The Power of Sound Effects

As someone who is a big fan of Subnautica, I often keep up with updates to the game, usually via various Youtubers who cover the game extensively.  Without spoiling too much, a huge portion of the end game is in development right now (when this article was written anyway).  Since it’s a key story point, it’s being tweaked to be as impactful as possible.  Animations, voice acting, textures, and tons of other aspects keep being overhauled to present the most satisfying moment that could be achieved.  However, in some of the more recent updates, one additive that added a ton of impact caught my eye: the sound effects.

Sound effects are one of those aspects of creative media that often get overlooked.  Whether the sound effects are audio or implied to with words, they make a huge difference despite being minor additives.  Unfortunately, in numerous indie industries, they can often be underused.  While certainly you run the risk of oversaturating a piece with sound effects, they are still an essential that should never be neglected.  To hammer in this point, let us examine why the sound effects make a difference in two industries: gaming and comics.

 

In the case of gaming, it is a very audio-centric media in most cases.  Though one could play games in complete silence, most people would concede the sounds make a difference.  Yet, as much as a background soundtrack adds to a game, so does the sound effects.  Take any game which involves swords or guns that you use to attack people.  Now, if you can, imagine if there were no sound effects.  No swosh or chink for those swords, no popping bullets, no anything; just imagine if you only had the animation, even if there’s a nice accompanying soundtrack.

Now ideally, if you can picture it, you’d realize how odd that’d be.  There would be a sense of emptiness to each attack.  Since in real life objects like this have sound effects, it is also something that would break immersion; the game is giving no feedback to the attack, so it feels unreal.

This being the key concept: sound effects in games provide feedback.

Let’s take a look for the moment at Dragon Age: Inquisition.  One key mechanic to the game is its search function.  Essentially, when a player presses a hotkey, a little circle fans out from the inquisitor and detects objects, whether it be resources, loot chests, or something hidden.  It is a pretty vital component if one wants to find the collectibles in the game as certain ones can only be found via this mechanic.  Now, of course, there are visual cues via the object highlighting, the mini map, and more.  Thus, one can still use the mechanic on visuals alone.  However, the sound effects for the mechanic make a big difference.  There are different sounds for finding nothing, finding a resource, or detecting a hidden object.  By consequence, one can put their eyes to more important things on the screen and let the sounds guide them.  Not only does this provide great feedback, but it streamlines the process of navigating.  In otherwords, one can run and scan rather than take those few moments to check if they found anything every moment.

There are a plethora of other ways sound effects play a role, whether it’s feedback from opening chests in The Legend of Zelda series or through loud thunderous sounds of dragons flying overhead in Dragon Age: Inquisition.  The sounds give a true sense of presence and aid in immersing someone into the world.  Like in real life, one expects sounds when objects interact, so providing them in key moments makes a huge difference.

 

Nevertheless, games are not the only medium in which sound effects make a difference.  Let’s now turn to comics, which out of the gate obviously lack the same audio component games do.  For comics, the sound effects are part of the visuals and come in varying styles.  Whether they say “Pow,” “Kablam,” or anything else, they are generally something present in a lot of comics.  That being said, some people may question whether they’re important, since these “sound” effects are visual instead audio.  Yet, much like games, they provide important feedback.

In a similar function to the last exercise, let’s put our imaginations to work.  Imagine any two characters you want in a fight, and one panel features one of the characters dramatically slapping the other.  Now, because imaginations are pretty robust, you surely imagined the slap sound that would occur in the moment.  For comics, the way this is conveyed is with the sound effect text, which depending on how its styled can have a different effect.  Instead, though, try to picture the image without that text.  All you have is a slap making contact, but no feedback on whether it hit.

In the end, the effect that occurred for games occurred here as well: without the sound effect, the moment felt empty and lacking impact.

Even when the sound effects are visually very small, they play a role in conveying the world and making it feel real.  Speaking personally, I barely even ever read what the sound effects say; at the same time, when they aren’t present, I take extreme notice of how silent a comic’s world consequently feels.  As a result I feel confident saying that even their presence alone is enough to convey that there is noise in the world, which makes a world of difference.

