Epic Ripped Off Indies with Their Free Game Strategy

Epic’s lawsuit against Apple reveals how much Epic ripped off indies

 Nathan Grayson for Kotaku talking about how much Epic paid for both games from big and small games to give out for free on the Epic Games Store:

It’s not hard to trace a general trend: Major publishers got a lot, while indies only got a little. Admittedly, some smaller games went free long after their figurative sell-by dates, but those are still some pretty paltry prices.

The real winner here is Epic. As many industry figures pointed out on Twitter, those user acquisition cost numbers are awfully low, with Epic picking up nearly five million new users for dollars or cents per person. It is not easy to attract new users to a barebones store when a veritable monopoly like Steam is sitting just across the way—with everybody’s friends also on it—but Epic’s spend-to-win strategy appears to have paid off. Now it can boast a large user base to both publishers and players. Many other stores have failed where Epic is now improbably succeeding.

Epic has been offering different free games to users daily or weekly in order to get more people to sign up for the Epic Game Store and the loser in this is absolutely smaller developers. One look at the numbers makes it clear that the developers got absolutely ripped off as Epic got their users for pennies and then the developers of these games may have missed out on actual sales.

I can’t believe Epic isn’t more embarrassed by these numbers, I wonder if the free games experiment is done now that it has been running for years and they don’t mind giving it up or they may feel that the developers won’t have a choice but to ship with their store now because the deal is still slightly better than you get with Valve.

Some part of Epic’s sentiment isn’t wrong: Apple screws developers over just like every rent-seeking business that isn’t big enough to earn a special deal, it’s just that Epic is at least as awful as the facts the lawsuit reveals over and over again, Epic is just less successful and wishes they could put their own app store out on iOS so that Epic could be the ones taking rent even if it is at a more reasonable 15%.

For example, this lawsuit also revealed that Epic would have stopped campaigning against Apple if Epic had gotten a special deal like other businesses have on iOS. And of course Epic doesn’t sue Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo, because they do get special deals on consoles there and you’ll even see Fortnite editions of consoles.

I hope that in some way Apple is forced to make some of their platforms more open, because that would enable great things to be done there, but it’s clear that there’s nothing good natured in this fight between two large companies. We don’t win in the end and these numbers made it clear that small developers certainly aren’t getting enough out of it.

Nintendo’s Got Their Own Dreams

Nintendo announced their Game Builder Garage today, this is really a game development tool to teach people how to make games using a visual programming system that lets people connect different elements like actions on the controllers to character movement in the game.

Sony and Media Molecule have a similar idea with Dreams, another game creation toolkit for the PlayStation 4. The 400 lb gorilla in this genre is Roblox which not only lets people make games but has monetization built-in so that kids can help exploit other children and the company gets a cut of that which created a pretty gross system all the way down.

Like Dreams, it appears that you’ll only be able to distribute games made in Game Builder Garage to others who have Game Builder Garage, which rules out selling the games or porting them to other platforms.

There’s also a way to view the guts of other people’s games developed inside Game Builder Garage to learn from them, somebody at Nintendo recognizes the value of open source.

Game Builder Garage is $30 and out on June 11th for both the Nintendo Switch and the Lite. Regular Nintendo Switch users can optionally plug a USB mouse in to the dock to make it easier to use.

The First Mechanical Keyboard NFT Scam Has Arrived

The Angry Miao company has priced a new keyboard at $1600, it’s called the Am Hatsu. I am not a manufacturing expert, but this price is very unusual. If there is something that makes it reasonable to charge $1600 for that keyboard and you don’t work for Angry Miao and aren’t invested in any form of Cryptocurrency or NFT please get in touch.

The store page for the Am Hatsu when it initially went up for sale was charging a $320 “deposit” with no information about what the final amount required for the purchase is. The only way to know the full purchase price was to calculate it from a separate product page which indicated that this deposit was 20% of the final purchase price though there was also a 20% discount available if people bought it before a certain day which may make the total cost $1280.

The store page was later updated with the actual price, but pre-orders are urged on through the NFT scam. The first 100 people to pre-order the keyboard would get access to an “NFT Trading Card.” The text of the offer is difficult to parse, but it is clear that Angry Miao bought into the climate destroying scam and wanted to use it to entice sales of the overpriced keyboard. Here is the text of the scam from the product page:

As the world’s first brand to release a physical product as NFT, Angry Miao will release exclusive NFT on the OpenSea platform, one of the largest NFT trading platforms on the Ethereum network. After placing a deposit for the corresponding NFT and paying the remaining balance, users can obtain a physical copy of the AM HATSU keyboard in 1:1 form through Angry Miao’s official website. Holders of NFT have the full rights to collect or resell their NFTs.

At the same time, users can make a reservation for AM HATSU on the official website of Angry Miao. After paying the remaining balance, they can obtain a corresponding NFT Trading Card. In addition, the 1st to 100th users who made a reservation are eligible for the NFT Trading Card Redemption. An exclusive serial number can be selected in sequence of the order payment time.

Other keyboards do go out for high prices new, but the price is typically under a thousand dollars, and the market for them is growing but still supposedly small enough that it is difficult to make some designs available continuously. 

Angry Miao had already tainted their first keyboard project. That was last year’s Cyberboard, a typical TKL layout keyboard with a unique array of slightly diffused lights that most users would never see because the light array faces at an angle, away from the person using the keyboard. Fun idea, unfortunately the users of the board are still complaining that the software to control the keyboard isn’t functional.

