Friday, December 28, 2007

From the Department of Unsolicited Predictions

No, this isn’t an update on the site. I think we’ve had enough of those recently. This is a small tribute to our Ivy League Championship players. This is an homage to one of America’s favorite pastimes: making unsubstantiated projections. Specifically, this is my honest-to-god prediction that Yale, Harvard or Princeton will win the NCAA Division I-A Football Championship in the Next Fifty Years.

And what does this have to do with GXC? Blah blah inter-campus blah competition blah—in short, absolutely nothing.

Now that that’s out of the way: anyone who has watched a game of college football (or American football in general) in the past twenty years knows that I have to be completely off my rocker to make such a seemingly outlandish assertion. Division I-A (FBS), the technical term for what most people call “College Football,” has been dominated by the Michigans, USCs, LSUs, Nebraskas and Oklahomas for the past half century. In fact, this year marks the 80th anniversary since an Ivy League school last captured a college football championship—Yale shared the 1927 crown with Illinois.

In fact, the Ivies haven’t even been in the mix since the Ivy League athletic conference formed in 1954, with the break from mainstream college football being solidified with the Ivies’ inclusion into Division I-AA (FCS), which as far as I can understand is college football’s equivalent to playing in NFL Europe. More specifically, I-AA teams don’t offer the volume of athletic scholarships that I-A teams do, so the NCAA figures that they shouldn’t play on the same field. Occasionally shit happens, but in general the system stays in equilibrium.

The Ivies, keeping with tradition, don’t offer any athletic scholarships and actually abstain from the I-AA playoff. A significant portion of football recruits come from less-than-WASPish backgrounds and need the scholarship money to attend school, and some like the opportunities to go pro that playing for Michigan or LSU can afford.

Thus, the Ivies have lost top recruits and slowly slipped out of the football world.

Yet times can change. A lot has to happen for Walter Camp’s Bulldogs to be competitive again, but I see no reason why the next fifty years won’t bring as drastic of changes to the football world as the past fifty years did. In the past couple years, for example, the advent of spread offenses have drastically lowered the contrast between top and mediocre teams.

But, really, this isn’t about football. This is about financial aid. Specifically, this is about free school.

There is little doubt that an undergraduate education at Harvard, Yale or Princeton will be essentially free within the next twenty years. A surprisingly small and ever-shrinking chunk of Ivy revenues come from tuition payments, with the vast majority coming from obscene returns on obscenely large endowments. Other types of schools—especially public schools that require state support—simply don’t have this kind of projected income stream. And it’s clear that the long-term investment focus that university presidents have afforded their investment offices has paid off. And increasingly, Ivy League schools are responding to student and alumni pressure by greatly increasing financial aid. And in some cases, as in Yale’s School of Music, making education within specific schools totally free. It certainly seems to be the case that—at the very least—the Ivies will take the policy of “you only pay if it doesn’t hurt.”

Right now, money runs the college football world, and State U is willing to put money into it. Good football provides decent returns to investment, so the Louisiana Department of Education is willing to carve $2.8 million every year from a cash-strapped budget to pay Les Miles to lead their program. Another $6.5 million annually flows from the State of Louisiana to fund athletic scholarships. This isn’t an obscene amount of money, but it is breaking rules the Ivies won’t break—namely, providing merit-based scholarships. And it provides the impetus for good football players to choose LSU over other schools.

However, the Ivies don’t seem to have a problem favoring athletic ability in their Byzantine admissions process. The main problem has always been money—if Joe Quarterback has a 1200 (err—a 1900 or whatever a 1200 is these days) on his SAT and has to choose between a Harvard diploma and a shot at the NFL by going to State, it might be a hard choice. Until, of course, you think about the money—going to Harvard and graduating with thousands in debt, or taking the scholarship at State.

But if Harvard is free, the choice gets a little cloudier. Especially if dozens struggling with the decision before him have already chosen Harvard, gaining at least scant attention from NFL scouts. And if Harvard essentially has a school-wide full-ride scholarship, the Ivies should be unceremoniously dumped out of Division I-AA, likely returning to the mix as a full-fledged NCAA FBS competitor. After all, the League’s main argument against competing right now is that it is unfair to play against teams with athletic scholarships. Well, problem solved.

And if the Ivies are in the Division I-A recruiting mix, they should be able to make up for at least some of what they won’t have—top coaches and facilities—by relying on uniqueness, history and prestige. In other words, the same things that have been winning “academic recruits” over to their side for the past two centuries. And after all—there are a bunch of schools with great workout facilities and highly-paid coaches. But there’s only one Yale.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Three-Week-Long Winter Break!

In case our adult readers have forgotten the typical college schedule, let me remind everyone: typically, at least three weeks of bumming around during the latter half of December and first half of January. I’m not sure what relevance January 8th has to the US holiday calendar, but whatever… most colleges aren’t in session.