Of course, sound effects can be used to aid the story too in this case.  For instance, when the story wishes to have an eating scene, it’s not uncommon to have a panel where a characters stomach growls.  This is shown not only by a close up of the stomach, but through sound effects to emphasize the growling sound.  The reader is left with no confusion about what’s going on, so even without dialogue the visual and sound effect convey the character’s need.  This, in turn, helps immerse one more into the moment; like in real life, the visual clues and sound are all that’s needed to convey the unspoken message.  There are numerous other ways the visuals and “sound” effects in comics can be utilized in a more poignant matter, so they are not something to be discounted.

 

Hopefully, at this point, I have conveyed why sound effects play a vital role.  With them, you can make something more immersive and impactful in both small and big ways.  Without them, you risk turning the consumer away from the product due to the world feeling empty and hollow.  In the end, even if it is a tedious aspect to consider, one should always try to include sound effects.  They can make or break a project sometimes, so to neglect them is to do your project a disservice.  The internet offers tons of sound effect resources, so there’s really no excuse not to use them.  So, go forth, and remember like the world, your work should have sounds.

 

Dragon Age: Inquisition is © to Bioward, EA, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Link opening a chest from ZeldaDungeon.net.

Side Quests: Making Interesting “Fetch Quests”

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dragon Age: Inquisition (specifically the Hinterlands).

 

The week before last I analyzed side quests and how you could make them more compelling than the generic fetch quests one might see in a grind-like MMORPG.  At the heart of the matter, I illustrated three ways one could make them interesting, namely: having side quests add to the story, having side quests with worthwhile loot, or having side quests with an enormous gameplay challenge.  In regards to story, I discussed certain aspects in Dragon Age II and how some of its side quests vastly change outcome of the story.  However, today I would like to expound on this point some more, and also tackle fetch quests which I didn’t talk about fully in that post.

Before we begin, let’s first discuss what will and will not be included when I say fetch quests.  For those unfamiliar, fetch quests are a specific type of quest that basically involves you getting an item to give an NPC.  An NPC may say they lost an object and need you to find and return it.  Some NPC may request you clear an area of spiders and bring their fangs as proof (i.e. kill a certain number of this creature).  A different NPC may ask you to collect so much of a specific herb that spawns in an area.  These are the sorts of quests will be discussed in this article, but I am also including similarly simple quests that don’t necessarily involve lots of fighting.  For instance, if you find an ancient scroll that tells you to go to a cave to find loot or fight a monster, those are close enough in simplicity that they will be included in my analysis.

With that established, one must wonder how such simple tasks could be interesting.  After all, in the last post even I acknowledged the criticism that these are what make MMORPGs a grind sometimes.  Certainly, my purpose here is not to say fetch quests are the most interesting of all, and I stand by my post that there are ways to make more interesting side quests.  That being said, fetch quests still have their place, if not for the sake of giving players an easy way to kill some time, take a breather, and still earn EXP and money.  Since they are most likely going to stay in gaming for a quite a while, it doesn’t hurt to try and make them more compelling.  This is where story and world-building comes in, which even fetch quests can tap into and enhance.  Even if they cannot change the story, there are two things fetch quests can do very well, very easily: enhance the tone and atmosphere of the story and add to the world lore.

To illustrate this, I am going to discuss Dragon Age: Inquisition, so spoilers ahead for those not familiar with the Dragon Age series.

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One manner in which fetch quests can aid a game’s story is by reinforcing the tone or the atmosphere.  One of the primary background problems in Dragon Age: Inquisition is, of course, the mage rebellion.  The fight with mages has progressed so badly that even the Templars have gone rogue and hunt mages at their leisure.  Unfortunately, innocent people have gotten caught in between the fights, and there are a lot of refugees as a result.  This background setup primarily comes into play in the Hinterlands, where the player experiences first-hand how devastating the mage rebellion has been.

