Archive | Video Games

Microsoft’s Strategy for Pushing Minecraft into Schools [My Suggested Approach]

After seeing this article (Microsoft Is Launching A Portal For Teachers To Use Minecraft In The Classroom) about Microsoft’s push to get Minecraft into schools, this reminded me of the strategy I put together as I interviewed for a role with the Xbox Minecraft team a couple of months ago. Although I was rejected, I still feel I was on to some solid thoughts, and I wonder how much of my strategy will be in the real one. You can see it below:

Context: Today, Minecraft is used as a tool by students and teachers to learn different subjects. Awareness of Minecraft is high. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that we are launching a new education specific version of Minecraft that leverages Minecraft IP and can be downloaded to be used in the classroom. Let’s also assume that today we are in 100 schools. We need to be in 10,000 schools in 2 years.

Question:  How would you grow the EDU business, taking us from 100 schools to 10,000 schools? You are not allowed to bundle. Everything else is on the table. In your answer, please (1) be specific about your strategy and execution, (2) quantify revenue gain, (3) be specific about your pricing/distribution decision – how and why you did you price the product the way you did, (4) highlight any risks that you see.

You are free to use any publically available data and to make any assumptions that you think are reasonable. Attached is a number of public sources on the entertainment industry. Friendly heads up – many are not applicable.


The Origins of RedOctane (Before Guitar Hero)

I am reading a Harvard case study about Netflix for a class at Kellogg right now and reading about its timing of switching to unlimited rentals in the summer of 2000 reminded me of when I first heard about the company that would become RedOctane, the producers of Guitar Hero (did you see: Rock Band is coming back) and a startup success story.

I remembere the exact article posted on April 17, 2000 at IGN: WebGameZone to Offer Import Rentals

Ever wanted to play the latest and greatest games out of Japan, but don’t quite have the budget to do so? There are many titles that are already out that deserve a good run through, but with prices floating around $70 each, one cannot afford to play them all. Well one online retailer noticed this and decided to start a bold new venture: renting import Dreamcast games Online.

WebGameZone is taking the high price of 70 dollars per game and changing it to a simple $4.99 rental. The company is already known for being the largest online videogame rental store, but until now has never offered the latest Japanese titles.

So what does a five dollar fee get you? How does 10 days of usage sound? That’s right… you get over a full week of gaming for the price of a typical fast food meal. After you are done with the game, you just send it back in the pre-paid, pre-labeled box that is provided.

Obviously, we can’t guarantee the quality of the site’s service, but it is certainly something import-hungry gamers may want to check out. Thirty import titles will be made available at first, with more and more being added as time goes on. This is truly a unique venture, and will be interesting to see if it works out.

Both Mike Won and I read the same article and while I am not sure exactly what happened next, one of us found out the company was in Sunnyvale (in Silicon Valley, 20 miles away from where we lived in San Jose), and I contacted them right away about internships. I would have happily worked for free, but got a quick response from Juan, came in a few days later, met the rest of the team (Kai Huang, Charles Huang, Dean Ku, etc.) and essentially had a part time job (probably at $7.50 an hour) at the age of 19 shipping game discs and learning about Japanese import games for the Sega Dreamcast. This probably all happened within 10 days. I was employee #9 or #10 until I left to finish my degree at UC-Berkeley in 2002, but my time there in that first stint is summarized in my LinkedIn profile:

In my first experience with RedOctane (formerly WebGameZone), I started as an intern, learning about shipping logistics. Over time, I was promoted to Customer Service and given complete freedom (and responsibility) to interact with customers and learn how to resolve issues without backup support in a loss limited structure.

Through these experiences, I learned vital lessons about the human psychology, empathy, effective communication, and stress management, critical lessons I still use on an everyday basis.

Promoted from Intern/Shipping Logistics (2000) to Customer Service / Game Inventory Buyer (2001).

Other fun links I found: (but couldn’t find the old logo)

Free Rental Offer

RedOctane Begins Renting Import PlayStation 2 Games

Woa! WebGameZone actually sent it to me!!

Think the Nintendo Wii U Just Doesn’t Have Enough (Good) Games? Think Again

If you are thinking about buying a new videogame console, you might be ignoring the Nintendo Wii U. What’s being said is that it has weak hardware, doesn’t have enough good games, it’s just Mario and Zelda. Sony and Microsoft, on the other hand, with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, really know what they’re doing: online, awesome hardware, lots of games for everyone, not just kids.

But is this really true? To find out, I examined the quality and type of games for each current generation console. Just because a console has 100 games, this doesn’t necessarily make it better than a console with only 20 games, if the latter console has more GOOD games.


The best hardware-to-software-tie-rate (the number of games the average console owner buys for his console, over its lifetime) is about 10. I’m going to look at double this amount – 20 of each system’s top games at this current moment to see if the Wii U really doesn’t have enough good games, with the idea that you will play about 20 games on your console, through purchasing, borrowing, renting. We should look at the very best 20 games that he/she could play (who wants to play crappy games?).