This has interesting implications for our games. We wanted things to be over a couple weeks ago, but (given the month-long pause) that wasn’t happening. Things are working great now, so what are we to do? Two-hour turns in an attempt to get the games over quickly were a brief but probably ill-considered experiment. Now it’s the weekend before Christmas, and we don’t want to force the game on people.

So we’ve decided to compromise and finish up the Ivy League and Rice games next week with four-hour (not two-hour) turns. Hopefully this will allow everyone a little extra time to sleep, since it was evident that we were dealing with some really sleep-deprived players. (I shouldn’t have to say that if you don’t want to get up at 4 AM to place armies, don’t.) All the games will be over by the new year, so we don’t need to worry about things running into next semester.

So what’s next for us? Well, for starters, we’re going to try to keep the blog a bit better updated. Then, we’re going to be launching two games to Indian engineering schools. The games will very much be an experiment, as this is not only our first venture overseas but a new kind of team division (by majors) and a new way of marketing the games (by seeding, not by top-down adoption). Most of this is just our way of adapting to the different situation and culture at these schools.

Will it work? Who knows! That’s half the fun of GXC…

Friday, December 7, 2007

And ... we're back.

Hey guys -- just want to update you all to let you know that we successfully switched over to the new servers. While RPI players already noticed that we'd moved, we decided to wait a few days to make sure everything worked properly before we officially announced. Over the past few days, we've re-added the dynamic map (when our servers couldn't handle the load we had to replace the map with an image), 6X-ed the number of turns for RPI a day, and un-paused Rice. The result? We're functioning fine and considering re-launching the ILC soon.

A lot's changed though. From a non-technical perspective (which is how this article is written), it probably sounds easy to add additional servers. But, there's a good deal more that goes into scaling out than just throwing more money at hardware. We had to rework some of the back-end -- particularly the application's interactions with the database -- so as to allow it to operate on many computers approximately as it would on a single one.

So how is this done? I usually save the gory details for the second date, but we arranged our servers into what's known as a master/slave configuration. We separated our servers into master and slave servers. The slaves hold read only copies of the data on the masters and constantly check with the masters for updates. Meanwhile, the masters write new data. So, any time you sign up for a new account, move a unit, or post a chat, your action is written to the master. When you load a page, chances are you are loading content served from a slave. If you're curious for a longer explanation, by all means Google (you should probably leave safe search on if you're in class).

Certain challenges must be overcome during this process. Unless appropriate precautions are taken, a system might fail if a user hits one server, and then another upon reload. Data can show up incorrectly if a slave database hasn't yet copied changes from the master. A data collision can occur if the database tries to insert two pieces of data to the same point. Or, a major bottleneck or single point of activity can bog down everything as traffic increases. GoCrossCampus was originally built to operate on a single server - and so we spent a lot of time planning solutions, researching and coding to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Over the past month, we optimized, cached and moved towards stateless interactions with the database. We added indexes to our tables, made code more efficient, fixed a lot of small bugs, separated out static content (CSS, JavaScript, Images) and began transmitting compressed content.

We've had to handle a couple minor glitches - and had to take the site down for a few minutes once. But we haven't run into any major problems yet. Overall we've been very pleased. Since December 1st (the day we switched to the new servers), visits have more than doubled, page views have 5X-ed and our servers are holding up strong.

On that note, let the games (re-)begin!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Wanted to give everyone another update on getting some games back up. We're well into the testing phase now, and it should not be long at all before we can get RPI's game over to the new system. Once that happens, we'll want to make sure that everything is working as expected. Then, we can get back to playing and growing as planned. :D

We're committed to having everything work well once it goes back up, which is why we're taking a while with it. This is also why we might seem a little less focused on immediate problems than we were three weeks ago. Since we're switching systems soon, it doesn't make too much sense to spend our time on short-term fixes rather than making the long-term solution better.

If you need further explanation, just check out today's XKCD.

Friday, November 16, 2007

An Update

So, it's been almost two weeks now since we started putting games on pause. I think you're due an update.

First, it's probably a bad idea to unpause anything before Thanksgiving break is over. People want to think about getting the hell away from college. They want to think about sleeping twelve hours per day, eating turkey with the family and spending their Christmas shopping cash.

They don't want to receive a half dozen commander contact emails and worry about whether they placed their troops on the side of the library.

Plus, this just gives us more time to make the lag not suck. Every day we go before we unpause, we can spend our time optimizing, testing and fixing instead of figuring out why turn processing suddenly removed all commanders from their posts and replaced them with MIT students.

Also, a heads up: when the games restart, we are launching the first inaugural GoCrossVideoContest! It's open to all schools, but check out the RPI game page for more details:

GoCrossVideoContest details on RPI Game Page - Click "Learn More!"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ruminations upon a Pause

"Game Paused."

A gamer on his lunch break. Writing a paper. Be back later. Out.

Or as AIM put it, "away from my computer."

Pausing has connotations, and I'm not entirely sure what they mean. I'm a bit afraid they are gamer-ish. Not only gamer-ish, but evocative of '90s single player games. Like the guy who can't tear himself away for long enough to save and return later.

