Have you been injured at work and it wasn’t your fault?
Adverts. We all hate adverts, right? And yet the internet is filled with more adverts than ever, popping up before that video or enclosing a news article so much that you can barely read the actual text. I’ve never really been one for using an adblocker but that’s not to say I’m against them. That might be a bit of a strange opinion to have as a ‘content creator’ but if you’re sick of what surfing the web has turned into, more power to you!
And the reason I feel that way is because of the position I’ve maintained ever since uploading my first ever video – I’m not doing YouTube for the money. In my mind, becoming successful enough to make a full-blown living out of YouTube is far more dependent on luck than it is on hard work, and that just wasn’t something I was prepared to go for. Video creation has always been a hobby – a hobby I can’t imagine not doing, sure – but a hobby nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, I may have tweaked a title or a thumbnail to be a tad more clickbait-y over the years but hey, at the end of the day I just like it when people watch my stuff, not that I’d get an extra .001 cent from them watching a pre-roll ad.
So for around six years, I left my YouTube channel unmonetized. I was eligible to turn adverts on, but I figured it wasn’t worth the faff in setting up, I’d get pittance of a pay check anyway and most worrying to me at the time was the threat of content strikes. I’d received content strikes before but the thought of them occurring on monetized videos didn’t seem like a very smart idea.
Money for nothin’ (and clicks for free)
Then around 2017 I changed my mind. Why? To be honest I can’t recall the exact reason why. It may have been that some videos of mine had done far better than I ever expected such as Destroy All Humans! or Futurama. Their views were climbing and that little voice in the back of my head whispered “you’re missing out on $$$”. In that six-year time period, perhaps it had become more normalised to add monetization to your channel, no matter how big you were? I’m really not sure. I was completely aware that I’d make very little, but I figured any small amount I do get could go back into the channel some way, be it through buying a game to Let’s Play or a piece of related hardware.
The decision was made – I signed up to Google Adsense and got some adverts running on my videos. But here’s where I made an important choice that has prompted this whole blog post…
I HATE mid-roll ads.
I hate them. I hate everything about them. Pre-roll ads? Sure, the content hasn’t started yet, I don’t mind waiting five seconds to skip. Post-roll ads? Yeah ok, I mean I’ll probably have clicked off the page anyway but go for it. Mid-roll ads that disrupt the flow of the video and take you out of it immediately? No thank you!
Mid-roll adverts remind me of standard television…y’know the thing that people are using less and less these days in favour of services like Netflix or Disney+ which feature NO adverts. I find them very archaic and I especially hate how haphazardly they’re usually placed in videos. Sure, I’ve seen a few channels put mid-roll ads at a suitable location in their content, usually where they’ve edited in an ad break to the video itself but that is definitely not the norm. So when it came to choosing what adverts to include in my videos, I always avoided mid-rolls and just stuck on a pre-roll and post-roll instead. It’s what I’ve always done and will continue to do. So why is it you may have noticed mid-roll adverts in my videos over the past few weeks?
The YouTube Ad-pocolypse
You may have heard about an ad-pocolypse affecting YouTube channels. You may have even noticed more adverts yourself whilst browsing YouTube. I know I have. And the reason for this? Well it all started with an email from YouTube on July 7th stating this, emphasis on the bold:
“Today, only videos longer than 10 minutes are eligible for mid-roll ads. Starting from late July, all videos longer than 8 minutes will be eligible for mid-roll ads. As part of this change, we will turn on mid-roll ads for all eligible videos. This means that videos where you may have opted out of mid-roll ads will now be opted in. Videos that already have mid-roll ads will not be impacted. Future uploads from monetising channels will also have mid-roll ads turned on by default.”
That’s right, all the videos I’d monetized over the years were going to have mid-roll adverts turned on automatically. Even worse, the email went on to say:
“We use machine learning to automatically find the most natural breaks in your videos, in order to increase monetisation potential while balancing user experience.”
Ahhhh! The adverts will be generated by some crazy AI that places far too many of them. I’ve seen lots of screenshots of adverts being places less than five minutes apart which is simply ridiculous. Just take a look at this for example:
Why are YouTube doing this? Well, I’ve read some theories that they’re trying to push users into purchasing an ad-free experience with YouTube Premium. £11.99 a month? Keep dreaming! That or they’re just looking to increase revenue from more adverts.*
(By the way, if you watched my stupid 17,000 subscriber celebration tweet and wondered if I have YouTube Premium myself, I don’t. I got that mug from work when YouTube visited the university campus. I pretended to sign up to a free trial of YouTube Premium to get it, especially since it came with churros in – yum!)
Ok so I should probably mention that I’m not entirely free of blame for my channel being bombarded by intrusive mid-roll ads. The email ended with the following:
“If mid-roll ads are not a good fit for your videos, you can indicate this preference in YouTube Studio by 27 July 2020.”
…which I clearly didn’t read close enough since that date came and went with me doing diddly-squat. That being said, opting into something is usually always a better method rather than opting out of something and far less sneaky to boot.
What did all this result in? Every one of my monetised videos suddenly had mid-roll ads activated and I didn’t even realise. Thankfully it’s only been a couple months until I decided to look up one of my older video’s monetisation settings. Worse yet, some of my videos which had previously been monetised with a pre-roll and post-roll advert had been completely flipped and now only featured a mid-roll advert. Whatever the scary YouTube machine was trying to do didn’t work properly anyway.
It was time to develop some repetitive strain injury. I’ve now gone through every monetised video of mine and manually turned off mid-roll ads. That was a decent hour of my life I’ll never get back so thanks YouTube, I appreciate it! If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this it’s to not remain complacent, to regularly clean your email inbox and most importantly – pay attention to the small print.
Actually, if there truly is a lesson to be learned from all of this it’s that you should probably go ahead and install an adblocker. It’ll make your web browsing experience infinitely better. And for any content creators income that you’d be affecting, send them a little something on their Patreon, or Ko-fi or Paypal or whatever. Trust me, it’ll be a lot more than whatever they’d get from your clicks…
* Also mentioned in the email was this:
“Turning on auto mid-roll ads saves creators extra work while helping increase the monetisation potential for new and existing content.”
In the month I had mid-rolls activated without realising, I didn’t notice any significant increase in Adsense revenue. So if there’s any more money being generated with this change, I doubt content creators are seeing much of it.
A few months back when I started to create regular content once again, I initially uploaded a welcome back video with a slightly different intro. One of the things I most wanted to do with my recent ‘rebrand’ was customise it to suit the particular series or Let’s Play it was in. Yellow for The Simpsons, wooden planks for Monkey Island – you get the point…
For my return I decided to go all out and try morphing my logo into all sorts of different games. It was a nice way to pass the time while not being able to record and the challenge of recreating some of the styles was actually really fun. I spliced them all together into a fast montage and bish, bash, bosh – intro made!
Then it occurred to me I never actually posted them anywhere on their own so here they are. The choice of games is pretty random to be honest so don’t take them as clues as to what I’ll be playing in the future. I just thought they all had distinctive styles that would stand out. The question is – can you name all the games they’re based on? (Uh…just try not to look at the caption…)
The 25th James Bond film is creeping ever closer and with each step towards its release on April 3rd comes more and more information. Sponsorship brands, 30-second Super Bowl spots and now the biggie – the theme song!