We’re giving each console a disadvantage because there will be plenty of great games released for each system in the future, but this is fair since all the consoles are affected evenly. The Wii U came out earlier than the XBox One and PS4, but we will have to ignore that. I’ll even throw in the Nintendo 3DS for comparison.

I will grade the games by converting aggregated % scores from into letter grades.  For example, a 92% is an A-, but a 95% is an A. Just like in school!

Beyond this, I think older games should be worth less than original games and new games. For example, Deus Ex for the Wii U may be a great game, but it was released much earlier for other consoles. In this situation, I will downgrade the game by 2 minor grades. Example, a B+ would count as a B-. I will discount a remake the same way. I will also downgrade games that are available for other platforms (but released generally at the same time) by one minor grade. For example, a B+ becomes a B. I will round up to two decimal points, thus a 79.47 will equal a B-. Games that are released on a PC and 1 console do not qualify as multi-console, but games released at the same time for the new console and predecessor console don’t get downgraded (example, if released for XBox 360 and XBox One simultaneously). A re-release from an older console to a newer console is counted as a remake.

In general, this means that exclusives and truly new releases are better than multi-platform games and re-releases. If Call of Duty is a good game but comes out on all major platforms, it doesn’t serve as a reason to get a specific console over another.

What is the best console? It’s the one that has the most ways to pull you to buy that console versus the other ones.

All genre ratings are my own (with help from Wikipedia), and can be disputed. All games must have 5 review to qualify.

(Quick note, if anyone from Nintendo is reading this, I would love to be a part of your new Business Development unit. I have no idea how the hiring is going to occur from either Satoru Iwata or Reggie Fils-Aime, but I want to be working towards the solution. I am already a decent-sized shareholder so I definitely have the financial motivation to help Nintendo re-establish itself. I have videogame industry experience from helping launch the Guitar Hero franchise, and having worked for startups for the past 10 years, I know what it’s like to constantly face naysayers and work through them in emerging markets. More on me!)

The Breakdown

The above is a breakdown of each console’s top 20 games by grade. Notes:

  • The Xbox One has the weakest lineup of grades. Its average grade from top 20 games is just a C+. 70% of its grades are at C Level. If you were to say any console has no quality right now, it’s the XBox One.
  • If you were to consider games with grades B+ or higher (87%) “must buys”, the 3DS is clearly dominant. However, the Wii U has twice as many such games as the Playstation 4 and XBox One. What this shows is that the Nintendo platforms, in general, have more excellent, exclusive games – more unique experiences exist on their platforms.
  • The Playstation 4, of the three “box” consoles, has a higher percentage of games “worth playing”, B- or higher grades. Since the PS4 was released late last year, this is a promising start, with 85% of its top 20 games in the worth playing rating.

Looking at each console by its Top 20 Games and genres, we can get a better understanding if any consoles “specialize” in specific genres (for its best games) or are particularly weak in any genres. You might think of this as “I like to play X type of games. Will there be good examples of that types of game on Y console?”

  • Nintendo consoles are clearly more female-friendly, with its top games not covering sports, shooters, and action / fighting games very well on both the Wii U and 3DS. However, this is likely a big problem as there may not be enough male-oriented games to pull men in. This research believes that 40% of all gamers are females, but also says that only 20% of those female gamers play on the more male-friendly consoles, the Playstation 3 and XBox 360. If trends in game types have continued to this generation, I would like to see the gender breakdown of ownership of the new consoles.
  • The Playstation 4 is great at both action games but non-traditional adventures as well. The XBox One, as previous XBox consoles, are the king of first person shooters. It’s still a bit early to say that these trends will hold up in the future, but based on my knowledge of past Playstations and Xbox’es, I would bet these follow long term strategic directions from the two companies.
  • The 3DS is the Role Playing Game console of choice.


Despite the fears that the Wii U is in trouble, it is likely in better shapes, in term of games, than you think. It is definitely a better console than the Xbox One at this current point in time. If you are female and/or do not need to have sports and shooters games, the Wii U will be a great option for you (I like shooters, but not sports games), even in the future. The Playstation 4 is likely the best console out there, if projecting towards the future. It already has a solid base of games in multiple genres after just half a year, and is considered to have the best gaming hardware.

You might look at the 3DS to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Wii U as a company. In general, the 3DS genre and quality rating profile is a best case scenario for the Wii U in the near future (next 12-18 months).

For Nintendo, while some complain about its lack of new franchises, I think the bigger problem is providing excellent games in non-traditional Nintendo genres such as the first-person-shooter. That does not mean Nintendo needs an ultra-violent Call of Duty-like exclusive. Instead, they can think back to games like Metroid Prime, which were action-based third person / first person hybrids. It’s strange to remember that Nintendo defined the console first person shooter during the N64 generation with Perfect Dark and Goldeneye, so it’s not silly to think Nintendo can produce great ones again.

With Mario Kart 8 just released, the Wii U has a great racing game (plus online!) that’s true to its female-friendly roots, and later this year Super Smash Brothers, the fighting game franchise, returns to both the 3DS and Wii U. More moves like this, but launching at a faster rate, can definitely let Nintendo seize the opportunity that Microsoft has squandered with its slow start.