But I mean, what else should we say? "Time-out?" No. Teams call time-outs. The people who run the game don't call time out.

"Game Paused."

The verbiage here is, of necessity, imprecise and awkward. We're not sure what we're doing, but we're pretty sure it's something new. We're not an online game. It may say so on our home page right now, but the last month has shown us that our identity lies closer to a pickup game of coed football than World of Warcraft.

Okay, fair.

But what else do we say, then?

Game postponed? Too ominous. Baseball is postponed due to rain. They often don't reschedule the match.

Game on hold? What does this mean, exactly? It jumps out there, grabs you, and says "We don't know what we're doing with this thing." Too indecisive.

Game Break? "Now let's go to Chris Berman in the studio for an update on RPI!"

Game respite? Okay, now I'm just using

Now, let's get nerdy. The capitalization is critical here. "Game paused." means something totally different from "Game Paused." "Game paused." implies that we (the admins) took decisive action to pause the game, i.e., it is read as "[The] Game [was] paused [by us]." "Game Paused," on the other hand, is somewhat of a cultural meme developed within gaming circles and spread throughout society during the mid to late 90s. It's not a blatant example of such, but it does resonate as a state rather than a description of an action. That is, it is read instead as "[The] Game [is] Paused." rather than the more active "Game paused."

The implication is critical here. While "Game Paused." achieves the immediate communication objective better than "Game paused.", it nonetheless associates us with a specific gamer mindset and culture.

Note: To answer the inevitable cries that we spend more time thinking about this crap than actually fixing things, I assure you that many people with far more software development skills than me are extremely busy right now.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hi, Rice!

As if our server hamsters needed any more work, GXC is now inviting Rice University to the party. Rice, like Yale and Harvard, uses the Oxford Residential College System. As the birthplace of GXC, our game flourishes among residential colleges. The reasons for this aren't rocket science.

1. Residential colleges are the universal center of social life at these universities. Unlike other schools where students are split between the Greek scene, campus groups, and local groups, every student at Yale and Rice consider themselves a part of their college.

2. Residential colleges tend to be small, equally sized groups. It's a lot easier to recruit among a group of 100 when facing another group of 100 than it is to recruit among a group of 3,000 when facing another group of 30,000. Or another group of 300. Or another group of 3,000.

3. Residential colleges concentrate teammates in a geographical area. This emphasizes the "locally social" aspect of the game and allows physical recruitment (at dining halls, going door-to-door) rather than only electronic.

That said, the game seems to work at a variety of places -- whether we're looking at schools without Res Colleges (e.g., RPI) or between schools themselves (e.g., the Ivy League Championship). It's just a bit tricker to find the right way to divide the teams so that every student is fighting for something they identify with. Ultimately, this is something that should be done entirely by students without any interference from us.

But first, I have to go feed some hamsters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Saboteurs! Be gone!

The GXC grapevine recently dropped us an intense bit of news -- apparently certain players, or "script kiddies," with support from the team, are engaging in the act of bringing our servers down with malicious code...all in an attempt to to prevent other teams from having a fair chance at playing.

Now that's just dirty. Remember my post about fighting with honor and playing fair? If you're not gonna listen to the Samurai, at least listen to Steven Colbert.

"Don't be a GXC saboteur. America will hate you."

Have some decency people. There are a lot of players that genuinely enjoy playing our game and are upset by your acts.

Needless to say, if we catch any players (or teams) in the act of trying to bring our site down -- or even condoning it, we will disqualify you.

GXC is a sport as much as a game. Play by the rules.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Server Woes

Hey everybody -As you probably know, the engines of war have been grinding to a halt around 7 pm each night. As you probably know, this sucks. We’re chalking this up to the overwhelming popularity of both our games thus far, as over 40% of on-campus students at RPI and 10% of all Ivy undergrads are actively playing. This is awesome, but we unfortunately don’t have Facebook’s server farm.

For now, we suggest not waiting until last minute to place your armies or issue your orders. It could save you the possible disappointment of not getting your orders in before turn processing starts.

The situation is quite sad actually. Did you know that if you give a MySQL database too much work, it just refuses to continue! We get emails from it saying:
"MySQL server has gone away."
...on vacation, perhaps? We don't know. But we always pray that it come back quickly.

Just so everybody knows, we're working really hard to optimize our code. For example, the Flash map currently makes 800 MySQL queries on each page load [update: we've since gotten the number down to 18 queries, but are trying to make it even smaller]! Think about that happening for 5,000 visitors, all hitting refresh simultaneously, while our server is already struggling to find some RAM to start turn processing properly.

We've made some strides in optimization and cutting down the number of SQL queries our game page makes significantly (although we haven't published the changes yet). We've already started the process of researching how we want to incorporate more servers into our system architecture. Hopefully in the near future, all of you will see a noticeable improvement in site performance at peak times.

Needless to say, of course, this is a better problem to have than having no one visiting the site at all. So we thank everybody for being dedicated players and coming back consistently to participate!