It was announced on January 14th that none other than teenage singer/songwriter sensation Billie Eilish would be performing the titular track and to be honest, that didn’t come as much of a surprise. There were rumours months ago she was in the running and her current status matches EON’s typical formula of picking what they hope to be a surefire number 1 (and whaddya know, it was). With that prior inkling, my reaction was a solid – ‘mmh’ – and that was about it. She’s hugely popular for a reason and with such massive success so young, she’s got to be doing something right. Sure, her music isn’t my exact cup of tea but I wanted to reserve judgement until the song was released.
Come midnight on February 13th and up it pops on her YouTube channel. Bleary eyed I plugged in my earphones and got listening. My immediate reaction was…well, it’s a tad disappointing but not awful – i.e. the same reaction I had listening to ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ for the first time.
Initially I felt as though the song was just a bit too similar to Spectre’s theme. Slow piano introduction, haunting lyrics, orchestral swells and a final crescendo – Adele, Sam Smith and now Billie Eilish have together cemented Craig’s era of Bond themes as emotional ballads. Sure, Chris Cornell’s fantastic ‘You Know My Name’ kickstarted his tenure and Jack White and Alicia Keys’ not-so-fantastic ‘Another Way to Die’ followed suit, but since then it’s been a croon-fest.
In itself, the choice of a ballad isn’t a bad thing. After all, ‘Nobody Does it Better’ is a power ballad and that’s perhaps my favourite James Bond song of them all. The issue is it’s now been three in a row and maybe the formula is getting a little stale. Just like ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, at first I thought ‘No Time to Die’ lacked punch and needed a bit more pizazz. They picked an edgy artist who just wasn’t edgy enough in this case. Bit I’ve given it some time, I listened and relistened and I can safely say I’m warming to it.
Ok so it’s not my dream 007 theme. Not by a long shot. And let me just get a lil’ bit of moaning out of the way first. The song teases us with those iconic James Bond horns and guitar twangs. I’ve seen reaction videos of people fawning over those specific parts but to me it’s just a bit lazy.
“Hmm, how do we make sure people know it’s a Bond song?”
“Just shove a trumpet in and end on that guitar chord, I wanna go home.”
Perhaps it didn’t go quite like that but I’d love if the theme went a bit more retro, especially with the old-school title of ‘No Time to Die’. Give us the full-on, no holds barred Bond experience! That being said, I’ve given it a little thought and have come to my own conclusions as to why that wasn’t the case.
This is Daniel Craig’s final performance as 007. It’s going to be an emotional farewell to this era of Bond which has lasted a whopping 14 years. ‘No Time to Die’ reflects that pretty well I’d say. And maybe there’s no room in today’s music tastes for a belter like Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ but my guess is if they are to do one like that, they’re waiting until Bond 26. Why? Because it’ll be a brand new actor stepping into those big shoes, someone’s who got to please a very judgemental audience (remember all the backlash Craig received for being blonde?). What better way to cement this new actor’s debut to the franchise than put it alongside a theme that evokes classics of the past? Here’s hoping anyway…
But back to Billie Eilish and ‘No Time to Die’. I’m really starting to dig it. Fittingly it’s got a dark, moody tone that no doubt will match whatever nasty revelation Bond is going to discover in the film. In that respect Eilish was a brilliant choice and Hans Zimmer’s orchestral arrangement features all sorts of little ominous cues to parallel. It’s slow, it lingers and creeps along – I can’t wait to see what opening titles are put alongside it.
Prior to its release, I read a few comments worrying about Eilish’s vocal strength and whether ‘No Time to Die’ would just end up a whispery, mumbly, breathy mess. Eilish’s style is certainly divisive but my only knowledge of her music beforehand was ‘Bad Guy’ and that was mainly due to memes. Give the song a listen however and you’ll quickly discover she easily has the ability to carry a Bond song. If anything ‘No Time to Die’ has given Billie Eilish the chance to spread her wings vocally. Sure there’s a lot of gentle singing but that eventually makes way for a suitably intense finale. And most importantly, Eilish’s voice doesn’t have that same ear-grating whine to it that Sam Smith’s does.
I promise the purpose of this post wasn’t just to bash Sam Smith but when I think back to Spectre, I think of all the potential it had and the disappointment that followed. And unfortunately ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ is just lumped in with that sentiment. And let’s be honest, its lyrics were pants which came as no surprise when Sam almost boasted that they wrote the theme in 20 minutes. Most of it was pretty schlocky but at least with ‘No Time to Die’ there’s a couple nice lines, the standout being “That the blood you bleed is just the blood you owe”. Maybe that’s just as schlocky but I like it.
Anyway, this was meant to be a quick post but as per usual I’ve rambled far too much. Long story short – I’m impressed. It took awhile but the song has grown on me to the point where I might even prefer it to Skyfall – perhaps someday I’ll do a Bond theme ranking. Will Billie Eilish be scooping up an Oscar just like Sam Smith? Probably not due to the timing of its release which is a pity since it’s much more deserving. Not long to go now until the film itself – you could say there’s no time ‘til No Time to Die.
As some of you may know, I’m a bit of a James Bond fan. I’ve been one ever since I was a little kid, giving a show and tell to the rest of my class on the names of all the villains and henchmen, movie titles and Bond girls. (The thought of a nine-year-old talking about Pussy Galore must have given my teacher a chuckle.)
As well as my digital exploits I’ve also made an effort over the years to visit as much Bond stuff in person. Going to the films themselves is a bit of an obvious example and something I tried to make slightly more special last time when I saw Spectre. What better than to see the brand new film on the biggest screen in the UK? It’s just a pity then that the film was absolutely pants…
The Music of Bond
Turn back the clock to October 31st, 2010 and you’d see me and my friend George take a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to watch the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform The Music of Bond…royally. It was the first big trip to London I’d done with a friend and it ended up being a fantastic show. There’s something magical about hearing fully orchestrated music in the flesh – the hairs on the back of my head stood up and my eyes darted about to focus on each individual instrument being played.
It was presented by former Bond girl Honor Blackman who played the aforementioned Pussy Galore and throughout the show she sprinkled some quips and insights of her time filming Goldfinger way back in 1964. Two singers were tasked with the audacious job of covering James Bond’s varied collection of theme songs – Simon Bowman and Mary Carewe. Mary was certainly the better singer but that’s to be expected when the songs lean so heavily towards female vocals. Sorry Simon!
One highlight of the concert was a literal one – conductor Carl Davis was adorned in a wonderfully multicoloured coat that sparkled in the spotlights. So much so that he could have nipped over to the West End and joined in with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Afterwards I decided to purchase a CD recording and even managed to get it signed by Carl Davis too. What a shame that as he was signing all I could think of to fill the air was nervously mutter “…I really like your coat”.
Bond in Motion
Chronologically, next up is my trip to the London Film Museum which I visited in both July 2014 and more recently in September 2018. Since 2014 the museum has been dedicated to the Bond in Motion exhibition that boasts the largest official collection of James Bond vehicles. By no means am I a petrolhead (learning to drive would be a good start) but as a fan of the series I was keen to see the Bond cars up close.
