Tag Archives: Christianity

Actually, Bill Nye is Kind of a Dick

Allow me to stray a little from my usual spate of game development posts and zombie videos to briefly comment on the Bill Nye incident in Waco.

While he was giving a series of lectures,

[Nye] brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled “We believe in God!” and left with three children.

The way in which this story was reported, and the way folks in my social sphere are having a gleeful field day with it, rubs me the wrong way. Here’s why.

Intolerants

Very recently, game designer Dan Cook asked his Twitter game dev followers if they were “religious”. He was presumably looking for a correlation between game design and godlessness. i offered up my list of “religious” (read: Christian) game devs (a number i can count on one hand), but i also made sure to mention that there’s a rampant anti-religious (read: anti-Christian) vibe out there among the people in my social sphere – namely, game devs and tech types.

Vishnu

Ask yourself why you’ll never hear a game dev say “sweet VISHNU riding on a bicycle”.

Over the years, we develop shorthand when referring to or thinking about groups and types of people, because we can’t be arsed to do proper research or to practice empathy. This is how stereotypes work, and they’re quite useful.

shark

Sharks are godless killing machines. Well – maybe not ALL sharks, but the stereotype keeps from being eaten.

What do we know about Waco and its people? Well, first and foremost, Waco is only a few letters off from the arbitrary English word “wacko”, meaning “crazy”, so logically, Waco’s residents must all be nuts. That’s the easy part.

Gary

By the same token, residents of Gary Indiana must go through a LOT of razors.

We also know that Waco is home to religious zealotry. A few years back, there was a religious cult in Waco led by David Koresh. The FBI surrounded his compound, which was eventually burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances, and everyone inside the place died.

Now we’ll delve a little deeper to pull in everything we know about Waco’s people in order to properly judge them. First, Waco is in Texas. Texas is full of Christians, because George Bush. Christians don’t believe in science, because it contradicts the Bible. Since science is the exclusive domain of smart, educated people, we can deduce from this that Christians are stupid. And they’re warhawks. And they don’t like gays. They’re a pretty detestable lot, so it’s pretty great that we get to make fun of them.

Billy Graham

That Graham … is CRACKERS.

A Working Model for Ridicule

So! We have a city packed with stupid Christians, in a town known for its religious zealotry, attending a Bill Nye lecture. Put it all together, and we get the following read on the story:

Science hero Bill Nye, in the proud tradition of Copernicus and Galileo, descended upon Christian backwater Waco, Texas, to enlighten the locals about a scientific fact that contradicts their creation myth. In response, the attendees decried his assertions as witchcraft, rejected his blaspheming, re-affirmed their love for their invisible and scientifically unproven deity, and stormed out of the venue, kids in tow.

Mother with her three children

Screw you guys – we’re going home.

The “kids in tow” bit is important. It’s conspicuously mentioned in the article. We don’t get the demographic breakdown of the other dissenters, but we do know that one woman led her three children away. This is mentioned because it’s important to know that Christians reject the findings of science, and that they pass that ignorance on to their children. (And who has children these days, anyway? Pfft. Breeders.)

Let There Be Reflection

Just as a side note, i’ll defend the Genesis verse for kicks. Does it matter if a something described as a “light” is self-illuminating? If you were trapped in a dark place, and you said “Hey Bill – can you shine a light on this keyhole so i can jimmy the lock?”, and Bill – for lack of a light – ingenuously angled a mirror to bounce a beam across the room to the dark keyhole, would you say “Dammit Bill, i said shine a LIGHT -not ‘reflect a beam of light’?”

Let’s edit the verse so that it’s needlessly specific:

God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser reflector to govern the night.

There. Does God exist now?

Molecular Diagrams

I’d believe in God if the Bible had more molecular diagrams.

A Different Read

Christians are so stupid that, when faced scientific fact that humankind has long held to be true, they reject reality and cling to ancient superstition. Then they pass that stubborn idiocy on to their offspring. We’ve figured this all out thanks to the magic of stereotypes, and our own actualignorance.

Here’s another way to read this incident, from someone who is a practicing Christian:

Bill Nye is a massive cock. He’s a very bright guy and an experienced speaker – you don’t land your own teevee show otherwise (Glenn Beck notwithstanding). One of the first rules of public speaking is “know your audience”. Nye knew full well that, being in Texas, there was a high probability that he’d be speaking to at least a few Christians that day.

