Baghdad by the bay

Before the US went all postal on Saddam's regime, Baghdad was held up as an example of a beautiful and cosmopolitan city, never more so than in Herb Caen's description of San Francisco.  I'd been here before, but never for more than a day - Foreign Service interview, whirlawind date day, passing through for work.  But it's such an interesting city now that I'm in the midst of a good week here.

There are hills everywhere, but it's still relatively walkable.  There's (cheap) dedicated motorcycle parking everywhere - I may rent a bike tomorrow just because.  It's 80 and people are complaining about the heat.  Now, I haven't been here in August, but the whole "coldest winter in my life" line would just fit in with the theme of a city that's full of contradictions.  As someone who only minored in philosophy, and therefore does not worship at the altar of consistency or stare decisis, I find a delicious irony just down every street corner.

I want to move here.

Smash Bros reviews are sorely lacking

Smashbroscontrollers

I got it yesterday and fought through Subspace Emissary - took me about ten hours to complete with 80-something completion.  As others have said, the controls are terrible for a platformer.  But the story is surprisingly good - so good, that I was angry when they had a single inconsistency on what the powers of the bad guys were in the Diddy Kong scene (I think that's obscure enough to not be a spoiler).

That said, I want to talk about the controls a little more.  In particular, I'd really have liked to see all the reviewers tell us what controls they were using.  The vast majority of people don't have Cube/Wavebird controllers - remember, there are lots of new people buying Wiis - and just saying "use a Cube controller" is patently unfair.  The game suffers demonstrably with any of the other options vis a vis the Cube controllers.  I ended up using the Wii remote turned like an NES controller option - using the left analog stick on the classic controller is hard, because it's clear the placement is secondary to the D pad used for NES and Super NES games.

I believe that most reviewers still had Cube controllers lying around, so they did what was easy - instead of being a proxy for the gamer.  Let me make my point clearly - reviewers have an obligation to review games under the conditions that their readers/viewers most likely will encounter the game under.  I'm not saying they have to use a 480i 19" CRT or whatever - we don't have the data for that - but in this situation, they missed the boat.  The manual assumes remote + nunchuck as the default, and I think reviewers should have used that as their playthrough method.

At least Kotaku, in their new love/hate roses/violets review did this.  But it's not a minor nitpick - it's a huge, major issue in the game.  The game could have remedied it in some way but allowing the D pad to be used for movement on the Classic Controller, but doesn't.  But it's clear that they said, as did others, we need to note the point, but not suffer through the game because of it.  It'd be like hacking Lair to not use the SIXAXIS controls.  The game's not Lair-unplayable, but the game is poorer than Melee because you have to use a controller that NINTENDO DOESN'T MANUFACTURE ANYMORE to get full enjoyment of the title.

 

All The Iwata Asks (I Can Find) In One Place

Satoruiwatamiilg

A good part of the long tail is older, archived material.  If it's cheap (or free) to store, why wouldn't you?  The argument is that the occasional sales you'll get will outweigh the storage and delivery costs.  I'm reminded of this as I tried to go back and revisit the "Iwata Asks" series on wii.com.  Right now, they are going through the series to get us ready for Wii Fit. [updated 4/4/08 to add Mario Kart Wii]

It's a great series, and there's an interesting balance between honesty and deference between staff (non-Miyamoto) and Iwata-san.  For everyone's reference, here's what I've found of the history:

Congrats to the whole Brooklyn crew

Ovation

Dawdle had two inspirations: a terrible experience and a little company in Brooklyn called Etsy.  While lots of people who read this blog know the frustration of eBay and GameSpot and all that, not as many people know about Etsy and what makes it so awesome.

Etsy was founded by Rob Kalin (another NYU '02 grad - woo) and is the world's best marketplace for people to buy and sell things that are handmade.  You'll often see lots of links to Etsy for papercrafts, scarves, perler beads, and other crafts relating to gaming on all the major blogs.  Etsy has been out there to provide a better way for craftswomen and craftsmen to make a living doing what they love.  They have beautiful and interesting ways to browse the store - by color is my favorite.  But it was just because the gals and guys thought that there had to be a better way.  They didn't care about a business plan or anything, they just went with their gut and what felt right.

