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Big topic, but I’ve been musing this for a while.

Regular readers of my blog will know me as a big supporter of advertising. Some years I’ve spent six figure sums on advertising. Ouch. Advertising works, and I won’t bore you trying to prove that, when there are great books out here that can do this, scientifically with hard evidence. The problem with advertising is not that it doesn’t work, but that people are trying to kill it off, without (as usual) thinking about the long term consequences of their actions. This is  a general problem with society, we try to ‘fix’ X with no thought to the secondary or tertiary effects. Its human nature. I even made a game that models such effects which helps explain why politics often gets this wrong.

Ad-blocking is becoming more and more common, and this presents a problem not just fort advertisers (its a problem they can actually solve), but for consumers and society as well. I’d argue its why Donald Trump is president, and why nothing has been done about climate change. Seems a stretch? let me try to persuade you.

Firstly let me write in defence of people who block ads. Generally I do not block ads, I do not have ad block installed on my PC. I have a different plug-in called ghostery. Ghostery is there to identify and optionally block ‘tracking’ beacons and cookies that are often found on sites where you would not expect them. Visiting a site that shows me ad banners is just fine with me, but notifying dozens of different companies about every site visit I make is…not ok. I am prepared to have a Volkswagen advert in my peripheral vision while I read the news. I see that as a (more than) fair trade. II do not see the notification of facebook, google,twitter & a dozen companies I’ve never heard of that I am reading that same article to be a fair trade.

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Some sites I visit, with a simple 4 or 5 paragraph article, have 20+ trackers identified by ghostery. In the real world, you could imagine this as me reading a newspaper with 20+ anonymous businesspeople stood behind me peering over my shoulder and making notes of who I am and what I’m reading into little notebooks. Are you happy living your life like that? I sure as hell am not.

So people rebel against this (and who can blame them) and as a result they install ghostery or adblock, and continue to surf the web. The ads have magically disappeared, and all is good with the world. Somehow the online content is still there, but we never care how it works, because we just assume we can free-ride of all the dumb schmucks who have not installed ad blocker yet. The problem is…the scales are tipping so that too many of us are blocking, and not enough of us are viewing. The end point of this trajectory is that the people producing the online content are not earning anything from ads. What happens next?

The BEST outcome, and it may seem perverse but the very BEST outcome is that all of those sites go bankrupt and close down. That the very best thing for society that can happen. Sounds weird? well again, do not focus on the immediate consequences, think about the secondary and tertiary effects. Someone who runs an online news site, or games review site already has staff, maybe premises, they have web hosting, they have technical skills…are they going to give up when ad revenue dries up? Not without a fight, which means (after perhaps a period of fighting a losing battle with ad-block-blockers and then begging…) they will take money from wherever they can get it.

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This used to be an indie games review site. You probably have not heard of it, it didn’t do well. Getting attention is hard. The thing is, if you read any of the articles on there, you probably do not notice any major difference between it and any other games website. There are no ads…but then you assume they are just getting blocked right? In fact no. There were never any ads on the site. I own it. I set it up to promote indie games, and hired a journalist to write for the site for a while. I did it because I saw a very long term business case for ME to do this. The more people who played indie games, and heard about indie games, the better the prospects for the industry I was in. It also meant more indie game devs knew who I was, just as I was going into publishing. It als meant more ‘independent’ coverage of indie games that prevented the whole industry becoming steam plus rock paper shotgun. This was a strategic business move by me. BTW I am a game developer. Are you happy with me owning a games news site?

Luckily I’m a nice guy, I’m not out to screw people over, and even if I was, the journalist who worked for me is a very honest nice guy and has a lot of integrity. However… it would have been easy to hire someone a LOT less scrupulous for the same money on the understanding that every fourth article would be about MY games and incidentally how awesome and underrated they are. Believe me…its not difficult to find wannabe journalists looking for actual paid work.

The frightening thing is…as a reader, you have no idea. You read something online and you just assume its free. is it unbiased? Is it actually paid content? Did the journalist get flown to Barbados to review the game? When journalists cannot earn any money from ads, a 3 night stay in a five star hotel in Barbados to review Grand theft Auto sounds irresistable. The real killer is that its probably CHEAPER than conventional advertising, and it comes across as more ‘honest’. Oh the irony.

