• Category Archives Articles
  • Editorial pieces on games, gaming, and the like.

  • Attempting to cut the cord – cost and evaluation

    I have for a very long time wanted to “cut the cord” and drop cable/satellite television. I know I am probably a little late to the party, but it has taken quite some time to convince my significant other it would be worth it. She is rather accustomed to the convenience of DVR and the all-in-one programming guide of today’s digital TV systems.

    My reason for wanting to go streaming-only has been largely a matter of principle. I do not like the way TV service providers “reward” loyalty with increased prices. I also figured we could save a few bucks, which is good because TV seems like a lot of money, considering how little I consume it. I figured it would be more of a long-term savings because of the way cable providers increase their price over time, but I found myself a bit surprised when I did my analysis.

    I started by calling my local providers. My primary choices were CenturyLink and Mediacom. CenturyLink severely limited Internet speeds if you use their Prism TV, and I don’t want to mess with a satellite, so they were quickly taken off the table. With Mediacom, I was offered a package that starts at $90 per month and includes 50Mbps Internet and more channels than I need, plus Starz and Encore. I was also informed that, because of the way their packaging works, it would cost more to go without Starz and Encore. This required a 2-year contract, under which the price would increase $10 in year two. Without a contract, the price would increase $20 per year for five years! I also learned that adding HBO would be $18.99 per month (but just for a couple of months for A Game of Thrones) and extra channels for my daughter would be an additional $5 per month ($7 monthly in year two). So, we are looking at $95 per month for year one and $107 for year two ($124 and $137 for GOT months). After year two, I assume I fight for a new two-year contract special price so it doesn’t start going up $20.

    Next, I researched my streaming options. That started by also asking Mediacom (who currently offers the best Internet speed in my area) what it would be to get only Internet. With a two-year contract, it starts at $45/month for 50Mbps (so streams shouldn’t affect my gaming), which goes up to $55/month in year two and caps out at $60 without a contract. I learned that Sling TV was just launched in February and offers channels like AMC that had caused us hesitation. Through that service, one can get ESPN, HGTV, Adult Swim, Disney, and many more high-profile channels for $20/month. The downside is that many of them are livestream-only, so there is still no (easy legal) way to record or watch things like The Walking Dead on-demand without additional cost or waiting for it to come to Netflix in the Fall. For an extra $5 (just like with Mediacom, except it isn’t under contract to go up next year), I could get some extra kid’s channels through Sling. I also planned to get a subscription to Hulu Plus for $8 a month and already had a subscription to Netflix for $9 a month, though that doesn’t really count because I likely would have kept that subscription if I have cable, so it would be a cost either way. I decided we could hold off on Amazon Prime (yeah, I am one of those few people that don’t already have it for the shipping), but that would be another $8 a month, approximately. So, with the services we are using, year one is $45 for internet, $25 for Sling, and $8 for Hulu, or $78 per month. That’s $17 a month less! I was excited to realize we would save money from day 1. Of course, I couldn’t do that without access to decent bandwidth, and I still have a Mediacom bill, but it could be worse. Also, I know from past experience that the addition of Starz and Encore does not really add much value to having cable.

    It still took a bit of convincing because not everything is on-demand, but saving money was good ammo. The biggest issue we had was that with a Roku, we would not have access to HBO Now until July at the earliest. However, I just learned that I should have access to it through the old iPhone I use as an iPod, so there may be hope yet that we can watch GOT as it airs, rather than three months later. Plus, an HBO Now subscription is $14.99 a month, rather than the $18.99 subscription through Mediacom, so there’s more savings.

    Cost-wise, cutting the cord certainly seems to be worth it. We have been so busy lately that we have barely had time to try it out, so I’ll bring you more on our experience as time goes on. However, so far experiences have been positive, and we’ll see where it goes as we get more time with it. Feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.


  • Keep Playing and Have Fun

    “Keep playing and have fun.” – This, or a variant of it (sometimes just, “have fun”) is how I typically end my YouTube videos. No, it is not meant to be a tag line, per se, though I guess you could argue it works like that, being my own personal oft overused phrase. What it is meant to be is a reminder to keep at it, and have fun doing so. It is meant, on the surface, to be just as it sounds: keep playing games, and have fun doing so. However, it has some much deeper meanings behind it as well.

