Some of you may have seen the segment last night on the Jon Stewart show called “Video Game Dealers” where correspondent Aasif Mandvi interviewed me and a family/parent in New England whose kids had used their parents iTunes account to spend more on our game, Tap Fish, than they should have or were authorized to by their parents (NOTE: the parent got a refund from Apple long before this interview, and had given the kids his iTunes password, things that would have been obvious if they had shown the whole or even parts of conversation; more on what they DIDN'T show you below).
Now I enjoy Jon Stewart’s comedy as much as the next guy, and generally find it funny and outrageous, which was the reason I decided to do the interview in the first place (more on that later too!).
I think most people who watch it realize that the Daily Show is a “fake news show” and will take this all in good humor – CEO gets ripped by Fake News show which edited the footage to make him look bad.
But for the few who think this was a “serious journalistic piece” (and you’d be surprised at how many people are tweeting or blogging that this was a serious expose – probably people that don’t watch the Daily Show much) rather than a "fake news" piece that was staged to leave viewers with a certain impression.
So, taking a cue from two other late night comedy shows (David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, and Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers Really!?! segment), I’d like to present my own top 10 list of things that the Daily show segment “conveniently” forgot to mention or edited out or otherwise just got wrong from my interview with them. Trust me, I was there and saw the whole thing, unlike the few minutes shown on TV.
1.) The Setup – Saving the Economy. Really?!? They did almost 4 hours of interviewing/filming in our offices. The producer Brennan told me that the story was about how bad the economy is and how this one sector (virtual goods based mobile and social games) were doing well and creating jobs, and being a fan of the show, I was up for some lighthearted comedy. They actually filmed a bunch of stupid stuff (but funny, more on this later) that they didn’t show to convince me this was a light-hearted piece about the virtual economy. Turns out that wasn’t the focus of the story at all – the story was “Silicon Valley Company exploits little kids!” Now why would a reputable journalistic institution like the Daily Show lie to the people they were interviewing? LOL – don’t answer that I think I already know the answer.
2.) Reviving The Dead Fish costs $99. Really?!? The worst part of the clip was that they made it seem that it costs $99 to revive dead fish in Tap Fish! That’s ridiculous. It costs 1 Fishbuck = 4 cents to revive ALL of your dead fish. And you start with some free fishbucks and you also get free fishbucks on certain level ups. You can also have your friends revive your dead fish for you so it doesn’t cost you anything! I’ve actually seen some people, after watching this segment, suggesting online that Tap Fish charges hundreds of dollars when your fish die or for a single fish! Ridiculous! Most virtual items are less than a dollar and most users (millions of them) never pay a dime and play for free!
And how much does it cost to feed your virtual fish with virtual fish food to keep them alive? (hint: it's completely free!). But, you say, that's not what Aasif led us to believe on TV! Really?!?
3.) Was the Game Designed/Targeted Primarily For Young children?. One of the takeaways for most viewers from this clip was that this was a game originally designed for young children who can’t even read! Really??
Totally not true. When we designed the game, we were looking at Facebook where aquarium games were very popular – and the average player, according to various blogs was a 43 year old woman! We figured that many of those people who liked to play these kinds of free to play games online would want to play them on their iPhones too.
Do adults in their 30’s and 40’s play Tap Fish? Yes there are LOTS of them. Do college students play Tap Fish? Yes LOTS of them. How do we know? Many of our users are on the Facebook Tap Fish page and fans of the game, and many more email us every day, and you’re not allowed to have a Facebook account if you’re under 13.
Do children play Tap Fish? Of course they do – and when parents (and even Daily Show personnel) download it, they see a big warning “Tap Fish is a free game but some items can be purchased for real money. If you don’t want this you can turn off in app purchases.”
But why didn’t I make this point to Aasif during the interview that this isn’t only a game for kids? Of course I did repeatedly, but like just about 99% of what I told them about the game it WAS NOT SHOWN!! Why not? I think it’s pretty obvious why not – it didn’t fit the script (more on the script below).
4.) One click to charge $99! Really?? Even worse, they made it seem like the only way to spend money on the game was to click on the $99 option in iTunes (the only price point shown) and poof you get charged! Just like that!
Why did they then skip the part where iTunes pops up a password dialog dialog that comes up every time you want to make a purchase? Also, they didn’t show the part where I said that most purchases were for 99 cents or $1.99 - why would they edit that relevant information out? Again I think I know the answer.