This being the case, many of the fetch quests in this area help reinforce this sad devastation.  For instance, some of the starting quests involve you getting supplies for the refugees, specifically food and blankets which the refugees have none of.  Through the dialogue of the quests, the suffering of the refugees is emphasized, as how they have no food or warmth is discussed by people at length.  Though a subtle insert, it helps drive home how devastating and far spread the war is.  Another example quest is obtained by entering a house that is fairly in the middle of nowhere.  Upon entering, you can speak with a woman who asks you to retrieve a ring that Templars took after killing her husband, who they suspected was an Apostate (a rogue mage).  Though, again, the dialogue is simple, it revolves around the thoughtlessness of the Templars and mages at the devastation that is being wrought upon the civilians.

Though I could name many like this, what should be clear is these specific fetch quests help emphasis the tone of war in the area.  The quests often revolve around the setting of the mage rebellion, involving issues with helping the refugees and trying to repair the area from the rampant destruction.  This being the case, the player is immersed further into the setting, as these quests aren’t random happenstance.  Rather, they are used to reflect a cause and effect in the world, which allows it to feel more real.  The flavor text also showcases the expected emotions in such a case, such as sadness, desperation, and hopelessness.  Everything about these fetch quests has an overtone of the setting, so though simple, they allow the player to remain immersed in the world, rather than be reminded they are playing a game.

The other manner in which fetch quests can be interesting is via their ability to add to the lore.  At least for fantasy and sci-fi set RPGs, the general rule of thumb is the better developed the world, the more immersive a setting you give the player to get into.  However, one never wants to dump too much lore at once, so adding and increasing the world lore must be done in small chunks.  This is something fetch quests can be very good at in the right hands, since they are short, simple quests that the player can have a low key commitment to do.

For instance, let’s take a look at the landmark quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition.  As the player travels throughout the various areas in the game, they can claim landmarks.  This is a simple matter that literally involves traveling to the area and pressing a key/button in the right spot.  However, when the player claims the landmarks, they receive a codex entry (a small collection of world information).  The player can, of course, choose to ignore it, which is perfectly fine.  Yet, if one chooses to read the codex entry, they find out interesting world information that is tied to the landmark.  Though it’s a small addition, the world can grow via these landmarks and they cease to be just polygons on a screen.  Rather, they begin to live up their titular title of landmarks.  As a whole, though, they help increase the lore of the story, but also keep it optional for the players who don’t care about lore.

 

While I could ramble on and on about other sorts of quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition, let alone some other games, these are a few examples of ways one can make fetch quests more interesting.  Though, of course, I still wouldn’t say they hold a candle to more in-depth quests, they can be handled in a manner that continues to immerse players.  For game development, at least for story heavy games, the last thing you want is for a player to be reminded they’re playing a game.  This is, sadly, where a lot of MMORPGs fail with their quest design, since they add so little the player is hyper aware they are playing a game.  In Dragon Age: Inquisition’s case, though, the quests are generally always designed with heavy world overtones.  So, even if they can be a grind sometimes, the story additions make it worthwhile to still complete them.

Regardless of what you’re designing your quests for, the key is to always give them purpose beyond EXP and virtual money.  Compel the player to complete the quest, even if their additions are optional flavor text that just add a smidgen of lore or atmosphere.  You ultimately shape the experience for the players, so even if it’s fetch quests, use them to bring out the very best of your game.

 

Dragon Age: Inquisition is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Dragon Age Inquisition concept art from Concept Art World.

Comics and Diversifying Your Platforms

“Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”

This is a common saying that gets passed around, but I think too few people actually stop to think about what this concept means.  Particularly for indie creators, whether they’re creating games, comics, or otherwise, there seems to be a general trust that goes towards third party businesses as far as making your content available.  Unfortunately, the risk for betrayal is somewhat high and may catch the more naïve off-guard.  Today, I would like to analyze this statement a bit, particularly as it pertains to comics.  Why comics?  Well, I will tell you why.