    In high school, I played basketball and golf. I was not particularly good either, I just happened to attend a small rural school where the population was small enough that there was little competition to get on the team. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) playing. However, the adults around me and my peers all took sports very seriously, so I followed that example. I would get aggressively competitive, angry at referees, and downtrodden by my mistakes. Much of my focus was on doing well and winning. This was especially evident in golf, where you are primarily playing against the design of the course and your own personal nature. If you focus on your mistakes, you tend to tense up and play even worse. At this point, it is no longer fun.

    Although I attended a university only 30 miles from my parents and high school, it was enough distance to get away from various influences that inspired and maintained my way of thinking. It took some time, but I started to realize, especially from solo golf outings, that I had better experiences if I would just keep playing and have fun. Focusing on the fun mean I not only enjoyed the experience more, but on average I played better as well. It took some practice to let the bad moments wash away and center my mind on the good moments. I still find myself getting wrapped up in a bit of frustration from time-to-time, especially if I am playing with others and feel compelled to impress or be overly competitive.

    The Anxious Gamers recently posted a video by NoZoupForYou Gaming titled “Hunt the Good Stuff“, which I recommend you check out. In it, Zoup talks about the Resiliency training he is involved in as part of the US Armed Forces, and an exercise within it to take a moment each day and focus on the good things that happened. “Hunt the good stuff” and “have fun” have much the same intent: a change in mindset to focus on the good of our day and the fun of our activities, even if for only a little while, with the hope that it helps eventually to make us feel better overall and to keep playing.

    I challenge you to try it the next time you jump in to Battlefield 4, play a round of golf, or whatever activity you might choose, and focus on the fun and why you do it in the first place. Find the fun or make it fun. You might just find you enjoy it a bit more.


  • On Leaving the Freedom! Network

    For the last six months of 2014, my YouTube channel was partnered with the Freedom! MCN via their subnetwork, Etatch. In December, I submitted a request to end this partnership, which became effective around the first of the new year. While this really isn’t a big deal, and there is no significant drama to speak of, I do feel it is a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the experience. Browsing the Let’s Play subreddit, I frequently see people ask about partnerships, so maybe sharing my thoughts will help someone else.

    The opportunity to partner with Etatch arrived in my inbox one day as a complete surprise. It was kind of exciting, as somehow it made me feel a little more “legit” as a YouTube hobbyist, because the message said they had watched some videos and felt I would be a good addition. I will not say this was not true, but I will get into the fallacy of my thinking soon. The messages implied how a partnership would help a channel grow, touted the revenue share, and promised a positive experience. After giving it significant thought, I decided it was a good opportunity to test drive a partnership, as I really had nothing to lose. One of the benefits of Freedom! is their 30-day “no lock-in” contract, which means they can be easy to test-drive and there is always a way out.

    The experience has not been significantly positive or negative. Overall, I found more things I would consider negative (in the way having nothing when you want something is a negative), which is why I terminated the partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of the issues apply to more networks than Freedom!, but I would assume most are similar enough in how they operate that it will take significant convincing of a difference to get me to trouble with joining one again.

    Advantages

    There were certainly some positive aspects to being partnered. For instance, Freedom has worked out deals that offer a lot of music you can use in your videos, though I cannot say if it is really any better or more expansive than the royalty-free music one can find without a partnership. Being part of a network can also make it a little easier to find and communicate with like-minded content producers to discuss tips, compare experiences, or put together collaborations. There are probably some other things I am either forgetting or was not aware of because they are offered to larger channels.

    Business Model

    The ways of one network do not represent the business approach of all networks, so be sure to investigate how a potential network operates before joining. Speaking specifically about Freedom, I have to say I did not like their business model. During my short time as a partner, it was clear that Freedom’s primary measure of success (for the moment, anyway) is the number of channels partnered with the network (and they count all subnetworks, so they weave quite a web). I believe their business plan is to simply sign up as many channels as possible, thereby playing the statistics and increasing the likelihood they have included those channels lucky enough to hit it big, as well as to simply work a profit from sheer volume, as taking a cut of a channel’s ad revenue is entirely passive income.

    This model is clear by looking at their structure. There are no real requirements to join Freedom. Nearly every application seems to be accepted, and almost anyone can start their own subnetwork under the main MCN. All partners are also offered referral bonuses for bringing other channels into the network. It all points to a desire for unmitigated growth. During my six months with Etatch, I received multiple requests to join other Freedom subnetworks, one of which even argued with me about how much more his network offered when I explained I was already with a Freedom subnetwork. Their system incentivizes, and therefore indirectly encourages spam and cannibalism between networks.