So circling back to Trump, Climate change and fake news… If you haven’t seen my point yet, here it is in four words.

Someone is always paying.

In the past, you knew who. it was Volkswagen running a banner ad. it annoyed you, but you knew who it was. Very WORST case, if you were reading a  review of the new VW Golf and you saw the ad, you probably thought ‘hmmmmm’ and maybe engaged some cynicism about the articles impartiality. Thats good, that’s how it should work. The problem now is that the ad has disappeared, but that SAME money will be spent, and it will make its way to the guy writing the article somehow, you just cant see it, and you probably don’t even think about it.

We suffer a lot from ‘fake news’ lately, which has been blamed/credited with Donald Trumps election win. I recognize the phenomena from climate change, where there has been a history of ‘fake news’ claiming that wind turbines don’t work, that solar panels never pay back their costs, that climate change is a Chinese hoax…and other such bullshit. The problem is the same: ‘News; being written not because it is actual news, or even true, but because the person paying for the news has an agenda, normally one that furthers their business interests (in this case big oil).

Note the phrase: “The person paying for the news”

That used to be you. It used to be me. We used to pay through ads, and that got annoying and now we just block them and don’t think about it. These days we pay in other ways, maybe through surrendering our personal information to Facebook (who doubtless then sell it), or maybe we pay with our votes. Yup, we pay with our opinions and our freedom of thought. We stopped paying journalists years ago, and never gave a damn about them, which means that we can now hire journalists for dirt cheap. You got a marketing budget of $50k? that will write a LOT of articles, believe me. You have a marketing budget for your oil company of $1billion? How much for the US election campaign?

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Journalism is cheap, and we made it so.

So how the hell do we fix this? Well its actually quite simple, in the way that all solutions people do not want to hear (use less fuel, fly less, eat less beef to help with climate change) are simple. The problem is they require you to think long term and behave in a way that seems irrational in the very short term.

PAY for journalism.

You can subscribe to a lot of news sites. this gets rid of the ads. If you are a gamer, Rock Paper Shotgun has a supporter program. Online versions of UK print newspapers like the Guardian and Times have subscriptions you can pay to. The economist is a great weekly news magazine you can subscribe to online. I honestly believe that paywalls will become MORE common, not less. Everyone jeered at the ‘evil’ times paywall. Its still there. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you are a ‘mug’ or ‘gullible’ to pay for something like this. I hope I have established in this article that you are ALREADY paying for it, you just don’t see the connection.

And to round off, here I am, a highly skilled and very experienced software developer and business owner typing this article on a VERY cold Wednesday morning instead of coding my next game. How am I doing this? Why do I have this blog? What is my motivation? Well clearly its a bit of personal PR and branding. If you read all this stuff, now and then i have a post thats about my latest game and its trailer. Thats how I am getting paid for this. I don’t *deny* it, but then I don’t bang on about the link either.

Was this article really *free* for you? Have a think about it, and if it concerns you that this was motivated by me wanting to sell you stuff, you can formalize the arrangement by paying what you want for the Humble Tycoon Bundle, which is on sale now and includes Big Pharma and Democracy 3.

hey, at least I haven’t stuck any ad-tracking cookies on here right?

 

 

 

I know its trendy to moan and complain about life, and the government, and how things are SO BAD and are GETTING Worse. I used to do this when I was 16 too. Then years later you look back on life then and realize things are definitely NOT getting worse, and it was a combination of selective news-reading / alcohol / puberty / political bias that makes you think that way.

Everyone who is young thinks things are getting worse and they have never been this bad. In the UK at least…that’s probably not true. I’m not saying the UK is perfect, far from it! But I took the time to research some stats, and went only to official stats sources, no spin or selective reporting. here is what I found.

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So not everything is bad! Remember to look at the big picture when you think ‘things are getting worse, its never been so bad!’. Everyone thinks that in the short term.

