Archive for October, 2013

Google’s Friend Recommendations: Why Would I Want to be an Advertisement?

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Google’s new Terms of Service opens up a friend recommendation system for ads seen by your friends. You can turn it off here. There are two main reasons I have turned mine off:

What have I signed up for?

I have no idea what I will be advertising. What possible reason would I sign up to a service where I don’t know exactly what brands/products my name will be attached to. I have an interest in protecting my personal brand- which is what Google wants to leverage to sell products to my friends.

Now, theoretically, I might be open to this. In fact, there are certain brands where I would absolutely want to tell my friends that they should use some product. The problem comes when Google attaches my brand to a product that I don’t stand by, or don’t care about. When Google does this, and my friends are successfully “tricked” by me to support a product that I may not actually support, it effectively tarnishes my reputation.

Now Google could make the argument that because I liked, +1, whatever, that I support it. But until now I was not “on the hook” for the products/brands I interacted with. In fact there may be things I am downright embarrassed to have interacted with and would never want to advertise.

Google could fix this by giving me an easy place to audit the things I’ve liked and the things I am willing to support. This would turn this friend recommendation system into an actual recommendation system, instead of pasting my face on a random selection of products I may actually dislike.

Fuck you, Pay me.

The other main issue I have with Google’s new initiative is the fact that they are getting me to advertise for free. If Google pays a website money for getting someone to click on an ad, then Google should pay me for getting someone to click on an ad.

If this friend recommendation scheme improves the clicks per link, then I should be paid out for improving that ad. Google obviously feels that my reputation has monetary value, since this friend recommendation system improves the value of the ads seen by my friends.

This is where the recommendation system breaks: I’m providing value to Google, but Google isn’t providing any value to me. Where is my incentive to sign up for this? How does recommending some bullshit product to my friends (which feels a lot like spamming) help me in any way, shape or form? Especially when there’s the chance that it could hurt me, as mentioned in the previous section.

If Google wants me to improve their ads, then they can straight up pay for the privilege. It wouldn’t be too difficult to calculate the difference in clicks my name made. And if I got a penny for every bullshit product that I helped sell, I would absolutely attach my name to it.

Google’s friend recommendation system isn’t something that I am against on principle. It is something I am against in practice. A few adjustments and I would consider enabling this on my accounts.

GTA Online Tutorial Makes Game Unplayable

I updated GTA 01/10/2013 upon seeing announcement of its’ release on Xbox 360.

First thing I did was build my character. I really like the innovation of choosing grandparents skins and blending them into the players “parents avatar”. Unfortunately the UI for avatar creation is terrible – tiny purple sliders against black/purple background makes it nigh impossible to tell where the slider is.

I would like to see greater depth in creating parents/grandparents, specifically greater detail in the customization of grand/parents. Think skyrim level customization control with grandparents, and modification scales for parents.

Additionally, I found the avatar creation controls confusing, specifically the up/down to change left menu, right/left for right menu. I found controlling the menu selection unintuitive.

However, I powered through and named character Shitty Bill. Rockstar, or Microsoft, did not allow for this name on grounds of it containing a banned word. My obvious second choice for a name, Duush Baag, was acceptable and I moved right along. I will let you know if my acocunt is banned sometime in the future, especially if I make a purchase.

Credits were neat, except for seeing art assets stream in as the credits rolled. Really taints that first impression seeing low poly shapes replaced by medium poly shapes.

At this point, I was forced to launch the first race. I am assuming that it is a race with other users to establish racing feature. Either connecting with other players has a bug (unlikely due to Microsoft TCRs or AI does not fill in for missing players. Whatever it is, it has completely broken the game for me.

I’m wondering if it is a connection desync/deconnect or that not enough players have filled the required slots. I am really hoping that it is not the latter, because that seems like such a flaming oversight; I’m thinking it is the latter, because Xbox TCRs are usually pretty good at finding and punishing developers for that kind of thing.

On a massive side note, Microsofts cruel and unusual punishment of TCR violations is killing its business. All games are not released until verified by Microsoft, and if there is even one violation you are prevented from launching your game or patch/update. Developers not being able to rapidly push/update their product really shuts down Xbox from being a Games-as-a-Service platform, which is bad because they’ve put so much work into the hard parts of buildilng a platform.

