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Compare, Contrast, Stomp

Here are some excerpts on work done by various scientists on the subjects of where life on Earth came from and also dinosaurs:

[A] second paper published last week in the Cornell Earth and Planetary Astrophysics Journal suggests the trillion-ton meteorite impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have blasted off small bits of dinosaur DNA out into space. And quite a lot of those bits of dino-carrying rock will have landed on amenable planets, say the paper’s authors.

Breslow laid out evidence that unusual amino acids were brought to Earth by a meteorite four billion years ago and kickstarted life on our planet. He examined whether these putative space rock amino acids set the pattern for the L-shaped amino acids that make up most life on Earth and investigated whether those could lead to D-sugars of the kind present in DNA.

He cites evidence that L-shaped amino acids were found on a meteorite that landed in the 1960s.

The Cornell boffins have worked out what quantities of Earth matter would have been kicked out by the force of the impact and where that matter landed. They estimate that bits of Earth matter will have headed into the red dwarf Gliese 581 system some 20 light years away, which is thought to have a super-Earth orbiting at the edge of its habitable zone.

And of course if life from Earth was spewed into space by meteorites, then of course the life which arrived on our homeworld via meteorites must have come from somewhere else – somewhere perhaps filled with super-dinosaurs with iPads, satellite telly and Star Wars-style Death Stars.

Now take a look at these pages from the Dr McNinja story arc, Space Savers. Coincidence? The story in question deals with time travel, and I feel that its perfect matching-up with these latest scientific findings — despite having been drawn and published in 2010 — offers no other explanation than the immutable fact that Chris Hastings is a time traveler. You heard it here first.

Being a time traveler, he’s probably in a better place than I am to answer this comment/question from yesterday’s post:

Heya, lead producer on the McNinja project here :) I’m curious about your thoughts on how we could overcome the rewards issue for the low end, as we’ve had the same thought kicking about our heads. We definitely want to keep it free to play, or rather, an indefinitely large demo with a pay what you want model backing it, but how do we engage with people on kickstarter still? Thanks for the write up, by the way :)

First of all, let me congratulate lead developer [edit: see below] producer Hunter Thomas on having an awesome name. Hunter Thomas (or, more likely, Hunter Thomas) is the name of a person you want working at your side, because things are going to get done. Secondly, let me emphasize that my discussion of reward tiers on the Dr McNinja game represents the start of an analysis on a fairly complex problem, and everything that follows is entirely speculative.

Since the game is intended as free-to-play (or as near as possible), that takes away the most logical reward on the low end/no distribution costs end of the spectrum: the game. The low end is now skewed to people who think that power-ups/additional content (not yet produced) will be worth 10,000 or 100,000 points of credit for future in-game use. I see a couple of challenges and one very good decision in those rewards.

Let’s start with the good decision: the 100,000 point reward is US$15, and the 10,000 point reward is US$5; for anybody that has an interest in points, this is naturally going to drive them to the higher dollar figure because you get ten times the reward for only three times the cost. Our brains are hardwired by modern consumer culture to respond to that perception of bargain, and (as of this writing), the 100K backers are outnumbering the 10K backers, 25 to 17.

That’s the first challenge: all of those backers together only contribute US$455, and they make up six out of every ten supporters. The low tier cannot sustain this challenge without a ten-times increase in warm bodies, if proportions stay as they are. If the higher-value backers remain where they are now, it’ll take a thirty times growth in the bottom tiers.

There’s a great deal of reward variety at the upper tiers: there are nine US$100+ tiers, including three separate US$500 rewards, but as of right now, nobody’s biting — there is literally one backer at the US$50 level, with zero support above that. The entire support of the project is in the six lowest tiers; right now about 50% more thought appears to have been put into the high-support tiers (nice when you can get them, but don’t count on it) than the low and mid ranges. If as much variety had been put into the lower-value reward structure as the high-value, I think there’d be more backers. Again, from everything I’ve seen in Kickstarts, the US$30 (or so) to US$75 (or so) is the sweet spot.