Downtown Dallas

In Texas, you can’t throw a rock without hitting one of them. (And you shouldn’t cast that first rock unless ye are without sin)

Nye also knew that some aspects of science are at odds with, and at times appear to completely contradict, scripture. He knew that there is an ongoing tension between the realms of faith and science. He was aware that this is a touchy subject.

Yet, despite knowing all of this, Bill Nye had an axe to grind with Bible-believing Christians. Instead of simply stating the fact that the moon reflects the sun’s light, he deliberately put that fact at odds with a verse in the scriptural account of creation in order to stir up shit. There’s no other reason why he decided to frame that fact in that particular way. i haven’t heard this piece of his presentation in context, but it’s clear that he wasn’t innocently invoking the Judeo-Christian creation myth with an absent-minded frivolity, as scientists often do (??)

Richard Dawkins

You know how Richard Dawkins quotes Ecclesiastes every once in a while?

No, Bill Nye intended to provoke. And he got what he wanted: the devout, practicing Christians in the room booed him. It’s important to realize here that they weren’t booing science. They weren’t necessarily rejecting the evidence that the moon is not self-illuminating. They were rejecting the callous approach of a speaker who unnecessarily invoked the debate between science and faith in a known hotbed for Christian adherents.

You don’t book a speaking tour in wine country, take the podium in front of hundreds of vineyard owners and wine enthusiasts, and start off by saying “You know what i hate? Grapes.

Speaker

Fermentation breeds foolishness. Amirite?

Taking a Stand

When an industry pal of mine gleefully retweeted this story, i gave him this more fair-minded read on it. He said fine and dandy, but was it really an appropriate response to boo the speaker and storm out of the auditorium? If you’ve ever believed in something as strongly as Christians believe in (and love) their fantasy God, then you’ll understand that, yes – it is entirely appropriate to stand up for your beliefs when one among you launches an attack on those beliefs. In other words, if someone is being a dick, it’s alright to call him out on it.

Beakman

Mexicans are taking our jobs? Don’t be such a douche, Beakman.

Of course, Christians aren’t the only people who believe in this creation story. The concept of an omnipotent god speaking the sun, moon and stars into being is shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims. But no one would dare attack Jewish people for their religious conviction, because many of them were killed in the holocaust, and any criticism of Jews is seen as insensitive. And you’d better not ridicule Muslims, because they’ll burn your embassy down and put bombs on your airplanes. This is the easy shorthand we’ve developed when dealing with those two groups.

But Christians? They’re a safe, easy target. They’re ignorant, backwards-thinking, and simple-minded. More importantly, they’re powerless to stop you from saying whatever you damn well please about them. They love God, “hate fags”, and despite the likes of noble Bill Nye trying in vain to re-educate them, they think the moon is self-illuminating because the Bible tells them so.

Ah. Thank God for stereotypes.

Oops. Did i say “thank God“? i’m such an idiot.

Just in Time for Easter: Zombunny Cookies

Jesus knows a thing or two about rising from the dead, so it’s not a huge stretch to envision re-animated rabbits crawling out of their pastoral resting places during the Easter holiday. A simple sugar cookie recipe, some cookie cutters, and creative icing skillz are all you need to bring these ferocious zombunnies to life in your own kitchen:

Zombunny Easter Cookies from ZombieGameWorld.com

Mmm … sacrilicious.

No-Fail Sugar Cookies

  • 6 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • fresh brains, to taste

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely integrated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours, or press dough between parchment paper and place in the fridge. By the time you’re finished doing this, the initial batch of rolled dough will be chilled enough to work with. Fry brains and strain them of excess juices. Dry brains on a plate, and crumble over cookies immediately after removing them from the oven. Leftover brain juices may be used in unwholesome ritual ceremonies.

Roll dough to desired thickness and cut into bunny shapes. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Yields one small army of zombunnies.

Zombunny Easter Cookies from ZombieGameWorld.com

Poured Fondant Cookie Icing

  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups icing sugar, as needed
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water

Mix ingredients as needed until the icing is runny enough to pour, but thick enough to set. Apply to cooled cookies with an icing bag or jam knife. Plastic baggies with holes snipped out of their corners make inexpensive icing bags, and allow for easy clean-up*.

Zombunny Easter Cookies from ZombieGameWorld.com

*Rampaging zombunnies may make clean-up more difficult.

Visit ZombieGameWorld.com for more fun stuff!

