Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Tracking musical expenditure: July

The month of July was a very quiet one for me in terms of musical purchases, so much so that I almost forgot to write this follow-up blog post. I'm normally meant to post these in the first week of the month, meaning that the final monthly post will follow hot on the heels of this one.

The penultimate month contained a mixture of music software purchases alongside content that would be single/album chart eligible, coming in at a modest total of £7.91 (of which £4.94 was spent on physical/digital music).  This brings the overall total spend to £1543.59 with the running total for albums/singles coming in at £200.93.

The final post in this year long project will follow in a week or two...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tracking Playstation Plus: July update

In this post from a few days ago, I outlined some of the upcoming content for Playstation Plus subscribers in which the following material was to be offered throughout August:
  • PSN: Zen Pinball
  • minis: Blast-Off, Alien Zombie Death
  • PSOne Classic: Medievil
  • Full Game Trial: Infamous, Mushroom Wars
  • Exclusive Discounts: Zen Pinball Earth Defense Table – 20%, Warhawk Triple Combo Pack – 50%, GT Club PS3/PSN – 50%, WipeOut HD Fury – 20%
  • DLC: MotorStorm Pacific Rift: Adrenaline Pack
  • Automatic download demo: Pixel Junk Shooter, Mafia 2
  • Dynamic themes: Exclusive PlayStation Plus Theme, Exclusive ‘Clock’ Theme
  • Premium avatars: Heavy Rain characters x 2
The official Sony blog has responded to European PS3 owners who were unhappy that our US cousins were receiving more regular weekly content updates by saying that Europeans will get some pleasant surprises throughout the month.  It's a sign that Sony is listening to its customers and are responding accordingly, as they look to improve their Plus service.  I have to keep reminding myself that this service is only a month old and that this is new territory for Sony who will improve the offerings based on what its paying customers tell it.

The additional perks this month include:
  • 1 day early exclusive preview of Mafia 2 demo
  • 2 week early exclusive launch of Pixel Junk Racers '2nd Lap' (free to owners of the original Pixel Junk Racers; 20% discount to newcomers)
  • 2 week early exclusive launch of PS1 classic Tomb Raider (on Monday 16th)
  • [EDIT] Plus subscribers were also given early access to the demo for Ruse
The Plus service seems to be improving as it grows, but at whose expensive?  There are quite a few comments on the Sony blog claiming that the company is 'gimping' its free service in order to make the subscription package seem worthwhile (see post #20 by GrimNebulinx).  Their issue seems to be that they believe the pre-release dates are nothing more than the real release dates that would have happened before the introduction of the subscription package, rendering the two-week delay for free users as the 'gimped' service.  It's interesting to see the Sony community writer, James Thorpe, try to rebuff these claims as earnestly as he can.

What do you think of this pre-release exclusivity? Is is worth the cash or effort?  Do you believe the Sony stance?

Google Reader™ Mac OS X Snow Leopard + Delicious

A quick post to recommend a new Safari extension  for any Mac owners (PC too, I suppose) out there who also use Google Reader as their RSS feed reader of choice.  The Google Reader™ Mac OS X Snow Leopard + Delicious extension is truly something to behold.  It transforms the lacklustre interface of Google Reader into something more fitting the stylings of OSX.  Try it.  You might like it.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Flattr now open to the general public

A few weeks back I signed up for the new service founded by the ex-Pirate Bay folk (notably Peter Sunde).  In a nutshell Flattr is a micro-payments that allows you click a designated button on websites signed up with the service, the result being you give the site a share of a monthly total your willing to give away to those you think deserve it.  Say your browsing the web and stumble across a new musician's work or a useful tutorial that you think is so good you'd be willing to pay for it, despite it being freely available, then providing you can see the Flattr button on the page and you have an account, you can send money to people you think deserve it.

In many ways it's akin to the "Paypal Donate" button, but with the emphasis being on paying people for services that are technically free but you think are worth a fiscal reward.  Users pay a small monthly amount (minimum of €2.00) and then click buttons on sites to share out the money they paid in among those sites.  The company takes a small cut on all funds added.  It's been referred to as sort of like an Internet tip jar.  The more buttons you click in a month the more your monthly total is divided amongst the recipients.  You can read the Flattr story here and you can watch a short video of the service below

Flattr are not the only business aiming to extract some value from the social web.  Rewrd are also doing similar things, as are Kachingle.  What all these services need is to gain some form of critical mass if they want to succeed, which is why I've embedded a Flattr button on this blog.  I'm not expecting any money to come in but I am happy to help spread the word.  If you want to embed a Flattr button in you Blogger site then I'm happy to recommend this post by Nico Gramlich (it was so good I Flattr'd him for it).

I'm really hoping services like this take off as it seems to be a simple way to reward people for their efforts.  I do wonder how long it will be before we start seeing Flattr buttons appear on music blogs and for the copyright police to start rubbing their hands in glee - I guess you'd have to be pretty stupid to give away someone else's intellectual property and then be expected to benefit from it.  Wait a minute, that sounds like Rupert Murdoch's Google argument...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Tracking Playstation Plus: July

A new month means a review of the past month's PlayStation Plus purchases as outlined in this post, and a speculative glance to the coming months.  In case you aren't aware of what this series of posts is inspired by then I shall endeavour to summarise... IGN asked the question "Is Playstation Plus a good deal?" and asked for PlayStation users to join in, hence these posts.  So, do subscribers to the £39.99/$49.99/€49.99 service get good value for money?