For those not heavily part of the indie comic scene, Tapas (formerly branded as Tapastic) is one of the most popular hosting sites available right now.  It offers content creators an easy to use platform to post their works, receive feedback, and generally do all the things one would expect a host to be able to do.  Over the past year or so, Tapas has changed focus to their mobile app and its premium content.  In the last few days, Tapas went a step further and redesigned their site.  Their initial choices in the design were to push the premium related content to the top of the page, and forcing the entirely free content to the bottom.  While criticism and feedback have since prompted them to change this, I think it is important one stops to think about this.

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First off, at the end of the day, one must remember Tapas is a business whose goal is one thing: to make money.  As such, it is hard to fault them for wanting to push their premium content.  After all, even if they were a non-profit business, employees, servers, and the like all cost money to maintain.  One also cannot fault the premium content creators either, as they are putting their heart and souls into their projects just as much as any other indie creator.

However, when one considers this in the larger picture, it becomes clear Tapas is pushing an antithesis of what the comic community generally wants: more visibility for indie creators.  Instead of promoting a wide variety of comics, the promotion goes to the most successful and who will make the company money.  Again, while no crime, for the average creator this probably defeats the purpose of why they joined the site.

This is not to mention that, while possibly unintentional on Tapas’ part, their wording choices for how they now view creators is a bit telling of their future business model.  In a post from April 17th, 2017 regarding their updated terms and policies, Tapas said the following:

“Many of the terms introduced along with the Tapas app concern purchases and content we’ve published, versus the self-published, user-generated content we previously focused on almost exclusively. Self-publishing and UGC are not going away, and we remain dedicated to supporting independent creators – we’re simply expanding to offer more professional titles as well.”

In this statement, Tapas makes a clear distinction between self-published creators and “professional” creators; in other words, creators who don’t make them money and creators who do.  This, combined with their initial choices for the redesign, clearly demonstrates that Tapas not only wishes to offer more “professional” titles, but probably promote it imminently more than the “self-published” creators too.  Though certainly a sound business decision, this does leave a lot of indie creators at an impasse.

Thus, let us turn back to the original idea: not putting all your eggs in one basket.  For those who have been using Tapas as their main and only site for their comic, this change suddenly threatens their presence and ability to gain an audience.  Though they may work just as hard as premium content creators, there is a large chance that their work will get buried by these creators simply because of how the business will choose to market.  In the end, this makes it harder for newer creators to even get their foot in the door, let alone have hopes of becoming well-known at some point.

Consequently and in retrospect, diversifying where and how you deliver your content as a creator is extremely important.  For comics, there are numerous other hosting choices such as LINE Webtoon or Smackjeeves, where a creator can try to gain footing.  There is also the option of hosting the comic on your own website, whether it be professionally designed or an impromptu hosting site using blog rolls.  There a ton of options for creators, and there is no real one right choice.  What is important, though, is that you make your comic available in more than one location.  In this way, you will always be protected when a company makes business decisions that aren’t beneficial to your content.  Yes, it is admittedly a lot of work to manage multiple mirrors.  However, the safety net it provides is one that will save stress later, such as in this recent incident with Tapas.

This, of course, applies to other creative mediums as well.  In your love and passion for your content, always remember that it is partially a business.  It is almost always a wiser decision to diversify yourself to protect from an unknown future, and it isn’t a crime to remember using a third party shouldn’t be only beneficial to the third party.  So please post in lots of places and try numerous different things.  One day those third parties you rely on may not be there, and you will have to deal with that future.

 

Tapas/Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapas’ front page showcasing the premium content rolls.

Minimalism vs. Transparency in GUIs

First and foremost, let me make something very clear: I’m pretty critical of graphical user-interfaces (GUIs).  There’s a fine line for me between having an aesthetically pleasing interface, and having an interface that is functional.  In all honesty, this can make or break whether I want to even use a program, since GUIs are the main way users interact with a program’s functions.  Unfortunately, I find more often than not programs and/or games prioritize one or the other instead of achieving a balance.  While this presents a whole slew of issues for software, it is for games where I begin to actively notice it.

