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Jon Stewart skewers Freemium iOS Games [video] (getdenso.com)
103 points by iamclovin 1172 days ago | comments



Forget the "targeted at our kids!" or "$99 fishies!" thing for a moment, those are IMO red herrings (no pun intended).

The real issue with freemium is that I've yet to see a single example that's actually a game, as opposed to one armed bandits masquerading as games.

Of all the examples I've played, none are any fun. They are simply designed to trap you into a treadmill, cough up some dollars, and hopefully run this cycle a few times before you brain kicks in and realize you haven't had any fun the entire time.

I love mobile games. Angry Birds is a great time waster, Cut the Rope actually has a surprising amount of strategy behind it. Neither of these are freemium. Thank God. Hell, I don't even mind the idea of episodic gaming - I will gladly cough up a few dollars now and again to see the next chapter of a story or play a few more levels.

Maybe I'm just being an old curmudgeon, but there was a time when "gaming" actually meant "fun", not "psycho-manipulative casino trap".

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The real issue with freemium is that I've yet to see a single example that's actually a game, as opposed to one armed bandits masquerading as games.

I consider those games to be a type of psychological malware that spreads through social obligations.

http://www.thepensiveprogrammer.com/2010/05/are-social-oblig...

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Ack, accidental downvote. Sorry about that, I'd take it back if I could.

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Don't worry, I upvoted it to offset your downvote.

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"Neither of these are freemium."

Angry Birds is not freemium, but it bears mentioning that the free version of the game is an ad-infested hellpit. The popups are so frequent, and so intrusive, as to render most of the fun from the gameplay. (Alternatively, one can look at dodging popups as an added dimension of challenge! "Fling the blue bird at that green pig over there...but not too close to the red X, or you'll activate the Beanie Baby splash screen!").

The only reason I bring this up is to suggest that ad-supported gaming is not always a lovely alternative to the freemium model.

I, too, do not mind the pay-per-installment (episodic) model. And I find, albeit anecdotally, that developers who employ this model seldom abuse it. Nine times out of ten, when I've paid for an expansion pack, or installment #2, or what have you, I've received my money's worth. Perhaps there's a correlation between devs who use this model and devs who care a great deal about the content they're putting into the marketplace. I don't know. But, as a consumer and gamer, I have no problem whatsoever with paying for incremental content. (So long as that's what I'm paying for; i.e., I am not paying to unlock a feature or level that is fundamental to the basic gameplay).

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> The real issue with freemium is that I've yet to see a single example that's actually a game, as opposed to one armed bandits masquerading as games.

Auditorium[0] is a fantastic freemium game: it's a particle flow-based puzzle game, the first 5 acts (5~7 puzzles each) are part of the free game (also available on the game's website[1]), a further 10 levels are available in 3 packs at 0.99 each.

[0] http://itunes.apple.com/fr/app/auditorium/id333186527?mt=8

[1] http://www.playauditorium.com/

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That's generally not what most people would consider a freemium/free-to-play title though - I'd just call that a demo. Freemium games generally have a time based element or other similar resource that replenishes slowly, and can be circumvented or accelerated by paying money.

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I'm not sure that's true, I just think that's the most prevalent/profitable type of freemium game–one based on accelerating constraints.

Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.

http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2006/03/the_freemium_bu.html

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Team Fortress 2. You only pay for vanity items, and they don't provide any gameplay advantage whatsoever.

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I don't think I'd consider Team Fortress 2 a freemium game, even though it is free and you can buy hats in it. The game wasn't originally released or designed with "freemium" in mind, it just happened to fall into that model later in life after the developer had wrung most of the available retail money from the title.

If TF3 launches for free then maybe that will be a counterpoint, but I don't think TF2 really is one.

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One of my favorite phone games is a puzzler called Piczle Lines. The core puzzle set is free, and you pay for additional sets. It's successful, mentally engaging, and fun as hell.

