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Ask HN: Review our startup - Taxi Mogul, a persistent browser game (taxi-mogul.com)
39 points by villiros on Jan 29, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

Okay, I'm going to rail into you. This is only because it will help you out in the long run

1) Your website looks like a slipshod piece of junk. It's a crap blog format with some images. Where's a video overview of the game? A column showing recent scores and users? A smoother interface? Come on, there's tons of things you screwed up on.

2) Where's the hook? I need a 6 word hook, a tagline, something to say "Maybe I should keep reading about this." Nothing.

3) I don't give a damn about taxis, so why should I give a damn about your game? At least with other games, I'm building a galactic empire or taking over the world. Those far more attract to imaginative personalities that play these games.

4) What's the reward?

5) Your logo's a piece of junk built with standard templates in photoshop. The lack of effort in your logo shows.

There's an entire lack of effort on the front-end and a lack of hooks to get me to EVER play this.

And what's the business model? Advertising is going to make you money? Not in this market. Freemium is dying.

This is jumping on an ancient business that's dying out rapidly. The Facebook application is the only positive I have.

Sorry if I was harsh. This is how I feel, and I hope it helps.

I didn't have so nearly a negative reaction. How it went for me:

* Visited the page

* Saw screenshot on right (thought: "cute enough")

* Read paragraph next to it

* Said "huh.. running a virtual taxi service? might be kind of fun to try out sometime especially if friends are involved. No time at the moment, though"

* Closed browser tab

As a potential user, I wasn't turned off immediately by much of anything else named above. I agree that I'd work on some of those things if you're trying to make a stellar product, though.

If it's more for a fun project, I wouldn't worry about the "bad mood" sort of review above. I've seen worse from games that I've enjoyed a whole lot.

If you made this into a decent iPhone game, I and my friends would definitely install it to try it out, just from the initial description.

Thanks. Most of your points are very much valid, and this sort of frank opinion is very much appreciated. Naturally, we will be improving the site based on the feedback we get.

No offense to the poster asking for feedback, but WOW this has to be one of the best, and most honest, reviews I have seen in a LONG time. I think many times when people post looking for feedback not everyone is as frank and honest about the website, app, or business model. This only ends up hurting the poster in the long run as they are given false hope about the possibility of success.

Maybe this game IS the next big hit, but without honest feedback like this the poster will never be able to take it to that level.

To the poster, the best advice I have (since this comment hit pretty much everything I was going to say) is never get discouraged by any feedback (good or bad) you receive and take the bad feedback as the best feedback and driving force behind making your app/website/business all that much better. I can't say if you will succeed or not (some apps I thought would never make it went on to make millions and others I thought were a sure thing went on to fail), success is what you make of it and if you are willing to take the advice and feedback gained from HN your chances will only increase.

I wish you the best of luck!

Agreed with the design criticisms; disagree strongly about 2 and 3. It sounds like you might not be in the target audience for these sorts of games. I absolutely loved games like Theme Hospital, Sim Tower, Roller Coaster Tycoon - all games which are about rather mundane businesses, certainly not "taking over a galactic empire" or "taking over the world". The idea of a Sim Taxi/Taxi Tycoon game on real streets with google-maps street-level views of my taxi routes tickled me. That enough was a "hook".

Granted, there are probably more gamers like Mystalic than gamers like me, which is one of the reasons why Civ II and Imperium Galactica sold more copies than say Theme Hospital. Which market you go after should depend on your business model.

That said, here's some more criticism (hopefully constructive!) from someone who buys the idea but not the execution (yet):

1. You badly need a strong artist/designer to give the game its own personality and charm. One common thread around these quirky business games like Theme Park or Gazillionaire is that they are funny and amusing to look at, which is important when large parts of the game are spent simply watching your business run.

2. Your interface has far too much clicking. Why do I have to click on "cars" to send my one taxi somewhere? Why can't I see how tired my driver is just by hovering over his cab? Etc,etc.

3. Your tutorial isn't very helpful. Not only does it look like experts-exchange.com instead of a game (see #1), but because it's all in one place instead of some bright AJAX popups showing you around the interface, I don't even learn where my vehicle page is because I click the link in the tutorial. Why there should be a "vehicle page" that isn't clearly marked by a brightly colored icon of a car is another matter, but at the end of the tutorial I still had no idea what I was doing.

4. I don't think what appears to be your core gameplay mechanic of trying to "find the best route" by clicking a bunch of short-distance waypoints to form a route to your passenger and the destination is very fun. The fact that your interface is on top of a Google Maps mashup only reminds me of how a computer could do a better job than me at this.

