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There are millions of computer games out there on the market, how do you make your game best selling? What features have to be included? I have taken a look on previously best sellers trying to determine what makes a great game.

Set the player in focus

The player wants to be in focus in the game, he or she wants to feel that he can control the outcome of the game. It doesn’t have to be easy, or it shouldn’t. The harder the game is the better the player will feel when he has completed the game and won.

For example in Sid Meiers Civilization the player is set in focus and can affect the outcome of the game. She knows that it’s up to her if she wins or lose. This concept is seen in virtually all best sellers, Doom, Civilization, The Sims, Sim City, Warcraft, Command&Conquer to name a few.

This can also be done in games that are heavily built on a story. For example in several adventure games by Lucas Arts the concept of that the player can control his or her destiny is used frequently. Developers should look out for basing the game too much on what the computer does or other factors.

Simplicity

Never underestimate simplicity; a gamer does not generally like to read hundreds of pages to be able to play a game. Sure advanced features could be included, but still the player should within ten minutes be able to understand what the game is about and how it is played. If the gamer doesn’t the game will probably be turned into a dust collector in the basement.

Here the design of the menus and the interface comes in. Avoid having strange controls, like the firing button on F for example. If you were making a 3rd person shooter you would want to use the same set of controls as other games in the sector do.

The menus should be easy to understand, I have reviewed a lot of games were the menus are made out of symbols without any text. This is not recommended since the interpretation of a symbol is highly subjective; try to mix symbols with text.

Action

With action I don’t necessarily mean violence. There should however be something happening in the game, and when it happens the player should really notice it. For example killing an enemy in a 3rd person shooter should generate blood, building a police station in Sim City should reduce crime, killing the last enemy in Warcraft should generate victory, OK I guess you got the picture. Perhaps this seems quite basic, and it is, but still some developers don’t think in these terms.

Story

Never ever underestimate a game story. If you read any gaming magazine today you notice that there is an awful lot of focus on the graphics. The graphics are important but they mean nothing if the background story sucks. Of course this isn’t true if a game is ground breaking. Doom didn’t have a very well developed story but still it was ground breaking because people had never seen nothing like it before.

But generally the story is important, sometimes a player wants to feel part of something bigger.

To name a few examples we could start with virtually all role playing games. However don’t do the mistake of writing the story too complicated. A simple story or shorter story should work fine as long as the story is good.

Graphics

Yes well I have to mention it. Graphics serve one purpose as I see it; they enhance the game play and all the other factors I have mentioned. They are important in the sense that they communicate the game to the player. They don’t have to be stunning but they should serve a purpose.

A recent example of this is Command&Conquer Generals, the graphics are good, they serve a purpose and they enhance the gaming experience. However the game in question was not that long-lived for various other reasons.

There are several games with bad graphics that are still fun to play for example Warcraft 2 or Sid Meiers old classic, Pirates.

Things that people can relate to

A bestseller game has to include something that the player can relate to in some way. The Sims that is the world’s best selling game right now have several factors that people can relate to in real life. However remember that different people relate to different things.

Say that a person just saw a science fiction movie and thinks “I really want to fly a space ship like in that movie”, so the person in question starts a search for such a game. This is also one of the reasons the Warcraft series become very popular, the Orcs and other characters in the game people remember from reading Tolkien’s book.

Developing a game about solving equations will probably not be a hit since far too few people relate to it. These are the main factors that create a good game, if these factors are followed you will probably have a pretty good game. There are of course other elements that make a difference; marketing is one of them that will be more important as the gaming scene grows.

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Software Companies – Generate New Revenue Streams and Decrease Costs with Custom e-Learning Content

It’s no secret that software companies operate in a very competitive space where rivalry is increasingly fierce and where profit margins can be razor thin. New, smaller software companies are sprouting up each month and the leading software companies continually make strong advancements forward leveraging massive cash flow reserves. This cycle makes it difficult for the mid-sized software company to compete because (a) they don’t typically have the cash flow necessary to take giant leaps forward in the industry and (b) because they need to continually move forward to stay ahead of the smaller software companies that are vying for their slot in the marketplace. Consequently, making the jump from an unknown to a mainstream brand can prove to be very difficult for the mid-sized software company.

