Apple Editorial

Will Super Mario Run be free for Android?


I’ve been watching with mild disgust and very little surprise as the iOS community reveals itself to be largely made up of whingeing entitled little kids whose mummys and daddys clearly didn’t teach about how commerce works. It’s happened before, with the likes of Tweetbot, and now it’s Super Mario Run’s turn.

A lot of users are getting their knickers well and truly in a twist over Super Mario Run’s price. Apparently they weren’t aware it would cost them money to buy the game, despite the game being announced as a free demo with a price to pay for the whole game, and the actual price being revealed a full month before release. And despite the fact that it has an ‘Offers IAPs’ badge on the App Store ‘Get’ button, and that the single IAP is listed in the App Store description.

No, apparently it’s a bait and switch. A scam. A con. They expected the whole game to be free dammit! And so many don’t understand how it works once they’ve exhausted the free demo, with many tweets saying they’ve got to “pay per level” (nope, one price to unlock the whole thing). Or that it’s the “definition of pay to win” (nope, that would be freemium games like Clash Of Clans or Clash Royale, where you pay to get cards that not many others have, and pay to upgrade them beyond what others have).

There’s even a brilliant review on the App Store that says this game would be so much better if they’d released a free Lite version with a few levels, then had a paid version that had all the levels… despite the fact that this is essentially what’s on offer already: try a free demo, then unlock the rest via IAP if you want the full game.

And another review that says Nintendo has so much money they should have made the game free. Seriously.

In fact, the App Store is where Super Mario Run is getting roasted the worst, with one and two star reviews vastly outnumbering five and four star reviews. Sadly, most of them are about the fact that users gotta pay for an app. Because, y’know, developers don’t deserve money to buy food or pay rent.

And yet there are actually lots of other things wrong with the app that are much more deserving of objective criticism, things Nintendo really could stand to look at before their next release.

As much as I firmly agree with Nintendo’s decision to make this a pay-once-play-forever deal, a traditional game with one price and no freemium gems or timers, I do think they made some errors in many respects.

I believe they resisted entering the smartphone app market for so long because by entering it they feel like they’re admitting failure of some kind. So when they did finally enter these markets, they refused to be told how to adjust their existing model. They stuck to their stupid Friend Codes, their ugly outdated bubble-tastic interface, their premium price point and more.

So what could Nintendo have done better?

1) They could have made it much clearer how SMR pricing works.

They shouldn’t have to, but smartphone users are now used to ‘free’ freemium shite, and have a visceral reaction to being “made to” pay for something, especially if it’s more than 99 cents. They can afford one of the worlds most expensive consumer-focussed smartphones at hundreds and hundreds of dollars, but not a few bucks for stuff to run on that smartphone (music, apps, whatever). Hypocrites.

What could Nintendo have done to make it clearer? If they wanted to stick to an IAP to unlock they should have made the very first words in their App Store listing a description of the game as a free three-level demo with a paid unlock if you want the full game. Or they could have opened the game for users that haven’t yet bought the IAP with a screen that explained “Welcome to the Super Mario Run demo”.

It still wouldn’t have been enough to educate the idiots that see FREE and expect it to be, well, FREE. But it would have helped head off accusations of a bait and switch.

2) They could have released two versions.

One free and clearly labelled LITE, with just three levels. The other paid and clearly labelled FULL with the whole game. But frankly this is messy and requires more updating and introduces confusion and people still would have whined, that there weren’t enough levels in the free version or that they didn’t realise there was a free version and they want a refund, or something. People are idiots.

This would also have sidestepped the issue that comes with IAPs, where they aren’t available for family sharing. See, if you buy an app for your own phone, but your kids want it, or your partner wants it, and you have family sharing, they can have your copy of the app on their phone. But IAPs aren’t included in that. So you could all download the free version under family sharing, but everyone that wanted to have the full game would need to buy it. One IAP purchase does not extend to all family users.

This is obviously because of the likes of freemium games that sell gems. Those developers, and Apple, don’t want one freemium gem purchase going to four different family users, for example.