In June 2007, while on a trip to New York, I randomly dropped by the Etsy offices.  I didn't call ahead or anything, just decided to drop on by.  Mary from Etsy was so awesome - she took me on a tour of the place, showed me Etsy Labs, where people can come by and make things to sell on the site.  I know I looked like a moron, my mouth was wide open in the kind of goofy grin you have when you fall in love for the first time.  It was magical.  It felt real, that someone could go out and decide that this was what they wanted to do, and with a little inspiration and a lot of hard work, that it could be done.  You could go and build a little something for yourself, and for other people, and do it while being good and honest and open and by listening, not commanding.

Dawdle's kind of the anti-Etsy.  We're a database-driven site that is made for people to get in, get what they want, get out, and get on with gaming.  Etsy is for dawdlers - those who want to browse, look around, exult in their surroundings.  I don't think Dawdle could ever work for perler bead coasters of Zelda characters (I have some on my fridge).  But Dawdle would not exist if it were not for Etsy.  Rob's inspiration, the team's success, and Mary's kindness made me realize that, yes, it can be done, and yes, it can be done the right way.

I'm so happy for them that they were able to raise a huge $27 million round from one of the very best VCs in the business.  They deserve every success that they have had, and I just want to stand up and applaud.  Kudos, guys and gals.  You've already changed the world - now the world knows.

Image Source: Joi on Flickr

This Map Is Not Quite Right

Diausasm

Generally, wherever I travel, people assume I'm from there.  That's because 1) I don't have much, if any, of an accent and 2) I have this weird habit of mimicking the person that I'm talking to.  I'm in New York, I'll drop a "cuz", out west, I'll say "dude" all the time, down south, a lot more "y'all"s (although I use that one a lot just because it's useful to have a plural second person). 

But I've noticed something two somethings that give me away.

First, I drop syllables.  More accurately, I combine them.  I can think of at least two words where I do this consistently: comfortable and interesting.  I pronounce interesting as in-trest-ing, as opposed to the more common in-ter-est-ing.  This one doesn't usually get picked up by other people.

However, comfortable is a totally different ball of wax.  I remember once that I had an interview all but laugh at me because of the way I pronounce it; actually, I think it was my pronunciation of uncomfortable that had him in hysterics.  I gather that most people pronounce it as com-fort-a-ble.  Well, for me, it's just three syllables: cumft-er-ble.  Not only do I drop sounds, I transpose the order of the t and the r sounds.  Un-cumft-er-ble. 

It's not just the of-ten/of-fen difference; this is something that seems to me to be unique to the Midwest: http://www.antimoon.com/forum/t936-0.htm.  Looking through the site after googling /interesting comfortable pronounce/, I came upon this thread: http://www.antimoon.com/forum/t9557.htm. 

This leads me into the second point: well, it turns out that I know I conflate the pronunciations of "pin" and "pen".  If you look on this map, you can see that the conflation just gets out of the south into southern Illinois (and the Bakersfield area of California, strangely). 

Taking the INNER JOIN (look, a SQL joke) of the two areas, I think that it's really interesting that you can pinpoint where I'm from.  Now, I do say wa-ter, and not war-ter, but I did grow up saying "soda" instead of "pop" (although I've since switched since I went to IMSA).

Here's a link that will kill an entire day if you go through the links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dialects_of_the_English_language

Quick Value Prop Hit

One of the things that I've had trouble with is succinctly articulating Dawdle's value proposition.  To me, it's this great and robust platform that can be expanded in infinite ways, meeting the needs of whatever the userbase wants.  Turns out that getting excited about the possibilities rather than what's there now just isn't smart. 

Even as we keep building new functionality and thinking about things to add, we need to be able to communicate why we're better *now*.  Right now, Dawdle's the safe and easy way to name your price for all your gaming gear.  We can back that up: Dawdle lets both buyers and sellers name their price using easy drop-down menus that are specific to gaming.  We provide protection to sellers by guaranteeing payment and giving buyers the tools to resolve any issues that may come up on occasion, and backing them up when necessary. 

