Delivering opinions about digital distribution since 2012

Chromebooks and the Cost of Complexity - stratēchery by Ben Thompson

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How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood

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How big of a deal is Uber?

This is a great answer to a common apathy surrounding upcoming services that seemingly provide nothing new.

The simple answer is scalability.

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Despite what you may read elsewhere, putting a game on a mobile app store isn’t an instant win. Especially if the game is a port from another platform. 

Retro RPG specialists Zeboyd games have enjoyed pretty decent success on the PC for their old-school feel and thanks to their tie-in with Penny Arcade for the third Rain Slick Precipice game. However, they are halting future efforts to carry their games into the mobile app world, citing a lack of interest in their mobile games.

The easy conclusion is, “Eh, maybe there’s just no interest in humorous 16-bit RPGs on the mobile platform…” Could there be any other forces at work?

As Android Police points out, their game ports have been reviewed fairly terribly on the Google Play Store. In the case of Cthulu Saves the World (ported by Tinkerhouse Games, like all of the Zeboyd Games on mobile), there are currently as many 1 star reviews as 5 star reviews. Users cite constant crashing as well as troublesome controls. The Penny Arcade port is being reviewed better so far, but it has a small install base, yet. And many times, recently-released games that were notable elsewhere get a free pass on their heritage alone.

Chrono Trigger’s Android release has a similar review disparity (high 1:5 star ratio) as Cthulu. But it’s been around for much longer and it costs far more: heritage doesn’t stand a chance for $10 mobile games, especially games that use DRM. And if your game costs $10, your controls should be flawless and certainly not worse than an emulator’s.

I tend to focus on how the digital world differentiates itself from traditional markets, here. But most of the time, the digital market provides the most extreme example of what is really just traditional market forces at work. And bad ports of good games certainly will kick that into gear. Good luck, Zeboyd.

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When discussing the new Amazon AutoRip feature with friends, I was excited. I’ve been shopping at Amazon since 1998 or so and I have spent quite a bit of money there. I’ve also been ripping my own CDs since that time, but getting more content in the cloud without any work on my part is always welcome.

But when Amazon sent me the email that I had new content in the cloud via AutoRip, there were only 4 albums added. And 2 of them were gifts I had bought for other people.

So, I had only purchased 4 physical CDs (at least that qualified for AutoRip) via Amazon in the last 15 years. I must not be the audience that Amazon is going for. Why then even bother making this feature?

Amazon’s entrance into the digital market has been a cautious one, and the path is littered with value-adds such as this where they provided relatively little value in absolute terms. But the overall arc is much more important. Amazon provides reassurance: “This is your home.” “This is where your interests are protected.”

Look at iTunes versus Amazon several years ago. Apple negotiated the big deal with labels and Apple took all of the spoils for the first year or so. Amazon came along with less than all of the labels, but they had a value-add in the form of DRM-free. Even Apple couldn’t get that. In fact, Apple had to develop FairPlay just to get the deal.

What Amazon did was compete with Apple on an entirely different playing ground: “You can purchase here with the assurance that you can take your music anywhere.” And Apple eventually got that working for them as well, but most iTunes customers have no idea that their music is DRM-free. I know because they tell me.

Whether most of Amazon’s customers understand DRM is not as relevant as the fact that Amazon benefits from playing nice with the ecosystem.

Take Steam and PC gaming as another example. Long before digital distributions, disc-based games were saddled with horrific copy-protection on CDs that did some combination of prevent legitimate back ups of your game’s media and restrict installing the game on more than one PC at a time. While all the game publishers were busy finding new ways to prevent leakage, Steam started the process of deeply discounting digital video games. “Deeply discounting” is really understating it. But Valve was essentially building monetary leakage into the distribution process. 

That’s useful because if customers believe they are getting more value than they are paying, they will come back. “This is your home and all of your stuff is already here.” That’s the most important aspect of the cloud computing movement for any company. People have to feel that they have persistence in your environment. If you can buy that by writing off your 30% distribution cut and talking your publisher/developer into lopping off another 30% temporarily, then you are building momentum and furthering your relationship.

Amazon gets this. Which is why they price match digital sales. Which is why they sell gamers Steam-activated games… and Origin-activated games… and DRM-free games… The only common-denominator is that you can buy all of these through Amazon. So no matter who loses the next digital platform battle, Amazon can win the war… Or maybe be the arms dealer?

But for now, AutoRip and me don’t really need each other. I stopped buying physical CDs a while ago. But somewhere, there’s a little old lady who has no idea how much she should be loving AutoRip, right now.

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It’s been a nice week for online video. A few days ago, Netflix confirmed that it was replacing Disney Movies Online as the instant distributor for Disney (which will probably in turn spark some changes to their traditional fee structure). And today, Redbox and Verizon popped up in the news again to remind us that they have an online video venture going. Oh, and hey, it’s coming this month.