Note: All product and store links in this article point to archive.org to not encourage anyone to get in on the scam and contribute to accelerating the collapse of the climate we need to survive.

AirTag Follow-Up

They’re not an anti-theft device

Seeing the AirTag introduction on the 20th was pretty interesting. Apple didn’t just pitch it as a lost item tracker, they showed off how it works with ultra-wide-band-capable iPhones to provide their “precision tracking” that lets you find items with a virtual compass that is pointing to where the AirTag is, and talked a lot on how it won’t be able to be used for nefarious purposes. One thing they didn’t talk about was using the AirTag as an anti-theft device because it pretty clearly isn’t one if you see any of the marketing around it. The AirTag is designed to be visible, not hidden, and isn’t permanently attached to the item you don’t want to lose. There’s nothing preventing someone from taking off the AirTag and chucking it in the trash or just taking the battery out.

Now, with reviews and first impressions popping up along with support questions about it on public forums, it’s clear that not everyone understands that the AirTag isn’t an anti-theft device. I don’t blame anyone for getting confused about the purpose, but you’ll see people asking about using an AirTag to track vehicles. There was a trade-off and whatever team at Apple designed this product decided that it was about lost items and not stolen items, and especially that the AirTag is not going to help people abuse other people which also made it impossible to work for an anti-theft scenario.

If you lose an item with an AirTag on it, keys or a backpack or a purse (bizarrely, the AirTag is too thick to fit comfortably inside of most wallets), and someone who isn’t a thief finds the AirTag, they might be able to get everything back to you.

Unfortunately, I’m also not entirely certain that the AirTags will work well for their intended purpose of even helping to find lost items. Lets talk about a few scenarios.

  • If an Android or iPhone user (with NFC in their device, which is probably most of them at this point) holds it up to the back of their phone, the NFC antenna inside the AirTag will give that user the option to go to a website, an Apple site, and there they will see any short message and phone number you leave for someone who finds your AirTag (and whatever it is attached to) but only if the AirTag is in lost mode.
  • If a thief finds the item the AirTag is attached to they can take out the battery in the AirTag, it is a very easy process and the battery is a standard CR2032. It’s also trivially easy to just remove the AirTag and throw it in the trash and take the rest, it won’t do anything to prevent that. The AirTag will also beep after some time of you not being near it. That beeping is there so that the AirTag can’t be used to track someone who doesn’t want to be tracked by the owner of the AirTag.
  • If someone who finds the lost item doesn’t know what an AirTag is, and doesn’t have an iPhone, it isn’t very likely you’ll get your item back. There’s nothing physically on the outside of the AirTag that makes it clear exactly what it is, or identifies you as the owner of the AirTag, or has your contact information. That’s a good thing in the event that you don’t want the AirTag linked to you in the case of your civil rights being violated. It’s a bad thing for you getting your AirTag and the lost item back. Nothing on it says “hold it up to a device with NFC to get information” though when it eventually starts beeping someone might be curious enough to read the tiny lettering on the back that identifies the device as an AirTag and look up what that means. You can still put a luggage tag on something if you want that backup way for someone to help you, but I think a lot of people won’t expect to need both the AirTag and other identification.
  • If you lose the item with the AirTag attached and are near enough to find it again before someone else gets it, you can definitely do that a little bit easier using the “Find My” network that uses Bluetooth Low-Energy to enable almost any modern Apple device to (supposedly privately and anonymously) automatically help locate your lost item and AirTag. If you leave something at a restaurant or a park that means there is a chance it’ll continue to update its location in the Find My app when you get home and realize it’s missing as long as someone else with an Apple device is near it. Once you’re within a certain range for the UWB radio to take over you can enter the precision tracking mode and have a very good shot at locating it. You can also make the AirTag beep when you’re within Bluetooth range of it which helps you find it and prove that the lost item is yours.

I appreciate that the AirTag was set up to prevent it from being used by abusive people, and even if there was an anti-theft purpose for the AirTag it would be a mistake for Apple to encourage that usage when it is clear that law enforcement values property over life. The AirTag is also Apple’s cheapest device at $30 for one or $100 for four. That’s about the same price as similar devices from Tile and Chipolo but of course you can set up and use a Tile or Chipolo device with either any kind of smart phone.

The biggest downside to the Tile devices these days is that they charge a subscription for features like letting your friends help you find your stuff. Chipolo mercifully doesn’t do that, but neither of them will have the network effect for finding things like Apple will. In comparison to those companies it is also much more likely that they would be acquired by another company and give that other company your private location data (assuming they’re not selling that data already.)

The Secret Life of Components: Bearings

A bittersweet component

The Secret Life of Components finale is up and this time it is all about those wibbly wobbly bearings that help other parts move. I’m a little sad to say goodbye to more content from TV’s Tim Hunkin, but that’s what makes this series special. Hunkin isn’t like other video essayists and hobbyists on YouTube and that’s why I was elated when the series started. Who the heck is going to go on about bearings, glue, connectors, springs, switches, hinges, LEDs, and chain! These things are the mundane parts that make other things work. Somehow, Hunkin made each component interesting with live demonstrations and more.

Hats off to Tim Hunkin. If we’re lucky he will follow through with the idea he put in the description for this final video that he might make another series next winter. We should all be so lucky.

This time, especially, please visit Hunkin’s site for more information on the series and his responses to each episode.