Sunday, December 31, 2006

An Obligatory Best-Of List

Via Joystiq, a list of the Top 10 Independent Video Games of 2006. Although DEFCON is noticeably absent from that list (the horror!), there are some interesting-looking games. I've already downloaded Kudos and will be giving it a try today. That's how I spend my holidays: playing indie video games.

But it's so much less stressful this way.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Make Believe

I pretend
To have no money
Marseilles dismissal
My "higher" brain can ignore
Boethian truth.

It's not so cold

Survey says:
She'll just buy junk
A safe place to sleep
And a loving family.

It's not so easy,
This make-believe.

A Long December

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last...

...[t]he feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl...

..I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower...

...And it’s been a long December and there’s no reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better that the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.

Bestest Cover Songs Ever

There's a lot of lists floating around at the moment (it's the end of the year, after all), but here's a great and different one: the 100 best cover songs of all time. Many of them have videos or MP3s you can download. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When Catchphrases Go Bad

Few marketers can argue with the elegance of simple catchphrases: "I'm lovin' it," "Like a Rock," whatever. I would even argue the "Intel inside" tone and the PS2 "start noise" are both, in their own way, catchphrases. The old rule states that someone has to hear something seven times before it becomes true in their mind, so endlessly repeating "I'm lovin' it" during an NFL game or the PS2 start noise after every PlayStation ad isn't something negative - it's good, if traditional, marketing.

It's also a tactic that the Bush administration has used, and used quite effectively. "Flip-flopper" to describe John Kerry. "Stay the Course" for the War in Iraq. And so on. The Daily Show is excellent at catching them in the act: their montages of different Republican-fed talking heads on various news channels, repeating the same catchphrases, are like a Marketing 101 textbook on how to repeat a message seven times. Bam. Truth.

Except there's a problem: what happens when one of your catchphrases turns out to be dead fucking wrong? Catchphrases work fine for McDonald's: who's going to argue with "I'm lovin' it?" Fast food isn't exactly the cutting edge of discourse. However, when you apply catchphrases to politics in such an aggressive manner, it's almost like a law of diminishing returns: eventually, somewhere, somehow, you'll be wrong. Like with "Stay the Course." "Stay the Course" was being used up until a week before the midterm elections. Now, it's strangely absent from Republican "discourse" (talking points.) Rather, it's a "new course."

So what does this represent, aside from their own massive "flip flop?" Is Bush really any more of a waffler than Kerry?

The answer, interestingly enough, comes from John Kerry himself in a recent WaPo editorial (hat tip: Mark Evanier.) Kerry is necessarily political in his OpEd, but there's good stuff in there:

Changing tactics in the face of changing conditions on the ground, developing new strategies because the old ones don't work, is a hell of a lot smarter than the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again with the same tragic results.

I knew from the beginning that the "stay the course" meme would eventually fall flat on its face, and Kerry identifies what anyone who has engaged in discourse beyond a Kindergarten level can tell you: changing your mind and adapting to situations isn't negative, waffling, flip-flopping, it's what adults do. It's what makes humans great, that we are so adaptable. We can live in almost any climate, often with very little environmental impact if we so choose. So why should we be accused of flip-flopping when we adapt to the situation?

While the child liberal in my would love nothing more than to climb on top of the nearest building with a bullhorn and declare "George W. Bush is a waffling flip-flopper!" that would really do nothing but buy into the exact same catchphrase nonsense.

Part of the challenge of new marketing is that we can't rely on these catchphrases anymore. You can't expect your meme to circle the Internet in the same way "The Ohio Farmer" circulated for William Henry Harrison in the 1800s, or even "knock down this wall" did for Reagan in the 1980s. The Net is like the old game of telephone, multiplied by a thousand: your messages will be tainted and distorted, and more importantly, when your catchphrase turns out to backfire, you'll be held accountable for it in a way unimaginable even ten years ago. While catchphrases will still work in traditional marketing (the PlayStation noise), they are a thing whose relevance is starting to diminish in the new marketing realm, and as this incident indicates, will likely continue in this trend. Marketer beware!