From the classic Aston Martin DB5 to the infamous Lotus Esprit and everything in between, it’s an exhaust-ive array of memorable motor vehicles. So inclusive is it that it even features the crocodile submarine from Octopussy and Blofeld’s bathosub from Diamonds Are Forever…albeit sadly lacking bashed up Blofeld inside. Oh, and if you’re not overly into cars don’t worry – there are plenty of props scattered throughout too!
It’s cheap as chips for a ticket and bang in the centre of London at Covent Garden so if you’re in the city I’d definitely recommend a visit. Just avoid the terrifying waxwork of Sean Connery…
An Evening with Peter Lamont
Not all of my 007 trips have been sunshine and roses however. In fact it was during a cold, dark November night in 2016 I went to see An Evening with Peter Lamont at The Cinema Museum in – you guessed it – London. If you’re wondering who Peter Lamont is he’s none other than the Oscar-winning production designer who worked on 18 of the James Bond films from Goldfinger all the way up to Casino Royale.
(You may shrewdly notice that from Goldfinger to Casino Royale is actually 19 films. He missed Tomorrow Never Dies since he was too busy earning that ‘Oscar-winning’ title working on Titanic.)
With such credentials under his belt, an evening with Peter recounting his James Bond stories and memories seemed too good to miss. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best of times. For starters, the staff at The Cinema Museum were so rude! …Ok, it was just one member of staff really but he really set the evening off to a miserable start by acting so incredulous when I asked about the toilet facilities. I’m not sure why that was such a perplexing question to him but nonetheless he was very patronising.
More crucially I found Peter very hard to follow as he spoke. It wasn’t a large venue by any means (there couldn’t have been more than ~50 people in the audience) but either he wasn’t mic’d up at all or the sound system was very poor. Equally the man was 86 years old at the time and didn’t have the clearest eloquence which meant a lot of his anecdotes were lost on me unfortunately.
And as the cherry on top of problems that evening, I had to leave early to catch the last train home. I’d calculated that if the event ended on time I’d be fine but sadly it overran which meant I had to awkwardly and embarrassingly leave the small venue in front of everyone else whilst Peter was still talking. Oops.
Thankfully there was a silver lining – the event coincided with the release of Peter’s new book, cheesily titled The Man with the Golden Eye which was on sale at a discounted price during the intermission. I managed to nab a copy and even get a signature from the man himself…
Casino Royale in Concert
In October 2017 I returned once again to the Royal Albert Hall for a brand new experience – Casino Royale in Concert. As the name would suggest it was a screening of Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing the score.
It was touted as “the first time an entire Bond score has ever officially been performed live” and featured Gavin Greenaway conducting David Arnold’s fantastic score. Speaking of David Arnold, he was there himself for a preliminary Q&A session before the show began. To be honest the Q&A was too short to contain anything of substance but it was a neat addition nonetheless.
Much like back in 2010, hearing the orchestra perform live was a wonderful experience and brought the film to life before my eyes…and ears. Who needs surround sound when you’ve got the real deal right in front of you? I tried my best not to focus too much on the film itself and savour the live performance by watching the musicians instead. It’s no easy feat, let me tell you! Often I’d snap out of the film and force myself to pay attention to each section of the orchestra.
Sound mixing is no easy task but I do think it could have been better for such a world-class venue. The film dialogue was lost at times due to the volume of the orchestra and the balance wasn’t quite right. Although arguably if it was the other way around I think people would’ve quickly been demanding a refund.
As we all know Casino Royale withholds the titular theme until the very end with Craig’s first delivery of the classic line “Bond…James Bond”. What a tease! But what an ending it provided with the orchestra swelling to the famous theme. The Royal Albert Hall roared with applause and concluded a marvellous evening in London.
The James Bond Concert Spectacular
It was thanks to a brilliant 007-centric YouTuber that I ended up attending my next James Bond event. Calvin Dyson is someone I’ve been watching for many years now from his film reviews to his own playthroughs of the Bond video games. He certainly knows his stuff and back in April released a video reviewing Q The Music’s live show – the James Bond Concert Spectacular.
Spectacular, eh? Well, Calvin seemed to think so which led me to check the band’s tour dates for future performances. Lo and behold they were due to play in Folkestone, a slightly closer venue and one that’d make for a pleasant change from the typical London setting.
Q The Music describes themselves as “the World’s leading James Bond tribute band” and have been performing since 2004 under the founder and manager, Warren Ringham – a “huge James Bond fan” himself. I eagerly booked tickets and headed to Folkestone’s Leas Cliff Hall in August of this year.
And spectacular it was! Dare I say that despite the smaller orchestra it was actually better than the grandiose Royal Albert Hall concert back in 2010. It was compèred by Caroline Bliss – none other than Miss Moneypenny herself from Timothy Dalton’s tenure as 007. Yes, it may well be she’s not top of most Moneypenny rankings but that doesn’t negate the fact she’s absolutely lovely! Along with introducing the songs, she described a little about her own audition process and time spent filming The Living Daylights and License to Kill. It was an engaging insight into the films’ productions and overall she seemed like a wonderfully down-to-earth, charming lady.
The show was packed with a plethora of the classic Bond tunes and a few surprise ones too. Matthew Walker took care of the male vocals for songs such as From Russia with Love and You Know My Name and did a perfectly fine job though at points his voice was lost among the music. It’s also fair to say his singing was more suited to the crooning vocals of We Have All the Time in the World or Thunderball rather than A View to a Kill for example.
Without a doubt it was Kerry Shultz who dominated the show and made it an evening to remember. She covered the varied styles of Bond themes effortlessly from the boisterousness of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger to the dramatic ballad of Adele’s Skyfall. Every performance by Kerry was spot-on as she sashayed her way around the stage in a multitude of dazzling dresses. Together with the occasional fireworks, she truly set the night alight.
At nearly three hours long, the production certainly didn’t lack any songs. Well ok, wisely they chose to omit Die Another Day from the setlist. Unlike the general consensus I happen to think the song is decent but I don’t think even Kerry could’ve tackled the electroclash genre of it live. Instead there were more unexpected inclusions such as the disco-influenced Bond 77 theme from The Spy Who Loved Me and plenty of unused tracks too. Both k.d. lang’s Surrender from Tomorrow Never Dies and Dionne Warwick’s Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang from Thunderball were performances I never envisioned hearing live. The same goes for No Good About Goodbye which is argued to have been a potential theme for Quantum of Solace.
The true testament of the show’s quality lies in that I actually preferred some of their performances compared to the real deal. Kerry’s rendition of Writing’s on the Wall was far superior to the squeakiness of Sam Smith’s and her duet with Matthew singing Another Way to Die harmonised much better than Jack Whites and Alicia Keys’ ever did.
My only criticism was the lack of any strings in the orchestra although this may have been due to the size of the venue. Regardless, I promptly grabbed a copy of their CD and met Kerry afterwards to have it signed. A superb end to a spectacular show indeed. The good news for me is that they’ll be back next year and I strongly recommend you check their website for a performance near you too.
Skyfall in Concert
Most recently I returned to the Royal Albert Hall for a second ‘Films in Concert’ screening, this time of Skyfall. Visiting that gigantic concert hall never gets old and I love exploring all the different levels, admiring the views and enjoying a drink or two while doing so.
