Gaming Losing Ground to Entertainment, Messaging, and Social Apps

(First published on Medium. Follow me there @mhannus)

I was catching up on some reading this weekend. Something curious showed up in some Flurry Insights data: Gaming lost ground to entertainment, messaging, and social apps. I think this is kind of a big deal for those making apps and games.

From the report, “Gaming saw its share decline from 32% last year (52 minutes per day) to 15% of time spent (33 minutes per day) this year. This is a 37% decline year-over-year.”

Flurry suggests a few reasons for this decline including (1) a lack of new hits, (2) users become the game — creating more watching of games than playing, and (3) pay instead of play — players paying to advance instead of grinding. These make sense and I believe they do contribute to the shift. But I suspect there are two broader issues at play.

Other indutries are catching up design-wise.

Games, as a category, lead minutes-spent-on mobile from the start.

Why? Are games special? Did mobile suddenly make games more appealing?

I don’t believe so.

The game industry was in the perfect position to take advantage of the mobile shift when the iPhone came down from the heavens.

The game industry was full of entrepreneurs that had cut their teeth on earlier shifts: first with the emergence of free-to-play PC games demonstrating a new business model, and then with the gold-rush of Facebook games showing there were new, larger, audiences to be monetized. Just as both of those shifts were losing steam, a group of well-financed entrepreneurs were ready and able to bring their learning to the next wave: mobile. And it was a monster wave. As a new platform, game studios needed to learn quickly by making simple games. It was very easy to adopt an ultra rapid iteration process. These early developers learned quickly from vasts amount of near-real-time data and redefined what the user experience for games should be specifically for mobile. For a long time, games were really the only category truly designing for mobile.

That is not the case anymore. Other industries are not catching up — they have caught up. And in many ways are bypassing games in terms of innovation. (Except in my opinion, in the area of optimizing paid UA — game companies still rule here.)

People are looking for more meaning from their mobile moments

We expect alot from our devices these days. I don’t think people are as satifified with simple time-wasting apps as they once were. We know instant gratification is a tap away.

I think this puts mobile games in an interesting situation. Their customers are beginning to want to feel more fullfilled in those mobile-moments which mobile games based their design around. Yet many mobile games have stripped out their larger sense of meaning as they chase casino-like mechanics and monetization funnels. They have even ditched the language of storytelling and replaced it with the language of casino-operators. That strategy paid off in massive ways for the very best mobile game companies. I just wonder if this bit of data from Flurry reflects another shift and potential opportunity for developers with contrarian designs.

LoFi Prototyping (A Low-Cost Prototyping Process)

(First published on Medium. Follow me there @mhannus)

We are knee deep in development of the core platform for Bound, my new company focused on reimagining the user experience for prose fiction. I thought I would share how we went from concept to the first line of code. Bound has not raised any capital so over the last year I needed to get the most out of limited resources and tools before I could justify investing real money into development.

During my time in gaming, I too often saw costs grow as the team expanded to try to get an increasingly higher fidelity prototype without maximizing what could be done with simple tools. A very expensive prototyping process naturally leads to a desire to cut the prototyping process short before some basic design questions have really been answered.

It can be difficult for someone that is not a designer or developer to keep the cost of design and prototyping as low over multiple iterations.

So how did I do this for Bound?

Black Screen Prototyping 

When I first started thinking about Bound, I borrowed the idea of “black screen prototyping” from a game studio I had worked with in the early days of IOS mobile game development. We called it black screen prototyping because, well, the screen remains off. The idea is to try to nail down how the experience of using the appshould feel as you go about your day and encounter times in which you’d imagine using the app. This helps define some easy use cases (and thus design principles) for the app very early on before you devout expensive resources. I was basically trying to answer the important questions like: What I am I designing? For whom? Why? This was incredibly useful to me and cost me zero.