This Is Going On My Resume

It's been blogged about here and there, but Time magazine went and named us Person of the Year. As in, everyone: the empowered and informed public. One of the more astute observations on this choice was made by Jeff, who wrote:

YOU. As in "You who are blogging, getting your news from the net, checking out videos on the Youtube, and otherwise not buying our damned magazine". It is lame (as in lamer than usual) choice, and has a whole lot of "We couldn't figure out what to put up so we punted."

That pretty much sums up the cynic in me: it was a total puntjob, not unlike last year's "the soldier." Blah. Are empowered Internet users really more influential than, say, Donald Rumsfeld? Or Bush, whose response to the September 11 attacks has, for better or worse (OK, for worse), reshaped the face of foreign policy?

Nevermind. I know what Time was trying to say: that empowered users, user-created content, and the benefits the Net is bringing to consumers is becoming influential. Sure, the new marketer in me agrees 100%. Whether or not that's "more influential" as a whole than some of the individuals in the last year is open to debate, and it's a debate from which I'll spare you.

To me, Time's decision reeks of bandwagoning. It seems like a gratuitous choice made not because of consideration of what they were doing, but simply doing for the sake of doing. It is not dissimilar from another interesting new marketing story that popped up last week: "griefers" (people who intentionally make others' lives miserable on MMOs) attacked a CNET interview in Second Life. CNET was interviewing "Second Life millionaire" Anshe Chung, AKA Ailin Graef, when:

a griefer sent "animated flying penises" at the building for 15 minutes. After relocating to Chung's own theater, the Prick Assault followed and managed to crash the server.

Joystiq's coverage links to a page on SA with pictures and videos, but is embedded in posts relating to SA's own pseudo-griefing group Second Life Safari. Except SL Safari aren't griefers in that they barrage press conferences with animated cocks. They specifically go after the, ahem, animal element on Second Life. And by animal element, I mean furries. If you don't know what a furry is, first, I apologize for having to introduce you to this knowledge. If you decide to click that link and eat from the fruit, there's no going back. You have been warned.

The first link takes you to a SL Safari page regarding an email conversation with a specific furry on Second Life. What's most interesting is the lead-in:

We created the Second Life Safari because when the mainstream media covers Second Life they dance about madly and act as if an economically active virtual world is the greatest thing to happen to anyone ever. Publications like the New York Times ignore the rank, semen-stained underbelly of Second Life, perhaps because so much of it is unprintable.

In any case, they miss a lot of journalistic windfalls. They're can't talk about the truly juicy stuff that is going on in Second Life, which we love to report on!

But not everyone likes what we do. Take BabyWolfie, who didn't appreciate our visit to BabyTiger's den, which we chronicled in the last update.

Last week, BabyWolfie and I had a "Seriouse" chat about Second Life, "ISP Rights", and what it takes to slay a dragon. He's a darling little diaper wearing furry. The best thing about him, though, is that he's not just any old yiffing fucktard. He's a Second Life employee. Specifically, a "Live Instructor", who gets paid to teach newbies to script. They must be desperate if they're hiring someone with the identity--and writing comprehension--of a baby animal. Intrigued yet? Read on!

Not that I'm coming down against sexual freedom. If you want to pretend to be an anthropomorphic animal who wears diapers and shits in those diapers because you're pretending to be a baby anthropomorphic animal, and get your jollies by doing this with other like minded individuals in a rendered virtual environment, knock yourself out. I'd be a hypocrite if I said or believed otherwise. But SL Safari really has raised a good point, and in my Second Life experience, it rings true: if I had to guess, I'd say about 90-95% of that game is devoted to sex and empowering users in their sexual fetishes/deviancies/lack of social skills and sex lives. Rather than go out and dance at real night clubs, you can dance in fake nightclubs. Rather than hire a real prostitute (or find a real sexual partner), you can hire virtual prostitutes.

