A Gamer's FAQ to Bible Navigator X

On Tuesday, LifeWay announced the development of Bible Navigator X for the XBOX 360, via the Indie Games Channel and XNA.  In the next few weeks we'll be talking more about the application on HCSB.org and BibleNavigatorX.com but, since a lot of the gaming sites have picked up the news, I wanted to be able to answer some questions specifically for you. 1) Why only the XBOX 360? B&H is producing this via the XBOX Live Indie Games channel; the other consoles and handhelds don't offer a similar toolset.  While we would be interested in developing for those platforms, the opportunities simply aren't there right now for us. 2) What is the HCSB? HCSB stands for the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  It's one of the most modern transalations, and one of only two Bible translations (the other is the NET Bible) to have been done utilizing computers.  It's a cross-denomination translation, with 17 denominations represented on its translation team.  You can learn more at HCSB.org. 3) What does the 'X' stand for? B&H already has a product called Bible Navigator for the PC.  We wanted to keep the name of the product line and, since this is currently and XBOX-only project it seemed fairly obvious to call it Bible Navigator X. 4) Will I need a patch to read the text in SD? Nope; we'll let you control the font size on Day 1.  That's a part of the nuts and bolts of our app.  ;-) 5) Will there be Achievements or DLC? Sorry, but unfortunately no.  Those features aren't available on Indie Games.
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Bible Navigator X: Fulfilling a Dream

As cheesy as it sounds: I love my job. There are goals that you set for yourself in life that you hope to attain, and there are goals that you put before yourself that you place there for the sheer audicity of it all, knowing that it's not something that will ever happen.  Like flying to the moon, adopting a pet dragon, or helping to put the very words of God into a medium that it's never been in before. Today my team announced that we will be bringing the HCSB translation of the Bible to the Xbox via Bible Navigator X.  This has been a dream of mine for since the XBOX 360 launched and they announced that there would be downloadable games.  Way back when it first came out, in 2005, I managed to actually get someone on the phone at Microsoft to see if we could partner with them to make something happen.  At the time, there was simply no way to make it work within their ecosystem... especially since it wouldn't be a game. So, fast forward 4 years, and God somehow places me in the book publishing division of LifeWay, where we publish the Bible.  And, not only that, but B&H is an honest-to-goodness inovator in the digital publishing space and, even in this economy, is willing to take financial risks if it means spreading the Good News of Christ.  So, when I asked if we could explore putting the Bible on the XBOX, my coworkers and boss actually said "yes." So, to begin my quest of making it happen, I posted out to a game developer's forum asking how I might connect with someone to freelance a project.  Lo and behold, I was found by Andy Dunn - a fairly well known developer in the XBOX community.  Someone whose stuff I read back in the day when I was trying to code my own XBOX wares. Andy and I struck up a conversation, outlined what the application would look like, and we went to town.  His wisdom was, quite honestly, astounding.  I've learned more about the game/app development process from him than I ever expected to know.  But there was still that nervousness... is this really going to work? If you've got a dream, you'll have spent hours thinking about it in your head, hoping that some day the reality might be even a sliver of that dream.  In these past few weeks, as Andy has dropped a build to me every few days, it has almost freaked me out.  This is the very first version of Bible Navigator X, our first go at putting this most sacred content onto a video game system... and it work with the medium so perfectly.  It feels natural and nice; like the XBOX was made to host the Bible. In short, reality suprassed what I had dreamt up in my head. I feel almost foolish and childlike, gushing about how exciting this is for me and how much I love my job that allows me to see dreams come true.  I have a renewed interest in spreading the Gospel of Christ, now that it's in a medium that my peers can connect with.  I have a brand new level  of respect for the scholars and wise men who translated the Greek and Hebrew into what we call the HCSB translation... and the programmers and developers who translated that into XML and code. And, I'm not trying to wax philosophically here... I'm just finally able to get out words that I've had to keep secret for so long, I feel like a huge burden has been lifted.  It's not every day that you get to be aware of being a part of God's plan.  It's not every day that you know your actions could - litearlly - impact millions.  This is one of those things that I'll tell my children about, and I will tell their grandchildren, and so on and - hopefully - so on. Excited.  That's how I feel.  I hope you didn't mind my shoutting it from the internets.
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What's Really Happening with Twitter