See…I can do optimism. I just generally choose not to :D

I’ve tweeted and facebooked it, so may as well add it here too. I’ll hopefully make a new video tomorrow, but in the meantime here is a screenshot showing the efficiency GUI for each slot. In this case you can see that fitting valves to the engine is massively held up by waiting for resources (valves one assumes!) to show up…

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More details at www.positech.co.uk/productionline

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Relatively non partisan thoughts incoming…

I was strongly against trump, he won, I’m not going into a debate about him, or individual policies, but thought I would try to articulate what I think is going wrong in the US (also the UK and Europe) and how (maybe) to fix it.

Most pundits are suggesting (I’d guess accurately) that trump won because of the disillusionment of  blue collar workers on low wages, or with no jobs. Putting aside a lot of the surrounding fluff that the campaigns were wrapped up in (personal accusations, talk of misogyny, who-slept-with-who, size of peoples hands and so on), I think it basically comes down to blue collar American workers saying that economically they are losing out and something must be done, and they are absolutely right about that, and have been for a while. Trump tapped into that, and has become president as a result, and although his identification of the problem is spot on, his remedies are absolutely wrong, and in my opinion will actually make things worse, for those very blue collar workers who see him as their saviour.

There is a fairly watchable film released way back in 1991 starring Danny De-vito called other peoples money. Its not comedy gold, but it has a very well articulated point about, bizarrely the US election in 2016. Here it is:

For people who don’t want to watch it, its basically a rant by Danny DeVito as an ‘evil’ wall street guy telling cable factory workers that fiber optics killed their industry, and the company is dead, and to deal with it. Its harsh.

It’s also true.

Fact: Kodak in 1998 employed 145,000 people worldwide. It went bankrupt in 2012. Its one of many companies that have been technologically vaporised. Facebook employs 14,495 people, almost exactly a tenth of kodak at its height, and provides a lot more than the sharing of photographs. Arguably facebook provides 10-20 times the ‘end consumer services’ that a mere photo printing company did, for 1/10 the staff. We are talking about a situation where we need 0.5-1% of the people now to do the same work in terms of providing value. And facebook lets me share a photo (for free) with the entire planet. Kodak gave me a blurry cardboard feeling thing at high cost that fades and was a fixed size (and only 1 copy).
Yay for technology.

People complain about unemployment in the US. The US unemployment rate is 4.9%. There will also be an issue of under-employment and low wages, but still…thats actually not *that* bad. When every company does a Kodak and gets replaced by a Facebook, that 4.9% will be a far off dream, a paradise that people think back to.

Technology vastly improves and transforms our lives, but its killing jobs, and replacement jobs are not being created fast enough. The BIG problem, (and here is where it becomes relevant to the US election), is that when it does create jobs it only creates very highly skilled, high pay ones. If you do not have an absolute familiarity and understanding of computers, and preferably some computer programming knowledge, engineering knowledge, or maths/science skills, the future economy is not going to work out for you.

Trumps blue collar jobs are gone. They are not coming back. Its not the Mexicans who took them, or the Muslims, its these dudes:

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Robots.

Stuff can be made anywhere. Trump bemoans outsourcing to India/China, but with global trade, stopping that is impossible, and walling the US off from its biggest markets will only accelerate the death of the US economy, and encourage facebook, google , apple etc to relocate outside the US. Trying to stop global trade or automation / technology is liking trying to stop the tide. The only solution for trumps voters is to find a way to be useful in the post 2016 automated high-tech economy. That means skills, that means education. (I know some people think that means universal basic income instead. Personally I’m not a fan, but thats a whole different topic).

If I had to pick one single policy that would fix the problems in the US in the medium to long term, it would be adult education. Not schoolkids, they already understand and use computers. They aren’t scared of them, they will eventually realize that they need to knuckle down and ensure they study hard enough to get a job programming or high tech engineering/science. Young people in the US are pretty tech savvy. The people who need education NOW in the US are the age 40+ blue collar workers who used to work in factories, on assembly lines, or in warehouses. They need to skill-up, NOW.

They have no money, because tech killed their jobs, so they need help, and the government HAS to step in and fix this. I refuse to believe that you cannot re-skill at that age. I refuse to believe that you cannot transition from manual work to complex tech work. When I was 24 years old I hammered rowing boats together for a living. It was the technological opposite of what I do now. I’m 47 and work as a computer programmer. Transitioning from one to the other is HARD, but it can be done.

