games industry web 2.0

GameStop Network: (possibly) the World’s worst Advertising proposition

(a.k.a.: “how not to advertise on the internet, lesson 101 for Advertising Agencies who have no idea how “advertising” works, or what it exists for”)

Tonight, as I tried to show someone a game, it took 12 – twelve! – refreshes of this page
before Gamestop would stop replacing a URL with a flash advert for something unrelated.

The advert was for cat food. !. !!. !!!111!!!!!!!11. Some stupid crap that I don’t want, and which Gamestop *should know without doubt* that I’ve seen 50+ times before; they know this because every time I view that page, I’m logged-in to the Kongregate badge-tracking system (via cookies and auth).

(they also know that I have *never* clicked on the ad; it doesn’t take genius to work out that I have zero interest in the product, and that every time they show it to me, they are almost certainly damaging the client – what kind of ad-agency is so stupid as to *not* realise how bad this is?)

Maybe … they are very, very stupid – and deliberately pissing-off players with adverts they’ve already seen – or, perhaps, they are charging advertisers 50 times (or more) to show adverts to the same individuals over and over again. It damages the website’s reputation, so presumably (educated guess) reduces the usage of the Kongregate domain; I’d be surprised if they’re doing it without some kind of remuneration…

(NB: this new take on ads did not exist until GameStop purchased Kong; I feel reasonably confident in guessing that neither of the Greer siblings had anything to do with this insanity)

If I worked for the advertising agency that had an employee who was stupid enough to sign this deal with GameStop, I’d be suing for breach of contract, fraud, or negligence right now; this is *not* how advertising works. Not even the most basic level of 1990’s-era checks have been put in place: IMHO either GameStop is screwing their clients, or they’re just really, really stupid (I’m betting on the latter).

advocacy iphone web 2.0

iPhone themes for your website: Say it with XKCD

Oh, yes:

…please, FOR THE CHILDREN, don’t put a “make it look like an iPhone app, but remove 90% of the content” theme on your website.

community marketing and PR mmo signup processes startup advice web 2.0

Skype: failing at customer support at scale

I had a serious customer-support problem with Skype recently, relating to money they’ve taken from me. It’s proved excessively difficult to get a response from them – surprising, considering their size, their brand, and the fact it’s a paid-for service. It raises some interesting questions over Customer Support / Community Support, and how they can/should be scaled.

FYI, the initial complaint is over what looks like a scam – if you pay for Skype, but don’t use it frequently enough, they cancel the service but keep the money. It was probably buried somewhere in the smallprint, but I certainly don’t remember that as part of what I signed-up for: “pay now … get screwed later!”. Whether or not it’s legal, it’s certainly dishonest (they give no explanation, it’s NOT part of the marketing materials, it’s just “policy”). It feels like theft.

Their website was useless. So, I asked them about it…or, at least, I tried to.

  1. Reply-to-email: I replied to the email they sent me where they said they’ll be taking my money but NOT providing the service. They sent it from “”; this is a fundamental abuse of the email system, a sign of amateurish support teams. FAIL
  2. Email-to-support: I tried forwarding that + my question to the standard email address – I’ve been using Skype for 5 years, and I thought this address existed. Eithet my memory is wrong, or they’ve deleted it since. It doesn’t exist at the moment – you get a mailserver error. FAIL
  3. Google for “email support skype”: I tried again, emailing the support address that Skype’s own employees have sent emails from – right now, on, you can see example emails sent from “” (maybe this was what I remembered from years ago?). But if you send an email to that address, you get an email back saying: “Thank you for your email. Unfortunately this email address is no longer in use.”. FAIL

500 million accounts … too many?

Skype’s customer-support is unusually weak here; this is a paid-for product, and they’re actively blocking people from getting support. That’s not how support works; that’s what you do when you don’t have a support team – usually because you’re too poor to afford it AND you have no paying customers. Doing this with paying customers is surprising. Especially for a large product/brand.

I remember in the very early days of Skype they already had 50-100 employees for what was a comparitively small operation. IIRC, a big chunk of that was dedicated to support, and a big chunk to marketing – only a very small part was tech. I’d assumed that with their 10’s of millions of users, they had a highly automated customer-support system.

Today, they have well over half a billion user accounts – and it would seem that even their automated systems have failed. Why else would they put a block on industry-standard email aliases? And deliberately shutdown their own support address?

Obviously, those addresses would be flooded with spam and FAQ emails … but *all* commercial customer-support systems are specifically designed to handle those probems – and at large scale, too.

My guess is simply that whichever commercial system they use wasn’t architected to a high enough quality, and is incapable of handling Skype’s uniquely large customer base. This isn’t a criticism of that system – there are very few companies in the world with so many users of a single product. i.e. there’s very little demand for a product to be so carefully engineered.

But it begs the question: why hasn’t Skype put something better in place? Surely they have the resource and the skill to source or architect something better? Or is it a company policy to provide second-rate, low-quality support – even for their paid customers?

What Would Facebook Do?