I'm unsure about that statistic, but what I am sure about is that with all this talk of user-created media and content, user-empowered experiences like Second Life, it might behoove new marketers to remember - before millions of flying cocks come at you during what's supposed to be a serious interview - that the freedom the Net affords caters to the childish, the socially inept, the sexual deviants in ways that the real world can't, and when you forget that, you're leaving yourself open for a lot of "grief" (pardon the pun.)

I don't mean to demean what myself and other new marketers do. My company, Edelman, has a Second Life office. CC Chapman's company, crayon, has an office there - I visited it today as a matter of fact, just to poke around and see what it was like. But for Christsakes, new marketers who ignore the lower end of the Net's bell curve are running an incredible risk for themselves and those they represent, be it in an agency relationship like I currently use, or in a direct-company relationship like I used to do at WizKids.

So it is with a grain of salt that I must take Time naming me Person of the Year. I'll still put it on my resume of course (credit to Seth for that joke), but I simply don't feel that new marketing has grown up to the point where it can say that it's anything more than a gimmick. And new marketers are partially responsible. We've sold it to our bosses, our clients, our colleagues as little more than a gimmick. We approach it with the mindset of old marketers, as something to exploit and to use and abuse as we would any other media outlet (see my post regarding the PSP ads online).

This seems kind of pessimistic. I want to stress that I really do view this optimistically: empowered consumers are the way of the future, even if I don't agree that we should be People of the Year. So next time, I'll talk a little more about my optimism regarding this space, and blogs specifically.

Life's Goings On

Astute Puppeteers will note some changes in the right nav, which can only mean one thing: I've had a couple of days off work! It's true: starting at 4:00 PM - only one hour later than scheduled - on Friday, I left my troubles and worries behind and started a four-day break, including the two weekend days. We had a splendid Christmas get-together, played a lot of video games, and shook off the non-relaxation of last weekend's power deficit.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry [Insert Holiday Here]

Whether you're celebrating the birth of your lord and savior, celebrating the Maccabbees' victory over the Seleucid Greeks and the miracle of neverending lamp oil, remembering your African heritage, honoring the winter solstice, or airing your greivences with the rest of us, have a safe and awesome holiday!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Jacking Off

You Don't Know Jack is categorically one of my favorite trivia games. Best played with a group of friends (and some booze), it's full of dry humor and in-jokes that make smart geeks feel in the know. And, it looks like it's moving online. You can play a daily Dis or Dat at the You Don't Know Jack website. Today's topic: kinky sex act or torture not endorsed by the US military. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Power

The power is back on. Apparently, a power surge destroyed our furnace. The good news is it was easily fixed.

Goodbye extra Christmas money.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Viral Marketing, the PSP, and the FTC

There's been some interesting buzz lately about viral marketing, due in no small part to the efforts of a marketing company linked to Sony's PSP handheld. The basic recap is this: a website goes up that claims to be a blog started by an 11 year old who wants a PSP for Christmas (or maybe his friend wants one - it really doesn't matter.) The kids post in "kiddiehip" AOL-style speak, and they've made some kind of rap video that went up on YouTube (but has since been removed.)

A little Internet Detective work by fellow goons on Something Awful uncovers something rotten: the domain is registered to a marketing company called Zipatoni - not exactly the 11-year-old that the site claims to be owned by. This starts to get pickup on video game blogs, and it's pretty clear to everyone that the site is a fake. Oddly enough, the name "Zipatoni" is banned from the site's comments as a "curse word."

Well, Sony eventually owns up to their shenanigans - two days after the news about the site being a fake hits. In online marketing time, that's an eternity. When the fellows are Penny Arcade are using terms like "do irreparable damage to their brand", you know you've got a problem.