And we really appreciate how understanding all of you have been during this whole experience. Thanks for bearing with us!

Very gratefully,
The GXC Development Team

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh, RPI Chat, how you entertain us so!

One thing I must say that has been extremely entertaining and exciting for us to do has been reading the Public Chat in our RPI game.

While there have been solicitations for dates ("A/S/L"),

downright mercenary espionage,
B* H* from BARH, RAHPs, Stackwyck, and Colonie Apartments: Selling red team secrets: Payment negotiable (01:49AM)
random pictures of rocket-propelled chainsaws and sniper crow bars,

and complete trash talk about the military strategies of other teams, none has bothered us much until this comment:
Z* H* from Cary and Crockett Halls: GXC is on the internet. Internet is serious business. Through the transitive property GXC is also serious business. (01:22AM)
We must contest this entirely. While the writer may speak some truth...

We must argue that:

GXC is the the farthest from serious business as you can get. GXC is fun. GXC is a game. GXC is meant to foster pride in your affinity group and healthy competition against others.

You know what is serious business? Kristen Zaik.

Haha - nice one, RPI.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Metric Mayhem

So things are doing pretty well at RPI. Depending on who you ask, we have:

- 25% of all on-campus residents
- 13% of all undergraduates
- 25% of everyone assigned to a team
- 600 players
- ?% of all email addresses

Not too bad for four days after launch. However, we've been struggling over how to frame our data. All of the statistics above are correct, to varying extents. Teams only include people in on-campus dorms. However, off-campus residents, professors, grad students and alumni are allowed to join. But not many of them do -- everything from the map to the teams to the core players on each team are very undergraduate campus-focused.

So how do we grade ourselves?

I'll be discussing this tomorrow with people who have a much deeper understanding of this stuff than I do. With any luck, we'll come to some sort of conclusion on the best way to display our usership data.

Ugh. Why can't we be one of those sites that can just spew crap about uniques and page views?

Our time per sesh is niiice, though. It's not facebook-ish, but it is YouTube-ish.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mailer Daemon is Our Friend

So we were getting a lot of MAILER DAEMON errors to our server, like the following:
Hi. This is the qmail-send program at *censored*.
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses: *censored*
This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.

Sorry, I couldn't find any host named (#5.1.2)
Full well knowing that Microsoft hadn't founded a University named after its famous web mail program, we immediately knew that was not a real email address (We're just that good.)

We quickly suspected that must be a good reason for these fishy registrations. Without going into the details of the exploit, let's just say we've taken care of it.

"Better to die ten thousand deaths than wound my honor."
- Joseph Addison

Remember folks - in war, there are no "fake" soldiers. Play fair and fight with dignity. Read the Code of the Samurai if you have to.

Soviet Propaganda, anyone?

So we recently created some sweet Soviet-style GXC propaganda for the Ivy League Championship and RPI games. These posters are being spread around Ivy campuses, being sent out en masse in student emails, and generally indoctrinating people into the GXC dominion. ;-)

They were fun to create, as you can see. If you want to download one, just click on it above.

Speaking of GXC propaganda, one of the coolest physical extrapolations of GoCrossCampus games is user-generated propaganda to lead teams on to glory. In fact, to bring this all together, we're launching a YouTube- and Flickr-enabled landing site to stream GXC-related videos, photos, and flyers created by our users. So you'll be able to upload all your propaganda online, tag it "gocrosscampus," and it will instantly appear on GXC for everyone to watch, comment on, and be inspired by. Hot? Hot. Anyway, we'll let you know once it's up.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Day Zero, and Overeager Yalies

Say hi to world, GoCrossCampus.

Launch day has gone smoothly so far. The only hiccup has been the lack of email filtering allowing some overeager Ivy League kids into RPI's party. That will be fixed shortly. As for now, Thou Shalt Not Join Games In Which Thou Not Belong, Or Thine Ass Shalt Be Deleted.

While I would love to say that our first registrant was someone at RPI, Yale's infamous spam king accessed our site a few days before launch, signed up, and started playing a test game. We love you, G!

More to come soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

T minus four days

Things are starting to come together.

Things are starting to come together so much that I thought it justified my first blog post in almost two months.

(it will get a bit livelier around here in a week or so.)

RPI: We're coming. It will obviously be a work in progress, but it's coming and it is happening on Monday.

The number of people who are excited about the upcoming GXC launch is just incredible. On the insistence of our fans who don't go to an ivy league school, RPI, Rice, BC, WPI, WashU, MIT or Drexel, we're going to be creating an "open game" that anyone can join at some point in the coming month or so.

Thus, the purpose of this post is to ask a simple question: What should the open game be? Anyone will be allowed to join any team, although you can only join a team once (obviously... no switching back and forth).

The game should fit the following characteristics:

1) Almost all people (Americans, at least) have a strong affiliation for one team.
2) Teams will have roughly the same number of people*.
3) Two to ten teams.

*When played by a very tech-friendly audience. "IE vs Firefox vs Other" might actually be a viable game. Plus, we can autodetect the browser.