Now, back in 2010 here was an actual issue with Apples’ in app purchasing where iTunes didn’t ask you your password for 15 minutes after you installed the app. Apple fixed it in early 2011, and this got a lot of press in our eco-system and in the mainstream press.
Aasif and Brennan (the producer at the Daily Show) also didn’t mention that unlike other games (Tap Zoo, Smurf Village, etc.), we (Tap Fish) were one of the only games that actually disabled in-app purchases the first time users played the game so that this 15 minute window wouldn’t come into play, back in 2010, when this was a real issue for us and Apple wasn’t asking for passwords all the time.
5.) The Phone Call with the Parent. Is That What Really Happened?? A big hoopla was made about my hemming and hawing about speaking to a parent whose kids had charged too much on their iTunes account. But they didn’t show the actual phone call! Why not?? Here’s why:
a. During the call, the parent admits that he gave his kids his iTunes password that allowed them to make charges, which he shouldn’t have done.
b. I told the parent we’d be happy to work with him to get his money back from Apple – then the parent admitted that Apple refunded the charges a few days after “the incident” happened so this wasn’t a financial issue.
c.I actually took the time to speak to the parent, address his concerns, and explain to him how in app purchasing works, how to turn it off, and why it was bad for us when this kind of thing happens – where it counts – financially! The parent got his money back, and Apple got their "profit" from us even though this wasn't a real sale for us nor did we make any money from it. I’m not saying this was a good situation but making it seem like we were profiting from the situation was completely ridiculous, since we’re the only ones who lose money in these situations!
d. The parent actually thanked me by the end of the call and thought I was being reasonable.
e. The Daily Show producer, Brennan, told me that they probably wouldn’t show the actual phone conversation because if they did, I would come across as an “honest CEO who cares about his customer” and that we weren’t “outrageous enough”! They actually told me this – but decided to show the setup of the call and then skip the whole call and not show our actual conversation!!
f. At one point, I can’t remember if it was Aasif or Brennan, but they told me I should have called the parent a “f****ing idiot” for giving his kids his iTunes password. Maybe that’s how the TV guys in New York think about these kids and parents, but it’s certainly not how we approach this issue, and not how I dealt with it personally.
g. They edited in lots of “hemming and hawing” when I said that we prefer to deal with customers via email. After 4 hours of sitting in a conference room answering stupid questions from Aasif like “Isn’t playing Tap Fish really like being with a hooker??”, I was pretty exhausted, then they sprung this phone call on me, Jerry Springer style. Yes, like every other mobile game company on the planet, we prefer to deal with customers via email! We have millions of monthly users and there’s no way we could deal with them all on the phone. At least we have people answering email, which is more than I can say for a lot of mobile game companies. Could the Daily Show, which has millions of monthly viewers, take phone calls from viewers? Hell, even I can’t get the CEO of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart, on the phone, and I was actually on the show!
6.) Do you have to pay to play the game? Really? A funny quote was “Unless you spend money, the game sucks”. But, as Aasif mentioned 20 million people have downloaded Tap Fish and many more have downloaded other games. What he didn’t say (and I did say during the interview) was that most users play the game for free!
On any given day, less than 1% of users actually pay, the other 99% play free. This is how the freemium game model works – which companies like Zynga, Pocket Gems, Capcom, and even EA are now adapting. But millions of Tap Fish players have never spent a dime, but played the game for weeks or months! Why would our trustworthy fake news correspondent not mention that? And why would our trustworthy comedy show editors not show me saying that - which I said like 5 or 10 times during the interview! Really?!? (Again, I think you can figure out why).
7.) Are Inapp purchases evil?? Really? If you watch the segment where they’re showing Tap Fish in the app store closely, you’ll see the description starts with: “Please Note: Tap Fish is completely free to play, but it allows purchasing of items with real money using in-app purchases. If you don’t want this, please turn off inapp purchases”. Yeah, if you look closely it's there in the video clip but was cut away from quickly so u couldn't really see it. Of course, In app purchases are new, so people can get confused about how they work or how to turn them off. We do our best to explain this to players, and those who download apps even after reading the warning still download.