Content is Peasant

i’m a simple man. i have only two beefs in this world: 1) subtitles that cover up the nudity in foreign films, and 2) the onerous phrase “content is king”.

Penelope Cruz in Abres los Ojos

An American tragedy.

i mentioned last week that we launched a free games portal called WordGameWorld.com. Here’s how that whole process works. i spend a few bucks buying a domain name, a hosting account, and a WordPress theme. Then i go to MochiMedia.com and started cherry-picking games from their list of thousands, at no cost. If i see a game that i like, i can just take it and put it on the site. Then i put ads on the site. Step 4: profit.

i didn’t have to pay for the content. The content is, theoretically, paid for by advertisers whose ads are injected into the games via the MochiMedia service. But as we’ve seen before, in a hit-driven business like Flash games, a non-hit is also a non-earner.

If you’re producing content essentially for free, with the hope of possibly earning fractions of pennies on advertising rev share, and perhaps a sponsorship or two for a few thousands bucks (when perhaps you sunk more than a few thousand bucks in labour into the content), i have a startling revelation for you: content is NOT king. Content is peasant. Content is plebian. Content is serf. The exploiters of content are closer to the crown than you’ll ever be.

Look Who’s Talking

There’s a lyric from a John Lennon song that frequently comes to mind whenever i hear someone chant the “content is king” mantra:

Keep ‘em doped with religion and sex and teevee
And they think they’re so clever and classless and free
But they’re still f*cking peasants as far’s I can see

i’ve been paying more and more attention to who is saying “content is king” and how they are saying it. The people pulling the strings, who are actually in a position to monetize content, say it more often and in a much different tone of voice than the content producers:

Content monetizers: (knowing that their livelihood depends on people constantly producing content that they can exploit) Content is king!

Content producers: (wondering why the hell they’re not gaining any ground, despite being told on a daily basis by the content monetizers that content is king) … Content is king?

The Content Food Chain

i’ve developed a hierarchical chart to illustrate who’s actually in control here, and how the money flows.

Chart

Content Consumers

i hope we can all agree that consumers are at the bottom of the chart. Yes, technically they should be at the top, because they make the decisions and vote with their money and rah rah consumers blah blah blah, but who are you kidding? When i got into the ad-supported web world, working in the interactive department of a teevee broadcaster, we talked a lot about eyeballs – how many unique sets of ocular orbs were looking at our web pages. Not people, not consumers, but their actual eyeballs. We had reduced consumers as a commodity to their component parts! It wasn’t “how many human beings visited our pages”, but “how many eyeballs did we get”? “How do we get more eyeballs on this?” It’s a tiny bit ghastly. Consumers, you’re at the bottom of my chart.



Content Creators

Next up are the content creators. We content creators subjugate consumers. If we’re business-minded, we want to build games that get a lot of those eyeballs, so that we can command higher sponsorship deals and earn more fractions of pennies on advertising revenue share. Some of us want millions of eyeballs on our content just so that we can feel good about ourselves. As i’ve mentioned before, that drive tends to go away when you become a more advanced life-form with a mortgage and kids to feed.

Pickaxe Salesmen

In an offshoot segment of the chart are the pickaxe salesmen. In any Yukon gold rush, there are the people doing all the work and panning for the gold (game developers), and there are the shop owners selling ropes and pickaxes and whiskey. They are the tool providers. FDT, SmartFox Server, ElectroServer, and to an extent ActiveDen (who are, themselves, content aggregators) all make their money selling content producers the promise of becoming rich and famous through their gold-panning content creation efforts.

Prospector

Does this guy look like a king to you?

Content Aggregators

One step above content creators are the content aggregators. In the Flash games industry, these are the portals that pull all the games together in one place – Kongregate, NewGrounds, Big Fish, AddictingGames, King, Gimme5, WordGameWorld, etc etc. In publishing, they are the magazines that assemble and bind the individual articles. In the teevee world, they are the broadcasters who fill their programming hours with shows. Content aggregators treat content as a commodity to be shoveled into their wrappers, especially in the Flash games world, where you can set up an RSS interavenous drip to have free Flash games automatically pumped into your site with zero effort or cost. These people have a vested interest in repeating the “content is king” mantra – their livelihood depends on content producers believing it. Their goal is to get the best content possible for the lowest price imaginable, always.

