costik's blog

Indie Games Panel in NYC Tonight (and Scamville)

Those of you in New York may want to go out tonight to see Cactus, Messhof and Auntie Pixelante (aka Anna Anthropy) on a panel at NYU. 6PM, 721 Broadway near 8th Street; more here.

Also, there's been a bit of a todo in recent days over the Scamville post on TechCrunch, which delves into the fraudulent nature of many of the "offers" used by social network games to monetize idiots. Amusing and worth reading.


In an effort to further reduce comment spam (which has recently crept into user blogs, which every registered user can create), I've set things up so that posted links now automatically appear with the "rel=nofollow" attribute, meaning that search engines are told not to follow the link or include it in their indexing scheme. As a result, even if a spam link sneaks through, it will not benefit the spammer, since it will not contribute to their search index rankings.

The drawback is that if you post a valid link in a comment or blog post, it also doesn't benefit the search engine ranking of the person you're linking to.

There is a workaround: when posting sometime, select "full html" under "Input Format" (filtered html is the default) if you don't want the "nofollow" attribute. This option is only available to admins, editors, writers, and trusted users, so not available to spammers.

Note that "nofollow" never appears in the links at the top of game reviews (which only admins, editors, and writers can post), so the people we review will still benefit -- and when posting a review, you don't have to worry about this, unless providing additional links in the body text.

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space Now Free

The 2003 IGF Finalist from Digital Eel is now free from the developer's page for the game.

More Lightbulb Jokes

How many conservatives does it take to change a light bulb?

The old one was fine. You must be some kind of pinko commie socialist liberal if you want to change it.

How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb?

Only strong government regulation can save us from a recurrence of the "burned out light-bulb" problem.

How many centrists does it take to change a light bulb?

The light bulb problem is caused by the ideological rift in our society between left and right, and if only people were more reasonable it would have been changed long ago.

How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

Why do I have to change the light bulb?

How many libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?

Don't worry about it. Market forces will take care of it.

How many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb?

No light bulb, no carbon emissions. It's better if you don't change it.

Megacorps in October

Z-Man Games has announced that my boardgame Megacorps will be out in October. The rules are available here.

Randomness: Blight or Bane?

The following is the presentation I gave at GDC Austin '09.

In general, we tend to think of randomness in games as a bad thing.

Our sense of fiero or accomplishment at winning a game depends on the feeling that we have, in some sense, mastered it, and either that we out-played our opponents, or at least, in a soloplay game, overcame the challenges it posed by dint of hard work and skill. If, instead, we feel that we just got lucky -- or, worse, that someone else won even though we were obviously the smarter player, because they just got lucky -- we're likely to think less of the game.

Comment Spam

We've had a bad attack of comment spam recently, so I've made the following changes:

  1. Comments are now held for approval unless posted by an admin, writer, editor, or (a new role I've just created), a 'trusted user'.
  2. I made recent posters whose nicks I recognized 'trusted users,' but if you comment and find it held for approval and have posted here enough that I should know you, let me know you want to be a 'trusted user', either by posting here or by using the contact form.

The comment spam was identical, posted to multiple topics, and posted so rapidly that I assume someone has taken the trouble of writing a script to post to Drupal sites. I apologize for this, but it seems necessary under the circumstances.

Sweaty in Austin

I'm here at the Austin GDC, or actually sitting in my cheapo hotel room in Austin, so review updates may be less regular this week than normal.

And blogging from a netbook, which I got because the speakers info from the conference said they won't have laptops in the conference rooms, and my old laptop died a couple of years ago. (Otherwise, I would just have brought my presentation on a thumb drive.)

The presentation is "Randomness: Blight or Bane," but its intent is actually to make the case that randomness, or use of chance elements, is valuable in many sorts of games, and to explore how and why. (If you're at the conference, they've slotted me in almost the last session, grumble grumble: Friday, 4:30-5:30, room 17B.)

I'm also thinking that the only reasons to buy a "real" computer any more are a) you have to manipulate large graphic images, b) you have to compile code, or c) you want to play Fallout 3 on your PC. Sure, this thing is a little slow, and the screen is tiny, but it does have VGA out, so if I had to use it as my main machine, it wouldn't be hard to hook it up to a larger monitor.

And certainly it will run any of the Flash games or little downloadables that are the meat and potatoes of what Play This Thing reviews. And it ran NetHack just fine on the flight out.

I only caught one session today: Colin Northway talking about Fantastic Contraption, a game that did not subject me to transports of delight, but has apparently done well enough, in a purely indie way, for him to quit his day job.

The reason it's been that successful is that it is what you might call an "Internet native" application:

  1. Flash, therefore universally accessible.
  2. You can, with a single click, store any of the gizmos you build to the server and receive in return a short URL to share with others to show what you built; this leads to forum and blog posts showing what you built, both transmitting the word virally through online communities, and also providing lots of Googlable links to increase your SEO ranking.
  3. It has a charge attached, but only for access to the level builder and to user-constructed levels; all of Northway's levels are free, and he claims there's a good 10 hours of gameplay in them. Consequently, it gets perceived (and reviewed) as a "free game" rather than a micropayment game or shareware or demo, which increases the audience.

