Blogus Maximus

Rubbing people the wrong way since 1970...

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Monday, March 17, 2014 #

As the title says, v1.0 of Coinbase.NET, my C# wrapper for the Coinbase API is now released. You can get it here:

Thursday, March 13, 2014 #

Hey everyone,

I'm working on an open source library involving Bitcoin and I was wondering how many (if any) of you are currently working with cryptocurrencies in your apps & games?
Whether you are buying/selling them, or just accepting them as a form of payment, I'd like to get some idea of what you're doing, what APIs you're hitting, what you think of it overall, and how I can (possibly?) make things like microtransactions and in-app purchases easier for you.
Feel free to leave a comment on this post, or message me if you don't want to talk about it publicly.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 #

The next 6 months are going to be pretty fun (and by fun, I mean hectic.) In addition to a couple of interesting side projects (writing & video), I'm also going back on the speaker circuit. Fortunately, I'll be able to tie a few of these stops to some "vacation" destinations.

3/18: GSP Developers (Greenville, SC)
4/22: Enterprise Developers Guild (Charlotte, NC)
5/15: WNC.NET (Asheville, NC)
7/11: Codestock (Knoxville, TN) TENTATIVE
8/07: RV.NUG (Roanoke, VA)
8/28: DevLink (Chattanooga, TN) TENTATIVE
9/13: Code Impact (Jacksonville, FL)

Taking the mystery out of CryptoCurrencies

Maybe you've heard of BitCoin, but what about LiteCoin, DogeCoin, AmericanCoin or BBQCoin? (Yes, really.) These are just a few of the available CryptoCurrencies that are showing up. If you've wondered what they are, how to get them, how they work, or what Bitcoin Mining is, then this is the talk for you.

Once you've got them, what do you do with them? We'll cover some code and show ways to leverage BitCoin and other CryptoCurrencies in your applications. Whether it's taking payments, or buying and selling the coins themselves.Taking the mystery out of CryptoCurrencies

Maybe you've heard of BitCoin, but what about LiteCoin, DogeCoin, AmericanCoin or BBQCoin? (Yes, really.) These are just a few of the available CryptoCurrencies that are showing up. If you've wondered what they are, how to get them, how they work, or what Bitcoin Mining is, then this is the talk for you.

Once you've got them, what do you do with them? We'll cover some code and show ways to leverage BitCoin and other CryptoCurrencies in your applications. Whether it's taking payments, or buying and selling the coins themselves.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 #

Are Cryptocurrencies Ready For Mainstream Use? Are we?


I'm a big fan of the major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and LiteCoin (LTC). I’m not really paying any attention to the dozens of derivative (and in some cases satirical) alternatives, such as Dogecoin and Coinye, but I think Bitcoin and Litecoin have a real shot at permanence.  

Having said that, do I think they are ready for prime time, mainstream use? Not yet, and here's why...

Cryptocoins have no intrinsic worth. In other words, they hold no value of their own. At this time, the only way *most* people (i.e. the non-enthusiast layman) can assess the value of 1BTC is by comparing it to another more established currency, like USD, EU, GBP, etc. There's simply no other way to describe it to someone else.

"But wait," I hear you argue... "I can tell the value of a Bitcoin by looking at how much someone charges for something, in Bitcoin."

This is true, however, it's also misleading. The only way this is of value is precisely BECAUSE you know the intrinsic value of what you're buying in your native currency.

Looking online, you know that you can buy a $50 Amazon Gift Card for 2.2047LTC. Therefore you can puzzle out the value of 1LTC as being a little under $25, but you're still just trading one currency for another. You know exactly what LTC is worth, because the intrinsic value of what you are buying is printed on the item.

How about something a little more abstract? If you don't know a lot about Bitcoin, or follow it regularly, would 250 apples for 1BTC sound like a good deal to you? How about 500? If it were 250 apples for $1, you'd jump on it... because you know exactly what $1 is worth. (Hint: at Bitcoin’s current valuation of roughly $900, it would be a really bad deal for the buyer.)