Finding ways to create new revenue streams and to decrease current costs is imperative to the success of companies caught in this cycle. They need to be thinking on their feet, thinking ahead and thinking creatively, all at the same time. This can be a daunting task, as any software executive will tell you.

Despite all of the challenges that face the mid-sized software market, there are several ways to create these much needed revenue streams and to decrease current costs. New advancements in technology and its use in training and development make generating these revenue streams possible.

Setting the Stage

It is almost taken for granted that when an organization purchases a software package from a reputable vendor, a certain amount of end-user, customer training will be either bundled into the purchase price or made available to them for an additional cost. If training isn’t available to the end-user customer, the learning curve on the new software package is going to be fairly steep, depending on the complexity of the software.

Typical training expense categories associated with most mid-sized software companies include:

1. The salaries of offline trainers
2. The travel expenses of offline trainers
3. The costs of producing hard-copy training manuals
4. The time involved in offline, onsite customer training

These expenses should be under a watchful eye and should be consistently viewed as expenses that could be alleviated to some degree to not only improve the company’s attractiveness in competitive bid situations but to increase the profit margins of the supplemental training services provided by the company.

At the same time, in the background, mid-sized software companies should be looking for ways to create new revenue streams that they aren’t currently capitalizing on to work in collaboration with their cost-reduction initiative.

Step 1: Lowering Training Costs Using Custom e-Learning Content

The first step to any well laid-out cost-reduction plan is to decrease the costs the organization currently incurs in order to get a better handle on profit potential from sheer cost savings. Previously we outlined what our target cost categories are…now we’re going to lower the costs associated with those categories by leveraging custom e-Learning content.

Take this scenario: A mid-sized software company that develops intranet portal systems currently employs 3 trainers that are onsite with clients for end-user training 3 days per engagement and they each average approximately 50 engagements per year for a grand total of 150 days on the road per trainer or 450 days on the road collectively.

For these trainers, the onsite training program for the end-user customer may look something like the following:

Day 1: Software Introduction and Primary Functions
Day 2: Functional Use and Administrative Actions
Day 3: Real-World Functions and Labs

Lowering the costs: By leveraging custom e-Learning content, the company used in the above scenario, can effectively reduce the onsite time required for each trainer, thereby reducing all costs associated with the training program across the board.

By using a professionally designed, self-paced, custom e-Learning module to focus on the Software Introduction and Primary Functions training that normally occurs on Day 1 and then delivering that learning module online to their end-user customers at the time of purchase through an e-Learning Management System (LMS), this company could decrease travel time for all 3 trainers by 1 day per engagement. This would decrease travel time for each trainer by 50 days per year, or 150 days collectively during the year. In addition the end-user customers will already be familiar with the software package before the trainers ever set foot in the front door.

This would successfully:

Decrease the costs associated with those 150 days of travel that are now being saved.

Enable the company’s trainers to perform more training engagements OR enable the company to decrease the number of in-house trainers it employs.

Decrease the costs associated with creating and publishing the sections of the hard-copy training manuals that deal with the Software Introduction and Primary Functions training session that normally occurs in-person on Day 1 of the training engagement.

Taking it one step further: Reducing each trainers travel schedule by 1 day is good, but it isn’t good enough. Software companies employing this cost-reduction method should take it one step further to enhance their end-user customer’s experience. They need to make sure that their end-user customers are learning what they need to know to ensure time isn’t being wasted covering the same topics when the trainer visits the customer site in-person.

