Thursday, October 17, 2013

We Closed Our Seed Round. Thank you!

In August, Flow State Media closed its seed round of funding.  I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the people that helped make this possible.  It was our first attempt at fundraising, so it was fraught with its own set of challenges, but due in large part to the good people that helped us out, we were able to close the round within 3 months and focus on making great games.

First off, I'd like to thank our investors.  They are putting their faith in our team that we can deliver on our promise to make great games and make a big splash in the game industry.  We fully intend to do just that.  I would especially like to thank my very earliest investors, as without their early commitments, closing the rest of the round would have been very difficult.

Secondly, I'd like to thank my MIT, Penn, and even high school colleagues that either invested themselves or made introductions on my behalf to investors.  They were responsible for roughly 75% of the round, so I can sincerely vouch for the value of an education!  My fellow alumni were absolutely clutch, and I thank them for that.

The entrepreneurial spirit at MIT played a significant role in my decision to start Flow State.  By either attracting entrepreneurs or giving students the confidence to strike out on their own, the start-up friendly culture gives students important tools to succeed and provides a world-class network.  From that network, I've met a number of inspirational entrepreneurs that have proven to the world that successful companies can grow from small, two-person start-ups.  Here's a few.

The first one I'd like to mention is Bong Koh (@bong).  I actually first met Bong when we were teenagers, when our mutual friend Adam K. introduced us.  Naturally, as teenage males, we played Street Fighter II to kill the time.  Bong's Ryu was strong.  A dozen years later, I would bump into Bong when I was visiting MIT Sloan.  He was graduating, I was headed in.  By that time, Bong had already sold a company to Qualcomm, just a few years out of Yale undergrad.  He had showed us that the start-up path was something very real if you were smart and worked your butt off, and I appreciated seeing that very early on.

I'd also like to thank Elizabeth Yin, co-founder of LaunchBit.  She's super, super nice, and super, super smart, and growing in notoriety among start-up communities on the East and West Coast.  She answered numerous questions I had about getting started, incorporating my company, and getting introductions to investors.  And she knows the email newsletter universe down cold.  So thanks for all the help EY!

Brian Shin (@brianshin) is just a beast of an entrepreneur.  He's raised around a bazillion dollars, and is currently CEO of Visible Measures, CEO of Viewable Media, and Chairman of MustBin.  He was just always on a crazy trajectory and he's just kept on going.  He's living proof of being a bad-ass, successful entrepreneur, and it's inspiring stories like his that pushes other entrepreneurs to go even further.

My last MIT shout-out goes out to Tony Chen.  He was very kind in the earliest days of Flow State, willing to meet up with me to talk about fundraising strategies, reviewing my presentations, and generally being incredibly helpful in getting Flow State in the right direction.  Thanks TC!

Of course, I have to thank the Flow State Media team.  Without the early work of Red and Harold to get our live crosswords game "Letter UP" released, I'm not sure Flow State would have been successful in closing our round.  Their contribution was enormous.  "Krazy" Joe, Aaron, and Rommel have also played a huge part in getting Flow State Media to where it is today.  I wholeheartedly look forward to working with this extremely talented team and make something amazing.

Finally, I'd like to thank my family for making all this possible.  My parents have only lived entrepreneurial lives, always managing some type of business in order to support us and pay for our education.  I think they liked it when I told them I was just doing the same thing they had done for us: start my own business!

And last, but the exact opposite of least, I'd like to thank my beautiful wife.  She has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process, from deciding to leave Zynga to start my business (the same year we were planning our wedding!), to giving great suggestions about how we should improve in our games.  She's really good at games (Candy Crush level 356 WITHOUT paying, routinely beats me at Tetris Battle), knows what our audience will like, and has extremely shrewd business sense.  I feel like I can discuss any aspect of my business with her and I do.  I'm very grateful that we are actively making Flow State great together.  So to my wonderful wife, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

It's already been a terribly rewarding experience, and I'm so excited about the future of Flow State.  Thank you, everyone!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Join The Circle of Apps

Small, up and coming mobile game companies have a big problem: awareness.  No one knows their apps exist.  And with no awareness, no downloads, no money, no lights on in the office anymore.

