Mark Sorrell wrote a piece for the Guardian this week, Freemium games are a chance to teach kids how to manage their money. The tl;dr version: he argues that the public resistance to sprinkling children’s apps with in-app purchases and deceptive pseudocurrencies is predicated on a mix of mass hysteria and ignorance. What’s more, he says, by denying kids access to the joys of the freemium model, we’re leaving them ill-prepared to navigate the complex financial landscape that they will face as adults. The whole article is self-serving horseshit.
Sorrell has, by his own admission, a significant conflict of interest when he calls for us to look fondly on freemium games for kids. He earns a living as a “freemium game design and behaviour change consultant”. Just so everybody’s clear, the behaviour that he wants to change – in the context of free-to-play games – is your reluctance to hand over your money for in-app purchases or other microtransactions.
MTN is not a product of focus groups or exhaustive quantitive research into unmet consumer needs. The answer to “what’s missing in your life?” will never be “a mountain simulator”. And yet. MTN has hovered around the top 30 paid iPhone apps in the US App Store since its release, which means that a kerbillion (± 1Kbn) people are getting their rocks on right now.
MTN’s creator David O’Reilly is an artist/animator best known for his work on Adventure Time, Spike Jonze’s Her and the demented brilliance of his short film The External World (whose title card echoes the zoomed-out cosmos view in MTN). He’s also done music videos for Venetian Snares and ‘The Irish Venetian Snares’, U2.
When the app launches for the first time you’re asked to draw a couple of pictures of ‘Afterlife’ or ‘Beauty’ and your mountain is procedurally generated from these scrawls. At least, that’s the idea.
In July 2010, YouTube started to allow users to post videos that were longer than 15 minutes. This kicked off a whole new upload genre of super-long endurance/ambient loops whereby you can watch Nyan Cat for a full day, or the William Tell Overture barked by dogs for 12 hours. I’m going to assume that nobody outside of the ‘professional torturer’ demographic has watched either of these videos in their entirety, because that would be terrifying.
Ambient spaceship engine noises though – they’re a different matter altogether. You can use them as white noise generators to help you fall asleep, or you can just pretend you’re hurtling through space while you’re sitting in your office veal-fattening pen. Here are five of the best that YouTube has to offer.
The USCSS Nostromo:
The USS Enterprise:
The Death Star:
With their impressive first app The Human Body, Brooklyn app studio Tinybop proved, free of the dead weight of a print textbook legacy, that they could take on the might of the fusty old education publishers and comprehensively destroy them in the App Store. According to Tinybop themselves, it’s notched up a dizzying 4.9m downloads to date. As an ethical company that concentrates on quality and refuses to talk down to kids, this is the sort of success that parents, educators and developers should be celebrating. Earlier this week they released Plants, the second in their Explorer’s Library series, and happily it’s up to the same high standard.
The app presents you with an interactive diorama with two biomes, forest and desert, to explore (two more, tundra and temperate grasslands, will be added in a future free of charge update). It’s great fun to muck around in – dragging animals around, making it rain, planting acorns and, to my eternal conflicted shame/pleasure, causing wildfires. Although I did learn that fires are much less destructive in a grasslands context, so do make sure to concentrate the bulk of your virtual arson there.
Myself and Simon will be speaking our brains out at the first in a new series of talks called Made It at the Twisted Pepper on 22nd May. We’ll be joining Microsoft’s Clare Dillon, The Summit’s Tony Ennis, DIT School of Computing’s Susan McKeever, Redwind Software’s Conor Winders and Doortonic’s Shane Linehan to talk about our experiences making apps out of rusty old tins and bits of string.
Like a lot of developers we tend to work away by ourselves for long stretches of time, so it’ll be nice to get out and talk to other pasty weirdos in a reassuringly dark room for a change. Props to the Made It crew for a nifty bit of Dublin community building.
Get your tickets here: Made It
This piece by Mills Baker, Designer Duds: Losing Our Seats at the Table, hits a few nails on the head when it comes to the rise of design in the tech industry. He critiques 3 apps developed in settings that are notionally “obsessed” with design – Dropbox’s Carousel, Facebook’s Paper and Biz Stone’s Jelly – that are performing poorly in the App Store. Path, too, gets a repeated pebble-dashing for wilfully ignoring actual user problems in favour of imagined ones: “the problems with Facebook do not actually have to do with how pretty it is.”
Most of what he says is spot on. The pernicious, tedious rise of design that is decorative and shallow above all other considerations, that doesn’t bother with the heavy lifting of solving problems for people: this is stuff that needs robust criticism.
On the other hand, to lay all responsibility for business failures at the feet of the designers involved is kinda nuts. There are so many other areas where things can go wrong in projects of this scale, and when it comes to App Store success, you ignore the role of dumb luck at your peril.
If the project is ill-conceived in the first place (as certainly seems to be the case with Carousel) then the primary role of the designer should be to say “that’s a really stupid idea” at a very early stage. Watch Mike Monteiro’s brilliant polemic, How Designers Destroyed The World, for more on this.
Update: Goran Peuc questions Baker’s central premise in The Real Problem Behind ‘Designer Duds’
We’ve got 2 copies of The Lonely Beast picture book to give away. Oh yes we do. They will both be signed by Chris Judge in his distinctive cursive and, should you win, will be mailed to you using the state’s finest and only postal service. Enter away!
Lonely Beast Signed Book Giveaway
The Huffington Post published
a gross advertorial an article by Cris Rowan last week, in which she argues for a ban on all handheld devices for children under 12. Rowan blames touchscreens for a dizzying list of societal ills – aggression, addiction, obesity, mental illness – but is conspicuously silent on whether they can teach children to critically evaluate attention-seeking hogwash dressed up as academic rigour.
David Kleeman quickly responded with this rebuttal of Rowan’s conclusions. Melinda Wenner Moyer jumped in too, asserting that Rowan makes “vast generalizations and extrapolations that are anything but scientific.” The tl/dr summary of these responses: correlation is not causation; please stop trolling for hate-clicks.
So should we be satisfied with this as an example of the internet’s ability to correct shrill scaremongering with the healing power of nuance? As I write this, Rowan’s original piece has a staggering 1.1m Facebook likes, whereas Kleeman’s rebuttal has just 3,900. When you talk to parents about this story, it’s always the former they know about. We like to read scary things that seem to confirm our own anxieties about the world. We’re not quite so fascinated by boring old follow-ups that challenge the alarming headlines.
Check out the brand new trailer for our Lonely Beast ABC app, put together by the very lovely Dave Chapman. It’s a little over 2 years after its release, but better late than never, right?
We wanted to give people a better idea of what to expect when they buy the app – screenshots are great but they only say so much. We hope you like it.