Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Darn it, foiled again

I thought about remaking Harvey in machinima, but Moviestorm doesn't have an invisible rabbit character.

"I've wrestled with reality for 30 years, and I'm glad to say, I've finally won."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fast, cheap, good - choose six

When I first started in the software industry, back in the Late Bronze Age or thereabouts, there was a maxim that was drummed into me.

"Fast, Cheap, Good - choose two."

In other words, there's always a trade-off. You do things fast, then it'll be expensive if you want it done well. You want top quality, then expect to pay for it, or expect to wait. Do it cheap, and you'll either get something shoddy or it'll take ages. That's as true now as it was then, and it doesn't just apply to software.

Of course, the client never wants to hear that. They want all three, and the sales guy has probably promised them everything under the sun, with a cherry on top and a singing telegram on their birthday thrown in. The task of the poor bastard who has to deliver the project is to get the client to decide what compromises he's going to make. It's a total bitch of a job, but you just have to do it, or you're doomed to failure.

But in this brave new internet world, that rule has not just gone out of the window, but leapt from a twentieth floor balcony and splattered on the pavement two hundred feet below. We don't just want fast, cheap and good. We want it now, we want it bloody brilliant, and we want it free.

Actually, we demand it. It's our right as consumers, isn't it?

Every day, my inbox has several aggrieved messages wanting to know why we charge for Moviestorm content packs. Never mind that we're giving away a complete movie-making toolkit, completely free, with no restrictions as to what you can do with the movies you make. That's pretty much taken for granted. People get really upset, and often extremely angry that the add-on packs aren't free as well.

In some cases, they're just trying it on, seeing if they can get a freebie. Those people just get a polite brush-off unless they're a really deserving case. Some are just trolling. But others seem to have a genuine sense of moral outrage that we're a business and we're asking them for money. I regularly get people telling me how much better it would be if we gave everything away, as then we'd have many more users. Usually followed by the suggestion that we should offer much more as well. (And then the inevitable suggestion that we should pay users for downloading our product as this would be great advertising for us.) Then come the comparisons that usually take no account of price: your inbuilt video editor is crap, Final Cut Pro is much better - why don't you offer everything in FCP but make it free? No shit, Sherlock! That bit of our free tool isn't as good as a thousand buck specialist pro tool? Really?

Trying to be reasonable, and explaining that we're working on things as fast as we can, and that we charge because we have wages to pay, servers to run, and so on, usually falls on completely deaf ears. As often as not, it provokes a torrent of abuse and invective.

The scary thing is that we're all becoming more guilty of this attitude. I'm not really talking about Moviestorm here. That's just the example I took because I know it so well. We're so used to free services and free software that we regard it as the norm, and we expect it to work perfectly all the time. Look at the complete outrage when twitter fails, for example. Look how angry we get when an update to Firefox doesn't go as planned. When Facebook made changes, the users almost rioted. And when Google went off air for nearly an hour, it was as if the world had ended. It wasn't the advertisers who pay Google who got most upset: it was ordinary users who are just used to having Google there whenever they need it.

The reason for this is pretty damn obvious. Some time back in the dotcom boom, investors had this great idea that the "real" value in a company was in having lots of users. (Or eyeballs, as we called them back then.) When you had lots of users, you'd find a way to get money from them somehow. So don't charge, bulk your user numbers up fast, and flog the company for silly money. Of course, a ten year old can see the flaw in this. People will happily use your stuff for free, but as soon as they have to pay, they'll look for someone else who's giving things away for free. And when you have an entire economy based on this principle, then there's always plenty of free stuff around, so nobody pays for anything, and they can usually pick and choose between several competing free options.

Ten years of this, and you end up with two problems. First, a fucked up economy with a lot of bankrupt companies and burnt investors. And second, a population that is used to the idea that everything should be free, and doesn't see why they should pay for anything.

Yeah, we'd all like superb, free software. I'd also like a free Harley-Davidson, free first class flights to anywhere in the world, and free champagne, too. And a pony.

Sure, take advantage of what's on offer. But some time soon, we're all going to have to adjust to the fact that things really aren't free - or if they are, then they come at a price. (You want to watch free videos on YouTube? Then be prepared to sit through commercials.) We may - if we're lucky - actually get to a stage where we can have things that are fast, cheap, and good. There are a hell of a lot of really inexpensive, well-made little apps around. Giving them ten bucks if you find it useful seems perfectly reasonable. But don't go bitching if the free stuff ain't as good as the paid-for stuff, or if it takes time to get it right.

Remember... "Fast, Cheap, Good - choose two."