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trailers.jpgAsk IndieGames is a new monthly feature that takes a range of topics relating to indie gaming and development and poses them as a question to the editorial staff.

Whereas our sister site Gamasutra explored last month (in)effective press releases, we narrow our focus on what makes an effective game trailer.

We understand indies generally do not have big budgets for internal press teams, outsourced public relations or marketing outlets. That's why, as we curate the finest indie news for our readers, we view practically every trailer (at least in part) and appreciate when it's not embedded in a lot of marketing-speak.

What would compel us to watch a trailer in its entirety? When can a dubstep actually help a game? We attempt to address all this and more in this month's topic: what makes an effective indie game trailer?

mike rose.jpgMike Rose: I have a very specific formula that I've devised over the last several years for what makes an effective game trailer. While I'd say it's my own personal preference, whenever I've discussed it with other journalists they always seem to agree, so I must be on to something of a winner. So here it is: how to make the perfect indie game trailer:

Length: Preferably nothing longer than 90 seconds, and definitely not longer than two minutes, or else you risk losing the attention of the viewer and, in turn, their interest in your game. If you can't convey how great your game is in 90 seconds, you're doing it wrong! Which leads me to...

Show the gameplay: Game trailers are not movie trailers. We don't want to see the words "IN A WORLD..." appear against a black background, nor do we want to spend the first 20 seconds of your trailer viewing the various logos of your game and development team. Fill the trailer with what you're trying to sell - your gameplay! Find lots of interesting parts of your game, set a video recording program like Fraps running, and then bang them all together.

Music: If you're about to add heavy metal, techno or dubstep music to your game trailer, stop and think: does this even match my content? The answer is most likely going to be no. The music in your trailer is far more important than you believe, and in some cases, is one of the main draws - I mean, check this trailer for Fez to see what I mean. Give it huge consideration, and maybe explore free samples and tracks that you can use from the old interwebs.

KD.pngKonstantinos Dimopoulos (Gnome): I'll have to be brutally honest here and admit that even the very best trailer for an indie FPS or another tower defense variant would have to be more than exceptional to actually intrigue me. Other than that, I will also have to admit that screenshots and a game's description are usually more than important, but, well, let's focus on the subject at hand here: trailers.

On a rather more technical yet very important level developers should first of all make sure their trailers are readily available both on an easily embedded form (YouTube should do fine) and as downloadable files. More than a few journalists and bloggers do after all seem to prefer uploading videos themselves, most sites demand specific widths for their media and, admittedly, more options never hurt anyone.

Another important point, one that does actually determine whether I at least actually go on to watch a trailer or not, is its running time. Anything over four or five minutes, unless it's something I've been waiting for since the early 90s or has been designed by Tim Shafer, will most probably remain unwatched.

Assuming the above criteria have been met, I'd say that an effective and thus memorable trailer is a rare and difficult to analyze beast.

Yes, aesthetics are definitely important, as is a great soundtrack and enough information to actually describe the game on offer, but I'm pretty much convinced a good trailer needs to tell some sort of story. You know, have a beginning, middle and an ending; feel coherent and informative. Check out the latest Star Command trailer: one of the few recent ones I actually fondly remember and a trailer that provides enough gameplay footage to intrigue (but not answer everything), looks stunning and is akin to a very short movie.

Oh, and do keep in mind that any trailer mentioning the words ground-breaking, unique and innovative more than once doesn't make itself any favors. And, no, pre-rendered videos showing off cutscenes aren't a great idea either. Not unless you're preparing the next Starcraft of Dishonored.

Danny Cowan.pngDanny Cowan: Here's how I typically view a trailer:

1. Before it even starts, I skip to the middle, bypassing the company logos and that storyline you've put so much work into (sorry).
2. If it starts to drag, I skip toward the end (sorry again).
3. If I haven't seen any gameplay footage after about 30 seconds of
skipping around, I close the tab (super sorry about this).