To take it a step further, cryptocurrencies in general are an unstable bunch. If you don't know what it's worth, and you don't know what it can buy, and you don't know it's value on any given day (or hour) then you are at the mercy of the seller at the time of purchase. This isn’t as big of a deal when buying tangible product, face to face, especially if you like to haggle. But what if you are buying digital product, with a digital currency, via an internet connection to a “faceless” website? You either accept the price, or you don’t. There’s nobody to argue with.

Unlike our U.S. Dollar, there are no printed or minted practical denominations of BTC. Sure you can buy a 1BTC coin, but with current prices hovering around $1000 per BTC, how would you spend it? Most things you would buy are in incredibly small fractions of Bitcoin.

Don’t believe me? Here’s another example: Let’s say you bought 1 Bitcoin at a bargain price of $800. A week later, it’s worth $950. Yay!! Thrilled with your windfall, you decide to purchase a $50 Amazon Gift Card later that day. Unbeknownst to you, China has decided to ban the Bitcoin exchanges (temporarily, it turns out) causing a momentary plummet in the value of 1BTC. Let’s say it’s now worth $400 (this is based on reality.) Had you purchased the gift card when your Bitcoin was worth $950, it would have cost you .05266BTC. Now it will cost you 0.125BTC. Doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but when the Bitcoin market stabilizes a couple days later, going back to approximately $900 for 1BTC, can you tell me how much you spent on that $50 gift card?

So how do we solve this problem?

How do we make BTC/LTC mainstream? How do we assign an easily understood value to a volatile currency with no physical backing?

We start by getting more and more companies to accept it. While this sounds counterintuitive, think of it like this... as a child (and with some adults), you have no perception of the value of money until you begin to see what it can buy and how hard it can be to come by. So, the more people see it, and what it can buy, the better appreciation they'll develop for its value. This will increase consumer comfort in using it. This is just a start, of course.

Another step in the right direction is to make it easier to acquire. This doesn’t mean making it cheaper, or devaluing it. Market pressure will (and should) drive that. I’m talking about the actual process of buying any cryptocurrencies. It’s getting better, but I remember buying $150 of LTC just a few months back, and it was a multiday process that involved trips to my ATM, a Western Union machine, multiple websites, and a lot of waiting and internet shadiness that ended well, but would certainly scare off the casual, less committed user.

It’s getting better.

Go take a look at, for example. They've recently started accepting Bitcoin for everything they offer. That's a huge step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. We need more stores, big ones, to make it mainstream. Most of the retail websites you see today that accept cryptocurrencies don’t look like the type of business you’d feel comfortable giving your credit card to. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

Ultimately, like any technology, passionate early adopters will take on most of the risk (and reward) of cryptocurrencies. Do I think we’re there yet? No. Do I think we’ll get there? Yes.

If you’re interested, drop a few bucks and buy some. You don’t have to buy a whole Bitcoin or Litecoin to get started, and even if you don’t spend it, you can watch the exchange charts and see the value go up and down like stocks… only better, because you can’t spend stocks.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 #

Gamers should be monitored and tracked? Oh, how the stupid burns. It burns.

"why aren’t we looking at frequency of purchases per person? And also, how often they’re playing and how many..."

It's a shame that blonde hair and a pretty face are mistaken for the ability to think. Who gave this nitwit a microphone, anyway? Oh right... Fox News.

I've recently updated my speaker bio...

"After eating his rival siblings in utero and being raised by a pack of wild televisions, Chris G. Williams entered this industry with a passion for mobile game development and hash browns (scattered, covered and chunked, if you please.)

He speaks on a variety of topics, and really enjoys Windows Phone, Game Development, and Windows Phone Game Development. He used to talk about XNA, but well... we don't talk about XNA anymore."

In other news, after a LONNNG self-imposed break, I'm looking to do some speaking here and there. Got a Code Camp or "Day of whatever" coming up? Feel free to drop me a link. 

