Southpark Explains Freemium Mobile Games

Yup. I agree with all of this. Southpark does a good job of explaining how freemium works. Recently, I heard a guy explain how much money he earned from various business models (free but with advertisements, pay for the app, freemium), and he said that freemium was the clear winner when it came to earning revenue, so I can’t entirely blame creators for using that business model.

Help Fight a Patent Troll

A patent troll has been going around sending threatening letters and demanding money from podcasters for violating his patent. This patent troll wants to use the legal system to force podcasters (potentially all podcasters) to make him rich while he does nothing. This is galling on several levels: it harms creators and it makes lazy patent trolls rich. These patent trolls are little more than parasites.

Admittedly, this problem is just a symptom of a larger problem with the US patent laws: the ability to patent vague processes which are obvious and high-tech versions of existing technology.

From Slashdot:

“Patent troll Personal Audio has sued top podcasters including Adam Carolla and HowStuffWorks, claiming that they own the patent for delivery of episodic content over the Internet. Adam Carolla is fighting back and has started a Fund Anything campaign to cover legal fees. From the Fund Anything campaign page: ‘If Adam Carolla loses this battle, then every other Podcast will be quickly shut down. Why? Because Patent Trolls like Personal Audio would use a victory over Carolla as leverage to extort money from every other Podcast.. As you probably know, Podcasts are inherently small, owner-operated businesses that do not have the financial resources to fight off this type of an assault. Therefore, Podcasts as we know them today would cease to exist.’ James Logan of Personal Audio answered Slashdotters’ questions in June 2013. Links to the patent in question can be found on Personal Audio’s website. The EFF filed a challenge against Personal Audio’s podcasting patent in October 2013.”

I gave money to this. So should you.

For more information, This American Life has two podcast episodes on this:
This American Life: When Patents Attack
This American Life: When Patents Attack, Part 2

Pageview Journalism

I recently read “Trust Me, I’m Lying”, where Ryan Holiday talks about how he would trick the media into covering stories about products he’s trying to sell. It generally took the form of “exclusives”, “leaked” documents, and attempts to manufacture outrage. By manufacturing outrage, people would talk about the product, which made it visible to people who wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. For example, he worked with Tucker Max (author of “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell”). He’d pay for billboards advertising the movie, then vandalize the billboards, take a picture of the vandalized billboard and pass it on (anonymously) to bloggers who’d write about it. He’d show up to feminist groups on college campuses, tell them about what a terrible misogynist Tucker Max was, and get them to organize a protest – which would only draw attention to the Tucker Max book and movie. He currently works as marketing director for American Apparel (what? you thought all the bad publicity American Apparel gets is unintentional?).

In one section of the book, he talks about pageview journalism. This is a form of journalism that is directed by pageviews (i.e. as many readers as possible). Pageviews, in turn, result in getting ad-revenue because the more readers you can get on your website, the more money you can make from advertisements. In short: more readers = more money. On the flipside, the websites employ bloggers to produce stories and have even started paying them based on the pageviews of those stories. These bloggers often get very little money, but they can increase their income if they can pull readers.
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Slashdot, Websites, and Ad-blocker

Last month, the gaming-website Destructoid posted a story about their discovery that half of their users are using Ad-Blocker. The editor of Destructoid wrote about it (quite nicely, by the way) and displayed a message to users to arrived at the site using Ad-Blocker. From there, the story hit Slashdot. I’ll say upfront that I have a hard time feeling entirely compassionate towards a lot of the Slashdot comments. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve run a business, whereas Slashdot commenters are largely consuming (but not producing) so they don’t have much sympathy for businesses or financials.

It seems to me that there are three possible reactions to ads on a website:
(1) Put up with the ads, keep visiting the site.
(2) Use ad-blocker, keep visiting the site.
(3) Stop visiting the site (you don’t get the content, you don’t get the ads).
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I Don’t Like Tumblr

At the risk of sounding old and out of touch, I’m going to admit that I don’t like Tumblr.

Why not? Their commenting system is essentially non-existent. On Tumblr, whenever someone posts something that’s wrong or should be clarified, it’s easy for other people to repost it, but hard to correct it or clarify it or comment on it.