But this also affects apps trying to sell upgrades to the full version. It makes no sense that a regular paid app can be sold one time to all members of a family but an upgrade to a paid app can’t be. But them’s Apple’s rules, and they aren’t likely to bother fixing or clarifying or otherwise improving the inconsistency any time soon, because Apple historically doesn’t give a shit about user experience when it comes to stuff like this, unless enough people bring a class action or enough media outlets run them over the coals for it.

3) They could have made it freemium

No. No no no. Pocket Gamer already explained perfectly well why this would be an utterly shit idea. With very, very few exceptions (I can think of really only one in recent times, Clash Royale, and even that’s still ‘pay to win’ frankly), freemium games are pay to win time wasting skinner box shit. They’re there to make gameplay as boring as possible unless you pay, to hoodwink as much money out of you as possible, and with no real end or purpose. They’re just cash generators for the developers. If you can get by without paying anything good for you, but I’d rather pay money once for as much properly-balanced gaming fun as I want, whenever I want.

Apparently I’m in a minority, which is why the smartphone app gold rush is long over for the overwhelming majority of developers, unless you create a whale-hunting freemium skinner box.

4) They could have made it cheaper.

I’ve seen analysists banging on about how many copies were downloaded versus sold. I’m not really sure what black magic they base their claims on, and frankly I don’t trust analysts anyway (how many polls claimed Brexit wouldn’t happen or Trump wouldn’t win?) and would love to know how to get a job like that because I think most bloggers would do a better job in most cases.

Anyway, they say around 4-5% of the 40 million downloads have actually paid. Let’s say that’s true. That’s a lot of money but obviously leaves so much on the table. Would making the game a little cheaper have increased sales to the point that overall revenue would be vastly increased? Again, some analysts claim so. One even produced a fancy graph that suggests way more revenue if the app was cheaper, but it’s all guesswork.

Personally, I’ve not bought it. I think £7.99 ($9.99) is too much for what’s on offer – I don’t really enjoy Mario games at the best of times and while Mario Run does seem to have far more depth than most ‘endless runners’ like Temple Run, it doesn’t seem all that deeper than Rayman (which is free and blighted with gem purchases, but it barely impacted on my play experience when I tried it), and £8 is a lot for something I’ll play a few times idly on my way to work, versus something like Steamworld Heist which is around the same price and offers hours of deep, strategic gameplay.

Oh, except I can’t play Mario Run on my way to work because Nintendo think I might be a thief. See the next point…

5) They could remove the always-online requirement.

Nintendo basically expects everyone to steal their game (smartphone app piracy is at absolutely fucking disgusting levels to be fair) and so to punish all their legitimate users while making life merely awkward for the piracy community (who will doubtless find a way around it eventually), Nintendo in their infinite arrogance decided to make the game require an online connection at the end of every level.

They’ve admitted this is because of piracy (or as they rather sweetly and naïvely put it, user security), but they buried that under a load of smoke about online features for other modes needing to be tied into the main game because it was too tricky to try to separate them. Yeah yeah, whatever Shigs.

As a result, you can’t really play the game unless you have a very strong cell signal, or a wifi connection. I’ve tried on a bus travelling through London, with a 80% signal, and it wouldn’t even connect to play the game. Kept telling me I needed to connect to the internet to download level data – this after downloading and installing the game?!

So, Nintendo have released a casual one-thumb-playable mobile phone game, that can’t be used on most people’s commute, or in areas of remotely patchy internet. Goodbye tube, metro, tram, train, bus, and plane users. And anyone queueing in a large warehouse-like supermarket, as I also personally discovered.

6) They could improve the in-game opening experience

Nintendo has always had a clunky online experience. Clunky is being generous. Because they’re seen as a kiddie game company, they felt it necessary to build an online community that’s as kid-friendly as possible. In order to significantly and repeatedly interact with a friend over Nintendo’s online systems you both need to manually enter in a long string of letters and numbers that represent that person’s ‘Friend Code’.

So rather than trust Apple’s existing system for gaming communities (and is there any other company more neurotic about child safety using their devices than Apple? A company that, for a while at least, banned any representation of a gun in an app’s icon, even if your app was an approved game all about shooting people?!) Nintendo have brought Friend Codes to Mario Run.

They’ve also brought a really reeeaaally long list of countries to the game! I’ve literally never been forced to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroooll through such a long list trying to find my country before being allowed to play a game before, and I’m not sure why I had to anyway. Can’t they tell where I am? Why do they need to know anyway?

