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Category Archives: Modern Times

Patreon About-Face

As many of you have doubtless heard by now, Patreon has abandoned all plans to institute the billing changes which have caused such chaos and consternation over the past week. CEO Jack Conte has posted a public apology, and it’s a very good example of the genre: no making excuses; no placing the blame partially on us with weasel words like “if you felt like you were wronged”; no asking for forgiveness that will have to be earned, not given. There’s not even a single “awesome!” in sight; unlike most of Patreon’s missives, it doesn’t read like it was written by an over-enthused Valley girl. Patreon says that they still want to address the problem which allegedly prompted the changes in the first place — a problem which was never a problem at all for this blog — but they promise to do so in consultation with the community instead of unilaterally, and they promise to find ways to protect the small donors on which this blog and many other projects depend. “We are nothing without you,” Jack Conte writes. He’s correct; hopefully Patreon will never forget that again.

All of this leaves me, not for the first time this week, with a tough decision on my hands — and just after I’d settled on what seemed the right direction forward at that.

On the one hand, if not actively angry anymore I’m still highly irritated. This last week has cost me stress and restless nights, and I got the joy of devoting last weekend almost entirely to working out the technological bits and pieces that would be needed to roll out a more localized funding solution relying on Memberful. And of course this has all cost me a few dozen patrons, many of whom had been with me for a long, long time. I don’t blame them for jumping ship. Not in the least: I blame Patreon. So, there’s a part of me that still wants to wave my middle finger in Patreon’s direction and tell them exactly what to do with their apology.

Yet there is the cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face factor in doing so. I’m actually kind of proud of the Memberful solution I was pulling together, but it has its drawbacks. It relies on a lot of WordPress hacking to work just the way I want it to — the kind of thing that all of my experience with software tells me would become a source of constant headaches, needing to be tinkered with as new releases of WordPress come down the pipe. And I’m sure there are bugs which I would spend lots of time chasing, and then there’s the confusion inherent in offering dueling pledging systems for the same blog. I would also be forced to take on the role of customer-support guy: figuring out why people’s credit cards were rejected by Stripe, why they couldn’t get into their accounts, etc. I was prepared to take on that burden if there was no other alternative, but I’d prefer to avoid it. While I like to think I’m a decent programmer, I believe I’m a very good to excellent writer. (This serves as the universe’s way of compensating me for the staggering number of everyday things at which I’m freakishly terrible.) I’ve worked many years in IT, but now, at 45 years old, I want to be doing the thing I’m best at as often as possible. In other words, I’d like to just be a writer, and to let someone else — like Patreon — take care of the technical and customer-support stuff. That was actually working out pretty well before last week. So, my decision, arrived at not without some agonizing, is to stay with Patreon as this blog’s primary support mechanism.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. What does this mean for those of you who are or were patrons, but took action of your own in response to Patreon’s boneheaded move?

Well, those of you who front-loaded your pledges onto the first article each month to avoid the extra fees can change things back to the way they were in a few weeks. Because pledges are once again aggregated at the end of the month, just as they’ve always been in the past, I’ll pay the exact same amount in processing fees either way.

Those of you who jumped ship entirely have a harder decision. Obviously I would like to see you come back — would like for you to give Patreon another chance — but only you know whether that feels right. I’ve already seen the gamut of sentiment expressed in your comments over on my area of the Patreon site, from “I’ve lost all trust in Patreon” to “Sites backing down in the face of user outrage needs to be encouraged, not discouraged.”

If you can see your way to coming back, I’d be thrilled to have your support again. But if you just can’t justify it, I totally understand. This decision wasn’t an easy one for me either. Perhaps somewhere down the road, if Patreon continues to behave as they promise to from now on, you’ll feel that they’ve earned your forgiveness and your business. Either way, I know where the blame for the loss of your support resides. Hint: it’s not with you. Thank you for all of your support in the past.

And with that all said, I’m going to spend the next couple of days working on writing articles instead of stressing over Patreon and/or Memberful, publish a long and (I think) interesting article tomorrow, and then enjoy a weekend spent visiting the Christmas markets and putting up a tree with my wife instead of sitting hunched in front of the computer putting the final pieces of a new pledging solution in place. I figure I deserve it; it’s been one hell of a last seven or eight days. I hope you all have a similarly relaxing weekend in the offing.