Advertisers

Advertisers hold us all in thrall. They foot the bill for all of this stuff. Magazines and teevee shows are merely vehicles to sell advertising. That’s what games portals are as well: extended banner and video ads punctuated by the occasional match-3 game. Without advertising money, this whole ecosystem dies … which is why new monetization methods like microtransactions are given so much gravity. Like the United States weaning themselves off oil dependency, it’s in the best interests of content producers and aggregators to develop new sources of energy (money).

Diaper Cream

This whole operation depends entirely on the 10-second spot for Nature’s Baby Organics Diaper Cream. i for one welcome our tiny assrash-reducing overlords.

Aggregator Aggregators

Above the advertisers are the aggregator aggregators: those who aggregate the aggregators. i can’t think of any examples in the Flash games world, but i’m talking about cable providers in the teevee world. These are the people who pull together the aggregators – the teevee channels – into one big package of aggregators, and charge a fee for access. i don’t *think* one of these has emerged in our industry quite yet, but correct me if i’m wrong.

Lord Jesus

Floating high above all of these and seated at the right hand of God is Jesus, who is awesome.

Jesus

Aww yeah – it’s good to be king.

Do You Feel Like a King?

And there it is. With so many strata of folks making money from the lowly piece of content you produce, it’s clear that just as players are a commodity to you as a game developer, your content is a commodity traded in bulk to a higher power skimming off the top. Those higher powers, in turn, are a commodity to someone higher up the food chain.

Clearly, “king” is not an appropriate word to describe the games you’re producing. i’ve never known anyone to trade in large sacks of kings. Perhaps “content is lynchpin” is more fitting: yank the content out from this structure, and the whole thing comes crashing down. But the same thing happens when you pull advertising: you’re removing the wealthy benefactor, the rich uncle, who fuels the whole operation.

i’ll stick to my original claim: content is peasant. Kings can’t be kings without someone farming their crops, cooking their meals, and buffing their toenails. Whose toenails are you buffing? Because if you’re creating Flash games, selling them for a song, and scraping fractions of pennies on advertising revenue share, news flash: you ain’t the king. You’re somebody else’s bucket of eyeballs. You’re responsible for producing a pinch of salt in a barrelful, and it’s the people shipping the salt who are really in bidness.

i’m not saying any of this to upset the applecart, or to suggest that Flash game developers storm the castle and steal the crown. i just want to put it out there, so that the next time someone who makes money off your back tells you “content is king”, you can sock him in the snoot.

To recap:

  1. Jesus is king.
  2. Rogers cable answers only to Jesus.
  3. You’re getting screwed.

Flash Microtransactions: This Changes Everything

i don’t often peer into my crystal ball to predict trends, for fear of looking like a complete nerd. Remember that time i said Jesus was coming at 4PM on a Tuesday, and we all hung out at that bus stop for, like, five hours, until Pete got the munchies and did a Taco Bell run, and the rest of us went to help him carry the drinks and we totally missed Jesus cuz my prediction was off by half a day? i’m more careful now.

Jesus

Jesus: sorry he missed us. (Way to go, Pete)

But i’ve been to Casual Connect, and i have seen the future of online gaming, and it’s microtransactions. Go ahead and close the browser now, if you like. You haven’t seen what i’ve seen, man. i was there. And although many of you are probably skeptical about a system that’ll have you paying twenty-five cents to a preteen for a badly-drawn sword jpeg, i’m here to posit that there’s a side of this you may not have considered. And if you’re a casual downloadable portal owner, i’ll tell you why you should be shaking in your hitherto cash-stuffed boots.

A Quick Primer

First, some terms and definitions.