Come to think of it, the positive examples are mostly just patching over a business model constraint: that the App Store doesn't have a way to offer a demo, essentially pushing game creators into either Freemium or split Ad/Pro versions.

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That seems like a reasonable model; sort of a return to what some 90s games did, where you got Episode 1 of Doom free, and could pay to get another two episodes.

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Wind Up Knight is a great, yet very hard platformer, and one of the best mobile games I've played.

It keeps offering you to buy your way into unlockable progress, instead of breaking your fingers on the game.

https://market.android.com/details?id=com.robotinvader.knigh...

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I admit, I haven't played it, but I hate games with that concept. "Pay to not play," I call it.

I'm fine with paying to unlock more content - i.e. paying for more fun, but paying you so I don't have to spend time playing your game? Not cool.

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I actually think that it's better than the consumer is always right alternative, where games are made very easy, as to not frustrate paying costumers. So you get "pay to not play" for everybody. Here only those who pay don't play, and those who don't pay, play.

It's a common complaint -- games used to be harder. Wind Up Knight isn't impossible: I made good steady progress in it, but it is very hard (I dare say Megaman hard.)

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>The real issue with freemium is that I've yet to see a single example that's actually a game, as opposed to one armed bandits masquerading as games.

Today heard on NPR something along the lines that Zinga IPO valuation is 7-10B, and they successfully sell virtual goods inside their games like chainsaws in the Mafia wars. That somehow struck me that i'm possibly missing some important change happening in the world as it sounds that people do really buy the chainsaws! (note: i did my share of Doom and i read Godfather - in my view it is completely different chainsaw (or cutting tools in general) applications)

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Tap Fish CEO points out how far Daily Show strayed from reality: http://zenentrepreneur.blogspot.com/2011/12/top-10-things-da...

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I love the Daily Show but this made me think twice about it's content. There's some extreme trolling going on here that will make me look at their skewering of the right in a different way - which is probably a good thing.

With all the real crazy stuff going on, I'd expect The Daily Show not to have to invent fake stories, but I guess even they have airtime to fill.

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I think the issue of kids being manipulated by mobile games is a legitimate issue.

That aside, the Daily Show is comedy. It's astonishing that people are surprised that their sketches aren't factually accurate. They have 'live' reports from heaven and hell for fks sake. Enjoy it, try not to form opinions based on it.

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People keep using the "it's a fake news show" as a defense but I don't buy into that. I've always thought of the Daily Show as satire, holding up real news stories to ridicule has a long and glowing history of influencing the public - once you start twisting stories to fit in with a joke you've lost the high ground.

The fact that gamification's effect on kids is a legitimate issue makes it worse - there's enough real craziness around to make fun of without inventing some.

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>I think the issue of kids being manipulated by mobile games is a legitimate issue.

Unfortunately, the DS seem to have targeted a fairly legit company to "expose" this issue. I mean, it's not as if there is a massive dearth of shady companies on the app store they could of featured... the Daily Show just took advantage of one legit company's openness and naivity.

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I don't agree to this. Stewart does a whole bunch of political commentry and lots of people treat it as real satire (me included).

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Dan Barker, of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote an account of being a Daily Show interview subject: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/04/14/behi...

They work hard to get a funny story from their interviews, and correctness isn't the priority.

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Despite popular belief the Daily Show is not a real news show. People treat it as such and this is unfortunate.

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I don't watch the Daily Show beyond the occasional clip, but it seems to me the difference in this case is that many (most?) people are not informed about the issue from another news source, so they have nothing to compare to. Unavoidably some of it will get taken for true...

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If they didn't have information from elsewhere, they wouldn't get most of the jokes.

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That's the point!

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Maybe it's not a 'real new show' but it is designed to influence public thought so there are some ethics involved, see my satire remark above.

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'designed to influence public thought'

It's designed to make people laugh and it references topical news. I think you're confusing The Daily Show with Fox News.