After getting through that boring shit, then they make you play the tutorial. They’ll make you play this tutorial every time you accidentally hit the button that asks for a tutorial, by the way. It’s unskippable once it starts short of quitting the app.

And after all that, then they start to download the first level. For real.

You’ve downloaded the app, installed it, fired it up, scrolled through a massive list of nations, tried to understand the whole Friend Code bullshit, skipped it, gone through the tedious demo (which could be boiled down to ‘tap to jump’).. and then they initiate a further download of the actual game. Did nobody at Apple sit Nintendo down and explain anything whatsoever about today’s app users to them? Ever?

“Okay but I heard it’s going to be free when it comes to Android?”

The game is due out on Android soon and some folks have it in their head that Nintendo will either reduce the price, or adjust how they charge. Maybe make it properly freemium.

Yeah… no. It’s extremely unlikely Nintendo are going to change a single thing about the app for Android.

They can’t reduce the price without also permanently reducing it on iOS, and if they do that they’ll have every single person that already bought it going nuts at them. They’d have to refund those people, or tell them to suck it up. Neither are going to happen. QED: the price won’t be reduced for Android.

Same goes for making it a more freemium game for Android. They can’t do that and not change it for iOS, and they won’t do that. It’s a proper paid app for a reason, so that they don’t have to cripple the gameplay with gems to increase the height you can jump, or premium coins to buy access to the next level. One price, full game.

So no, Super Mario Run for Android won’t be cheaper, free, or freemium. Suck it up, cheap-ass freeloading whining entitled Mario-loving smartphone owners.

Gear & gadget reviews Other

Design: The worst thing about the New 3DS XL power button, and how Nintendo could fix it

This week I decided to take the plunge on Nintendo’s New 3DS XL, and I love it! But there’s one small problem: the power button is in precisely the wrong place, and how it works is about the least user-friendly it could be.

The position is on the lower right front edge. It’s very close to where my pinkie often comes to rest during regular play, but when things get tense I often grip hard and the pinkie slides up and presses the button. That’s the first part of the problem. The second part is how the software is designed to work once it’s pressed. It brings up a top-screen telling you to close the console if you want it to Sleep, and on the lower screen asks you to tap a button to Power off, or hit the hardware Home button to just return to the Home screen. There’s no option to just cancel the whole process and return to your game.

So in practice if you have software running when you hit the button that software will quit immediately, no saving, no matter what. In something like Animal Crossing one’s grasp of the console is a lot more relaxed, but in a particularly tense moment like the end of a Mario Kart race, or claiming a tough prey in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, it’s all too easy to find my pinkie pulling down on that Power button and it’s Game Over.

How Nintendo could fix the Power button issue

There’s a couple of things Nintendo could do to fix this with software updates. The first thing that would help would be to make the Power button only respond to a long hold rather than a firm press. It should really be like this anyway, as it is on most other portable devices. They’d ideally combine this with something a little more like how the Home button works. Instead of quitting the game just pause it like the Home button does, then ask me if I want to Sleep, Power off, or go Home.

It’s such an easy and you’d like to think obvious fix that hopefully it’s something we’ll see in a future software update. If you happen to know someone at Nintendo, do suggest this from me. 😉


How to get YNAB for free if you’re a student

If you’re a student and struggling to manage your money, here’s some great news – Jesse Mecham over at You Need A Budget just announced they’re going to give a year of YNAB away free to every student that emails them their course registration.

Check out his blog post, but the short version is: every year you’re a student, they’ll give you a year’s license to use YNAB. And of course, when you graduate you can always save 10% off the full license with this discount.

Free YNAB for students is a damn generous offer, and should definitely help you get your money sorted. We’ve been used YNAB 4 since February 2013 and it’s turned our money situation around by following the rules and budgeting properly – and sticking to it of course.


CatPig Studios change the icon for Radium

new radium iconA while ago I wrote about Radium, a great app for listening to internet radio on your Mac and iOS devices, but which was rather blighted with one of the stupidest, most incongruent and confusing icons I could possibly think of for such an app: a heart-shaped chocolate.

Yes, a heart-shaped chocolate. For a radio app. I know.