…hopefully, I’ll post on this in more detail later, but briefly: they *eventually* went to specialist external vendors to provide the scalability they needed:

  1. Facebook was incapable of reliably delivering messages to users for most of the past 3+ years
  2. I’ve run several groups large and small, and found that approx 30% of all messages DIRECT to *opt-in* users went undelivered in the FB messaging system
  3. (speaking to other people who ran facebook groups, or had huge numbers of Friends, the experience was commonly repeated. e.g. I know a few people who had to setup multiple FB accounts because they had “too many friends” to fit on a single account)
  4. Facebook recently (last 6 months) replaced their internal, proprietary messaging with an external, specialist system from a company that specialises in high-volume messaging (according to the vendor; caveat emptor)
  5. Reports from other people who still use Facebook for large groups / large numbers of friends suggest the “lost in the post” phenomenon is now cured

Incidentally, I don’t/didn’t think much of Facebook’s tech team (although quite possiby it’s improvements in that team that have lead to fixed like the one above). It’s very hard to be sure, going on just public info, but I used to read their blog, and their posts about performance and architecture were for a long period … amateurish.

On some core subjects, they betrayed a deep lack of experience and understanding – and apparently no effort being taken to correct that, but rather they preferred to “hack” away with band-aid solutions. Great fun for them, but not appropriate for a billion-dollar service, IMHO.

fixing your desktop photos security system architecture web 2.0

FlickrEdit – looks like a virus?

IMHO, Flickr/Yahoo has one of the best user-authentication systems I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it’s no accident that Twitter (eventually) moved to a system that is extremely similar.

(NB: I don’t know if flickr copied if from someone else, but they were the first I remember seeing like this, many years ago)

You want sensitivity in your security? Yeah!

It’s so sensitive that it’s currently blocking FlickrEdit’s (bad, broken, buggy) implementation. Not just with an error; not even with a warning … but with giant red letters, a yellow background, and a warning icon:

I was pretty annoyed that the app was seemingly so poorly written it wasn’t doing the desktop-based auth that it should be – and that it popped-open a web browser and “told” me to login (Flickr’s auth-system is slightly more seamless than that, and a much better user-experience).

But I was very impressed that Flickr noticed it too, and decided to warn me that this might be a scam of some kind…

Leaving just one question…

…is this open-source project buggy, or has someone hacked the source and put in a virus? Hmm…

Well. I’ve contacted the project owners, and informed them. Interesting to see what they say.

In the meantime, I have so much faith in Flickr’s authentication system (e.g. I know that it doesn’t share passwords) that I’m happy to go ahead and use the application. There are very few systems where I’d do this, but flickr’s (approach) is one of them.

web 2.0

Google Groups: destroying the internet one community at a time

Google has just announced that they’re deleting all web content (pages, files, downloads) from Google Groups, leaving only the mailing lists.

(Incidentally, they failed to inform the group-admins / owners that they’re doing this – which is mind-blowingly stupid when you think about it)

Just to be clear, *without* the web content: Groups is a high-spam mailing list with very poor setup and controls. It’s difficult to find a mainstream mailing list that is as bad as Groups. But it’s from *Google*, so you can trust it, and it had all this “web content” that’s essential to running a group – I’ve run a few groups using Google Groups.

(Google does NOT provide spam-filtering for their mailing lists: if you have an open group you will receive thousands of spam users even for groups of under 100 “real” people)

I’m disappointed that Google has taken the actions they have. Their web-hosting for Groups was hard to use but it *worked*. Google’s “production quality” was very low, but I trusted the company to keep the service live. Like many admins, I spend weeks of my free time wrestling with the tools until I could make a useable group, because I trusted Google not to do something Evil, like … well, like: deleting the content and the service. Never again…

Anatomy of a community-hating executive

When I look at things like this, and things like Yahoo’s acquisiton of, it’s amazing how often these big companies:

  1. Find/create a community with huge value
  2. Take it over, and put their brand on it
  3. Destroy it as thoroughly as possible, sowing salt on the ground to make sure it can never rise again

I find it hard to understand how/why these companies do something so stupid. Who allowed a committee / manager / executive to do something so self-destructive?

But then I realised there is a very traditional explanation for this kind of scenario, from back in the mid-20th Century:

  1. Senior executive at “big internet company” wants a promotion/raise/etc
  2. Said executive doesn’t really know what they’re doing, doesn’t really understand the business that the company is in
  3. Exective’s manager cares even less themself; he/she is probably just hanging on waiting for their own pension
  4. However, the exec knows that their manager rates “internet success” on the number of unique users that a service has
  5. They spend $100 million acquiring / creating a useful service
  6. PROFIT!!! (get their raise / promotion / whatever)
  7. …and dump the project as fast as they physically can

The net effect on the service is this:

  1. Service gets acquired/funded: All the best people working on the service get a big bribe / pay-off and are happy to leave to start something new
  2. There’s lots of press releases from Big Internet Company, and lots of claims of all the Great Things that will be added to the service
  3. Users get excited, and growth rate increases
  4. … but then: …
  5. Big Internet Company provides zero cash, because the Executive has received their promotion and no longer cares
  6. Service falls to pieces
  7. Service haemhorrages users
  8. Big Internet Company’s finance department sees the spending on hosting / servers / bandwidth, and wants an excuse to shut it down
  9. (there is no *need* to shut it down – but inexperienced and/or bored financial employees have nothing better to do all day; more on this in a future post)
  10. Other executives come along and shutdown and destroy whatever they can, so that they look good in front of the finance department
  11. Service becomes worthless for most people, and loses all but the tiny, hardest of hardcore, segment of users

I’d assumed that companies like Google had improved their hiring procedures a little, and weren’t so prone to this. Maybe not.

web 2.0

LinkedIn doesn’t like money?

LinkedIn is running a promotion right now to get more people using their advertising platform.