Basically, I'm a jerk, and I'm sorry. Trailers are key to attracting interest in your game, though, and you should focus on making them concise and impactful, regardless of how dumb I am.

In skimming a trailer, I'm looking for a brief explanation of the game's mechanics and an idea of why your game is fun, interesting, or unique. Everything else is secondary. A length of one minute is ideal; thirty seconds is even better. Sound doesn't matter at all -- I reflexively mute most videos before they start playing.

Good stuff to include for people who want to talk about your game: a link to your site, a release date, and a list of supported platforms.

If your trailer is for a mobile or tablet game, I consider whether the genre is underrepresented on the platform and whether its controls are a good fit for touch screens. If I so much as catch a whiff of Angry Birds, I'm out.

steve cook.jpgSteve Cook: An effective trailer for me isn't too long; around 1 - 2 minutes length is perfect. If it is longer, I tend to lose interest after the 2nd minute, unless the game is complex enough to really justify it.

I prefer to watch snippets of gameplay footage cut together with a soundtrack that matches the mood from the game rather than explanatory voice-overs or bits of writing. I don't want so much footage as to show me every single mechanic in the game (I enjoy discovering some things on my own) but enough so that I understand how the basics will work.

A title or 'introductory' screen is a good way to begin so that I know the name of the project I am looking at. A fade out to an 'ending' screen is also acceptable - possibly announcing when the game will be released and for what platforms.

Humor can be a good thing to, if injected into the trailer properly. Making me genuinely laugh out loud definitely makes it that little bit more likely that I'll stick with a trailer to the end.

cass_colour.pngCassandra Khaw: I'm embarrassingly easy when it comes to game trailers. If it shows gameplay for something that I'm interested, I'll sit down and watch it, regardless of how crappy the music/sub-titles/introduction/video quality is.

That said, I'm probably not going to watch it till the end. Once I've assessed the game, I'm going to shut it down and move on to my next piece of work. OF course, that's only applicable if you're operating without a sense of humor. If you want an example of what works wonderfully, you should check out Magicka. Seriously. Check out the trailers for Magicka. They're one of the few that I would rewatch just for the pleasure of it.

As for what doesn't work, well, that's also pretty simple. Trailers that don't show anything. Those don't work for me. I'm talking about the ones that don't do anything but show two pieces of concept art for two minutes. I'm talking about the ones that linger lovingly on the logo. I understand there is a need to do teasers from time to time but there's a reason they're called 'teasers'. They're supposed to titillate, to entice, to make me desperately curious as to what is going to happen next.

johnpolson2.jpgJohn Polson: A trailer is effective for me if it educates and entertains.

I want to learn about the gameplay. Edited, short bursts of the game can be effective, but sometimes clips need a few extra frames to complete a certain mechanic. Words and transitions aren't cop outs if needed to explain what makes certain clips so special. At the very least, an educational trailer teaches me a game's pitch or message. A more educational, and effective, trailer demonstrates this game pitch to the point that I can explain paraphrase it to my readers.

I wouldn't mind learning about the game more, too. Aside from gameplay mechanics, inject the game's narrative, music, sound effects and even its personality. Learning if a game will be fun, sad, serious, fictional, dense, intense, or methodical helps me frame the game in a context as both an editor and a gamer. Release and platform information should either be in the trailer or in an accompanied website; otherwise, we can't help couple the game with its target audience.

I also wouldn't mind learning about developers in the trailer. Developers are vulnerable in exposing their work to judgment in under two minutes (a sensible length for trailers), so this is no time to feel shy. That said, not every person performs well in front of a camera or microphone, so I consider this an added bonus. If a trailer becomes slightly viral, though, the developer also becomes more widely known and has effectively already broken the ice at events like conventions and conferences.

Entertainment is entwined with a lot of what I feel should educate the viewer. While not revealing everything that makes a game special, clever snippets of dialogue, menus, cut scenes, in-game action, world maps, boss fights, or even customize or option screens can add flavor to a trailer. Stringing these elements together carefully in two minutes conveys that there's not just a bunch ideas, but a game, behind the trailer.

