Monday, July 31, 2006

It's the End of E3 As We Know It

...and I feel fine.

The game industry buzz over the weekend was all about how E3 is dead or downsized.

Between swarms of goofball non-industry attendees, the adverse impact to the game development calendar (it's hard for some companies to make progress on the actual game early in the year if everyone's busy with teh shiney E3 demo), and dubious actual value to publishers, this may not be a bad thing.

And now, straight from the ESA's mouth, it sounds like the rumors of an "evolved" E3 are true.

Guess the tools trolling the West Hall for boobage dressed in skimpy game character costumes will have to go back to paying escort services for it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

MMOG Boom Times in the Bay Area

Austin, home of SOE, NCSoft, and the new Bioware outpost, has long been ground zero for massively multiplayer online game development and ops, but Northern California's seen a marked increase in the genre recently.

A quick roundup of quakeland's MMOG players:

Perpetual's all systems go on Gods and Heroes (publishing partner SOE) and Star Trek Online, two high-profile titles, the former launching this year, I believe.

Cryptic (an NCSoft company) is hiring for multiple new titles to be announced this year, something I'm particularly excited about since City of Heroes/City of Villains is still in rotation in my house. Cryptic nailed the satisfying player experience -- you really do feel like a superhero -- and pound for pound is still the most fun to play of the current live games as far as I'm concerned. New offerings that leverage Cryptic's strong engine and learning so far (e.g. addressing complaints about shallow gameplay) will position them to keep breathing once the new DC and Marvel MMOGs arrive to threaten their flagship games.

Three Rings continues to innovate the casual MMO genre with the recent beta launch of Bang! Howdy and enhancements to Puzzle Pirates. These guys are figuring out leading-edge aspects of MMOG design, including creating for the mass market player and monetizing her through cash-backed virtual currency. Their numbers for the latter are scary good. Expect to see more of these kinds of games and less of the men in tights genres as more companies hop on the casual gamer clue train. and Second Life both operate on the fringes of MMOGs, being virtual worlds focused on creation and socialization rather than orc-bashing, but both are thriving.'s made some key hires recently, and SL is in the virtual world news practically every week with some new buzzworthy milestone. Virtual currency and user-generated content are at the heart of both games, it's worth noting.

Even Electronic Arts is in the mix again. The industry behemoth is looking to improve its reputation as the Game Company Where MMOGs Go to Die with an overhaul of Sims Online, as well as an unannounced second game that perhaps a little too excitably is being called by one staffer "the next Spore." Given that Spore hasn't launched yet, I'm not sure what this means. And, Ultima Online is still up and running, lo these many years later.

The landscape of MMOG development in the area was very different even only a couple of years ago. Nice to see the rise of virtual worlds in the Valley again!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sneak Peek of STUDIO 60 and KIDNAPPED for Netflixers

NBC's partnering with Netflix to offer the full premiere episodes of two of its biggest new series, six weeks before the shows air. I've read the pilots, but am eager to see how the execution pans out.

Fellini's 8 1/2 MILE

Maybe you've already seen this, but if the interwebs have not yet passed it your way:

For the seventeen of us who've seen both movies, this actually works pretty well.

(Thanks, Dave K., for the tip!)

Friday, July 14, 2006

POD People

A few weeks ago I went to a WGA event which featured small group chats with producers and executives at companies with PODs (production overall deals).

A very interesting evening, not just because there was free wine and chocolate-covered strawberries. But those helped. Those always help.

The gathering involved the attendees, about 100 of us, grouped into sets of ten and arranged in, well, pods throughout a bunch of multipurpose rooms. Hee! I didn't know buildings that weren't junior high schools even had those!

Every ten minutes or so, a new guest rotated over to our group from the previous group to give a rundown of his or her company and deal and be peppered with questions.

Basically it was speed-dating with development execs.

This was emphatically NOT a pitch festival, though. One of the things I've found most sobering about being involved with the WGA as an associate member (through the New Media Caucus) is that the Guild's always reminding members of the pitch policy when attending events.

Which is, don't. Don't pitch, don't buttonhole a guest, and don't lie down in front of her departing car brandishing a script.

The fact that the WGA feels the need to print this in an event program and mention it explicitly at the evening's start depresses me. I mean, yeah... as with most creative unions (say, Equity), some large percentage of the WGA membership is underemployed or outright unemployed, but still. You'd think professionals would know better.

But everyone as far as I could tell was very well behaved this night. The 11 guests, of which we saw 9, represented a range of companies, from those hooked up with name talent to those behind powerhouse shows like GREY'S ANATOMY, 24, and PRISON BREAK. All were amazingly nice, grounded people, gracious in their answers and helpful in their advice.