in a meeting for a new project at LifeWay yesterday, we discussed the idea of using twitter during the project experience.  at first, the team thought I was joking.  they laughed about how twitter is just for people to do constant life-updates, like "i'm going to the bathroom now."  there's a distinct seperation between those who have not used twitter, those who use twitter, and those who embrace twitter. twitter has become an asynchronous, world-wide chat room. i remember when i was younger logging into AOL chat rooms and trying to find neat people to talk with.  it was a desperate attempt at entertainment and hopes of new friendships... but it was all with random strangers and now lating ties. with twitter I'm able to, instead, engage in conversation with people I know whether they are online at that time or not.  and any of my friends get to see what i'm talking about and chime in too.  and - here's the kicker... I get to see the conversations and thoughts (and maybe even talk to) people that I have no business talking to.  as work and life continue to become more social and networked, things like twitter allows us to peek into the lives of people/topics/politics/companies that we want to be associated with. twitter turns our sphere of influence into an open hall for the world to hear and for us to hear others.  one giant conversation piece. i believe that work is becoming more and more intertwined with entertainment, with our social lives, our identities, and our dreams.  how many times have you heard "i'd love to work at..." or seen pictures or cool offices or thought about how to improve your own work place? I know that there are many people who would love to work for LifeWay, and I am blessed to be a part of the talent that's employed there.  I know our competitors would love to know how we work.  I know there are people who will do everything they can to find out what our VBS themes are going to be early so they can be the one to break the news.  I know that people want all the details about the next Beth Moore or Priscilla Schrier study and will follow any blog (or twitter account) that might drop some hint about it. And that's a good thing.  It means that people are finding people, places, jobs and products to get passionate about.  It means that we don't have to accept the spoon-fed media of network television and ClearChannel music.  it means there are people out there talking about the alternatives... and that people are listening. and this new/secret project I'm working on at LifeWay that will (tenatively) launch at the very end of this month? we're going to use twitter. UPDATE: my personal twitter account is here.
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Data Mining to Justify and Solve Mysteries (and... Clip Art?)

Last week I gobbled up some more responsibility here at LifeWay, and became the curator of our (forthcoming) downloads portal, LifeWay.com/downloads.  As of today, this is what it looks like: Magical, eh? So, of course, I have much different plans for the page than its currently set up.  However, in making such a big change, it's only right for the page to have the rights of due diligence and make sure that the current users of the page will still have the same functions on the name page, if it is so warranted. The current page is set up as links going to our free resources.  Is it effective?  Meh. Because we use an awesome web stats service, Fireclick, and my job used to be gathering and reporting on the web analysis and metrics for the entire LifeWay network of sites, I'm able to get at the pertinent data pretty readily. Turns out the number one links is to the Adult free resources (the Women's resources is a broken link, so I can't track that).  More surprising, however, I discovered that the number two link was the clipart page, and that the clipart page was surprisingly popular on our site in general!  Clipart?  Seriously?  So this, of course, leads to exploration about the clipart page. One of the neat things about Fireclick is you can easily pull up all kinds of stats on a webpage.  My curiosity was this: if the LifeWay.com/downloads page was responsible for only 1.6% of the clipart page... how were people getting there? It turns out that 94% of the hits on the clipart page are actually the FIRST page people hit on the LifeWay.com website.  In other words, they're coming to the page from OUTSIDE of other LifeWay.com pages.  This is where data-mining and webstats gets to be fun; I was trying to find out what to do with one page and stumble upon a silly mystery of how on Earth are people getting to a page that we haven't updated in years. Again, Fireclick comes to the rescue as I can put the webpage into a report that tells me what the referring domains (and/or actual URLs) are to bring people directly to the clipart page. Here's where it gets crazy; 65% of the visits to the page are from people doing directly to the page... as in, typing it in or they have it book marked.  The next biggest bracket are Google searches from Canada, and then Google searches from the UK. So, of course, I get even more curious and mine a bit further... We've got people hitting up our clipart page from EVERYWHERE.  The US, Canada, the UK, the Philipines, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates... everywhere.  This is just bizzare to me. The key to data mining, however, is making some sense of the data.  If you've got nothing applicable from the exercise, then it's just a waste of time.  So, some resolution points from my little stroll down the Fireclick stats lane:  
  1. The page can be modified however we see fit.  There is too little traffic to the lifeway.com/downloads page to impact our business in a negative capacity.  Any improvements should/could result in an improvement in page views, usage of free downloads, and traffic/awareness of our purchasable downloads.
  2. The free download pages need to be reworked as well.  They aren't heavily trafficked either and need some attention.  There's good content out there, but no one knows we give so much away free!
  3. Clip Art for MayClipart could be a micromarket for us.  The question is: do we position clipart as a free loss-leader for traffic/something we can just give away to help church add some flair to their bulletins, or do we find a way to commission new, high-quality clip art and sell sets of it to recoup the expenditure?  Unfortunately, I'm not really in a position to make any kind of decision (or really a suggestion) on such a topic, but I find it an interesting dilemma none-the-less.
  4. Clipart.  Still popular.  I never, ever would have guessed.  This is a very humbling reminder about how expansive our customer base is, with some people desiring HD downloads and others checking our clipart page, anxiously awaiting a new line  drawing to drop into their bulletin.
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One of the Great Things LifeWay is Doing: Free "Share Jesus Without Fear" Downloadable