How does black screen prototyping work? You basically pretend the app exists. Then throughout the day and weeks that follow, you keep track of when you thought about using the app (e.g. arrived early to a meeting and have to kill 10 minutes) and the user stories that are associated with the moment. Pretty quickly you’ll discover how you want it to feel and discover when you might actually be using the app in real life.

Sketching the First Screens

Once I had an a good idea of how I wanted the experience to feel, I was ready to sketch a few screens on paper. In fact, it was very easy since I had a mental model in my head of exactly how I had been using the yet-to-be-designed app. I started with paper and pencil, and just a couple of key screens. It was actually very useful to focus in on just the core screen and not all the extra features I had brewing in my head. My focus became trying to design something that could repeatably produce a ‘strongly positive feeling at a specific moment.’ Again the concept of ‘desiging moments’ was something I had learned from some great game designers. The benefit of having simple paper-and-pencil sketches was that I could now start to share my thoughts with others and have some visual aides for them as I narrated a vision for the experience. Plus it is easy to annotate and make changes on the fly.

(Note: I kept it simple and cheap. I chose graph paper and loose leaf paper over notebooks or apps. I think it makes it more disposable. That let my mind experiment more freely.)

Keeping Track of Reference Apps

After I was pretty excited and fairly sure I was onto something interesting enough to pursue, I wanted to get a sense of similar things others had tried. I began my hunt for similar apps. Besides getting a good idea of the competitive landscape for Bound, I was able to get into the heads of talented designers. I enjoyed discovering what they had tried. I started taking screenshots of elements from various apps that I thought could serve in the design of Bound. I quickly got to know the top apps in my target categories and keywords. A simple Google doc helped keep track of it all.

Full Paper Prototype

Armed with a clear vision, some paper sketches, and guerilla market intelligence, it was time to start to put together a full wireframe of the app. I had used a number of software tools for this in the past, but I chose to still stick to paper. It was working for me. There was still not a lot of thought being given to visual design. I was really trying to map out some basic workflows at this point. I wanted speed with little to no cost.

Getting Early Feedback

With some basic wireframes complete, I could actually start to pitch the concept — complete with ugly workflows to key people that I thought represented Bound’s audience. There is really nothing better (for design or confidence) than getting feedback from people that you respect AND that represent your potential customers, partners, and investors. Getting valuable feedback early (still no code or designs locked in) helped answer some pretty specific questions before any hard money had been spent.

A Proper Prototype

It started to get a little less exciting running around with a stack of hand-drawn screens and wireframes. I can pitch an idea pretty well and people now wanted a demo! It was finally time to build a proper first prototype that could be demoed on my phone. I spent a lot of time (maybe too much) trying out various prototyping tools. I really felt I needed to be the one building the prototype. Tons of options exist out there. I ended up going with Proto.io (Proto.io) and I am very happy with that decision. It’s powerful and easy to use. Pretty quickly I had a great looking prototype.

Getting Some Design Help

With a skeleton of a prototype, it was time to make it look good. I was fortunate to have a friend, Jon Nowinski, jump in to lead the effort. We worked with a terrific team at Sidebench in Los Angeles to help flush out the design further, build out complete workflows, and do some early user testing.

Result

We ended up with a process that allowed us the necessary time to get a killer high fidelity prototype with very little cost. We learned you can do a lot with a little these days. So if you are building anything, keep your costs low and get as much feedback as early as you can!

I’d like to send out a huge thank you to our advisors, our testers, Sidebench, and Jon Nowinski for helping with the design of Bound.

**Early Access Coming**

We now have a very talented team based in San Francisco working on development. Keeping our prototyping low-tech and low-cost allowed for a very small team to iterate efficiently as we got meaningful feedback from real users along the way. We are planning our early access for May 2016, and would love you to join the next leg of our journey.

My Take on the Activision/King Deal

Never bet against Mr. Bobby Kotick.

The end.

My New Role as CEO of Bound

After over a decade in the game business, I am officially setting my sights on something a little different. I am very excited to turn my focus to a new mobile fiction platform – Bound. Bound started out as an experimental project at echoseven labs and has turned into something that we think it going to shake up how you think about prose fiction.