  • Flash game A video game created with a tool called Adobe Flash. These games are playable in the browser using the ubiquitous Flash Player plugin, the second-to-latest iteration of which has a >90% install base.
  • Casual game A piece of interactive entertainment marketed outside the “core” video game demographic. Casual games typically have smaller development budgets, and break up the gameplay experience into more easily digestible chunks, setting them apart from more demanding “enthusiast” game titles
  • Casual downloadable game These titles can be created with any tool, but are typically written in the C++ language by “real” programmers. File sizes are usually much larger than Flash game file sizes, and the games are often not playable in the browser. “Casual downloadable” can also describe the monetization method for these games.
  • Portal A website that hosts games from a number of different developers. Some portals deal exclusively in casual downloadable games, while others solely have collections of Flash games. One of the most successful portals (at present) is Big Fish Games, which hosts both.
  • Demo A handicapped version of a game for the purpose of convincing the player to purchase the full version. Demos can be time-limited (play for up to an hour free), or feature-limited (play with only Character X, or play only the first five levels). Demos can either exist within the larger game file, or they can be entirely separate files.
  • Try and Buy (or Try-Before-You-Buy) A monetization model where the player samples the demo version of a game, and is enticed to pay a one-time fee to purchase the full version. Demos or trial versions can be downloadable, but more and more, developers are creating Flash demos that can be played in the browser.
  • Subscription A monetization model where the player pays a regular (often monthly) fee for the privilege of playing the game, or to have access to features that free players cannot experience
  • Free-to-play A game model where a significant selection of gameplay – even the entire game – does not cost the player any money. Some Free-to-play games are ad-supported, while others use subscriptions and microtransactions to fund further development. Still others are completely free to play with no strings attached for the player.
  • Microtransactions A monetization model where the player buys incremental upgrades to the game experience that can cost as low as pennies, or even fractions of pennies.

Penny

Give it a year and we’ll be splitting atoms.

Thanks But No Thanks

Before i went to Casual Connect 09, i had it in for Flash microtransactions. i had heard the announcement that Mochi Media was in closed beta on a microtransaction system for Flash games, and i just rolled my eyes, imagining the horrendous state of affairs that would erupt when the army of basement-dwelling Flash teens, fat from their $1000 sponsorship deals on games like Set Your Grandma on Fire and Zombie Asskicker 4: the Killening, started charging five and ten cents a pop for in-game items like “cartoonish weapon of implausible proportions” and “extra health”. No thanks.

And i knew that the microtransaction press was going to be packed with success stories about how Joe Coder made fifty million dollars in two weeks selling special in-game hats for his game, Ninja Kittens. But as soon as i give it a try, i’ll net thirty cents in a year’s worth of schlepping. No thanks.

And i knew that associating games with one-cent transactions would eventually drive down the value of absolutely everything, to the point where a developer charging five cents instead of one cent for a virtual crocheted tank cozy would be tarred and feathered by the broke-ass (but entitled) players rallying around these games. No thanks.

No Way Jose

Roughly translated from the original Spanish, this sign reads “I do not wish to comply, Joseph.”

But let me put a more optimistic spin on things. Let’s take a look at where we are now, and where we could be very, very soon.

The Story So Far

Right now, i very much doubt i can make money on my original Flash games. i took an admittedly mediocre game from our library and ran it through the ad injection model in the Pulitzer prize-winning series Pimp My Game (which did not actually win a Pulitzer prize, so i’m thinking of withdrawing that press release). The game’s made about $90 in a year.

Two By Two

Ninety dollars? Pfft. This gem’s worth at LEAST $117.53 + tx.

So i looked across the fence where the grass is clearly greener, and i saw the casual downloadable market. These people were charging actual, real-live dollars for their games. The developers were getting a share of actual cash money that numbered in the more-than-90′s, and i wanted a piece. But i recognized that the development times were longer, the budgets were bigger, and the risk was greater. That’s when we started work on Kahoots™, our fun crime-themed puzzle game.

Kahoots™

i can’t wait for this game to come out!

Kahoots is a further (longer, riskier, more expensive) step in our quest to establish a baseline for development. i’ve been hunting this mythical baseline for two years now: it’s the average amount of money that i can make from an online game. Establishing a baseline will enable us to work within a reasonable budget, and then, hopefully, we can turn a reasonable profit.

i wasn’t one to leave my free-to-play Flash roots buried, so we got cracking on Interrupting Cow Trivia a few months ago. ICT is yet another experiment in game monetization. The development costs are still large, but the model is different. ICT will show an ad to the player before he jumps into a game room. The free player can answer X questions before being booted back out to the lobby, where he’ll have to watch another ad to re-join. Free players will also be limited to certain trivia content packs, which will be unlocked in regular rotation. For example, the Music Trivia pack will be free to play on Mondays and Saturdays. (That’s a little trick i borrowed from Three Rings of Puzzle Pirates fame. Thanks, OOO!)

Paid Interruping Cow Trivia players won’t see any ads, and they can play from any trivia pack any day of the week. They’ll also have advance access to new trivia packs. As we build more features into the game, we’ll cook up further carrots-on-sticks to incent free players. So be sure to give the game a shot while it’s in alpha and completely free!

Interrupting Cow Trivia Title Screen

ICT is going to get a whole lot more awesomazing in the coming months!