Audio and visual stimulation add to effectively entertaining. Unlike screen shots, I am looking at something in motion, hopefully with sound. I won't stop watching a trailer if the sound is poorly orchestrated, but rich audio (be it chiptune, 16- or 32-bit synth, or other instruments) adds heavily to my entertainment. Since the game is in motion, the importance of a cohesive art direction-- foreground, background, and everything between-- can't be understated, either.

Once developers cut a trailer, they should show it to someone who's never played or heard of the game before. If this new person can't describe the key mechanics or quirks, then the trailer needs to do a better job at educating the viewer. If this person is part of some targeted audience and doesn't want to play the game after watching, the trailer (or the game) may need to be made more entertaining.

I've spent too many words already, but I'd suggest checking out Kert Gartner's epic trailers or Tim Rogers's fourth-wall-breaking ZiGGURAT trailer. Gartner's also posted a lot of helpful, technical tips on making trailers, which were taken from his Indie Game Summit talk during GDC 2012.

Do you have a question that you'd like the IndieGames editors to tackle? Email EIC John Polson at johnpolsonfl at gmail dot com. Feel free to also check out our sister site's Ask Gamasutra, which inspired this new feature. [image source]

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Signs are emerging that Google is de-emphasizing its efforts in online productivity tools that compete with Microsoft, which was never the core of its business to being with, to focus even more on search and social networking, and its increasing competition with Facebook.

This shift in emphasis is reflected in some notable departures, as well as in a reorganization of the division that oversees the development of Google Apps, which include online office productivity tools that compete with Microsoft Office. Google continues to add functionality to Google Apps, but most of the functionality has either been in the works for years, or borrows from other existing products such as Google+.

Google Apps for businesses includes Web-based word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications that the company hosts on its own computers and offers to companies for $50 a user, per year. The suite became popular among smaller businesses looking to transition from Microsoft Office software, which is hosted on company computers and requires maintenance from an IT staff.

Google Apps has had some churn to its core leadership as the company evolves under CEO Larry Page, including the loss of Dave Girouard as vice president of Apps and president of Google’s Enterprise business. Girouard, who joined Google in 2004, oversaw the development and launch of Apps for businesses. He left April 6 and no successor has been named.

Google
Amit Singh

A source familiar with Google Apps told CIO Journal: “I was personally shocked to see Dave G leave. That was his baby, and he was so invested in it.”

Girouard himself downplayed his exit in an e-mail to CIO Journal: “Google has an amazingly deep bench and the Enterprise biz has never been doing better.” Girouard left to launch a startup.

Other key Google Apps employees have also left the company or been reassigned to other projects. Matt Glotzbach, a product management director at Google Apps who was often the public face of the suite when Girouard wasn’t available, became managing director of Google’s YouTube unit in Europe last June. Apps also lost its top two Google public relations managers. Mike Nelson moved to Japan to lead Google’s public relations team there last year. Andrew Kovacs left earlier this year to run public relations for Sequoia Capital.

Tom Sarris, who replaced Kovacs three months ago as the public relations manager for Google Apps, told CIO Journal in early April he has not yet met with Sundar Pichai, who oversees the Google Apps business, among other responsibilities.

The executive exodus at Apps follows a restructuring of the Google Enterprise business under Page. Last summer, Page split the Google Enterprise business into two units — an Apps unit uniting Google’s consumer and business product teams, and another unit that focuses exclusively on selling Apps to businesses. Under this change, Girouard reported to Pichai, who manages the Google Chrome and Apps businesses. Amit Singh, responsible for sales of Apps to businesses, reports to Nikesh Arora, senior vice president and chief business officer at the company.

The split may seem confusing, but Singh told CIO Journal Page restructured the enterprise business to help the Apps product teams focus on development, leaving Singh and his team to sell the software to businesses.