So what are the options if you have no existing network of players, no list of email addresses, no Fans or Followers, essentially, no base?  You either beg Apple or Google to feature you in their App Stores, pray a big company like Zynga or EA let you use their distribution channels, or pay for mobile advertising.

But none of those options are very pretty.

Getting featured in App Stores is hard.  There's like a BILLION apps now in each store.  So to actually get a good contact at Apple/Google, and then convince them your app is worth promoting over thousands of other new apps is a very daunting task.  In the end, apps from most small companies are NOT promoted.  You just have to have an air-tight, super-polished app that catches the eye of users and App Store managers alike, and hope that you get a slot.  It's possible, but the odds are not in your favor.

Then you can try to approach a Zynga or EA and see if they can help with distribution.  But they're so busy getting their own games ready, and figuring out a good release schedule for themselves, that it's pretty rare that they actually pick up a game from a small developer.  When it happens, it makes news, but behind the scenes, dozens upon dozens meetings occurred that eventually ended with a "Thanks, but no thanks."

So then you have mobile advertising.  This option is pretty ugly too.  With Costs-Per-Install (CPI) at least a couple dollars for quality players, skyrocketing close to $10 during the holidays, you can kiss any type of budget goodbye quickly.  Very quickly.  And since you HAVE to make your game free now to have people try it, there's no guarantee you're recouping that cost -- ever.

Again, this is the playground of the big companies.  Ad networks getting bigger and bigger, raising VC money left and right, continuing to cater to the big spenders like GREE, DeNA, Zynga, and EA.  A small company quickly gets priced out of the market because there is no quality ad inventory left.  Remember that $50k that your company's founders saved up to help with advertising?  Well, you could easily spend that in a day and NOT get into the Top 25 in the App Stores.  The only real winners here are the ad networks, smiling all the way to the bank.

So what's a small shop to do?  That's where The Circle of Apps comes in.  I want to create a community (initially on Facebook) of up and coming companies that need help in promoting their freshly-minted games.  I want to create another real channel of genuine communication about what their apps and games are all about, to a community that WANTS to hear about cool apps and games and is tired of seeing the same games atop the charts.  And these people will truly be the lifeblood of the community.  We WANT folks that root for the underdog, they LIKE quirky and cool games, they want Indie shops to succeed, they were giving money to Kickstarter projects way before d-bags like Peter Molyneux were going there (even though he could get a publishing deal from EA within one meeting).

So, simply, The Circle of Apps is a community of people who love and make games for a living, and the people that are rooting for them and want to support the games they make.  That's it.  Yes, we'll need a large community to start making a material impact on download numbers in the App Stores, but you have to start somewhere, so I'm starting it now.  I know for certain that the need is terribly real, so I want to get this going right away.

So join The Circle of Apps on Facebook.  Game developer, game lover, or lover of underdogs -- all are welcome.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Chelsea Beat Barcelona

A goal away from losing, down to 10 men for an entire half against the best team on the planet, Chelsea found a way to win.  A few unconventional strategic decisions played a huge part in paving their way to the Final.

Everyone is a Defender

This one was pretty obvious, but everyone, including Didier Drogba, was back to defend in the final third when Barcelona had possession.  No forwards prancing around the center circle waiting for a long ball to come their way -- no.  It was all hands on deck, defending against the terrifyingly quick Barca players.  They were disciplined about their defending, and it was the key to their success.

Drogba Shuts Down Danny Alves

It wasn't too surprising to have Drogba back to defend, but what WAS surprising was that he was defending the wing.  Not the central area, but the wing.  You'd think he'd be more central so in the case of a counter-attack, he'd be in position to receive from any teammate -- but this wasn't the case.  Di Matteo had him defend the wing, specifically Danny Alves.

Now Danny Alves is good.  Really good.  He's a dangerous Brazilian wing back with a very offensive mindset, known for quality crosses as well as the ability to cut inside and shoot on goal himself.  But with Drogba on him, he was SHUT DOWN.  He crossed ZERO balls while Drogba was guarding him.  So when he did receive the ball, he would just hold on to it for a bit, and then pass it back upfield.  Drogba's height and speed rendered Alves harmless, and truly closed off that option for the Barca offense.