When the Redbox/Verizon venture was first announced, I mostly dismissed it as a probable value-add for existing Verizon customers. I guess EPIX hate for cord-cutters trained me to do that. However, it’s $8 a month and looks to be the real deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if some value-add components pop up soon, though. 

And the biggest surprise to me is the relationship Redbox Instant has with EPIX. Given the Hulu for new-ish movies nature of EPIX, this reminds me a lot of the faded relationship of Netflix + Starz from a few years ago.

Hopefully there will be minimum overlap between Redbox and Netflix. The 4 free DVDs a month is a good start, but feels like Redbox is just having trouble moving on. In reality, the only reason why Redbox has been a success so far is because of the hesitance of the movie publishers to move out of the theater and into the home.

With the Redbox deal, we’re starting to see the baby steps of those publishers into the cloud. But we’re probably never going to get our slam dunk. The MPAA have had a lot of time to watch the music industry’s fallout (Napster) and eventual reunion (iTunes) with the internet. With iTunes signaling the aforementioned slam dunk.

But the movies have been slowly wading down through the wake of the MP3 revolution. Still refusing to allow DRM to be removed (because what would happen if millions of people pirated movies every day?…), but not giving any one company the majority stake in distributing everything. By that I’m not meaning giving exclusive distribution rights. But, rather, that the MPAA currently has some business interest in making online videos as confusing for customers as possible. It makes it less valuable to be any one middle man and it makes it somewhat appealing for the customer to just purchase the physical movie outright because it’s not reliant upon your monthly fees and will not expire if a contract dissolves.

So, this is good news. But we have a ways to go until we reach the DRM-free, ubiquitous movie utopia that we’re hoping for.

Source: reuters.com
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Recipes are one of the archetypical best-case scenarios for using computer databases. So much so that perhaps technology has taken the recipe format for granted.

Alton Brown discussed this with J. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at SeriousEats and pondered multiple scenarios where a recipe may becoming a constantly morphing thing, or where multiple endings are preserved depending upon what type of person you are. I’ve already spent longer talking about it than the video is, so just watch it already.

Source: feeds.seriouseats.com
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Feudal Security

An interesting article, per usual from Schneier. But the libertarian part of me dislikes the implication that a governmental intervention results in a net benefit, here. Despite the prevailing belief that  services like Gmail and Facebook are necessary, it’s still all at-will contracts with the choice to opt-out of any cloud service and do your own thing still a completely reasonable and viable one. 

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It’s interesting that Steam Guard is being made a requirement for all trades made using the Steam platform. Not because Steam Guard is any kind of scheme, but because the long-term viability of a Steam-based trading system was derision-worthy a few years ago. It’s now hitting the point where Russian money launderers have found TF2 to be a trading system that works for them. 

This doesn’t really prove anything over such a short time span. But if you believe that crime follows the paths of least resistance, the virtual economy in the form of TF2 has been somewhat more lucrative than some of my too-big-to-fail investments in the real world.

Source: pcgamer.com
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I always liked the “put your money where your mouth is” (known now as PYMWYMI [pim-wim-ee], because I said so) approach to culture. If you can do it right, you can increase buy in (literally and figuratively) where it seems more likely to further distance yourself from your customers. An extension of the Eventful model, Bring the Gig is attempting to add the PYMWYMI into the concert and live event space. Lots of fingers are being aimed squarely at live events as the penultimate salvation from the inevitable digital race to the bottom. I don’t believe it’s ever going to be fully that, but live events are typically much better than the digital thing they are resting upon (Barry Manilow’s touring concert notwithstanding). 

The premise is that you and 39 of your peers will buy a ticket for a concert that you wish to attend, and if you manage to bring 159 of your closest friends instead of 39, then the original 40 buyers get their tickets for free.

For some reason, this sounds better than the Living Social model, but the math is the same (3:1 pay-to-free ratio). You just need to do it at a larger scale to make it worth the local venue’s while. 

Historically, the traction generated by live event tools is mediocre at best. Which is odd, given that everybody seems to hate hate hate Ticketmaster. But somehow ticket hopeful StubHub has managed to quadruple the cost of a TicketMaster ticket for the same event whenever I check. 

Jonathan Coulton, being willing to try much of what is new and experimental in the world, was the first performer to clue me into this with his Salt Lake City show. Coincidentally, Coulton had also introduced Eventful to me, which seems to have died off in the years following. As I said above, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, I’ll see that person” and a different thing entirely to plop down the ticket price and actually pre-buy the ticket. So, the Kickstarter + Eventful model is a formula I can get behind. Whether it has enough staying power to outlast its own startup costs is another question.

Source: jonathancoulton.com
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