This extended to the menu-bar icon, which was particularly galling to me so I wrote another post explaining how to edit the Radium app package to insert the original radio icons.

I’d always liked Radium, but I absolutely loathed the new icon and as I care about this sort of thing I wrote to Catpig to ask why they’d changed it. At first they brushed off my suggestions that it wasn’t the most obvious choice saying it was in keeping with their new tag line ‘chocolate for your ears’ (yep, also weird) but ultimately they weren’t that interested in taking any feedback and just got rude, suggesting that I was an idiot for not understanding design. I suggested they were the ones that put highfalutin but incongruent ideas ahead of user recognizability, but they made it explicitly clear that they couldn’t care less what I thought.

Well, I wasn’t the only one utterly bemused by the ridiculous new icon: a few users who saw my post mentioned in the comments some of the rude replies they’d received from CatPig when they too got in touch to ask about the icon. It seems that even though CatPig ask for user feedback on their site, they’re really not that interested in actually receiving it.

Or, are they? I’m afraid after the very rude replies they sent me I deleted Radium and subscribed to Rdio, so I never noticed a Radium update that completely changed the icon again until someone mentioned it in the comments recently. It seems CatPig finally got the message and switched from the ridiculous chocolate to an altogether more sensible radio tower. And it’s rather lovely!

Well done, CatPig! You’ve now got the best internet radio app and one of the best icons. Hopefully a customer interaction attitude adjustment is up next…?

Editorial Other how-tos

My essential WordPress plugins: 2014 Edition

essential wordpress pluginsI’m throwing together a new hobby website to tinker with right now, and as with all my other sites I’m building it with WordPress. I know basic HTML and CSS but WordPress really takes the pain out of making a new website, especially hobby review sites like the one I’m making.

Every time I install WordPress I find myself searching the web trying to remember what plugins I to install. Last time I made myself a list in Simplenote, and this time I’ve decided to write a post and share my favourite essential WordPress plugins with y’all.

You’re not supposed to use too many plugins on a WordPress site as each one has the capacity to increase your load time, introduce bugs or conflicts, which itself could compromise your site security. However, these are the plugins I can’t live without. See what you think:

Essential WordPress plugins – free

Essential means I absolutely would not launch a WordPress site without these. They’re all available for free from the WordPress plugin depository, available within your WordPress site from the plugins panel.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

Yoast (aka Joost de Valk) is a world-renowned SEO guru, so you can trust his advice. This plugin consolidates a whole bunch of the most important SEO tricks into one, including meta descriptions for your Google search results, XML sitemaps, breadcrumbs and more.

You also get a little tool in the admin page for each bit of content on your site that allows you to specify what ‘keywords’ you’d like the content to rank for. The plugin then assesses how well your page is likely to rank for that keyword depending on how many times you’ve used the keyword in the content, if your links are appropriate, whether you’ve written enough text, if the keyword appears in your page URL, and so on.

Yoast’s tool doesn’t automatically guarantee high rankings for you – you’ve got to put the work in – but it gives you all the info you need to give yourself a massive head-start against those who don’t put the same work in.

Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

Knowing as much as possible about your visitors is just basic webmaster stuff. However, the complexity of the Google Analytics interface makes it pretty tough to learn, especially for beginners. I don’t think I’ve looked at my GA page for any of my sites in over a year now, ever since I subscribed to the much friendlier alternative, Clicky (see below).

However, it’s the industry standard tracking tool and it’s free, so you’d be nuts to ignore it. Yoast’s plugin makes the fiddly work of adding the correct code to your sites as simple as installing the plugin and connecting it to your GA account.

Clicky by Yoast

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

Clicky is an alternative to Google Analytics that I’ve been using for about a year now. You can track one site for free with limited features, or pay a subscription to track multiple sites with a bunch of extra features such as heat-maps. I particularly love being able to tag certain users so I can track their return visits and path through my sites.

This plugin by Yoast is similar to his GA plugin – you fill in your Clicky details and the plugin adds the Clicky tracking code to your site’s pages.

SEO Friendly Images

WordPress plugin page

The ‘alt’ and ‘title’ tags in the images on your site are very valuable SEO tools and you should set relevant tags for all your images. You can set these manually per image in the Media library, but if you’re uploading a ton of images every day, or don’t relish going through your existing images to manually add alt and title tags, this tool will do it for you based on simple rules you can set up.