Recently made available on the LifeWay Catalog is a series of free downloadable PDFs for the "Share Jesus Without Fear" material.  This is the first release of products under our multi-ethnic initiative led by Phil Adams, and it has been awesome to get to touch on it, just a little bit. It's not often that we're able to give things of this nature away for free, let alone things that are entirely new products.  These pieces were translated specifically for this purpose: to make them available for free.  I've gotten to talk with Phil several times about the initiative, and there really isn't an ulterior motive here; Phil believes that there is a need for these languages that often don't get much attention to have materials available to them in their native tongue. The fact of the matter is, LifeWay is incurring a cost to make these available.  We pay the cost of hosting the files and of delivering them (just because we're a non-profit doesn't mean that we get free internet bandwidth).  LifeWay pays the cost for meetings when we discuss plans for the products.  LifeWay pays for the time to create the PDF, to organize the process, etc etc. It's a pleasure being able to see us take on a financial burden to ourselves in order to better equip fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and doing so in a way  that is comfortable to them, in their own language.  While we would never be able to do this for all of our products (we do need revenue in order to pay for product, authors fees, employee salaries, electricity and the like), it's great to see us be able to utilize digital delivery to do something like this. Physical books in the various languages are also available at the discounted rate of $4.90.
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Considering the Whiteboard Sessions