As far as I can tell, the only way to leave a comment is to create your own account, repost the original post and then write a comment on your own post. But the problem with this is that reposting it means it shows up on your own tumblr account. If other people are following your tumblr, they see it come up as a full-post on your own blog. Sometimes you don’t want your comments to show up as a full post (not because you’re embarrassed about your comment, but simply because it isn’t significant enough to repost for your own blog-followers). This especially becomes a problem if you have a lot of followers. Imagine if you have a thousand followers and you want to leave a small comment on some tiny blog about something they posted. Now you’ve got a full post on your own blog. It’s a terrible system. Great for reposting, bad for adding new information to an existing post.

Here’s an example I ran across today. It’s not hugely flawed. It’s not some post about gun-control or politics or religion or homeopathy – something that would make people want to leave a comment. It’s just a post about the movie “Airplane”.

“And as I was passing time watching the classic film, Airplane, which came out in 1980 (and is very funny), I noted some small differences in flying in 1980 versus today:

actual silverware
actual tableware (plates and glasses)
options for meals
leg room
people dressed up to fly
smoking on airplanes (there really used to be smoking sections on planes, people)
It was by no means a golden age, but planes weren’t quite yet the busses that fly that they are today.”

I first impulse was to link to an NPR story I had heard a while back. The story talked about how, back in the ‘glory days’ of Airlines, the US government regulated prices. This meant that prices were high and airlines competed by offering extras – full meals, first-class service, etc. When government regulation of airlines ended, the airlines ended up competing more on price than quality of service (because everyone kept jumping at the lowest-price fare). The result is what we have today: lower prices and lower service. Airlines might’ve had better service, but you were going to pay more for it.

Before 1978, life for the legacy airlines was pretty sweet. The government set ticket prices. If regulators didn’t think airlines were making enough money, ticket prices would be allowed to rise. Instead of competing to offer the lowest ticket prices, the airlines offered more and more amenities things like bigger seats. Some 747s even had piano bars.

NPR: Why Airlines Keep Going Bankrupt

Heck, some airlines even had a piano bar.

Alas, tumblr only allows me to leave this comment if I have a tumblr blog and repost it with my comment. Even then, it can quickly be overlooked because tumblr doesn’t treat comments like they are important. If I repost and write a long comment, only the first 200 characters or so will show up on the original post. So, the repost-and-comment method means that I can only leave a truncated comment. People can only read my full comment if they click on the link (so make sure those 200 characters are awesome enough to make people want to click). It’s almost like tumblr thought the whole “Web 2.0” thing of leaving comments on blogs was a mistake; that two-way communication instead of unidirectional, TV-like communication was a error made in the early, naive years of the Internet.

Targeted Marketing

A few weeks ago, I ordered some custom Blinds on the internet for my place. Well, yesterday, I received a 700 page catalogue from Restoration Hardware. The only thing I can figure is that the Blinds website sold my information to Restoration Hardware – which is a good bet for RH because I’m now in the category of people ‘doing interior design’ on my residence.

This targeted advertising actually gets really powerful with the internet. Here’s an even creepier example of data-tracking – a year or two ago, I met a girl at a coffeeshop. We talked a bit, she gave me her number, but I never followed up. We never had each-other’s facebook or email addresses. Recently, I saw her appear on my Facebook “people you might know” sidebar. This surprised me a little bit. Here’s what I think happened: I have the Facebook app on my phone. The Facebook app has permissions to read all the phone numbers in my phone. Facebook managed to link a phone number in my phone to her profile on Facebook.

It’s surprising how much information can be pulled together – especially when they’re able to access my phone information. I have a theory that the Facebook App also tracks who I send/receive text messages from, and uses that information to figure out who my best friends are (and, in turn, which Facebook posts should appear in my Facebook feed). I’m pretty sure that they know exactly which websites I’m visiting, thanks to the Facebook widget that appears on most major websites.

