Monthly Archives: March 2017

I talk a little about it in this video, but will blog about it properly soon. basically I want a separate system for putting together engines, but do not want to overcomplicate matters, or for that matter…under complicate them. Interested to know peoples thoughts on this. Also I remain excited about new car body designs, they can’t come soon enough :D. I should blog about promoting and marketing PL at some point too…its definitely something I have not done much work on yet.

Two views of the near future

March 25, 2017 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Depending on my mood, and alcohol intake, I find that I flop between vastly varying views of what our future may look like. The pessimistic, dark one comes easily to me, but sometimes the positive one breaks through. I suspect we face a future of extremes and may end up in either, or both depending where you live, and what you earn. Here are my upbeat and downbeat views.

The pessimistic view:

Lots of forces are conspiring to change your world in a bad way. Nuclear proliferation has not gone away, nor has terrorism. The chances are, at some point, some terrorist will successfully use a nuclear weapon, even if its something as relatively trivial as a ‘dirty bomb‘. The impact of a dirty bomb isn’t measurable by deaths,m but by economic damage. Set it off in central park, or Time square, or outside the houses of parliament. The economic damage and panic would be off the scale. Even fukushima was hugely mitigated by being in a *relatively* low population area. Worse still, our abilities to spot such things are not good.  Even if you think that society *can* prevent all terrorism, do you want to live in the ‘total surveillance’ state that it would require? Its highly possible that the last twenty years may become remembered in history books as an anomaly of privacy at the start of the digital age.  We are one major terrorist strike away from compulsory ID cards, total internet monitoring and a ban on personal use of encryption.

When privacy goes, business will step in. I recommend you read super-crunchers if you think corporate collection of data is harmless. For all our lives we have assumed that we have nothing to hide, and no useful data to collect, because who cares so much about our buying habits. that’s before big data and smart AI makes it possible to adjust cliffs health insurance costs based on what he orders from Starbucks for lunch. We are hurtling at high speed towards a future where big business knows way, way more about you than you do, than your family does, than even your therapist does. Advertising will get smarter, more targeted, more manipulative. The idea of dumb ‘banner’ ads may disappear in a future where every word of text, every font choice, every image choice in every ad you see has been curated in real time to appeal to you, at this time of day, on this date. Multiply the creepy feeling of seeing ads ‘follow’ you around the web by a thousandfold.

Not that you will be able to buy anything anyway…because robots just took your job, and if you think you are smart, you better be ultra-smart because AI just took the other jobs too. Of course, you *might* have a job cleaning the expensive sports cars of the super-rich by hand (purely for show of course, even that will be done better by a real car cleaning robot), or be able to compete for one of the rapidly decreasing jobs that robots cannot yet do (or we prefer them not to).

If you do manage to get a job, its likely to be not for ‘the company‘, as thankfully there will still be more than one company on earth, but its likely to be one of a very small number. Remember those glory days when entrepreneurs could start a small company? thats kinda quaint in a future increasingly dominated by massive companies, like Amazon and Alphabet with a market cap larger than many small (and even medium sized) countries. The wealth will continue to concentrate, and the chances are it wont be in your hands.

Name Market cap
Alphabet $563bn
Sweden $517bn
Microsoft $500bn
Amazon $403bn
United Arab Emirates $375bn
Greece $195bn

Not that any of that matters because we are still doing nothing about climate change. It wont kill you directly, but it will make your life hell. Climate shifts will mean devastation to harvests pushing up food prices beyond breaking point for many societies, leading to increased war, massive migration to ‘the west’, and a huge squeeze on the cost of living (compounded by the robots taking your job anyway). Globalisation will not stop, so you will be competing for the last few human-viable jobs with desperate refugees all over the world.  A combination of climate instability, resource wars and food shortages will provide a fertile breeding ground for yet more terrorism, and lead to more extremist politics around the globe. By the way antibiotic resistance could fail soon due to over-prescription and help wipe us out, if a bird flu pandemic or something similar doesn’t get there first. And don’t even get me started on topsoil erosion.

We are fucked.

The optimistic view:

In 1900 a car cost a fortune, went at a pitiful speed, was unsafe, noisy, polluting, unreliable and a pain-in-the-ass to drive. In 2016 a car can be scarily fast, trivial to drive (or even self-drive at times), as comfortable as a sofa, eerily quiet, safer than ever before (by a vast margin), and emit zero pollution. A lot of that has changed in the last 10 years, and the rate of change is accelerating.