With only $10, a GOG account and a handful of patches, you too can play one of the greatest computer RPGs ever created. The patches mentioned in this Kotaku writeup go a long way in fixing bugs and also modernizing the UI of the game.

The BGII Enhanced Edition isn't terribly far off, of course, but given the mess they made out of BG1EE, I'm not terribly optimistic. (Yes I realize not all of it was the studio's fault.)

Got any favorite Infinity Engine D&D games? I'd love to hear about them.

In anticipation of the new movie, I picked up a copy of Enders Game about a week ago. I'm roughly 75% of the way through it, and I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. It's really good, and now I'm all worried that the movie will screw it up. So much so, I kind of don't want to go see it.

Update: I finished it, a couple days ago. Totally didn't expect the "big reveal" (you know the one.)

Ultimately, I loved the book and can't wait to read the next two. Having said that, I'm still on the fence about the movie. I think I like the idea of blending Enders Game with elements of Enders Shadow though. For a movie based on a book that has a lot of internal dialog, it makes sense to add that in.

Two words that explain why "Free to Play" games are evil... Coercive Monetization.

Excellent article, well worth reading. Especially if you're even remotely interested in finding out the psychology behind why your significant other (or your mom) is slowly draining your bank account $5 at a time to advance in games like Candy Crush.

202,586 people (including over 13,000 from China) paid to apply (yes they paid just for the privilege of applying... soak on that for a minute) to be the first Martians, via the Mars One program.

Application fees varied by country, ranging from $25 (USD equivalent) to well over $100 per person.

That's approximately $5-10M raised from people willing to die on Mars. Four people will be selected.

This may be the greatest scam ever.

Every few months, someone (usually a customer) will ask me out of the blue what prompted me to open a game store. (Sometimes they call it a card shop, but it's not. Never that.)

For some reason, the question always catches me off guard, and I never really have an answer at the ready. I usually mumble something about "this isn't my first store" (it's not) or "I like games" (I do) or some random crap like that, which usually results in the followup admission of "but I really don't get to play games, for the most part. too busy." followed by "yes, I appreciate the irony of that." blah blah blah.

So I've taken some time and given it some thought, and ultimately it boils down to this:

One of my happiest childhood memories took place a few months after getting into D&D for the first time (1979.) I had a small mountain of books, purchased from the Crossroads Hobby Shop and The Collectors Box, both in Roanoke, VA.

For some reason, I was in Charlottesville, VA at a book store. They didn't really have "game stores" back then. I remember walking to the back of the store and "discovering" the various RPG materials tucked into a spinning rack. With adventure titles like White Plume Mountain, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Dungeon Geomorphs, and The Dwarven Glory, I was instantly captivated.

As I flipped through the current issue of Dragon Magazine (somewhere between #35 and #40, I believe, but memory fades) I was equally as fascinated by the advertisements as the articles. I wanted to immerse myself in this world. I devoured every word, every page. I studied every map.

It wasn't about the community of gamers (I hadn't discovered that part yet.) It wasn't about wanting to own my own store (I was way too young to think about that.) It wasn't even about the "sense of wonder" I felt when I discovered this interesting new world (Greyhawk.) It wasn't even about playing the game.

Nope, my motivator was GREED. I was Smaug... and this was my personal treasure hoard. I had to have it all. Every book, every box. Every pamphlet, every character sheet. Every die, every mini. I was (and am) a collector, from the moment I got my first set.

Full disclosure time... I have one of the largest "pure" D&D collections on the east coast. I still have every box set, every set of dice, including my first. I still have nearly every book, every mini, every card, even the old TSR product catalogs... aside from a couple items that were stolen from me, which I eventually replaced. Add to this a small mountain of board games, card games, other sci-fi & fantasy RPGs... the list goes on.

In many ways, the store is an extension of that obsessive need to expand my ever growing collection. The difference is that now I can justify my need to acquire by my reluctant willingness to relinquish pieces of my hoard to potential customers.