It’s nicely conceived – two clicks (the first to login), and I was straight into writing an advert. Brilliant!

The advert-writing was simple, easy to understand, and fit within the top 500 pixels of the screen – really welcoming. Not at all complicated.

“And then you go and spoil it all / By saying something stupid…”

…like “your email address is dis-allowed”.

My startup doesn’t have a profile page on LinkedIn, so I can’t direct people to it. This hugely undermines the value of running and advert.

I try to create a profile. Takes a few false starts, and then:

“You cannot create a profile for a company unless you can receive an email at the same domain address as the company website”


(this is, apparently, non-negotiable)

We don’t even run a mailserver, let alone have an MX record for our domain.

SO … after lots of effort trying to convert me into a paying advertiser, LinkedIn once again shoots itself in the foot. There isn’t even an OPTION for me to sort this out – it’s just a big “fuck off!”.


amusing startup advice web 2.0

LinkedIn more popular than Twitter (according to LinkedIn?)

When I log into LinkedIn, I now receive 3 pages of spam. That spam is “every tweet by every person I’ve ever met”.

Somewhere, buried inside the avalanche of spam, are a few genuine LinkedIn messages. e.g. today I saw that a friend had moved to a new company – important, useful information.

Support: why would you want to refuse our spam?

I asked the LinkedIn customer support folks how to disable the spam. Their response:

You can “only hide the member’s Twitter updates [if you] also [hide all] their LinkedIn updates”.

i.e. your choices are:

  1. Get spam
  2. Get nothing

Hmm. Think about the people with tens of thousands of connections on linkedin. Their linkedin home pages must be absurdly high spam-to-signal ratio.

LinkedIn’s management: Twitter? WTF is Twitter?

LinkedIn’s CTO / lead architect / whoever authorized this stupid setup apparently “forgot” that the main feature of Twitter is it *allows* you to choose the people you receive tweets from.

(or, more likely, they’ve never used Twitter – it’s just a buzzword they’d heard of from a VC)

LinkedIn removes that choice. It simply forces everything on you. No filtering. No choices. Nothing. As a user, you exist to be spammed.

As a user, you exist to consume LinkedIn’s adverts, and nothing else. The site is – it would seem – not intended to be useful.


For a business to sink to such a low level of utility, and for the management to achieve such a high level of ignorance about the market, suggests to me that LI is moving rapidly towards implosion. I don’t believe it will still be with us two years from now. And that’s rather tragic, given how valuable it used to be.

community web 2.0

Someone at LinkedIn needs to be fired

LinkedIn has unofficially officially removed their “updates” system – you can no longer find out what’s changed in your contacts’ roles, busines, lives, etc.

Some idiot at LI corp – who apparently is unaware of the normal consequences of becoming the lowest-common-denominator (i.e. unless you are the market leader on size, and *force* your competitors out of business, you price yourself out of existence. Well, you’re nowhere near Facebook, so you’re most likely to just put LI bankrupt) – has replaced it with a massive, 5-page long aggregation of twitter feeds.

(currently 5 pages on my account, but who knows how long it will get if more people add their twitter accounts?)

There’s a website for that – it’s called Funnily enough, I already have 5 different Twitter clients, and they do an AWESOME job of subscribing to the twitter feeds I want to read.

None of that is applied to LI, of course – LI simply *forces* me to view everything that is tweeted by anyone. It’s as if the LI management team HAVE NEVER USED TWITTER IN THEIR LIVES, and have no idea how it works. Amazing!

The (hypothetical) idiot at LinkedIn has clearly achieved something – they’ve given a very short-term boost to the “Activity” on the site. At the cost of removing functionality that used to be there.

I suspect this is the beginning of the end for LinkedIn. At this rate, it will get more and more useless.

I wonder, is there a community anywhere for maintaining business contacts, viewing resumes, while preventing spam and leaving you in full control of who sees what and who can contact whom?

bitching community web 2.0

HMRC disdains Internet standards

Is there a place to complain that UK government departments are breaking the internet standards and refuse to fix their websites?

Occasionally, you find sites that do this. Usually, when you tell the organization, they’re a little embarassed, and rush to fix them.

From HMRC, I got a polite, pedantic, *but entirely incorrect* response telling me that the “standard” was X, when I know that to be false (as does anyone who has read the offiicial standards, as documented by the Internet RFCs).

They apparently can’t be bothered to read the standards, and don’t care that they’re wrong.

No wonder so many people hate civil servants: holier-than-thou attitude coupled with being clearly, inarguably, wrong. Sigh.

amusing web 2.0

3 things a News Website should NOT do

There’s a conference in Brighton this week, and one of the industry media – – has a base here, so they’ve been cropping up a lot in the reporting. In passing, I noticed some glaring howlers in their web-design. The 1990’s called, they want their web-design templates back…

Three glaring errors I noticed in particular. One of these they’re in good company – it’s the same thing Rupert Murdoch has done, along with sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming “NA, NA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! GO AWAY AND TAKE YOUR STUPID INTERNET-THINGY WITH YOU, YOU FREELOADING BASTARDS!” (not a literal quote, of course). Although a lot of people seem to think that’s a weak strategy even for the mighty news empire…

1. Sell a large number of Flash ads, and put them ALL in the same place. At the same time

What do you see when you view a page on this site?

