attention and that’s cool. It’s because they feel comfortable doing that.
JC: It’s awesome. You get to know these personalities that are in these threads. They’re very articulate, interesting feedback and viewpoints.
RD: I really appreciate your time guys and thank you for your hard work and efforts in putting together a great show. I’ll finish things off with a pretty generic one, what podcasts do you guys listen to?
JC: I love podcasts, I exercise a lot and I can’t listen to music when I exercise so I alway listen to audio books or podcasts. I don’t like listening to music because I start doing things in the rhythm of the music and that screws me up. I tend to stay away from other gaming podcasts just because I don’t want to parrot what other people say so I look to other areas I love like stand up comedy. WTF by Marc Maron or Adam Corrolla, Comedy Bang Bang and what seems like a million others.
GL: I’m a huge house-head. I listen to several house music podcasts. One of them I can’t get by without is Grant Nelson’s “House Call”. The one sort of game related podcast that I occasionally listen to is “My brother, my brother and me” which is just awesome.
A huge thank you to both Garnett & Jeff for taking time out of their busy schedules to let me chat with them and while Weekend Confirmed has sadly come to an end both are still very much involved in the gaming podcast world. Now independent Garnett Lee is the host of the recently started “Garnett on games” as well as having many new exciting projects in the works. Follow Garnett’s twitter @GarnettLee for the latest information on his work.
Jeff is now the host of 5by5’s DLC podcast along with Christian Spicer. His Kickstarter backed Newest Latest Best is also running in the form of “NLB Minis” on his Youtube channel. For more information follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffCannata or his blog at http://jeffcannata.com.
Elaine Heney at Chocolate Lab Apps:
Over the last 6-12 months, indie developers have been complaining that trying to get to the top of the app store – without the development and marketing budgets of the large game companies – can seem nearly impossible.
Not so – meet Dong Nguyen.
Even he doesn’t know how his game ended up at #1 across the world.
Here’s one possible take that sounds plausible: people are competing to write the funniest review and share it on Twitter. It just appears to be one of those fluke memes that has taken off and in doing so, bumped the app right up the iOS App Store & Google Play rankings. Crazy stuff.
Since its debut at WWDC in June of this year, there’s been an immense amount of discussion about changes to the end-user experience that comes with iOS 7. most of that has been around how hideous the new icons are, but what hasn’t been discussed all that much publicly—partly due to those pesky NDAs—is the amount of change to the APIs and frameworks that developers use to build iOS apps.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to pick the brains of a handful of top Aussie iOS developers, including Russel Ivanovic of Shifty Jelly, Marc Edwards of Bjango, Mat Peterson of Shiny Things, Dave McKinney of Filter Squad and Jason Harwood of Halfbrick Studios about the scope of those changes and how each of them had approached the design and implementation challenges around bringing their apps to iOS 7.
So if you can imagine that, to the same extent that the UI and OS has changed for end users in iOS 7, that volume of change is also present in all the underlying APIs…”
— Russell Ivanovic, Shifty Jelly
Changes inside and out
Many of the new APIs & frameworks introduced in iOS 7 are—of course—related to the redesigned user interface; for example, there are all new text rendering APIs. and a brand new view transition framework that developers have to get their heads around.
For apps with user interfaces which rely heavily on UIKit—the framework of user interface elements provided by Apple—this can mean going back to the drawing board and potentially, completely redesigning their app’s user interface.
Even seemingly minor user interface changes—such as the status bar no longer being separate from the app in iOS 7 (as it was in iOS6) can be a stumbling block, especially when trying to maintain backwards compatibility with iOS 6 while also updating an app for iOS 7.
As it turns out, there are many more new APIs which highlight fundamental changes in how iOS behaves at the operating system level. One of the best examples of this is the completely new set of backgrounding APIs introduced in iOS 7.
Unlike previous versions of iOS, iOS7 grants apps the ability to initiate tasks in the background on a schedule or in response to push notifications. For an app like Pocket Casts, for Adelaide-based developer Shifty Jelly, this opens the door to a feature that—while technically possible—has always been too difficult to implement, troubleshoot and support on previous versions of iOS: automatic background podcast downloads.
Adding new features based on APIs present only one version, along with the differences in user interface construction behaviour, can lead to incredibly complex and bloated code when trying to support multiple versions of iOS. This problem is only magnified when you introduce iOS 7 into the mix.
As the team at Shifty Jelly has found in the past, Apple’s stance on backwards compatibility issues often isn’t the most helpful. They suggest that developers simply drop support for previous versions of iOS altogether. Their logic is that 99% of users with a compatible device will upgrade to the latest release. If users say they don’t have a compatible device, devs should just encourage them to buy a new one.
In the case of Pocket Casts, not only did going iOS 7-only make the best technical sense, it also made the best business sense, as the majority of their user base was likely to be on the latest version of the OS.
Similarly, for David and the team at Perth-based Filter Squad (makers of Flipcase, the quirky iPhone 5c case game), it made sense to release their music sharing and discovery app Discovr as an iOS 7-only app.