Make no mistake though, even now I silently take the measure of every person that approaches my counter. Are they worthy of such treasures? Will they appreciate them as I have? Will they give it a good home? With every sale, I'm trading one piece of my hoard for another.

Regardless of my personal beliefs about religion & racism, there are a few basic truths that I see being violated and twisted in this whole Miss America thing.

Pretty much* every religious person I know feels that their way is the "one true way" and that their god is the "one true god" and that presumably while they might not like the fact that some people don't worship their god, they mostly believe that their god created the "unbelievers" just as their god created themselves.

(I should interject here... I've never met a racist atheist. Never. Not once. Maybe they exist. Maybe they don't. Never seen one. Met a hell of a lot of extremely racist people that consider themselves Good Christians though, I'm just saying.)

So... if your god created you, and your god created someone else with a different color skin, and your god is perfect, and doesn't make mistakes...

See where I'm going with this? Either you need to come to terms with the fact that maybe other people, regardless of color, are still people like you, only different, OR... you explain to me how your perfect god really made a big mistake when he let some folks bake a little longer than others and come out all brown.

Or you're a big fat stupid loud-mouthed hypocrite. In which case, keep on hatin' and keep on being loud and stupid about it on Twitter so we can easily identify you for later.

*I said pretty much. Let's not make a thing of it.

Friday, May 3, 2013 #

Here's the short, non-spoily version: It's fun popcorn movie, with lots of action. A little too much interpersonal touchy-feely crap for an Iron Man movie, and not enough "suit blowing shit up" time, imo, but still good. Oh... and if you're a fan of The Mandarin character from the comics, oh boy are you gonna be pissed.

There's some real silliness as he continues to find new ways to get the suit on as quickly as possible. (How many "high speed groin shot" sight gags do we need?) 

Go see it, enjoy it for what it is, and relish in the glorious trailers that precede it. It's a fun summer superhero flick, but it doesn't really break any new ground. It takes a lot of liberties with canon and leaves you wondering how it's going to dovetail into the next Avengers movie, which you know it does.

And FINALLY, yes, there's an easter egg at the end, but it's barely worth staying for. It's more of the "oh I get it, they're eating shwarma" variety, rather than "omg what does it mean?!?"

I've been messing around with RPG Maker VX Ace a bit ever since they put it on sale on Steam (and my parents just happened to give me Steam Points for my birthday.)  So far, I like it. ViNull made the comment that's it's easier if you aren't a developer, and I can totally see that. Overall though, if you're looking to make games, I recommend it. It comes in a few different flavors, invcluding one tailored to making "Indie" games, and there are numerous community created resources available as well.

I've also dabbled (not as much) with Construct2, which reminds me of the old TorqueX in some ways, though it spits out HTML5 instead of XNA. It's fairly easy to use and there are some good intro tutorials to get you started, but then not a lot that I could find after that. Still, it's a pretty solid offering.

My buddy Jason is a big fan of Unity, and swears he's doing some cool stuff in Unity2D (though we have yet to see any of it) thanks to some 3rd party plugins and whatnot. I installed it and immediately got a headache, so I haven't really spent much more time on it than that.

I still bang on HA! now and then (more "then" than "now") but that's all VB.NET. Not much new going on there, really.

I've been using jQuery a lot at work lately. Yeah, I know I'm late to the party, and there are newer flashier things out there, but it does the job and there are a ton of resources out there for it.

I downloaded the Xamarin Studio, never could get it working right. Spent a few days on it here and there and then gave up. Life's too short to get that pissed off over something I don't need.

As for games I'm playing, there's this great little card game called Resistance. If you're paranoid, you'll love it. If you're not, you will be after playing this game. It plays a lot faster than Battlestar Galactica, and is nowhere near as complex, but just as maddening.

