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Web Writing

Disillusioned by Social Media? Me Too.

I took to Medium today to share some thoughts on the disappointing nature of the modern internet.

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Game Industry Games Web

Check Out a New Weekly Game Streaming Show

The blog has been quiet but we’ve been as loud and ridiculous as ever. 

Starting this week there’s a new game stream show in town! We’ll play something different each week and talk about gaming news, geek stuff, and anything else that comes up. 
Friends will drop in and out but we’re getting started with Matt (OHCMrDay), Jimmy (Jamage95), and me (Mechatodzilla). Just follow us on Twitch and YouTube to keep up with what we’re doing. 

Check out the first episode, Halo 5, right here!

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Business Code Design Game Development Game Industry Games Web Writing

Announcing the Inside Indie Dev Series

Update 1/15/16: Want your indie project to be considered for this series? Here’s more info!

Update 1/13/16: The first installment of this series is up!

Just a quick post to announce the Inside Indie Dev interview series! In these posts you’ll get a look at new and upcoming independent projects and interviews with the creative minds behind the games.

Later this week you’ll hear about the upcoming shooter RPG Push for Emor. I chatted with creator Garry Hamer and gathered his thoughts on the great sci-fi influences of our time, developing for PC and VR simultaneously, and balancing life and game development when you’re already working full time. You won’t want to miss it!

Push for Emor screenshot
Push for Emor is an ambitious title full of surprises.

If you haven’t yet, this is a great time to subscribe via e-mail (which you can do on just about any page on the site) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out!

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Game Development Game Industry Games Web

It’s Not a Trap: The Case for Star Wars Battlefront

It probably isn’t news to you that players have been very hard on Star Wars Battlefront. While Metacritic awards the PC version a 71/100 based on average reviews from 17 top critics, site users have slapped it with a 3.4/10 (!), citing a variety of complaints including an unfair DLC model, no space battles, and the lack of any campaign content. While I have no intention to present Battlefront as a perfect game, this post is going to take a harder look at some of the chief complaints against it and see if it didn’t perhaps at least deserve a higher score than My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic for the iPhone.

No Space Battles?!?


I don’t know that I’ve heard a single rant about Star Wars Battlefront that didn’t put the lack of space battles near the top of the list. This is understandable. Battlefront 2 certainly had them, they’ve been popular in many other Star Wars games, and it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when you hear about a Star Wars experience that won’t involve space.

The most obvious response to this is one that I haven’t actually seen presented at all yet: Fighter Squadron mode is every bit the dogfight experience the series has ever presented. It’s true that you’ll see clouds instead of a black backdrop with pretty stars and you won’t board a larger craft and shoot things with a gun, but if you add all the ship flying you can do in the game’s other modes, this is the most flight-oriented Battlefront title to date.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the developers of the Battlefield series reversed the “mostly flying, some running” formula throughout the rest of the game to focus on the ground. While actual space battles would have been a welcome addition to Battlefront, their absence doesn’t technically remove anything from the experience.

No Campaign?!?


That Forbes comment needs to be clarified: Star Wars Battlefront made the list (#1, in fact) of The 15 Most Disappointing Video Games of 2015 at Forbes.com. It joins the ranks of games like TellTale’s Game of Thrones, Fallout 4, and The Witcher 3. Forbes seems to understand video games about as well as I understand the stock market, but I’m careful not to blog about day trading.

I may have been one of the few potential players almost completely unconcerned when I heard there wouldn’t be a playable story in Battlefront. Since when are we dying to play campaigns developed by DICE? Maybe no one read TechnoBuffalo’s Battlefield 4 review titled “No, Seriously, Skip the Campaign”. Modern shooters simply aren’t judged with emphasis on their single-player experience anymore.

“But it’s Star Wars!” I know, but let’s not pretend to be too excited about Star Wars side stories. What impact would DICE actually be allowed to have on the Star Wars universe for the benefit of this game? This would have been a loud, flashy play session with all the toys in the early films with strict orders from Mommy and Daddy to put everything back where we found it when we’re done. I’m just as happy to invite my friends over so we can “pew-pew!” those toys at each other for the afternoon. The previous games in the series had campaigns in the same way that Titanfall had a campaign. Why bother?

OMGWTFDLC?!?


Complaints about the DLC schedule for Star Wars Battlefront are understood, but there’s this fascinating trend online of players complaining about the DLC and, in the same breath, completely misrepresenting the base game. I think this has to be part of a huge marketing failure. The complaint above is a very popular one. Who would release a game with four maps? No one in their right mind. That’s true. Battlefront has 12 maps as of the initial release and 14 including the first free downloadable content. Maps are playable locations like the Rebel Base and the Ice Caves. All of Hoth is an environment. Somehow “Screw this game, it only involves a dozen maps across four planets” seems like a less valid complaint.

Now, maintaining that EA did indeed release a complete game, the DLC model is much less consequential. What wouldn’t players have paid for more Goldeneye 64 content in the 90s? Now that we have the option, we collectively despise it. That’s perfectly fine. You aren’t required to shell out any additional money to dump countless hours into Battlefront. You can evaluate the quality of that time as you please. The simple act on the developer’s part of creating additional content does not necessarily entitle anyone to that content free of charge. It’s up to developers and publishers to determine when they’ve put together $60 worth of content and it’s up to players to determine whether to spend that money. The same goes for subsequent content releases.