To do this, the software company needs to look at how they plan to deliver the online training to their end-user customers. They will want to make sure that the end-user customers can track and manage the online training portion of their sessions, whether it is self-paced custom e-Learning content or real-time online trainer/student collaboration. Selecting this delivery platform can be difficult but it should include the following basic functions:

1. Student Knowledge Assessments
2. Student Success and Progress Tracking
3. Real-Time Interactivity
4. Self-Paced Learning Delivery

By selecting a delivery platform that addresses all four of these facets of end-user customer training, the mid-sized software company can not only decrease their own costs but enhance their client/vendor relationship by delivering more than what is normally expected or experienced in today’s software market. What’s the bottom line? The customer is pleased with their user’s performance and the value they received from the software company.

Step 2: Creating Revenue Using Custom e-Learning Content

Now that we have lowered our costs, the company needs to look at how they can use their new learning technology to generate new revenue streams for their organization.

Take this scenario: The mid-sized intranet portal software company used in the scenario above now has their own proprietary basic end-user e-Learning module to cover 1 day’s worth of what was previously onsite training. The company has effectively reduced their overall, offline training costs. Now it is looking for ways to generate new revenue streams using this technology to (a) make back their initial purchase costs and to (b) create more profit potential for the entire organization.

Creating the revenue: One way for a mid-sized software company, such as the one we’re using in our example, to create this much needed revenue stream is to create subsequent, more advanced, self-paced, custom e-Learning training modules. Attractively priced, these learning modules could be made available to their end-user customers online without incurring any additional offline training costs.

In order to do this efficiently and without incurring additional offline training costs, the company needs to make it easy for the end-user customer to purchase the more advanced training content and make it easy for the end-user customer to track their own learners as they attend the training courses so they can readily see its effectiveness. By investing the money today to build the more advanced, custom e-Learning content, this mid-sized software company could realize profits from the training modules within 12 to 24 months once they begin marketing and selling it to their existing client base. Such profits would be dependent on development timeframes, how they market their new training service and their chosen modes of delivery.

Taking it one step further: Making the more advanced e-Learning content convincing and attractive to purchase from the client standpoint takes some ingenuity. People are very susceptible to purchasing something that is located right next to the checkout lane at Target. Similarly, it stands to reason that client of this mid-sized software company will be more apt to purchase additional e-Learning content if it is readily available to them and if they can purchase it without any hassle.

One way to accomplish this is to publish the new, more advanced, self-paced e-Learning modules to the company’s LMS portal and then make the modules available for purchase via credit card using e-Commerce or via standard invoice with a single phone call. This essentially acts as the product stands we all see at Target next to the checkout lane. Since everyone needs to pass through checkout lane, it makes sense to put additional products available for purchase there. In other words, if the mid-sized software company is delivering portions of their beginner training program online to their end-user customers, this more advanced e-Learning content should be available for purchase right next to those basic training modules, thus, increasing its visibility and increasing the attractiveness to buy from the client perspective.

The Completed Solution

Because of the tight software market and the strain put on mid-sized software companies to perform, if these companies can decrease the costs associated with their current training programs and create new revenue streams at the same time, it becomes a win/win situation both for the vendor and for the customer. The software company gains a competitive edge and continues to move forward while the client gains an easy-to-engage training program and added value from their software vendor.

Synapse SE Staff Contributor

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There are more than 30 varieties of CAD software available in the market, which are sourced from different software developers. Apart from these, customers also have the option of downloading freeware and shareware available easily on the Internet. Customers who want to buy CAD software should conduct a comparative study analysis to select the most suitable software among available options.

CAD software can be compared using different product criterion such as cost of the software, developer’s profile, after sales technical support and future upgrades. This can be done by using an excel spreadsheet or other software. Product analysis software is also available in the form of freeware, which can be used to compare and select the most cost effective CAD software.

CAD software systems are also compared based on features such as two dimensional (2D) or three dimensional (3D), CAD or CAD+CAM, operating system compatibility ( windows, UNIX, Solaris, and SunOS), microprocessor requirements ( Pentium, Celeron), hard disk space & RAM memory requirements, and supported formats(IGES, DXF, STL, SLA, Gerber, HPGL, CadKey & APT, CATIA CL, Excellon, Gerber).

