Kickstarter was one of those services that faced the typical chicken and egg problem of Internet start ups. As a crowd funding platform its success was born out of the exposure it could bring to potential projects and in the beginning that was essentially nothing. As time went on and crowdfunding became more mainstream Kickstarter then became the portal to get projects funded online and since then we’ve seen the projects transform from being mostly single guys in garages to mutli-discplinary teams looking to launch disruptive technology. Whilst I still believe that Kickstarter doesn’t fundamentally change the rules of the funding game the shift of the value judgement from the entity to the wider world is a big one and one that has seen many products come to life that might not have done otherwise.
Of course as the service and the number of projects has grown over the years it was statistically inevitable that things would start to go wrong. Thankfully the majority of the problems faced by Kickstarter campaigns are usually overly ambitious product designers who under estimate the time it will take to get their product to market leading to delays to their initial time frames. There haven’t been that many outright problems either with failed projects never getting any money (and still being publicly accessible after the fact) and there’s only a handful of projects that vanished into the ether, all apparently due to copyright claims.
Still there were a couple high profile cases of projects being showcased that were little more than a concept that someone wanted to create. Now this is the reason why Kickstarter exists, to get projects like that the funding they need to get over that initial hump, however for physical goods having nothing but a couple product renderings can lead to some serious down the road and there were numerous projects that suffered major delays because of this. There were even notable projects that had a prototype but struggled to scale to meet the demand created by their Kickstarter campaign.
Kickstarter, to its credit, has recognised this problem and recently changed the rules, putting it rather bluntly that Kicksater is not a store.
Looking at the changes the first thing you’d notice is the number of projects that were previously funded that would no longer fly under the new rules. Personally I think its a good thing as requiring an actual prototype means that a project creator will have to have gone through many of the initial hurdles to bring the product to reality and thus won’t be using the Kickstarter funds to do this. It does mean that the barrier to entry for product and hardware categories just went up a few notches but it also means that there’s a much higher likelihood that such products will actually come into existence. The change that puts an end to multiple items is done to ensure another Pen Type-A/Pebble situation doesn’t occur again, although there’s still the potential for that to happen.
I think the changes are overwhelmingly positive and whilst there might be some projects excluded from using Kickstarter as a funding platform there’s still many other crowd funding alternatives that still support projects of that nature. It also helps to make sure people understand the (usually low) risks of using Kickstarter as there’s every chance in the world that the product/service will not be viable and neither Kickstarter nor the project founders are under any obligation to issue refunds for projects that fail after funding. This might be spelt out in no uncertain terms in the fine print when you sign up but anything to make people more aware of what they’re getting themselves into to is a good thing and does wonders for Kickstarter’s reputation.
It hasn’t turned me off the idea, that’s for sure.
I’m a long time MMORPG player, coming up to almost 7 years if I count correctly. I haven’t been playing any recently since I’ve had so many other games to play (and 3 still awaiting their turn) but whenever there’s a drought of good game releases I’ll usually find myself back in World of Warcraft or the new MMO of the day. During that time I believe I’ve got a good feel for the general MMORPG community as I’ve been involved in nearly every aspect of those games, from the lowly casual just looking for an hour of fun to the 3AM hardcore raider who’s friends question his sanity.
One of the bugbears of the MMORPG community has always been that of players with more in real life (IRL) cash buying their way past parts of the game that less financially well off people have had to slog through. It’s a genuine gripe as it serves to lessen the value of their in game achievements if someone can just slap down their credit card and get the same thing. Most MMORPGs strictly forbid any form of real money trading because of this, usually banning people from selling in game items and currency and shutting down accounts that are caught doing so. There are a few that condone it in a limited sense, like EVE Online that allows users to sell game time (keeping all the money in CCP’s pockets), but they are in the minority.
You’d think being a long time MMORPG player that I’d be with the community on this one but I’ll have to admit to using a real money trading (RMT) service in the past. You see back when I was just starting out in EVE Online I wasn’t terribly familiar with the games rather ruthless take on death. For the most part I had stayed in high sec space, running PVE missions and slowly building my way up to one of the sexier battleships. I eventually got it and started running missions with it and that’s when I was introduced to the world of high sec piracy. Not long after getting my shiny Megathron I lost it, along with all the cash I had plunged into it. Angry and frustrated I turned to the online ISK sellers in order to get myself back to where I was, shelling out $25 real dollars to get myself back on my feet. I went back there once more in order to get myself ahead again, but I haven’t used any RMT services since then.