Rapid deployment is the only issue preventing Xbox/Sony from being a direct competitor to Steam, and is going to prevent Xbox/PS3 from competing against the Steambox. Indies and small studios would absolutely love relaxed TCRs when trying to launch and update an Xbox title. Large Publishers like Rockstar would love relaxed TCRs so they could push fixes for easy issues that is preventing me from monetizing. And you have just got to think that fixing anything preventing me from monetizing is currently Microsofts top concern.

Not to say that formalized TCRs and enforcement of them isn’t a bad idea- in fact, most platforms are so close to it being a good idea:I would like to see a system where the closer to 100% TCR completion a game/app is, the better the real-estate the game gets on a platforms marketplace. Have the prevalence of an app on the platform determined by a weighted ranking of:

- player reviews
- technical stability
- permissions required/granted
- advertising paid to platform by developer

* not necessarily in that order

Additionally, allow TCR violations to be pushed through, but present these violations to the user (something along the lines of [Platform] has detected multiple issues with this game that may affect your gameplay experience, get more information by visiting [website])

I know as a user I would love to see more feedback on an apps quality from most platforms. If Apple/Google/Microsoft/Sony gave me direct feedback on the issues a game has, and if that influenced my decision to try an app, it would inherently push developers to build safer, higher quality apps.

But, I digress. For GTAO, my first attempt at entering the game had me waiting 10 minutes before I decided to exi out to Dashboard.

I relaunch the game. Now, this was shitty because the “Press A to go Online” option disappeared way too quickly, so I had to wait for the story mode to load, which figuratively takes forever.  The option to go Online should be there at all times.

If there is a technical limitation to always presenting the Online option while loading the Story Mode, then there should be a selection menu allowing the user to select which mode they want to play before anything loads at all. This allows better context for the user and does not cause any wasted resources/processes to be run.

My second attempt I was presented with a blurred city-scape screen with a “Waiting for Other Players” notification in the bottom. This differs from my first attempt, where I saw my avatar standing in a lobby room with a “Launching Session” notification. Other avatars were streaming in and out as they connected/disconnected with the session.

Speaking of the notification, a real gripe I have with Rockstars’ UI choice for notifications is how small and out of the way they always are. On a decent size flatscreen I have trouble seeing the messages, and since tutorial notifications are only shown once, I miss a lot of vital information.

Now, this UI style is aesthetically pleasing, but aesthetics should never trump function- tutorials teaches the user how the game system works, and a user is more likely to monetize on a system they understand than they are a system they don’t.

The steaming avatar lobby idea itself is good, but its current iteration is underwhelming. All avatars streaming in did so facing away from the user and spawning as close to the spawn point as possible. This stacks all avatars together in a weird cultish huddle. I’d like to see multiple spawn points across the launch area, with prefab character animations dedicated to each spawn point:

- avatar drinking, smoking, conversing with other avatars, etc.

- avatars huddled around an open car hood

Now, this idea may be invalid, as it may not fit in with the rest of the game system at all. But, this is as far as I have gotten in the game and I can literally not get past this point.

However, the fact that I am forced to do this race at all brings me to another rant- the fact that the GTAO tutorial on rails.

See, Red Dead Redemption online gave me the expectation that I would be dropped into a Los Santos filled with the armed schizophrenics that are other people playing online. I was expecting that things like races and jobs were going to be things that the user could opt into. This may actually be the case but why would you not drop the player into the sandbox first and stumble upon the cool features you’ve put in the game. The feeling of joy stumbling upon a new feature is much more satisfying than being goose-marched through the tutorial. I personally believe in a game design tenant that the player should be in control, or the maximum illusion of control, at all possible times.

Rockstar is notorious for breaking this rule and putting any tutorial on-rails. It has cost Rockstar this time. The problem with it is that players could still be running around like RDR right now, and they could turn off any broken features as the players attempt to access them.

I will say though, that the music is pretty damn good during the tutorial, so good that the two hours spent writing this article I’ve left the game attempting to connect just for the music.

Now, this is just my experience and my opinions of what is otherwise a really good game. GTA Story Mode is worth the amount to purchase on its own right and I have nothing but for sympathy for the GTAO team- A team who I imagine haven’t slept in days fixing this issue. I hope to be able to buy them a coffee via a microtransaction soon.