Once again the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played alongside the film and overall it was a very similar experience to the one back in 2017 with Casino Royale. I really can’t decide which score I prefer but Thomas Newman’s Skyfall soundtrack is very good (so good in fact that Spectre’s is remarkably similar).
Thomas Newman was there himself in a surprise visit to introduce his brother David who conducted the performance. Equally surprising was Sam Mendes, Skyfall’s director, who came onstage beforehand to give a very brief introduction to the night’s proceedings. It was a nice inclusion to have them both there but I must admit it did seem rather pointless. Why bring two hugely influential creatives onstage for only a few minutes? I’d have much preferred an earlier start time and the inclusion of something more substantial with them. Oh well – perhaps they arrived to watch the performance just like the rest of us…
I did notice a few improvements compared to before, namely the decision to add subtitles to the film screening which helped when the dialogue wasn’t quite loud enough. However the sound mixing this time around was far, far better anyway and never did it feel like the orchestra and the film dialogue were battling against each other to be heard. As the audience applauded the finale for what seemed like an eternity, another tremendous James Bond event in London came to an end.
And that just about does it. I say just about, somehow I’ve managed to write ~2500 words all about James Bond but I guess that goes to show how much I love going to these sorts of things. I’m always keeping an eye out for events in the future so I hope they’ll be many more to come. Speaking of which, I’d better get ready to book No Time To Die tickets at IMAX…
Last November I stepped foot inside Disneyland Paris for the very first time and if I’m being completely honest, I’ve thought about that trip near enough daily ever since. It wasn’t a very long holiday, just three days spent racking up thousands of steps wandering around the most magical place on Earth™. But as corny as that sounds I really did have an incredible time in that bizarre little bubble of a world at Marne-la-Vallée, located just outside Paris.
Growing up I never really had a ‘proper’ family holiday. Sure, there was the odd trip to the seaside or maybe a castle but nothing that required a stuffed suitcase and especially nothing that required flying. In fact it was as recently as 2016 I took my first flight somewhere – that somewhere being Dublin so let’s face it, not a particularly strenuous journey. That being said my next one was all the way to Toronto so I sort of made up for that I guess.
So without that stereotypical childhood trip to Disneyland I never really registered it as a place to visit as I grew older. I assumed I’d missed my window of opportunity and that the only adults who went there were either parents or those weird Disneyland fanatics who have annual season passes and track every minutia of change within the parks.
What a fool I was! The many years of enjoying theme park simulators from Theme Park World to Planet Coaster should have been a major giveaway. As too should the hours of reading Disneyland-related wiki pages learning how the parks were created. All that and yet I never really thought about travelling the three hours or so away from where I live to see it for myself. Man am I dumb sometimes. Thankfully one of the benefits of having a significant other is that you end up doing a lot more stuff as a couple. Even more thankfully, one idea of theirs was to go to Disneyland Paris and so we did. After searching for a decent Eurostar/hotel/park entry package online, we picked a late November midweek to visit in the hopes of avoiding big tourist crowds before the Christmas holidays but still seeing the park festive themed.
I won’t go into too much detail about the whole trip since I rambled for ages on a JFS Minecraft episode so if you’re curious and want to hear more, go give that a watch instead. What I wanted to do for this blog post is make a Top 5 list of my favourite rides and attractions in the park. We managed to see or ride almost everything we wanted to during our short trip and now I’ve had a fair bit of time to reflect on them.
I’ll preface this by noting that obviously we didn’t go on any of the little kiddy rides so don’t expect those. (I think if we’d done that, people would have assumed we were the Disneyland fanatics or worse, creepy guys hanging around small children without any children of our own…no thanks!) And I guess one more thing to note is that whilst all these rides and attractions I’m about to list are great fun in their own right, it’s also the bits in between that make Disneyland so special. It’s the park as a whole from the architectural mastery of hiding immersion-breaking features to the subtle landscape changes as one area blends into the next. It’s the jolly music as you walk through the central plaza and the smell of fresh popcorn in the air. The horse and carriage roaming the streets and the actors being chased by frantic children. Ok, I think you get the point – I’ll stop fawning and get on the with list. Well not quiet, let’s get some honourable mentions out of the way first – rides or attractions that I thoroughly enjoyed but that didn’t quite make the cut.
Liberty & Discovery Arcade
First up is Liberty Arcade and Discovery Arcade, two areas of the park situated either side of Main Street. I was very close to putting Main Street, U.S.A in this spot instead because let’s face it, that view as you initially enter the park is pretty magnificent. As the first themed land you’ll see, the rows of 1920’s shops and stores that stretch all the way up to the central plaza are chock-a-block full of detail and charm. And watching the Christmas parade frolic on through it as ‘snow’ poured out of the chimneys above was something to behold. But I wanted to single out these two streets either side of it instead, because there’s just something about them that I adored during my trip to the park.
The reason for these two arcades alongside Main Street U.S.A stems from the difference in climate compared to sunny Anaheim and Florida. Park guests would need a sheltered route through to the rest of the park in case of rain, which sadly is quite often! Practically, I loved these arcades since the line of shops down Main Street back onto them and allow you to sneak out and dodge all the crowds. But it’s their actual theming that makes them so captivating.
If you’ve ever played the game BioShock Infinite, you’d recognise that turn-of-the-century style and think you’ve suddenly been transported to the airborne city of Columbia. Both arcades are adorned with that neoclassical, colonial architecture and are aglow with gas lamps lining the ceilings. Liberty Arcade, as the name would suggest, focuses on the history of the Statue of Liberty, a wise choice given its American/French connection. Discovery Arcade on the other hand features inventions and discoveries during the 20th Century. Since our trip was in November, the nights were drawing in and as it grew darker it was wonderful to walk through these arcades and feel the warm glow of the gas lamps as you study the intricacies of not only the displays but also of the construction itself. Despite standing in the grossly commercialised location of Disneyland far away from home, the arcades were a bizarrely comforting place to be in.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril
I had no idea Disneyland Paris featured an Indiana Jones themed roller coaster until I was sat 40m under the sea on the Eurostar deciding which rides were a must-see during our trip. Turns out Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril has been there since 1993! I had always assumed it was Disney properties only within the park (excluding Disney Studios which has all sorts). Jump forward to today and now Disney owns Indiana Jones through its purchase of LucasFilm – funny how things work out.
As a big Indy fan, I was excited although hesitant to ride the roller coaster – I’m definitely not one of those thrill-seekers and the thought of riding the likes of some roller coasters found in Alton Towers or Thorpe Park terrifies me. Not only for the heights and drops and twists and turns but also for what it might to do my stomach and the poor person in front of me. With our app stating a queue time of 0 minutes we headed over since I decided there was no point in coming to Disneyland if I was going to wuss out on all the big rides.