I’m 47. As a kid we knew that phonecalls (even local ones) were expensive. nobody could afford to phone another country, unless it was an emergency. These days, phonecalls are effectively free, and communication by high def image, video, voice or even virtual-prescence in a  game is virtually free. Access to vast amounts of human knowledge is virtually free online. the world has never been more connected. Global violence has never been lower. Poverty has never been lower.  Diseases that were commonplace are now virtually eradicated. the human genome is sequenced. Some people in the UK are getting ‘bionic eyes’ on the NHS.

Futurists who talk about the ‘singularity’ are excited at the idea that as tech advances, the rate of tech advancement also accelerates, as the output of that new tech leads to more educated and technologically literate people able to achieve more and more. Kids born today will take to computers and virtual reality in the same way someone my age took to television and books.

People worry about automation causing job losses, but this will just lead to an explosion of leisure. The huge extra wealth generated by an automated workforce that requires no pay, no healthcare, no pension, no breaks, so sleep, will allow society to capture the surplus as tax to pay for either a universal basic income, or for the state to pay for vast social enterprises that create employment. The arts budget could be multiplied by ten, or even a hundred, as the profits from robot-crammed factories pay for a life of creativity and leisure. the forty hour week will give way to a twenty hour week, maybe even a ten hour week.  Democracies will ensure that wealth cannot be forever hoarded by the few, and a need for people to actually afford to buy their products will persuade the super-rich than even the 10-hour weekers will ned to earn a decent wag for society to operate.

Automation and AI will lead to such an economic surplus that once unsolvable problems (climate change, global poverty, unaffordable housing, homelessness) become affordable, maybe even trivial to fix.  Advances in renewable energy point to a future where energy is effectively free, and where almost everything is done by robots and almost all they need is energy, we effectively live a life of pure exploration, enjoyment and leisure.

It sounds unlikely, but we already live relatively blissful lives thanks to the advance of robots. A robot washes my dishes, another washes my clothes. We already have robots that clean cars, that mow the lawn and that vacuum your house. Is it so hard to imagine a special purpose robot that takes out your trash, that irons your clothes, that drives you to and from work (or to the pub!), leaving you to do the ten or less hours a week of creative thinking that you already do, but without the tedious pen pushing or lifting/carrying nonsense that makes up the majority of so many jobs? We no more WANT to keep so many of us stacking shelves in shops than we WANT to go back to hand-washing of cars, or even hand-scything of crops. Technological advance has always given us greater wealth, greater comfort and more leisure and it always will.

We are so lucky.

This blog post was partly inspired by this story, where a business decided someone did not fit their corporate culture because she asked how much she would earn. Yup, let that sink in for a minute, and lets talk about the myths that a lot of tech startups perpetuate, that are complete and utter nonsense.

Myth #1: Forget your salary, its all about the exit strategy!

There is a myth that every ‘startup’ is the next facebook, or twitter, or snapchat. As a result, you should not give a damn how hard you have to work or what you earn. Living on peanuts and sleeping under your desk is frankly an honour, and you will get to write a book about it one day on your yacht, after the company IPOs and you get your share of ten billion dollars. Thats the myth. The likelihood is that you will either burn out long before then and have to quit, that your significant other will leave you and you will have a meltdown and get fired, or far, far more likely: it turns out that making a toaster that connects to the internet isn’t actually a billion dollar idea after all, the company burns through cash, crashes and burns and everyone gets a tweet informing them they are unemployed.  In the idea is really good, it will raise some money, if it raises money, it can pay its workers.

Myth #2: We are the brightest and best in the world!

No you aren’t. You are probably a bunch of relatively well off middle class white guys from California who read a lot of books about steve jobs and now think you are a genius because you understand a bit of java. Whoopy do. Unless the company is Deep Mind, and a bunch of you have phds in artificial intelligence, or maybe quantum physics, and unless you have a few people with nobel prizes and fields medals, you are NOT the brightest and best. And frankly, that would be deeply embarrassing. if your startup does contain ten of the cleverest people on earth and you use those collective skills to develop a bluetooth enabled cat feeder…then what a terrible, insulting waste of your vast abilities. Get some fucking perspective.

Myth #3: Get users now, revenue will follow!