Examples that might work: Democrats vs Republicans, East Coast vs West Coast, Browser Wars.

Make a suggestion (in the comments, por favor), and if we like it we might just make it a game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Seven Ways to Make a Terrible Startup

(Note: This post is an homage to Jason Kapalka's brilliant "10 Ways to Make a Terrible Casual Game." Jason is the Chief Creative Officer at PopCap games.)

Ever since GXC has started getting a lot of traction, people have tried to pick our brains more than a few times. This is great, but I often see young teams making the same few mistakes. So I've been thinking about how to help entrepreneurs at the earliest of stages... typically, college students with little more than an idea.

So let's do a piss-poor job of starting a business. Here goes:

7. Don't tell anyone! Especially not anyone of any importance. I don't care if Eric Schmidt wants to sit down with us! The CEO of Google is totally going to steal our idea, especially since we have this really sweet demo that they want to test in their office. After all, it's not like top-level executives have anything better to do.

6. Dropdown menus? We don't need no steekin' dropdown menus. See, here's a text box! The user can type whatever they want in. Okay, so maybe there's only five valid inputs, but we use text validation to check it on our end! This is a perfectly good demo to show the investors.

5. Okay, I have an idea. Now let's form a legal entity. Because after all, nothing will be more helpful six months down the road than that half-baked Connecticut LLC we self-submitted. I'm sure it's easy to get rid of if we don't need it, anyway.

4. I can't code very well, but spending a year making a mediocre demo is better than giving up equity to bring on a developer. Equity is precious! I'm either going to make it by myself or it's all going to fail. I can't see how another person could help me out, even if they could code this login page in a twentieth of the time it's taking me.

3. This is really awkward. I can't possibly talk about equity division with my partners. They're my partners, after all! This seems so greedy and corporate. Ah, screw it, let's just split it all equally.

2. We only need $18,075 to reach profitability. You see, this is really simple. Servers are $2,000 apiece, and I'll need nine of them. I think they'll all fit in my RA's room. The other $75? That's how much the State of Delaware's website says it costs to file a C Corp. Now where's my venture funding?

1. I am certain that this idea is going to make me unbelievably rich. The experience I gain doesn't matter. The contacts I make--they're not important. Life is short, and I want my money when I can still live like Mark Wahlberg in Entourage. That's what entrepreneurship is all about, right? Get rich or die tryin'.

The takeaways:

Your idea is not the Manhattan Project. Unless, of course, your business is developing nuclear weapons. In which case you probably have larger issues than someone stealing your idea.

The user is your deity, and you worship Him (or Her) by making a really sweet interface.

Leave legal things to lawyers.

If your team is lacking in a key talent (such as software development), bring on the right person. It's worth it.

You're awkward. You might as well embrace it and talk to your partners about equity.

You will always need more money than you think you will. And unless you are a former Rackspace employee, you will not be able to maintain nine servers in your dorm room. To top it off, you will probably get an angry letter from your university for crashing the network if your project takes off.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Recruitment in Ireland, Competition vs. Cooperation, and Facebook

In addition to working on GoCrossCampus this summer, I'm living in Ireland with a day job at a specialist recruitment and consulting agency called Osborne Recruitment. I'm working as a consultant, creating new marketing and digital strategy solutions for the company, and also learning quite a bit about the recruitment industry in Dublin. The Irish recruitment industry is a interesting beast. Because the Irish economy has been rapidly expanding the past 10-15 years, an enormous number of Irish businesses are increasing their workforces and expanding their staff needs. Thus, there is a constant, ubiquitous need for the service of finding the right candidate (potential employee) for the right client (potential employer). In Dublin alone, there are literally hundreds of recruitment agencies working to attract qualified workers and place them in specific roles offered by employers. The thing is, it's an extremely competitive and quite saturated market, with almost no barrier to entry. Irish recruitment agencies come in all shapes and sizes, from multi-national behemoths to tiny basement-office operations. All are competing for what is essentially the same candidate market: Ireland has almost zero cyclical unemployment (and indeed, most recruitment services in Ireland deal purely in the realm of frictional unemployment), and the workforce has predictable immigration/emigration trends.

So what does this have to do with the web? Everything. While traditional brick-and-mortar recruit agencies abound in Dublin, there are only a few core online job posting sites that have worked to capture the market. High-traffic job portals like,, and have all done well to create lucrative online businesses, attracting high candidate traffic and listing thousands of open job vacancies. These job portals are so successful because they capture two markets in one: first, they serve as an easy, low-cost way for employers to post job openings and attract candidates, circumventing the need for a traditional recruitment agency. However, these sites also serve as a recruitment agency's recruitment agency, offering a great job-advertising opportunity for recruiters to post their listings and attract high candidate traffic. This dual-market business model of job-post portals is an interesting phenomenon -- in Ireland, the whole idea of competition in the online sphere of the recruitment industry is breaking down, the line between competitor and partner becoming blurred. Online job portals serve as both a business opponent and a business cohort for physical, consultant-centric recruitment agencies. But while traditional recruiters constantly struggle against their fellow agencies to carve out higher margins, job portals are laughing all the way to the bank, capturing ad revenues from every recruitment agency in Dublin who posts on their site.