Northway says his conversion rate is around 0.5% (meaning that percentage of users pay), which is comparable to (but on the low end) of downloadable casual game conversions. It is, interestingly enough, pretty clear that he stumbled onto this model -- that he was simply creating the game he wanted to play in this world (pace Anna Anthropy), but also that, as a web developer, he was thinking in terms of Internet culture rather than, as so many indies do, in terms of retro console culture.

I suspect he'd get a little higher conversion by offering more with purchase (e.g., a bunch more "professional" levels), but as he says, the tote bag is important. That is (and I'm paraphrasing him here), when you call up your public TV station, you may be motivated by the fact that you've watched twelve hours of Red Dwarf in the last few weeks, but you also feel like you're getting value with the tote bag. "I can totally use that to take home my groceries," at least in this increasingly plastic-bag hostile world.

In other words, give people a way to give you money, but don't ask for donations, because virtually no one will donate; instead, give them something that they can credit as having value, even if the value is objectively minor. Northway says fewer than 5% of buyers ever actually upload a user-designed level. In other words, their $10 got them something they mostly don't even use.

All of the canvas bags I've gotten at game conferences like this are actually getting some use now; I can't imagine what the cashiers and the Park Slope Food Coop make of my 1997 Computer Game Developers Conference bag (the last year before they dropped the "C" from "CGDC").

Aggh! Which reminds me; being in Austin, I'll miss my Coop work shift on Thursday. I better go do something about that.

Open Call for Playtesters: The Game Plan of Chicago

Where: NYU Game Center, 721 Broadway, 9th floor lobby

    Fri, Sep. 11, 6 PM
    Mon, Sep 21, 6 PM

Come playtest and help develop a boardgame at the NYU Game Center on any of the above dates.

About the Game: The Game Plan of Chicago will ultimately be distributed to students in the Chicago region by the Macarthur Foundation, as part of its ongoing efforts to foster improved education in the region, capitalizing on the celebrations surrounding the 100th Anniversary of the publication of Daniel Burnham's "Plan of Chicago." It is playable by 3-6 in roughly an hour, adopts the aesthtic of the "Eurogame," and is designed to teach something about the Burnham Plan while also encouraging its players to envision how they would like to shape Chicago's future.

The Burnham Plan: Published in 1909 under the aegis of Daniel Burnham, a prominent Chicago architect, the Burnham Plan is one of the earliest attempts at comprehensive urban planning, and is considered instrumental in shaping the evolution of Chicago over the course of the 20th century. In New York terms, Burnham plays something of the role in Chicago's mythology that Robert Moses does in New York's, except that Burnham is viewed as a hero while Moses is viewed as a villain.

The Game Designer: The game is designed by Greg Costikyan, an award winning tabletop game designer (and digital game designer as well). Brenda Brathwaite of the Savannah College of Art & Design is contributing to the design, and the project is being managed by the Entertainment Technology Center of Carnegie Mellon University.

How to Participate:

  1. Send email to greg {at} costik {dot} com saying you want to participate, and on which date(s). Include "Chicago Game" in your subject line.
  2. Show up at the appropriate time at the address above.
  3. It is unlikely that more than two hours will be needed, but you should allow for at least that much time.

Note: There is an upper limit of 24 participants on each date, so if the response is large, we may regretfully tell you that the event is filled.

The Process: Game development is, of course, a process of iterative refinement of a design, something that happens more quickly and easily with tabletop games than with digital ones, since paper is easier to modify than code. Each time, we will, depending on the number of people attending, run one to four games simultaneously. Comments and suggestions will be actively solicited from the players, and all players will be credited in the ultimate rules. It is likely that the design will be modified between sessions, so if you play at more than one, you may get to see the modification of the game design over time.

It should be fun, and possibly even educational.

IndieCade 2009: Oct 1-4, Culver City, CA

Registration is now open for IndieCade 2009: the International Festival of Independent Games, October 1-4, 2009 at multiple locations throughout Downtown Culver City, 15 minutes from Downtown L.A. IndieCade, the only independent gaming festival in the US open to the public, will present 30 independent games selected from hundreds of entries.

Finalists in the festival exhibition include: “Papermint” from Avaloop in Austria, “Moon Stories” by Daniel Benmergui from Argentina and “Gray” by Mike Boxleiter & Greg Wohlwend of the United States. Check the IndieCade web site for more finalist announcements in the coming weeks. Advance tickets are: One Day Pass: $20, Festival 4-Day Pass $50

The accompanying three-day conference includes keynotes and salons with the following featured speakers:

  • Will Wright
  • Keita Takahashi & Genova Chen
  • Janet Murray & Henry Jenkins
  • Brenda Brathwaite
  • Tracy Fullerton
  • Richard Lemarchand
  • Geoffrey Zatkin
  • Kellee Santiago
  • As well as numerous independent game developers and artists, including Ian Dallas, Eddo Stern, Chris Brandt, Daniel Benmergui
  • The event also features a gala awards ceremony and previews of indie games in development for publication including The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.

Advance purchase Conference Day Pass is: $150; Conference Full Pass: $235; Full Pass with VIP Events: $290. See web site for other discounted rates.

To purchase advance tickets or register for the conference, visit:

(Via Celia Pearce.)

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