Shaun Mccran

My digital playground


Micro transaction madness with Marvel Puzzle Quest

I'm a big fan of Puzzle games, and Marvel, so what could be better than a Marvel themed puzzle game?

The game itself is a classic three-in-a-row puzzle game just like the previous versions of Puzzle Quest games. It's the now 'classic' model of free-to-play but with in-game micro transactions through it. There are several resources used in the game, Iso-8 which is used to upgrade your hero's level and hero points, which are basically coins that you can use to but team slots to hold more characters, or to buy skills for characters.

You can play the game without purchasing anything at all, which is my preference or you can spend upwards of £80.00 on all the extras. Personally if it was priced at a sensible mobile price point I would have happily purchased it, it's the sheer volume of micro transactions present that is annoying. I don't know how or why the trend for Micro transactions started but the model is abhorrent.

This whole game feels like a vehicle for micro transactions. Every way you try and play it you are faced with a transaction. The only other option is such soul crushing repetition that the game is almost unplayable. You really have to purchase a wealth of content if you want to even see half of the characters and powers in this game.

Looking at this from a design perspective it is obvious that the design started with user journeys arriving at micro transactions. For me, if a games design is being driven by the purchasing functions in it then you've lost the plot. I appreciate that games have to make money, that's just the modern games industry but they shouldn't be the driving design principle in the product!

This is a real shame as the game is quite enjoyable, its just that the constant barrage of 'purchase me' advertising really starts to intrude on your enjoyment of actually playing the game. It feels like there is more 'purchasing advertisements' than puzzle matching.

So, I'd stay away from this game. Marvel should release a non 'free to play' version at £9.99 or £14.99 with all the content unlocked. I'd be happy to purchase in that model. Micro Transactions hidden in the 'free to play' games are a blight on the games industry. Its false advertising, plain and simple. There needs to be a change in policy, and a change in terminology, as this terms is just lies.


The difference between Architecture and Design

In the last few weeks I've had many conversations with Architecture colleagues about the differences between Architecture and Design. These conversations don't typically start with this question, but more likely about the content of specific deliverables such as documents or strategy papers. Typically as an Architect you are required to deliver guidance on solutions as part of a project cycle, or as part of a larger overall programme. The point at which that guidance changes from 'Architecture' into 'Design' can be quite a contentious one.

For me, as an Architect, my responsibility is to guide the Strategy and direction of a project in terms of the technical aspects. I am effectively the technical manager, governing the direction that a project proceeds in. So how is that different from designing the solution yourself?

I like to think of Architecture as:

"Performing Governance and assurance around a solution to ensure that it aligns to Architectural principles, Strategic concerns and established patterns, in an elegant and cost effective way."

In plain English this is formulating which architectural principles are relevant and applicable, which patterns (in terms of both technical design patterns or business process patterns) are relevant and lastly whether there is an overarching strategy or strategies that drive the direction. It is effectively a set of rules, constraints and measures to guide the further direction of a solution (whether that is a project or a programme). It IS NOT the actual design of a solution but rather the instruction set that a design should use to build their design. When Architectural Governance kicks in and I review a designers design documentation, this is the rules set that I use to effectively 'mark their homework'.

Now, if we have defined the Architecture side of this argument, we should really do the same for the design side. This is a lot more real-world and far less abstract, normally because it is much easier to visualise than 'Architecture' is.

"Design is the process of collecting and placing business and technical building blocks to enable business capabilities."

Again, in real terms this means finding vendors, products and technical elements that fulfil as many of the identified requirements as possible, and arranging them in such a way as to enable an end to end business capability, usually by combining many simpler capabilities into a larger one.

Thinking of Architecture and design in this way makes it very easy to see where the boundary between these separate activities lays, which in turn means it becomes far simpler to see where any handover between resources should be, or where responsibility within a project lies. This sort of clarification also really helps to define the boundaries of an Architectural role, allowing them to focus on specific Architectural deliverables.


Sony confuses its customers with product fragmentation

So E3 is here again, along with a flurry of consumer news, games and future predictions on the trends of technology, or at least where the big entertainment companies would like us to think it's going anyway. This is our (the consumers) big window into their (the mega corp entertainment company) plans and products that we are all too excited about buying up for the next year.