Do unauthorized purchases still happen? Yes sometimes they do. But on any given day, only 1% of players actually pay. And only 1% of those (yes that’s .01% have this scale of issue). Saying that inapp purchases are evil are like saying that because credit card numbers can get stolen and lots of unauthorized charges can happen, credit cards are evil!
I actually agree that as an industry we need to make people more aware of how inapp purchases work, because as a game developer unauthorized charges actually cost us money, a point I made several times during the interview but again was ignored because the script said to make it look like we "profited" from unauthorized charges made by kids!
8.) How much money do apps really make? Several people online expressed outrage that Aasif mentioned that we were making “$1 million per month” on this game. What I actually said was that I couldn’t share our current financials (because we're owned by a public company), but the most successful games on the iPhone, including games like Dragonvale, Smurfs Village, Angry Birds, and Tap Zoo were making significantly more than $1 million per month in sales. Those are of course only the top few apps out of over 500,000 apps. Most apps make very little - not even enough to support a single full time employee. We weren't making anywhere near this much on Tap Fish via iTunes at the time of the interview - and Apple just released a list of the top grossing apps this year and we weren't even in the top 25.
Keep in mind, Zynga alone does $1 billion a year (yes with a B) from free games like Farmville and Cityville, where a small percentage of people pay for virtual goods, and they’re going public next week!
I also explained (another clip that wasn't shown!) that to be a real player in the mobile gaming space you must also spend something like $1 million per month - in salaries (yes I know most viewers won’t want to believe we, unlike the media, are actually creating jobs both in the US and abroad), in advertising and marketing expenses - so profit is pretty hard to come by in a cut-throat industry like the iPhone gaming world where we’re all trying to grow a business. Really?!?
9). Splicing and Dicing Can Make You Look Bad. Really? With 4 hours of footage, you can splice in any stupid expression or thing from anywhere in the footage to wherever you think it’ll make the person look the worst. There were a number of times when they took a facial expression or answer from a different part of the interview. At the end of the interview Aasif sat there and actually put on a bunch of different “stupid expressions” so they could edit them in – and they certainly took some of what I’d said from the 4 hours of interviews and edited them in at inopportune times! (Notably where they made me look squirmy and uncomfortable for a long time).
10) Funny or Manipulative or True or Scripted? Coming under the guise of “we think it’s funny that you sell virtual fish and that you’re the only part of the economy doing well,” they shot hours of gags about the game itself and how it worked: at one point Aasif even poured actual fishfood on top of an iPhone in an attempt to poke fun at the game (leaving our conference room carpet full of fishfood which we had to call in a cleaning crew to clean up, mind you).
At one point, Aasif put on a hardhat to walk around our office where “virtual goods were being constructed”. Where did these gags end up? Nowhere – they didn’t show up online or in the segment.
Instead, during a break I peaked at Aasif’s notes, which he had been studying religiously when not interviewing me, and they were a collection of: ”Make him say XXXXXX. Here are 5 or 10 different ways to ask questions so that you can get him to say XXXXXX. We really need to get him to say XXXXXX on tape.”.
An interview where the questions and the answers are in a script?? Really?!?
So, there you have it. The Top 10 ways in which the Daily Show Got It Wrong (and that’s only the top 10 - I could go on and on).
Despite being almost entirely inaccurate, editing out the most relevant information about my conversation with the parent (and making me look squirmy when they sprung it on me), believe it or not, there were still a few things about the segment that I found funny, so I guess I have to just laugh at it.
But I didn’t find the implication that we’re consciously out to exploit kids funny at all (nor should Jon Stewart or Aasif Mandvi or the Daily Show Producers), and they could’ve shown this wasn't the case, if they'd wanted to, by simply showing my actual conversation with the parent on the phone! But the parent and I were "too reasonable" and weren’t swearing at each other enough!! To say that is our primary business purpose is insulting to the millions of players who have played for free, it’s insulting to (the very few) entrepreneurs who are building the new economy and creating jobs here in the US.
Why if this wasn’t shown a “fake news show" meant to make people laugh, I might actually think they were being dishonest journalism and be upset with them!
Still, their conclusion about what Tap Fish “teaches” kids – that if something dies you can throw money at it to make it live again. That is pretty silly (and ok, kinda funny).
The real lesson for me from being on the Daily Show? Welcome to show business – where nothing is quite what it seems, and heroes and villans are made in the script and the editing room, and have very little to do with real life.