To be sure, Apps appears to be in solid shape today. More than 4 million businesses rely on Google software to support their collaboration efforts, though Google said only hundreds of thousands of those companies are paying customers. The company in the last few months secured two large, paid contracts, including BBVA bank, which will put its 110,000 employees on Apps this year, and healthcare provider Roche Group, which agreed to put its 90,000 workers on the software.

And customers appear to be pleased with the software, which gained over 200 features in 2011 alone. Ahold, a large retailer based in Amsterdam, has been using Google Apps for its 55,000 employees in Europe and the U.S. since 2010, according to a company spokesman. Joe Fuller, CIO for Dominion Enterprises, said he has been pleased with his Apps implementation since he moved his 4,000 employees from Microsoft Office to Apps this year.

Google’s Singh said Girouard essentially incubated Apps as an enterprise business within Google. But now  the company is focusing on scaling the business. “Instead of seeing one large [customer] name a quarter, you’ll start to see several a quarter.” Singh also told CIO Journal Google would consider sensible acquisitions to prop up the Apps business.

Even so, the recent Apps management and stewardship changes are accompanied by a subtle shift in Google’s focus. Google’s application portfolio has broadened since Apps were introduced to include products such as Chrome and Android, which are key to the company’s mobile ambitions. When Google published Page’s update on its business for investors last week, Page touted products primed to fuel Google’s advertising revenues, including search, Android mobile software, Chrome, and Google+, the company’s new social network.

Page didn’t address the momentum of the Google Apps suite, and only referenced Gmail, the Web-based e-mail application that forms the core of Apps’ communications for businesses, as an afterthought: “And our enterprise customers love it too. Over 5,000 new businesses and educational establishments now sign up every day.”

For now, Google is still adding functionality to Google Apps. The company recently launched an archiving application that had been in development for years. A source familiar with Google Apps’ product road map said Apps users can expect the company to integrate Google+ social functionality with Google Apps over the course of 2012. Google could also more tightly integrate Apps with notebook computers based on its Chrome Operating System, the source said.

Google’s Enterprise business has historically only accounted for roughly 3% of the company’s annual revenues, with the lion’s share provided by advertising.

Microsoft has also developed a Web-based version of its Office suite, called Office 365. The suite has drawn favorable reviews from users and analysts, and is beginning to win some customers from Google. Chandris Hotels and Resorts and beauty care company Naturally Me recently said they chose Microsoft over Google Apps.

IDC analyst Melissa Webster, who talks to customers of both Apps and Office software, says more customers could join that exodus, especially if Google finds itself challenged in areas it considers more strategic, such as social, search and advertising.

“I could see Google Apps de-emphasized, or just not funded that aggressively,” Webster told CIO Journal. On the other hand, “Microsoft is and has always been an enterprise software vendor — they’re in it and committed for the long haul, that’s their DNA and Office is a strategic product line,” Webster noted.

Correction: CIO Journal incorrectly listed Contoso as a company that picked Microsoft over Google Apps. We regret the error.

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Technology-and-Finance1

Editor’s Note: Alexander Haislip is a marketing executive with cloud-based server automation startup ScaleXtreme and the author of Essentials of Venture Capital. Follow him on Twitter @ahaislip.

“Portfolio” is a word that Silicon Valley loves. Venture firms have portfolios of startups, web designers have portfolios of their work and even public relations agencies have a portfolio of clients. Now chief information officers and IT architects have portfolios of computing power made up of physical servers, virtual machines and public cloud instances at multiple providers.

For most people, a portfolio is little more than an accumulation of individual decisions over time. Look in a typical VC’s portfolio, and you’ll see a storage locker stuffed with buzzword bingo startups slouching toward an orderly shutdown. A web designer’s portfolio? A collection of unrelated commissions.

CIOs don’t have the same luxury to be so haphazard. They have to have a little more foresight when it comes to putting together a compute portfolio. They’re juggling functionality, availability, security and cost and can’t afford to drop anything. And they’re stealing concepts from the world of high finance to make it work.