I'm also thinking about spinning up a new RPG campaign. I've been eyeballing the Iron Kingdoms RPG and also Pathfinder. I like D&D 4e for what it is (which is basically D&D Tactics) but I've run enough of that to want to try something different. I could go back to 3.5, but if I'm going to do that, I might as well do Pathfinder since it's the same, only better.  I've also been thinking about going super old-school, with Traveller.

Many of you know I also own a retail brick & mortar game store called Big Robot Games (which you can find online easily enough.)  FYI: We are not the same guys that are making the excellent looking game "Sir, You Are Being Hunted!" over in the UK. Things are going well with the store. We do a lot of everything, from card games, and board games, to miniature wargames and rpgs. We don't do video games and we have a firm NO YU-GI-OH! policy, but that's a story for another day.

This weekend, in honor of May 4 (as in "May the 4th Be With You") we're showing the original trilogy of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at the store. Should be a good time.

I'm still doing occasional writing for RockRevolt Magazine, and recently interviewed Oderus Urungus of GWAR. He's a riot. That issue should be popping up pretty soon. I'll add a link when it does.

I hope everyone has a good weekend, and May The 4th Be With You!

Friday, November 16, 2012 #

A couple months ago, I announced I was leaving Magenic in order to take a break from consulting.

I figured I'd post an update as to what I'm doing now, since I haven't exactly been slacking off.

1) I accepted a position as a Lead Developer with RealPage. I work on a number of internal use applications for a subsidiary known as LevelOne. The majority of my work is in ASP.NET, a surprising amount of VB.NET, some C# and I'm picking up a few new tools for my belt... specifically Python, MongoDB and Perl.

2) I am still the owner of Big Robot Games, a retail game store / coffee shop in the South Carolina upstate region. I'm not as involved in the day to day activity as I was, but I'm there most nights and weekends, when I'm not off doing other things, like #3.

3) I am on the staff of Rock Revolt Magazine as a journalist, covering live performances as well as interviewing bands, providing album & video game reviews, fixing the website and the occasional prison ink. (Just kidding on that last one.)

4) In whatever time is leftover, I still manage to bang out a little code on Heroic Adventure! (aka HA!) and talk about Windows Phone, XNA and whatever else suits me, wherever they'll let me.

I guess that's about it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012 #

After a mostly great 6 years and 3 months, I'm leaving Magenic. My last day is officially 9/14/12.

I'm going to be taking a much needed break from consulting, to focus on parts of my life that have been, well... rather unfocused lately.

Friday, May 4, 2012 #

Caught the midnight showing of the Avengers last night. I won't get spoily on you, because I hate them myself, but I will leave you a few tidbits:  

1) The Hulk totally steals every scene he's in. Mark Ruffalo totally nails it as Banner.
2) There are TWO easter eggs in the credits, not just one. Stay until the lights come on.
3) The movie rocked. People stood up and cheered a few times. (Ok, it was mostly me, but seriously... GREAT movie.)
4) Yes, there are some comic relief scenes, but they are (IMO) well timed and not overdone.

The one I saw was in 3D, and it was "Avatar style" (meaning they were going for depth of field, rather than cheesy in your face stuff.) Was it absolutely worth the extra money? Probably not, but the 3D trailers before it were pretty sweet. (Trailers: Prometheus, Spider-Man, Batman, other crap. YMMV)

Joss Whedon ala Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Uncanny X-Men (comic book), etc has produced an EPIC movie (and not in the geek slang way... but in the true sense of scale.) This is a story that would have potentially played out over a year or more in the comics, across multiple titles.

Go see it. Go with your friends. If you don't have any friends, sit near a group. The fan and audience reactions enhance the overall experience.

Trust me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 #

I occasionally get asked if we travel "a lot" at Magenic. Sometimes the question comes from job candidates. Other times it's clients, recruiters or friends.

To give a simple yes or no answer would be a disservice to the person asking the question. So here is my standard answer:

It depends.

(That was the short version.  Here's the long version...)

We do have some guys that are more "national" in focus, and they can travel a fair amount. They also receive a little extra in compensation for doing so. It's a balancing act, and not necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation. Not everyone is well suited to constant travel. Some folks enjoy it and some folks hate it.