The landscaping of the queuing system is fantastic as you make your way through jungle camps and spot that signature hat and whip along the way. Eventually you climb up the ancient temple to ride the roller coaster itself and before you know it you’re strapped in and ready to go. Everything is sounding great so far, why is it only a special mention you may be asking. Let’s just say that for me, the peril of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was very real. The coaster features a loop and I had no clue whether or not to keep my glasses on. I opted to wear them which as you can probably guess was a bit of a mistake. Up comes the loop and off comes my glasses…my only pair of glasses I’d brought with me on the trip. I didn’t really want to appreciate the rest of the park as a blurry mess so I grabbed the glasses as they fell off my face and held onto them for dear life as the ride continued. Thankfully it’s quite a short roller coaster but in all the commotion I missed most of the ride. So that’s why Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril didn’t quite make the cut – sure, it taught me a good lesson in taking off my glasses for the remainder of the trip but only at the cost of a small heart-attack.
Ah, Phantom Manor – my favourite ride I…never actually went on. And for that reason it makes the special mention list since I’m pretty sure if I had, it’d be up there at the top instead. Phantom Manor, as the spooky name would suggest, is a ‘ghost ride’ similar to the Haunted Mansions found in other Disneylands. I’m a sucker for classic, cheesy spookiness and the ride’s inclusion of laughing skeletons, changing portraits and dancing ghosts is just my cup of tea.
In fact I’d appreciated Phantom Manor long before this trip but just completely forgot about it. In Episode 78 of my Minecraft FTB Let’s Play I built a haunted house and took huge inspiration from (i.e. copied) Phantom Manor, complete with spooky interactive features inside as if it were a real ride.
The cherry on the cake is that the narration, which told the story of Henry Ravenswood and his haunted Victorian manor, was originally voiced by none other than the wonderful Vincent Price. They really couldn’t have picked a better choice given Price’s history in the horror genre and his perfectly petrifying voice. I mean let’s face it, what would Michael Jackson’s Thriller be without Vincent Price’s blood-curdling final laugh? Sadly it was mostly replaced only a few months after the ride’s opening in 1992 with a primarily French version by Gérard Chevalier. Just as sad is the fact the ride was closed during my visit! Between Jan 2018 and April 2019, the ride was shut down for refurbishment to update special effects and give the ride some much need TLC. The good news is asof May 3rd 2019 it’s finally reopened which just means I’ll need to plan another trip to the park in the future. Better yet, with this refurbishment they’ve restored the original Vincent Price narration so I’ll finally be able to appreciate his villainous voice as I make my way into the depths of the manor.
Blimey I know I can ramble but I didn’t imagine writing 1700+ words on just the introduction and special mentions! In order to stop this becoming more of a novella rather than a blog post, I’ll end it here. In the next part I’ll address my actual top 5 rides and attractions but considering how long it takes me to write, I’d probably have visited the park again by then…
Well would you look at that, it’s only gone and turned 2019!
With that being the case, I think it’s long overdue I revive
this dusty ol’ blog and actually use it. As mentioned in my 8 Year Anniversary Special
(yes, it’s really been that long), I dropped the ball so hard with my original
plan to blog that said ball burrowed through the Earth’s layers and popped up
somewhere in Australia instead.
So the plan to write blog posts semi-regularly fell through
completely. Clearly I was just too
happy with my previous Simpsons game essay to bother writing anymore. Sure, I
was pleased with it and I hope some others enjoyed reading but…it’s hardly
worth purchasing an entire WordPress site for, is it?
To kick things off I thought I’d write up a bit about my
thought process when it came to the new look of the channel – the ‘rebrand’ so
to speak. And with that comes a look back at my older designs too, and the realisation
of just how horrible some of them were. But before all that, maybe it’s time I
quickly addressed a question I get quite often…
So, er, what’s the deal with the banana?
People ask me why my logo is a pixelated banana rather
frequently believe it or not. It’s a fair question I suppose – I mean what does
a banana have to do with a YouTube video game channel anyway?
I’ve never fully answered that question in the past and
usually brushed it off with a casual “oh,
I can’t remember really.” Lies! I do remember where it came from but even
if I told you it wouldn’t make much sense.
Y’see I used to write a little blog back in the day. We’re
talking earlier than my YouTube channel, probably by a year or so. No-one ever
read it of course, all I was really doing was writing up some silly posts for
my own benefit. That stupid blog is a whole other decidedly embarrassing
project that warrants its own blog post so I won’t go into too much detail.
What I will say is that I named it something banana related…for some reason.
In all honesty that’s the bit I really can’t remember because it certainly
wasn’t a banana recipe blog, it was more like my own inane ramblings. Akin to a
crazy person stuck in a room talking to themselves. In many ways I still do
that, just into a microphone for the world to see instead of writing them down.
Not long after creating that blog was when I took my first
step into the world of Let’s Plays and after the frustrating process of picking
a name for it*, I was then stuck on what to set as my profile picture. To make
things easy I just nabbed the banana I had used from the blog and voila, my
channel was born! And boy, what an ugly baby…
*I’ve mentioned frequently how I originally wanted my
channel to simply be called Muckluck but since that channel name was taken,
YouTube kept adding suggestions to the word until eventually I ended up with
the abomination that was MrMuckluckable. Dark times. I’m glad YouTube finally
got their act together and let me change it.
Back where it all began
I had the name, I had the logo. Great! But wait, what about
the rest of it? Intros and outros, backgrounds and fonts, all that stuff
mattered to me just as much as the actual video content. I’ve always loved art
and design throughout my childhood and into school, from Sats to GCSEs to
A-Levels. (Speaking of which, I may show off some old pieces of art from school
in future blog posts. Artchives!) However, looking at my first foray into
design for the channel, you’d perhaps think otherwise.
This is the earliest snapshot of my channel I have
unfortunately. It’s actually taken from my One Year Anniversary Special
video, hence the terrible quality but it’ll just have to do. One thing
that’s obvious from the get-go is that blue has always been my main brand
colour. It’s probably my favourite colour (ok, maybe turquoise but close
enough) and throughout all the designs it’s stuck around. Am I too old to have
a favourite colour? Is that just a kid’s thing? Who knows.
For some reason I decided to pick a dot pattern as my main
background and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Alright I guess it’s not awful but it certainly is dull and
doesn’t work with the pixelated nature of the banana. With hindsight, it would
have been smarter for me to pick something square-ish in that regard.
But it gets worse. Not long afterwards YouTube changed its
design (the first of many) and took away the ability to customise your
background. Instead we were left with only a banner to modify and this is the
design I eventually whipped up…
How to make that dull dot pattern worse? Stick a nasty
gradient on top of it. Gradients in design aren’t naturally bad but, more often
than not, they look terrible. In my opinion you’ve got to be subtle with them
and that white gradient is anything but.
Oh look, a font too. To match the pixelated banana, I chose
a pixelated font. It’s actually a TrueType version of the font used on Apple II
computers back in 1970s called Print Char
21. So if anyone happens to have one of those and boots it up, you might be
reminded of me.
I kept using that font up until only very recently when I
rebranded the channel in January 2019. About time, eh? Looking back, I should
have changed it sooner – not only is it quite sterile and dull, but it’s also
quite limiting in its use. And perhaps most importantly, I don’t really think
it reflects me. Sure it kinda
reminds you of retro video games but the font style is quite aggressive and no
fun at all.
Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother with a background! Take a
look at some of these masterpieces I created between 2012 and 2017. Talk about
I-dent see an issue
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Believe it or not there is
something I’m still happy with from back in the day. Towards the end of 2014 I finally decided to create an outro for
videos and make use of annotations which YouTube had introduced in 2008.