For the past few months, I've been considering attending the White Board Sessions. Last year, I attended the Q Conference, and it was simply amazing.  I'm not going this year because it's in New York, and I simply cannot afford it.  "Affording it" is my same quandry with attending the White Board Sessions. Though the White Board Sessions is a much cheaper endeavor... it still costs me money.  It would cost me gas and miles on my car.  And, just as important, it would cost me time. Now then, I'd LOVE to go for the connections and the experience of being there... and it really seems that Ben Arment is really making a conference worth attending.  But I don't know how big the conference is, versus something like the Connect Conferences* where I know there's only going to be 75 attendees (thus making connections and networking the top reason to go, imho). But then, the reality of the fact that there are conferences all over (DJ Chaung, leader of the digital.leadnet.org blog, is attending six in April alone) and that some speakers are recycling their talks... it makes me wonder if there isn't a better way to do this. Q got it right last year: they filmed the talks and offered for viewing online for a fee.  Even though I attended, I subscribed to the service.  I don't know what Whiteboard's post-conference plans are, but I do hope they're able to post the videos out to the rest of the world who doesn't show up. That being said, if I had to pick one Christian conference to go to this year, it probably would the Whiteboard Sessions.  I know Ed Stetzer will have something stellar lined up, and I've come to expect great things from Mark Batterson.  But still, I find it hard to commit to such a journey (a day of driving, the actual conference, a day of siteseeing(?), a day of driving back). Perhaps I've been to spoiled with online video and webcasts of major keynotes in the past for non-Christian related things.  Perhaps I want an easier way to hear these messages, whether they be world-changing, life-altering, or niche-filling.  Or, perhaps, I should just find solace in knowing that there are great ideas being shared and I can let them trickle down to me and I don't always have to be at the forefront of ideation. *DISCLAIMER:  Yes, I work for LifeWay.  Yes, LifeWay is putting on the Connect Conferences.  But seriously... the Threads team is putting a lot into these conferences... I know, because I've been in some of the meetings.  The Connect Conferences are going to be an amazing oppertunity for anyone interested in young adult culture and ministries.  They've got some great stuff lined up, and the oppertunity to connect with other leaders and experts is going to be unlike anything else I've seen coming up.
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That's right!  This past week, Aaron became an officially publisher writer!  The first magazine that came was Deacon (which you can purchase a copy of here) featuring my article on Blogging, Pornography and your Church's Website.  It took almost a year to get here (I wrote it in June of 07!), but it's quite the excitement to see my article all dolled up with graphics and real ink.
Deacon Magazine Article
I then recieved my copy of Collide Magazine!  For them I wrote a piece on satellite churches.  I have to say, the design and content of Collide Magazine is really top-notch.  These guys get it.  I'm also proud to mention that I turned in my second article for them today, on churches using Facebook apps.
Collide Magazine Article
One of the great things about writing these articles is that I'm getting to interact with awesome guys who are real pioneers in using media and technology to help build relationships.  It's a bit odd to be "the press," but it's also incredibly fun to get to hear these stories and passions and broadcast their message of quality, relationship and innovation out to a much larger audience. As a follow up to my "Launching Satellites" article for Collide, I also was contacted by Ka You Communications about their installation of the satellite service for McLean Bible Church (one of the churches featured in the article, along with Long Hollow and North Coast Church).  I encourage you to check out these churches to see the ways they are pioneering in mulit-site campus thought, and bridging the gap between church and local communities. Seeing these articles in print really is an awesome feeling.  For anyone who is struggling with writing, let me tell you that it's worth it to keep knocking on doors and trying to put yourself out there to write.  One of the reasons I try to keep this blog rolling is to keep my fingers typing and writing things out.  With both magazines it took a while for the editors and I to connect and find the right topic for my knowledge base and their audience, but in the end it's worked out great and I hope to be a regular contributor to both of them. Now I'm wondering how my short story pitch to Asimov's is doing...
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Student Ministry Strategy: Scott Stevens and Jeff Pratt

I'll be honest; the point of this interview, from my end, was to promote the upcoming KNOWN resource coming from the student department here at LifeWay.  But these guys - even though they're in charge of that launch - didn't care about getting that message out.  They wanted to get the message of what they are passionate about (student ministry strategy) out.  And so, that's what we talked about. This was also a learning experience as an interviewer, because I was determined to get at least a mention of the product in at the end, and tried to force a segue and, being the honest guy he is, Jeff called me out on it.  He knew what I was doing and was trying to get at, but he did not like the implications of my segue, so he argued about what I had actually said. It was awesome to interview two people with so much knowledge in their field, and the evident passion they have for equipping the local church with the best possible knowledge, strategies and resources for understanding youth today.  This is a must-watch if you are involved in youth ministry. [kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/30228/111031&embedId=10085325]
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Missions at LifeWay