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The underlying point of the piece from the daily show remains intact. That these applications are designed is a predictory way.

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The Setup – Saving the Economy. Really?!?

How could he have believed this? Daily Show interviews (the prerecorded ones, not the in-studio ones) make fun of people. Watch any episode and you get that.

Reviving The Dead Fish costs $99. Really?!?

The piece showed screenshots both of buying fishbucks ("$99 for X fishbucks") and of reviving fish ("1 fishbuck to revive all your fish"). I watched it once and understood these details, so I don't think it was misleading about that mechanic.

One click to charge $99! Really??

OK, even if cheaper options exist, maybe Virk should try explaining why the $99 button exists at all. There's a line where it becomes unconscionable to even ask users for so much money (imagine a $1000 button), and I think it's well below $99 for what they're peddling.

The Phone Call with the Parent. Is That What Really Happened??

OK, so this parent got his issue resolved. How many parents did not? Is the CEO not ashamed for having sold $1500 of garbage to a child (or anyone!) in the first place? Despite popular belief, there's no law prohibiting ethical behavior by CEOs.

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Wow. This is just about the best response I've ever seen. I've totally done a 180 on the situation. Honestly, I thought the CEO was a douchebag from the video, the Daily Show should be ashamed of themselves.

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> When we designed the game, we were looking at Facebook where aquarium games were very popular – and the average player, according to various blogs was a 43 year old woman!

Reallly?

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He must be referring to this study by PopCap: http://gigaom.com/2010/02/17/average-social-gamer-is-a-43-ye...

I have made a couple of games published by PopCap, and from the fanmail I get this stereotype seems to be about right (I wouldn't call it the 'average' gamer, rather the 'typical' one). There's often nothing casual about them - I get email from women complaining that the high score overflows the space allocated to it on the screen after they kept their game going >100 hours.

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Even worse is this one:

> Do adults in their 30’s and 40’s play Tap Fish? Yes there are LOTS of them. Do college students play Tap Fish? Yes LOTS of them. How do we know? Many of our users are on the Facebook Tap Fish page and fans of the game, and many more email us every day, and you’re not allowed to have a Facebook account if you’re under 13.

Right, because nobody breaks that rule.

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The video, while funny, kinda reminded me of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bThouBcsMO4

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Great article. Makes me want to re-think how seriously I take the Daily show now. I always knew it was a "fake news show" but I also always knew that they had an agenda to push just like everyone else. I kind of was hoping this agenda was at least an honest effort to educate their audience. I can distance myself from clips shown out of context and just laugh at the content but stuff like this, where they go out of their way to make a point that isn't there, makes me uneasy about the Daily show all together now. Sure it is funny but I guess I got my hopes up that the show also was trying to do some good.

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Hyperbole is a cornerstone of comedy and also effective at getting across a point if used correctly. Note that using hyperbole correctly doesn't mean sticking 100% to the truth, you have to be willing to accept that things are being blown out of proportion for the sake of removing subtext.

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I was under the impression you needed to enter your app store password to make a digital purchase.

The vulnerability i thought was that the iPad remembered the password for a short amount of time, if you handed your iPad to a kid in that time they could fire up the app and make a purchase without needing to re-enter the password. Typically though, the kid would be unable to make purchases without a password.

I lesson I learned quickly on the iPad was that few applications were really free. Either the ad's were intrusive or the majority of the content had to be purchased. I typically do not bother with free app's any more and just look for a high rated paid version.

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> I was under the impression you needed to enter your app store password to make a digital purchase.

That is correct.

> The vulnerability i thought was that the iPad remembered the password for a short amount of time, if you handed your iPad to a kid in that time they could fire up the app and make a purchase without needing to re-enter the password

That is also correct, but can be fixed via parental restrictions: the default configuration allows in-app purchases, mandates password entry and remembers the password for fifteen (15) minutes, it's possible to disable in-app purchase altogether (independently from AppStore purchases) and to not remember the password at all.