Customer reviews can also be used to compare different CAD software. Reviews are written by CAD software users who describe their experiences about different brands manufactured by different software development companies. A number of websites are completely dedicated to provide information about CAD software reviews, which can be used to gather information on the benefits and drawbacks of different software programs.

After comparing, different brands of CAD software are rated on a scale of one to five, which is commonly known as star ratings. A rating of four and above indicates that the software is good and can be purchased. Software systems that are rated below three usually do not have advanced features and may have inherent defects. Customers who do not have in-depth knowledge about software systems should opt for CAD software that is rated in the range of four to five.

Buyers Guide to Parental Control Software

The Internet is now part of our everyday live and people are learning more about both good and bad sides of the internet. Everyday almost we hear stories about predators looking for children on the internet in chat rooms on social communities as MySpace. Parents are more aware that there are lots of information, pictures and people on the net that can be harmful for children out there on the on hate site, pornographic site and etc. Then there is the problem of kids overusing the internet and developing internet addiction and therefore not showing up for school, getting bad grades and quitting their sports and hobbies.

Parents want to guide and watch their children but at the same time know they cannot be there all the time sitting with them when they are online. So even though parents are aware of the danger of the internet, talk to their kids and monitor them at home, parents know it is not possible to be the one that keep them safe all the time on the internet. They also know even if they trust them well, there are accidental search that can lead to harmful and material even they are not looking for it. So deciding on buying parental control software is considered a logical and responsible step more parents are taking.

Buying parental control software could be something you just take few minutes in doing. You sit down in front of the computer, “Google” some right words for it, press a link and buy a product. At the same time there is not certain that best software’s are those that will appear in top ten of Google search and you might be want to consider thinking what do I want my parental control software be able to do for me?

You could start buy asking other parents what they are using and asking for their experience. You could also try to browse around test look at their sites and read about that software; even send email to the sales apartment. You should check if the software has a 15 days trial period so you can test the software. Check for things like is the software being updated, which is very important in this day by day changing online world were dangers of the internet is always changing and software that the parental control software needs to work with is also updating and changing.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself when deciding on buying parental control software is the function of it. What do you want the parental software to do for you? Parental control software do not all have the same features and possibilities and you should therefore spend some time on thinking “what kind of parental control software do I need” Most of them will do different things for you and you may need different things for best safe surfing in your family. The possibilities are enormous. Let’s go over few things parental control software may have in their toolbox, so for you to use it in your buying guide you can look for those things you want to have when browsing through parental control website doing your own parental control software review.

Filtering: Does the software have filtering option? Most software will filter (pornographic filter, hate site filters, making bomb filter, violence filter etc. sites for you, but you may want to think how and how much control you have over the filtering system. 1. Does the parental control software have a database of blocked and family friendly sites? 2. Does the software allow you to create additional filtering list of sites you want to block? 3. Does the software have ability for you to only allow certain sites you choose and filter all other sites? 4. Does the software have a allow list have the ability to allow sites permanently and therefore overriding all other filtering system. 5. Does the software have dynamic content filter that block sites based on the content on each site you open?

Blocking software: You may also want to know if the parental control software is also blocking software, allowing you to block software’s you may think is harmful.

1. Does the software Block p2P file sharing like e.g. torrent software that are often used to download illegal software, music, movies, games and adult material?

2. Does it block chat programs?

3. Does the software block games that are considered more addictive e.g. MMORPG games?

4. Does the software allow you to choose additional software from the computer and block it?

Monitoring Software: You may want to check if the parental control software allows you to monitor the overall use of the computer and give you a good report on what has been happening. Does the software monitor all keystrokes that will enable you to read what has been written on the computer based on the software the words were written in? You may also want to have a screen shots recording in the software to able you to see how what has been happening in a form of picture of the screen. The screen shots recording is also good as a proof if something bad happens, e.g. Predator harassing the child, or some other child bullying the child on chat application. With screen shots you have a proof of what has happened after these incidents. Some software also has email monitoring of incoming and outgoing emails. Last option you may want to check for if the software monitors all cut and paste-ing on the computer both picture and text.