When I thought "taxi sim", I immediately thought that the game would be about keeping your taxi busy and managing the balance of (a) getting people there fast by avoiding traffic (you are using google maps for a taxi game and don't incorporate traffic?!) in hopes of getting better and more tips and (b) getting people there slowly, choosing the bad routes, and stalling in traffic, just like it seems my cab drivers always do, risking fewer tips but ensuring you're getting a fare for every mile you drive. Or how about choosing what areas of town to patrol to try and snag fares from rival firms, rather than be presented with a plain old list of customers to click on?

I'm not saying that any of the above gameplay suggestions will fix the game or are even necessarily a good idea, but if you're dead-set on trying to make a company based off of one game (as opposed to a site hosting or aggregating games), you'd better spend lots of time brainstorming and refining your core gameplay and making it fun before even worrying about your logo or artwork or front page videos or any of the other stuff suggested by either me or the parent. Spend some more time playing Railroad Tycoon and Sim Golf and how about Crazy Taxi, which you can find for like $10 for your PS2, with a critical eye towards what makes those games fun.

This is one of the best review I have seen in a long time on HN, Harsh and constructive. Take it with a positive mind and go back to you drawing board and remake it for the better.

I just tried playing your facebook app. I've gotta say you should just do this a facebook app and nothing more. 86 the website or hire a designer. Do not waste people's time: i am not going to enter text into any inpot boxes to get started playing your game. Perhaps this is because you hit me with too much text to start out with. Pictures are worth 1000 words.

People see login fields and cringe. On the facebook app a instructions form came up. I clicked through as far as i could but I'm very ADD and there was nothing to keep my attention, and since the app didn't catch my attention, I didn't even read the instructions. It needs to be painless. My suggestion for you (and anyone that wants to build a facebook app) is to add e.g. MobWars , Playfish and play them. See how long and how many gestures you have to do to start having fun.

Kudos for googlemaps integration though... and releasing! Its tough i must say.

> You need to confirm your email address to play Taxi Mogul. Please proceed to the activation page.


This has been removed. Thanks, guys. :)

awesome :)

Add a guest mode, where I can try out the game without registering. Registering is the point where I stopped, even though it looked interesting.

Make sure you can covert a guest account into a real one by registering if someone is interested.

Here are a few critiques solely from the game & Facebook perspective:

- You've got an iframe app and you have both horizontal and vertical scrollbars (on mac FF at least). Get rid of them, they drive people insane.

- First time experience is pretty horrid. The "tutorial" is 20 click beast that goes through every aspect of the game at once. Make the game learning process a little more progressive. Don't let me do all 50 things at once. Give me one thing to do, and once I've done it, unlock another 2-3 things I can do.

- User interface, as has been stated already, could use some re-work and some polish. That being said, my old app (Warbook) looks terrible and still got pretty big.

- The virtual goods + advertising model is solid in this space right now. Ignore what other people are saying against it, you're pretty close to a great revenue model. Just remember - people buy virtual goods for two reasons: to "speed up" time and to gain social status.

With all that said, I think the game concept is pretty novel. Hopefully other people find it fun.

What sort of virtual goods could they sell in their game?

And how do they prevent people buying virtual goods from feeling as if they're "cheating"? Perhaps it's an old-style complaint, but virtual goods feel against the "purity of the game" -- imagine playing chess online and being able to drop $5 to get an extra move -- sure that "speeds up" time, but it also (to me at least) breaks the game... I'm not sure yet how to design compelling virtual goods that don't kill gameplay but yet remain compelling.

Fortunately, social status remains a powerful motivator, but it seems that for social status to work players have to feel invested in the community, else they won't care what the community thinks (and thus won't buy anything to increase social status).

> What sort of virtual goods could they sell in their game?

The Taxi Mogul game already offers "items" that speed the game up (pay $5 or wait 5 hours). They could also sell faster taxis, better drivers, etc. Really doesn't matter.

> And how do they prevent people buying virtual goods from feeling as if they're "cheating"?

I hear this asked -all the time-. Two things.

(1) It's much less of an issue in games that aren't PvP. "You beat me in one-on-one combat because you paid" is completely different than "You have a higher score/advanced faster than I did because you paid". The "cheating" feeling doesn't go away, but it's much, much less pronounced.

(2) Allow players with time to trade with players with money. The simplest, turnkey solution to this is a dual currency model. Simply put, players with time get credits and players with money get tokens. Players can trade credits and tokens on the free market. This allows market forces to determine the cash value of credits, instead of you pegging a pricepoint to it. I cannot stress how important dual-currency models are for games dealing with virtual goods.