Another challenge: Jon Rosenberg had a theory on merchandise pricing some years back that I think holds true in almost all cases: for fans of a thing, US$20 is the basic quantum unit of money. You need to price a lot of your stuff at the US$20 price point, because US$20 is the mental threshold for I’m spending money. It’s probably because ATMs spit out twenties, but if somebody is going to buy anything at all, they’ve prepared themselves to part with a twenty dollar bill; the idea of getting change back doesn’t enter into it. If you give them too many opportunities to part with less than twenty bucks, they’re going to spend less than twenty bucks. Sure, there’s a need for low-value items, especially if they can be produced cheaply, but not having your most attractive mass-market item in the US$20 range is leaving money on the table.

Translation: I think that that 10,000 points reward could have been bumped to 25,000 and gone for US$15, easily. US$20 gets you 100,000 points, which appears to be an even bigger bargain (10x benefit, for 1.3x cost). That mental calculation is based on both an advantage and a challenge: nobody knows what a point is worth. You sure do get a lot of them for twenty dollars, which ties into the bargain hunting drive, and that’s good. But what will you get for your points? Nobody knows yet, and that’s bad.

Yes, it can be used for power-ups and future content, but the system isn’t implemented and nobody knows the exchange rate for points yet. The US$20 I proposed for 100,000 of them is based on that fan crossing the purchasing threshold, but it’s really a leap of faith. Having even a rough description along the lines of We haven’t finalized costs, but we envision power-ups to cost between 1,000 and 10,000 points depending on how cool they are, and future expansions equal to at least half the size of the original game to go for 20,000 to 30,000 points would have let people make their support decision with a bit of economic reasoning. It’s still a leap of faith, but that bit of reasoning is also a way for the on-the-fence backers to talk themselves into dropping the money, because they’re now convinced as to value.

I’m pretty sure doing these things would have driven almost everybody at the current US$5/US$15 tiers to US$20, and allowed pricing for the present US$20 to US$50 tiers — which feature actual stuff — enough higher to get us into the aforementioned sweet spot. Naturally, this is all Monday morning quarterbacking, as we’re barely 30 hours into the campaign.

Since the tiers can’t be redefined at this point (if I understand Kickstarter’s TOS correctly), the best bet would be to clarify the value of those points and see if it’s not possible to make this a low-tier success by getting a hell of a lot more people interested. Also, since the game preview is playable, I have a feeling we’ll see surges of interest as more people actually play it. In a little more than three weeks, we’ll see how it all turned out¹.

[Edit to clarify] A misreading on my part identified Hunter Thomas as lead developer, when he is in fact lead producer and always was. Fleen regrets the error.

¹ No footnotes? That’s unpossible!

Awesome feedback :) And just to clarify (we’ll have this up on our website soon, really!), I’m lead producer, meaning my primary responsibility is project management and clearing out roadblocks for people. I am a programmer on the project, but our game development lead is Chance Argabright-Wees, the man with the giant zipper (no, really, that’s his nickname, he’s basically a Bond villain.), who’s much more talented at game development proper than I am (I’m a web guy who’s also trained in game dev). As it turns out though, the majority of people on our team have some game development experience, even our lead artist, so we’ve got a really kickass team through and through.

We’ve actually managed to come up with a couple of awesome additional tiers of support, at $25 and $65, so hopefully that $25 point is appeals to people :)

We’re trying to get more coverage in some of the larger indie trade blogs (Penny Arcade Report, Rock Paper Shotgun), so we’ll see how that turns out too. And we hope to get our guest comic running up over at Dr. McNinja sometime soon. I’m guessing that’ll catch people’s attention quite a lot too.

I really appreciate your input on letting people know what the points are worth. I was planning to have a post about that soon, but I’m going to step that up and get it out today, because you are quite right, it’ll dispel a lot of uncertainty :) Thanks for your analysis, really appreciate it!

[…] our discussion last week about perceived value and the appeal of a bargain, Onstad appears to have created a mechanism that will encourage people to give him money in […]

“Breslow laid out evidence that unusual amino acids were brought to Earth by a meteorite four billion years ago and kickstarted life on our planet.”

So we’re the result of the original crowdfunding operation?

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