On one hand, I’m very creeped out by the amount of information that’s being collected. At the same time, I can see it’s usefulness from a marketing standpoint. When I want to advertise something, I want to spend money advertising to people who might buy my product. Advertising to people who won’t (or are statistically unlikely) to buy my product is a waste of money. Without targeted advertising, it might be a financial disaster to advertise at all. For example, if only 1% of the public is interested in what I’m selling, but it costs be 10 cents for each person who sees the ad, then, even if 100% of that 1% buys my product, I need to spend $10 in advertising in order to make one sale. If I only make $5 profit on each sale, then it’s not even worth the money to advertise. If you can use targeted advertising to narrow down to the 10% of the population who *might* want to buy my product, then I can spend 1/10th as much money on advertising, which means I spend $1 on advertising for one extra sale (for $5 profit). The publisher of Empires of Steel said that they do very little advertising because they have a hard time getting their advertising dollars to pay off. Instead, what they do is advertise to their existing player-base (from the website), which is a kind of targeted advertising (advertising to people visiting the website and forums, which is a group distinct from the general population) rather than the type of “we track details about each of our users, and allow third-party access via targeted advertising” system done by Facebook.

Of course, I still feel uncomfortable with the amount of data collection Google and Facebook have on me.

Software Updaters

I’ve been dabbling lately in the idea of putting out some tools for game developers since I’ve already traveled that road. One tool I was thinking about was an application updater – to auto-detect when new versions are available and allow the application to download and install the latest version. This is something that I created for EoS and it would be useful for other developers.

The first thing I needed to do, though, is see if there are already some good updaters out there on the internet – either for free/open-source or for sale. I quickly came up with a link to the Google Updater – which is open-source. That’s cool. Google usually makes some pretty good stuff and it’s free/open-source, so, I checked it out. It doesn’t make sense to re-invent the wheel, afterall.

After digging around, it looks like Google has only released the source-code to the client side of the updater. An updater needs both client-side and server-side code. You have to write your own server from scratch. Ugh. Seriously, Google? Why even bother open-sourcing the client side? It’s pretty useless without a server.

From the Google Updater page:

Omaha, otherwise known as Google Update, is a program to install requested software and keep it up to date. So far, Omaha supports many Google products for Windows, including Google Chrome and Google Earth, but there is no reason for it to only support Google products.

We know that keeping software updated is both important and hard, and so by open-sourcing this project, our hope is that perhaps we can help others solve this problem. So, if you’d like to get involved, or even use Omaha to support your own software projects, then just follow the instructions in the Getting Started guide below, and you’ll be good to go!

This needs a “by the way — we aren’t actually giving you the server-side, so you’ll have to write it yourself and that’ll probably take months of work, so we aren’t actually being that helpful”.


I’ve been spending some time checking out some of the games I missed out on the past few years. I missed out because I was always working on my own game, and my laptop didn’t have much graphics power. But, now I’ve got a little more free time and a good laptop.

One thing that astounded me was that Fallout 3 didn’t have a demo. I was talking to a friend of mine recently about having played the original Fallout 1 and 2, and was curious about the newer games and whether they did a good job with them. He said Fallout New Vegas was really good, but there were some problems with the game at release. Specifically, he mentioned this video, which is actually a pretty odd glitch in the game:

Anyway, Fallout New Vegas doesn’t have a demo, either. At this point, I won’t even bother buying a game without a demo. I want to see if the game is done well, whether I’m into it, whether there are a lot of bugs, whether it runs okay on my machine before I buy it. It’s shocking to me that they wouldn’t release a demo. Anyway, my friend said he’s loan me his copy of the game so I could check it out. I tried to install it tonight and got this error:

Duplicate Product Code

The product code you’ve entered has already been activated by an existing Steam account, and is therefore invalid. Your activation of Fallout New Vegas Retail has not been completed.

Sigh. Why do companies make this so difficult?

Minecraft Documentary

Joystiq just posted a 20-minute promotional video to help fund a documentary about Minecraft. I thought I’d be able to watch it, but I watched the first five minutes until they reached the point where they start talking about the runaway success of the game that nobody predicted. I had to shut it off.

It still bothers me that Notch earned more money on average from one to two days of work than I earned in six years and resulted in financial disaster. I think I’ll have to take a break from games for a long while before I can get my head straightened out, because I have a hard time reading anything written by any small, successful indie company. It’s a bad thing that I can’t manage to listen to successful people in the games industry — it means I can’t really learn from them.