Blog Post: Never Assume Your Users Are In On The Joke

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It’s startling when you know you’ve read the best book you’re going to buy all year…in January. It wasn’t because I am too cynical about the work of my fellow authors. I just new Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products was that good, and I detailed my thoughts of Nir Eyal’s brilliance here. If you are in any way involved with making consumer products, I urge you to get your hands on this tome.

I dont bring this up just to give Nir another plug — although, you should still buy his book — but it would seem that he has a new case study of what happens when you aren’t careful with the product you are putting into people’s hands.

The top free app on iOS is a game called Make It Rain, developed by Space Inch. Not only does it have download numbers to boast, it has the revenue to accompany it. After a stellar week of about 250,000 downloads a day, it’s cranking out about $50,000 in daily income based upon in-app purchases and ads.

According to MIR co-creator Josh Segall, the company spent about $1,000 worth of Facebook ads got about 3,000 installs. He swears they haven’t spent any money doing promotion since then.

We should be patting Segall on the back for his gold mine he spent only $10,000 creating. Instead, he’s getting a bit of flack because of the premise of the game. All you do is swipe as fast as you can to fill up your buckets of money, and then spend it on whatever you want. According to the description in the App Store, you can:

“Maybe you’ll invest in venture capital, loan sharking, or offshore drilling. Maybe you’ll start a lemonade stand or a casino or a clown college. Or maybe you’ll buy off a federal judge and watch the dollars roll in! Or maaaaybe the FBI will showa up on your doorstep and grab your cash. You better be careful… or just be ready with a bribe.

Some are not amused.

Segall was quoted as describing the game as some sort of ironic statement about society. “Some people are in on the joke and really get it and love it,” he said. “Some people it takes longer to get, I think.”

The ad copy even seems to think you get it. “Is it a stupid game? Or are you just falling behind your friends and looking for excuses?”

Readers of Hooked will immediately know what I’m about to point back to. At the height of Farmville’s power on Facebook, developer Ian Bogost created Cow Clicker, which mimicked the game mechanics of the Zynga giant. It was supposed to be a light-hearted jab, but users didn’t get it. After the game garnered thousands of fans, Bogost took down the game and delivered a post expressing his regret.

Eyal uses this illustration as a word of caution: create with care, because your product might not be used as intended. And the consequences could be dire.

This isn’t to say that Space Inch isn’t ecstatic at the revenue they are generating, but at what cost? Regardless of what happens next for the team, they are going to be known as the Make It Rain dudes. For what it’s worth, the goal of the app was intended to push users to another app and broaden their audience. Instead, they have spawned an army of male capitalists trying their darndest to accumulate enough virtual coin so they can buy off another judge.

What could ever go wrong with that.

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