Finance became a true science when Harry Markowitz invented Modern Portfolio Theory. His simple insight was this: each asset has a risk/reward tradeoff and there’s a single collection of assets—an optimal portfolio—that maximizes reward and minimizes risk. Then Markowitz did a lot of math to show how an investor could get to that optimal portfolio.

Today the most cutting edge IT professionals are starting to discover the idea themselves. For them, the tradeoff isn’t between risk and reward, it’s between functionality and cost. Functionality encompasses a range of variables, from availability to security to sheer processing power. Cost, on the other hand, has never really been that clear until now.

NAKED COST

Cloud computing exposes the naked cost of processing cycles. It strips away the long amortization of under-utilized physical hardware and confusing vendor contracts. It eliminates the abstraction of virtualization efficiency. It clarifies the ambiguous costs of IT employees. Public cloud vendors focus on a single metric: Cents per hour.

The naked cost of computing, once exposed, re-orients your thinking. You’re constantly appraising whether a given job would be cheaper to run on Rackspace or internally.

CIOs are thinking harder than ever before about the tradeoffs they make. They’ve got options now that they didn’t have before. They’re no longer stuck in a monogamous relationship with hardware vendors, so they’re thinking about the features that matter most and what they’re willing to pay for them. It’s clear that credit card data should run only on hardened machines optimized for security, but what about player data in a virtual world? The public cloud may be perfect when you launch a new online video game, but it may make sense to build your own private cloud when demand levels off.

The compute infrastructure has to fit the workload and the cost has to fit the budget.

OPTIMAL COMBINATION

The good news is that there’s an optimal portfolio of computing capacity—just like Markowitz laid out for stock and bond investors. Given a company’s functional requirements and its budget, there’s a perfect combination of physical servers, virtual machines and public cloud instances that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the cost.

Getting to that optimal combination of compute resources isn’t easy. IT Professionals need visibility their existing IT assets and the ability to reorient their resources. It also requires forethought, a truly rare commodity.

It’s often stunning to see how little systems architects know about their own systems. We’ve all heard about rogue IT and the BYOD movement, and some confusion about those devices might be understandable. But not know the basics of what servers you have, what they’re running, how close they are to capacity and how much they cost you is shocking. As Peter Drucker once opined: If you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it. Visibility is the first step to control.

Better information is necessary for creating an optimal compute portfolio but it isn’t sufficient. You also have to have the ability to swap one type of compute infrastructure for another. In finance, this corresponds to the concept of liquidity, or your ability to buy and sell assets on the open market. Getting liquidity in compute infrastructure is more complicated.

It’s long been possible to swap one machine out for newer one, or to re-provision a workload. Virtualization makes it easier to move processing around, but you’re still locked in to your underlying hardware and the operating systems you’ve loaded. Moving between cloud providers can be extremely tricky if you’ve not architected your instances with templates.

Most importantly, getting to an optimal compute portfolio requires forethought. You have to think carefully about the mix of functionality you’ll need and your willingness to pay for it. Not just now, but also in the future. You have to plan for the time when you’ll need to re-balance your compute portfolio. That means architecting your systems for portability from the outset.

Finance, when it’s done right, is a disciplined way of balancing tradeoffs and planning—that’s a rigor IT departments need to adopt as they build modern computing infrastructure.

Let’s just hope they don’t take it too far and start issuing compute default swaps.

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TEDxBayArea - Adam Lashinsky - Inside Apple.

Inside Apple: How Apple's way of doing business violates everything you learned in business school. It has been said about Apple that its business practices are like a bumble bee: It shouldn't fly, but it does. And how well it does. Apple is the first or second most valuable company in the world, and it got that way by doing business differently from how it is taught in Harvard Business School. The whole world loves Apple products, but even sophisticated business people don't understand how Apple does what it does. Lashinsky discusses in detail Apple's approach to leadership, personnel, secrecy, design, product development, marketing, public relations, and other seemingly mundane but extraordinarily unique approaches to business. The topics make for a particularly lively Q&A session: Everyone has an opinion about Apple (How much did Steve Jobs matter? Can my company be as secretive as Apple? What happens when an Apple product flops?). What's more, the contemporary case study is playing out before the audience's eyes. Each week's news brings fresh discussion points. Adam Lashinsky is the author of INSIDE APPLE: How America's Most Admired—and Secretive—Company Really Works. Adam Lashinsky covers Silicon Valley and Wall Street for FORTUNE. He has been on the magazine's staff since 2001, and for two years before that was a contributing columnist. In addition, he is a weekly panelist on the Fox News Channel's "Cavuto on Business" program on Saturday mornings, and he appears <b>...</b>
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Bill Frakes