PLEASE Make Money from my Efforts! PLEEEEEASE!!!

Going into the Casual Connect conference, i knew i needed a way to charge people money to play Interrupting Cow Trivia, and to purchase Kahoots on our own site. i knew that this was a good idea, because we would get a larger cut of the profits than if we sent Kahoots to a casual downloadable portal. i haven’t partnered with one of these guys yet, but rumour has it that the split is around 65/35 in favour of the portal. This is somewhat upsetting. The portals haven’t spent a single dime on the development of Kahoots™, and offering a completed, quality game for sale on their site is a zero risk proposition, yet somehow i still have do do a song and dance for them to convince them the game is great, all for the privilege of giving them the lion’s share of the proceeds.

But they have the lion’s share of the traffic, right? Big Fish Games is essentially Wal Mart, and if you don’t sell there, you don’t sell anywhere. (Or so i thought – more on that in a bit.) One big problem these days is that a few months ago, Amazon got into the casual games business and started charging $9.99 for its wares, down from the status quo of $20. This sparked a price war that saw Big Fish reduce its prices to $7.99, with a $2.99 price point for their special toolbar promotion.

Big Fish Games 2.99 deal

Who gave that f*cking fish a paintbrush?? He’ll ruin us all!

So who knows where prices will end up? My prediction is that they’ll sink down to the App Store dumps, where everything will be at 99 cents, and a number of casual downloadable devs will go bankrupt because they’ll be a month from releasing their latest big-budget opus. That, or they won’t be able to adjust quickly enough to the Flash way of doing things, where we can bang out a complete game in under a week (see our game Bloat., and fear us.)

The Transaction Faction

So knowing i’d need to charge people on my site, i started meeting with the droves of online transaction companies at the show. These are the companies who have already done the legwork to enable credit card, debit card, pay-by-phone, SMS, cheque, money order, secret password, cost-per-action and wooden nickel transactions to your visitors seemlessly, in exchange for a cut and a few cents on the dollar. The VISA bill says “You were charged $x by Untold Entertainment for Kahoots”. Nice.

But i quickly learned that it would be very difficult, as a small developer, to have a relationship with these guys. GlobalCollect, for example, charges a monthly user fee of around $700. Plimus charges a big set-up fee, and takes a sizable chunk of the proceeds based on the volume of cash you move through their system. The price comes down according to volume. They asked me how many sales i intended to make. i shrugged and said “Dunno. Million … ish.” i have no idea. i’ve never done it before. If Kahoots sells five copies, i’ll be pleased with putting smiles on the faces of five people. (while my homeless family shivers in a makeshift cave made from egg crates and refrigerator boxes in a forgotten alleyway somewhere in Toronto)

It was whispered to me at the conference that if i had engineering chops, i could get an authorize.net account with an SSL certificate and roll my own payment solution. i don’t have engineering chops, unfortunately. And anyway, it’s the kind of thing where i’d like to see how it works out before i sit down and figure out exactly what to build to save myself some money.

And all the while, i saw companies like HeyZap, MochiMedia and GamerSafe, all offering Flash-integrated online wallets for virtual cash, glad-handing the conference delegates and preaching the gospel of Flash game microtransactions. (i’m not actually sure GamerSafe was there phyiscally, but they were there in spirit)

And that’s when i had a brainwave.

Pinky and the Brain

This is gonna be good.

“Micro” is a Possibility, Not a Requirement

A microtransaction system is great because it allows for tiny transactions. The player is more likely to spend tiny amounts of money, but tiny amounts of money add up to significant amounts of money. If you’ve ever bought more than seven vials of heroin in a single afternoon to drown out the pain of your failed existence, you’ll know how those singular transactions start to really add up. And then developers can pull all kinds of nonsense like in Tencent QQ in Korea, where they went hog-wild pioneering this stuff. In Korea’s Cyworld, you can dress up your room, or buy things to send to your friend, but those things – those VIRTUAL ITEMS – expire. You give your friend some wallpaper that has a two-week time limit on it. Insane.

But here’s (finally) my point: a microtransaction system enables you to charge tiny amounts of money, but it doesn’t require you to. There’s no reason why i can’t decide on, say, a $7.99 price point for Kahoots (as Big Fish Games would), and then charge that to my players as a one-time fee at the end of the demo. Correct me if i’m wrong, providers, but i can do that – right?

Right?