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One problem might be that many kids know their parents' password – they mght even be the ones who created the account for their parents.

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Many parents hide behind a wall of ignorance. That looks technical so I will get my kid to do it. Maybe when I get a bit older I will be the same. However... as soon as my kid asks for my credit card details I will be like 'hang on.. whats this for?'

I remember the first purchase I made on Amazon. I was like 13 and I needed my mum's card to make it. She knew nothing about computers and almost nothing about the internet. It took her 2 weeks to look into it before giving me the OK. She then struggled through the Amazon website to get what I wanted. Spent a large amount of time making sure she was only getting one, the item was correct and it was being delivered to the right address. She then pressed the purchased button.

That is parenting. That is common sense. I have no idea when it became the norm to trust teen and preteen kids with parents passwords and access to credit card linked accounts.

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Sounds like you've got this parenting thing sorted out. Do you have any kids?

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1. parents not getting involved is not something technology can fix

2. the parental restrictions configuration uses a PIN independent from the SIM PIN and the account password, parents can disable IAP even if their child knows their appstore account password. It will not prevent the child from buying new applications, however (unless parents also disable installing applications, I guess).

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Oh, I was not trying to make any value judgements. I just wanted to point out one possible reason for the controversy.

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I have a hard time imagining how the CEO did't see this coming. He either must not be familiar with the show at all, or must have some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

Also, I think it is good to see Stewart and co. cash in on some of the ridiculousness of SV. I thoroughly enjoy video games on a limited basis, and gladly pay for the experience, but never quite understood how anyone could consider the freemium game model anything but a boderline scam.

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> I have a hard time imagining how the CEO did't see this coming. He either must not be familiar with the show at all, or must have some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

I think this applies to most interviewees on the Daily Show.

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It's worth pointing out that The Daily Show has always employed a modest amount of creative editing during their interviews.

To my knowledge it's just to accentuate the comedic effect and not to the point of actually manufacturing any portion of the interview, but it's no coincidence their interviewees routinely come across like complete buffoons.

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Stumbled across this. Sounds like the original pitch was that it was going to be a segment on the economy. It makes it slightly more understandable (how one can get duped into this), but unless you are an author or a Nobel prize winner getting interviewed live by JS, it would be wise to stay away from the show.

http://zenentrepreneur.blogspot.com/

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Good find, and definitely worth a read! 4 hours is certainly ample time to slip up and make a mistake.

The live interviews seem to be a safe bet. It would reflect poorly on them if they routinely skewered their guests.

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> creative editing

Brilliant.

Without a doubt they cut their interviews every way possible - but give it to them that at least they're honest about it and still refer to themselves as "fake news."

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Especially because the target demographic is children (let's hope) for this game, I would not hesitate to call this freemium game-model a text-book scam.

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I think he is skewering games that smell very much like manipulative scams. A "game" that targets children, is initially free and then asks them to pay $100 (by clicking a button in game) for some virtual fish? What?

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So to view this video on "denso", video that they've appropriated from another content creator, all I have to do is download the denso app?

Gee, that sounds so much less sketchier than the free mum thing.

*Edit: I was using my iPad. I understand that the Daily Show site doesn't support iOS. Still, this is kind of annoying.

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I got a splash screen that played the video. I am on my laptop though.

You brought up an interesting point. This thread was started by what appears to be an app developer. While I am not sure what there MO is, I will give them credit for coming up with a rather unique way to drive some traffic to their site.

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I think you're just jealous, "danso"...!

I could view the video straight from the browser. I reckon you're viewing it on iOS and they're driving you directly to the app.

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You can view the video from the browser and it doesn't require an app download - if you can't, its probably a bug. Please email us at hello@getdenso.com with your browser/OS details and we'd love to figure out the root cause. Thanks!

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My apologies. I forgot to include that I was viewing this from my iPad. You can see how this is kind of annoying, right?