One of the great things about working for LifeWay is knowing that we reinvest so much time and talent into building missions oppertunities for churches across the nation, and maintaining relationships with cities across the country. Because of the oppertunties that LifeWay organizes, youth groups and college students are able to go on short-term missions that have long-term missions impact.  It's a great oppertunity for the participants to grow on a personal level, while still impacting the people and communities they come in contact with on a long term basis. The first conversation I got to have was with Laurie Lee about the missions oppertunities that LifeWay provides for youth groups.  Through FUGE Camps, students are able to participate in missions first hand, as well as give to a missions fund that provides for the cities FUGE Camps partners with long term.  The video with Laurie is thirty minutes long, but if you choose to watch it you will see Laurie's passion for missions work just flow out of her.  If you have an interest in short-term or long term missions, I would highly suggest you give it a listen. appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/30228/102476&embedId=10070657] Last Friday I also got the chance to talk with Angel Ellis about the Threads event for college students, Beach Reach.  At Beach Reach, students travel to Florida during spring break to help drunk student get home safely.  Students get to take part by driving vans, praying together, or just talking with the students they are helping find their way home. You can listen to the podcast episode here.
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LifeWay Downloads: Decisions about Encoding

As I mentioned in a previous post, LifeWay is beginning to offer some of our downloadable videos in standard definition.  There are a number of things that go into the decision on how to encode these things, but the biggest question is always what we should offer in terms of resolution, bit rate, and file size.  With standard definition, the resolution should be pretty well set: 640x480.  Of course, we shoot with DV cam, so that resolution actually gets bumped up above standard def, to 720x480.  And there's  one project I'm working on  that was shot in 16:9, so the resolution will be even higher (but not hi-def).So today I'm working with some hour-long sessions of a study we've previously released in low-res from Beth Moore. Since we're making it standard def (720x480), I have to really tweak the bit rate to make sure that the quality is worth the extra money that we will be charging for the video.  However, I have to make the file size small enough that a normal computer and internet connection can handle the download.  LifeWay does not yet have a download manager... so I can't go over the top with file size. The balance I'm at, for these files, is working at a 2000kbps variable bit rate.  While this is less than I'd like it to be... it's just about the highest quality I can go and still make a feasible product.  Why?  At 2000kbps, the file sizes are hitting 1000MB.  That's a big file to download.  Real big.  When I worked in the technology division, I had customers complain about 100MB files. The source files I'm working with are averaging 75GB.  So, being able to compress down to 1GB is actually an amazing feat (and one that is averaging 6 HOURS per encode... 12 files x 6 hours = 3 days.  Thank you, Mr. Weekend). So here's to an experiment in file sizes; is the quality of going from 360x240 at around 800kbps and 100MB worth 1000MB at 720x480 at 2000kbps? 
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LifeWay Downloads: Influencing Like Jesus

The video teaching series for Mike Zigarelli's Influencing Like Jesus is now available for download on LifeWay.com.  This is pretty exciting for me because it's the first video project that I've seen all the way through.  This has been the pilot project for my job and everything that's to come for me, video wise.  With this project I was able to gather the information needed to make my workflow, get authorization for the correct software needs, and fully understand the process of getting the files up to our file server and connected with our online catalog. The more exciting part about this series is it's a first for LifeWay in two ways: (1) This is our first DRM-free video download product.  This is an experiment for us to see how our customers will react to the files not being DRM'd.  There's quite a bit of risk for us here, as there isn't a DVD companion piece to this.  In the long run, I think this will serve as a great customer convience.  From my customer service background I know the troubles that a lot of our customers have had with the current DRM set-up.  Plus, this will allow our Mac users to download the files.  I truly think this is a win-win situation, and I hope to get approval on more DRM-free content in the future. (2) This is our first multi-tiered quality product.  What I mean by that is the videos are available in three flavors:  This is the first time we're offering a standard definition downloadable product.  All of our past downloads, such as the Beth Moore Daniel files, were low-res, 360x240 files.  We still have that size available for Influencing Like Jesus, but now we also have the full res, 720x480 files available.  For 'Influencing' the files were encoded at an average bit rate of 3000kbps.  Amazon Unbox - a leader in digital downloads - offers their files at an average bit rate of 2500kbps.  I'm proud to say we're able to beat them at that. Of course, with that bump in resolution and bit rate we see a much high file size... so these files are definately only for customers that have a broadband connection. A few links if you're interested in the product:
  • I previously talked with Chris Johnson (the editor of the entire product line) here.
  • You can view the free introductory session here.
  • You can read about the entire study here.
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FUGE Creative Directors: Neil Hoppe and Darrel Girardier