From my experience, modern games have begun to favor a rather minimalist approach to games.  Aesthetically, these are usually very pleasing to the eye; not only are they sleek, but they generally offer a maximized view of the main game screen.  Sadly, though, their presence usually comes at the cost of transparency.  By transparency, I mean how clear the game delivers information about its mechanics.  Rather than plain numbers, a game can choose to display that information in a number of ways, such as the red bar commonly seen for HP.  Unfortunately, the use of such graphical cues begins to make the math behind the mechanics hazier.  In turn, it makes it more difficult for a player to strategize, whether it be because they can’t tell which attack is stronger or because they don’t understand how resources are being allocated.

To demonstrate this, let us turn to a survival game I’ve spoken of before: Subnautica.

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In the screenshot above, you can see the interface as it’s been for quite some time.  Of note, I want to focus on the bottom left.  Here we see information displayed about four essential survival components in Subnautica: Oxygen, Health, Food, and Water.  It is through these bars and numbers that one keeps track of the state of their character.  Food and Water slowly decay over time, indicating the need to eat or drink.  Oxygen decays while underwater, and health varies depending on injury, food level, and other factors.  In summary, these bars are extremely important in determining how “well” you are surviving.  Thankfully, while the GUI has some graphical value to it, the numbers also help indicate how nutritious or not a food is.  This is extremely useful for resource management and determining when exactly you should eat.

At current, due to decisions in development, the team is now working on a new interface design.  This design, pictured below, adheres more to the minimalist aesthetic that modern games prefer.

newsubnauticadesign

Arguably, this new interface is far more pleasing to the eye and fits with the general aesthetic style of the game.  That being said, one thing is clearly obvious: Food, Health, and Water no longer have number values visible.  While, of course, there are bars there to indicate the various values of each, the lack of numbers suddenly erases some of the certainty on how effective every resource is.  Does this fruit heal 50% of Food or is it less?  What about this water?  Unfortunately, in a survival game, being able to process this sort of information is important.  Resources in survival games tend to be limited, so suddenly taking away one of the information cues makes resource management all the more difficult.

Although I wish I could say Subnautica was the only game to ever do this, this is sadly not the case.  There are rather a slew of modern games that choose to take away information in favor of aesthetics.  As someone who appreciates and writes about art quite often, I can understand why they would make this choice.  However, as someone who also understands the value of clear information, it is disheartening.  Not only is the trend set to confuse players who prefer to play a game as efficiently as possible, it can make games potentially frustrating when trying to understand how something works.  Understanding the mechanics is a key component to being able to play a game.  Interacting with the mechanics is something one can only do through the GUI, and if the GUI is not clear, the mechanics become unclear.  Inevitably, you can see how this suddenly becomes detrimental to the experience.

All that being said, my purpose in this article is merely to point out a troubling trend.  If you are an aspiring developer, please keep in mind beautiful GUIs should not be the final stopping point.  Rather, one should aim for the ideal of having both information and aesthetics.  GUIs should look nice, but should also enhance the game rather than be an unclear information pit.  While this is by no means an easy feat to achieve, it is the goal that will leave users of a wide variety happy and able to play the game.

 

Subnautica is © to Unknown Worlds all affiliated parties.

Image 1: Screenshot from Subnautica during one of my playthroughs.

Image 2: Screenshot from the Subnautica Trello board.

The Broad Usage of Indie

Speaking from a game development perspective, you’ve most likely heard the word “indie developer” thrown around.  It’s becoming quite the phenomenon lately, especially with the numerous changes that benefits indie developer.  These changes range from financial support systems like Kickstarter to platforms that make indie games readily available (circa the Steam Greenlight program).  There are also numerous engines available to the public now such as Unity and RPG Maker.  All in all, the industry scene has changed quite a bit for indie developers, allowing them more access to tools to make games and more access to people to play those games.

