Starship Captain

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.

Posted on February 9, 2015 at 10:18 am by site admin · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: General

Why I Stopped Including In-App Purchases To Remove Ads

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.

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm by site admin · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: General

On Inspiration, Meditation and Road Trips

I just finished reading a book where the author often refers to visions or revealing experiences that led to his philosophy of life. I hated the book. I have my own philosophy of life, and it is very different from his.

My philosophy has no room for visions, miracles, muses, mystical dreams, angels or other fantastical sources of inspiration. The real world, my imagination, and the imaginations of others are enough for me.

But I too have had odd experiences that have shaped my philosophy over the years. Things have happened to me that are similar to “visions” or muses pointing me in the right direction. How do I explain that if such things do not really exist?

I started to think about when these things happened to me. A lot of them occurred in the mid-90s on the various long road trips I took. Maybe most of them, in fact. Each of these trips took place at a time when I didn’t have much occupying my mind. I wasn’t in the middle of a project, or a job, or creating anything in particular.

I thought about this book again. The author seemed to always be at a point when he was down-and-out, had given up on a project, or had left his normal life to work some menial job. So not that different from my road trips in some respect. His mind was free to wander.

So thinking about these moments of inspiration, why do they happen at times like these?

I don’t think they do. I think that these moments are happening all the time. Our minds seek to find order and meaning in everything, all the time. But most of the time our minds are busy doing a lot of other things as well. So finding meaning and lessons in random events isn’t a priority.

However, if nothing else is happening, if your mind isn’t trying to solve problems or think of ideas, then it is free to observe and associate.

The world around us is full of raw material from which our minds can draw on to create these inspiring moments. Naturally, when you are on a trip or somewhere out of your normal surroundings, there is more new raw material for your mind to draw from.

The beaver building a dam becomes a lesson in persistence. The hawk circling in the sky for hours becomes an example of patience. The long winding road becomes a vision of abundance.

Sometimes I took road trips alone. Other times I traveled with a companion. Guess when inspiration was more frequent? Of course, traveling with a companion was great?—?conversation, bonding, learning from each other, sharing the experience with someone, and working as a team during the trip.

I think back then if I had the opportunity to always have a companion with me on those trips, I would have opted for that. But looking back now, I’m glad I spent a lot of time traveling alone.

I have some very successful friends that recently decided to take a break from their entrepreneurial endeavors and take a sabbatical. Just six months or so off from work. Some reading, some traveling, some thinking, some learning new things.

In general, I think this is a good idea, especially for creative types. I don’t feel the need for one right now, but if I ever do it, I would try to spend a lot of time doing nothing. I would also try to be alone.

That last bit would be tricky, as I have a family now and I don’t want to be away from them. But I think it would work out to spend a portion of each day alone?—?as I do now while working. I just wouldn’t be working.

So what would I do? I’d put myself into a flow of experiences, like I would be if on a trip. I’d visit museums and parks, things like that. I’d go somewhere different each day.

I actually do a lot of this now?—?riding my bike as a break from work most days. But an hour or so isn’t enough. And I listen to audio books while riding, which means my mind isn’t free to wander. And of course I’m working on projects, the bike ride is just a short break. So even if I switched from audio books to music, or silence, my mind would just be busy solving problems and making decisions about my current projects.

So I think my formula for a sabbatical would be:

1. No ongoing projects. Repetitive or thoughtless tasks would be fine, as long as I don’t need to think about them while I’m not doing them.

2. Be alone. By my myself for least for the portion of the day when I was “working” on my sabbatical. Replace work with not-working, and avoid filling that time by hanging out with others. An exception would be that it is fine to meet new people, as they are just a part of the environment?—?the raw material for inspiration. But family and friends are a happy distraction, and your mind won’t be free to wander.

3. Experience new things. This can be as simple as a walk down a park path that don’t regularly take. Or, it can be a trip or a visit to a museum of some subject that isn’t your primary interest. You want to surround yourself with the raw material of inspiration.

In a way, this is like meditation, I think. I don’t meditate, so I can’t be sure. With meditation I think you aren’t following number 1, but instead forcing yourself to not think about work. You are following number 2. But number 3 is the opposite. Instead of removing yourself from surroundings, you are immersing yourself in them. The fresher and richer the surroundings the better. Instead of inspiration coming from within, you are looking for it to be triggered by something external.

This makes me think of the archetypal story of a man who goes on a great journey to find a wise man, usually on a mountaintop somewhere. This mystical person then teaches him how to meditate, or be at peace with himself, or some other equally romantic notion.