Stuart Hall (left) and Dave McKinney (right) from Filter Squad
There are a lot of advantages for us with supporting the latest OS only. In particular it means we can give the best possible experience to our users by taking advantage of all of the 7 system features.”
— David McKinney, Filter Squad
Discovr was already undergoing a complete redesign and overhaul which made the move to iOS 7 relatively straightforward. As with Pocket Casts, the audience for Discovr is also likely to be on the latest version of the OS, making it a no-brainer.
One sector of the market which is slower to update to the latest release of iOS that the general population is Education which, coincidentally, is also the market that Shiny Things is targeting with the latest release of Quick Maths+ (for more, you can read James’ review of Quick Maths+).
For Mat and the rest of the Sydney-based team at Shiny Things, this meant that dropping support for iOS 6 simply wasn’t an option, and the split in their user base meant that they had no choice but to tackle backwards compatibility. While they had a head start with the already minimalist user interface of Quick Maths, deadlines combined with some of the fundamental changes in iOS meant that, at the time of release, the iOS 7 version of Quick Maths+ doesn’t live up to the high standards that the team at Shiny Things have set for themselves.
Another reason that a developer would want to maintain backward compatibility is to keep the audience for their app as broad as possible, which is exactly what Brisbane-based Halfbrick Studios, creators of the highly-addictive Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, aim to do.
The goal is to ensure that their games run on as many devices as possible while still providing the end user the optimal experience on their device, irrespective of hardware or software. To that end, their current minimum OS requirement is well below iOS 7 and it will be for a long while.
“Updating games as opposed to ‘apps’ for iOS 7 has been fairly painless so far.”
— Jason Harwood, Halfbrick Studios
Unlike most app developers, game developers like Jason and the team at Halfbrick generally create their own custom user interfaces which reflect the aesthetic of the game rather than the underlying OS. As a developer they also try to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to implementing new shared features across their titles. Their aim is to write code once, bake it into their game engine and development tools, so that it can be reused in all their titles, regardless of their age. All of which has made their transition to iOS 7 relatively painless.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been without it’s challenges. New releases of iOS have always suffered from performance issues on older devices, and iOS 7 is no exception. Even with some features disabled, many iPhone 4 users are finding that iOS 7 runs slower on their device than its predecessor.
This, of course, impacts the performance of apps and games running on the device as well, meaning that Halfbrick have to do additional tuning to ensure that iPhone 4 owners running iOS 7 still get the optimal experience when running one of their games.
Beginnings & endings
As we’ve seen, for some apps iOS 7 is a chance at a new beginning. For some it’s simply a chance to evolve and for others it’s business as usual. For a few apps, it marks the end of the line.
Consume is an app that has lived on the front screen of my iPhone since it was released and has proved invaluable in keeping track of my mobile and home internet usage. Naturally I’m disappointed that Consume isn’t going to get updated but I completely understand their reasons for discontinuing the app. Consume, has gone as far as it can and if putting it on a shelf frees Bjango up to work on new, interesting and exciting projects, then I for one am okay with that because I cannot wait to see what they do next!
For Marc Edwards, it wasn’t easy choice. “The decision had many facets,” he said. “iOS 7 adds a lot of APIs we can take advantage of, but to do so would require a lot of work. We also have a few other projects we’re committed to, so something had to give. We want all our apps to be current and great, so removing Consume from the App Store felt like the best path to take, and the path that respects our customers the most.”
The ‘few other’ projects that Marc referred to are the much-anticipated Skala for Mac which is currently in development and Skala Preview and iStat 2 for iOS, both of which are in for big design updates. However, Marc and the team at Bjango aren’t rushing things. “We want to take our time and consider the changes we’re making, rather than just switching to a white frosted nav bar and rushing to be on the store early,” Marc says of the updates.
Marc also echoed Russell’s frustrations with the status bar changes in iOS 7, as well as highlighting the significant issues with the iOS 7 picker:
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I got the sense from every developer I spoke with that it’s an incredibly exciting time to be both an iOS user and developer.
For Jason it’s brought new life to his devices. “My iPhone and iPad mini feel very new to me again which is very cool.” He also sees the hardware advancements as a boon: “The addition of the 64 bit processor to the iPhone 5S is certainly a welcome advancement for game developers,” although due to the nature of the games that Halfbrick creates, it’s not something that he can see them able to leverage in the near future.
For Marc, his course is set. “iOS7 is the future. There’s no turning back. And, despite my complaints, it’s a great update.” He also thinks there’s potential in the new hardware: “Touch ID could be amazing, if Apple open it up to third party developers.”
Mat sees huge potential for AirDrop and thinks that “the combination of new iOS devices and iOS 7, introduces some very interesting and simple ways that teachers and students can interact.”
David wrote at length about his feelings towards iOS 7 on his blog, which is definitely worth a read.
And as for Russell, “iOS 7 is the version of iOS that Pocket Casts had always needed, but never had. If we didn’t go all-in we’d be idiots.”
Sure there have been some teething issues, both for developers and end users, but over all it looks like iOS 7 has been a big step in the right direction. Here’s hoping Apple can polish off the remaining rough edges and, in the long run, deliver on the promise of iOS 7.