Sony released big news about new games, old games being redone in HD, new devices and new online services. The key take home message for me was all about Sony Saturation. I can't quite decide if their Vision is saturate the market in devices that all do the same thing, or whether they just don't have a Vision at all, which has led to product development, where all their devices can do the same thing. Either way what we consumers are looking at is a dizzying array of Sony hardware and software services, much of which does exactly the same as its counterparts.

Sony already have Smart TVs, many of which are getting the ability to play older PlayStation titles. Now we are also hearing about the PlayStation TV, a set top box ($99,USA only at the moment) Which seems to be able to stream PS4 content to another TV (Sony MagicEye anyone?) Then of course you've got the PS4, which cannot play older titles, only high end new ones. On top of that there are numerous rollouts of PS Now and Sony store implementations across PS VITA and Smart TVs. What's PS Now? Well it looks like a cloud based service you access through your TV allowing you access to older games and movies, oh, and you don't need a console, all the grunt work is done at a Sony server somewhere in a datacentre.

So what's the problem with having several different types of device doing the same thing? Well for both Sony and its consumers it brings a couple of interesting pitfalls, both of a technical nature and of a customer nature.

  1. 1. The product offering is confusing. As a consumer how do I select products with overlapping capabilities? Do I want a console, or a TV I can use to play similar games?

  2. 2. How do I manage my games collection? Are there custom versions of the Sony store per device to stop my buying the wrong product on the wrong device? Account management will become a much more intelligent process.

  3. 3. What impact does all this have on existing devices? How difficult are these things becoming to use? All these additional layers of software can't impede the customers too much, otherwise no-one will participate.

  4. 4. How does Sony keep them all up-to-date? TVs are notoriously bad at being updated, the big TV manufacturers would rather you buy a new TV every year than produce an upgrade roadmap for you. With more devices come more development, more testing and more releases. None of this comes cheap.

So for now, I'll wait and see how each of these pans out, but it does feel a little like Sony are rather randomly shooting at fish in a lake and seeing which one they hit first.

For further reading you can check out the BBCs article on E3 opening presentations here:


New stats show further SMS decline as customers switch to online messaging apps

Recent statistics from mobile operators are showing a further decline in SMS usage over the last year or so. It seems to growth of Smartphone messaging apps that's eating into SMS's usual territory. Personally I credit this to two main reasons.

The advance of online messaging applications

Now this might sound obvious but messaging apps have come a long way. Not just in terms of availability, but usability and adoption. There are far more people now using messaging apps, that have a greater number of features than ever before. With this advancement we've seen aggregation of several services. Take Trillain as an example (Google Play Trillian App) Out of the box it supports 'Facebook Chat, MSN, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, and Jabber'. This allows you to forget about potential compatibility issue, as compatibility is no longer an issue. The Apps are no longer restricted to a messaging network, they are cross platform compatible.

Also with the working model of App downloads people are more comfortable now downloading applications. As the percentage of mobile app downloads increases it follows that a certain percentage of that increase will be messaging applications.

The push for data services
One thing that Telecoms companies have really pushed since the mid 2000's is the usage of the data network. Voice and SMS networks and usage have been relatively stable for a while now. The costs to operate them have come down and the tariffs customers buy have also come down. This may sound unbelievable based on the current operator contract process but recent statistics show that contracts are 27% less profitable than they were in 2005, partly due to pricing and partly due to the allowances included in them.

The only commodity left for a telecoms company to sell is data. Data is a measurable, metered commodity that can be priced for usage. It's the perfect target to try and get customers hooked on. You pay for a limited amount, use it all, and demand more, so you pay more. This encouragement leads to more uses of data. Customers want to use the data they have, so they find uses for it. Messaging being something they are already familiar with its an easy transition to switch from SMS to a messaging app, after all SMS is pretty much a pre-installed app these days anyway.

The future of SMS?
So are we only a few years away from an SMS-less mobile network? I don't think so, the problem with this is that the capital cost has been forked out for a mobile network that can support current SMS volumes, and continues to be spent on supporting it. Vodafone advertises a daily expenditure of between 1.5 and 2 million a day to support the existing network infrastructure. This is for voice, data and SMS but those things are intrinsically linked. They cannot extract the SMS functionality from the core network and stop supporting it, it just doesn't work like that. That leaves them with an expensive on-going support cost for a declining SMS market that is unlikely to ever go away. All you'll end out with there is a small resilient core of customers using the SMS network at an incredible costs (to the Telco) per SMS. SMS will never truly vanish.

You can read the Guardians view on this here.