But perhaps it is the solitary journey to the mountaintop that is the real source of inspiration, energy and wisdom?

Posted on November 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm by site admin · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: General

Why Should We Care About Rumors?

Why do people care about tech rumors?
I should care. I’m a self-described Apple fanboy, gadget freak, geek, programmer and on top of that, a media junkie. So you’d think that I would care deeply about every rumor article, insider’s blog post and pundit’s tweet.
But it is all garbage.
First of all, rumor journalism isn’t very accurate. For a while I kept track of rumor articles and marked which ones were eventually proven to be correct, and which were wrong. Most were wrong. The vast majority were off in some respect?—?like the release date or features of a new product.
In fact, as far as Apple news went, writers that were simply trying to predict the news, based on history and common sense, were usually more correct than those that reported mysterious leaked information.
Then there’s the issue of caring about the rumors. Why should anyone care? Maybe if you are stock trader you feel you can make better trading decisions based on the rumors. Maybe if you work for a large organization and need to make technology purchasing decisions months or years in advance, then I can see it would be important to track rumors as one piece of information that helps you predict future needs.
But for most people, the rumors don’t matter. You can’t buy a new iPhone until it is available. Knowing some information that may or may not be true doesn’t change that. Reading a blog post won’t make an iWatch or iTelevision appear in your house any earlier.
But people do read this stuff, and they do care about it. They assume I care about it and are shocked when I shrug my shoulders and express disinterest.
“But aren’t you excited about the new iProduct!”
“You mean the one that doesn’t exist yet?”
“Well, we know it is coming, right?”
“So?” (Shrug)
When I can buy it and use it, then I’ll get excited. But until then, I have better things to think about. Things I can actually do. Information I can actually act on.
And if I want to spend time reading about things that I can’t act on, I’ll read world and political news. Then at least I’m educating myself, even if the information isn’t something I that affects my daily life.
Or, better yet, I’ll read actual technology news. That is news, not rumors. Articles and posts about things that actually exist. Information about how things work and how I can use them.

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 12:00 am by site admin · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: General

Hug? No Thanks, I’m Good.

I hate the whole introvert/extrovert thing. Don’t like defining other people with single words. Certainly don’t like defining myself with a single word.
I like going out, being around people. I don’t like having to start conversations with people I don’t know (AKA “networking”) and I’m not big on physical contact with strangers?—?anything more than a handshake. But getting up in front of an audience doesn’t scare me at all?—?I don’t get a thrill from it either. So whatever that makes me.
Now, this week I have been attending sessions at Denver’s startup week “conference.” These are supposed to be sessions where we sit and listen to people talk about business concepts and ideas.
Right off the bat, the first speaker at the first thing I went to asked everyone to turn to the stranger and hug them. She said it gave you energy or something. Maybe for her, and I’m happy for her that she has found a hobby she enjoys.
But I didn’t like it. I got lucky and the people on either side of me were nice and polite and we had already said hello, so it wasn’t too awkward. But it very easily could have been.
My point is that this sort of thing gets filed away in my brain and is put in the “reasons not to attend events” list. The longer that list gets, the more often I will decide to stay at home. So thanks for that, speaker.
Then, at another event, a gym/trainer guy got up before the first real speaker and started talking about stretching as exercise. Then he asked for everyone to stand up.
Uh oh. I had my laptop on my lap and was typing, so I decided to go against the flow and be one of the only people that stayed sitting. But I almost stood up as it looked like he just wanted us to stretch.
My instincts were good on this one. He quickly asked everyone to grasp the person next to them and we all had to perform these stretches that had pairs of people pulling and tugging on each other. I wasn’t with anyone, so had I stood up, I would have either been awkwardly left out, or would have been pulling and twisting someone stranger’s arm for several minutes. I stayed seated and kept typing, pretending what I was doing on my laptop was dreadfully important.
Another item goes on the list. Thanks exercise dude. I’m glad that you like pulling on stranger’s arms. I’m happy for you.
But not everyone is like you, and I hope you are OK with that. I’m not looking to change. I’m perfectly happy to be a person who hugs family and friends, and offers a handshake to everyone else.
I get my energy and enthusiasm from different things than you: reading, talking and thinking.
And surely, you must realize that some people don’t like all this touchy stuff, right? So maybe talk about hugging, and talk about stretching with strangers, but don’t force it on people you don’t know.

Posted on September 19, 2013 at 12:00 am by site admin · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: General