Searching for Blue Oceans – 10 Digitop Ideas

Devise plans to escape encircled ground” – Sun Tzu

Blue ocean strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.” – Blue Ocean Strategy (Mauborgne & Kim)

However you phrase it, success in business and battle is often found in being where your competition is not; finding the ‘Blue Oceans’ proposed by Mauborgne & Kim (opposed to ‘Red Oceans’ where companies compete for a limited market/territory). Usually I try to find Blue Oceans in wild new territory, such as game ideas for brand-new devices or technology, but for this post I’m going to suggest creating a Blue Ocean at the intersection of two well known concepts.

The new XCom board/digital game just came out, and by all accounts it seems pretty fun ( It’s a good example of a ‘Blue Ocean’ product being created at the intersection at digital and physical. Let’s consider removing the distinction between ‘video’ and ‘tabletop’ and leverage the tools to create new & improved experiences. To get it started, I’ve thought up 10 more ‘digitop’ ideas. (FYI – I’m waiving any claim to these ideas right now; I don’t plan to build any of these in the near future, so feel free to use them as you please!)

10. Point Tracker – Lots of tabletop games require the players to keep track of points via pencil/paper or markers on a track. Make it simple with the point tracker app (could be a generic app, or branded for a specific game).

9. Virtual Shuffler – lots of tabletop games use a deck, or multiple decks of cards. They can be a pain to shuffle. Virtual Shuffler is an app that creates virtual decks for a game that can be displayed on a digital device – one deck for smaller screens, multiple decks for bigger ones – and shuffling becomes as easy as pressing a button. When a player draws a card from the virtual deck, they take the corresponding physical card.

9. Virtual Joker – Add variety to a game with a dynamic joker card. Insert a blank placeholder card or designate a specific card as the Joker. Then the app assigns a new random card to the Joker. Leave the device in the middle of the table so all players know what the card does. New cards can downloaded/purchased to add more variety.

8. House Rules – Create your own rules to fix shortcomings in games or improve them. House rules saves your new rules and allows anyone with a mobile device to review them. House rules is location specific, can remember rules for different games, and can even suggest popular rules for you.

6. Personal Leaderboard – simple app that tracks winners of games and optionally points, over time. Use it to see who is the reigning champ at any game! Could include graphs/time slices to track trends over time.

5. Handicap Randomizer – app to provide randomized handicaps for players. Great when playing with new or younger players. Handicaps level can be customized and are randomized so advanced players don’t get bored.

4. Bot-Buddy – Randomized AI buddy for games. Can be used when you’re short a player. Won’t necessarily work with every game and won’t necessarily be a great replacement for players, but can fill in for a pinch.

3. Grandmas Little Helper – a quick helper for people that seem to always be losing. Might take some inputs from the game (e.g. What character/race are you playing?) then suggest strategies (e.g. try building the longest road) with guidance on how to achieve it. Could also have a FAQ section (I’m always out of gold! How do I fix this?).

2. Blitz – an app to help speed up slow games (e.g. Risk). First, set the time you would like to play for. Based on the time, Blitz will set a turn timer to keep play moving, and also adds rules to accelerate play as time runs out (e.g. kill 2 armies per battle, everyone loses 50 armies this turn). When time runs out, Blitz provides rules to declare a winner even if the final game state has not been reached.

1. Campaign Tracker – for those who play a lot of games w/a group of friends, campaign tracker lets you run a meta-game outside the games. Lots of ways to implement this – could be configured for tournament format or seasons/playoff format. Could provide additional rulesets based on the point in the campaign (e.g. it’s now winter, you start with half food). Could even be built to support multiple games (Your money in Monopoly funds your initial armies in Risk).

Hope you found some value in my brainstorming and hope these ideas provided you inspiration for your own digitop ideas. Finally, in closing: whenever you feel encircled by your competitors, I encourage you to step back and find your own Blue Oceans in unconventional places.

The Gametrepreneur Ten: Reasons Chicago is a great place to build games


Welcome to the first episode of the Gametrepreneur Ten! This is a companion piece to the Chicago Gametrepreneur Show – we’re going to try make this semi-regular feature where we dig deeper into into a topic we discussed on a recent podcast.

On our last pod, we talked with Rob Zubek about why Chicago is a great place to bootstrap your game studio. Here’s our inaugural list of ‘Reasons Chicago is a great place to build games‘:

10. Low cost of housing – means you can live in a real apartment for a reasonable price, or a tiny apartment for almost nothing.

9. Great sources of inspiration – Chicago has fantastic architecture, great museums and a thriving music & theater scene. Whatever your preference is, it’s easy to find something to inspire your creative endeavors.