Well, that's a trick question to answer, especially given that US subscribers get more content per month than European subscribers - clearly visible in the IGN charts in which the editors list games and DLC that are not available to Europeans.  It would seem that the US 'Plus' store was updated each week or two.    Nevertheless, I shall offer a personalised account of my 'Plus' experience and attempt to offer some objective analysis of the value of the service.  Firstly, let's review the first month:

Month 1 (June 2010)

I've already covered what the service entails in the first post but I thought it worthwhile to list all the options that were available to UK subscribers in the first month (as long as I can recall them!)
  • Intro offer: LittleBigPlanet (standard edition)
  • PSN PS3: Wipeout HD
  • minis: Field Runners, Age of Zombies
  • PSone: Destruction Derby
  • Full Game Trial: Shatter, Savage Moon
  • Discounts: LBP God of War Pack – 50%, LBP: LocoRoco costume pack – 50%, Gravity Crash – 20%, Fat Princess DLC – 20%
  • Premium Game Element: KillZone 2:  Steel & Titanium DLC
  • Push demo: ModNation Racers, Heavy Rain
  • Themes: LBP Theme, SCEE produced: PlayStation “Game Is Just The Start” Dynamic Theme
  • Premium Avatars: 2 x Fat Princess
  • 24 hour early preview: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

It's worth noting that LittleBigPlanet was only available to the annual subscribers and not the 3 months package subscribers.  It's also the only game content that can be kept by people if they let their subscription lapse (excluding themes and avatars).  After the break you'll find a table of material I downloaded and purchased by means of the 'Plus' service.

In the launch material Sony made much of the claim that over £200 worth of content would be given away throughout the year.  Looking at the content I consumed, that claim looks like it will hold true.  I downloaded content to the value of £36.73 in the first month alone and that figure excludes LittleBigPlanet which is now listed in the PlayStation Store as £16.99 (despite it being a bit cheaper in its physical format from stores like Shopto or Play - surely digital content should be cheaper?).  A true total figure would come in at £53.72 if we include that content.

However, there are a few caveats I need to point out.  I already owned both LittleBigPlanet and Wipeout HD, as well as the 'premium' DLC for Killzone 2.  Frankly, I'd imagine many PS3 owners will already have these games given their critical acclaim and decent sales figures since they were launched (in fact I gave away my physical version of LittleBigPlanet to a pal).  Therefore I've added an extra field to the table called 'Saving' which shows how much the downloads would have cost had I purchased them in the traditional way.  This figure is more modest at £14.77.

There's another issue here too.  Of the content that I did download, I can safely say that it was unlikely that I would have ever purchased it had it not been included in the subscription package.  I had no interest in the Minis titles or the PSOne Classic game.  That's £11.97 worth of content that would never have been paid for.  I might have purchased the theme or the avatar so the true value for money on offer looks a little dubious.  I would have taken advantage of the Wipeout HD offer had I not already purchased it so that balances out.  A more sceptical take on the value of the content I may have paid for comes to £2.90

One negative consequence of the new service is that subscribers might be a little less eager to buy PSN games, preferring to wait and see what the Plus package will offer - a point made on the official Sony blog by user GothPunk.  I have certainly held back from buying games since the inception of Plus for this reason.  I'm also a sucker for discount/sale offers, as outlined (.pdf) by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely, and like to feel like I've got a bargain.  Consumer behaviour can be difficult to predict but there are tried and tested means for incentivising customers to purchase.  I fell for the discounted DLC offer on Fat Princess - a game I haven't played for about a year - but I'm no longer willing to buy full games, just in case they appear as part of the 'Plus' package.

Looking forwards

Yesterday Sony announced what content will make up the next two months of Playstation Plus

  • PSN: Zen Pinball
  • minis: Blast-Off, Alien Zombie Death
  • PSOne Classic: Medievil
  • Full Game Trial: Infamous, Mushroom Wars
  • Exclusive Discounts: Zen Pinball Earth Defense Table – 20%, Warhawk Triple Combo Pack – 50%, GT Club PS3/PSN – 50%, WipeOut HD Fury – 20%
  • DLC: MotorStorm Pacific Rift: Adrenaline Pack
  • Automatic download demo: Pixel Junk Shooter, Mafia 2
  • Dynamic themes: Exclusive PlayStation Plus Theme, Exclusive ‘Clock’ Theme
  • Premium avatars: Heavy Rain characters x 2
  • PSN: Sam and Max: Devil’s Playground (entire season)
  • minis: Vector Tower Defense, Echoes
  • PSOne Classic: Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
  • Full Game Trial: Warhawk (with exclusive 50% discount for Plus members on purchase), Inferno Pool
  • Exclusive Discounts: LBP: Ico and Shadow of Colossus costume pack – 50%
  • Metal Gear Solid (PSOne) – 50%, Warhawk – 20%,  Pixel Junk Shooter – 20%, 
  • DLC: Exclusive UFC Undisputed 2010 DLC
  • Dynamic themes: Exclusive PlayStation Move theme, Exclusive ‘Fish Tank’ theme
  • Premium avatars: Eye Pet Blue Goalie Avatar, Eye Pet DJ Avatar

This could be a shrewd move by Sony - by announcing what games/DLC are comng soon subscribers can decide whether or not to purchase the relavant titles.  For instance, will people hunt out cheap retail versions of MotorStorm Pacific Rift and UFC Undisputed 2010 knowing that they will be able to score on the free DLC?

Sony have also promised extra exclusive content will appear throughout the months. As for whether or not the announcements will act in Sony's favour or against them remains to be seen.  I'll report on August's value for money in the first week of September.