Rotating Defenders on Messi/Iniesta/Xavi

I've never noticed this before, but I saw that Chelsea would rotate who would defend Messi and the Barca midfielders.  It was a clever tactic as it would give defenders a chance to catch their breath after their "shift" guarding Messi was up.  And I'm sure defending Messi is a lot like work -- really really hard work.  So it was a good move to NOT assign a specific person and say, "Messi is your mark for the half, guard him like your life depended on it."  It was better to rotate the assignment and give everyone a breather.  In the end, it helped reduce the chance that someone would get beat badly by him, and keep him in front of the defense instead of behind them.

Torres Substitution a Near Tragedy

This isn't a reason why Chelsea won, it's more a call-out on how they almost LOST.  Since Torres *finally* scored in the 92nd minute, everyone's going to forget how dangerous bringing him in for Drogba truly was, but it was a terrible, terrible decision by Di Matteo.

First off, Drogba was doing a fantastic job shutting down Alves AND his hold-up play to move Chelsea up the field was superb in both legs of this clash.  So taking him OFF was dumb.

Secondly, when the most important thing you need is a good DEFENDER, you bring in a forward that defends terribly and has lost his offensive touch since coming to the club.

Immediately, Alves got his first cross of the half in, and then set up a near-game-winning-goal if he hadn't been half a yard offsides.  Torres was a much worse defender than Drogba and that was plain for all to see.

Yes, there were spots when he kept possession decently, but overall, the Torres substitution could have cost Chelsea a trip to the final.

In the end, it was a fabulously intense game to watch.  Always wondering, how could Chelsea possibly beat Barca?  When was Barca going to break through and win it?  It was a gripping, entertaining match that any soccer fan would enjoy.

Here's to a fantastic final!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Who to see at Coachella 2012 - Saturday

Ok, let's talk Saturday. We didn't get there until 4:15pm, boo. The traffic was REALLY bad close to Coachella. If you come late in the afternoon, I highly suggest taking MADISON down to Coachella. MONROE or JEFFERSON is what everyone else takes, but late in the day, you get funneled back to MADISON anyway, so take it and save some time (it's parallel to the other two, and in between).


Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (3:40pm) - Vocals with attitude, and guitars with meaty, catchy riffs. Very bummed I missed most of this set due to traffic, but last song was good. Only wished I saw more!

Manchester Orchestra (5:55pm) - Solid indie band. Lots of facial hair. I enjoyed their set. Check 'em out if you like indie.

Sebastian Ingrosso (7:35pm) - More electronic-ness at Sahara. I'm sure you've heard his work.

The Shins (8:10pm) - Probably my favorite show of the day. I've heard a few of their songs before but not a huge fan. I really liked their set. Poppy, indie goodness. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear a cover of Pink Floyd's "Breathe". True to form and unexpected. I liked them so much that I skipped the next two options....

Kasabian (8:35pm) - Sad I missed these guys. Parts Oasis, Stone Roses, and DJ Shadow-inspired beats, they've got a really cool, upbeat sound. I especially like the non-standard rhythms. From the songs I heard, they sing harmonies too.

Feist (8:40pm) - You know her, she did that iPod commercial "I'll do handstands for you..." Would have liked to hear her live, but was still at The Shins.

Bon Iver (9:30pm) - Very popular recently but after seeing them on Saturday Night Live, I was not intrigued. My fiancee was saying they sound like cats, cats giving last rites at a funeral. I think she's right. I'm sure they were great though, just didn't make it a priority.

Radiohead (11:05pm) - O boy, I sense controversy. I was a bit disappointed actually. I've seen Radiohead four times now, so I know what they can do, but the setlist they chose was really for the hardcore fans that have kept up with the latest albums. If you wanted to hear the hits from OK Computer, Pablo Honey, or The Bends, this was not the set from you. I think only Karma Police and Paranoid Android were from the early albums, everything else was later on. And when they were from Kid A, Amnesiac, or Hail to the Thief, a lot of them were those weird, odd, sorta downer songs which can be cool, but don't exactly make for an upbeat show.