All that being said, none of these changes have affected how we apply the word “indie developer.”  Yet, for me personally, I have to wonder if the term is applied too broadly now?  With more tools and more platforms comes a wider variety of quality in these games.  Is it fair that all indie developers get lumped into one group?  That is the topic I wish to explore today, or more so, apply my opinion to.

To begin, we first must have our standard definition.  Wikipedia defines indie games as the following:

“Independent video game development is the video game development process of creating indie games; these are video games, commonly created by individual or small teams of video game developers and usually without significant financial support of a video game publisher or other outside source.”

By this definition, we’re speaking then of creators who are not supported by publishers like Electronic Arts, Bandai Namco, etc..  While this may at first seem like a fine definition, when one looks at the wide range of games available, it starts to have some flaws.

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Let’s take a look at Subnautica by the studio Unknown Worlds.  For those unfamiliar with the game, Subnautica is a survival, crafting game with a futuristic, underwater theme.  Subnautica, in my opinion, has a graphical quality that could challenge a lot of AAA games.  While there is a stylization to it, the graphics in it are high quality featuring smooth meshes and spectacular animations.  Fish in the game all have individualistic movements, from the Gasopods who more float around to the Reaper Leviathan’s who coil about.  The interface is also well-developed, featuring stylistic minimalism that serves its use while fitting in with the futuristic tone of the game.  The world is fairly vast, featuring numerous individualistic biomes.  This includes areas such as a biome filled with mostly underwater lava to a biome that that is in shallow water and has a bunch coral like structures.  The mechanics of the game are also well-developed and pretty balanced, letting the player explore, gather resources, and craft items at a good pace.  The atmosphere the game possesses is very intense and has vast immersive factors; one cannot but help but be a little more scared of the ocean.

In summary, though, the point is that this is a high quality game that you can tell was developed with great care.  While the game is still in development at the moment, there’s a certain level in which you could be tricked it was finished.  That is how amazing the game is.

That being said, let’s take off our Subnautica hat and look at someone else: me.  Now before you click off, understand I do not choose myself for shameless self-promotion.  I choose myself, because I’m the person I can criticize the most without hurting anyone’s feelings.  My intent in this article is not to discourage anyone from making games, so I’m a risk free candidate.  Moving on, in October 2016, I developed a Halloween game called Dark Forest.  It was made in the RPG Maker VX Ace engine and used, for the most part, in-engine assets.  The game is a puzzle-horror game and was made within the span of a week.  The game takes maybe 20 minutes to beat.  While I personally may be proud of certain aspects, I’m under no illusion that it’s some amazing, revolutionary game worth playing.

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The unfortunate fact is, however, that a lot of indie games are closer to mine in quality.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that as everyone has to start somewhere.  Yet, all these beginning developers (such as myself) still get to wear the title of indie developer.  So the point I ask you is that particularly fair?  Should I be able to say I belong to the same grouping as a hard working studio like Unknown Worlds?

In my opinion, the answer should be no.  In fact, I would argue applying the word indie so broadly in this case is detrimental to both sides when it comes to public perception.  Let me explain.  Say there was a player who only ever played my game and games of similar quality.  Let’s also assume that they did not care for these.  So, when a game like Subnautica comes along, there’s a risk players may not even consider it once hearing that it is an indie game.  After all, indie games to them have so far been of an immense lesser quality than AAA games.  On the flip though, say they were someone who, so far, only played games like Subnautica or Stardew Valley.  These are both fairly high quality indie games, so overall those high standards would inform their perception of what an indie game should be.  However, when they go to play a game by someone just starting, they are probably going to hate that game by default for not matching the higher quality of others.  In the end, both sides of this coin cause a huge rift in player perception.  Either they are going to expect gold or expect trash upon hearing that one word.

I feel this is a gross disservice to both experienced indie studios and those just starting.  While I, of course, have no power to suddenly command language to change, I do advocate that maybe it should in this case.  At the very least, I feel indie games should probably have sub-genres of a sort: one for games like Subnautica and one for games like mine.  In this way, the word indie would have less effect on players’ expectations, and the quality someone was getting into would be better known.  Though I acknowledge this may disadvantage those starting out, at the very least these developers would not be getting people who hate on them for not being these more intense indie games.