If you have a laptop, and you surf their site, does the battery last noticeably less than normal? (hint: yes, it should – I’ve seen this happen on a wide variety of PC and Mac laptops)


Because they put not 1, not 2, not even 5 … not even TEN … but up to FIFTEEN SEPARATE FLASH ADS all animated SIMULTANEOUSLY on every page.

Flash wasn’t designed for this – the flash runtime can overhwelm a modern computer with just 1 rogue flash app; 15 is begging for trouble.

I suspect (because some of my former employers used to purchase them, regularly) that these “mini-ads” are a decent source of revenue for It’s a pity then that they’re mostly Flash, because that means an awful lot of people in the target audience (game developers), see something like this:

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 20.09.40

Incidentally, I offer a tip-of-the-hat to Relentless, whose animated-GIF has so many frames of animation that it smoothly animates some stuff that looks straight out of a Flash ad. Smart move on their behalf – they DIDN’T use a Flash movie.

OMGWTFBBQ! That must take TONNES of animating frames! Why, yes – it uses an *unholy* 50 kilobytes, just to display one ickle GIF. Shocking. And yet … in 2010 … such a tiny tiny file in the scheme of things that it suffers nothing for not being Flash. (Flash was originally needed because internet bandwidth was poor; it only gradually grew into the all-singing, all-dancing beast we love today)

2. Hide all your content. Keep your news … secret

Try viewing any article on the site.

Follow any link that a friend sends you via email

Click on a link in any blog post or forum post.

Actually … you’ll have some trouble there. Lots of blogs and forums no longer link to Why?

Because anyone who follows the link only gets to see ONE SENTENCE of the article:

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 20.19.36


3. Block anyone who uses Gmail

If you try to sign-up on their site for an account using Gmail, the site refuses to “allow” you to create an account. It seems they have hard-coded a list of email domains that they consider “unacceptable” for game-developers to use.

Funny. I’ve been using gmail for my professional email for many years now. It seems a fairly common practice. Google’s … well … Google is a pretty well-known company these days. Their products are … well … kind-of popular. No?

I tried emailing the site admins to ask if there was a way I could create my account anyway – it’s fairly easy to check that my gmail account is bona fide. A funny thing happened.

Their website has no email addresses. Instead, it has a javascript that creates email-addresses on the fly. It’s a neat little javascript, and used differently would be pretty cool. But the way they chose to use it has two obvious effects:

  1. It is impossible to use a web-mail client to email anyone at direct from the site (the right-click, “copy email address” won’t work because of the javascript)
  2. Spammers have to look at the source-code to find the email address, and be a very very little creative with their bots (well within their capabilities these days)

Internet: 0, Newspaper/Web newsite: 1


No, not really. I’ve got nothing against the news-site, and I’m well aware that this is only an echo of a bigger, louder noise: mainstream newspapers are in their dieing throes, lashing out at anyone and everyone in their panic.

But I’m suprised that a tech-industry focussed site chooses to fight so hard against the medium that so much of its own industry relies upon and worships. The first and third items above I would normally attribute to ignorance and just spending too little money for their web design team. But the middle one reflects an active decision to block the internet at large – even though the workaround is to create a “free” account, it’s an artificial barrier entirely of their own making.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year working with or around mainstream journalists, magazine staff, and authors. I’ve noticed a lot of this stuff going on. This is just a personal opinion, but … I humbly suggest that whenever ANY news/journalism site acts as though it’s at war with the very medium that the world + dog uses for spreading said news … that whatever else happens, it’s probably not going to end well.

amusing computer games games industry web 2.0

Tim Langdell sells a game on Amazon

…and Amazon’s intelligent recommendation engine leaps into action:

(if you don’t know who Tim Langdell is, and you work in the games industry, just Google him.

amusing community social networking web 2.0

Awesome Ad Agency FAIL: Steal, then Insult

(where normaly people might “Be original, then Apologize if you fail”)

Just a minor piece of recent DRAMA! DRAMA!, something to cheer up the week…

This excellent piece of Advertising / Fun / Augmented Reality / Creativity was – like most big-budget ideas – based on someone else’s idea, someone who had the basic idea (and proved it non-commercially) first.

So far, so good.

This is the 21st Century. People notice when you clone ideas, and they comment. A lot of comments are brief and reflect the emotional reaction rather than a considered opinion. Especially if you disingenuously claim to have invented the idea, and put out press releases to that effect … when there’s plenty of evidence suggesting otherwise.

Still, that’s how life goes; you try something, you veer too close to “copying”, and you get some minor pillorying on a public website. You re-adjust; next time, you’ll try to add a bit more novel to an idea – or you’ll work harder to give credit where it’s due.

OR … or, one of your team can always just go for the all-out nuclear option, and insult everyone and everything in sight. In the world-readable comments thread. For bonus points, you can then delete your comments a day later when you realise what a douchebag you appear, and how damaging it’s become to your future career:

(I love how Nicholaus is naive enough / bad enough at his own career to imagine that simply deleting or editing a comment makes all evidence of it vanish :))

entrepreneurship web 2.0

You just answered your own question…

From one of those strange wending web-browsing sessions that started as innocent “work-related research” and ended up following the history of CDC…

IBM, 1964:

How is it that this tiny company of 34 people —including the janitor — can be beating us when we have thousands of people?

…to which Cray reportedly quipped:

You just answered your own question.

