With the push to "rebuild" the industry in the wake of GamerGate, BasedGamer and some other similar sites have cropped up. Jennie Bharaj's BasedGamer.com is a website that proposes to be an alternative to Metacritic, allowing gamers to post ratings and reviews of games to an aggregation system. If that seems a pretty vague and general, well, that's a big part of my problem. But we'll get onto that. BasedGamer.com is asking for 50,000 $ on IndieGogo here and a lot of people have solicited my opinions on it.
So well, they're unpopular opinions, I'd wager, but here they are.
Jennie Bharaj's BasedGamer.com is a website that proposes to be an alternative to Metacritic, allowing gamers to post ratings and reviews of games to an aggregation system. If that seems a pretty vague and general, well, that's a big part of my problem. But we'll get onto that. BasedGamer.com is asking for 50,000 $ on IndieGogo here and a lot of people have solicited my opinions on it.
So well, they're unpopular opinions, I'd wager, but here they are.
The problems I have are with the cost, Jennie's character, the lack of information about the project, and the fact that I think the last thing we need is another Metacritic.
A relatively-high startup cost is a red flag to an investor
First of all, lets treat IndieGogo, Kickstarter, and the like as what they are: a request for venture capital in an unproven product or service to be able to develop the product or service into a business. These products and services have included a variety of gaming-related things such as new controllers, to massive game projects that deliver a half-finished game.
That last bit, and the project in particular is illustrative of the fundamental problem of venture capital: it entails a risk. Indeed, venture capital is considered quite high-risk in the business world, and while investing in an existing business can be thought of as buying a share of an existing revenue and customer base, in venture capital, you are buying a share in a potential revenue and customer base. And with that, we come across the difference in IndieGogo and Kickstarter - you don't even get that. In lieu of a share of the company or business thus created, you are given one of more "backer rewards" in return for your investment. If they are worthwhile, then I suppose it is a suitable alternative, but we'll come to that after the first bit
Every project requires a certain amount of money, and BasedGamer has asked for 50,000 US dollars to complete Jennie's project. This amount is, to anyone with programming knowledge of this kind of project, extremely high.
Lets break down costs by what we need.
1: A website server - On average between 80 - 130$ a month, assuming you get a dedicated server on a lease. It's much more likely she'd buy a Virtual Private Server, which can go from anywheres from pennies a month (5$/year) to 20-45$/month on average. Some server companies charge a 100$ fee (median) for activation of a new dedicated server lease. I am going to assume we are paying for the server through the development window I predict of one month, but even if we give BasedGamer an entire year on a dedicated server, thats 960 - 1560$, not that much of the desired price. (AWS that she mentions is hard to gauge, but again, its about the same price as a dedicated server, and usually regarded as much less reliable on the whole)
2: A domain name - 10-12$ a year.
3: A programmer's wage - people like getting paid. Average pay for a programmer in Canada according to Statistics Canada comes to around 20$ an hour. So let's assume they work fourty hours a week for a month, more than enough time to program what is a very simple programming task in terms of complexity (a website of middling complexity with some security requirements - we're not programming CryEngine here) - That comes out to 2400 a month for each individual. Jennie has mentioned she has two individuals assisting her, so lets assume she pays herself and those two individuals at that rate. That comes out to 7200$ a month. And this is assuming the median rate, which is rather generous, as opposed to the much lower entry level programmer rate in Canada - 13.50$/hour according to StatsCan. This makes for a range of between 4860-7200$ for labour costs.
As an aside: there are many more programmers earning less than the median wage, as it were. It's a number skewed by a small handful of Canadian programmers earning absolutely ridiculous amounts of money.
4: Business Licensing - The cost for a business license in British Columbia where Jennie resides is 40$ and this registration is effective for six years. Local permits are not required for a home business, but they cost 20-30 dollars and must be renewed yearly.
6: Other legal costs - Other legal costs for a businesses include NDAs for programmers, legal reviews of a business license and plan, and the like. The consult I received for Highland Arrow cost me 250$, and that seems to be around the median rate.
So, for those of you wanting to know the total here, we are looking at about 6200-9170 dollars. Typical venture capital rule of thumb is to ask for about 1.5x - 2x more than you "think" you need to account for unexpected costs and hurdles you have in development. Were we to ask for 2x more than the ceiling number there, that puts the number at 18340$. Lets round that out to a nice and even 19k. That's less than half what is being asked here.
Let's assume for a moment she also hires someone on for a year, to administrate the site. The median rate for a community manager is 17$ an hour. With the low amount of maintenance this kind of site would need, I peg the need at 8-10 hours a week, so 7072 to 8840$ a year. That still puts our total at 13272 to 18010$ for the project, with that "venture capital comfort ceiling" of 36020. That leaves 13,980$ unaccounted for, a simply unacceptable amount given it represents 28% of the funds requested.
