Archive for May, 2006

Google Alerts

Yesterday night I noticed a new feature in my webmail client. It’s Google Alerts, a new service that delivers automated mails to your inbox on a topic of your choice, edited by the search engine.
I suggest you give it a try; set up some alerts for keywords you are interested in. You can also experiment a little bit and get a few newsletters for things that you do not have great knowledge on but would not mind hearing about: Why not receive an email about “cut flowers” or “anti-aging products” once a week for the next couple of months? Be always on the lookout for serendipity.

Add comment May 18th, 2006

Taking the long view on the IP debate

Scott Miller is one of the main advocates of game developers creating their own IPs as opposed to developing licences. His view is that this approach will generally result in increased revenues and long-term stability for the developer studio.

His last post, Brand new brands & E3 ’06 got me thinking, what if we make a comparison of the videogame market with other industries? Let’s take the portable music player industry, for example. Everybody knows the iPod has been a runaway success, with 51 million units sold, while SONY’s walkman (the mp3-player thing) had only 5 million units sold. I’d make a guess that it’s better to be a project manager for iPod than for the Sony walkman-mp3 today. I bet it’s better to be an engineer working on the next-gen iPod with all the cool features than being at a (any runner-up) runner-up trying to catch up (SONY has certainly got a lot of other cool and successful products, but in the mp3 field, they’re a runner-up).

Simple, right? Then let’s look at the numbers: How many engineers, managers, etc. work on the iPod, a hundred? And how many work on SONY’s products, Creative’s products and all the other companies that are out there? There was even a Dell mp3 player that almost made it to the market. These projects all occupy a niche in the economy and they’re all legitimate attempts on having a shot at making some money.
Of course some of them are not as high-profile, perhaps not as fun, not as profitable as being in the top as the iPod is, but they’re still legitimate players in the economy and fulfill a need. Or if they don’t then their products will eventually be discontinued.
Does this apply to the game market? I think it does to a large degree – perhaps not entirely, because the price differences in games are not as large as in, say mp3 players , but I still think that there is a market both for original IPs and franchises. Scott might prefer to work on original IPs and I agree with him on that, but that doesn’t mean everybody else has the same perspective – working on a franchise has advantages over working on an original IP and the important thing is that you consider all the pros and cons and make an informed decision on what you would like to do.

Add comment May 16th, 2006

All is forgiven?

About six months ago, I subscribed to the monthly UMTS-GPRS flatrate of E-Plus aka nationwide cell phone internet 24/7. Theoretically, that is. In the first months, they did not have decent coverage in most parts of the city where I work and even if they did, the connection was shaky at best.
As months passed though, the quality of the service became better and better. It’s still not perfect, but I find myself talking for more than an hour on Skype without interruption these days.
The interesting thing is, E-Plus made me sign a two-year contract, so I cannot cancel for about the next 18 months, regardless of the quality of the service. In the first months, I was upset about paying for a not-very-good service and not being able to opt out, but as time passed and the quality kept improving, so were my feelings about it. Three months ago, if I could have switched for a DSL line, I would have done it, but today I would hesitate. If they keep making improvements to the service quality, I expect that I will not want to cancel my plan after I will have the opportunity to do so.
I wonder if it’s intentional from their side.

Add comment May 15th, 2006

Investing in property? I don’t think so

Recently, a lot of people were suggesting me to invest in property in Frankfurt. The argument goes, instead of paying rent, I can put the same money towards a down-payment and in the end even own a flat. If I move away, I can just sublet the apartment to someone and the rent would still cover the payments, they say.
I was thinking about it for a while and even took the step of talking to my bank for details on getting a mortgage, but in the end decided against it.
The reason for this is, that the conditions people were telling me have some underlying assumptions I don’t agree with. First, my bank claims the down-payment for a comparable apartment would be about 40% more than what I pay for rent now; that is extra money I have to put towards the apartment every month that I can invest elsewhere or just spend now. Second, there  is a relatively large down-payment for an apartment, which would require me to save up for one or two years before buying – that is again money I could put somewhere else. Third, I’m not convinced that property prices will continue to go up in Germany in the long run – since the population has been shrinking and will continue to do so for the next decades. If property prices stagnate or grow at a rate below the level of inflation, again my money is put to better use if invested in a sector where there is strong growth. Fourth, I think people tend to overestimate the liquidity of the rent and buy market: If I would happen to move somewhere else, it might take a long time until I find someone to rent or sell the apartment to and I have to keep shelling out the down-payments every month even if it is standing empty. Also, properties have to be maintained, which can incur significant costs.
Lastly, I think that in case you own property in a city, ultimately you will be bound there, which I’m not sure I want at this point – Frankfurt is a great place to live at but I don’t see the advantage in giving up my freedom to be able to pack and move to anywhere on the planet on relatively short notice.