    I mentioned earlier that being contacted by a recruiter was exciting and made me feel more legit. However, I really was nothing more than just another channel. Freedom seems to show little discretion in what channels they partner. This results in you being a small fish in a sea only a bit smaller than YouTube itself, but also in Freedom being unable to truly deliver on the promise to help you grow. This also results in a large number of partners who are immature, both in life and in business, which significantly reduces the value of the community as a tool.

    As a member of the network, I of course subbed to the Freedom channel in an effort to keep up with any network-related news. However, I unsubbed after a couple months because it cluttered my sub box with overly frequent uploads. The channel was full of “helpful” tips for growing your channel, which the channel itself employed gratuitously. These tips include very gimmicky practices such as hype and teaser videos. Personally, I don’t have the time and will usually unsubscribe any channel that uploads a short video to tease or hype a video that goes live in an hour. I also found a lot of their videos to mislead one into thinking there was valuable news content, and if the content was anything more than a tease, it required getting deep into the video to find. Basically, I felt that as a subbed partner (and I would assume the majority of their subs are network partners), they weren’t there to help me so much as I was there to help them get views and revenue on their videos.

    Money

    I do not do YouTube for money. I started it as a curiosity and potential hobby, with the notion that it would provide enough cash to buy a game nothing more than a pipe dream. When you monetize videos on YouTube, you do so through Google Adsense, which requires you to accumulate $100 USD before it will pay you. At about $0.20 – $0.30 a month, ever receiving a payment is unlikely. One advantage to the Freedom! network is that they will pay you monthly, regardless of amount. However, they only give you 60% of what you would get through Adsense. Unfortunately, the way it was presented to me was that Freedom offered a 60/40 split, and that  was better than the 55/45 split from Adsense (which lead me to assume Freedom had its own ad network because this didn’t make sense otherwise).

    If you are doing videos for the money or have any concerns about this at all, be sure to look into how a potential network handles ad revenue very thoroughly. It may be that you are better off on your own. Thankfully, I did not really care, as this was all an experiment from the very start. However, had I been a larger channel with a real revenue stream, I would have been rather miffed at the poor communication on how the revenue works from the recruiter. Of course, had I been a larger channel, I also would have been given a more VIP recruitment effort and/or a greater revenue share offer anyway, so that might be a moot point.

    Help

    Networks offer very little to smaller channels in the way of direct help. I definitely found there was no real hands-on help. Instead, they provided “tools”. They never really explain what these tools are. I guess those would be the community, music library, and how-to videos. One quickly realizes the relatively low value of these tools, as royalty-free music and how-to videos can be found without a network (and in better quality in some cases).

    As I mentioned earlier, the value of the community as a tool is dependent on those within the community. Despite the sheer volume of partners, the number truly involved and helpful on the community forums is quite limited. There is a very large number of “check out my channel plz” posts. Their volunteer moderators work very hard to keep things organized and clean, but when such a volume of new partners is constantly flowing in without regard to experience, business acumen, or mental maturity, it makes finding valuable discussion quite difficult. Requests for help or critiques of your channel or videos in forum topics meant for that purpose often fall off without a reply. There is little more frustrating than receiving no help when you ask for it. I still don’t understand why they don’t hire people specifically for this purpose.

    Those who complain about the network’s failure to help them grow on the forums are promptly told that joining the network does not immediately grow a channel, and that it takes hard work using the tools provided.  This says a couple of things. First, I am not certain those defending the network could even identify these tools they speak of so confidently. The other issue is a sense that little will change, as your tiny channel is just a speck to the network and your concerns are quickly disregarded.

    The truth is, all partnered channels are passive income to the network. The network takes a percentage of each partnered channel’s revenue, regardless of what they have done for that particular channel. There is no incentive to help you, beyond that of keeping you partnered. One might think your growth bringing them more revenue would be an incentive, but you already have a drive to grow and will do it yourself, so why should they expend the energy? By playing the statistics of volume, they ensure that there will be plenty of large or growing large channels that are content enough to remain with the network that the attrition of discontent or anemic channels does not hurt them.