Really? Ask twitter how that went, or maybe myspace. Having a lot of users just means a lot of server costs and admin. The point of a business (and I feel it sad that anyone has to type this) is to make profit. Note that the word is profit, not revenue, which is totally different. Its amazing how many people think that a big userbase automatically generates revenue ‘somehow at some point’. Ask ANYONE in the games business if you can just bolt on Free-To-Play to an existing game, and they will laugh you out of the room. NO is the answer, you need to build that business model in right from the start. This is common sense, but companies like twitter and snapchat ignore it. Building a vast network of people who love your service because your service has no ads….yeah thats not going to be easy to monetize is it?

Myth #4: Our company is just like amazon. We will get big fast.

Well done, you have learned a buzz-phrase, and totally failed to understand the underlying business model. Amazons get big fast worked because they had an actual business model that they knew made a profit AT SCALE. Selling over the internet is highly profitable, and the economies of scale are vast. This does not apply to snapchat or instagram or twitter etc Amazons system had to be big because ‘every book in the world’ was compelling, and because books sold for MONEY. You can waffle all you like about how your business model has network effects, but unless there is a statement at the end of the company business model explaining where the profit comes from, its just a fortune cookie. The only thing that will get big fast is your debt.

Myth #5: We are making the world a better place.

Fuck you. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Do you know how a business can make the world a better place? by creating quality long term jobs that pay decent salaries and benefits. By contributing to the local community. By building things and solving problems that make society better. By paying their god-damn taxes. By setting an example of fair treatment to their employees, and ensuring a welcoming business environment for all races and genders and backgrounds. If your idea of making the world a better place is making billions of dollars so you can become another internet cliche with your bright orange Lamborghini and a swimming pool, then do us all a favour and just give up now.

Wow, that was angrier than I thought it would be. :D

I’m still shorting snapchat. YMMV.  Pics are from the televisual genius of HBOs Silicon valley.

 

When I initially designed the Production Line ‘car design’ system it sounded like it made so much sense. Cars were a list of ‘features’ such as ‘electric windows’ etc, and whenever a car came to be sold, we would see if we had sold a car with that list of features before or not, and if not, we popped up a dialog box asking the player what to call this design and how much to charge with it, along with information on the market value (fair price) for that combination of features. This seemed perfectly reasonable.

The problem is that a) there are about 999,999,999 permutations of features and b)actual cars arent really sold that way anyway.

If you buy a car, you decide to buy (for example) a Vauxhall Astra, and then you decide which options you want, effectively from a price-list of add-ons. Usually car companies bundle a set of features together as certain ‘models’ such as ‘deluxe’ or ‘GT’ or whatever, but essentially there is a base body design and a price list of features to go on top. In order to reduce the amount of pointless GUI and busywork in Production Line I decided to switch to a similar model for patch 1.13.

Now we have a new button in the GUI, which launches the ‘design browser’ in the game which shows you all of the actual properly different body types of cars you currently produce. (for now its hacked showing designs from an earlier version, so they all have the same body type, but for new games you will only have one here for now). That window lets you select which car design you want to view or edit.

That then brings up this new window, which will also pop-up when you produce a car for the first time, or when you ship a car with a feature that was not previously available in this design. (That should happen only when you have researched a new upgrade and then shipped an upgraded car).

This is where the GUI gets a bit confusing. Essentially any design is just a shopping list of features with the base feature being ‘basic car’. For each feature you can see the market value of that feature (the consensus in the market place for the fair value for one of those), the price you are currently charging, and the markup over the market value in both percentage and dollar terms (with buttons to adjust this).

You can price cars at a premium to earn higher profits, or a discount to shift them quicker. This is where the confusion will come..

This does not represent a hard profit or loss for that car.

because there are so many fixed costs, its very very hard to work out how much each feature really costs you to add, so you have to separately keep an eye on what that feature is costing you. The premium/discounts here are only a guide as to how competitive you are with your rivals, who may be more or less efficient than you. My big dilemma here is how confusing is this? and is there a better way to explain/present it? Obviously there will eventually be a tutorial.

I also think that probably what I need here is some option to copy a single premium/discount to all features, so you are not adjusting each one manually. I’m not sure of the best way to present that from a GUI POV. In terms of ‘why would you ever not want to do that?’ consider this: You rush ahead in the early stages of the game to research cruise control before anybody else. As a result, you have the ONLY cars with cruise control. You can therefore charge a whacking great premium for that feature, way above the premium you would charge for other car features.

Does that make sense? Is this an improvement on the old model? Feedback most welcome. This is hopefully going into the 1.13 patch coming this week. maybe even Wednesday! (more likely Thursday).

BTW don’t forget the price goes to $12 from Sunday. If you know you are going to get it anyway, order it below :D