Thank you for your past, current, and/or future support, as the case may be, and happy holidays! See you tomorrow with more piping hot digital antiquaria!

 

Patreon Update

I’ll be rolling out a new pledging system for this site next week. Built on a platform called Memberful, it will let you pledge your support right from the site, without Patreon or anyone else inserting themselves into the conversation. The folks from Memberful have been great to communicate with, and I’m really excited about how this is shaping up. I think it’s going to be a great system that will work really well for many or most of you.

That said, my feeling after much vacillation over the last several days is that I won’t abandon Patreon either. Some of you doubtless would prefer to stay with them, for perfectly valid reasons: for high pledge amounts, the new fee schedule is much less onerous; some of you really like the ability to pledge per-article rather than on a monthly basis, which is something no other solution I’ve found — including Memberful — can quite duplicate; some of you really want to keep all of your pledges to creators integrated on the same site; etc. And of course it’s possible that Patreon will still do something to mitigate the enormous damage they did to their brand last week. At the risk of introducing a bit more complication, then, I think the best approach is just to clearly explain the pros and cons of the two options and leave the choice in your hands.

For right now, those of you who are current Patreon patrons don’t need to do anything. The article which I’ll publish on Friday will still be bound by the old rules; the new ones won’t go into effect until December 18. On or about December 18, I’ll introduce you to the new pledging system, and you can decide then what works best for you.

Thanks for your relentless positivity during what was a pretty stressful few days — and a big welcome to the few of you who defied all the conventional wisdom by signing on with Patreon in the midst of this whole brouhaha. The stress is vastly less now: the path ahead is becoming clear, and, best of all, I continue to be blessed with the best readers in the world.

More news in a week!

 

Changes to the Patreon Billing Model

So, I awoke this morning to find a bit of a bombshell from Patreon awaiting me in my inbox. You will soon be hearing directly from Patreon about this, but I’d prefer you learn about it from me first. Here’s what Patreon wants me to tell you:

In the past, I was covering Patreon’s 5% fee and all of the processing fees in full for all of my patrons. This meant that every month I saw anywhere from 7-15% of my earnings taken out to cover those processing fees.

Starting December 18th, Patreon will apply a new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 to each of your individual pledges. This service fee helps keep Patreon up and running and standardizes my processing fees to 5%.

This ensures that creators like me keep more earnings in order to continue creating high-quality content. I hope you understand and continue your pledges on Patreon. You can read even more about the service fee here.

Note that these new fees apply on a per-article basis. In other words, those of you who have pledged $1.00 per article will now be paying $1.38 per article in real terms.

I’m not at all happy about this change, which is uniquely damaging to the very model this blog uses: of fairly small pledges given on a per-milestone basis. Instead of collecting 7 to 15 percent in fees for credit-card processing, Patreon will now be collecting 37.9 percent from those of you pledging $1 per article. This is all rather disappointingly disingenuous; the obvious question to ask is why the service fee should be collected on each individual per-post pledge instead of on the monthly lump sum which is actually submitted to the credit-card companies for processing. I have to assume on this basis that this change has more to do with “keeping Patreon up and running” than it does with “standardizing my processing fees.” If Patreon needs to increase their cut to stay viable, fair enough, but this is not a terribly transparent way of approaching the problem.

That said, there are some things we can do. Patreon isn’t planning to institute this change until December 18, so there’s still time to write to their customer-service department and/or to Jack Conte, CEO, and share — politely, please! — your feelings about it. If they get enough heat for it, perhaps they might consider a mid-course adjustment.

Assuming, though, that that doesn’t happen:

While I do share Patreon’s hope that some of you will be willing to pay the increased fees, I do understand that everyone has different economic circumstances and places a different value on the material I write, and I will certainly not blame any of you who feel the need to make changes of your own on the basis of what I’ve just shared here. As a patron, you can avoid seeing your monthly charge increase by adjusting your pledge to account for the new processing fees. Those of you currently pledging $1.00 per article, for instance, will want to change that to 62¢ per article (Or not: Alan informs us below that Patreon will no longer accept pledge amounts of less than $1.00. The best thing to do in this situation is probably to cap your monthly spending at $3.00. They just don’t make things easy on us, do they?); those of you pledging $2.00 will want to change that to $1.59; etc. (I’m sure you’re all more than capable of doing the math for yourselves.)