Overall I feel Star Wars Battlefront was and is a victim of poor marketing and community management. The core gameplay is still fun (decide how long for yourself) and the visual design was some of the best we saw in 2015. If the game is in fact a disappointment, it’s because too many players didn’t know what to expect and too many still misunderstand what the game is meant to be, which is a recipe for disaster at the end of a series with the fan base of the earlier Battlefront games. Still, Star Wars Battlefront doesn’t deserve this much heat.

Go ahead, let me have it in the comments.

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Business Game Industry Games Web Writing

Weekend Roundup

Time for the weekend roundup! It’s been a big week here and around the web. I’m always happy when a post starts a discussion here on the site, so I was glad I shared my Google Adsense disaster story. I also kicked off a new series detailing my countless indie dev missteps and my first contribution over at Zam.com has been posted! Check out anything you missed and tell a friend!

My Google AdSense NightmareInvalid Activity: My Google AdSense Nightmare – Long before Code Write Play came along I spent years building and running a geek culture site with a close friend of mine. This post discusses some of the ups and downs of building and monetizing your own site and some of the pitfalls that can catch you by surprise. Google didn’t exactly catch wind of this post and come running to resolve the issue so hopefully it’s at least entertaining.

Confessions of an Indie DevIndie Dev Confessions: Part 1 – As well as things have been going, I felt the need to step back at the turn of the new year to assess my game development progress. It hasn’t gone well. I decided the best thing I could do is evaluate my strategy as objectively as possible in an effort to make 2016 a better year. If you have a passion for creative projects of your own, perhaps this series will strike a chord with you.

Weekend Roundup10 Indie Games to Watch in 2016 – This is my first published contribution to Zam.com! For this post I got my hands on a ton of great indie games and put together a list of titles I expect to turn heads in the coming year. Though I didn’t get to spend time with all of them (a couple are very early in development) all these games either have a great Early Access build available or they already have an audience in a pre-Alpha frenzy. Some are small initiatives that do what they set out to do well while others are highly ambitious, aiming to change the way we play. One of the developers was so pleased with his mention that he announced his game’s release window for the very first time in the comments! Check out the list and let me know what great upcoming games you’re looking forward to.

I’ve also been hard at work promoting the site around the web. If you haven’t yet you can follow @CodeWritePlay on Twitter or Like us on Facebook to see new posts as they go up.

See you next week!

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Business Web Writing

Invalid Activity: My Google AdSense Nightmare

My name is Todd Mitchell. I am personally banned from the benefits of the Google AdSense program for life. I’d like to tell you the story, though there are large portions of it I do not know, and I’d like to warn you about how easily this can happen to you too.

Introduction: Two Friends and a Big Idea

Nightfall Comics Logo

Like any memorable nightmare, this one starts as a pleasant dream. A few years ago I found myself catching up with an old friend at a movie night where we discussed what we were up to as well as plans for the future. My friend lamented that his short run in retail had taken up much more of his life that he’d hoped. His dream, he said, was to one day join with an artist to turn several scripts he’d written into comic books and graphic novels. Eventually he wanted to run his own website where his work could be found and perhaps one day open a comic shop of his own.

“That’s fantastic!” I told him. I shared an interest in this type of geeky pursuit and certainly encouraged those interested in writing at every opportunity. I asked what steps he’d taken and he said he felt stuck until he could establish a small web presence to attract artists that may be seeking exposure for their work. This seemed reasonable. He didn’t know a lot about my background so I told him a little about my areas of expertise. I shared some ideas about how to make such a site successful and I offered to help get him started. He was ecstatic.

In the coming weeks we stayed in close contact and I’ll admit I became very excited by the idea as well. I’ve written a couple of scripts and outlines along the way myself and, with a variety of content ideas and access to artists, we could have a full-blown indie publishing operation on our hands in no time. We decided we would keep the initial cost low, we would write about interesting industry news and other geek topics of interest to generate some traffic, and simultaneously work on the development of one book each. We would publish online initially, print on demand, and expand as necessary. Done right, we felt the project could pay for itself.

The Birth (and Rebirth) of a Website

Nightfall Logos

Before long we had a modest WordPress installation in place, several logos and headers designed, and we were even speaking with a couple of local artists interested in reading our scripts. I recall paying for at least half of the domain registration, hosting, and other expenses standing between us and the starting line. My friend was very eager to help but was not technical, and I had no problem with investing a little money and a good amount of time for a worthy cause. As we communicated with artists we happily wrote about everything from comics to video games and urban legends. My friend is a leading authority on the Gates of Hell here in the greater St. Louis area and his first post on this topic turned out to be the site’s most popular by far. We were doing what we loved and looking ahead with excitement.