Unfortunately, this is the extent of my power in making this change happen.  I have no real expectations for it to change, nor am I going to go on one-on-one tirades for anyone who is okay with using the term broadly.  I do understand that not everyone feels a need to get that specific about word usage.  Nevertheless, I did want to put my two cents out there regarding this linguistic phenomenon.  At the very least, maybe someone thinks about indie games different than they used to, and I would at least consider that a victory.

Subnautica is © to Unknown Worlds all affiliated parties.

Image 1: Screenshot from Subnautica during one of my playthroughs.

Image 2: Screenshot from my game Dark Forest.

Multi-device vs. Specialization: Company Edition Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 everyone~!  Yesterday, I discussed why and how webcomic platform Tapastic is alienating users by focusing mostly on its mobile app.  In this post, we’re going to take a look at Discord, whose company practices handle different devices in an opposite manner.  I will also put together a conclusion about the overall effect this has on users, whether good or bad.

 

Discord

More briefly, let’s now compare DiscordDiscord is a messenger service in a similar matter to TeamSpeak and Skype.  Users can create their own chat server or join someone else’s.  Each server offers numerous amounts of customizability, allowing users to create various channels for different topics and even have Voice channels.  It is a quickly growing platform, at the moment, with a very dedicated team.

That being said, besides industry, there is a huge difference between Discord and Tapastic: the former is vastly cross-device.  Want to use Discord in a browser?  You can do that.  As a separate application on your computer?  Yup, it even has a Linux version.  Want to use on mobile?  Go right ahead, there’s an app (well, unless you’re a Windows phone user like me…).

The point is, Discord has made itself vastly available so users can access it via whatever their chat preference is.  From my experience at least, all the different platforms run similarly smooth, so there’s no loss of features or support.  It is also extremely easy to be a guest in anyone’s server, so there’s not even a need to make an account.  If you choose to make an account, however, the process is easy, and opens up several features to enhance the core experience.

Now, there are features Discord just very recently put behind a paywall, with its version called Nitro.  However, these features are very minor, and include elements like the ability to have an animated avatar or have a badge for supporting Discord.  The most major locked feature is the larger file transfer size; by default, Discord has a limit of 8MB, whereas Nitro will get you a whopping 50MB.  With services like Google Drive and OneDrive, this seems a minor inconvenience.  The inevitable impression of Nitro so far is indeed what the team stated their goal was: it offers cosmetic changes, but the core experience remains the same.

At the end, this cross-device ability makes Discord a very user friendly service.  One is not limited by their device, so it allows almost the biggest user-base possible to use the service.  The features that are locked are not done so in a way that gives one device priority over another.  This accessibility and great support make the experience of using Discord very enjoyable.  Thusly, one is kept using the service, since it not only fulfills a desire, but does so in a thorough manner.

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Conclusion

As I have argued above, Tapastic’s focus on a single device has basically broken much of its user-base in half.  It denies creators and readers a fulfilling experience, whether they have the Tapas mobile app or not.  It is especially sad compared to a service like Discord who is so multi-device it can be accessed from most places.  Now, there are those who would make a valid point in saying that the industry makes a difference.  If Discord wasn’t accessible like it is, it would be an unusable chat service.  Tapastic, in comparison, is not limited by that so can afford to specialize.  To that, I say, however, is what harm would it do if Tapastic was more readily available equally on multiple devices?  Even if the company can survive without it, it could only please more of its user-base if it gave its desktop version more attention.

All in all, it is my conclusion that a company focused too much on one device is doing itself and its users a disservice.  It makes the experience unenjoyable for a good size of their user-base, and inevitably turns them away.  This is, of course, undesirable as there is always competition that would be eager to snap up those users.  I believe such a practice quickly puts a company on a riskier path that may indeed lead to their demise, whether it be now or ten years for now.  While the phrase has been harmfully used in the past, “the customer is always right” developed from the sheer fact a company should pay attention to its customers lest they leave.

