For the last 20 years I have created web-based games, produced video podcasts and tutorials, written computer books, and developed mobile apps. But I hope my next project overshadows all of that and becomes my legacy.
The Internet has allowed us to connect with each other in many ways. There’s the one-to-one of email and messaging and the one-to-many of web publishing and social networking.
Another way to connect is through question-and-answer sites. Some people use their own web sites to answer questions. Discussion forums and social networks provide a make-shift way to ask an individual questions. There are also sites that focus on one question at a time, allowing multiple people to chime in with answers.
My new site is AskAny.com. The idea is simple: you introduce yourself and some aspect of your life. Maybe it is your job (I am a firefighter), maybe it is your hobby (I collect comic books), perhaps something you have experienced (I was at the March on Washington), or some other aspect of yourself (I run marathons with a prosthetic leg).
Others visit the page you created and can ask you questions. You then answer the questions and spread knowledge and understanding. AskAny.com is a way for people to connect and learn about others.
I am making two assumptions in creating AskAny.com. But I think they are pretty safe assumptions.
The first is that people like to talk about themselves and things that interest them.
This could be for promotional purposes, such as plugging their new blog, website or startup. This could also be because a person feels it is important to spread information about a situation or cause, such as surviving cancer or wildlife conservation. Or it could simply be because someone is passionate about something, such as playing music or following a sports team.
The second assumption is that people are curious about others and the world around them. I hope that they see these pages and want to ask questions.
On a page titled “I am a firefighter” I want people to ask things like: “What was your most dangerous rescue?” or “How do I become a firefighter” or “Do you have a dalmation at your fire station?”
So here’s more about the site. First you create an account and then can create one or multiple pages if you wish. For instance, you can have one about your job and also one about your hobby.
If you have something to promote, then promote it! Bloggers are often told to promote their sites by guest blogging or posting to forums. But the first is difficult as popular blogs are innundated with requests for guest posts, and the second feels spammy. I encourage bloggers to use AskAny.com to promote themselves. If you have a parenting blog, then create a page “I am a parenting expert” at AskAny.com and include a link to your blog. I’ve even provided a space for a website link and Twitter handle at the top of every page.
Every page at AskAny.com has a unique URL. So http://askany.com/creator/ is one of my pages. No one else can have the page URL “creator.” So if a name is important to you, then you’ll want to create that page now. And use it, of course, as inactive pages will be recycled.
Another thing about your pages is that you have much more control than you do with discussion forum sites. If someone asks you an innapropriate question, you can simply delete it.
I want pages to live long lives, or even forever. So instead of answering questions for an hour or a day, the idea is you can answer a question here and there for days, weeks or even years.
There is also a voting system. So pages, questions, answers and comments can be “liked.” Pages with a lot of activity will appear on the front page of the site.
Feel free to give AskAny.com a try right now. The site is still in beta, but I’ve left it open to the public to allow my friends to use it during development. Use the contact link at the bottom of the site to let me know what you think.
The weird Apple rumor of the week is that Apple is getting into the car business. First, some articles pointed to some minivans with cameras that were registered to Apple and postulated that Apple was taking pictures to enhance Apple Maps. Others thought that this was perhaps a self-driving car, like what Google has been developing. Then sources started to report odd tensions between Apple and electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors and came up with the idea that Apple was developing an electric car.
Now let’s not forget that there are still far more reasonable rumors out there, like an Apple television, that haven’t even come around yet. Chances are that an Apple car exists only in the imaginations of Apple bloggers looking for something to write about. It is far more likely that the vehicles in question are being used to test CarPlay, the iPhone Maps app or other things that need to be tested in real cars in the real world.
But lets have some fun and assume that Apple is really developing a car. Where does that take us?
The first thing that comes to mind is: why? Why is Apple, a computer company, developing an automobile? That seems completely outside of their wheelhouse. The dashboard touchscreen for a car? Sure. More ways to connect the iPhone to cars? Sure. But a whole car?
Consider that Apple invests a ton of money, people and time into research and development. Deep down in Apple’s labs there are probably thousands of inventions and gadgets that Apple is working on, most that will never see the light of day. But they are all worth it for the bits and pieces (and patents) that do pay off.
Without a doubt, one of the areas of research must have to do with batteries. Apple uses batteries in most of its products. They need them to be smaller, hold more power, charge faster and improve in ways that people aren’t even thinking about. Better batteries means better products for Apple all around. Plus, if they can develop and patent a better battery, all of their products could jump very far ahead of the competition.
I’m not talking about a small improvement. I’m not talking about an evolution. I’m talking about a true revolution in battery technology. Physics tells us that this is possible because of the enormous amount of energy that can theoretically be stored in a single atom.