And if i can do THAT, let’s look at how a Flash system stacks up against the casual downloadable market:

Casual Downloadable Games

  • (Potentially) large exe download
  • Play on desktop
  • Trial type is limited (for example, i believe Big Fish forces your game into a 1-hour trial. What if that’s not the best trial type for my game?)
  • Deal must be negotiated separately with individual portals/publishers via dog-and-pony show convincing them the game will sell well

Flash Games

  • (Potentially) much smaller download, with opportunity for progressive download (files are pulled into the game as needed, and can be loaded in the background while player does other stuff)
  • Play in the browser with a plugin that >90% of people are running
  • Trial type is whatever the heck i want it to be
  • No deals to negotiate – just use a service like Flash Game Distribution to fire that sucker out the Internet cannon

And i’d love to have someone chip in some data on this, but my hunch is that the amount of traffic going to the oodles of Flash game portals trumps the traffic going to the casual downloadable portals. i could be wrong there. Who’s got numbers for daddy?

Fear the Coming Flood, Fish

So if you’re Big Fish Games right now, you oughta see this coming. And if you didn’t, you do now. And you might re-consider your current strategy of offering $400 to Flash developers for unlimited licenses of their games.

But … if you’re Big Fish, you also offer a distinct advantage over the oodles of portals (say that with a strange British accent and it almost rhymes). The whole reason why Big Fish Games built up that audience in the first place is that it built a brand. Building a brand was one of the cornerstone take-aways at the Casual Connect conference. Big Fish Games built a great site with an excellent customer experience. They were consistent, like McDonald’s. They defined their target hockey mom demographic, and tailored the Big Fish experience to that type of customer. They only stocked games that they knew would sell well to that customer. And then, they raked in mountains of dough and jumped in them like piles of fall leaves, giggling wildly.

Steam did the same thing. They built from an established brand, so the going was a little easier from a customer loyalty point-of-view. But they try to stock games that appeal to their audience, first-person shooter fans. Everything on Steam is dark and gritty and shooty, and they’re doing very well. Lately, some colleagues and i have thought that Steam would be very well-served to create a parallel girly portal on their service, plastered with pink unicorns and fairies and vaginas and stuff.

Vagina Diagram

Man, that site is sooooo girly

Start Building

So if you’re still reading this, and you haven’t already picked an under-served audience and drawn up a sitemap for your new Flash game portal, you need to get on that pronto. GamerSafe is already pledging a 10% cut of microtransaction proceeds to portals, and MochiMedia has hinted that they’ll do something similar. And if enough Flash devs figure out that in addition to nickel-and-diming people for hats n’ guns, you can also sell your games for a one-off price just like the big boys do on casual downloadable portals, there could be a lot of cash floating around the Internatz by this time next year.

i’d just like to grab a little of that cash to tuck away for a rainy day. The rest, i’ll shred up and use to wallpaper my private jet like a supersonic piñata. ¡Olé!

Scrooge McDuck

Inexplicably, Jesus Rocks Out

The opinions expressed in the following post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Untold Entertainment Inc., its employees or its affiliates.

i’ve been closely following the Little Big Planet recall fiasco with a few opinion articles. Let me make my stance crystal clear:

  1. Sony should not have recalled the game to avoid offending Muslims
  2. One year earlier, Sony dealt with the Church of England’s much weightier complaint unevenly, effectively telling them to take a hike
  3. It’s okay to speak up when something offends you
  4. It’s NOT okay to demand changes to media when it offends you, except in cases where that media is in your face and unavoidable (ie subway posters, billboards, etc)
  5. If the offending media is avoidable, do your best to avoid it
  6. Burning the mother down is not okay
  7. Burning the mother down is not the sole prerogative of one particular religion
  8. Sony handled the two cases unevenly because they feared that one religion, and not the other, would burn the mother down
    OR
    Little Big Planet is a very important game for the company, and Sony needs as much publicity as possible

A Strongly-Worded Letter

In an effort to demonstrate how a game company should handle a complaint from a religious adherent, i complained to Harmonix on the Rock Band message boards that some of the songs in the game were offensive to Christians. As predicted, the forum thread survived about fifteen minutes in the wild before being locked by a moderator, who vowed to pass my suggestions on “to the proper channel.” (By that, i think he meant the channel that shows over-tanned preachers with impossibly white teeth mugging into the camera for an hour on Sunday mornings.)