    Though it may sound like it, my experience was not entirely negative. I did manage to find a few quality channels to follow. With sufficient digging, I found some helpful tips and ideas to implement. I also learned a lot (much of which comes from the negative aspects, of course). As a small channel, it seems pretty clear a network is not for me. Honestly, unless the network was going to directly work for their share and help me do things I cannot do on my own, I have trouble seeing how one may ever be for me. Most of what a network like Freedom “offers” is the same as what one can find independently with enough searching. Using the tools available to everyone via Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch to find similar channels and other players/community members seems to do just as much for your learning, growth, and inspiration as being in a vast network.


  • Be the change you wish to see

    “Be the change you wish to see” is a inspirational quote I am sure we have all heard at one time or another. I typically don’t think too much about such quotes, but this one came to mind in light of a recent concern of mine. In my last post, I criticized the Freedom! network, of which I am a member, because of the unintended result of their recent small channel sponsorship giveaways. That concern was that it created a flood of lower quality/high volume channel review and video critique offers, and the individuals offering those services only provided to those posting on their thread and seem to ignore all the threads requesting help.

    I realized after writing my criticism that I was being lazy, if not hypocritical, to not do any reviews myself. So, I have made an effort to do at least one each day the past couple days, focusing on those that have been sitting untouched for a few days to prevent a few from being ignored and lost. I have enjoyed it because I feel like I have helped someone else with some quality feedback, but it also seems to be helping me to practice looking critically at a video, which will hopefully lead to better production on my part.

    I guess there is some merit to living out these quotes from time-to-time.


  • Rewards and unintended motivations

    Rewards provide an excellent source of motivation. People will often do things they may otherwise ignore if completing the task will provide something they wish to have. This is frequently seen in games – they offer achievements, XP, special in-game items, and other things for completing tasks in and out of the game. Such rewards always have an intended motivation, and it is often a path one is meant to follow in the game, such as defeating a boss or supporting a teammate. However, it seems that we often fail to notice, consider, or just blatantly ignore the fact that various rewards also have unintended motivations attached to them.

    In games, unintended motivations often result in players doing unusual, annoying, or unhelpful things because such behavior is rewarded in a satisfactory way. A shining example of this is Battlefield 4, in which players are handsomely rewarded with XP for long distance headshots. Doing so requires a player to sit in waiting at the edge of a map providing little to no benefit to their team in a very team-based game. With a couple well-placed (or lucky) shots, the player can top the leaderboard. One can easily argue the developers did not intend for this to be a common playstyle because the game is so team- and objective-oriented. Their original intent was to reward players for the added difficulty of headshots over range, thinking that such skills would be utilized in support of the team, rather than for self gratification while ignoring one’s team.

    This can often be seen in one’s day-to-day life as well. A great example that has motivated me to discuss this briefly is a recent sponsorship event through the Freedom! network. I am a member of the network, which I will discuss in greater detail at another time. They recently launched a $100,000 year-long sponsorship program for small channels, in which they choose a member channel each day to whom they give a product from one of their sponsors (which generally consists of gaming gear, like headphones and mice). Their announcement of this indicated they would likely choose the more active members of the community for these sponsorships. I imagine there was at least some intention in this to get members a bit more active and push the community toward being the supportive foundation for small channels they wish it to be.

    While this has motivated members to be much more active than before, the unintended part is that the quality of that activity is not what it was before. The forums and video comments have suddenly been spammed with members offering to do channel and video reviews, hoping to get noticed as an active and helpful community member. However, a quick look through some of these finds critiques that offer little more than, “Dude, ur awesome! ur banner is cool! u deserve ur subs.” I imagine most of this reviews are done with very little effort. If you look through the Freedom! forums in the reviews and critiques subforums, nearly every thread is someone offering reviews, where they used to be primarily threads asking for a review. Threads asking for reviews are still there, but they get buried and are largely ignored, which seems very strange considering there are 10’s, if not 100’s of people looking to do reviews, yet these same people seem to have no interest in doing reviews on someone else’s thread because they are less likely to be seen doing them. I can only imagine the original intention was much different than this result.

    So it goes with rewards and motivations. We introduce rewards to elicit behavior, only to find the human mind can come up with many and more ways to get the same rewards with other than intended behavior. If there is anything to take from this discussion, it is to take an extra moment to think about how people of different minds may take various paths and whether or not the rewards or rules should be modified to safeguard from unwanted paths.