Comics, as it turned out, make for a brutal business for newcomers. To this day we have and cherish some great concept art we received from a variety of interested contributors but we never found artists who truly bought into the dream. They rightly wanted to be paid for their work. I’m the first to agree they should have been. We should have been too. That’s not how indie operations often work (it’s worth noting here that crowdfunding hadn’t quite yet arrived). Worse, we disagreed about how to make the best of things. After our first year I wanted to put together all the concept art we’d received, put together some facts and anecdotes about our journey thus far, and sell it for next-to-nothing so we would have our first product available and could raise a little revenue for reinvestment. My partner didn’t buy in. We were exhausted, disillusioned, and we argued bitterly. We parted ways and the site laid still as we went months without speaking.

In time we reached out as friends do and made amends. We agreed that our initial plan could work, but it wasn’t working yet. We missed the fun we were having writing about general geek culture while we pitched artists and waited for their replies. We quickly reached a decision that we would rather have the freedom of a broad geek culture site that may or may not launch comics of its own in the future. The spots we couldn’t fill with artists were quickly taken up by eager, talented writers. A very short time later we were editors of a geek culture news site with loads of potential. The dream had changed suddenly, but we were having a blast.

AdSense and Other Business Development

Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell are just a few train overpasses. Sorry to disappoint.

My friend and I found ourselves with a strong product on our hands and determined to focus on differentiating ourselves from the competition and find ways to monetize the site. Having already worked closely with a number of business and marketing grads at this point in my young career, I quickly volunteered to take the lead. I was eager to try my hand at building something from nothing. I wanted to make this work and reward the people who were already working so hard for us. I enrolled the site in a number of affiliate programs including Amazon and Audible (which we’d also promote in a new podcast we’d set out to develop) and I set up Google AdSense ads in strategic locations throughout our WordPress theme. I spread word throughout the staff: Do. Not. Touch. These. Ads.

Nearly the moment I finished setting up our new stat tracking system the site saw its first post go viral. We saw a sudden spike in traffic and ad revenue and, I’ll admit it, I panicked. There was no way I didn’t mess this up somehow. Surely something was wrong. That’s when we started seeing the Gates of Hell write-up posted all over Facebook. Our best days saw tens of thousands of unique site visits pour in as our modest site strained to handle the attention (our host initially assumed it was a DDoS attack and shut us down until I called). I don’t have the numbers lying around anymore but I distinctly recall we beat a couple of small cable networks in views per day once or twice. Our AdSense account was off to a great start. We were well on our way to our first check. The podcast even got a jump start as listeners followed along during our moment in the spotlight.

Morale remained high long after the viral wave subsided. Several staff writers very wisely adjusted their focus to give viewers more of the urban legend coverage they craved and readers responded well. The rest of the staff continued to branch out into all areas of geek culture and pursue new projects including specialty podcasts, site-wide challenges, cross promotion with other sites, and a variety of video posts. Everything we touched started turning to gold. The future grew brighter by the day.

Then, at 8:41 AM on a Friday morning with no prior discussion, Google dropped us from the AdSense program.

Blacklisted

Adsense suspension letter
It may surprise you to learn I do not understand at all.

Citing invalid activity on our ads, all our unpaid revenue (meaning all revenue period in our case) would be returned to its advertisers and we would no longer be allowed to participate in the program. No specific offenses were listed. My formal appeal was almost immediately denied with no additional information offered. I personally would never be allowed to participate in Google advertising programs again. My current account was immediately suspended, any future accounts I opened would be suspended, and any accounts opened by relatives or business partners of mine could be discovered and closed without warning at any time. I could never make money from another YouTube video again. The years of work were blown. The site shut down soon after. The money I’d personally invested would never be recovered. The completely unrelated professional work I wanted to do in the future was wasted in advance in the blink of an eye. Words like “angry” and “confused” fall short of the state I was left in.

My staff was angry at me. I was angry at my staff. My partner eventually suggested he misunderstood the rules, saying his wife may have been occasionally clicking the ads, but he didn’t give me specifics. My appeals with Google were open and honest. Surely I couldn’t babysit every site visitor. Surely I can’t be held responsible for more than my own actions and the crystal clear instructions I gave my staffers. Google had literally no interest at all in working with me or explaining the exact problem.

I tried appealing the suspension one last time last night, over one year after the initial notice. It was rejected before I woke up this morning with the shortest, most dismissive message to date.

A Broken System

I reminded myself that my friends were not at fault; this is a bad business practice with victims all over the world. Accounts are suspended due to malicious ad clicking, accidents, and often with no useful explanation whatsoever. Any business partner who starts with a reasonable set of rules but absolutely refuses to listen to a circumstance or work with you to reach a resolution is a bad business partner, even if that makes Google a bad business partner. This is not said in bitterness. The proof is the moderately successful AdSense account my old partner now runs under his own name on a new site from the same network that may well have brought down the previous site. Has this rule protected Google’s advertisers at this point? Or has it just ruined a relationship with a capable AdSense partner?

Beyond the defunct website I’ve stopped creating YouTube videos and I’ve sworn never to release any of my mobile apps to the Google Play store while this suspension stands. I’m just one guy. I can’t personally hurt Google, but I damn sure know the difference between right and wrong. Google got this one wrong.

Have you been hurt by the AdSense program? Share your story in the comments.