The problem, of course, is transparency. In a coincidence worthy of of Charles Dickens, the FTC ruled on the same day that the blog started getting notice that "WOMM" (Word of Mouth Marketing) needs to clearly state its source. For example, you can't make pseudo-kiddie blogs without stating clearly that you're a marketing firm representing Sony.

The accounts on which I work at my firm are very strict about transparency in word of mouth marketing; it's been a policy for as long as I've been there. At WizKids, although it was never a written policy, it was one I adhered to (hell, one I developed) for one simple reason: if you want someone to trust what you have to say about a product, then you better not give them any reason not to trust you.

The shift to online and WOM marketing means that the days of claiming something to be true and it isn't are over. Between Internet Detectives and the kinds of news cycles online communities generate, you simply cannot afford to be deceptive in your marketing practices. Studies are starting to show a shift in how customers make buying decisions about products: rather than advertising, traditional news stories, or even product reviews in magazines, they are turning to online communities to gauge reactions of trusted influencers to a product in which they are interested. In nonmarketingspeak, people are going online and reading - if not outright asking and talking about - the opinions of others online that they trust. If a company wants a chance in hell of being part of that influence, they need to be able to demonstrate that they aren't jerking customers around, which is what transparency accomplishes. There are also legal boundaries, of course, but beyond those reasons for transparency, trust in a customer base strikes me as a far better reason for a company to maintain transparency in its online communications.

I'm working on two separate accounts now where transparency is a daily need (incidentally, I'm not working on the Xbox account or any other product that could potentially compete with the PSP at all at the moment - just to maintain the spirit of disclosure.) If you're reading this as a new marketer, don't just pay lip service to transparency or make it a policy because it's legal. Make it a policy because you need to in order to establish trust with online influencers.

Also, this would be an excellent opportunity to give a nod to Managing the Grey, a new marking podcast that Seth introduced me to. If you're interested in new marketing, you need to subscribe to that podcast.

More About Power

It's going on 48 hours without power now, and vast sections of the Eastside are still in the dark. We decided to drive down to Bellevue, so we're holed up in a Tullys at the moment, enjoying some warmth and an Internet connection.

This has been a pretty surreal experience; I have a feeling that is due in no small part to the fact that my sleep and work schedule has been incredibly out of whack lately. Last week was pretty crazy, and it doesn't look like it's going to be much better until after January.

I've been following newsy updates on Seattlest and updates from people all over the area, including a PSE employee, on this Something Awful thread. The windstorm was a "once every hundred years storm," according to the mayor, who is probably quite qualified to discuss the rarity and severity of historical weather patterns (note the sarcasm).

On a more personal level, it's been even more surreal. A few houses in my neighborhood have power thanks to generators; one, in a display of flagrant waste in the face of rampant want, has their vast Christmas light collection running full blast. I tried to take a picture, but couldn't get the camera to work. There are still trees laying on power lines on the road near my house, and near the back entrance to my neighborhood an entire street is cordoned off with red tape because there is a jumbled mass of power lines sitting in the road.

Best adventure: heading into the Juanita Safeway yesterday. The power was off, but the store was open. They had emergency power on, so the cash registers, ATMs, and Lotto machines were all working. Oh, and the Christmas Muzak. But all the lights were off, so the store was pitch black except for the areas by the doors. The employees were at the door telling everyone they had "no ice, no wood, and no batteries." And you couldn't buy frozen foods because they wouldn't sell them to people (liability, I suppose). They were issuing lanterns to people who wanted to shop, but a lot of people had brought little flashlights or were using their cellphones to see. The entire effect was like the grocery store at night from Dead Rising: no one was really talking, so all you heard was some mumbling over the Muzak, and the only thing you could really see were a few of the lanterns and some dark shapes moving around. It was damned unnerving.

