Monday, November 23, 2009


I am someone who gets a lot of pleasure out of being a traveller and not a tourist. When I go to another place on a full vacation or just a weekend trip, I like to really go into the neighborhoods and poke around to find the really interesting places that are out there. It’s all well and good to do the big bus tours or the package kind of things but I am so much more happier when I get to actually see the places that I’m going to.

There is one odd aspect of this enjoyment of a trip to another place that I’ve begun to notice over the past year. It kind of left me feeling a little silly when I first thought of it but my feelings have begun to change recently to a more positive point of reference. Unlike so many other people that spend their time buying all kinds of little nicknacks like fridge magnets or that neat paper weight you see in the hotel store, I go for something a little different. My choice of memento of a trip? T-shirts!

I have so many t-shirts from all of the places that I’ve been to over the years that I don’t know what to do with some of them. For example, I went to the New York City/New Jersey area in mid October a couple of years back and I went all over the city and much of the surrounding areas. What did I bring back? Three t-shirts including one from the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe, one from the Lombardi’s pizza restaurant, and one goofy touristy one made out to look like a Jim Beam bottle label. Yes, that was all of the souvenirs that I brought back with me from a weeklong trip.

At one point I thought that this made me a little silly when it came to my souvenir buying. While everyone else had been buying all of this stuff, I instead decided to choose to go down the singular path of the land of apparel. From my trip to the Minneapolis area, I have a University of Minnesota baseball jersey. From my last trip to Los Angeles, I have both a shirt from Canter’s Deli and a Jack Skellington “Bone Daddy” shirt from Disneyland. That is all I bought to bring home from all of these trips. You just tell people this and they kind of look at you a little cockeyed. These are people that mix up their souvenirs but that just doesn’t seem to be me.

Over the last couple of months, my mind has come back around about this and I now am starting to feel like this has been a good thing for me to do. Instead of having all kinds of little random clutter all over my desk to remind me about where I’ve been, what I have are souvenirs that I actually get some value out of. These are things that I wear and am seen out in public while having them on my body. What I bring back with me is something that I can use to show everyone that yes I am someone who has been to these places and I have brought back the spoils of my trip to show off to everyone around me. I know that might sound like a slightly more silly way to put it but it kind of makes me feel even better in the long run so there you go.

I have some other little travel eccentricities, like picking out the places that I want to visit by watching every show on the Food Network or the Travel Channel that I can find, but the t-shirt souvenir conundrum is one that seems to stick out the most. Either way, those weird tweaks brought me out to places like Lombardi’s Pizza in New York City and Voodoo Donuts in Portland where I had some amazing food and culture. To go along with that, I also brought back the t-shirts that help to show the kinds of places that I like to visit and what I do when I’m there. All of these things make me, the traveller, feel a lot better about showing off all of the places that I’ve been and even helps to maybe start a conversation about all of those places that we have both been. All this for just buying a cool looking t-shirt? A definite win-win in my book but that’s just me.

Friday, November 20, 2009


It was this time last week that the video game company Electronic Arts announced that they were cutting at least 1,500 jobs and reducing their research into new game IPs due to the massive downturn in their profits. Then came a new statement on Tuesday of the closing, or consolidation as the press release says, of Pandemic Studios. This means another 200 jobs cut and everyone left at Pandemic being moved in as part of EA’s Los Angeles offices. Not the best week as a whole if you’re looking for stability in your publicly traded video game design company but, if it staves off the need to do something like declare bankruptcy, then it is a win-win in the eyes of the parent company.

Unlike many other businesses, the video game industry works in an odd sort of the fits and starts. You have the big companies that spend years developing, designing, and finally releasing new games be them original works or sequels and at the same time you have the smaller companies making flash games that might be released at a quicker pace then their larger counterparts but don’t have the high level of polish and quality that those long gestating games are supposed to have. These two extremes make the business have constant little jumps ahead combined with moments of big releases showing their faces. A business model like this for a company based around attempted creative innovation doesn’t really scream out as a stable place.

The need for innovation but lack of funds can bring about a very stagnant level of new IPs and make the whole business into sequels and carbon copies of whatever is hot at the time. You can easily trace the fallow period in the video game industry by the number of sequels that are released in comparison to everything else in the market. This lack of creativity can kill off both large pieces of the industry itself and make many people decide to look for a different way of life that excites their levels of creativity.

This is actually something that shouldn’t need to happen but it sadly does to many times. Instead of using those innovative minds that are already on the payroll, the company shifts into safety mode and makes what it knows will sell on the open market. You can’t really argue with this model since it allows the companies to remain in business at the level that they are at but it can lead to substandard games that are mere copycats of what has come before.

It might seem to be an overly pessimistic way to look at the whole situation but there is a way to tweak the system to work for everyone. While it might not be cost effective to have many subsidiary companies bringing out new properties that run the risk of never making a success of their investment, you can definitely use some of that innovation to liven up the current stream of releases to make them a better game all around. That is really a win-win for everyone.

One of the best examples of this combination of solid intellectual product combines with innovation was released a couple months back. The game in question is “Batman: Arkham Asylum”. After years of standard boring comic book hero games, the people at Rocksteady and Eidos mixed in the fighting mechanic from the current round of fighting games and levels based around a heavy load of stealth to mix up the game play. The stealth levels play like a superhero version of Splinter Cell which is a very good thing indeed. By taking these known IPs and combining them with innovations made in other games or brought about specifically for that game, you make an even better game out of what could have been a standard game.

Another way to tweak the situation is to plan better for the games that might carry more of a burden upon release. You don’t want to spring a totally new game on the fandom right in the middle of the prime buying season like EA did with “Mirror’s Edge” without expecting the release to be a little bumpy. The level of ad space was strong but you wind up leaving the buying public to make the decision between your new and unknown property or a game that the fans have knowledge of and have a shorter distance to being accepted.

The video game industry can be a very difficult business field to try and work under. You are expected to constantly be innovative in your games but then you also need to worry about making a profit for your investments. It might not totally be a two way street but you can set up new intellectual properties while playing it safe. Either by taking that innovative idea and mixing it into an already weathered franchise or planning the release date and advertising even closer there is a way to propagate new IPs in a business environment that doesn’t seem ready to be accepting.