Joshua Csehak,
Cinematographer

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IndieWhip: Ripple

Kittens. Because why not?

That line in the script sold me on this spot. My friend and ridiculously-good AC Richelle Topping recommended me to shoot this piece for IndieWhip, a production company in RI. The guys there were as cool as can be, and had their shit together too. Not only that, but they wrote a really great script! It’s for Ripple, a service for celebrity-type people with hojillions of social media followers. I could explain it to you more, or you could just watch the video:

Ripple – Rock Star Video from Ripple on Vimeo.

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Randy Murray Chomsky Testimonial

Seems like a good idea to make a testimonials section, no? Well here’s the first one. I had a great time shooting Noam Chomsky for Randy Murray, and he was happy too. Which makes me happy too.

Randy Murray Testimonial from Magic Goggles [Joshua Csehak] on Vimeo.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Zynga

“I don’t fucking want innovation. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.” - Mark Pincus, Zynga Founder and CEO

 

It’s pretty much universally agreed that Zynga sucks. Indie house Nimblebit, Ian Bogost, and the game developer community at large seem to think so. And so does the public: playing Godfather:Five Families (a cow-clicker if there ever was one) the other day, I mentioned Zynga in all-chat. Another player replied, “Yeah, but they suck.” Zynga’s employees aren’t in love with it, and it sounds like, from his quote above, even Mark Pincus hates Zynga — That’s not the kind of talk you hear from someone who loves and is proud of his work. You wouldn’t have heard that kind of talk from Mr. Rogers, for instance.

What’s wrong with Zynga? Pretty much two things:

1. They build vapid superficial games that take advantage of peoples’ innate evolutionary drive to amass resources.

Somehow, building up something makes our brains secrete some kind of chemical that gives us satisfaction. Computer-based role-playing games have been doing this for decades. I love playing a Final Fantasy game and building up my characters. There’s not a lot of strategy, you pretty much just make your characters faster, stronger and tougher. But the difference is, in Final Fantasy, there’s a story arc. Not so in FarmVille. Gameplay-wise, FarmVille is basically Final Fantasy without a plot. All you do is click on cows and build up your farm. It’s naked, and that’s offensive to some of us.

But Zynga’s not alone here. You can’t hate Zynga for making cow clickers and not hate Nimblebit too, for instance. Sorry guys, I loved Tiny Tower, but even with it’s absolutely-cute-as-hell art and creative floor designs, it’s a mindless cow clicker just like FarmVille. Personally, I built over 50 floors — without cheating or paying for anything — and didn’t really get any satisfaction out of it beyond getting a kick out of the great art. Tetris is satisfying. I can feel my synapses connecting when I play Tetris. When I play Tiny Tower, or FarmVille, or Godfather:Five Families, or DragonVale, I can feel my brain atrophying.

But Zynga has other games, some of which require skill and strategy. Words With Friends, for instance. Of course, that’s the other reason people hate Zynga:

2. They make their money by ripping off other games.

This is also true. FarmVille is Farm Town with (marginally) better art. Words With Friends is Scrabble with a crappy name. News flash: Zynga is not a creative house. Zynga is a factory. Do you think Mark Pincus cares about games in and of themselves? He probably doesn’t know what a Nash equilibrium is, and he’s probably never played Settlers of Catan. He’s a businessman. He’s in it for the money, and if you expect anything more from him, or by extension, Zynga, you’re being naive. Sometimes Zynga makes their money by ripping off other games (Farm Town). Sometimes they make their money by buying other companies that ripped off other games (Words With Friends was developed by NewToy, who Zynga acquired). And sometimes they make their money by trying to buy another successful game development company, said company turns them down, and they proceed to rip them off, which is what happened with Nimblebit, creators of Tiny Tower.

An aside:

Is this illegal? No. Is it immoral? Probably. Words With Friends wasn’t immoral because Hasbro never got their shit together with Scrabble. NewToy saw an opportunity there — the public wanted something that Hasbro wasn’t giving them, and they built it. Good for them. FarmVille wasn’t immoral because Zynga improved on Farm Town in a few different ways. Dream Heights, on the other hand, is probably immoral because it’s not an improvement of Tiny Tower in any way. It’s almost exactly the same game except uglier (IMHO). But here’s the thing: will it be successful for Zynga? I’m not sure it will. Tiny Tower has already been named Game of the Year by Apple. Even with all their marketing muscle, can Zynga really cannibalize Tiny Tower enough to make it worth their while? I’m not sure they can. It’ll be interesting to see, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of a negative impact Dream Heights has on Tiny Tower sales.

Nimblebit, can you be transparent about this? I don’t need to see sales or download numbers, maybe just percentage decrease (or increase) of downloads before and after Dream Heights was released? My prediction: revenue generated by Tiny Tower won’t be affected much, and revenue generated by Dream Heights will barely be enough to cover development costs.

Aside over.

Quit Hating.

You can’t hate the scorpion. Don’t hate Zynga. Zynga is a factory. They’re a public company. Sure, they sued Vostu for doing EXACTLY what they themselves did to Nimblebit, but that’s what public companies do. It’s evil and hypocritical, and often they’re legally obligated to do it. Get over it.

Okay. Now that that’s settled, the question we have to ask ourselves is, how can we make use of their successes and failures to make our own games more successful? Well, Zynga makes their money by ripping off other games. Why not rip off Zynga? Seriously, guys. It’s not rocket science. Don’t do it outright like Vostu, or you might find yourselves in court with the behemoth, but The Playforge ripped off FarmVille with Zombie Farm, and it’s great! (Well, the art is great, much better than FarmVille, and it has zombies, which automatically makes it awesome, but the resource cost structure is awkward and the “decorations” you can get are really weird, zen gardens and other non-zombie-related stuff — but the point is, ripping off Zynga is perfectly valid.) Heck, Ian Bogost ripped off Zynga ironically and made money off it accidentally! Or just rip off parts of it. Zynga is a great indicator of what works in the social games market. That’s valuable information. If your game isn’t making money, ask yourself, what does a Zynga game have that mine doesn’t? Maybe it’s something you can add without taking away from gameplay, or maybe it’ll even enhance it.

Or, here’s an idea. Why not take a Zynga game and make it better? You know what’s wrong with them. I’ve heard it over and over again. You know it makes money — Zynga proved that. So make it over and do it right! Make a cow clicker that requires some skill or strategy! Make it rewarding socially! Make the players learn about history, or science, or themselves, when they play it! Be innovative. Learn from their successes and beat them at their own game. You’re smarter than them. Mark Pincus even said so.

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