Thursday, December 20, 2012

Flame Wars, a Digital Economics Primer

There’s a standard for arguing any valid point with any one person on the internet – well, for expressing an opinion on the internet in general, really.  Simply put, DON’T.  I’ve yet to encounter a sane and rational opine from folks who are seeking camaraderie in the sharing (or slinging) of their miserable disenfranchisement, along with whatever tangy musk of disappointment and teenage angst they decide to foist upon the internet on any given day.  I’m starting to feel as if this virtual landscape – once a bastion of humanity’s glowing achievement in intellect and goodwill towards all men – is starting to resemble a receptacle for the lowest end of a human’s digestion.  I suppose as humans we have this innate ability to change everything we touch to match our surroundings, and in doing so, have spread our real world issues onto the internet.  All the while neglecting that the tangents brought forth are - after all - real world issues.  You know, things that involve real people, real time, real money – those kinds of things.

Yes, we’re going to avoid the argument of what makes money ‘real’ today.  Please.  I can’t go that deeply back into the rabbit hole.  I barely came out of this one ass first and head over heels.

So, in my effort to instead present a collective cross-section of my brilliance - or me brilliantly talking out my ass - I’ve decided to recompose some of that discussion here.  I think it’s important that we start with consumers.

Those who have read my thoughts from the beginning know of my feelings on consumers.  As a very brief primer for those new to the program: the ones who have the money didn’t take it, it was given to them – by you and I.  This is not an evil: this is how it works.  Consumers are the start and stopping points of any business – hell: any economy.  If you expect to make money by doing or making something, you need people to provide you that bit of coin.  And if you, the consumer, should expect a better product in return, you have to work WITH these folks, not just scream AT them.  Not just flock to the internet in mass drones, honking like a flock of seagulls over what you think is your due diligence.  The product will match what the manufacturers hear, because they want your money.  While they may pretty up the whole thing like a seven dollar hooker in a tutu, they will act as if that’s not the case – they will present it as giving you exactly what you needed.  They are simply catering to the loudest cacophony of clusterfucks.  So it falls to the consumer to evaluate if you’d want to work with the person creating what you want to buy, providing constructive feedback either in direct, constructive vocalization, using your true  potential as a consumer – that of the purchase - to aid in creating better product by putting your money where your mouth is.  Should that sound like too much work, well, then I’m sure they’ll happily sell you someone to hold your hand while you whine and throw a tantrum like a three-year-old in the Lego store, all the while forking over dollar bills for a cheap, plastic, breakable thrill, and a side of Hep C for good measure.

The old adage “You get what you pay for,” works in any age.  Coincidently, it goes hand in hand with “Nut up, or shut up.”

The discussion began over on a Gameloft forum.  They have a bunch of nifty handheld games for mobile phones, and people were getting rather uppity at the seeming lack of support for Android devices.  Better put, they were being complete ass-scrapes about it.  There are, currently, an estimated 12,000 variations on the Android mobile platform’s hardware.  After you factor in software and such, well, there are as many variations as there are consumers (over 500 million Android device activations to date.  In terms of mobile phones, the platform now holds 75% of the global market).

On Apple? – one iOS, six  handsets, and five tablets (generations; letting alone individual storage/chipset capabilities)

However, the same issue is present (albeit not to the same extent) for software variations with iOS systems.  The closed architecture certainly helps - on paper - in maintaining system integrity.  Funny thing is I’m pretty sure the same thing could be said about hair nets, and yet, you always manage to find somebody’s fur in your morning omelet.

The insistence is that publishers favor production for Apple’s devices.  From the appearance of software first on their platform, down to updates, and accessibility, this notion has made Apple the perfect effigy for this cop-out.  While it is partially true, it’s not the whole truth.  I can understand why a developer would seek to finish their work within the iOS platform first and then move on to Android - When you have a huge list of crap  to do around the house, do you do clean, re-secure, prime, and paint the gutters first, or do you take the trash to the curb?

Yeah, I do the easy shit first, too.  Then I lord over everyone how productive I was all the while.

The problem is that it isn’t just development difficulty, though.  Apple has a lower-cost licensing process for applications.  Higher quality assurance testing.  They don’t give away their development software, and they offer many layers of support for it.  Oh, and they aren’t releasing drastically different builds of their close-structure software every ten months.

Hell, anyone out there actually have Windows 8?  Aaaaaaand how much of your Windows 7 software works on there?  Not saying it’s an inferior product.  Really.