A Little About Bound

I’ll resist the urge to make the big pitch and just share that we’re taking everything we’ve learned from games and applying it to prose fiction. We’ve designed a new user experience from the ground up around a simple way to experience mobile storytelling. After prototyping for the better part of this year, we have a unique format that combines short sessions, in depth companion material, and integrated community.

Bound has already starting signing authors and content partners. Exciting stuff.

Who’s it for?

So if you love great world-building-though-story (you know books, RPG sourcebooks, maps, comics, etc.) then I think you might like Bound. We are assembling an all-star team including some of the best world-builders around. We will be announcing additions to the Bound team in the coming weeks. We are also hiring so watch our job board and Angel List for details if you think you might want to join our expanding adventure party.

Maybe a Launch Party

If any of this sounds interesting, I hope you’ll keep tabs on our progress or request access to the beta. We’ll probably also have a pretty good launch party complete with some super-special guests – so get your email in there and be sure to get an invite.

Meet Bound – echoseven labs’ first project

I am pretty excited about our a new project I am working on.  It’s called Bound and it’s  a new long form narrative publishing platform built for mobile. Bound represents the first spinout for echoseven labs.

Check out the announcement here.

Sign up to be one of the first to download the app at www.getbound.io

I’d like to note that Bound is actively looking to discuss opportunities with published authors. 

Can I Interest You in the Sniper Formation?

For my sports fan friends – this is my dumbest post of the year, promise.

As you might have heard, the University of Michigan canceled its screening of “American Sniper” because it might make students feel “unsafe” or some such.  Needless to say, not everyone was happy with that decision.

I had immediately been concerned that it would have some impact on the football program. Would they be pressured to change the nomenclature for formations like the shotgun and pistol?

Enter football head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Mr. Harbaugh had a well received tweet:

I was very excited to see Coach Harbaugh’s tweet and reassured to know that know the shotgun and pistol would still be allowed in the Big House. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to share with the world my “Sniper” formation that I have been working on in the lab since Forbes Hall in ’93. Maybe there is a forward thinking OC out there that wants to borrow it.

Let me present to you the “Sniper” formation, specifically designed for guys like Desmond Howard and Devon Hester.

Super simple. QB lines up in typical shotgun formation.  Your speedster “return” man lines up about 25 yards behind him.

Snap the ball.  Lob it it up to your “return” man. BAM! Outkicked coverage. Instant reverse punt with nothing but running room. Even better if your return man can run some read-option on the approach to the line of scrimmage.

They’d have to change the rules to stop you.

There you go – free.

Apply Now for Summer Founder Institute

I will be mentoring at the upcoming summer semester of the Founder Institute, a global network of startups that helps entrepreneurs launch meaningful and enduring technology companies. The four month idea-stage incubator program helps you launch your dream company with expert training, feedback and support from experienced startup CEOs, while not requiring you to quit your day job. All participants in the program share in equity upside from the other graduates, creating a supportive local ecosystem where great startups can flourish.

You can apply here: http://FI.co/join

If you’d like to discuss the program directly – just hit me up.

My New Company – echoseven labs

(reposted from echoseven http://bit.ly/1tK6Juw)

Hello. I wanted to quickly let my friends and former colleagues know about my new startup studio, echoseven labs.

I spent the last 10+ years helping to pioneer games-as-a-service with Sleepy Giant (CEO & cofounder) and K2 Network – the first f2p MMO publisher in the West (VP Growth). The gaming industry has changed a lot since I first stuck my head into a PC Cafe to play Lineage so many years ago. So for my next thing, I am casting a bit broader net – betting 100% on my creative abilities and building my own startup studio.