With our local guys, our general policy is to TRY and keep them close to home whenever possible, but sometimes the needs of the client will dictate otherwise. (As Spock would say... the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.)

In most cases though, we really do try to avoid sending our guys on extended travel gigs (i.e. every week for 6 months) when a simple kickoff trip and occasional visit will do. This depends on the nature of the gig, of course. Some types of work lend themselves to this model better than others.

Additionally, this can and does vary by office. If one office is having trouble staffing a gig (not enough available bodies) and another office has a few too many folks on the bench, well... you can connect the dots. But again, we try to keep that to a minimum.

Lastly, we all have our own thresholds for what we consider "a lot" of travel. There are two parts to this threshold:

  1. Half of it is whatever you're accustomed to already.
  2. The other half is being honest with yourself about how much you [like/hate] dealing with airports, car rentals, taxis, hotels, disruptions to your workout schedule, time away from friends/family, etc.

Knowing a bit about yourself will definitely help you decide how much travel is too much for you.

Friday, December 16, 2011 #

Recently (as in, last night) I started playing with jQuery Mobile. My experiences with jQuery, while occasionally frustrating, have been overwhelmingly positive. So when a friend mentioned jQuery Mobile to me, I figured I'd give it a try.

A little Googling revealed some helpful tutorials and other resources, one of which was this handy basic page (which I got from here)

<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>Page Title</title>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="" />
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<div data-role="page" id="home">
<div data-role="header">
<div data-role="content">
  <p>Content goes here</p>
<div data-role="footer">

A quick copy and paste later and I was off and running... sort of.  The page renders as expected in Chrome, Firefox and Opera but sadly IE9 seems unable to live up to expectations (on my Win 7 64bit machine with IE 9.0.8112.16421)

A quick trip to the list of supported browsers (here) tells me IE9 should be supported just fine. Since my principal concern isn't IE on Win7, but rather how jQuery Mobile looks on Windows Phone, I decided to throw it on my web server and hit it from my Samsung Focus.

Here's the URL if you want to try it out from your own Windows Phone:

As you can see, the page renders, but it seems IE on WP7 (and the WP7 emulator) doesn't really fare any better than IE on the desktop. The browser list does say that there are "minor CSS issues" so maybe this is just one of those.

I'll keep digging and in the next post, we'll see what other heavy lifting jQM can do with regards to Windows Phone.)


UPDATE: Sometimes, I make big stupid rookie mistakes. Today was one. Keep reading.

Turns out, I should have made sure my jQuery and jQuery Mobile references were totally up to date. They weren't.  I've uploaded a second file, aptly named sample2.htm that has the more up to date references, now that jQuery Mobile is no longer in alpha.

You can see it here:

As you can see... IE9 actually works just fine, giving the expected results consistent with FireFox, Chrome and Opera.  IE on Windows Phone works as expected also. Clearly the lesson here is to ALWAYS check your references when working with 3rd party libraries, especially if something isn't working as expected.

With that (false alarm) concern out of the way, now we really get to have some fun!

This is what the file SHOULD look like:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>Page Title</title>

<link rel="stylesheet" href="" />

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

<div data-role="page" id="home">
<div data-role="header">
<div data-role="content">
<p>Content goes here</p>
<div data-role="footer">

Sunday, November 20, 2011 #

The last few days at the shop have been reminiscent of a marathon of Pawn Stars. Quite a few people have come in wanting to trade for store credit. Most of them have left disappointed. We did pick up a few things here and there (which hopefully I can sell.)

The problem, in a nutshell, is that people get it in their head that a (YuGiOh) card is worth X amount because they looked it up 2-3 years a...go, or someone told them it was valuable... then they play it in their deck for a year without sleeves, and cram it in a binder covered in duct tape.

By the time they bring the cards in to me, new sets have come out which often de-value the tournament usefulness of the card from $20 to *maybe* 50 cents, in mint condition.