Another possibility, especially if you’d like to see more of your pledge go to me and less to Patreon, is to make a per-article pledge equal to what you’d like to spend for the four articles I normally publish per month. After you do this, set a monthly cap of the same amount on your spending. This will ensure that the processing fee is only collected once, although it does carry with it the risk of paying for articles I haven’t written if, as has very rarely happened in the past, I can’t manage to publish four articles in a given month for one reason or another. (I will always be sure to let you know if and when that’s going to happen, so you can adjust your pledges accordingly if you wish.)

From my side, an obvious alternative is to switch to a flat monthly billing model. I’m reluctant to do so, however, both because it will afflict everyone with the risk I’ve just described in the previous paragraph and — being totally honest here — because it has the potential to be hugely disruptive to what’s become a steady income stream that I rely on.

But I’ll be in touch before December 18, so there’s no need for any of us to make any hasty changes right now. In the meantime, I’d appreciate your thoughts about what this change means to you and how I might minimize its impact on you and everyone else.

Thank you so much for your support over the years! You remain the only reason I can do the work I love most.

(Update, December 8, 2017: Since I all but accused Patreon of being crooks in the post above, I should perhaps share what they’ve finally clarified to be their ostensible real rational for these changes. Some Patreon creators — I’m not among them — make some of their content available only to those who have pledged their support. Because patrons have always been billed at the end of the month, it was possible to make a pledge, consume all that juicy content behind the paywall, then delete the pledge before the bill came due. Patreon wants to prevent this behavior by switching to a model where patrons are billed immediately upon pledging, and continue to be billed immediately thereafter. In other words, when I publish a new article after December 18 backers will be billed right away for that single article alone. This would account for the exorbitant transactions fees on small pledges.

It’s hard for me to imagine, however, that there are enough devious people abusing the existing system to justify this change; based on my life experience, most people are of basically good faith, and most on Patreon in particular just really, earnestly want to help fund what they believe to be worthwhile creative work. So, given that this is effectively destroys the very economies of scale that make Patreon worthwhile in the first place, it rather strikes me as using a bazooka to blow away that fly that’s crawling around your nose. If this behavior is really such a problem — and I’ve certainly never seen it mentioned as such by any actual creator — there are other ways to head it off, such as billing only the first transaction immediately. Personally, I find that most people willing to work that hard to cheat the system tend to be pretty miserable anyway, so I’d just let them be.

I do suspect that another, less public motive may be to drive creators and patrons away from per-milestone pledges and toward flat monthly subscriptions which will deliver a more predictable income stream to the company. But that’s just speculation…)

 

 

Looking for a Web Designer/Developer

For a project that’s still in the phase of contemplation and feasibility study right now, I’d be interested in talking to any readers who happen to be experienced web developers. If I go forward with it — and whether I do or not may come to hinge on any feedback I get as a result of this little message — it will encompass both an aesthetic design and a significant technical — read, custom programming — component. I understand that those two roles will quite likely need to be played by two or more people, and that’s fine, although they would ideally be people who already have experience working together as a team.

On the technical end, I’d like to use WordPress if at all possible, as I already have a lot of experience with it and it works well for me. Thus a developer experienced with building on the WordPress platform would be the best candidate. That said, if after hearing my nascent plans you feel some other content-management system would work better I’m willing to listen and possibly even be convinced.

Note that I’m not asking for any freebies here. I’m happy to pay fair value for good, professional-level work — although if you do enjoy the my writing and want to give me a little discount on that basis, I certainly wouldn’t be too proud to accept it.

So, if you’d be interested in talking further, please drop me a line at maher@filfre.net and introduce yourself (if we don’t know each other already, that is). Links to samples of your work would be appreciated. If you happen to be a Patreon patron, please let me know that as well.

Sorry to have to be so cagey in public about what this is all about. I hope you know how it is with these things. I don’t want to make any public pronouncements about things that quite possibly won’t happen. But don’t worry: this blog isn’t going anywhere.

Huge thanks as always for your readership and your support, and see you again on Friday!