To me the fact that a player can pay a token amount to get ahead doesn’t lessen the achievement any more for me, mostly because I know that despite the game developer’s best efforts it still goes on in every MMORPG. No matter how many characters they ban or currency they remove from the world there will always be a legion in waiting, ready to service those who’s credit card is more readily accessible than their free time. The best thing game developers can do in this instance then is to make sure that there are approved channels for doing so within the game so that players can easily tell who’s bought their way into success. Driving it underground just ensures that the game developers are missing out on some potential revenue, whilst the players still suffer in the same way.
You can imagine then how disappointed I was when I read how naive the World of Warcraft community was being when the release of a new pet, the Guardian Cub, that was tradeable in game sparked widespread concern that RMT was coming:
The other, major, thing which sets the Guardian Cub apart? It’s tradable. Once you’ve purchased it, you can on-sell the little guy to other characters, in exchange for in-game gold or items – and you can set the price. Sticking with the “one-time-only” theme, once you’ve handed the Guardian Cub over, he will be added to the recipient’s Companions list and cannot be re-traded again later. “Be sure to choose a master wisely,” warns Blizzard.
Costing the now-standard US$10, but tradable for almost anything you’d like, the big-eyed Guardian Cub is being heralded as the Beginning of the End – opening the door to real money trading in World of Warcraft.
Realistically you can say that RMT is already here for World of Warcraft as a quick Google search for “WoW gold” will net you dozens of sites ready, willing and able to switch out your cold hard cash for in game currency. The only difference this new pet makes to that equation is there’s now a semi-legitimate way of doing it even though most people who want the pet will just go straight to the Blizzard store to get it. Really if you’re worried about Blizzard bringing an official RMT system to World of Warcraft you should really open your eyes to the reality of the situation, it’s already happening, it’s just not Blizzard who’s doing it.
I’m not saying that RMT doesn’t have any effect at all on MMORPGs but their overall impact is realistically quite low. RMT has been around for as long as MMORPGs have been and many players will go their entire in-game lives without even noticing the impact that it has on their game of choice. Officially sanctioned methods are far and away better than their black market alternatives and opposing them is akin to sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending it doesn’t happen already. It does happen, it will continue to happen and you’d be best served by a supported method, whether you believe that or not.
I remember getting my first ever phone with a data plan. It was 3 years ago and I remember looking through nearly every carrier’s offerings to see where I could get the best deal. I wasn’t going to get a contract since I change my phone at least once a year (thank you FBT exemption) and I was going to buy the handset outright, so many of the bundle deals going at the time weren’t available to me. I eventually settled on 3 mobile as they had the best of both worlds in terms of plan cost and data, totaling a mere $40/month for $150 worth of calls and 1GB of data. Still when I was talking to them about how the usage was calculated I seemed to hit a nerve over certain use cases.
Now I’m not a big user of mobile data despite my daily consumption of web services on my mobile devices, usually averaging about 200MB/month. Still there have been times that I’ve really needed the extra capacity like when I’m away and need an Internet connection for my laptop. Of course tethering the two devices together doesn’t take much effort at all, my first phone only needed a driver for it to work, and as far as I could tell the requests would look like they were coming directly from my phone. However the sales representatives told me in no uncertain terms that I’d have to get a separate data plan if I wanted to tether my handset or if I dared to plug my sim card into a 3G modem.
Of course upon testing these restrictions I found them to be patently false.
Now it could’ve just been misinformed sales people who got mixed up when I told them what I was planning to do with my new data enabled phone but the idea that tethered Internet usage is somehow different to normal Internet usage wasn’t a new idea to me. In the USA pretty much every carrier will charge you a premium on top of whatever plan you’ve got if you want to tether it to another device, usually providing a special application that enables the functionality. Of course this has spurred people to develop applications that circumvent these restrictions on all the major smart phone platforms (iOS users will have to jailbreak unfortunately) and the carriers aren’t able to tell the difference. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking action against those who would thwart their juicy revenue streams.
Most recently it seems that the carriers have been putting pressure on Google to remove tethering applications from the Android app store:
It seems a few American carriers have started working with Google to disable access to tethering apps in the Android Market in recent weeks, ostensibly because they make it easier for users to circumvent the official tethering capabilities offered on many recent smartphones — capabilities that carry a plan surcharge. Sure, it’s a shame that they’re doing it, but from Verizon’s perspective, it’s all about protecting revenue — business as usual. It’s Google’s role in this soap opera that’s a cause for greater concern.