One of my first real friends here at LifeWay was Darrel Giradier.  He was working for Fuge when I started working in the Fuge offices in 2002.  I found a peer that I could talk with, brainstorm with, learn from, and look up to. I first met Neil back then, too, when he came in to help write some of the creative elements for portions of the camp experience. Now, they're both full-time employees of LifeWay, heading up the creative direction of the kids camps and student camps.  These two are both so completely on target with the current trends in culture and marketplace needs for their respective demographics that, if you have any interest in the culture of student from grades 4-12, I highly recommend watching this video.  These two are genuine experts in their field that don't get nearly enough time to share their knowledge. (Seriously, guys - why aren't you speaking at conferences and such?) [kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/30228/100794&embedId=10063178]
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David Webb and Christian Fiction

A while back, I got to meet with David Webb about the B&H pitching process.  Our conversation back then really turned into a "get-to-know-you" meeting, and we talked a lot about the Christian Fiction market, what his job was, who some of the new authors were, etc etc.  The information he was sharing - as well as his passion for Christian Fiction - seemed to me to be something that anyone interested in Christian fiction might want to know.  How often do you get a chance to sit down with one of the top guys in the business? The video is also a lot of fun because you get a peek into David's mind as to how the whole process works, and how involved an editor might be in a story (David talks about how one time a story really needed a character to die...).  David also talks a bit about upcoming books by authors Jamie Carie, Leanna Ellis, and Rebecca Seitz. So, without further ado, here's a video conversation with David Webb.  [kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&embedId=10054074&uri=channels/30228/96816] 
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Mike Harland and the new Twila Paris CD

As a part of my job at LifeWay, I get to work with placing our media on iTunes.  Typically, I'm a bit at the back end of the process, loading things up once production on a disk is finished (this is going to change, soon).  Back in December I got a frantic call about needing an ISRC code for the new Twila Paris CD that LifeWay was putting out.
Curious about such a large project for us, I began to ask around about who I could talk to about the album.  Ended up that the best person for the job was Mike Harland - the director of LifeWay Worship.  So not only was this the first time I've done a video interview with a director, it was the first time I did one with someone I had never met before.

[kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/30228/92557&embedId=10044691&locale=en]
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doing things the right way

when we only have limited resources, there are only so many things we can do. at LifeWay, though we may seem like a very large company, we have very limited resources.  the fact that we're able to get as much done as we're able to due to the incredible talent we do have working for us.  however, because I'm acutely aware of the limited resources we have, I went into my new position accepting that there would be times when I would need to settle for what would just work, instead of what would work best. this morning I came out of an incredibly encouraging meeting.  looking at the upcoming schedule for I'll be working on, between now and March I'll likely be  uploading between 500-1000 media files to be purchasable on LifeWay.com.  The nature of some of the files is going to require some enhancements to our download services.  knowing what's coming down the pike, I was expecting to have to fight hard to get a solution that would just work. the meeting came today, and i realized the faith that LifeWay has not only in the work I'm doing, but also in me.  essentialy, I was told that I wasn't dreaming big enough.  I'm going back to the drawing board and requesting not what will just work, but what I think I will work best. this is the kind of work I love.  I love being told by my managers that my idea is acceptable, but they know that something better can come from me.  I love the idea that I can think about what's best for the customers first, and worry about the work and technology second. then, maybe fifteen minutes later, my manager expanded this task even further.  i don't get to just think about the download manager (though that comes first).  i'm now looking at how we present downloadable media as a whole - how they integrate into the catalog, how their product pages look, how we sort and organize them. doing things the right way, and not just shoehorning new ideas and products into old models, is a huge task... but, man... i did not expect to enjoy my work this much.
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