> but it seems that for social status to work players have to feel invested in the community

Absolutely right. Social status virtual goods only work when there's high community interaction and visibility. A lot less people would care about achievements on Xbox 360 if it weren't for Xbox Live.

Agreed on the virtual goods part. By letting people complete offers to get points, I've been getting over $5 CPM.

Sounds interesting. Can you elaborate and provide context?

Most games in this space depend on virtual goods sales for their revenue. You know, "Get the sword of Unknowing and Libidinousness for $0.50" sorta stuff. A surprising number of players are quite happy to shell out their credit cards for such items.

For those who aren't willing to pay real cash, but still want them items, an option is to complete (free) affilate offers. Things like completing surveys, signing up to websites, downloading ringtones, etc. At the moment, those pay publishers quite well, and everyone wins.

We are using Offerpal network for ours, and when someone completes an offer to get a certain number of in-game points, we get the face value of those points in cash. CPM metrics are fairly useless for this sorta things, but eDAU (revenue per 1k daily active users) tend to be very good for games with well-designed transactions model.

This stuff is also fairly useful for anyone selling cheap things on line. If you're selling a thingybob for $5 apiece (website subscriptions, physical items, etc), you can capture cheapskates by having them complete offers. In which case you get an extra $5 from a customer who would've brought you no revenue otherwise.

I think it's a fun idea, with three area that can be improved:

1) Like the others are saying, you need to find a (better) designer

2) Playing the game seems to be a massive time sink. I could never spend that much time on a game, regardless of how good it is. And I don't think it's just me, pretty much nobody with a job could spend a few minutes every half hour to run their taxi company. Which ties into..

3) Too much micro management. This is mostly a personal preference, but I'd get tired of micro managing my cabs pretty soon.

Things that would make it easier for me to play:

a) Make it possible to play in a rewarding and competitive way spending no more than a quarter to half an hour per day.

b) Less micro management, but that should be a requirement to achieve a) anyway.

I can see the Challenge thing as a mini-game, maybe it could make it on its own as a game widget. Maybe make a Wordpress et al widget that doubles as a game and as an ad for the "big" game?

You have an interesting idea, looking forward to see how it evolves!

As an update a few days later I'd like to add that the new "improved" version with ads is.. Let's just say that there should be less ads than game. I know that they're there to annoy users into paying for the premium version, but this is just too much.

Sneaky thing with the "earn us affiliate money to pay for your premium account" scheme, though! And I mean that in a positive way :)

You got it. We didn't actually change advertising stuff at all, it's just that it only kicks in after a few days for each user. In general, advertising performs terribly in these kinda games, so our revenue model is based on transactions and premium accounts. Ads are just a way to force users to pay. It might be slightly over the top at the moment, though.

Loved it! To all the harsh comments, do not forget it's not a google beta. These guys are probably working their ... off to create an original gaming experience, that as far as I could see, is really adictive, took me 1 minute to start playing and really really liked it. Great work. Congrats!

Run a taxi company? Thanks but no thanks -- that sounds far too much like work to me.

I'm sure this game must be more entertaining than it sounds, but you might do better if the website makes it more clear where the fun part of the game is.

I agree with your second point, but there's plenty of games like that: Sim City, Any Tycoon game, the economy aspects of RTS (where the fun is obvious), Diner Dash etc.

As the Wii Fit has shown, games are a good way to trick people in to doing work...or exercise :).

Oh, and don't make people register.

They just need a GTA version.

Replace the Taxi theme with Drug Running or Bank robbery escape... etc. Heck every town has a bank in it and a spot behind the gocery store...

I signed up and it dumped me on a page that looked like a blog. Lots of buttons I could press to do things but no idea what they do. And this page was clearly not fun. Why does it look like a bad blog and why aren't I doing something fun at this point?

So I disable the tutorial because it's the most prominent button on the page (I'm thinking that maybe it gets me into the FUN part faster, although if I need a tutorial it isn't a good casual game). Aha - now I see that activation is required. Genuine wtf moment. I can take a tutorial without confirming my account but nothing else? Honestly, if you are going to insist on email confirmation, do it BEFORE you show people your actual game page. Right now you are making a bad impression and then pushing people away.

Review: I need to give you my email address. Then you want me to LEAVE YOUR SITE and go to a more addictive site. Now I am wondering why you need to verify my email address at all? If you really need it and I gave you a bogus one then give me a way to change it. Have I just signed up for daily spam? Trust meter starts tilting downwards.

If you have a free service it doesn't matter if your users are anonymous. Why harass them? And if you ARE monetizing traffic you STILL shouldn't worry about authenticating email addresses. Not unless you want to send a lot of email, in which case you send the authentication note but don't send anything else until they've confirmed. It's a tinyint field in your database (email_authenticated). If people have fun they will do it.