When I wanted to learn programming, I qualified for free evening classes in C and advanced C programming, paid for by my government here in the UK. I also attended a 2 week crash course on C++, paid for by the government because I was unemployed. I also studied my ass off, spent a LOT of time in libraries and the few books I could afford, and it worked out. The government could have made it a LOT easier, but at least they did something.

Despite my hatred for him, Trump DOES know what is wrong in America, and identifying the problem is actually very helpful. Now is the time to help focus on the real long term solution, not short term knee-jerk misdirected anger.

The USA does not need a wall, it needs a program of adult education & training.

 

 

Releasing a game is always fraught. If you are not a game developer, or are one yet to release your first game, your only experience of it is probably watching Tommy Refenes looking sad in indie game: the movie.

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In reality, there is a combination of terror, worry, anxiety, excitement, fear, depression, euphoria and disbelief. As a publisher, its different, your two concerns are likely to be ‘will this lose me a fuckton of money?’ and ‘how does this affect my reputation?’. I have mitigated this a bit by firstly not spending a massive chunk of my companies money on any one game (more of it is invested in wind farms and solar parks than games), and also by constantly refreshing the page with Democracy 3’s sales figrues every day to try and trick my brain into disregarding any concerns about having a game that flops.

Obviously neither tactic actually works. I still hate to lose money, and I still hate releasing a game that does not do well. The good news is that I have some data that suggests that I am making ‘good’ bets. The biggest flop I have ever released has still made me a ROI of 6% and has made a profit. Not a Great big ‘buy a ferrari’ profit, more like a ‘buy a nice laptop’ profit, but nonetheless, if even on your worse days you still make money, that’s pretty cool.

The game I’m talking about, which releases in 48 hours, is Political Animals. It’s developed by these guys in the Philippines, and published by me. because I made Democracy 3, its a good fit for ‘my audience’. It’s also a political strategy game being released a week before the most high profile US election in decades. Good timing huh?

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Political Animals is also the latest in a long line. I learned a bit about press with Democracy 3 and Gratuitous Space Battles, learned a bit about user testing with Gratuitous Tank Battles, learned a bit about youtube, streamers and blogging with Big Pharma, learned a bit more about PR with Democracy 3:Africa, and learned a LOT, a real LOT about advertising with further promotion of Democracy 3. In short, I have gathered a lot of experience about what should work, and what might work, and what does not work.

Of course, there are no guarantees, which is where the risk and anxiety comes in. Maybe people are sick of politics now? Maybe the game has bugs we are yet to find? Maybe we are releasing at the wrong time in the year? Perhaps it just does not resonate with the audience? Perhaps we spent too much money on localization and testing, and spent too much on shows? nobody will know until about midnight on Wednesday.

Yup, scary though it sounds, your first few hours on sale ARE a very good predictor of how the long 3+ year sales period of your indie game will do. There will literally be a point, roughly midnight on Wednesday, where I will sit back and either go ‘yay! it worked’ or ‘fuck it’. This is big time stress (more for the developers than me), but if you want to win the game, you have to play, and we play with live ammunition in the real world. Not that the falloff is a simple curve. here is the first week of sales of one of the games I released (note these are UNITS not revenue…very different):

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and here is the much longer 18 month chart:

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I have to admit, I love it. I love the idea of ‘calculated risk’. I am VERY happy to take an enormous risk if the calculations in my head say that it is worth it. I’ve invested in Ukranian Iron Mines (fail!), Companies that print dates on eggs (not bad!), Israeli share trading platforms (fail!), Short-selling bitcoin(fail!), robotics(Woohoo!) and even some leveraged stuff that accelerates the factor by which you win and lose. I like calculated risk, its exciting. it’s an adrenaline rush.

Its much more fun, and less terrifying when you don’t have a mortgage though.

Spare a thought for Ryan & his chums at squeaky wheel on Wednesday. Its a big day for them. And check out the game, it really is rather good indeed. If you are press and need a steam key email me, and there is a rather awesome press kit with details, descriptions, screenshots, logos and character art here.

 

 

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