Which means I can offer them about 10-15 cents... only they are almost never in mint condition, which means I usually offer them nothing at all.

Most of the time, you can watch their smile fade as I start going through their cards. It's kinda sad, really, since I know they think they've spent the last two years walking around with the keys to their own personal gold mine.

I don't really enjoy seeing that look on a child's face. I like kids and I remember those moments when perception and reality crashed headlong into each other. It was seldom pretty. So, when I'm talking to a child, I try to take it easy on them and give them some suggestions on how to better preserve their cards.

Sometimes though, it's an adult. Depending on the situation, my response to them varies pretty broadly. Most of the time though, I still feel pretty bad when it doesn't go their way.


Saturday, November 12, 2011 #

Had to show someone the door today... bummer.  
At Big Robot Games we really only have one rule and it's not all that complex:
If you're going to hang out here all day, you should satisfy AT LEAST one of the following criteria:

1) You buy some food and/or drinks.
2) You occasionally buy product.
3) You play as part of a sanctioned tournaent or gaming group.
4) You act like you have some sense (i.e. have manners.)

We would love it if you manage to do all of the above, of course, but we're really perfectly content to settle for only getting a 1-2 of them at a time. 
We don't have a problem with people bringing food in, and we understand that you aren't going to buy a game every time you come here. And yes, we know that people enjoy hanging out here with their friends. We can even overlook your odd quirks and personality issues, provided you're spending a little money once in a while (this IS a BUSINESS, after all.)
However... if you can't manage to do ANY of the things I listed above, and then you get lippy with me about it, well... it's time to say goodbye.

Monday, November 7, 2011 #

Two months ago, almost to the day, I opened Big Robot Games.

This is my 4th game store (the 3rd actual Brick & Mortar store, in the 4th physical location.)

I opened my first store in 1999. It was called Roanoke Hobbies and was located in Roanoke, VA. I partnered up with a buddy from the Navy to open it. It was a really small space, in a terrible location, but the rent was dirt cheap. Even then, we built up a pretty loyal group of regulars and friends. We carried all the traditional fare: Games Workshop, D&D, Magic, etc.

After about 6 months, we outgrew the first location and moved into a space about 4 times the size. Most of our customers followed us over, since we were only a couple miles up the road. The ones that didn't... well, we didn't really miss them much.

After a while, the demands of my career along with some pretty serious differences of opinion resulted in a split between myself and my business partner. I sold my half of the shop and moved away. The shop got a rebranding and a new location and lasted for a couple years before changing ownership again and eventually dying out. It's hard work, especially if you don't know what you're getting into.

In 2005, I opened my 2nd game store: Reality Check Games, also a brick and mortar store. This one was located in Greenville, SC. Some of you reading may actually remember this one. I loved this store. The location was less than optimal, and the rent was a little high, but it worked.

This store had quite the assortment of characters... some great regulars, and some not so great. Some of the friends I made here are among my best friends anywhere. This shop was a lot of hard work and late nights. I was traveling a lot for Magenic during part of the time I owned this store, so that made things tough. The first few months of any new business are rough, and this one was no exception, but within a year it was self-sustaining and growing.

This store was open for about a year and a half before the decision was made to relocate to Minnesota. That was a tough decision, and while I don't regret doing it, I do regret the effect it had on the shop.  After debating for a while on whether to liquidate, move it all or sell it, the decision was made to sell the shop.  Unfortunately, the family that bought it didn't really have a good appreciation for how much work it was... and it crashed and burned about 6 months after I left.

I was in Minnesota for 3 years. Part of the reason I agreed to move was that I intended to open a game store there as well. I did, sort of. Retail space in Minneapolis was insanely expensive... way more for a lot less. So I decided to do an online only store. Since we were in a different state than the old Reality Check, we decided to keep the name (they had already closed by this point anyway.) I set up a site, filled it with product and started marketing it via Froogle and Amazon and via the Tech Community. It did ok. The site was largely flop, but the Amazon store did quite well. I kept that up for as long as I was in Minnesota.