We run a paid site where authentication actually matters and don't care as much. Every now and then we have a payment come in from someone who is not in our system. It is sort of a problem, so we write the person who pays and say, "which account did you want to upgrade?" Email authentication is a good way to prevent yourself from spamming innocent third parties. That's about it.

All that said, I think this could be a cool service. The concept is fun. I want to like it. But I have no idea what I should be doing after signing up and you are pushing me away from your service and haven't thought through how to get someone INTO actual gameplay. Instead it is WALL, WALL, WALL. So I leave. I've got about 6 tabs open and when you sent me away to Gmail I didn't come back.

Registered for account, was happy there was no confirmation email. Wanted to get quickly to core game, so dismissed tutorials. I tend to believe that games should be self-explanatory, going over tuts isn't much fun. Got a taxi and was very confused trying to double click around the map. I got near what I believe may have been the passenger I was supposed to get, but didn't know how to pick them up. Tried clicking all over the place, gave up and closed tab.

My constructive feedback...

This is game, when page loads let me start playing the game right away. Not read about the game. I read a little but ultimately left cause there was too much text and no interaction.

You use a lot of buzzwords free and stuff like that, but that just adds to why I left. Too much text ...I just want to load page and play a game and interact right away! Id like to learn the rules by interacting with the game along with some text and a link to help page if need be.


Thanks a lot for all your feedback, guys. It far outstripped my expectations. HN once again proved to be a fantastic place :)

We've addressed some of the most pressing issues, and based on what we're observing from new users, it did help a lot.

One thing I definitely learned, is that providing context in the original post would have been tremendously useful for everyone. Writing a few lines in the original post would have helped everyone involved.

It would be great if you put a big shiny button on your website: "Play now" or "Test drive" and let people try it without registration.

Also, I think if you start charging money for premium services and make some features paid-only you will immediately look more serious and increase satisfaction from game for those who pay, it's human nature.

Just my 2 cents.

There is another game based on Google Maps where you play a truck driver.

From a hackers perspective I like the idea of using Google Maps, but as a player, I guess I am more into fantasy and epic battles. I felt no desire to try being a taxi driver.

i placed the waypoints but wasn't shown the resulting route...the routing needs to be explained more clearly

I agree. I really enjoyed optimizing my route, but it was somewhat frustrating when my route turned out to go down the Belt Parkway then make a u-turn because I placed the waypoint on the wrong side of the road, then make another u-turn to get to the next waypoint.

Spelling Nit to fix immediately: "Purchased cars are delivered immideately"

BureauPoints seems like an odd name at first.

Haha, fixed, thanks.

BureauPoints was meant to evoke feelings of battling bureaucracy. I suspect that got lost somewhere along the way.

also: "Your car is now en route and does not require anymore attention for awhile"

should be "for a while"


signup required. ugh.

i won't register before i know if i like it.

looks cool, super slow though?

How are you gonna make money?

I'd be curious to learn more about how you plan to make money as well... The home page reminds the visitor no less than four times that the site is "free" -- that's setting up a pretty big mental adjustment for if and when parts of the site turn out not to be free... Curious how you guys plan to handle that.

Review-wise: It's not immediately evident -- from just reading the front page -- what the gameplay consists of. I get that it's about taxis and on real world maps. But what do I do? How do I win? Or at least rack up some sort of higher score than my friends? What's my goal? Or is this purely a sandbox?

The page tells me that I can "Build things," "Run [my] company with friends," and even "drive on a real map" but it doesn't make it clear how do I any of these things or why they'd be fun apart from any initial novelty...

Our business plan is fairly typical of these sorta games. It is free to play, however players can pay to get extra abilities and items. Usually, a game develops a core group of people who do enjoy it, and they're willing to pay a few quid a month (or more, on occasion). Since our cost per player is pretty miniscule, that works out pretty well. Of course, we also do advertisment (which only shows up after a few days, to avoid scaring new users away), but that tends to do terribly in such games.

Btw, this has been incredibly useful, and we're busy reworking issues pointed out here (new users' experience, for example.)

The site's hosted on Amazon US, and seems fast enough from here..

Some advanced game features require paying, and advertisement shows up eventually. It's a standard model for these sorta games.

seems cool. I've bookmarked it and made an account. Hope it isnt TOO addictive! :)

you guys need a better looking website coughemail mecough =D

lol well i got owned.

but seriously, you need a better looking site that's more appealing to the eye. the key features should be highlighted and easier to read, especially the introductory paragraph.

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