What does this mean for the nature of traditional competition in the increasingly online-focused world of recruitment? Traditional print/radio/TV advertising is still the bread and butter of Irish recruiters, but as more and more candidates are finding all they need on the web, recruiter focus is shifting along with the trends. Will brick-and-mortar recruitment agencies become an antiquated feature of Ireland's past, replaced by the all-encompassing and ever-increasing services of online job-portals? Not yet, at least as long as Irish employers stick to using the tried-and-true recruitment services of physical agencies they know and understand. (For example, Osborne has a wealth of clients who would never even think about going elsewhere.) But this is a good analogy for other web-connected industries to take to heart. While the 1990's saw many e-businesses competing directly against brick-and-mortars as equals (and failing), the 2000's have seen an extra dimension added to the playing field, with countless online businesses out-innovating traditional companies by both cooperating and competing with them simultaneously.

In this increasingly interconnected web-world, new online ventures aren't looking to strike out on their own in direct competition with preexistng businesses. No more will the "go it alone" mentality fly on the internet. Instead, startups are increasingly looking for ways to synergize their services with technologies, conventions, and mindsets already on the web, grappling for as much inter-connectivity they can get their hands on. Just take a look at the exponential success of Facebook apps -- developers across the web are building applications that integrate into Facebook's vast social media dominion, often plugging their own site's services directly into the Facebook platform. Facebook gets increased functionality and immersiveness from the new app, and the developer gets an awesome new avenue for connecting to users. Talk about a win-win.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking MMOG to New Markets

If you haven't checked out Club Penguin yet, do it. It's worth dealing with the registration feature, which is (rightly) ultra-skeptical of anyone over fourteen attempting to sign up. In case you really don't want to bother, there is a great Wikipedia article here.

In case it's not immediately obvious, Club Penguin is the hottest site for kids aged 8 to 14. It's a great case study for a company marketing a game to a demographic that hasn't touched such things before. In Club Penguin's case, the effect is multiplied by the fact that not only have these individuals never played games, but their demographic has never played these sorts of games for a variety of reasons. Yet they seem to be doing a solid job of it. I'm going to assume that they foresaw the plethora of ultra-popular penguin-themed movies.

Further, Club Penguin illustrates a form of demographic arbitrage which is becoming increasingly common in the hardware industry. Simply put, it's a lot easier to get people who are doing something for the first time to adopt your way of doing it rather than win converts from another platform. The best example of this out there of this is the conflict between Linux and Microsoft over the One Laptop per Child program, which is planning to ship 5 to 10 million units this year, mostly to individuals who have never previously owned a computer. The OS shipped on those laptops, in all likelihood, will be the favored OS for those individuals for years to come.

In this case, the gameplay style and feeling of Club Penguin will be imprinted on these kids for years to come. I've been a strategy gamer for years, probably due to the fact that I spent the entirety of fourth grade playing SimCity.

Club Penguin is simply capturing a market by lowering the age at which people start playing multiplayer games. In my opinion, it was bound to happen, since the lower side of the 8-14 market has only been served by the "educational games" sector. This implies that gaming is entirely a purchase decision made for them by parents and educators. If a 10 year old girl can decide to wear makeup on her own, why can't she bug her parents to pay for a MMOG?

- Brad

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Learning Curve and Game Immersion

TIME seems to have some strong words for Second Life.

With all the constant hype surrounding SL, it's nice to see some calm realism from TIME. While there's no question how incredibly successful Second Life has proven itself to be, the learning curve issue is a huge one, and it is indeed the thorn in the side of any immersive game. That's what makes casual games so effective -- easy to learn, easy to play... but less immersive than the super-complex 3D world-type games. The key, then, is allowing for a broader scope of gameplay, allowing for each individual user to enter into the game and play at his or her own personal level of intensity and involvement. Ideally, this concept would be implemented in the style of first-degree price discrimination, to borrow a microeconomics term. It's easy for a game to appeal to specific player subset or psychographic. However, it's quite harder (and quite more lucrative) for a game to offer a substantiated slope of game immersion, connecting the most casual user with the hardcore grand strategist into a single, unified game. It's a tough challenge, but it's a challenge we aspire to overcome with GoCrossCampus.

Also, for a related funny: Get a First Life


(Supposed) Vision: The Solvency, the Deficiency, and the Opportunity

And now, please welcome a lovely bit of GXC ego:

Despite the incredible cultural solvency inherent in the college-age market, few brands have sought to interact with student society on a truly evocative level. The intricate social networks of college students living together combined with a hunger for new and exciting forms of personal entertainment add up to a potent mix of cultural capital waiting to be realized, compiled and packaged in branded form. The 360-degree, 24/7 onslaught of today’s mediascape leaves college youth awash in cultural ambiguity and information overload without engaging them in meaningful, sustainable, and motivating ways. To engage the modern student social landscape, something decidedly more rigorous and engrossing is quite needed.

