Chances are, a couple of weeks back, you saw in your Facebook newsfeed the Daily Show clip where Aasif Mandvi interviews Rizwan Virk, CEO of Gameview Studios, about their Tap Fish games. In the clip, Virk comes off as an oblivious Ferengi, selling $99 MTXs to toddlers hoping to revive their poor little fishies, stonewalling an upset father.
Ah, the magic of editing. According to his blog, Virk actually had a pleasant conversation with the upset father, and refunded him. Also, if you actually download the game, transactions start at $1.99. And Virk himself seems very thoughtful and passionate about his app.
These factors mitigate the line Tap Fish 2 crosses. However, that only makes it a matter of degree. The basic business model still fails the sniff test for me. While Mandvi appears to indict the whole freemium business model, I’m looking at this particular app not as an executive at a studio making freemium games eager to defend a colleague, but as a dad. To me, they’re preying on the emotions of very young children, selling them in-app-purchases to revive dead pets. To paraphrase the Supreme Court’s eloquent position on pornography, I know questionable taste when I see it.
And of course, it’s not new for questionable examples to be used to present the entire game industry in a bad light. But as in the case of the more extreme Super Columbine RPG, this is actually a good opportunity to clarify that we as an industry have the ability to identify what we think pushes boundaries. Blindly circling the wagons just makes us look like we can’t police ourselves, and invites the kind of unconstitutional but highly effective political coddling that results in proposals for the government to control interactive entertainment.
Instead, here’s an opportunity to agree with the reaction and admit that this doesn’t sit well with us either. And allow the fourth estate to police us at will. Let our freedoms (that our enemies hate us for) balance against each other, resulting in a more perfect republic. The government has way more important things to deal with, such as the destabilizing accumulation of wealth and control, the annihilation of the public school system, the carelessness of hipster bicyclists on Harrison, and so on. Keep them focused on that, by agreeing with The Daily Show, if you do. Allow this issue to come forward, and cauterize in a way that gives everyone closure.
Even Rizwan Virk, who got at least one more download from me, and everyone else apparently. Which makes him smarter than all of us, as he puts on his antic disposition and laughs all the way to the bank.
SF: It’s pretty clear he got crushed by editing. As a broader point, exploitative practices almost always come at a long term cost to the industry. The real issue is that the people who undertake these practices often gain enough short-term gain to merit the exploration into the dark side. Particularly when you consider that the cost of these explorations are often externalized to developers at-large in the subsequent backlash.
Never take a call from The Daily Show if you’re hoping to come off looking good. I think the only way to mitigate it go totally over the top. It’s hard to edit around a dude sitting there petting an iguana in a ninja suit and viking hat.