Sometimes, it can be hard to focus on the great things you have now when, as an executive, your job is to always look forward, think strategically about new entries, new markets, and new partnerships.  But not only can stepping back be good for your mental health, it's good to step back and look at what you've already achieved and how it already is making your customers' lives better.

Vendor responsiveness is a leading indicator of quality

One of the hardest things to juggle when you're running a company is how to deal with your vendors.  As a startup, you're generally dependent on single-source vendors.  Generally, it's good to make sure that you don't become dependent on one, but oftentimes, the switching costs outweigh the benefit of getting out of the relationship.  That means it's critical to pick the right vendor to start with.

We've had issues with cost overruns, delays, lack of communication, incompetence, and just plain old nonperformance.  And this is despite the fact that we used referrals for almost every single vendor.  Frankly, the only vendor we were happy with was a blind RFP we sent for outbound telemarketing through BuyerZone.  In that instance, we went with the first respondent. 

It was clear that 1) they knew their stuff, and 2) they wanted our business.  Don't underestimate a hungry, smaller firm when looking at vendors.  Because they're smaller, they can be more nimble and responsive when you want things done.  Although they may see new things and make mistakes, they're generally aligned with you to make things right and offer concessions.  Larger vendors may have "seen it all," but oftentimes, that institutional knowledge is lost or only comes up when you need to fix things.  Generally, to me, the benefits of institutional knowledge should come from a vendor avoiding mistakes and errors in the first place.

I say this to make a point: when in doubt, responsiveness can be used as a general proxy for aptitude.  Those who have systems in place to respond quickly and intelligently prove that 1) they know their stuff and 2) if they don't, they'll find out and get back to you when they do.  Our [redacted, because he doesn't seem to get that he's on thin ice] seems decent enough, for example, but he only responds when I want to spend money.  If there's no commission available, he's all but unresponsive.  Random emails of "what can I do for you" aren't just useless; they're counterproductive when I tell you what you can do and you don't follow through all the way.  Just saying "I'll look into it" and then not following up unless you're prompted is crap.   Thankfully, he's gotten very little money from us in the past.

So, in addition to checking references and reading proposals and interviewing, look at how quickly those things come.  If you have to ask twice, assume the vendor doesn't need your business.  And if he doesn't need you, then you shouldn't put yourself in a position where you need him.

Why aren't there any good fighting games on the Nintendo DS?

Alphanotyours

As most people know, I had the idea for Dawdle when I had a terrible experience selling my PSP online - eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon all failed me.  What most people don't know is that I bought my PSP to play one game - Street Fighter Alpha 3.  Technically, it's MAX on the PSP, because of the extra characters brought over from Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Over Christmas, I spent a fair amount of time at home, and that means hiding from my family playing my DS.  I got through and beat Phantom Hourglass, but then I had four more days at home.   So I decided to look for a Street Fighter game for my DS.  Turns out there isn't one.  Well, that's a shame, so I decided to see what fighting games were out there.  It's not pretty.

That's it.  Four real fighting games for a system that's three years old.  Sure, I could play the GBA version of Alpha 3, but I just can't get over the fact that there are six buttons for the game, and the GBA only supports four.  (Medium punches and kicks require you to press both punch and kick buttons, as appropriate.)

The Nintendo DS is a relatively powerful system and can handle 2D pretty well.  There's a D pad and six buttons.  It blows my mind that there isn't a single decent fighter on the machine (the Guilty Gear game is terrible).  I'd really have liked to play Alpha 3, or maybe 3rd Strike (a game I've only spent a scant amount of time on in the arcade).   Capcom's classic fighters would work perfectly on the DS.  Where are they?

New Years Resolutions

So, in addition to the "work out more" and "spend less money" and "finally rip all my old CDs into iTunes", I have a new resolution for this year - blog more.  So here it is; I promise to blog at least every Wednesday, and other times as Dawdle will let me.  I'll be writing some about Dawdle specifically, some about the start up life (hard knocks and all), and some about pie. 

Or will I?

Lies!