Agony, Ecstasy

play this essay

I am a photojournalist, a storyteller–the world’s greatest vicarious adolescent profession.

The crux of my exploration of athletic competition is the intersection of motion and emotion, the sometimes chance but more often calculated inclusion of art, commerce and athleticism into sport which so heavily influences the functioning of society through participation and observation. Capturing the penultimate moment which will hopefully enlighten and engage the viewer in a way that defines the game.

That said I really just want to make people smile.

Bio

Bill Frakes is a Sports Illustrated Staff Photographer based in Florida who has worked in more than 130 countries for a wide variety of editorial and advertising clients.
His advertising clients include Apple, Nike, Manfrotto, CocaCola, Champion, Isleworth, Stryker, IBM, Nikon, Canon, Kodak, and Reebok. He directs music videos and television ads.
Editorially his work has appeared in virtually every major general interest publication in the world. His still photographs and short documentary films have been featured on hundreds of Web sites as well as on most major television networks.
He won the coveted Newspaper Photographer of the Year award in the prestigious Pictures of the Year competition. He was a member of the Miami Herald staff that won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew. He was awarded the Gold Medal by World Press Photo. He has also been honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for reporting on the disadvantaged and by the Overseas Press club for distinguished foreign reporting. He has received hundreds of national and international awards for his work.
He has taught at the University of Miami, the University of Florida and the University of Kansas as an adjunct professor and lecturer. During the last five years he has lectured at more than 100 universities discussing multimedia and photojournalism.
In 2010 he served on the jury of World Press Photo.

Related links

www.billfrakes.com
www.strawhatvisuals.com

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Pop quiz: What’s the biggest challenge that video game developers and publishers face today? Congratulations – if you said “discovery,” give yourself a pat on the back. With hundreds of free to play games, digital downloads, online offerings, social network titles and smartphone apps flooding virtual aisles each week, suddenly, it isn’t just about creating great games anymore. Given infinite selection, growing audience fragmentation across platforms and devices and an endless barrage of white noise competing for consumers’ attention, you’ve also got to find ways to instantly stand out from the pack… hence the importance of video game marketing and public relations (PR).

Just one problem: Developers continue to wrestle with appreciating the value of, plotting effective campaigns for, and otherwise wrapping their heads around the magic of video game marketing and PR efforts. This is of chilling concern as the shift to digital distribution and direct consumer relationships intensifies. Even the smallest, most specialized shops are suddenly faced with the prospect of having to think like standalone publishing houses: Skills not necessarily in their wheelhouse. Worse, having travelled from the Game Developers Conference to Festival of Games and toured several continents as a consultant and talent scout for industry-leading publishers and developers alike, a running theme keeps presenting itself. Not only do most game makers say that they don’t know how to drive public awareness to their titles. Many can’t even identify their core audience, beginning the question “if you don’t know who you’re making a product for, why build it in the first place?”

Regardless of whether your motives are altruistic, artistic or commercial though, let’s be sensible: The more people who play your games, the better. Taking the time to target an audience, build a title that meets their needs and craft features that address their concerns and interests isn’t just good business. It’s also a handy way to boost player enjoyment, and keep your development efforts tightly focused, helping minimize the risk of budget overruns, wasted time and overall feature creep. Those seeking a publishing deal also gain the added benefit of being able to better, and more efficiently, present a clear case for why their game deserves one of precious few slots, and better placement, within a strategic partner’s portfolio.


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