Whilst this is another unfortunate sign that no matter how hard Google tries to be “open” it will still be at the mercy of the carriers their banning of tethering apps sets a worrying precedent for carriers looking to control the Android platform. Sure they already had a pretty good level of control over it since they all release their own custom versions of Android for handsets on their network but now they’re also exerting pressure over the one part that was ostensibly never meant to be influenced by them. I can understand that they’re just trying to protect their bottom line but the question has to be asked: is tethering really that much of a big deal for them?
It could be that my view is skewed by the Australian way of doing things, where data caps are the norm and the term “unlimited” is either a scam or at dial-up level speeds. Still from what I’ve seen of the USA market many wireless data plans come with caps anyway so the bandwidth argument is out the window. Tethering to a device requires no intervention from the carrier and there are free applications available on nearly every platform that provide the required functionality. In essence the carriers are charging you for a feature that should be free and are now strong-arming Google into protecting their bottom lines.
I’m thankful that this isn’t the norm here in Australia yet but we have an unhealthy habit of imitating our friends in the USA so you can see why this kind of behavior concerns me. Since I’m also a firm believer in the idea that once I’ve bought the hardware its mine to do with as I please and tethering falls under that realm. Tethering is one of those things that really shouldn’t be an issue and Google capitulating to the carriers just shows how difficult it is to operate in the mobile space, especially if you’re striving to make it as open as you possibly can.
The last day of any holiday is always filled with a wide gamut of emotions. We woke up naturally a good 3 hours before we needed to check out and spent that time lazily packing our bags for the day ahead. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm that night so we would have a good 10 hours before the time we had to leave the hotel and the time we had to catch the plane back home. Whilst we still had tickets to the San Diego Zoo I wasn’t too keen to drive the 2 hours there to see it, nor was I too confident that the drive back would be less than 2 hours. Instead we decided to spend the day shopping in downtown Los Angeles for gifts and generally lazing about before the 14 hour flight home.
After checking out and grabbing our car from the valet we headed towards a mall I had managed to find through Yelp. It was a traditional American outlet mall with everything being outdoors and the only indoor area being the food court on one of the upper levels. We spent many hours perusing through the various shops, picking up gifts for our family members that we hadn’t yet accounted for. Time was passing slowly and after what seemed like forever we collapsed in Barnes and Noble for some coffee and free wifi. It was only 4pm around that time meaning that going to San Diego was out of the question so we decided to hit up a movie to pass the last few hours before we’d charge over to LAX.
Arriving at one of the local theatres we discovered that the movie we had decided to see, Skyline which had been endlessly hyped during our entire trip, wasn’t available at this cinema. Undeterred we decided that we’d check the others to see if they were showing it. Strangely none of the theatres near us were showing it meaning we’d have to choose something else. Not really enticed by any of the options we went for Due Date since it was a comedy, figuring some light hearted fun would be the ticket. We bought our tickets but the show wasn’t on for another 45 mins, so we went into the attached mall.
Just as we entered the mall we spotted a puppy store (yes just puppies) and like any young couple we decided to go and ogle those cute little things. Really it wasn’t unlike any other pet store apart from the fact they had 3 “play rooms” set up at the back where you could pick a puppy and then take it there to play with it. I saw 2 families in separate rooms falling for this ploy, knowing full well that they’d be hard pressed to leave without their children’s new found playmate. Afterwards we spotted a Disney store and went in to grab a couple things that Rebecca wanted to get but hadn’t had the chance to last time we were there. We made our way back to the cinema which had the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was really nice though as all the seats were comfy leather couches and the front most rows were giant futons you could lie back on.
After the movie was done we started the drive back to the rental car place to return our ride of the past week. I always remember these kinds of trips distinctly as that’s usually when it starts to sink in that the holiday is really coming to a close and all the memories start to flood in. I remembered so many things: the blazing Florida sun on my skin, the roar of the Corvette, the bitter cold kiss of Montreal, the sleepless city of New York and the child like wonder I rediscovered in Los Angeles’ theme parks. All of this was running through my head as we dropped off the car and took the shuttle to LAX where we checked in for our flight home.
The flight home went by much quicker than the flight there with the working entertainment system making sure many of those hours passed with ease. As we landed in Australia I felt those mixed feelings that any traveller has when they return home. Relief at the familiarity yet a sense of mourning that the trip is over, not wanting to let go of it. The feelings continued all the way back home and stayed with me until I fell asleep that night.