The bloated and stagnating world of online “social networking” sites have been limited in their insight and vision by attempting to provide a single social environment for every student user while declining to invest themselves in the actual social makeup of each individual school. And without the specialized architecture to do so, these “social networking” websites have fallen prey to deadly cultural ambiguation, giving their very users little room (or reason) to fully involve themselves in the online offerings these brands have created.

Yet hope still remains! By bringing the vigorous world of casual gaming to the college market, we hope GoCrossCampus will facilitate a new wave of social interaction online for students by providing custom-built gaming engines for every campus in the country. Not only does GoCrossCampus feature a world of dynamic social interplay on-site, the platform also facilitates meaningful and highly motivated interaction between students through the infinite complexities of open strategic gameplay. By uniquely tapping into the wealth of preexisting competitive spirit and team pride inherent on all college campuses, GoCrossCampus succeeds in engaging the student populous not only in the online realm but in the real world of their actual college campus as well. In this sense, GoCrossCampus captures and engages the prime college market with meaningful social interaction, strategic gameplay, and great fun -- overall, an inspiring new opportunity for the business world today.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Astroturf

Astroturf never got off easy. While it is typically associated with corporate dirty tricks at best and Orwellian propaganda tactics at worst, I feel that there are some benign marketing applications of Astroturf that remain to be explored.

What if, rather than directly manipulating media to give the false impression of a grassroots movement, the mission was reengineered to inspire a well-orchestrated grassroots push that, while feeling amateur and genuine, was coordinated to feel as such? While probably overreferenced, the Swift Boat Attacks are a good example. The Bush campaign didn't make those veterans up -- it simply defined its mission in such a way to inspire genuine sentiments, which it then incentivized and captured. Obviously the ads were funded by the Bushies; however, the veterans and their feelings were real.

It may have been morally questionable on Bush's part, but it worked. And when it's two competing companies instead of politicans, the ethical questions are significantly less thorny.

How is this applicable to anything? First, it can change the way marketing is done, especially to crowds particularly sensitive to grassroots efforts. Instead of presenting a coordinated, Web 2.0 face to college students, perhaps subdividing the market and presenting a "localized" face to the audience is a better fit. Rather than appearing as a corporation attempting to market a product, acting as a behind-the-scenes technology provider and letting the local reps do the work as "fake grass" may be worth a try.

Depending on the implementation, branding could be nearly nonexistent. But when approaching cynical and anti-corporate markets, is this a bad thing?

- Brad

Monday, July 9, 2007

Organic Leadership

One of the biggest surprises from the GXC test launches was undoubtedly the richness and variety of governmental styles adopted by the various teams. True, Yale and Harvard may be weird test markets. But this doesn't mean that we can't take the things that happened there and separate the elements inherent to human nature from the weird things that only Harvard kids will do.

As we've mentioned before, over 50% of all undergraduates played the game at both Yale and Harvard, and a lot of interesting social dynamics emerged. One of the most notable features of the test games was the development of organic leadership positions and structures. In all, it worked in microcosm much the way one can imagine an early civilization developing a government over a period of generations.

Obviously, I'm much more familiar with the Yale game. And as one of the most politically-focused campuses in the country, Yale obviously presents an interesting test case. In all, I saw a few major forms of government emerge:
  1. The Roman. Triumvirates and co-leaderships were surprisingly common, especially early in gameplay. These would typically arise from "whoever had control of the email list" complemented by one or two intense strategists. Examples: early Bingham, Farnam
  2. The Idi Amin. This was perhaps the most effective system of government encountered. It's also the most straightforward -- one intelligent, charismatic leader brings all orders down from on high, and the players accept and follow with minimal infighting. Example: Durfee
  3. The Athenian. Democracy, it was found, was often the last resort of teams on the decline and often little more than an excuse for widespread infighting. Still, some teams stuck with their 20+ member-councils. God bless them. Example: late Bingham
  4. The Somalian. Others never quite got it together. Between infighting clans, Argentine-style presidential succession plans and uncoordinated attacks, the anarchaic teams rarely made a significant presence in the game. The fact that no individual was directly responsible for new player recruitment is probably a big contributing factor. Examples: Vanderbilt, L-Dub, Lawrance

So what can we make of all this? What social variables drove some teams to become democracies, while others were perfectly suited to an absolute monarch? Could this provide us with any lessons beyond the gaming space? What drives nations to their respective styles of government, and why can forcefully replacing one style of government with another often be a recipe for failure?

This isn't a political or current events blog, but I wanted to give everyone a taste of some of the questions that are raised (at least in my mind) by these games. Be on the lookout for more analysis, and specific study of what makes these social dynamics click.

- Brad

Sunday, July 8, 2007

35 Perspectives on Social Networks

I'm sure historians will be analyzing and re-analyzing the social network phenom for years to come, so I thought I would pass this along as a possible preview of what's to come.