8. Extensive public transportation – means you can get around without a car, saving you on car payments, insurance, gas and car repairs.

7. Lots of talented people – access to graduates from local schools (Northwestern, University of Chicago, DePaul, Illinois, Purdue, etc.)

6. An extremely friendly and open community! Get connected through IGDA Chicago & Indie City Games

5. Affordable and fun shared working spaces – programs include the Indie Co-op, 1871 and SpaceLab1.

4. Easier and cheaper access to local conventions – BitBash, Chicago Ideas Week & C2E2

3. A good freelance economy – means you can make ends meet while you work on your Indie Masterpiece

2. Community that supports building studios organically and sustainably – most members of the community want to build companies so they can make games for rest of their lives.

1. Free to do your own thing – with fewer huge studios, there is more incentive and support for talented individuals to strike out on their own and make their unique impact on the gaming world.

Thanks for reading! If you want more stories and insight, please subscribe to the Chicago Gametrepreneur Show (iTunes, Feedburner) like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Many thanks to @BobbyLox and @rzubek for contributing to this piece.

The path to victory starts from your cubicle

As it turns out, you didn’t manage to make a dump truck of money on your 1st/2nd/nth Indie game. Turns out rent and bills are a thing you have to deal with. Turns out you might have to spend some time at a real job. And that’s great.

Releasing an indie game will be the hardest job you’ve ever loved. It will test you in every aspect – mentally, emotionally and physically. The competition will be fierce and unrelenting. But your day job has given you a hidden advantage – extra time to practice and train. Here are 10 exercises that you can do, right now, in your cube/workspace/subway to prepare you when the time comes. And as a bonus, they will probably make you better at your day job as well:

10. Look at some art – find what kind of art inspires you and what kind of art you would like to create or emulate. Find more work like it. Find artists that have a similar style. Learn how that art is created. Even if you’re not an artist yourself, it’s important to appreciate and understand the process.

9. Practice being healthy. When you’re stressed it’s easy to eat terrible things, skip exercise and become a chronic insomniac. But nobody can do their best work when they’re sick (or really, any good work). Practice now so you’re prepared when stress hits.

8. Practice organization & efficiency  – whatever you do, study how to become better at it. Learn to recognize where you’re being efficient and inefficient. Leverage tools that make your job easier. Seek out new techniques to make your job faster and easier. Once this becomes second nature, you’ll be able to apply it everywhere.

7. Find good people to help you – doesn’t necessarily mean finding your coder/artist/soundfx team. Seek out people that do interesting things. Find people smarter than you. Find mentors. If you’re a risk taker, find a risk averse friend; if you’re risk averse, find a gambler. Find people who will support you; find people who can give constructive criticism. You will need all of them.

7a. Learn how to help others. Find out how you can provide value to them. Learn how to give without expecting anything in return. I hate the term ‘networking’ because networking is shallow. If you practice building deep relationships by being the source of value, you will never find yourself without help when needed.

6. Practice generating ideas (borrowed from @jaltucher). James calls this ‘exercising the idea muscle‘. Whenever you’re bored at work, think about something your game/company will need. A shooter needs weapons, a RPG needs enemies, marketing needs promotions, etc. Then try write down 10 ideas for that something. If you’re still bored, pick an idea you made and write down 10 variations of that. For example, I could try write 10 things about how you help others. Work out your idea muscle every day.

5. Practice learning. A lot of people don’t practice learning new things once they leave school. It’s hard. It scares us. But you will have to learn a hundred new things before you release your game, so make yourself good at learning now.

4. Locate your center. Understand what motivates you. Understand what things can take that motivation away. Figure out your ‘WHY’ because it is the soul of your company. Write it down. Ask your friends what they think. Figure out what your culture should be, because culture eats strategy for lunch. Building a strong sense of ‘WHY’ now you will allow you to make the right decisions later.

3. Practice writing. Practice writing blogs, practice writing tweets, practice writing instruction copy. Practice being funny and being serious. Practice being quotable. Practice being the voice of your culture and mission. Practice writing things that scare you. Try to write and publish something every day.

2. Practice falling. It’s the first thing you’re taught when you learn how to surf. Make mistakes without hurting yourself; learn from your mistakes. Release something bad and ignore the trolls. Take a mistake, write about it, and share the knowledge with the world. You will make mistakes building your game; learn to fall so you can get up.

1. Learn how to be a leader. Not a manager, but someone people look to for leadership.You can be the lowest on the totem pole and still be a leader. Learn how to eat last and take blame first. Learn how to take responsibility. Learn how to be a do-er. Learn how to trust your people. Everyone at a startup becomes a leader, whether it says so in your title or not.

Finally, remember what Sun Tzu taught -“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” The path to victory starts from your cubicle.