User ElPinko echoed my earlier statements:

Bah, What’ll the christians do if we don’t do things their way? Write a letter? Hold a fete?…

and later, proving him/herself to be someone after my own heart:

Guys guys, religion is not to be laughed at. No seriously, don’t laugh. They’ll slaughter your family.

Early forum posters were divided between those who caught on, and those who didn’t. Those who understood the reference called the post satire and found it kinda funny. Those who didn’t were a smidge upset.

A few of them recommended i take my appeal to the (deceased) song lyricists.

User Dovanon hit our site and complained to me about my offensive sea monster game. Good one.

Push That Boundary

i thought that to push the envelope a little, i would actually snail mail a letter to Harmonix and EA, asking them to pull three songs from their game that some Christians may find offensive. What i found really interesting is that Nintendo has had a long-standing history of not allowing religious imagery in games on their consoles. Crucifixes, for example, were a total no-no. From the above-linked citation of Nintendo’s content policy:

Nintendo will not approve games for the NES, Game Boy or Super NES systems which:

reflect ethnic, religious, nationalistic, or sexual stereotypes of language; this includes symbols that are related to any type of racial, religious, nationalistic, or ethnic group, such as crosses, pentagrams, God, Gods (Roman mythological gods are acceptable), Satan, hell, Buddha;

Pointy the Pentagram

THQ’s new mascot, Pointy the Pentagram, is in trouble

Clearly, then, a game with the lyrics “I’ve never been a sinner / never sinned / i’ve got a friend in Jesus”, or “Jeeeeeee-susssssss Chriiiiiiiiist / deny your maker” would never fly on the Wii. Sadly, the age of 8-bit censorship has come to a close, opening the flood gates for pernicious filth like the Mario Party series. (Let me clarify: Mario Party doesn’t actually offend my moral sensibilities. It’s just a terrible bunch of games.)

Mario Party

Mario Party: Corrupting innocent youth with rotten gameplay since 1998

i was honestly worried that if i did write to Harmonix, copying Nintendo, and demanding a patch for Rock Band 2 on the Wii, there was a sliver of a chance they’d take me seriously and pull the Alice in Chains song out of the game. Then, of course, you’d have Rock Band players (and many more people who don’t actually play the game) complaining that “Man in the Box” was the absolute best song on the disc, and how dare i, etc etc … until some religious-esque fervor might be stirred up in THAT group and something would get burned down. Probably me.

Jesus Saves … Rock Band

The odd twist is that Harmonix just announced (through IGN) twenty new add-on songs for Rock Band 2 that players can unlock using a code shipped with the game disc. Pay close attention now:

  • The 88 – “Sons and Daughters”
  • Authority Zero – “No Regrets”
  • Between the Buried and Me – “Prequel To The Sequel”
  • The Cab – “Bounce”
  • The Chevelles – “Get It On”
  • The Cocktail Slippers – “Give It To Me”
  • Dealership – “Database Corrupted”
  • Endeverafter – “I Wanna Be Your Man”
  • The Ghost Hounds – “Ashes To Fire”
  • Hollywood Undead – “Young”
  • Kutless – “The Feeling”
  • The Len Price 3 – “If I Ain’t Got You”
  • Lesley Roy – “I’m Gone, I’m Going”
  • Opiate for the Masses – “Burn You Down”
  • Semi-Precious Weapons – “Magnetic Baby”
  • Shaimus – “Like a Fool”
  • Thenewno2″ – Crazy Tuesday”
  • Tickle Me Pink – “The Time Is Wrong”
  • Underoath – “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures”
  • X Japan – “I.V.”

Wait … what was that? Did that list include Kutless and Underoath? My Jesus sense is tingling …

By cracky, those are two Christian bands!

Underoath

Christian metalcore band Underoath rocks the house – GOD’S house.

My only explanation for all of this is that in the two day turnaround since i posted the message to their boards, Harmonix/EA did the right thing and decided to make amends by including two Christian bands on this free song roster, to offset the offense brought by “Man in the Box” and “Let There Be Rock” (or “Spirit in the Sky”, depending on your level of sensitivity).

i hereby applaud Harmonix and EA for responding so immediately to my outrageous and ill-founded complaints about their game, and on behalf of all Christians everywhere (because we all think exactly alike), i accept the companies’ apology.

(Oh … and to the seething and riotous crazy Christian mob that’s been waiting in the wings: you can extinguish all your flaming you-know-whats and call off your plan to [hrm hrm hrm] the Harmonix headquarters this weekend.)