The Google market is a strange and magnificent cock-up of a wonder.  The fees for publishing anything with a charge, is intense.  The development software for the Android market is free, but it’s on the user to know how to use it.  There’s nearly no quality assurance for applications.  Likewise, there are no specifics regulating how or in what way an app is supposed to function on an Android device.

The issue against Gameloft was all of this.  The big beef, as I presented it (rather politely, even by my own standards),  was more Gameloft’s lack of communicating anything with their customers.  I can handle if it’s going to take you a year to change the way a tree blows in the wind, just let me know you’re working on it.  Hell, let me know you’re working on ANYthing.

Transparency can make or break a company’s public perception.   New businesses are relying more on telling customers exactly what is happening with the products they’ve invested in.  Take Seth Priebatsch from LevelUp ( – he’ll talk about how is business model has expanded, why, and what makes it profitable, all from his Twitter account.  THQ , a video-game software developer, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after years of notoriously shutting out consumer input.  They’re turning it around with the new president, Jason Rubin, hitting the streets and talking about what a Chapter 11 means to them, their employees, and the gamers.  Among a long and impressive laundry list (well, impressive if they can pull it off), they’re expanding their support opportunities, allowing little old you and me to call in and provide feedback on their products. Well, to use their forums.  Who really uses a phone to call anyone anymore?  Even Goozex – the little game trading website-that-could – has undergone huge overhauls after months of stagnation, breaking through their silenced gates with a public announcement, and a call – not a light request, but a demand - from its user-base to talk about how they can make a better product.

I have said repeatedly: I will always take a good product with great customer service over a great product with mediocre support.  The ability of a company to tell me how my investment in their resources and products will further benefit me for the life of my ownership of that product far outweighs the value of a product that could – potentially – never have an issue.  That’s just the rub – ‘sure things’ don’t exist.  There’s no guarantee that any one thing is going to be 100% perfect start to finish.  A manufacturer can (and usually will) say the product that leaves the manufacturing facility is, but there’s no telling what kind of issues can occur after that.

This same attack on a company’s ability to deliver products that functions 100% on devices that can, feasibly, never be tested 100% to the end-user's configuration is the very same reason so many companies are going free-to-play. In the end, the user will get what they pay for - even the whales (, really. I mean, at that point, you'll have vested hundreds of dollars in the product, and the onus will the lie on the consumer for their investment - not the company that produced the product - as the product has been given away to everyone.

Consumer-driven macro-economics are being read their eulogy, and the mentality is that era is still a thriving titan. Businesses that can model themselves to remain buoyant in the current economy of any electronic programming/entertainment need to have a steady source of income that is not set at a fixed rate.  The product - while consistent in code - cannot remain consistent across every device with every myriad number of configurations, apps, tweaks, roots, system permissions, and hacks. Free-To-Play games have provided just that flexibility, much the same way large companies working with various APIs (application programming interfaces) are now 'renting' out the access to their black box setups, rather than charging a flat-rate for full ownership. The liability to play the patching game is diminished, allowing a standardized end-user product refined by the purchaser, while the cash flow continues from all the various tiers of users.

In short, it is wholly unrealistic to set an ETA for patches and beta builds because there are, literally, an infinite number of variations to which an end-user's hardware and software configuration could feasibly support the publisher's base build. Even with the iOS platform, there have been issues with various licensed and unlicensed software contributing to games having game-breaking faults on iPad (1st and 2nd gen), as well as on the 4S. But, on the basic iOS, the software may run perfectly. It was even certified and approved for the iTunes store as such!  The same could be said for the Android software - rooted and modified far more often than Apple products (if XDA is to be believed in their hyperbole). This may have been one contributing factor with 99.9% of the issues with Temple Run when it launched – on 707 supported devices ( .  While a global approach to project dates - such as new game launches - is a very nice panacea, they are not the final word. To boot, with consumer demand being very much "leave it or lump it," how long was it expected to persist before a publisher turned the same mentality back on the customer?

As a consumer, the onus of eliciting better products rests solely on us.  Behaving as a petulant child, proclaiming you have spent your money and that's why the world should listen, is the same as if you were five and your ice cream fell off the cone and onto the sidewalk.  They have no obligation to put the ice cream back on the cone, nor to provide you more ice cream.  But - BUT - you have the unique opportunity to work with them to build a better cone that everyone can enjoy. 

Yes, the consumer can do the most damage or the most good to a product they purchase - especially if they find something particularly egregious.  First, though, we have to discuss a solution to the problem, instead of simply complaining that it exists.

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