Friday Funny

Jon Stewart has taken notice of the absurdity of anti-game hearings.

Recently, on Comedy Central‘s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had an amusing segment about the attempts to vilify video games by our government. In particular, he focused on the hearing held by a House of Representatives subcommittee on June 14. Individual clips of comments by legislators are shown (with appropriate commentary).

The entire segment is available for viewing here. (Thanks to Gamasutra for the link.)

I find it rather telling that in one of the clips where a legislator, the “father of three young boys”, expresses concern about video game content, he seems to actually struggle to remember the ages of his own children. Stewart’s commentary at this point is dead on accurate. It would be even funnier if people did not seem to take these idiots seriously.

Seriously, the House of Representatives is filled with insane jackasses.
— Jon Stewart

Three Weeks to SIC 2006

The shareware industry’s premier conference is just around the corner.

On July 12, the Shareware Industry Conference gets underway in Denver, Colorado. This will be the second year there, as it traditionally stays at the same venue for two consecutive years. There are rumors that it will be in Denver in 2007 as well, which would be the first time that a city has had it more than a couple times since the original Summer Shareware Seminar left its Indianapolis home. Of course, we will only know that for certain once we check in and read the back page of the conference booklet.

This will be my sixth time attending SIC, now in its 16th year. I mistakenly decided not to go to the very first one (back in 1991) for silly reasons, and I now seriously regret having failed to attend. I recommend this conference to anybody who has an interest in marketing and selling software online, regardless of whether or not he or she uses the term “shareware”.

It appears that, for the first time, I may be speaking at the conference. I am tentatively scheduled to give a presentation entitled, Practical Interface Guidelines: Things they did not teach us in programming class. I am not really sure that this will happen until the SIC 2006 Schedule of Events lists my talk (presumably on Friday at 3:30pm). We shall see.

Anyway, for anybody attending SIC, I should be wandering the lobby areas and attending sessions for the duration. I should also be at all the official events, including the ASP luncheon, as well as the unofficial AISIP offsite lunch. I look forward to seeing friends and meeting new people, so be sure to say “Hi!”.

Red Card the Ref!

The “beautiful game” looked pretty ugly today.

After watching the United States vs. Italy game in the FIFA World Cup 2006, I am stunned at the lousy officiating in the game. The referee was probably the worst I have seen, including when I coached soccer in a youth recreational league. There, the refs were high school kids who were still learning, and we coaches sometimes had to help with finer points of the rules, but any of them would have done better.

For those who were not watching the game, the referee gave an Italian player a Red Card (game ejection) for deliberately elbowing an American player in the face (and drawing blood). This was well deserved, and it left the Italian team with only ten men. However, at the end of the half (last minute), the ref gave an undeserved “equalizer” to a US player for a common foul (if that), taking one of our productive players out of the game. Then, only two minutes into the second half, he removed another US player on a questionable call, dropping the team to only nine.

Despite the fact that we were (undeservedly) a man down, and the statistic that no team with only nine men has ever scored a goal in World Cup history, the Americans managed to bury one in the back of the net to take the lead on the scoreboard, 2-1 over the Italians. Unfortunately, the referee decided to make a late offsides call against a player not involved in the play, taking our “go ahead” goal away.

When my players used to complain about a poor referee or bad calls, I always advised them to take the refs out of the game by scoring goals. After all, if a game is not close, then a bad call or two cannot make the difference. However, when a referee blows three major calls, taking a team from having an extra man to being down a man and denying a legitimate goal, it really is too much to overcome, especially at this level of play. The United States team played valiantly, but had to settle for a 1-1 tie.

After the match, American television revealed its discovery that this particular referee was not allowed to officiate in the last World Cup because of unspecified “irregularities” that were so egregious that other refs complained about it. So, not only were his calls terrible (and, in my opinion, deliberately biased), but he has a history of such problems.

The big problem with this whole thing is that everybody loses in this situation. The United States was robbed of an excellent chance to win this game, and the Italians, too, were denied a fair fight. The fans were ripped off, as the outcome of the game has more to do with one incompetent referee than anything else. FIFA takes a major credibility hit when they were already on the defensive about the poor officiating (and too many cards, in particular).

I believe that a very exciting game was marred by the malfeasance of one individual, and I am looking for FIFA to take swift and decisive action against the referee. There is nothing that can be done about the game outcome but to move on. The United States played very well this game, and every team in the group still has a chance to advance to the next round.