Time control software: This is a feature that can be extremely important in avoiding the computer will take too much time from school work, friends, sports and possibly preventing internet addiction. You may want to look closely into if the software allows you to specify how many hours a month, week and per day. You may want to control differently at what time of day and different between weekdays and weekends. At last the possibility of controlling some specific behavior such as applications or watching movies could be an option you want to check for

Protecting Privacy: The internet is a dangerous place for kids with predators lurking in chat rooms the importance of protecting privacy is important factor in buying a safe surfing tool as parental control software. Therefore a software that allow you to block user for sending out private information as address or phone number and/or take screen shots and notify you when private information are being sent from the home computer.

Alerts and Reports: Parental control software is not as useful if it never tell you what is happening. Good report system is important to go over the computer use and good alert system that notify you in an email or SMS can be extremely important to be able to get alert as soon as something bad things happen.

There are many other factors to look for, how easy to use the software is, is it doing what it is supposed to do, what kind of support can I a get and does the website provide me with some other useful tools or information’s. There are of course other things as well to look for as does the software provides me with specific tool for specific things I am aiming to avoid or control. These specific things could be related to e.g. all the emerging internet addiction, that is gaming addiction prevention, gambling addiction prevention, pornographic and cybersex addiction prevention. Are there some helpful tools for younger children or older children .

You may also want to look at how sure am I of being able to control the computer and my kid’s not just get around the software. You want to choose a software that is password protected, can be set in stealth mode and stop others from changing anything in the computer control panel.

Most important thing is to take your time searching, reading, asking, testing and in the end when you are happy choosing the right parental control software.

Do Boards Need a Technology Audit Committee?

What does FedEx, Pfizer, Wachovia, 3Com, Mellon Financial, Shurgard Storage, Sempra Energy and Proctor & Gamble have in common? What board committee exists for only 10% of publicly traded companies but generates 6.5% greater returns for those companies? What is the single largest budget item after salaries and manufacturing equipment?

Technology decisions will outlive the tenure of the management team making those decisions. While the current fast pace of technological change means that corporate technology decisions are frequent and far-reaching, the consequences of the decisions-both good and bad-will stay with the firm for a long time. Usually technology decisions are made unilaterally within the Information Technology (IT) group, over which senior management chose to have no input or oversight. For the Board of a business to perform its duty to exercise business judgment over key decisions, the Board must have a mechanism for reviewing and guiding technology decisions.

A recent example where this sort of oversight would have helped was the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) mania of the mid-1990’s. At the time, many companies were investing tens of millions of dollars (and sometimes hundreds of millions) on ERP systems from SAP and Oracle. Often these purchases were justified by executives in Finance, HR, or Operations strongly advocating their purchase as a way of keeping up with their competitors, who were also installing such systems. CIO’s and line executives often did not give enough thought to the problem of how to make a successful transition to these very complex systems. Alignment of corporate resources and management of organizational change brought by these new systems was overlooked, often resulting in a crisis. Many billions of dollars were spent on systems that either should not have been bought at all or were bought before the client companies were prepared.

Certainly, no successful medium or large business can be run today without computers and the software that makes them useful. Technology also represents one of the single largest capital and operating line item for business expenditures, outside of labor and manufacturing equipment. For both of these reasons, Board-level oversight of technology is appropriate at some level.