And advice is what we all wanted. This was definitely an employment access shindig, after all, and even though no one outright pitched (in my group at least), the clear subtext behind most questions was "What should I write so I can sell my show to or be hired by you guys?" The evening was probably of most use to writers looking to pitch original shows, but there was plenty to make note of even if you weren't yet hungering for a Created By credit.

Moderators in each group kept things moving, and kicked off each new guest's arrival with a round of introductions from the group. This started feeling silly after the fourth or fifth time, as we rattled off our spiels, but really pointed up the diversity of backgrounds and experience of those looking to break into TV.

In my group there was a guy with decades in news, a documentarian, feature writers, writers repped by important agencies who wanted to sell a pilot, and a TV writer with a load of credits in the 90's who had taken a break and was trying to get back in.

This is the competition for TV jobs, remember. Also, during the hors d'oeuvres I ran into a couple of comedy writers who had been on big but cancelled shows and now, thanks to the comedy drought, are scrambling for jobs.

But they're not scrambling. They're writing one-hour drama specs and can bring the funny. Ignore at your peril.

A few points from the night that I thought were interesting:

  • With one exception, every exec said they really wanted to read original material as a sample, spec pilots especially. A few people also mentioned short stories and plays.

  • DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and THE SOPRANOS are played out as specs. Done. Sleeping with Luca Brasi. Not a surprise to those who monitor the suggestion lists on various blogs or who have good intel from their agents, but this was hard confirmation from folks who read specs all day. Those two shows were mentioned by every exec who said they were tired of episodics as samples. GREY'S got a couple mentions too.

  • The development world is desperate for good comedy pilots.

  • Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer pwn procedurals. No company was that interested in developing a procedural because these two guys -- mentioned as a pair in this context by every single guest to our group -- have the genre locked up tight.

  • If you want to pitch/write a spec procedural, make it quirky and character-driven. HOUSE was the example everyone mentioned.

  • My corollary: Don't try to clone HOUSE. Everyone is.

  • Use your spec pilots to push the envelope. Be more diverse than network TV currently is. Go farther in the script than an aired show might do. Better to have someone rein you in than come off thinking that you can't go there.

  • Get a good agent. I mean, duh, but yes.

  • Everyone (these folks at least) is looking for colorful and off-center, no matter what the genre. One woman mentioned vampire lawyers but I think she was kidding. Maybe.

    Whew! Inspired yet? Go write that pilot! Or that spec that isn't about Bree or Tony! I mean it, go. It's going to be too hot this weekend to do much else and you already saw PIRATES. Scoot.

    The POD event clearly was no mean feat to pull off, and the folks behind it are to be commended. Hats off to the Guild's Committee of Black Writers and Committee of Women Writers. Here's hoping they do it again.
  • Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Emmy Time

    The noms are out, with some surprising omissions including sophomore dramas LOST and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Shawna's got a nice recap and brief analysis over at Shouting into the Wind.

    Here's an excerpt of the nominations list:

    "Grey's Anatomy," ABC
    "House," Fox
    "The Sopranos," HBO
    "24," Fox
    "The West Wing," NBC

    "Arrested Development," Fox
    "Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO
    "The Office," NBC
    "Scrubs," NBC
    "Two and a Half Men," CBS

    "Arrested Development: Development Arrested," Fox
    "Entourage: Exodus," HBO
    "Extras: Kate Winslet," HBO
    "My Name Is Earl: Pilot," NBC
    "The Office: Christmas Party," NBC

    "Grey's Anatomy: It's the End of the World, as We Know It (Part 1 & Part 2)," ABC
    "Grey's Anatomy: Into You Like a Train," ABC
    "Lost: The 23rd Psalm," ABC
    "Six Feet Under: Everyone's Waiting," HBO
    "The Sopranos: Members Only," HBO

    Denis Leary, "Rescue Me," FX Network
    Peter Krause, "Six Feet Under," HBO
    Christopher Meloni, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC
    Kiefer Sutherland, "24," Fox
    Martin Sheen, "The West Wing," NBC

    Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer," TNT
    Geena Davis, "Commander in Chief," ABC
    Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC
    Frances Conroy, "Six Feet Under," HBO
    Allison Janney, "The West Wing," NBC

    Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO
    Kevin James, "The King of Queens," CBS
    Tony Shalhoub, "Monk," USA
    Steve Carell, "The Office," NBC
    Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men," CBS

    Lisa Kudrow, "The Comeback," HBO
    Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle," Fox
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "The New Adventures of Old Christine," CBS
    Stockard Channing, "Out of Practice," CBS
    Debra Messing, "Will & Grace," NBC