The situation is this: Both remaining Group E games will be played simultaneously on Thursday, June 22 at 16:00 local time (10:00am Eastern US). The United States must win against Ghana (who scored a major upset today) to have a shot. If that happens and Italy wins over the Czech Republic, then the US advances. If the other game is a tie or a loss, then the US has to completely crush Ghana, by five or six goals. That is highly unlikely.

I have an official Italian team jersey that I would not wear today, but I can assure you that I intend to wear it on Thursday. Go USA! Go Italia!

HNT: Respect Your Customers

How Not To: Respect Your Customers

A while ago, Microsoft added a new “high-priority update” for Windows XP to their Windows Update site. Note that, since it is marked as a high priority, this particular update will be automatically downloaded and installed on all Windows XP systems configured to use its Automatic Updates feature, so most users will have no idea that it was installed.

This little update is called, euphemistically, Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications, and it is described in KB905474. It is an application that checks to see if you have a pirated copy of XP and, if so, attempts to sell you a legal one. In Microsoft marketing department language:

“The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a[sic] non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.”

According to the web page, if you voluntarily (knowingly or not) download this little application, and it detects (correctly or not) that a copy of XP is not genuine, it 1) notifies you at every logon and tries to sell you Windows, 2) puts another icon in your taskbar (“an icon will be available…”) with balloon notifications, and 3) locks your desktop to display a message about software counterfeiting.

Of course, I spend hundreds of dollars each year to have the latest, and fully licensed, Microsoft operating systems, so assuming this works correctly and recognizes my genuineness, what does this do for me, a paying customer? Let’s see. It runs another application in the background, hidden from me but stealing processing time. Oh, Goody! It also cannot be uninstalled.

In other words, this “update” treats me as a criminal and puts my machine at risk of the whims and mistakes of Microsoft. It provides me nothing of value whatsoever. This may be good for them, assuming that anybody using a pirated copy of XP gives a damn, but a legitimate customer should not be subject to such treatment. Oh, sure, somebody who bought their machine from a dishonest vendor who gave them an illegal copy may get caught, but that does not justify an uninstallable application being surreptitiously added to a system.

The story could end there, but it does not. Yesterday [June 14, 2006], Microsoft updated the application, so even those of us who told Windows Update to quit notifying us of this, now have to do it again (“… until a new release of the Notification Update is released”). I do not use the word “hide” in this respect, because it does anything but hide the update. Instead, every time I open Windows Update, I am greeted with the following message:

You’ve hidden important updates
You’ve asked us not to show you one or more high-priority updates but your computer might be at risk until they are installed.”

This is a lie. This update is only “important” to Microsoft; it is meaningless (at best) to paying customers. Classifying it as “high-priority” is inappropriate, and suggesting that my computer is at risk without it is simply wrong.

Do not get me wrong here. I despise software pirates, and I would like to see more prosecutions and appropriately severe punishments for willful copyright infringement. I also like Microsoft, earn a living using their software, and have even worked on a game for them, so I am not bent on their destruction or anything like that. However, I cannot help but feel insulted, first, and then just angry at such behavior. This is definitely an example of how not to respect paying customers.

Right now, I am going to work on a Macintosh, writing a game for Apple OSX. I am currently feeling more motivated to do so, far more than to work on any of my Windows games at the moment. Seriously.

How Not To…

It is quite useful to learn from the mistakes of others.

When my business partners and I decided to devote full time effort to our company, we had seen lots of errors in our combined experience in the game industry, as well as from business in general. We thought that we had witnessed enough pitfalls that we could succeed merely by avoiding the many mistakes that we had watched others make. Alas, there are always new and interesting ways to screw things up, and we stepped in a few ourselves.

I have long believed that the best way to learn something is to make a mistake at it, and the greater the disappointment or embarrassment (or even pain), the better the lesson. A child does not necessarily remember all of the words he got correct in a spelling bee, but he always knows how to spell the one word he got wrong to eliminate him.

Of course, it is much harder to get people to take a written or spoken, rather than experienced, lesson to heart. Nevertheless, I will face this challenge and attempt to illuminate some of the pitfalls one may want to avoid to make excellent games, run a successful business, or simply have an enjoyable and respectable life.

Every once in a while, I will post a true “How Not To…” story showing a mistake made by someone, whether an individual or an organization. These lessons will be prefixed with “HNT:” in the title and will describe the incorrect method of accomplishing something. I may or may not change or omit names or details to protected the guilty, depending on my mood. The correct or appropriate solution(s) will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Note that if you recognize yourself in one of these scenarios, remember that it is an opportunity to improve. If people say negative things about you, there are two basic possibilities: 1) they are right and you can learn, or 2) they are full of it and can be ignored. Decide honestly which category applies, and then move on.