Can the Board of Directors continue to leave these fundamental decisions solely to the current management team? Most large technology decisions are inherently risky (studies have shown less than half deliver on promises), while poor decisions take years to be repaired or replaced. Over half of the technology investments are not returning anticipated gains in business performance; Boards are consequently becoming involved in technology decisions. It is surprising that only ten percent of the publicly traded corporations have IT Audit Committees as part of their boards. However, those companies enjoy a clear competitive advantage in the form of a compounded annual return 6.5% greater than their competitors.

Tectonic shifts are under way in how technology is being supplied, which the Board needs to understand. IT industry consolidation seriously decreases strategic flexibility by undercutting management’s ability to consider competitive options, and it creates potentially dangerous reliance on only a few key suppliers.

The core asset of flourishing and lasting business is the ability to respond or even anticipate the impact of outside forces. Technology has become a barrier to organizational agility for a number of reasons:

o Core legacy systems have calcified
o IT infrastructure has failed to keep pace with changes in the business
o Inflexible IT architecture results in a high percentage of IT expenditure on maintenance of existing systems and not enough on new capabilities
o Short term operational decisions infringe on business’s long term capability to remain competitive

Traditional Boards lack the skills to ask the right questions to ensure that technology is considered in the context of regulatory requirements, risk and agility. This is because technology is a relatively new and fast-growing profession. CEOs have been around since the beginning of time, and financial counselors have been evolving over the past century. But technology is so new, and its cost to deploy changes dramatically, that the technology profession is still maturing. Technologists have worked on how the systems are designed and used to solve problems facing the business. Recently, they recognized a need to understand and be involved in the business strategy. The business leader and the financial leader neither have history nor experience utilizing technology and making key technology decisions. The Board needs to be involved with the executives making technology decisions, just as the technology leader needs Board support and guidance in making those decisions.

Recent regulatory mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley have changed the relationship of the business leader and financial leader. They in turn are asking for similar assurances from the technology leader. The business leader and financial leader have professional advisors to guide their decisions, such as lawyers, accountants and investment bankers. The technologist has relied upon the vendor community or consultants who have their own perspective, and who might not always be able to provide recommendations in the best interests of the company. The IT Audit Committee of the Board can and should fill this gap.

What role should the IT Audit Committee play in the organization? The IT Audit function in the Board should contribute toward:

1. Bringing technology strategy into alignment with business strategy.
2. Ensuring that technology decisions are in the best interests of shareholders.
3. Fostering organizational development and alignment between business units.
4. Increasing the Board’s overall understanding of technological issues and consequences within the company. This type of understanding cannot come from financial analysis alone.
5. Effective communication between the technologist and the Committee members.

The IT Audit Committee does not require additional board members. Existing board members can be assigned the responsibility, and use consultants to help them understand the issues sufficiently to provide guidance to the technology leader. A review of existing IT Audit Committee Charters shows the following common characteristics:

1. Review, evaluate and make recommendations on technology-based issues of importance to the business.
o Appraise and critically review the financial, tactical and strategic benefits of proposed major technology related projects and technology architecture alternatives.
o Oversee and critically review the progress of major technology related projects and technology architecture decisions.
2. Advise the senior technology management team at the firm
3. Monitor the quality and effectiveness of technology systems and processes that relate to or affect the firm’s internal control systems.

Fundamentally, the Board’s role in IT Governance is to ensure alignment between IT initiatives and business objectives, monitor actions taken by the technology steering committee, and validate that technology processes and practices are delivering value to the business. Strategic alignment between IT and the business is fundamental to building a technology architectural foundation that creates agile organizations. Boards should be aware of technological risk exposures, management’s assessment of those risks, and mitigation strategies considered and adopted.

There are no new principles here-only affirmation of existing governance charters. The execution of technology decisions falls upon the management of the organization. The oversight of management is the responsibility of the Board. The Board needs to take appropriate ownership and become proactive in governance of the technology.

Do Boards need a Technology Audit committee? Yes, a Technology Audit Committee within the Board is warranted because it will lead to technology/business alignment. It is more than simply the right thing to do; it is a best practice with real bottom-line benefits.