Wednesday, May 13, 2009

(Social) Games and the Future of Television (esp. Canada)

A few months ago, I was at the I/O (interactive ontario) confernece in Toronto -- the final panel had a speaker from the CBC and amongst other speakers.

The thing that threw me for a loop was that very few people on stage vocally spoke about the impact of games as "real content" (there was debates about Canadian content vs. US, and the need to have original "Canadian content" etc.) -- David Crow happend to be on stage as I was victim of me MADLY twittering him to bring up the topic.

The real point of my posting though isn't so much that debate,  or the debate about Canadian content production policies (and its associated goverment financial incentives/tax-credits).  

But rather its a much braoder point: 

Dude: Games, MMOs on computers, iphones, social networks, consoles, whatever -- Not Television shows, is the future of "content" for the vast majority of the emerging Gen-Y population... and will represent a huge part of  their media/entertainment time-spent and share of wallet.

The debate is not about if something has "Canadian content," the debate should be -- what can Canada do about its fledging leadership in games -- and turn it into a WORLD leader in this area of content that is the fastest growning, and one of the most lucrative.

There is a massive amount of talent in Canada for game development.  I don't know what it is... but we've had a history of a convergence of great creative AND technical talent.  I think it stems from the fact that we've had a very vibrant CD-ROM production community in the early to mid 90s (which was really of off shoot of the alpha-geeks doing video and film and super early F/X and traditional animation work in the late 80s/early 90s).

Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal especially) was once a hot-bed for CD-ROM/"Multi-media" design shops, as it has been for animation studios.

This has probably something to do with the great number of top game studios listed in the recent "Develop 100" most "bankable" game studios being Canada (2 of the top 6 are Canadian -- EA Canada and Ubisoft Montreal).  There's even a nice little profile of all the top folks here in flash-magazine format.

This country could aboustely kill it by being a leader in this emering space.  There seems to be a reasonable amount of support for it from some gov programs, but I don't know if I'm seeing enough of it.  I have a feeling that not enough of it is trickleing down to the smaller studios and startups that could otherwise be funded at the earliest stages.  Esp. folks that are in the killer lucrative social gaming world.

Here's the other thing... I know of some killer pockets of developers here that are doing some world class stuff, including from my friend Greg Thomson, who created the flagship Zynga (a social game company rumored to be making $30M-$100M in just ~2 years of existance) game called "YoVille" (currently has 5.1 Million Monthly Active Users) - built out of London Ontario (of all places -- no offense to folks living there, but its not exactly the hot bed of tech -- which goes to show great innovation CAN happen anywhere -- including outside the valley and toronto).  Greg also happens to be  speaking at DemoCamp 20 to talk about the his new 3D first person shooter in Facebook (all developed in Flash).

Social Games is a killer opportunity for cash/resource strapped, boot strapped minded enviorments like Canada.  The capital requirements for buiding them are (still) relatively low, the cost of distribution is zero (i.e. viral, and much of your ability to gain adoption is not via owning shelf space, but rather how clever and good you are at creating a strong viral loop).

So basically: No access to big VC Valley money to compete with multi-million dollar triple-A console titles?  No access big brand licences from New York to attract users?  No problem: build social games, get viral distribition, monetize with direct virtual payments (i.e. paypal and sparechange), incentivzed offers (i.e. Super Rewards, OfferPal), and/or ads (RockYou, SocialMedia).

Anyways, just my 2 cents late night rant. 

A List of Startup Outsource Designed and Other Virtual Services

So as a follow up to my last blog... I figured I'll put together a bit of a list of my favorite resources from around the web for bootstrap startups that want to get access to some great outsource/virtual services (esp. on the design side).

So I thought I'd share some of my favorite (startup/outsourced design) resources are:
  • - the standard in cheap stock photos)
  • - run by my friend Patrick Lor, formerly of iStockphoto, this is his new gig
There are others of course, and please feel free to let me know.

I have also discovered (and heard great things about):
  • Shoeboxed - which seems like an awesome service to get your recipets and business cards scanned for a pretty reasonable price (and has a netflix like subscription/mail in monthly model).
  • eLance - everything from transcription services (tried putting a bid out) to outsourced developers (no experience yet) 

Kontagent Facebook Analytics (New Web Site) Launched

Long over due update here on Kontagent (Facebook Analytics).

If there is one thing I've learned about creating a marketing website with Kontagent is that... well, I shouldn't have bothered.

Not that we shouldn't be revamping our site, because the old one sucks and the new one is MUCH better (but far from perfect), its just that it has been an insane drain of our resources and time.

Made me realize why we decided to build Facebook Analytics and not Facebook Apps in the first place.

The lesson I learned (re-learned really) is that you should really pay attention to your team's DNA.

Do what you're great at, in our case building great Social Analytics for Facebook (and soon, MySpace and OpenSocial), and basically large systems (I work with a group of super-hard core Engineers), and outsource the rest.

The time we spent using our own resources to flesh out this website from conception to design to execution and revision, we could have probably saved thousands of dollars even by going with great local web design firm (or better yet, tap into any number of great international independent designers/firms that are cropping up everywhere from Russia to Brazil).

If you're a startup, there's a ton of great "virtual"/crowdsourced design and assistance services avaiable all over the web.  You'd be foolish not to consider them... I'll follow up with another post that lists some of my favs.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Venture Capital Breakdown (in Canada)

Here is a cross-post of my comments on today's article from Matt Hartley on "Venture Capital Breakdown" (read first) in Canada on the Globe and Mail... thought a few of my readers here might be interested...
In the early morning the comment system here ate my comment, which has now apparently disappeared into the ether. Since that comment took way too long to post/edit, I'm posting my 2 cents in point form below:  
- Matt, thanks for the very TIMELY article, this is an extremely important issue for the future of Canada  
- Two comments in the article that particularly resonated with me were: 
(1) Kevin's comments about students from UofT that lack the entrepreneurial attitudes compared to Stanford's - albeit an extreme case (in favor of Stanford as a representation of a typical US university) - I absolutely agree with his point. We do not even come CLOSE to doing enough to foster and support entrepreneurial spirit in our culture and education system;  
(2) Rick's comment is spot on - we do not embrace failure as a necessary ingredient of *breakthrough* success. While I have had a couple of small successes, I've had many more failures/learning-experiences (thankfully coming out of them net positive). However, my peers and I know that this is a necessary path (as is the risk capital required to do so at the right time!) to achieving great innovations  
- We took our very first investment money from silicon valley, as that is where we ended up setting up our HQ (and it resulted in us being able to get access to our very early and aggressive investor/fund that ENABLED the venture to get started)  
- That being said, I want to clarify that we DO have a (very unique and fantastic) follow on investor from Canada that came on board several months later that we met in the course of operating our business. They are in the very small minority in Canada, as they have been quietly making some very aggressive and very early stage (i.e. high risk/reward) investments  
- There are glimmers of hope, eg. new incubator initiatives like BootUp Labs in Vancouver, and some very smart & connected early stage investors like Extreme Venture Partners in Toronto. (update: and also things like founders and funders and democamp ... stuff that wasn't around when I was working in the web1.0 startup world in Canada, which has obviously been critical to fostering more innovation and entreprenurial thinking in the region -- and more support for the startup community coming from what would have eariler been much less likely entities such as larger corps. via internal champions like David Crow, Evangalist at Microsoft and less publically via folks such as Mike Lee, Chief Strategist at Rogers).