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Apologies for this, there was a bug in our player which didn't enable HTML5 mode. It should work now - do let us know if it doesn't, thanks!

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If this was iamclovin's way of showing us "Denso," the splash page didn't impress. The video took forever to load, stuttered continually, and basically failed to get me to explore farther. I also particularly dislike video players where I can't go "full screen" (Apple trailers I'm looking at you.)

Oh, and it's not even 0800 EST.

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Well, promotion is obviously a welcome benefit of sharing something I thought was a very interesting take on the world of social/freemium gaming.

I apologize for the bad experience though - we're still a young service constantly looking to improve and we definitely welcome more feedback - thanks!

edit: You can now enable fullscreen on the player.

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Also: When I'm watching a video on a Windows PC the last thing I want to see is a simulated iPad border around the video.

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Checking on the App Store (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tap-fish-2/id443891725?mt=8), you can buy less than $99 worth of "FishBucks". Most in-app purchases are between $1 and $10. It's just a freemium as any other.

You can disable in-app purchases with Parental Controls, which should be used by, you know, parents, to, err, control.

Of course, being The Daily Show (or should I say "American TV"?), it's completely one-sided and exaggerated. That gets the message across, I guess.

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Disabling in-app purchase is something new that was added to the App Store because of complaints by parents whose kids ran up huge bills.

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Parental restrictions allowing you to disable in-app purchase were released the same time in-app purchase was released with IOS 3.0.

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Worth watching. Asif Mandvi (Daily Show) did a really nice piece on that. They "featured" one software company that peddles this kind of slimeware. It actually tricks kids into buying stuff like digital fish for $99 in the middle of a game! Most parents don't realize this and one guy's kids ended up spending $1500 or so.

This is worse than penny auctions as they are stealing from kids here. True, people who actually participate in penny auctions probably have IQs worse than 7 yr olds. But stupidity is not an excuse.

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Actually, it was mostly bullcrap and clever editing. Somehow people keep forgetting The Daily Show is a fake news show, and are seeing this as one of those fox local news exposés. http://zenentrepreneur.blogspot.com/2011/12/top-10-things-da...

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> This is worse than penny auctions as they are stealing from kids here.

They're not stealing from kids. Kids don't have anything worth stealing. They are using psychology to entice kids to spend their parents' money when they're not looking; that's different.

> True, people who actually participate in penny auctions probably have IQs worse than 7 yr olds.

This is an outrageous statement and I'm sure you realize this. These strategies are profitable precisely because you don't have to be ridiculously stupid to be fooled. It's the same reason casinos work.

Everything these companies are doing is legal and whether we morally agree or not, this is how the business game is played: you find (hopefully legal) ways to get people to give you money.

If one of those ways is enticing people to voluntarily agree to pay app store fees that they incur through their use, and then enticing them (or someone else on their behalf) to incur those fees, you've won the business game and you deserve the profits. Let customers vote with their money elsewhere if they disagree. Welcome to the free market.

Every time you walk into a store, you are being manipulated with psychological tricks centuries in the making. And any parent has paid far more for useless stuff they were psychologically coaxed into getting than their kids will ever spend on the app store.

Yet whenever children are involved, the slightest sign of "sleaze" triggers rage -- a deliciously ironic example of the same psychology these business people use to get your money :).

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There's a reason children are held to different standards than adults, legally as well as morally.

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> to incur those fees, you've won the business game and you deserve the profits.

I really despise this mentality. In that case Madoff "deserves" the profits of his actions because he found a lot of really rich suckers.

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W/r/t penny auctions:

In November, an Oregon man filed a federal lawsuit alleging that one of the largest auction sites, Quibids.com, was really a gambling site masquerading as an auction site. The suit seeks class-action status and asks for damages for everybody who lost money at the site.

I agree with you - casinos are gigantic for a reason; just an interesting thought given that gambling sites in the USA are prohibited.

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> This is an outrageous statement and I'm sure you realize this.