On the upside, I'm done with my work for the weekend. On the downside, we had no power when Battlestar Galactica aired last night. Oh the humanity!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'm in my office, not only because I have to keep working, but because my house has been without power for about 38 hours now. It went out at 8:30 on Thursday night, and hasn't come back.

Initially, there were around 1 million people in the Seattle area without power (including all of Whidbey Island), and they're fixing it as fast as they can, but PSE is saying it could be up to a week in some places. Also, our cellphone reception at home is intermittent at best, so don't freak out if you can't get in touch.

I'll keep you all posted, as best I can.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How Busy Am I?

How busy? Let's just say that the last two days, I have worked from home - because I didn't have time to communte in.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well HELLO There!

The official trailer for David Lynch's new classic film, INLAND EMPIRE, is out.

Expect to see me blogging more about this in the coming months.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Games: My Answers, Part Two

Here's part two of my games post, about how I discovered the games I love.

Video Games
Civilization: It's not hyperbole to say that the Civ series is my favorite video game(s) of all time. Period. I was first introduced to Civ when a friend handed me a copy (yeah, an illegal copy) and said "here, try this game." I installed it, fooled around with it, and when my buddy Mike came over for a sleepover we decided to give it a go. We stayed up the entire night playing Civilization, only to end up losing at the end game as Germany's tanks rolled over our knights. Civilization is different because no one was actually there to show me how the game worked; like a lot of video games, while it was recommended to me by a friend, I learned to play it on my own, often through trial and error. An interesting differentiation between video games and traditional games, I think, and a pattern you'll see repeated.

Also, I purchased a legit copy of Civ not long after the sleepover.

Grand Theft Auto: I include the GTA series because, unlike other games, I actually didn't like this one so much when it came out. My first roommate in college played the original GTA and I thought it was shit; I ended up with a copy of GTA2, which had its moments, but I thought GTA3 was far too violent and realistic for my tastes (it lost a lot of the cartoony flavor of the first two games.) It wasn't until Vice City that I found a GTA game I really loved, and San Andreas almost went over the edge. Actually, some parts, like the DDR-like dancing sequences and the "gravel pit" missions, did go over the edge. But I've spent a good deal enjoyable of time with the GTA games (and the slick, and in many ways superior, Bully), but it was a series I really did discover on my own.

Wasteland / Fallout: Those really are one game, right? Of all the games I've replayed that haven't been strategy games, I've had the best time with Wasteland and its spiritual successor. I also discovered Wasteland through a friend, although I discovered the game's depth myself (and Fallout as well.) What I mean by that is that I played the game with a buddy, but never really got into the game. When I got my own copy, I bothered to read the story and begin to understand the game's underlying RPG structure, so it was a far different - and more rewarding - experience.

RPGs are a little different. Some of my fellow Alliterates might string me up for this, but I think that many RPG systems are, at their base level, the same game. That is, the game where you show up, imagine you're a character taking part in a story (or creating the story in the case of the GM), and the system itself is simply an abstraction that allows the GM to govern the universe by a set of rules that includes randomness and possibilities and impossibilities. So differentiating between "the d20 system" and "the Rolemaster system" is fairly pointless, at least when it comes to the kind of analysis I'm doing here.

But that being said, I was introduced to D&D - no joke - through the "red box," advertised in a comic book and purchased by me. I ran through Zanzer Tem's tower with an Elf. I can't remember the Elf's name, but I had a good time. And I was hooked. And now look at me.

The Lone Wolf books, on the other hand - my buddy Nick Hannum put me on to those. We used to trade them back and forth. Did you know they're all available online? They are. You should play them.

Wot Sucks About Seattle This Tima Year..

Is that it's nearly dark at 4:10 in the evening.

At least all the Christmas lights downtown are purdy.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Great Local Blog

I don't read many local blogs (the Slog when I do), but this one jumped out at me as I was looking for something work-related the other day: Seattlest, kind of a general-interest Seattle blog. I'll probably put it firmly in my daily reading list for a while.