1. On this week’s Critically Speaking podcast: Time will outlast us all, if it even exists, but in gaming, time is often a tool or a feature or altogether absent. What happens if games focus on time in a different way? In life, we grow, we live, we build families and communities, and then we die. The story doesn’t end there. Future generations carry on the legacy. Could the same be made true for our in-game selves?

    Check it out at DYHAMB? or subscribe in iTunes.

     


  2. Over the last week or so, the conversation around podcasts turned to the question of ads and editorial integrity. I’ve stayed mostly out of it, but then I read Jaime Ryan’s impassioned piece from this weekend. In his own words:

    Much of the conversation centred around podcasts and whether or not the host(s) of a podcast would be able to freely discuss a topic that may potentially paint a sponsor in a bad light. As far as I’ve seen this is all still hypothetical because nobody actually has a solid example of where this has already happened.

    As he explains further, I don’t have any skin in the game insofar as Critically Speaking doesn’t run ads, but I do in the sense that I record a show every week, consider my audience, and hope some day to generate income from my online content creation efforts.1

    For me this argument is not, and never has been, about editorial integrity. Audiences are difficult to acquire, difficult to maintain, and extremely fragile. The trust a writer builds with his or her audience is possibly the most important factor in creating a successful online presence. Betraying that trust is very different from when similar conflicts happen in other media. Often in such cases, show hosts, reporters, and columnists have massive audiences maintained by the monolithic, old-media outlets for which they produce content. Unless the whole audience (or at least an enormous segment) is offended, these producers have little to worry about. This is not the case on the web, especially with podcasts.

    In podcasting, the audience shows up every week for the particular voice of the host(s). And not just in the physical sense. The best shows, the ones that not only make it onto my devices but those that actually get played, have a personality and connection to the audience unlike any other medium I’ve ever experienced. In addition, aside from a few massive shows, the audience numbers are much smaller overall with podcasts, so each individual is more present as an audience member than with other forms where the subscriber count is higher.

    So what does that mean for ad-driven podcasts vs. ad-free? It boils down to this. It is my opinion that some people simply hate ads. They spoil site designs, add elements of unpredictability from a user (and sometimes creator) perspective, are often repetitive or only loosely connected to the content of the show, and generally represent the established, click-obsessed web. The question of integrity is merely an additional item in this list, another reason for certain creators to keep ads at arms length—especially when they hate all of the others listed above.

    In the end we’re dealing with a question of user experience. As a content creator, podcaster or otherwise, do you want your audience to hear a handful of (sometimes overlong, sometimes repetitive) ads in return for a viable monetization strategy, or do you want to preserve the (perceived) cleanness and clarity of an ad-free production while somehow generating money through other avenues or by producing your show for free? Either way, the acceptance of ad revenue does not implicate any sort of editorial bias. It does create the possibility, just as it creates the possibility of a listener dropping the show on account of ad fatigue. And, it does not mean that the ad-free show chose to stay as such solely because the host is afraid of having their editorial voice placed in jeopardy (whether they claim it or not).

    The possibility of bad behavior does not guarantee its inevitability. Both models are design choices and, as long as the producer has the audience in mind (and the importance of audience trust only further ensures that it will), both can provide great material.


    1. All things I assume we have in common, though he is already generating revenue. 

     


  3. On this week’s Critically Speaking podcast: In life everyone has their pet peeves, and the same is true with videogames. Whether it’s piles of junk everywhere or slow travel from place to place or stilted dialogue, game designers should keep an eye out for the things that bring their audiences to nails-on-the-chalkboard levels of irritation. 

    Check it out at DYHAMB? or subscribe in iTunes.

     


  4. Just Another Guy

    At the University of Idaho, where I earned my undergraduate degree, there’s a room with two floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled sides. One of its three entrances connects to the Einstein Brothers bagel shop (which in my day was simply a campus cafe called Common Grounds). I spent many afternoons in the glass-paneled room; it has a name, but I always preferred to call it the Quiet Room. There was a no talking policy, no noise at all in fact, except for the baby grand piano in the corner, often played beautifully by an elderly man who stopped by for fifteen minutes or so every couple of days. I never asked his name.

    One day, ensconced in one of the faux-leather chairs, PowerBook in my lap, unfinished literary essay in a long since forgotten version of Word for OS X open behind my web browser, I paged idly through Slashdot or Digg or MacRumors. Glancing up from the screen, I saw a young man making his way across the room towards me.

    "So, you’re a Mac guy?" he asked, but it wasn’t really a question.

    Now, I am not what you might call comfortable in social situations and even more so with a stranger approaching me in my silent sanctuary.

    "Uh, yeah." I tried to smile in the way an affable, approachable Mac user might.

    "Nice, man." He flopped into the chair next to mine, rummaging through a messenger bag (a rarity at the time), finally producing a thin black USB hard drive, the cord wrapped in a snarl around its center. "I got into ‘em because of the music. What about you?"

    I said something about ease of use; at the time I couldn’t say what I know now—that I love hardware and software that pays an unusual amount of attention to details that average users rarely, if ever, notice.

    “We gotta stick together, you know? Check this out,” he continued.

    With a flick of his wrist, he popped open his computer (a white plastic iBook), plugged in the portable drive, and brought up the Finder. Inside were folders and folders of music, easily thousands of songs. He aimed the screen at me. “See anything you like?”

    I did.

    Now it’s important to remember that this was many years ago. My thoughts on pirated music or software have shifted greatly since then, mostly in response to my desire to become someone who makes a portion of their income from content creation. But on that day in the Quiet Room, I was a cheap, naive college student in a bizarrely high-pressure social situation.

    Whether I took the guy up on his offer or not is beside the point. We went on to talk a bit more about the Mac, until we started drawing looks from others in the room. Naturally, I wasn’t the only person who came to this place in order to get away from the noise. Eventually, he packed up his machine and headed out with a wave and a smile.

    To this day I wonder if he would’ve approached me had I been typing away on a Dell or a Sony or a (then IBM) ThinkPad.

    During the summer months I still take classes at the University of Idaho. It’s only a short walk from my house, and the course content still teaches me something new every time. And some days I sit in the Quiet Room in the same chair, wondering if someone were to come through the glass doors with a MacBook under their arm, would they see the Apple logo on my iPad and strike up a conversation? Or, in light of Apple’s recent popularity, would they see not a kindred spirit—another person who gets it—and instead see nothing at all, just a student (a little old for the university scene these days) hunched over a glowing screen, like everybody else.

    Isn’t that what 2003 me wanted? An Apple computer in virtually everyone’s hands, a diminished Microsoft, computers thin and light enough that you’d hardly notice them in a backpack, battery life that lasts all day. It was. But now, instead of being “the Mac guy,” I’m just another guy with a Mac.

    I suppose that’s better.1


    1. My inspiration for this piece comes from this post which appeared at 9to5 Mac. 

     


  5. On this week’s Critically Speaking podcast: Sometimes our characters talk, and other times we make them talk. What happens when our choices mean as little in the first case as they do in the second? Can a game take away player agency and still be better for it? For character dialogue, that just might be true.

    Check it out at DYHAMB? or subscribe in iTunes.