That's to say nothing of the way the costs have actually been explained in the BasedGamer.com outline, available here. The costs Jennie outlines in her document for BasedGamer are outrageous. She quotes a rate of 25$ an hour for a "level 1" programmer (whatever that means) - a rate that is better than almost 3/4 of programmers receive in Canada. And then a 50$/hour rate for a "level 2" programmer when the ceiling for a programmer in Canada is 40.16$. No programmer in Canada makes 50$ an hour. Let's not even get started with 250$ an hour rate for legal services. That is patently absurd. No lawyer in Canada makes even 210$ an hour let alone 250$. My consult for Highland Arrow involved a lawyer and his paralegal, and was about three hours long, and I was charged 250$. It is not a realistic rate she has there.
So that begs an important question: where would the rest of that money go to?
I think Jennie's numbers show a pretty fundamental inexperience of the business world and lack of knowledge and proper research into the costs of starting her business. She doesn't seem to have a true understanding of the costs that are involved with the project and what she needs to do to accomplish that goal financially. It seems to have been a case of taking the first number that seemed reasonable to her, and running with it.
I feel it is important to assert that I am more than inclined to give Jennie the benefit of the doubt here, and lets make something clear before I go on:
I don't think Jennie is trying to scam anyone
I do think she doesn't have the appropriate knowledge
to run this service she proposes
Part of the problem here is a site like Metacritic is a big thing to run, and let's not beat around the bush, that is what she is proposing. What isn't complex is the system. In terms of website development, it's quite simple, all you need is a system to accept submissions in a certain format, scrub them appropriately, moderate them, and browse them. This is the kind of database programming you learn in Web Programming 101. The problem becomes in administrating it.
Now, I hear what you're probably going to say, and before you run off to Twitter to berate me for my previous monetary projection to say that the costs of paying someone to administrate this, you may wish first why I don't think simply throwing money at that problem is going to make it go away.
First of all, the program needs to be well-designed. Well no shit Sherlock, you would probably reply, but that's pretty much the actual difficulty to this project. It needs to have intelligent enough spam filters to filter out garbage entries, administrative tools to change user rights or ban them as necessary, and the like, above all, it requires proper testing. Some of you may have noted that my time given of a month to program such a usually-simple use case of a simple database frontend website would be three people in a month, but this is keeping in mind proper testing,. security hardening, and auditing. I consider it a very generous timeframe. I had less time to program a rudimentary 3D engine in PASCAL for my bachelor's final project.
Secondly, administration is something you either have a flair for, or you do not. You have to be able to make hard choices, and do things that make you seem unpopular if it is the best for your website. They don't call them hard choices for nothing, and if we truly are to have a site that is run ethically and addresses the problems gamers have with poorly-run sites, we need someone of some moxie and grit. This brings me to my first, much more subjective point.
Jennie is not someone with the moral grit to stand up for the site
if those values become besieged in the same way as infinitechan has
This to me is a big problem. Jennie's a very nice and soft person, kind and compassionate, and to my eye and mind, she's someone who cares deeply with fitting in with the gaming community. That desire to "fit in" is a liability, though. What happens, for example, if the gamers she ultimately gravitates toward, who may or may not be her userbase at BasedGamer, are people who share these "social justice warrior" values? Accusations of shilling are practically commonplace now in the GamerGate hashtag on Twitter, so what happens then if the people she leans towards are those shills?
Her interviews probably hurt her in this, if I am to speak quite frankly, because her interactions with people have shown her rather resistant to the concerns of several people, such as those raised about her identification as a gamer and much more importantly things such as the price tag for the project ("Oh, I thought it seemed like enough after talking to people" seems to summarise her response thereto) Doesn't this invalidate me claiming she is trying to fit in, you might ask, to which I'd reply no - it is in fact rather indicative. She will stick to where she feels the "line" is at any given time, and if you are not on it, she is likely to ignore you. If that type of thinking seems suspiciously familiar to you, it's because it probably is.