(and, incidentally, FUD – a phrase I associated with the 1990’s and linux – apparently dates back to the early 20th century. It puts in an appearance here, in the 1960’s, and lead to CDC winning a lawsuit for $600 million. Nice. Can you imagine someone pulling that one off against Microsoft in the 1995-2005 era? Or Apple, today? I doubt it…)

community server admin web 2.0

Low-cost publishing = easy-to-kill content

One great achievement of the web is the huge reduction in barriers to publishing. But the flipside is that we now see extremely low incentives for publishers to keep content “live”. Back when it cost money to publish info, you had good reasons to *keep* your content live once it had been published; you had a revenue stream to protect.

Nowadays, with publishing costing nothing, it’s often un-monetized. All it takes is the slightest increase in hassle for the publisher, and they’re better off killing the content entirely.

That’s the case with a site I just shut down. A small, incomplete – yet moderately valuable – resource for iPhone Developers, with a few thousand unique visitors a month. Too small to be worth monetizing, so I hadn’t. I was eating the (very small) hosting and support costs, until someone abused the site, and those “support costs” became non-trivial.

iPhoneDevelopmentFAQ – history

I created this site at the start of 2009, because there was no good FAQ for iPhone Development (AFAIAA there still isn’t; even today, the nearest you can get is StackOverflow. SO is great, but … a lot of subjects are “forbidden” under the site terms, and the site-search is very weak).

I set it up to be low maintenance, and to allow multiple people to moderate it (very similar lines to SO, but slightly less open, and a lot more “niche”).

In the past two weeks, after more than a year of “no active moderation”, we saw forged posting credentials and then pointless offensive questions. First rule of running a passive website: leave it configured to report (surreptitiously) on all unusual activity, so you can see if it gets out of hand / abused / attacked / etc.


Deleting offensive content requires only a couple of minutes (to remember the password, login, and hit delete).

Checking what happened with the forged credential (probably unrelated) is more like half a day to a couple of days. I could audit the code, audit whatever 3rd-party PHP libraries were being referenced, and almost certainly plug the hole (or holes).

Or … I could do what I actually did: two lines of typing, and Apache kills the site. In a way, it’s a bit sad – it had background traffic of a few thousand uniques a month – and the whole thing is now gone.

The fragility of niche interests

At the end of the day, I get *zero benefit* from this site. I pay a tiny amount for the web-hosting and the domain-hosting, so it’s almost free, and I’m happy to leave it running for the benefit of the thousands of visitors each month.

But if it’s going to start costing me hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in lost time when I would otherwise have been doing paid contract work (every hour not working is an hour’s salary lost) … then the balance switches and (as in this case) I’m obviously going to kill the site.

I expect that the people who abused the site were just being thoughtless, and probably wouldn’t have ever gone back anyway. But I can’t afford the time to make sure.

Ultimately: Who has the time for this? A handful of callous acts just killed a repository of info.

bitching web 2.0

Once again, I’m forced to pirate digital content…

(…or else forgo it)

(EDIT: To be clear: Piracy isn’t theft, but it certainly is illegal. Please do not misconstrue: I do not condone piracy; this post is a lament at the extent to which the retail industries encourage or coerce consumers to pirate content. I am still looking for a legal way to buy the digital data I want, and in the meantime, I have Spotify…)

I want a single that came out 5 years ago. It’s available to purchase on iTunes …. in the USA.

I’m “not allowed” to give Apple money to buy that track, because my account was originally created when I was sitting in the UK. IIRC, even when I’m physically in the USA next month, I will still “not be allowed” to give them money for this (but … who knows? Apple doesn’t bother explaining this stuff to the normal consumer)

Switch to UK iTunes “mode”, and … Apple does not sell that track in the UK.

So, once again, the music industry would prefer that I go and rip the MP3 than that I *give them money*.

Do they care? Do they even know?

Of course not.

They will *never know* that I did this. They have no mechanism to allow me to *tell* them that I attempted a purchase – and was rebuffed. This would cost them nothing, but … they can’t be bothered.

Equally, when I rip the MP3, they’ll never know that I did. It has literally zero effect on their business. Because piracy is not theft: digital data is not physical property, and copying does not affect the original in any way.

Sigh. One day, the digital industries will grow up. I hope I’m still alive to see it.

computer games design games design web 2.0

2010 and the Browser MMO

What’s a browser MMO? Today, not 5 years ago?

In the previous post I poked Earth Eternal for claiming to be the “*REAL* MMO for your browser”, and disappointing on that front (although it could be awesome on all other fronts). I finished with:

So … EE may be a great game … and it may be launchable from within a browser … but it’s a long way from a poster-child for browser-based MMOs. It’s still fighting the browser as much as it’s complementing it.

It’s 2010. I know a lot of people in the industry still haven’t accepted even the concept of a “browser-based” MMO, let alone realise where they’ve got to now.

I’m not in the loop on this stuff any more, but it set me to wondering what I’d be chasing if I weren’t doing iPhone exclusively right now.

What about you? Are you fighting the browser?

The Executive’s impression

Game developers aren’t stupid. Executives aren’t clueless. But some are.