Outros are the ideal spot to recommend more videos or
playlists for the viewer. Back then of course there was no auto-suggest feature
that YouTube uses now, so instead I made multiple versions each with different
Let’s Plays which I’d link through to. Stick on a couple of references to my
Twitter and Twitch and Bob’s your uncle, I was set!
Except not quite. The outro couldn’t be silent after all, so
the next issue was what song to use for it. I remember looking all over the web
for royalty free music to ensure that my videos weren’t unnecessarily struck
with copyright claims.
Kevin MacLeod, or Incompetech.com,
is probably one of the most prolific music makers heard on YouTube because of
his vast royalty free music collection. Skim through some of his tracks and
you’re bound to recognise something from Sneaky Snitch to Spazzmatica Polka. I
eventually opted for Hyperfun, a bouncy, bright and humorous
track by his own definition and something I thought suited an outro well.
Keep it simple stupid
My channel design stayed pretty much the same until around
midway through 2017. It was at that point I was about to start two new Let’s
Plays (Escape from Monkey Island and a replay of Destroy All Humans! 2). For a
while I’d been eager to modernise my branding and that seemed like the most
logical point to do so.
But after 6 years it felt as if it has been too long to drop
everything. By that point my channel identity was pretty much synonymous with
that silly pixelated banana, or at least in my head it was. And at any rate I
wasn’t looking for too drastic a change, just a little something to spice
things up and bring my channel up to date with newer design trends.
And that design trend was the rise of flat design. From 2014 onwards, flat design has dominated the likes
of Apple and Google – just take a look at the app icons on your phone. Granted
I was a little bit late to the party but that simplified style was something I
wanted to implement into my channel.
Ultimately, I scrapped the individual pixels of colour in the banana and replaced them with a gradient. Gasp. Shock. Horror! But Muckluck, you said gradients normally look terrible? Alright, I replaced them with a very subtle gradient that’s hardly noticeable. I think the concept worked and eventually I added in a long shadow aspect to it too for things like banners and an updated outro.
To counteract the sharpness of the shadows I tried adding a
small amount of background paper texture and even played around with different
fonts such as Lemon/Milk and Plump. For consistency’s sake, the Print
Char 21 font remained but for the most part it all looked a bit more crisp and
New year, new me
A similar situation caused the most recent design change.
Towards the end of 2018, with no Let’s Plays going on and a whole lot of time
off from work thanks to the Christmas break, I decided to rebrand once again. I
wasn’t necessarily unhappy with the look at the time but there was still that
little voice in the back of my head thinking it could represent me a bit
The seed had been planted for a new look way back in
September 2017 with my video How I Create Let’s Plays.
Since that was a standalone video I decided to do things a bit differently and
opted for a more handmade, messy design. Roughly cut-out edges and squiggly
lines made things look friendlier and when it came time to update the whole
brand; this is the style I wanted.
There were other factors too. It just so happened that in my
YouTube homepage recommendations a SuperMega video was suggested. SuperMega
is a channel I’d heard of before but never got around to actually watching. To
be honest, that’s still the case now but the thing that did catch my eye was
I love it. I love the blocky, square design of it and the
wobbly hand drawn strokes. It has a retro feel to it but not overly so – it
could work with anything really. I dug a bit deeper and discovered their intro,
an incredibly short but effective clip of their logo animating. I say
animating, the term is boiling. It’s
actually what I was referring to when I mentioned the squiggly lines of my How
I Create Let’s Plays video. Boiling is simply redrawing the lines of a picture
and alternating between slightly different frames of it to create a tiny amount
of animation – it’s a cheap and easy way to add visual interest to a video.
So that was it – that was the style I was after. It’s more
welcoming and fun. It’s more laidback and flexible. Looking at my finished
product it’d be fair to suggest I simply copied their logo but that was never
the intention. Alongside the hand drawn style, I had wanted to move away from relying
on the banana logo in branding for a long time. Sure, I bet a lot of people
associate it with me but from a far too serious business perspective, I’d
prefer people to recognise the word Muckluck
more instead. I wanted to emphasise my actual name more and what that meant it
putting it front and centre, not the banana.
But how would I achieve that style? I looked around for
fonts that better matched the wobbly design I was after. The previously
mentioned Plump font cropped up and
at one point I was very close to using that until a thought struck. If I wanted
a homely hand drawn effect then why don’t I just draw it myself?
Bingo! I had the image of a new logo floating around clearly
in my head. No existing font was going to match that so the smartest option was
just to knuckle down and do it myself. I’ve heard from graphic designer friends
that creating a font from scratch is an absolutely nightmare. It’s something
never to attempt unless you really want to work hard and perfect it. I
certainly didn’t have time for that over Christmas so instead I opted just to
draw the letters of the logo and leave it there for now. I am quickly realising
the need for a full version with every character but hey, that’s something for
future Joe to worry about.
It took a couple of attempt to nail the look I wanted but
let me tell you, there’s nothing better than putting pen to paper and figuring
things out the old fashioned way.
Oh and we can’t forget about the banana too. At one point I was very close to dropping it all together but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. One thing was for sure though; the old pixelated design wouldn’t match all at anymore. Something had to be done. At first I messed around with simplifying it a tad, removing a few pixels here and there but it was starting to lose its shape too much. Then I noticed how the L from Muckluck sort of matched the curve of a banana and with a little flip and edit, it all worked out. I’m not sure I’m 100% happy with it but it fits and, like I mentioned, I’m eager to call attention to the word Muckluck instead anyway.
With the logo finished there were only a couple things to
make before putting it all live. For a fast video intro similar to SuperMega, I
decided to add a quick animation in making the letters ‘grow’ accompanied by a
video game-esque sound effect. I actually created that sound effect myself using
a brilliant website called bxfr.net which
allows to you play around with all sorts of weird and wonderful settings. Go
have a play around and see what you can come up with.
I put this animation on a clean blue background and, unlike
in the past, I’m making an effort to stick to that particular shade of blue. No
dodgy eye dropper tool on Photoshop to guess it, I’ve used it so much recently
I’ve even got the hex code memorised. #1495ee! I’m dubbing it Muckluck Blue. Maybe try painting your
walls with it, see how it looks.
The great thing about using a plain background is that it’s
so customisable. Another concept I’ve always wanted to use is to alter my
branding to match the theme of various Let’s Plays. Think of it like the old
MTV idents or Ahoy’s
numerous altered logos. And yep, you guessed it, SuperMega do it too. It’s
something I could never really do before since I never had an intro but oh boy,
now I’ve got lots of options and it didn’t take long to start using them.
Pair those with an updated outro which is organised a bit
better and now finally includes a link to this blog and boom, we’re pretty much
done! Oh right, the outro music. Perhaps I should gloss over that because
instead of some nice royalty free track from Kevin MacLeod again or one from
YouTube’s own copyright free audio library, I pinched the track from none other
than Nintendo. Woops. Nintendo are perhaps the most fussy when it comes to
copyright claims but to be fair, I did test it out and so far it’s been fine.
The tune is actually from Pilotwings on SNES, on the screen where you enter a password.