The thing I really note here is that she probably seems to some individuals as "firm" or "strong" in her responses here, but she is neither. She advances no particular strong position nor advances any more facts requested by the community to allievate their misgivings about the product. She toes a self-designated line, and no doubt in her head this is "what she thinks is popular" - a dangerous thing to chase for something that is supposed to be founded on the idea of being better, and pitched to a crowd that feels better means in this case "more ethical"
Say what you will about Fredrick of infinitechan, he has hard-earned a reputation for sticking to his guns and his values with infinitechan, both making it clear what is and is not allowed on that service, and taking steps to enforce those rules consistently and effectively. Even the allegations of child pornography false flags slid off of infinitechan when the offending content got purged with salt and fire the moment Fredrick became aware of it, while Medium.com which housed a litany against that content and the "vile" infinitechan hosting it included censored images for exponentially longer than infinitechan did. Fredrick's responsiveness and consistency has earned him the regard he has amongst GamerGate and at large, and it is probably his most valuable asset, that integrity that is.
There is a surprising lack of information about what
BasedGamer actually plans to do and how they will do it
In contrast to Fredrick's open and decisive behaviour with infinitechan, Jennie's discussions about BasedGamer have told me an infinite deal of nothing in regards to to her personal convictions, or what convictions she will apply to BasedGamer. She has been evasive with her responses about the service, providing very little information that has been requested by reddit or twitter by way of actual documentation about the project.
I can't tell you much about the project beyond the simple explanation in the outline of what an aggregator is. The page about what the site will actually do is a terse single page with bullet points and a diagram. There is 98 on that page, describing what she intends to do with the site.
98 words. We are asked to invest money based on 98 words. To put that in perspective, my shortest review, not counting the APB review, is three times that size. It does not inspire a lot of understanding or confidence in the product.
To return to venture capital terms, this service is poorly defined. It does not outline in enough detail how it will work, the problems the site will overcome, and what the potential audience is. It does not detail how the costs will be recuperated on a long-term basis or how the site will be monetised, beyond "advertisements". There is not sufficient thought put into this project, to speak quite directly to the problem, and it shows. Venture capital is high-risk investing to begin with, and such an ill-fleshed-out idea is the high risk of high risks.
The BasedGamer.com site would address
a need that simply does not exist in the current space
The first question anyone has to ask is what the goal or aim of a service is - what need or desire does it fulfill? I find it difficult to find a need for another aggregation site when there exist several already for video games, only the greatest of which is MetaCritic (gamefaqs.com also aggregates user reviews, as another example). Is there a desire? Obviously there is some, or there would not be the present level of funding on IndieGogo, though we'll touch on that as my final point and why I think that funding number is not representative of the level of interest.
Furthermore, Metacritic and other score aggregators (but especially Metacritic) do not have a good reputation in gaming circles. People - gamers and developers alike - feel that they are not appropriate tools and can be quite harmful to the industry. People on both sides of the GamerGate issue, and even those uninvolved with GamerGate, have commented that they feel the scoring system there is not fair in its design, and it does not give a proper representation of the scores. Complicating the scores with several different numbers doesn't really do anything to address that fundamental problem.
Publishers as well complicate this, by tying financial incentives to developers to percentage ratings on aggregators, with some developers missing out on their bonuses by a single percent., You can rest assured that if BasedGamer.com became popular that it would be a participant in such industry scourges simply by it's existence, and yet there is no thought at all given to such concerns in the industry by the outline document.
In general, BasedGamer.com presents itself as better than other alternatives because it is "for gamers". I would assert that this is quite simply not enough to differentiate it from it's competition, and the outline's only key differentiation is those separate scoring categories, which to restate, I do not feel help address the fundamental problems that people have with MetaCritic.
(I have had it said to me that the difference is that BasedGamer.com would aggregate user reviews - but MetaCritic has both a critic score and a user score.)
The financial backing of BasedGamer.com seems suspect
My final problem with BasedGamer.com is just that: when you look through the financial backing of BasedGamer and you will see a bevy of large and anonymous pledges. This is worrying for a variety of reasons.
First of all, by her own admission, Jennie has pledged funding herself, to the tune of 2000$, and it is quite possible she is trying to force through a project with fixed funding through additional anonymous donations; this would be in spite of something saying she would not pursue funding if it wasn't successful, in the outline.
It is also possible that these are social justice advocates or other people who are trying to subject or "culturejam" causes. This would not be the first, nor I suspect, last case of SJW types trying to influence or co-opt the creation of materials organised by GamerGate and examples abound, for the attacks and smear campaigns against TFYC, to the more covert co-opting of Vivian James, to a variety of people who seem, quite simply, to be shills for the implicated publications or for anti-GG actors.
Regardless, and even if the anon donations are entirely legitimate, the entire premise is to build a much more ethical platform, and you do not do so by making your two main developers anonymous, to say nothing of having a string of anonymous patrons.
BasedGamer.com has a lot of bylines, weasel words, marketing speak, and fancy infographics, what it doesn't have is a clear and comprehensions plan to do what it asks for your money to do.