In the minds of those who make games but “don’t do” browser games on principle, I’ve found “a browser MMO” often means some or all of:

  1. A text-only game running off a single Perl webpage, where each action causes the whole page to be refreshed.
  2. Non-real-time interaction (because, you know … web-servers aren’t powerful enough to run anything in real-time)
  3. High-latency, jerky, shallow movement of characters and objects
  4. Weak 3D graphics – 5 years or more behind the curve of Console graphics
  5. Fat client downloads that “no-one” can be bothered to wait for, and would be better-off distributed on a DVD

What’s reality? Well, here’s a few observations…

Drop-dead gorgeous graphics … are the norm

For a look at today, go browse some of the Unity demos. Unity is *not* the “best” 3D engine, the fastest, the best language – but it’s nicely balanced towards ease of adoption. It’s very easy for new developers to get into. And so it’s setting a very achievable base standard that’s higher than many people would believe. With anyone able to produce 3D to this level, and embed it in the browser almost as an afterthought, the use of plugins becomes a new landscape.

Right now, crappy Flash MMO’s are still re-treading the ground of Dragon Fable (which is coming up to it’s 4th birthday) et al – albeit that’s now the “standard” and there is better and better appearing. But just as it only took a few games to adopt this approach and show how good it could look, widespread adoption of Unity, and a few high-profile innovative products, will drag forwards the rest of us.

(by “us” I don’t mean professional developers, I mean primarily the amateur and semi-pro teams who don’t yet work for a living – the students etc)

2 years ago I wouldn’t have thought it would be necessary to say this (I assumed that FB would have kicked everyone’s butts) but maybe it’s still relevant: going forwards, I suspect “browser MMOs” still need to be a lot more “browser” and a lot less “traditional MMO” if they wish to stand out.

The facebook question

Browser MMO, huh? So … Why is there no option to use Facebook Connect to login? In 2010, I think that’s what browser-MMO probably means to most people: “it works from Facebook”.

The massive, fundamental changes to Facebook that are coming in this year may push a lot of content-providers off FB, and back to the web – but users will continue to demand single-sign-on access, and shared access to friends lists. This already works, off-site, thanks to Facebook Connect (both for websites and for other hardware platforms, e.g. iPhone).

I may be completely wrong, but my suspicion is that many developers still want to “use Facebook”, by which they mean:

“use (the large number of accounts on) Facebook (to get lots of users in our game without having to do so much advertising)”.

…while (again, merely a suspicion) users want their games to “use Facebook”, by which they mean:

“use (the apps, data, and list of friends I already have on) Facebook (to reduce the effort I go through to play the game)”

The problem here is the developer is chasing more signups, and the user is chasing ease-of-access. IMHO, the FB changes are going to cut off most of the former, leaving the question: who will do best at fulfilling the latter?

The Glottal-Stops and Square Pegs of User Experience

When people surf to your MMO direct from the Web, do they get a feeling akin to the glottal-stop? Do they feel like they mentally “stumbled”, as the paradigms and user-interface go through a sudden change?

Embedded within an ordinary web-browser, does your MMO look like a square peg forced into a round hole?

The effects are subtle, but they decrease virality, decrease engagement. The effects are tiny, but with millions of web-users out there, they can be cumulative. Each time a user experiences this, you marginally shrink your maximum user-base, and you push your conversion rate down.

Why was I so shocked that Earth Eternal is (silently) Windows-only? (as is/was Free Realms, for that matter)

Well, largely because it reminded me of years ago, when you’d occasionally go to a website only to see:

“This site is only valid in Internet Explorer; you are not running that browser, so you are seeing this special page instead of the site. Please download IE now and then come back.” (or Netscape, or “desktop, but you are using a mobile phone”, etc)

History suggests that this is not a viable strategy when you’re fighting it out on the web…

I’ll know it when I see it

I’m waiting for one feature in a major MMO. I’ve seen it in a few “amateur” MMOs, and you get it on Facebook apps etc. It’s a fundamental expectation from the Web, and it is incredibly powerful:

Each piece of interesting content is *named* … it has a unique URL … so that I can directly tweet places, events, people, and things. I can bookmark conversations I’ve had. I can archive, I can cite, save, and return.

Bonus points for incorporating a service in the client, so I can literally copy/paste direct into twitter

I’m hoping it’s out there already, and I just haven’t spotted it yet. When it comes, someone let me know; until then, I’ll be spending more time in flash games, and less in mainstream MMO’s. I prefer my gaming to be Web-compatible, thanks…

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Farewell, Metaplace

I got this in my inbox a few days ago, and it’s been forwarded to me by a few people since:

(NB: the fact that you still have to login MERELY TO READ THE DAMN FAQ linked from the PR statement is IMHO symptomatic of some of MP’s problems :( ) is closing on january 1, 2010

We will be closing down our service on January 1, 2010 at 11:59pm Pacific. The official announcement is here, and you can read a FAQ guide here. We will be having a goodbye celebration party on January 1st at 12:00noon Pacific Time.

Some of the correspondence I’ve seen on this – what went wrong? what should they have done differently? – has been interesting. Personally, I’m in two minds about it. I think there were some great things about and within MP, but from the very start I felt it had no direction and too little real purpose (and if you ask around, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of people who’ll confirm I said that at the time).

I’ll hilight a couple of things that haven’t come up so much in conversations:


  1. On the face of it, MP was “the bad bits of Second Life…” (poor content tools, poor client, no direction, no purpose)
  2. “… without the good bits of Second Life” (no sex, no mainstream publicity, wrong target audience to charge millions of dollars in land-rental to)
  3. Poor discoverability (how do you find something cool in Metaplace? Go to site, login, download client, wait a lot, browse a weak index, wait for more downloads, wait for content to stream in … etc)

Discoverability was IMHO the killer: this is something that so many “hopeful” social sites and systems get wrong, and only a few get right. The best examples are still simple: browsing your friends’ friends on Facebook by looking at photos of their faces (hmm; who do I fancy?), or using Google to find things you’re looking for (the gold standard in tech, but also the base *expectation* of the modern web surfer).