And now here I sit 3 days later recalling those experiences and the emotions come flooding back as if I was just boarding the plane back in Los Angeles. They will not soon be forgotten as the month Rebecca and I spent in the Unite States of America was more than just a holiday to us, it was our first true escape from our everyday lives that either of us have had. Sure we’ve both travelled before but never independently for this amount of time and because of that our perspective has changed radically. Time will tell if these feelings stay with us, but I feel this is tantamount to what happened to me almost 12 months ago which resulted in The Plan. One thing is for certain though, my heart now yearns for more experiences like these and my determination to make them happen has never been stronger.
I awoke from a night of extremely lucid dreams, signalling that my body had finally recognised that I was on holiday and was beginning the process of unwinding the tangled mess of my brain that I had built up over the past year. It was a good feeling and something I had been waiting for ever since I landed in the US but I had never imagined it would’ve taken this long to occur. Still flush with a small victory I roused Rebecca from our slumber and set about preparing for the day ahead. It was shaping up to be a wallet draining affair.
I hit up Yelp again to find a breakfast place that was close by. Narrowing the search down I honed in on a cafe inside a hotel not far from us, the Cafe Edison. The menu was a simple affair, a welcome change from the massive menus we’d become accustomed to over the past week or so. We ordered ourselves up a hearty breakfast whilst basking in the rustic architecture, figuring out where we’d head to first. Whilst I had always known that I wanted to visit Nintendo World when I came to New York we had past it the night before on our hunt for the dinner place I had tracked down and had to refrain from going in there prematurely, but today it we would be making a bee line for it.
A short walk later saw us at our destination, the 2 story store entirely dedicated to the world of Nintendo. The bottom floor was almost completely dedicated to the DS with dozens of the handheld consoles dotting the show room floor. I fiddled around with the comically large DSi XL for a while before catching up with Rebecca who’d started looking over the wall of Pokemon figurines plastering an entire wall. There wasn’t much more for us on this level so we headed upstairs to the Wii/merchandise/history area and instantly I knew this is what I was looking for. There was an entire section dedicated to all sorts of Nintendo memorabilia including a working Famicon (the console before the NES). I spent a good half hour ogling the various things before shifting my gaze to the merchandise, eventually leaving there $100 poorer with several bits of swag in tow:
We’d also noticed that there was a Lego store not too far away so we wandered over there to have a look. It was patently obvious that this place was far more popular than the Nintendo store we had just come from with space being at a premium as you were trying to move around it. The audience was however a generation younger with the majority of the people in there being under 12. There were some impressive Lego sculptures in every section of the store but apart from that it was pretty much just your run of the mill retail store which was a little disappointing. I left there with my wallet in tact, but with a good dozen pictures to remind me of the short time I spent in there.
Just for kicks we decided to make our way to the Apple flagship store next to Central Park. Rebecca wanted to see if she could get a new case for her iPhone but realistically we just wanted to see the spectacle that is the giant glass cube protruding out of the underbelly of gotham city. Walking up to it I was impressed by how clean they’d managed to keep it in this pollution ridden city but that was instantly overtaken by the swarm of people coming in and out of the store. We made our way down and were instantly greeted by a swarm of people the likes of which I’ve never seen before, with nearly every display item being fondled by a potential customer and every employee either helping someone or frantically running around the store. I had wondered about the lack of Apple advertising in this giant metropolis and this provided the answer, they just don’t need it. With Rebecca coming up empty for a suitable replacement case for her iPhone we left the Apple store and started ambling towards Central Park.
We were initially going to go into Central Park Zoo but it was going to close no less than an hour after we arrived there. On advice from our recently returned from the US friends, Nick and Dannae, we started making a beeline for our closest retailer of the New York City Ticket. It’s basically a collection of tickets for local attractions at a discounted rate and can be purchased at each of the attractions themselves. Since we were in Central Park the closest one was American Museum of Natural History so we headed over there. The attendant had told us that the last show for the day in the planetarium had just started so she gave us a second set of tickets to come back to catch it another day. With that in mind we did a quick tour of the 2nd level before the museum closed for the day, sending us home.
Tomorrow is set to be filled with more shopping and sight seeing although hopefully more streamlined than we did today. My foot has been giving me trouble again and whilst it was fine for most of the day the walk home flared it up to the point of being properly painful. Thankfully it seems to get better rapidly so hopefully a day of light walking won’t set it off again and I can continue to enjoy the numerous sites this metropolis has to offer.