So lets assume that the battery R&D group at Apple comes up with a revolutionary battery. It is a fraction of the size of today’s best, charges instantly, and costs almost nothing.
They could turn around and put that into the next iPhone and leave Samsung in the dust. But the battery wouldn’t just be used in phones and computers, it would be used anywhere mobile power is needed. And the biggest need for a battery like that would be in cars. I mean, phones are already small and portable. They would just be more so. But electric cars would suddenly be so much more sensible than gasoline-powered vehicles that the industry would change overnight.
Now Apple doesn’t develop technology and license it out. If they have a battery like this, they wouldn’t think: Hey, we can sell this to Tesla and other car makers. That’s not what Apple does. Being the richest company in the world, they can easily start their own car manufacturing branch and come out with their own car. And with the patent on a battery like this, they would be the only ones who could sell anything like it.
After all, it isn’t like the current crop of car manufacturers make vehicles that work flawlessly and last forever, right? And it isn’t like there is any secret to how they make and sell cars. Why license patents for money when Apple can take over yet another industry?
My biggest app game ever, Starship Captain, launched today. It is a throw-back to the strategy/adventure games I created earlier in my career, Space Pirate and Rebel Dawn. But with the old comes something new: a new revenue model to try out.
“Freemium” is a term used to describe an app that is free to download, but has in-app purchases that you can buy. Some freemium games are little more than trial versions of themselves until you make the purchase. Others can be played in full, but in-app purchases make it easier to advance or speed up parts of the game. I’m going with the later model, which is used in a lot of games from Clash of the Clans to Candy Crush.
In Starship Captain, the planets on the map are grouped into clusters. You can travel to nearby planets with hyperspace warp jumps that take less than a minute to complete. But to jump to a planet in another cluster, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 12 hours. Still beats the hundreds of years it would take to do it in real life, though!
If you want to speed up jumps, you can use “relativity crystals” in the game. Each crystal equals one hour of time. You get 20 crystals to start. You can purchase more.
It was important to me that you would be able to play the game without paying anything. I do this all the time with these kinds of games. I just start a long process, like upgrades or buildings, in the evening and then let the process finish overnight. The same can be done with Starship Captain. You can plan your long jumps for the end of the day, and then resume playing in the morning.
Most of my games use advertising as the revenue model. You can get them for free, and there are no in-app purchases. I have a few games that have no ads in them and you pay for more content (jigsaw puzzles, Push Around levels). I have a few where you just pay up-front.
But if you are a developer and follow various blogs and discussions that go on in the industry, you hear that the freemium model is the best one. Just look at the “top grossing” list in the iTunes store. They are mostly freemium games. So it was about time I tried this model.
One of the big downsides to this model is the hate I will get. Some people get absolutely furious when they see a game use this model. In fact, within hours of launching the game I received my first anonymous hate email about it.
Of course people would prefer that games be free, with no in-app purchases and no ads. That would be nice. But that’s not realistic. I have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like everyone else.
My “job” is to create these apps. And just like other people want to get paid as much money as possible to do their job, I want to make as much money as possible doing mine. So I’ve got to look at the ways these apps make money and figure out what will do the best.
The argument most haters use is that they would rather pay upfront for the game than have in-app purchases. I like that idea too. But it isn’t the way reality works. App developers have tried and tested these and find that the freemium model works better, way better. No matter how many people say they would have rather purchased the game, the truth is that they wouldn’t have purchased it. Developers have tracked this. I’ve seen it myself.
Maybe one person saying that is telling the truth. Fine. But that $2.99 is not going to pay the bills. There would need to be thousands of people buying the game for it to make fiscal sense. And unless you have a huge marketing budget or a big brand, that isn’t going to happen.
And there is an upside to the freemium model for users too. People really do get to try the game before they spend any money on it. They may not think of it as a try-before-buy, but it works that way for them if they want to see it like that.
So I am trying the freemium model for on simple reason: I want Starship Captain to succeed. I want lots of people to play it and to have a nice revenue stream. I want the revenue to be good enough so I can justify spending time updating the game. I want to add to it, improve it and expand it. But that will only happen if the bottom line looks good. And the best chance of that, is to make the game freemium.
On Thursday I’m going to launch a new game app called Starship Captain: Adventure In Alpha Sector (link coming Thursday). It will be the biggest app I’ve released so far.
Starship Captain is a space adventure game. You travel from planet to planet trading goods, running missions and attacking and plundering other ships.
I built it from scratch starting a few months ago. But the game has a little more history than that. It is actually the fourth incarnation of a game I first built in December, 1995.
I called that first game Space Pirate. I built it as one of my first web-based games just after launching my first site. It was a single-player game developed in Macromedia Director that required the Shockwave plug-in. At the time, it was a unique way to distribute games.