The history of SLURLs in Second Life should probably be required reading for people interested in this – if you can find ways to experience / re-live life pre-SLURLs, and read through some of the trials and tribulations that Linden went through in getting them to work.

And even then, of course, SL still had no browsability – but it least it had “open” bookmarks and copy/paste references you could share with people, and embed in webpages. That was barely acceptable (and still “awful”) back when SL was in its prime; the equivalent “minimum acceptable” is probably Faceboook Connect with full Facebook integration (i.e. not just FC-login, but having a bona fide FB app too that acts as an alternate access-path for your virtual world).


  1. Well, obviously, there was a lot of great content in there. I only skimmed it, but apart from the problems above, I saw a lot of interesting stuff
  2. The AJAX/CSS/HTML GUI … it was really easy for me to mess about gaining and browsing badges (both mine and other peoples).

Early on, I found the AJAX vs Flash part particularly interesting. The former showed up how weak the latter (the world-client) was: sometimes I went to the site, all happy about the badges, the popovers, etc, and as soon as I got into the Flash client, my mood would drop noticeably. Eventually, I stopped bothering visiting at all; I dreaded the slow, unwieldy, “clicking all over the place to move fractionally”, Flash experience.

One question I had was how much this was to do with the languages / platforms involved: did AJAX/CSS inspire the people working in it to make lighter-weight, faster, more abstracted core experience? Or is this just coincidence? There should be literally no reason why either of those platforms forced the designers to provide the experiences that way (Flash is capable of a much faster, snappier, fluid usability experience – it’s been excelling at this for years).

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GetClicky sucks: an Analytics service going out of business?

A year or so ago I did a roundup of the major free Web Analytics services. I was interested to see how Google Analytics had affected the market: was there a market left any more?

One of the trials I signed up for I found so useful I carried on using after I’d written the review. GetClicky had a lot less information than some services – including GA – and less detail than the free tools I already run on all my websites (e.g. AWstats). But it was a lot more user-friendly, presenting the most critical information all at once on a single screen.

Today I finally started disabling GetClicky on my sites; the company has forceably blocked my site from their service. Why? Because I had a week of heavy traffic *while I was using the premium version which allows unlimited traffic*. That’s it. I stayed within their requirements, but I was banned anyway. That suggests to me that their company is in trouble…

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This is 2009: stop asking for fake email addresses

This came from a perfectly nice-seeming person, so I took it as genuine. Until I discovered the site I’d been lured in to. Very disappointing.

Unsolicited email I received today:

Hi Adam,
I’m the editor of and I wanted to share the news that T=Machine is a hit with our readers. If you haven’t checked out these two gaming sites you’ll see that we’re dedicated to highlighting the best videogame and MMO content on the Web every day.

I enjoyed your recent Focused Work-Hours post. Your commentary on the Studio Manifesto ideology was spot on.

We’re currently contacting our most popular featured bloggers on these sites and asking them to claim their blogs. By doing so, you’re making it easier for thousands of new fans to quickly find your blog and read all your great posts.

To quickly and easily claim your blog on, click this link:

What does that link do?

  1. Goes to a page with a big advert for
  2. Once you find the relevant image-link (hint: it’s neither a link nor a button, but a custom graphic), you can click-through to “claim my blog”
  3. Now you get asked for:
    1. Name
    2. username
    3. password
    4. email address
    5. CAPTCHA
    6. …I think 1 or 2 other fields, but I’d stopped reading and closed the window at this point

My reaction

Let’s get this straight: you want ME to signup to a site I never use, to promote YOUR site and create content that YOU monetize (but don’t pay me for!) … and – even though you already have my name, email address, and blog info – I have to jump through signup hoops for the “priviledge” of earning YOU extra money?

Some people / companies just really don’t understand the world, I think.

Or it’s a scam.

The site seemed to work OK, so I’m assuming it’s NOT a scam – just shocking naivety on the behalf of the people that run it.

Just to be clear

There is nothing in the entire website I can see that requires a username or password. It’s probably part of the fetish a lot of web-designers have for taking people’s email addresses at every opportunity.

Tragically, in my experience, a lot of them don’t even intend to monetize it in the future – they’re just making the user jump through hoops “because everyone else does it”.

And, finally

Good luck to the people running the site. Something like that could be quite useful. Although I can’t help wondering what it does that makes it significantly better than Technorati or Digg. Or any of the many clones of those two that appeared over the years.

e.g. I’d suggest you try if you’re looking for this kind of thing.

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So, who’s going to buy Zynga?

(for the three people who haven’t heard yet, EA just bought PlayFish, for circa $400 million)

Three things I have to say on this:

  1. Mainstream games industry people question it’s value
  2. Yes, of course it was worth it
  3. What Would Zynga Do?

Mainstream games industry people question it’s value

I’ve seen a lot of people from the mainstream industry (i.e. consoles, PC games, handheld etc – eerything EXCEPT iPhone and Facebook) incredulous, unconvinced it was worth it. This was the case even with the rumoured $250 million valuation from a month ago (c.f. Nicholas Lovell’s post on that).

There’s also some discussion over at TheChaosEngine (private forum for professionals in the games industry) on the same topic, with similar levels of scepticism about the value.