Outrage aside, please log in to a penny auction site and observe for a while. You'll see people spending hundreds of dollars for $25 gift cards. In effect they are buying $25 for $50 or so :). Usually the bid process lasts for a few hours (The pennies do have to add up). So this lack of judgement on the bidder's part is not momentary. It lasts at least for a couple of hours, time enough to think about your actions and do some basic math.

> If one of those ways is enticing people to voluntarily agree to pay app store fees..

That's a bit of a stretch in this particular case. It was advertised as a free game. These people didn't voluntarily sign up to pay $1500. The amount charged goes beyond all reasonable expectations.

> you've won the business game and you deserve the profits.

Well, you've to be careful about entitlement there. In this case, all you've managed to do is rope in a number of clueless parents.

> Let customers vote with their money elsewhere if they disagree. Welcome to the free market.

Yes I welcome the free market. You are seeing the free market in action. Just because you used the phrase "free market" does not justify the seller's actions. People like Stewart have picked it up because there is something fundamentally wrong with this kind of behavior. There is no reason to be smug about fundamentally making people part with money they would never have if they knew the fine print ahead of time. This is dishonesty and will always be punished eventually.

In a free market someone could sell you asbestos fortified lead paint infused toys to your kids a lot cheaper than market price. Maybe you didn't buy it, but someone dropped it off at a day care somewhere. This product should never have entered the market or been manufactured in the first place. In a free market, you could also have credit card companies arbitrarily change your APR or change their rules on you any time. If a telemarketer gets hold of your number in a free market and calls you in the middle of the night, are you ok with that? Even a "free" market has rules. Granted, it takes time for the free market to realize these shenanigans and react. To this particular product, we, the market is reacting :)

> Yet whenever children are involved, the slightest sign of "sleaze" triggers rage

No. Children are being used as mere accessories or tools. Again, this particular case exhibits a great degree of sleaze!

> a deliciously ironic example of the same psychology these business people use to get your money :)

True. Again, that doesn't justify the business's behavior. In the same segment, they also interview a child psychologist who argues that children's brains are not fully developed that they appreciate the nature of their actions.

I guess what I'm getting at is this whole business idea is based on the fact that children would buy digital fish for $99 without their parent's knowledge in the middle of a game. This model will not last long. They've made their money like a pretty good fly by night operator who hides behind platitudes like the "free market." So don't try to justify their actions using creative word play.

Edit: I just read the CEO's take on the whole deal. Sounds like Aasif did go overboard with a lot of creative editing. However, he does dodge the issue of $99 fish. Looks like that is indeed an option, but reserved for very special kids :).

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Reminded me of this article: "S Korean dies after games session"

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4137782.stm

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Too bad Jon Stewart's writers didn't bother to "skewer" unsupervised pre-teens.

There is a balance here - the same kids will also run out into busy streets.

Handing your kids an iphone or ipad with an attached credit card is insane.

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Too bad Jon Stewart's writers didn't bother to "skewer" unsupervised pre-teens.

The writers simply don't have time to skewer everything that might deserve it in a single 4-minute spot. I'm sure that they aren't particularly in favour of unsupervised pre-teens, and are probably able to find a gag or two there if needed, so they might get around to addressing that in time.

Handing your kids an iphone or ipad with an attached credit card is insane.

My father's iphone has two apps on it: some golf thing, and Angry Birds. He played the latter for two minutes because he was curious. I certainly wouldn't brand him "insane" for not knowing about the Mighty Eagle and handing his phone to a six year-old.

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I watched the segment on TV and thought it made it obvious that there was some bad parenting going on there.

didn't bother to "skewer" unsupervised pre-teens.

That however, is probably because outside of today's age of helicopter parenting, unsupervised pre-teens is just a thing that happens regularly.

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Is that how all videos and movies look on an iPad? That letterbox is huge. Seems distracting.

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Have you really never used an iPad?

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