Don't get me wrong, when they rocked out, it was f#cking awesome like only Radiohead can do. There There, Idioteque, and Everything in Its Right Place were fantastic, the drummer is still his crazy tribal self, and the band can still make all the wackiest sounds live, it's just one of those "I have hella high expectations" type of thing. Of course, their set can *totally* change for next week, but I guess just keep the expectations in check.

If you're interested, here's the setlist:

1 Bloom
2 15 Step
3 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
4 Morning Mr. Magpie
5 Staircase
6 The Gloaming
7 Pyramid Song
8 The Daily Mail
9 Myxomatosis
10 Karma Police
11 Identikit
12 Lotus Flower
13 There There
14 Bodysnatchers
15 Idioteque
16 Lucky
17 Reckoner
18 After The Gold Rush (Neil Young cover snippet) into Everything in Its Right Place
19 Give Up the Ghost
20 Paranoid Android

That sums up Saturday. Another fantastic day of music!

Who to see at Coachella 2012 - Friday

Don't know who to watch besides Radiohead, Snoop, and Dre? Read on.

Here's my review of the bands I saw this past weekend. Friday first. I'll go by chronological order as that's how you'll be deciding who to watch.

But one call out first. Take the time to LISTEN to the bands BEFORE you go. It will give each day more purpose and you won't be wandering around from stage to stage. There are tons of Coachella 2012 playlists on Spotify right now, go check them out.


honeyhoney (1:20pm) - If you're there by 1pm on Friday (we weren't), worth checking out. Jazzy, twangy collaboration of guitarist and female vocalist.

Ximena Sarinana (3:50pm) - Poppy, fun, Mexican female singer. Just missed her. Could have been fun.

Neon Indian (4:25pm) - Called "blurry electronic pop." Seemed like the crowd was having fun.

Gary Clark Jr (4:30pm) - I don't think he showed! I was bummed because he's a bluesy electric guitarist. Reminded me of Jimi Hendrix's "Blues" album. I think I would have seen him over Neon Indian if he showed.

Arctic Monkeys (6:30pm) - These guys were tight. They were more punky live than I thought they were going to be. Singer's voice has a unique, sharp quality which works with the high tempo guitars and rhythm section. If you like indie punk, you got to see these guys. Really tight tempo changes in the songs I heard.

Madeon (6:35pm) - Conflict with Arctic Monkeys if you like this electronic artist. We caught the last few songs. Good stuff, high energy, definitely knows how to work that electronic-board-with-flashing-lights-mixing-thing. You never know how much these guys are actually *doing* with electronic music tracks, but I guess I just trust it's legit. If you want booty-shaking electronic in the Sahara tent, worth checking out.

Alesso (7:55pm) - Next up in Sahara tent. Very eh. I haven't been impressed by the Sahara tent in the past couple years. Very standard 4/4 beats, expected super long builds, and climactic drops, but I haven't heard one interesting new rhythm from this tent in a while. Alesso was good, but not life changing.

Mazzy Star (8:50pm) - Actually really looking forward to her. BIG disappointment. She was off key for most of the songs and just did not sound good. Thought she was all chill and dreamy given her hit "Fade Into You" but wasn't really. We left after 3-4 songs. Go see The Rapture instead.

The Rapture (8:55pm) - Solid indie band. Singer has very unique voice that cuts through the noise. Vocals get somewhat repetitive in their songs, but worth checking out their set for sure.

The Black Keys (9:45pm) - Tough tough conflict time for me. They are solid, but I passed for...

Explosions in the Sky (10:05pm) - Epic, atmospheric music. Fantastic swings from melodic, chill moments to massive build-ups to pretty nuts rock out stuff. I think it's 3 guitarists and 1 bass player and a drummer. Great stuff, *although* it seemed like there were only 2 modes for this band, quiet/chill or rockin' hard. It's almost like Nicolas Cage, he's either whispering or YELLING HIS HEAD OFF. Now, they're a better band than that, but after 20 min or so, I began to wonder what other variety there was.

M83 (10:15pm) - Tough call for me against Explosions. I just caught the last 10 minutes or so unfortunately. Ambient, electronic, slightly psychedelic pop. What's not to like? Seemed like the crowd was really enjoying it. Tough calls on Friday night.