About a year later, I decided to re-write the game from scratch, creating Space Pirate 2. I added many improvements, including a little bit of multi-player capability.
My effort paid off when a company approached me and bought the game. With the money, I put a down-payment on my first house and seeded my company’s bank account.
Five years later, my non-compete agreement expired and I delved back into the genre with a new game called Rebel Dawn. This game had better graphics and even more multi-player capability.
But by now there were many online multiple worlds, some with 3D graphics and 9-figure budgets. Rebel Dawn couldn’t compete. It was also a bad time for web-based games as web advertising was at a low and web-based game sites started popping up everywhere. Plus, the game had some overhead: a custom multi-user server that I had to host and maintain on my own. After a few years of success as a game, but failure as a revenue stream, I shut it down.
Starship Captain is my return to this type of game. But this time it is an iPad app. The revenue model is also quite different as the game is free to download and has no ads. Instead, hyperspace jumps from planet to planet take time, and you can purchase “crystals” to speed up those waits. It is basically trading time for money in the same way that games like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga do.
Starship Captain is also bigger than Space Pirate or Rebel Dawn in terms of features. Instead of a turn-based simple combat system, the game has arcade-like battles. There are fields of asteroids you can explore and mine. There are also short stories told through mission text, mostly at spaceport bars.
But there is no multiplayer aspect. I’m not a big fan of multiplayer myself. It is difficult to implement and hard to maintain. So there’s no multiplayer anything in Starship Captain.
I’ll be facing this week in a state of anxious excitement. Will enough people like the game? Will the revenue model work?
If it fails to make any money, then it isn’t so bad. I simply don’t need to update the game. If it succeeds and brings in enough revenue, I can work on updates and new versions. But my biggest fear is that it falls somewhere in between — it makes too much money to just ignore it, but not enough to have it make sense for me to spend more time on it. That’s a problem I seem to face a lot with my sites and games.
But focusing on the positive, I would love for Starship Captain to become a success and to be able to focus most of my attention on a single game. I could probably update and improve the game as fast as Apple could approve new versions in the App Store. I could also roll over money made from the game into more artwork. That means it could become something really special in the space of six months or a year.
So most of my iOS app games are free. I have ads in them, and that is how I make money from them.
Now, ads can be annoying. Not just in apps, but on TV, in print, on the radio (especially on the radio, for some reason). So I get complaints from time-to-time. Often users don’t understand how the ads work. They see an annoying ad and assume I have picked that ad to appear on the game, or perhaps even created it myself.
Of course all I do is provide a space in the app for ads. Then Apple puts the ads there. Thousands of ads are available at any time, and one appears randomly. If you see an ad often, it is because the advertiser has paid for it to appear often. I have no idea which ads will appear over my games. I certainly don’t spend my time reviewing thousands of ads per day and picking and choosing among them.
Now some users suggest that I offer a way to remove those ads. For instance, I can create an in-app purchase for this. You get the game for free, and the ads appear. But tap a button in the game and agree to pay $1 or $2 and now your game is ad-free.
That sounds like a good idea. After all, I make pennies per user with ads. But if someone pays $1 I make a whole dollar from them. So financially it works out. At least it does if hundreds or thousands of people take the deal.
I did this for several games. There are two reasons I’m not going to do this anymore.
You see it takes a little time and effort to built this in-app purchase and ad-removal functionality into the game. The code and submission process takes probably less than an hour. What really takes up time is the design. With ads, I need to make a space at the top of the game for an ad. I can’t put game elements there, or the ad will cover them. When the user pays to get rid of the ad, I could just leave that space blank. But the right thing to do is to use that space for the game.
So there is a lot of work to be done there. I’ve got three different screen sizes of iOS device, plus horizontal and vertical orientations. So that’s a good deal of design work and a good deal of testing. Not worth it if I only get 10 or 20 or 400 people to pay $1. And usually the number is closer to 10 or 20.
The second reason is the real one. And it has nothing to do with my games, the ads, or design time.
When you add an in-app purchase to a game, your game is then branded in the App Store as “Offers In-App Purchases.” That reduces downloads.
Why? Because people hate in-app purchases, or at least the idea of them. So many games have used in-app purchases to try to suck money out of people, that they are now considered a bad thing. You know the games, the ones where you download it for free and then find out that in order to make and headway in the game beyond the beginning level you need to spend real dollars to by gems or coins or magic unicorn poop.
When someone sees one of my games and it is listed as “free” and “offers in-app purchases” I think a lot of people then assume that this is the case. And if it were the case, that would be fair enough. But in the case of these apps, you really do get the whole app, with all features, for free. The purchase is just to get rid of the ads.
I’d rather not offer this in-add purchase and lose $20 or even $500 than have less people download the game.