I opted to make a video to kick things off. What my production capabilities lack, I can assure you I make up for in enthusiasm. It’s the first time I have ever created and edited a video for public consumption. I already feel successful. It was actually fun, so I plan to do more. I have helped build multiple companies to over $10M in annual revenue (some way more) and I am thinking about documenting my attempt at doing it again from the beginning. Warts and all. Watch out.

Anyway, it would be an honor to have your support as I build out this new studio. We are already working on some exciting projects. I’m giving away bottles of whiskey to all my January meetings – so hit me up!

– h (@mhannus)

9 Films Paired with Drinks for NYE

I’m feeling sick, so I decided to practice typing.

If you are like me, this week you’ll be rummaging through the “See All” screen of your favorite streaming sites. I thought I would share some of my favorite finds from this year. These films caught me by surprise and are worthy of a watch as you drink in the New Year at home.

Consider this my gift to you. In no particular order, here is a heavy dose of documentary, foreign, animation, and retro films.

1. The Battered Bastards of Baseball

My thoughts as I watched: “No way this really happened. Kurt Russell? Screw you MLB. Where do I buy a T-shirt? Community managers should watch this film.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Lite depending on your location.

Tell ’em what you think: Official @mavsdoc

2. Milius

My thoughts as I watched: “This guy is awesome and I hate Hollywood for not giving me more of his stuff.”

Recommended drink while viewing: A good whiskey. Nothing too fancy, just make sure it’s American.

Tell ’em what you think: Director @Joeychopshop

3. Space Pirate Captain Harlock

My thoughts as I watched: “Whoa what is this? Why I am stuck with Pixar and Marvel when this exists? Better hold my Xbone controller just in case they need me. Actually no, this is a PS4 exclusive for sure.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Feels like it should be rum or grog, but sake seemed to work best.

Tell ’em what you think: Director @snjaramaki

4. Metro Manila

My thoughts as I watched: “Ugh subtitles…well there are some nice shots of Manila…hey wait this story is pretty good.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Crown

Tell ’em what you think: Official @MetroManilaFilm

5. The Raid: Redemption

My thoughts as I watched: “Action and artistic camera work? I’m in. This would be a totally different movie if Hollywood got their hands on it. Didn’t even notice the subtitles.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Tiger beer or maybe a Carlsberg

Tell ’em what you think: Official @theraidsmovie

6. Showrunners

My thoughts as I watched: “Now I know why most TV shows suck after the first season. This process can not possibly produce quality…unless you have Joss Whedon…I’d kick ass at this job. Ray Ramano is at least honest.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Water.

Tell ’em what you think: Official @showrunnersfilm

7. DragonSlayer

My thoughts as I watched: “I kind of remember this from the 80’s. This movie holds up. Better than the Hobbit. Where is my D20? This movie just feels like being in a basement playing some D&D in the 80’s.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Some sort of mead.

Tell ’em what you think: You’ll have to find Matthew Robbins in person the next time you are in West LA. Otherwise @paramountpics

8. My Bodyguard

My thoughts as I watched: “Solid cast. Hey Lincoln Park. Chicago. Message way ahead of its time. Lots of hair. Man I loved when films had a proper sense of pacing.”

Recommended drink while viewing: Old Style. Jeppson’s Malort (if you don’t know, you might not want to learn)

Tell ’em what you think: The bodyguard himself @adambaldwin

9. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

My thoughts as I watched: “good memories…was such an awesome time to be a skater…new respect for Rodney Mullen…i could do 90% of these street tricks back in the day…I saw Tony miss a McTwist in Germany once…Ben Harper?”

Recommended drink while viewing: Team Hawk – Gatorade, Team Alva – Everclear

Tell ’em what you think: The man @peraltastacy, @tonyhawk and Official @BonesBrigadeDoc

All these are solid. Trust me.

Old School Berkshire Hathaway Acquisition Criteria…

Cleaning out old files today. Found this typed memo – Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Acquisition Criteria.  My first career was in finance and I loved it back then. This was like getting a Babe Ruth baseball card for me.

Berkshire Hathaway Acquisition Criteria