The main reference points are traditional games companies and their sale prices. That’s where this goes wrong – and it’s symptomatic of something that hampers the games industry: a lack of understanding of the business side of games. For most people in the industry, this doesn’t matter – they’re making games, not selling or funding them. But for the people managing games companies, far too many of them need to get an MBA and learn the essentials of sales, marketing, revenue, and shareholder-value – and how that applies to their own day-jobs.

Yes, of course it was worth it

Reproducing some of what I’ve already written on TCE, since it’s non-public:

There’s three things driving the valuation of PF:

  1. A solid business, in business-terms (c.f. Nicholas Lovell’s “6 reasons why Playfish is a steal at $400m”)
  2. Quality content-producer, in games / media terms
  3. Consistent success, in comparitive terms

Playfish is in the top 3 companies dominating the Social Games sector. They are the ONLY one of those companies that set out to dominate the SG sector – the other two happened purely by accident. PF was architected to take over this sector, and is succeeding at it.

From a game-design perspective, the entire business model for Zynga and SGN has been “keep bailing!”, and they’ve so far bailed faster than they were sinking (where “bailing” means “using marketing and sales ability to make up for severe product deficiency”). That might sound like I’m being derogatory – but compare it to all the “worthy” games companies who bailed *slower* than they were sinking; at the end of the day, who’s the smart one?

But good sales/marketing strategies are easy to dissect and clone, in a way that good content is not.

Part of the demand for PF is that a lot of people look at it and say: this is SGN/Zynga, except they make good games. Yes, they’re not 1st – but any idiot could take PF’s current position, throw $50m of marketing budget at it, and easily surpass Zynga. They will own this market, sooner or later – PF is fundamentally strong where Z is fundamentally fragile. (although Z’s “fragile” is still an order of magnitude stronger than most traditional games companies).

Just to be clear: I have a lot of respect for Zynga and SGN, they’ve achieved a heck of a lot. But they’re sharks. They’ve always been sharks. Comparing to modern standards of game-design, they’ve never had great product. Instead, they’ve been extremely canny, aggressive, vicious, and cash-driven – and they’ve shown how successful and profitable you can be with those things. If someone had asked “how well can you do with a weak content company if you’re exceptional on the business-side?” then these companies boldly step forth and demonstrate that the answer is: “very well indeed”.

But this is a new, novel market. Maybe there’s nothing special about PlayFish?

Well, apart from thriving in a new market against some of the toughest competition in the world, look at the comparitives. Compare PF with – say – Kongregate. That was founded by the ex TD of Pogo after years at Pogo/EA, and was expected to recreate the success of Pogo and expand on it (hundreds of millions of dollars revenue). They’ve fallen a long, long way short. PF was founded years later and is now doing perhaps 20 times the revenue (just guessing based on Kong’s last funding round and how long ago it was).

PF’s success *looks like* it’s “probably” no accident. IIRC (and I haven’t checked, I’m going from memory here, so I might be very wrong) this is the same management team that built and later floated GluMobile. Putting that into perspective:

  1. these guys have ridden the wave of an emerging market to create on of the big successes
  2. these guys started from nothing and ended up with an IPO
  3. these guys then started all over again, from scratch, in a new market … and succeeded AGAIN.
  4. …and they did it very quickly

What Would Zynga Do?

This, then, is the million-dollar question: who’s going to buy Zynga?

Zynga have followed a strategy of buying-or-burying every small competitor who came along. As I noted above, despite being rich, hugely successful, and growing fast, they have some internal fragility that PF has never had. Where PF *could*, in theory, get more aggressive, Zynga is already barrelling along flat-out on that front. Where PF has a good reptuation they can trade on, Zynga has a poor one that’s not worth much now PF is part of EA.

If it had been a smaller company that bought PF, maybe – maybe – Zynga could have afforded to try a reverse-takeover to hoist themselves up, and hold on to their top spot in Social Games.

But EA/PF is too complementary a pairing; together, they’re too effective for Zynga to get away with that. Zynga *might* have hoped, with a different competitor, that acquisition by EA would lead to a breaking-up of the company’s value. EA has done this many a time to other acquisitions: small companies vanish when eaten by big ones. But as I noted above (and as Nicholas referred to when claiming that PF’s team could “turn around the tanker” that is EA), PF’s team have enough experience and personal wealth that it is very unlikely they’d disappear inside EA. They *might* retire (despite the golden handcuffs, many EA acquisitions have lead to de-facto retirement of their founders) – but PF is so young as a company that I doubt they’re tired of it just yet.

Looking back at Zynga, this seems to be a company that sees itself as the Alpha Male. I can’t believe they’d settle for second place. So, Zynga needs to be bought. And, unlike PF, Zynga may actually benefit from being dominated by their acquirer (try and wipe out some of that bad reputation; perhaps fundamentally alter the internals of the business, make it into a good content-generator? Where PF is adding Zynga-esque marketing and sales ability, could Zynga add PF-esque content-creation/content-quality ability?).


I’ve no idea :).

But, looking around, Zynga has greatly underperformed on iPhone. There are a lot of media and consumer giants around that expect to have no problems making lots of money on iPhone. Maybe that would make a good deal, someone already exploring, or set to explore, iPhone, who doesn’t need Zynga, but who could expand Zynga on to iPhone in a huge way. That could even let Zynga save some face in the deal (“there’s nothing about our business approach we wanted to change, it’s just that this was an opportunity to dominate TWO platforms instead of ONE”).