 

Memos from Digital Antiquarian Corporate Headquarters, June 2017 Edition

From the Publications Department:

Those of you who enjoy reading the blog in ebook format will be pleased to hear that Volume 12 in that ongoing series is now available, full of articles centering roughly on the year 1990. As usual, the ebook is entirely the work of Richard Lindner. Thank you, Richard!

From the Security Department:

A few days ago, a reader notified me of an alarming development: he was getting occasional popup advertisements for a shady online betting site when he clicked article links within the site. Oddly enough, the popups were very intermittent; in lots of experimenting, I was only able to get them to appear on one device — an older iPad, for it’s worth — and even then only every tenth or twelfth time I tapped a link. But investigation showed that there was indeed some rogue JavaScript that was causing them. I’ve cleaned it up and hardened that part of the site a bit more, but I remain a little concerned in that I haven’t identified precisely how someone or something got access to the file that was tampered with in the first place. If anything suspicious happens during your browsing, please do let me know. I don’t take advertisements of any sort, so any that you see on this site are by definition a security breach of some sort. In the meantime, I’ll continue to scan the site daily in healthily paranoid fashion. The last I thing I want is a repeat of the Great Handbag Hack of 2012. (Do note, however, that none of your Patreon or PayPal information is stored on the site, and the database containing commenters’ email addresses has remained uncompromised — so nothing to worry too much over.)

From the Scheduling Department:

I’ve had to skip publishing an article more weeks than I wanted to this year. First I got sick after coming home from my research trip to the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. Then we moved (within Denmark) from Odense to Aarhus, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell most of you what a chaotic process that can be. Most recently, I’ve had to do a lot more research than usual for my next subject; see the next two paragraphs for more on that. In a couple of weeks my wife and I are going to take a little holiday, which means I’m going to have to take one more bye week in June. After that, though, I hope I can settle back into the groove and start pumping out a reliable article every week for a while. Thanks for bearing with me!

From the Long-Term-Planning Department:

I thought I’d share a taste of what I plan to cover in the context of 1991 — i.e., until I write another of these little notices to tell you the next ebook is available. If you prefer that each new article be a complete surprise, you’ll want to skip the next paragraph.

(Spoiler Alert!)

I’ve got a series in the works for the next few weeks covering the history of computing in the Soviet Union, culminating in East finally meeting West in the age of Tetris. I’m already very proud of the articles that are coming together on this subject, and hope you’re going to find this little-known story as fascinating as I do. Staying with the international theme, we’ll then turn our attention to Britain for a while; in that context, I’m planning articles on the great British tradition of open-world action-adventures, on the iconic software house Psygnosis, and finally on Psygnosis’s most enduring game, Lemmings. Then we’ll check in with the Amiga 3000 and CDTV. I’m hoping that Bob Bates and I will be able to put together something rather special on Timequest. Then some coverage of the big commercial online services that predated the modern World Wide Web, along with the early experiments with massively multiplayer games which they fostered. We’ll have some coverage of the amateur text-adventure scene; 1991 was a pretty good year there, with some worthy but largely forgotten games released. I may have more to say about the Eastgate school of hypertext, in the form of Sarah Smith’s King of Space, if I can get the thing working and if it proves worthy of writing about. Be that as it may, we’ll definitely make time for Corey Cole’s edutainment classic The Castle of Dr. Brain and other contemporary doings around Sierra. Then we’ll swing back around to Origin, with a look at the two Worlds of Ultima titles — yes, thanks to your recommendations I’ve decided to give them more coverage than I’d originally planned — and Wing Commander II. We’ll wrap up 1991 with Civilization, a game which offers so much scope for writing that it’s a little terrifying. I’m still mulling over how best to approach that one, but I’m already hugely looking forward to it.

(End Spoilers)

From the Accounting Department:

I’ve seen a nice uptick in Patreon participation in recent months, for which I’m very grateful. Thank you to every reader who’s done this writer the supreme honor of paying for the words I scribble on the (virtual) page, whether you’ve been doing so for years or you just signed up yesterday.

If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t yet taken the plunge, please do think about supporting these serious long-form articles about one of the most important cultural phenomenons of our times by signing up as a Patreon subscriber or making a one-time donation via the links to the right. Remember that I can only do this work thanks to the support of people just like you.

See you Friday! Really, I promise this time…