Microsoft is a favorite target of many, but one particular recent practice has ticked me off enough that it was time to write the first of these lessons.

Quality: The Process, Part III [Think Quality.]

[continued from Gamma testing?]

Think Quality.

The most important aspect of the entire quality assurance process is attitude. We all need to strive for quality and refuse to accept anything less. There is no process or technique that can overcome a lack of commitment to quality, but the right mindset will make the process and decisions that much easier.

As [independent software developers], we can work together to improve our own products and, in so doing, raise the bar for other software.

Think Quality.

Gregg Seelhoff is an independent game developer, and the results of [a previous] beta test can be found at

Quality: The Process, Part III [Gamma testing?]

[continued from Something different]

Gamma testing?

Software is not complete when it is released, and this is especially true for shareware offerings, since updates are relatively simple when compared to retail products. Some quality assurance professionals use the term “gamma testing” to refer to the process of improving and evolving products after the initial release. Unfortunately, this also refers to checking for radiation, so I only use the term jokingly.

The concept, however, is fundamentally sound. It can be summed up with the following saying:
The Customer is always right, even when he is wrong.

This phrase is often taken to suggest that one must appease every customer, and while this is a reasonable goal for good customer relations, it is not the only interpretation.

This saying also means that any feedback is valid, and no matter how unreasonable it seems. In terms of software, it means that every time a customer has a complaint or comment, it indicates a portion of the product or process that could be improved. As much as you know about your own software, you can never be the customer, so you need to listen to the feedback. For every person who contacts you about a problem, there are possibly hundreds of others with the same problem who do not bother.

For the same reasons, all reviews are beneficial. Good reviews are nice, but poor reviews, in fact, can do more to help you improve the quality of your product, if not your bottom line. Any negative aspects of a review can be corrected, and it will improve the software. Even where the reviewer makes an incorrect statement, such as overlooking a feature, this just shows that the interface or documentation should be improved to prevent that mistake from happening.

Note that there is no obligation to distort your software according to the whims of customers and reviewers. In fact, this can have detrimental effects on the product. You should be the “keeper of the vision” for your product and reject inappropriate suggestions. However, it is imperative to listen and consider.

[continued in Think Quality.]

Quality: The Process, Part III [Something different]

[continued from Standard treatment]

Something different

There are a number of other testing techniques that are used during development, and I want to touch briefly on a few.

One essential technique is known as “compatibility testing”. As the name implies, this is testing the software for compatibility on a variety of different system configurations. There are companies that will perform extensive compatibility testing, but this is not inexpensive. Alpha and beta testing should cover a range of systems, but it will be far from comprehensive.

For a Windows product, one must test on some flavors of Win9x and NT, at an absolute minimum, and preferably on every supported operating system. Game and multimedia products need to be tested with different video cards and sound cards. Products with printing features need to be checked on different types of printers, including at least a color inkjet and a laser printer, from different manufacturers. In short, you must cover as much of your target audience as absolutely possible.

Another external testing technique, related to compatibility testing, is product certification. This involves submitting your software for certification according to the rules of some program. Instead of checking different system configurations, product certification programs check other criteria, depending on the goals of the particular certification. These range in cost from free to very expensive.

For a slightly less formal review of the usability and general quality of the software, one can conduct “focus group” testing. Focus groups are essentially a collection of people in the target audience who are brought together in one location specifically to give their opinions and feedback. Professional firms can conduct such groups with quasi-scientific questionnaires, hidden cameras, and written analysis, for a tidy sum.

The easier and, in my experience, no less effective method to perform focus group testing is to find a location, such as the computer lab in a local school, and advertise free pizza and drinks for computer users who will show up and try your new product. I cannot comment on how this would work for business products, but it works well for games.

Finally, throughout the entire testing process, you need to conduct “regression testing”. Regression testing is a method of making sure that bugs that were fixed are not reintroduced into the program. This concept is really as simple as trying to reproduce each of the fixed bugs and making certain that they have not reappeared.

My first exposure to regression testing was a spiral notebook into which every bug was written as it was reported and checked as it was solved. Before we would send a game build to the publisher, we simply tested each item in the notebook as part of the test plan. It hardly needs to be more complicated than that.

[continued in Gamma testing?]