Perhaps that’s just too oddly specific for Nintendo’s bots to pick up on but if
anything does happen I’ll just change it. It was after hearing the track on one
of Mike Matei’s live streams
that I figured it was just too darn good not to use. Chiptune-y enough to match
my video game related channel but also calm and unassuming enough to work as
background music. Perfect!
Phew, that was more than I was expecting to write. I suppose
I should get used to that – rambling is in my nature after all. And hey if you
made it this far then well done and a big thanks for reading. It’s actually
been a bit nostalgic digging through my old files and taking a look back at the
visual history of my channel. The graphic design aspect of content creating has
been a bigger deal to me than I’d previously thought – evidenced quite clearly by
this nearly 3000 word post. I hope people like the new look I’m going for but
if this load of waffle is anything to go by, no doubt it’ll be changing again in
Over its 28 year history, spanning 29 seasons and 600+ episodes, The Simpsons has racked up its fair share of video games. Not content with its breakout success on the Fox network, the show entered into the console world just 2 years after its debut with Bart vs. the Space Mutants in 1991. Business execs were keen to ride the wave of Bartmania sweeping across the nation and fans were equally as eager to play as the “underachiever and proud of it.” It’s no wonder then why 6 more Bart-centric games were released between 1991 and 1992 alone, all to varying degrees of success. Quantity over quality was the driving factor but as the decade progressed, the video games broadened away from Bart’s adventurous exploits and into new territory.
Krusty’s Fun House, released in 1994, was a Lemmings-style puzzle game centred on Krusty’s, er, infamous rat infestation? The Simpsons Cartoon Studio came out a couple of years later in 1996 giving players the ability to create their very own animations, albeit with a rather limited choice of options. (Though once you’ve created murderous lawn mowing Ned Flanders, is there anything else you really need?). And the following year in 1997, we were able to tour ‘America’s Crud Bucket’ itself with Virtual Springfield.
With the television show proving to remain ever as popular into a new millennium, the video games showed no signs of stopping either. The advance in computer graphics and home console power produced a number of video game titles throughout the early noughties from Tony Hawk rip-offs to…Crazy Taxi rip-offs. If parents were worried about their children wishing to indulge in murderous, crime-ridden escapades with the GTA franchise, The Simpsons Hit & Run offered a mighty similar family-friendly alternative in 2003. In fact, the worst you could probably do in ‘GTA: Springfield’ was kick a pedestrian and watch them shoot straight upwards into the air, only to land and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. In 2007 the aptly-named The Simpsons Game was released on just about every home console available at the time and featured a richer storyline with more varied game play.
In the span of 16 years, a whopping 23 video games had been created under The Simpsons license by a variety of developers. 2D platform, 3D platform, puzzle, wrestling, racing – you certainly can’t fault them for trying out a range of genres, even if the majority of them were of relatively poor quality. However, in the 10 years that have passed since 2007 fans of The Simpsons have only been treated to a further 4 video games. All of them were mobile games and the most recent was released in 2012. It’s been 5 years now with no signs of a new game so what gives?
The Simpsons game that’s not a game
The Simpsons: Tapped Out has been the newest offering for gamers for quite some time now. The main issue being that The Simpsons: Tapped Out isn’t a regular video game – it’s a freemium game, which in effect means it’s barely a game at all. Freemium (or free-to-play) games work on the concept of giving the foundation of a game to the player with the ability to unlock more of it as they play. Except the term ‘play’ is used very loosely since it most often involves simply waiting for a particular task to be completed.
In The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Homer has caused yet another meltdown and obliterated the town of Springfield. It’s up to the player to rebuild the area and along the way collect characters we all know and love from the television show. So on an extremely basic level The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a city-building simulation game, akin to the SimCity or Anno franchises. A city-building simulation game themed around The Simpsons is something I was originally interested in but after learning it was a freemium mobile app I quickly lost interest. It wasn’t until 2014 after I’d bought a brand new phone that I took the punt and downloaded it, hoping to waste away some quiet lunch breaks at work and finally see what all the fuss was about.
Roughly 1 month later, I’d had enough. The main problem with The Simpsons: Tapped Out doesn’t take a month to notice but over that period all of its faults bubbled up to the surface and became horribly apparent. There were bugs, crashes, lazy writing and boring quests but the major fault was crystal clear within the first 10 minutes of ‘game play’ and it came as no surprise. The introduction of donuts, the premium in-game currency, highlighted all the content locked away behind pay walls, only available to desperate players by spending at least £1.49/$1.99/€1.99 at a time. There are other methods to earn donuts but in most cases they’re slow to obtain or require an excessive amount of attention. Worst of all, you probably won’t get enough to unlock that building you’ve been wanting anyway.
Frugal players left to earn donuts without spending obscene amounts on microtransactions can look forward to mindless tapping on buildings to collect XP and cash. Afterwards, they can manage their citizens of Springfield to ensure they complete quests ranging from waiting a few minutes to waiting days at a time. But don’t worry; this literal waiting game can be sped up with the purchase of donuts.
The final nail in the coffin for me was the realisation that unless I spent an absurd amount of time keeping up with the game’s timed special events, some content would be permanently inaccessible. In the short space of time I played, numerous events occurred that required you to constantly keep on top of the citizen management before time ran out. Actual timed deadlines in a video game? I’m sure people have enough of those at school or work – aren’t games meant to be…fun?
Perhaps to some people the pressure of those timed events is fun. Perhaps to some people the shallow citizen management system is enough to be considered game play. Perhaps I’m the one who finds it difficult to separate the genres of freemium games and regular console-based gaming. These sorts of apps aren’t for engrossing yourself into during long sittings – they’re 5 minute checkups sporadically throughout the day. A quick tap and it is back to work or time to catch the train or ready to take dinner out of the oven. From that description, it all sounds rather fine and dandy – if gamers like that sort of thing then so be it, what’s the problem?
I call him Gamblor!
The computer game industry exists to create money, let’s get that out of the way. As much as video games can be considered art, the likes of Electronic Arts, Activision and Nintendo aren’t making them purely out of the kindness of their hearts. With AAA games now costing more than ever to create, executive boards and investors want to see their rising expenditure reflected with rising profits. The landscape of gaming has changed enormously and for these large companies, simply selling an individual copy isn’t enough. Season passes, downloadable content, pre-order bonuses, microtransactions and loot boxes are slowly but surely becoming the industry norm. Anywhere they can make an easy profit, they’ll try. In fact, there’s an entire industry built around easy profiteering, one that is spreading further and further into video games…
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is gambling. It largely exists to exploit users into spending money and masks itself under the false pretences of a video game. Its hand outs of free donuts and new buildings every now and then are the pretty waitresses who come and top up your booze to ensure you keep playing on those video poker machines. Scratch-R cards are literal lottery tickets available to purchase and try your luck with. The app has been designed from the ground up to utilize humankind’s addictive nature and unfortunately for the players, the house always wins.