 

So please, if you own or want to start a company, remember that all devices need attention if you want your users to have the fullest experience.  Company loyalty cannot be relied in the face of someone else who offers a better experience.

 

Discord is © to Hammer & Chisel Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From my test Discord server for developer testing.

Multi-device vs. Specialization: Company Edition Pt. 1

Over this past week while working on administrative tasks for StArt Faire, it became necessary for me to analyze the best use for two different platforms.  However, I was overtaken by a feeling of the stark difference between the company practices.  Namely, where the companies focus device wise and how that affects me as a user, not only in my enjoyment but in my desire to even use the platform.  Thus, my goal today is to write down my thoughts about these stark differences.  Please keep in mind that the platforms I’m about to compare are from widely different industries.  Nonetheless, they are the best representatives for what I’m about to talk about.  Let us continue on this journey as I compare Tapastic and Discord.

 

Tapastic

For those unfamiliar with the webcomic industry, as far as mass hosting goes, Tapastic is one of the hugest platforms out there right now.  It offers numerous of the expected services such as: easy uploading of comics, the ability to schedule releases, the ability to comment on others’ comics, an upvote/downvote system for those comments, etc..  There is also a good sized user-base from which creators can gain readers, so it is one of the go-to sites all around.

That being said, after some internal changes in 2016, Tapastic became extremely focused on its mobile app called Tapas.  The change in focus was extreme enough that Tapastic even made a new Twitter account to reflect this change.

taptwitteraccount

Under normal circumstances, an app is usually not a bad thing.  In fact, it is becoming more common for creators to make sure their content is mobile friendly, as a huge chunk of their views comes from mobile users.  Unfortunately, however, Tapastic’s change of focus was so thorough that their desktop version is now severely neglected.

Their mobile app has numerous features you cannot even access via their site.  For example, the mobile app allows writers to post regular novels, and include paywalls for their content.  Comic creators can also use these paywalls for their content and, unfortunately, there is no way as of yet to get past these on a desktop.  Even more recently Tapastic added a tipping feature where one can watch ads, gain coins, and then give them to creators they wish to support.  Of course, as is the theme, this is something you can only do via the mobile app.

Now it’s quite easy to say, “Just get the app.”  The unfortunate fact of the matter is many people do not have access to compatible mobile devices.  This is not to mention the numerous people who may not like reading from their phones or tablets for a variety of reasons, whether it be text size, screen brightness, etc..  Yet, Tapastic has made the mobile app a near essential component to use their platform to the fullest.  For those who are skeptical that Tapastic really is neglecting its desktop version, at the time this post was written, the Twitter link at the footer of the site still links to their old Twitter account.  I don’t know about you, but a company who cannot even be bothered to check their links is one that is not being very attentive.

The unfortunate consequence of this mobile focus is that Tapastic is ruining the experience on desktop.  Readers who are desktop oriented cannot financially support the creators they like, nor can they even read some of the comics that are exclusive to the Tapas app.  Inevitably, this shows a lack of care for creators, in my opinion, as this essentially cheats creators out of fans and financial support they might otherwise have.  These lack of desktop features likewise affect readers, as with an increasing exclusivity for the app, readers are left with less content to peruse.  The end result is the desktop version becomes increasingly unenjoyable; between the desktop site breaking for long periods of time and the knowledge that you’re missing out on a lot of features, it is just a discouraging experience to use Tapastic on a computer.

At the end, this specialization of focus ruins a lot of the experience.  It can be no wonder why a good chunk of the user-base is leaving for LINE Webtoon, whose desktop version is friendlier in several respects (though does suffer its own issues).

 

So how does this relate and compare to Discord’s company practices?  Tune into the blog tomorrow where I will discuss how Discord chooses to handle various devices.  I will also conclude this segment with the next post, and specify why the differing industries don’t make a difference~!

 

Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapastic’s old Twitter account.