I'm fairly sure that most of those "perspectives" are little more than the musings of a researcher with a bit too grant money to go around. Some are downright over-the top and probably there for no reason other than to get bwoggers like me to link the article. For example:

The body and sex perspective
Social networking sites are sexual playgrounds for young people where they portray themselves in a provocative or soft porn-style manner. It is all about appearance and body making the youngsters superficial and shallow.

Keep that in mind when you're building your LinkedIn network, fellow entrepreneurs!

Others may deserve a second look. Check out:

The branding perspective
Social networking sites are places where young people learn the mechanism of branding and learn to sell and brand themselves in a positive manner.

The growing intersection of the individual and the brand will be a running theme in my writings here. Most humans possess some natural marketing talent... that which is needed to conduct normal social interactions and keep up physical appearance. However, online social networking presents the opportunity for the individual to coalesce into the brand through multiple sites, profiles and an expansive online presence.

Also interesting:

The surveillance perspective
Social networking sites are surveillance. Everything young people write online are saved and can be used (against them) by marketing people, future employers and so on.

While probably a bit narrowly defined, it is worth noting that individuals are getting increasingly adept at displaying more and more of their private lives. So on and so forth. If you're reading this blog, the trend is probably old news. But it's certainly one worth understanding.

- Brad

The Seven Wonders of Marketing

If you haven't seen it already, I encourage you to read up on the New Seven Wonders of the World, courtesy Swiss businessman Bernard Weber.

On the scale of Marketing Brilliance, this is up there with the Million Dollar Home Page. Although I haven't been able to find any data on the number of text messages sent, the business claims that over 100 million votes were cast. While this is somewhat lower than the SMS recordings of an average episode of American Idol, the SMS royalty revenue generated certainly recouped the cost of the website and marketing. And then some.

This post isn't about the quality of the new list. That being said, I don't think it demonstrates much more than the sheer number of cell phones in Brazil. Christ the Redeemer, while nice, is a dubious 'Wonder of the World' at 38 meters and a completion date of 1931. For comparison, the Colossus of Rhodes was 33 meters tall and completed in or around 280 BC. However, the Rhodesians must have less forgiving text messaging plans.

Regardless, this illustrates the fundamental power of competition. Regardless of how shoddy or corporate the poll was, it worked brilliantly. Not only did patriotic Brazilians, Mexicans, and Jordanians (among others) visit the site repeatedly to vote, national leaders endorsed the site and encouraged their citizens to participate.

Is mega-scale virtual competition the next worldwide sport? This poll hardly gives us the answer, but it does provide an interesting proof of concept for those wishing to capture the minds of nations and the advertising dollars of international brands. If the ancient Hellenic tourists, creators of the first List of Seven, were to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, they would no doubt be awestruck. However, the very existence (let alone success) of this poll would be utterly inconceivable to anyone before, perhaps, 1990. Which brings up perhaps the biggest absence in the new list:

The Internet.

- Brad

The Goons, and How to Recognize Them

As you can see in the handy sidebar at the right, there are five of us. While I will probably be the most prolific poster, it's not out of the question that all of us will appear on here in one form or another, especially as the new site nears launch. Here is a quick rundown on everything you need to know. Most importantly, how to quickly identify the writer of a post:

1. Me. The protagonist. Posts are short and witty, with impeccable spelling and a 13+ grade-level vocabulary.

2. Brimer. The court jester. Terry Gilliam as a Web 2.0 mascot, dancing in an animal costume in the end zone of the corporate stadium. Posts involve physical assault by awesomeness.

3. Sean. Posts are pretty. Too pretty, in fact. Frequent readers may wonder why the real world doesn't feature more pastel gradients.

4. Jeff. Posts will usually involve advertisements for programming talent. Posts will not be pretty. Unless, of course, he makes the mistake of asking Sean to work on it. In which case 13 hours will elapse, and the post will be pretty. Very, very pretty.

[If you know PHP, Flash, Ajax, MySQL, have experience architecting or developing highly scalable websites and want to work in a fun, innovative, and entrepreneurial environment, please contact! -- Jeff]

5. Isaac. The guy who knows things. Posts will usually involve the west coast, Web 2.0 and actual programming. Which is good, because people have told me that databases and such are important for these intarwebs.

- Brad

Friday, July 6, 2007


Welcome to GoCrossBlog, which will by no means be the name of this site.

As you probably know, this is an accessory to the GXStudios service, which provides custom-tailored massively multiplayer online games to affinity groups around the world. Right now, our main service is GoCrossCampus, which is preparing for a big 2007 launch.

Rather than telling the world (or the 2% of the internet that reads blogs) of our Master Plan, we have decided to use this to illuminate the theoretical, sociological, and faux-science underpinnings of what we're doing. That, and spread nasty secrets about our enemies.

Once we launch, we'll probably have to shift this over to talking about updates, site problems and other such nonsense. Until then, I'm just going to have some fun.

- Brad