Add comment May 12th, 2006

Bargain in Euros, pay in Rupees, get charged in Euros…

While in India, I witnessed an interesting phenomenon. Since I’m more comfortable with sums in the European currency, I always bargained in Euros when trying to buy something like a piece of cloth or a carpet. Of course, the merchants always charged my credit card in Rupees, the Indian currency, but the rate they gave me was lower than what my bank did. Thus I ended up paying about 7% less than what the settled at price was and since we bargained in Euros originally and I did not let them go above the sum I wanted to spend on the particular item, I in effect got the things I wanted to buy at a seven percent discount.
Yay to currency speculation 🙂

Add comment May 11th, 2006

Polish

Recently, one part of the project I’m working on entered the polishing phase – the major features are already developed, only some fixing and tweaking remains. Curiously, I find that my productivity decreased significantly in the last few days: The tasks I have to accomplish are much smaller so they get done faster, but therefore I have to switch gears a lot more, too. I suspect that it comes down to the same effect as with Focus, and that doing a number of small tasks takes longer because you get out of the flow when finishing up something and starting something different.
Perhaps an important consequence of this is that if you are measuring your productivity at the start of the project, you have to be careful about the scope of the conclusions you draw from these; it might be possible that you will have a different workload towards the end of your project and such the numbers you got back then will not be accurate anymore.

Add comment May 10th, 2006

Wanna pay?

When I moved in to my new apartment in Franfurt, I made a standing order at my bank to pay the water&electricity bills. This is possible because in Germany, the bill only gets adjusted once a year and you pay a constant sum each month.
As the standing order expired last month, I found myself searching for the bank details of the utilities company so I could set up a new one.
The obvious place to look was the letter they sent me with the new yearly rates, but it did not have any payment information on it. Neither did their webpage, so I took to call customer service. I dial the number and get an announcement that they value my call but cannot take it at the moment but they certainly hope I would contact them at a later time; and then the phone goes deaf! All this to a customer who is going to great lengths trying to find out how he can pay his bills on time.

Add comment May 9th, 2006

Bangalore impressions #2

So I’m back from my second trip to Bangalore. I got quite a bit of work done in the week while I was there and also managed to pick up a beautiful carpet and go to Delhi on the long weekend.

I found it interesting, that while Bangalore and Delhi lie more than a thousand miles from each other, both cities look strikingly similar, at least for the untrained eye of a foreigner. I heard from friends who are not from Europe that they thought Paris and London are similar, while for me they couldn’t be further from each other, so I can imagine that for someone who lived there, there are obvious differences between the two cities that I just couldn’t see.
I found that both cities grapple with the same environmental issue, air quality. The air in both Bangalore and Delhi is dusty in comparison with European cities. I think this is partly due to the climate (India seems to be low on humidity and relatively hot) and partly due to the poor infrastructure – almost none of the sidewalks are of concrete and some of the roads as well are of dirt. With the huge traffic both cities are experiencing, it’s easy to see how the many vehicles beat up the dust in the air.
People even in Bangalore were warning me of the weather in Delhi, as it can get up to 40 degrees Celsius (in the 100’s F) in the summer. Because of the low humidity (or because I just love warm weather), though, I did not feel the heat to be that taxing. I preferred the air-conditioned cars while there, for sure, but I did not feel the need to constantly drink water what you do when you’re in a desert. Overall, I was still comfortable with the climate there.

1 comment May 7th, 2006


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