A little over a year ago, I moved back to Greenville, SC. The first question on everyone's lips was... "are you going to open another game store?" The second question was usually "When?"

After nearly a year of planning (and saving) we opened the doors on Big Robot Games. That brings us to the beginning of this blog post. In the last two months, efforts have been focused on building inventory, growing a cusomter base and marketing to get the word out there.

Up to this point, marketing has consisted of:

  • Facebook Ads - I spend about $20 per week on highly targeted FB ads. I have a single campaign with multiple ads targeting different groups of interests. The ones with product logos consistently outperform those with the shop logo.
  • Sponsorships - BRG sponsors a local roller derby team, and has also purchased ad space in local yearbooks and calendars.
  • Word of Mouth - Good service and selection means people will tell their friends about us. That seems to be working very well.
  • Good Signage - You get what you pay for. A sign with 3D channel letters will get attention. Having a pylon sign by the road helps too.
  • Manufacturer Websites - get listed on every retail locator you can find. D&D, Magic, Warhammer, etc... all have tools to help customers find you.
  • Social Media - in addition to Facebook Ads, maintaining a store twitter account, a Facebook page, registering with FourSquare, etc... all drive people to you.

It's not enough to have a store full of product anymore. A good game store also needs to run events. Whether it's card tournaments, board game demos, RPG sessions, or wargames leagues... you have to give people a reason to keep coming back to your store even when they don't plan to make a purchase that day.

Not every day is going to be your best day ever. In the early months especially, you're going to have a few days that make you want to give up, lock up and go home. Use those days to your advantage... to plan new events, go through inventory, work on marketing, etc. Before long, you'll be wishing for the occasional slow day to get caught up.

Incidentally, on those slow days... DON'T go home early. You never know when a new customer will walk in and rock your world. I've seen a slow Thursday night turned upside down with a single purchase. Also, if you aren't there when you say you will be, people will go elsewhere. That might be the only shot that new customer gives you. Stick to your posted hours unless its an emergency... and if it is, leave a note. Your customers will only be as loyal to you as you are to them.

So, as I said... it's been two months so far, but in some ways it feels like I've been at this for years. Things are going good. Game sales, as an industry, are up quarter after quarter. When compared to going to the movies or out to a bar, it's some of the best value for your entertainment dollar, with plenty of replay value.

I've got a bunch of technical books I'd like to get rid of.  Some are more current than others.

3D Programming For Windows
Introducing LINQ
VB.NET Class Design Handbook
FBML Essentials
Test Driven Development in Microsoft .NET
The Rational Guide To Building Technical User Communities
Expression Web Step By Step
Applications = Code + Markup

I don't really feel like dealing with the hassle of ebay (or Amazon), and I'd hate to just throw them away.

Craigslist / Freecycle both involve having strangers coming to my house....

So I'm open to suggestions.


Sunday, November 6, 2011 #

About a month ago, I decided to delete my Twitter account.

I didn't "rage quit" or make some tired farewell speech. I didn't even tell anyone I was going.

I simply realized that I hadn't tweeted in quite some time and I also hadn't read anyone else's tweets in an equally long time. In short, I was neither contributing nor receiving any value from Twitter. It was not bringing me joy.

That last sentence sounds a little silly, or maybe pretentious, but it stands. As my life and career continue to become more demanding and more complex, I have searched for ways to simplify. My philosophy is simple:

If I don't need it, and it does not bring me joy, I don't want it.

My job may not always bring me joy, but I need it... therefore I keep it.
I do not need my xbox 360, but I enjoy it... therefore I keep it.
Certain people I don't need, who do not make me happy... I discarded them.

Twitter does not fill the need requirement, or the joy requirement, so it's gone.

How many things in your life could you get rid of, based on these criteria? Would you be happier if you did?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 #

Magenic Interviews at the 2011 //Build/ Conference