The Black Angels (10:50pm) - SEE THEM. I had to leave after a couple of songs because my fiancee was not feeling well, but I really like these guys. Haunting, powerful, psychedelic. I got turned on to these guys by the Activision music guys as we were reviewing potential songs for a Call of Duty: Black Ops trailer (we went with Rolling Stones - go figure). Check them out!

Swedish House Mafia (11:30pm) - They're Swedish. They play house. There's a few of them. I missed them but I'm sure it was good fun. Not sure it's the most original music out there, but likely fun.

The Horrors (Midnight) - Would have definitely seen these guys if I was still around. Experimental, dreamy, a little goth. Too bad I missed them!

That sums it up for Friday. Great day of music. Any thoughts/questions?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The EA Store?

I really don’t think the big game publishers would get into retail any time soon because they need to focus on making games that sell, but I do think it’s a potentially interesting strategic direction. And when I say strategic, I mean “money-makin’, money money-makin’”.

I offer two reasons why.

For one, current retailers like GameStop and Best Buy take about 20% of the retail price. So out of your $60, they make $12. Well, if you had your own retail store, guess what? You take that $12 for yourself! That’s a real bump to your profit margin. Heck, you could even try to price your titles a few dollars cheaper than GameStop, and still improve upon your existing margins. But, nobody likes a price war so let’s stick with $60 like everyone else.

Reason two: become a player in the bountiful used games market. Currently, GameStop is the place for buying and selling used games, and they’re pretty much running a racket. They buy your used game for an insulting amount, say $12 for a brand new title, and then sell it in their enormous Used section for $55. (FYI, GameStop gets 100% of that revenue) Sounds crazy, right? But they do that because they can, and no one is providing any other options for game sellers (this just in: Amazon is making a run at this market). Let’s say you’re EA. You could pay “just a little bit more” for used EA games to get people in the store, but then could sell more EA games to them, used AND new! That’s a lot of sales just for EA.

And the timing might be right to do this soon. Commercial real estate is not in the best shape, so you could get a lot of retail space for not a whole lot of cash.

Who could actually do this? I think only EA and Activision could pull this off. They have large game libraries, and their brands are pretty well-known. The rest of the publishers either have smaller libraries or are in rough financial shape so it would be a difficult task.

Of course, it wouldn’t be easy for EA or Activision either. Launching a retail store is an expensive and complicated exercise, but maybe there will come a time, when the “business needs to grow”, and retail becomes an attractive option.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

T.G.I. Wasn’t a Transition Year

Some have remarked how resilient the game industry has been. Year on year, the industry did demonstrate double-digit growth in 2008, which is somewhat of an achievement given the economic turmoil the world has found itself in during the last 6 months or so. The question is “Why?”

I can point to two good reasons.

For one, the price of games is not terribly painful, especially given the high replay value for many of today’s games. Some games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion provide 80-100 hours of gameplay for your $60. That’s less than a $1 an hour. Movies are probably in the $5-7 an hour range (depending on your consumption habits), so that’s a pretty good deal for gamers. I think people inherently “get” this idea, so they continue to buy games.

But my first point relies on my second: fortunately for the industry, there are truckloads of consoles already in homes (almost 100 million according to wikipedia). People bought these consoles, and they want to enjoy them. Since Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo released their current generation of consoles in 2005 and 2006, they’ve had a few years to build up an installed base of console owners – and the industry should be thankful that they did so. Imagine if 2008 was a year of transition! Things would have been real ugly. (To be clear, transition years are when new consoles are released and console manufacturers do their best to convince consumers to purchase the new system. They do this by launching big, super-awesome, platform-exclusive titles like Halo 3 or Super Mario Galaxy.)

Imagine if Sony tried to launch the $600 PS3 last fall! What a massacre. Even the Xbox 360 would have had a rough go of it in the $350-400 price range. A $60 game as a Christmas gift is palatable, but a $400 console amidst this economic downturn? No way Santa is dropping off many of those.

So despite a collective concern for 2009, for those in the industry, be thankful that there are millions and millions of consoles out there, hungry for more games!