In its first year of release, The Simpsons: Tapped Out earned EA over $100 million. It was the top grossing app around the world in countries from Canada to Belgium. In other words, it worked. The teasing of locked content, the ease of which to purchase just a few donuts more, the…lack of much else to actually do in the game created the perfect storm for it to succeed. Whether it was eager children unaware of what they were tapping or adults who just couldn’t resist, $100 million equates to a lot of players falling prey to the game’s rather blatant tactics. Fast forward four years and The Simpsons: Tapped Out racked up 37.5 billion minutes of playtime and 19.6 billion donuts consumed, proving to remain popular despite huge competition on the app marketplace. There’s no denying that, as shallow as the game is, players are hooked and keep coming back. With the main fan site of the game being called ‘TSTO Addicts’ however, that should come as little surprise. If you’d like to find out in much more detail the addictive nature of The Simpsons: Tapped Out and how it uses the psychological tricks of slots and video poker, I highly suggest reading the mini-book Tapped In: How EA Combined The Simpsons with Video Gambling to Make $130 Million (and counting) by Charlie Sweatpants.
With a captive audience willing to spend hefty amounts of money on in-game microtransactions, EA have placed themselves in the perfect position to receive big profits for little cost. When compared to AAA game titles, The Simpsons: Tapped Out and other mobile app games cost pittance in comparison. Smaller development teams and server overheads make those microtransactions even more profitable but it’s certainly not limited to mobile. As mention, gambling components have been implemented more and more into video games, a notable example being the newly released Star Wars Battlefront II. Thankfully such moves have been met with negative reception though some franchises now contain gambling as standard. For example, FIFA’s ‘Ultimate Team’ relies on purchasing loot packs of football player cards and auctioning them to achieve the best team. Currently EA is testing the waters and pushing their luck to see just how many microtransactions they can add a top a $60 price tag and they’ll continue to do so. Remember, this is the same company that was voted ‘America’s Worst Company’ twice in succession.
What better way to note the success of The Simpsons: Tapped Out than to look to the imitations that ensued. The game set a path for similar properties to follow suit, eager to grab that lucrative share of the mobile app market. Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff was released in 2014 and is essentially a carbon copy of The Simpsons: Tapped Out where players must rebuild a destroyed Quahog and reunite Peter Griffin with his friends and family. More recently in 2017, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow was released in which players must reconstruct New New York and save Fry’s friends. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. The most obvious similarity here is that all three properties are (or at least were) produced by Fox. However, it’s also interesting to note that all three once had fully-fledged video games released in the past, only to have stopped ever since entering into the mobile app market.
There’s an argument to be made that as tempting as developers make purchasing premium in-game currency, only a very small percentage of players actually spend money on freemium games. Reports have said as little as 0.19% of all players account for over 48% of an app’s revenue. These types of gamers are no different to the big spenders at the casinos, known as ‘whales’ in the industry. Whether they have boat loads of disposable income or are weak to the addictive environment of mobile games, these are the players keeping many games afloat. It is certainly a grey area in terms of how such games should be governed and, as is always the case; the law is constantly playing catch up with technology. With that being said, most people know their limits and how to spend their own money wisely. If the majority players are sensibly utilising the ‘free’ in freemium, what is the real issue?
Simply put, due to The Simpsons: Tapped Out EA have no incentive to create a new Simpsons video game. With small development and running costs, decent profits and a dependable audience invested in creating their own Springfield towns, why bother wasting money creating something bigger? More to the point, is there even a place for a brand new game based on The Simpsons in this day and age?
I used to be with ‘it’, then they changed what ‘it’ was…
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the lack of video games based on The Simpsons is one that most fans have known for some time now – the animated sitcom is well past its prime. Without diving into the mammoth topic of quite why it isn’t as good as it used to be, why it’s changed so much over 28 years and why it’ll never be the same again, The Simpsons certainly isn’t as popular as it was even 10 years ago, never mind 20. Current episodes typically receive around 4 million viewers, nothing compared to during the height of its success in the early 1990s where it would regularly reach over 20 million. It’s only logical that as the show’s popularity has decreased, so has the reasoning to continue creating video games based on it.
And if we’re being totally honest, TheSimpsons: Tapped Out isn’t the newest offering for fans of the series to play. In 2015, Lego Dimensions was released – an action-adventure video game similar to Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s amiibo system. After purchasing the base game as a starter pack, players were able to buy additional packs of Lego toys which unlocked levels and characters from a variety of franchises. One such franchise was The Simpsons, which is hardly surprising given the popularity of their Lego range beginning in 2014 with a minifigure collection and later expanding to complete sets for The Simpsons House and the Kwik-E-Mart. Not to mention the Season 25 episode “Brick Like Me”, also released in 2014 which saw Homer wake up in alternate reality made out of Lego bricks.
Ever since 2005 with the release of Lego Star Wars, the library of franchises given the Lego video game treatment has grown rapidly. Perhaps the minifigure collection was a sign of things to come, something fans of The Simpsons were eagerly waiting for – a fully-fledged Lego Simpsons game. The open world, family-friendly nature of the Lego games would make for a perfect spiritual-successor to The Simpsons Hit & Run. Unfortunately, in Lego Dimensions we’re treated to a rather lifeless open world version of Springfield as well a level based on the episode “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer”. It’s certainly not terrible content but the gimmick of mixing together various characters means playing alongside Wonder Women and Gandalf detracts from feeling like a true Simpsons video game. Besides, any hope of additional content for Lego Dimensions has been firmly dashed since the announcement of its cancellation in October 2017.
There is one ray of light to look to as a shining example of how it should be done – South Park. Much like The Simpsons, South Park has also had its fair share of video games ever since its debut. But what makes the two series so different in this regard is the personalities of its creators. Whilst Matt Groening is still involved in the production of The Simpsons, it’s certainly not to the same level as Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Over 20 years, the two have led the way in writing, directing and voice acting. They’re very much responsible for the show’s well known cutting satire on a wide range of topics and with only a 6-day turn around in creating an episode; the show has the ability to react very quickly to current trends.
And thankfully for South Park fans, Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t fans of games such as The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff. In 2014 they even released an episode titled “Freemium Isn’t Free” ridiculing the popularity of freemium mobile apps and their potential addictiveness. In fact, they aren’t even fans of their own video games. Early on in the show’s history, the two signed a publishing deal with Acclaim to create South Park video games to…lacklustre results. South Park, South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack and South Park Rally were all poorly received and according to Trey Parker “they just screwed up every game we did, it sucks.” Hence why in 2014, they were eager to make amends for their past mistakes and create a South Park game they had much more control over. And being video gamers themselves, they knew more about the type of game they wanted to see – ultimately a turn-based RPG titled ‘South Park: The Stick of Truth’.
After a troubled production involving numerous delays, South Park: The Stick of Truth was met with positive reviews on its release, praising it as a successful adaptation of licensed material to a video game. The game had the luxury of being able to look completely identical to the show and faithfully mirror its animation style. For its sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Trey Parker even watched online Let’s Plays of The Stick of Truth to see the ways in which game play could be improved and what actual players thought of it. The question is would anyone from The Simpsons do the same? Does Matt Groening understand the intricacies of video games and their production? Has Al Jean watched Let’s Plays of The Simpsons: Hit & Run? (ahem) Would anyone from Fox or EA see profits still roll in from The Simpsons: Tapped Out and want to move on to something else? To quote Leonard Nimoy – the answer is no.
So what is the future of The Simpsons video games?