Limit Login Attempts

WordPress plugin page

WordPress sites are prime targets for hackers because a staggering number of people leave the username as the default ‘admin’, and then use a terrible password. Hackerbots will spend all day long trying to break in using ‘admin’ and a password dictionary list. If you’re using ‘admin’ for your username, change it now!

Limit Login Attempts does exactly what it says. You tell it how many failed login attempts are allowed from an IP address before that IP is blocked for a certain number of hours, and have the plugin email you if too many repeated failed attempts occur.

It’s fun leaving email notifications on for a few days just to see how many automated hack attempts are made on your site, but after that just turn them off and let the plugin do it’s thing.

Bad Behavior

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

This annoyingly-mis-spelt plugin (look, I’m British, it’s ‘behaviour’, okay? 😉 ) works well with Limit Login Attempts in that it uses a well-maintained list of known bot networks and blocks them from even accessing the login page. You’ll need to sign up for an account to get an API key but it’s free and well worth the peace of mind.


WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

The industry standard for filtering out spam comments before they even get to you, and is so good it comes pre-installed with every WordPress site. You’ll need to activate it with an API key which you can get one for free by registering on Akismet’s site, and you can use the same key with all your WordPress sites. It isn’t perfect, but you don’t want to launch a site that uses comments without Akismet activated. Trust me!

Regenerate/Force Regenerate Thumbnails

WordPress plugin page (Regenerate Thumbnails)

WordPress plugin page (Force Regenerate Thumbnails)

Regenerate Thumbnails is something you usually only need if you change theme to something that uses different image sizes. Regenerate Thumbnails uses your original uploads to regenerate new ‘thumbnails’ that will fit with your new theme’s media size requirements.

However, it also leaves behind all the original thumbs, which take up space if you don’t need them. Force Regenerate Thumbnails is an alternative plugin which will generate your new images and delete all the old ones, keeping your Media library nice and trim. Only use it if you’re sure you’re sticking with the new theme!

By the way, if you install Jetpack (see below) and use the Photon module you shouldn’t need either of these plugins as Photon will use the WordPress servers to generate whatever size of thumbnail is needed, on demand. Which is nice.

Smart 404

WordPress plugin page

I hate seeing 404 pages turn up in my visitor stats as it means a user didn’t get what they wanted and probably left my site. Smart 404 looks at what the user tried to get to, searches the site’s posts, pages, tags and categories for anything similar, and sends them there instead of the 404 page. If it can’t find anything similar then it generates a tweak-able 404 template that provides a list of suggestions to the visitor.

At the time of writing the plugin hasn’t been updated in two years, but it’s working fine on all my sites. If any up-to-date alternatives spring up, let me know!


WordPress plugin page
Plugin website is a long-running Yahoo service that reduces the file size of an image without affecting how it looks by stripping out unnecessary data, great for improving the load time of your site.

With the plugin active, all subsequent images uploaded to your site will automatically be sent to the service first before being sent back and added to the Media library as normal, without any effort on your part. You can also manually send your existing images to be smushed, either individually or in bulk.

This plugin fell into limbo for a while around 2012 but the team at WPMU DEV came to its rescue and it’s now fully functional and regularly maintained.

WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache

WordPress plugin page (W3 Total Cache)
Setup guide (W3 Total Cache)

WordPress plugin page (WP Super Cache)
Setup guide (WP Super Cache)

In very basic terms, caching speeds up the load time of your site which makes it easier to use and more attractive to Google, both of which you want. There are a variety of caching plugins out there, and arguing over which one is best is a full time occupation for various internet forum users! What I can tell you is that for most sites either of these will be absolutely fine.

Most, if not all, of my sites run W3 Total Cache these days as I found the clearest instructions for using that plugin with Amazon’s CDN. However, CDNs themselves can open up a whole can of worms, so for the most part I recommend you start off by setting up the basic caching options and seeing how much of an improvement that makes, then go from there depending on the size and popularity of your site.

A useful tip: if turning on your caching plugin immediately causes your site to break, don’t panic! It’s almost always either Javascript or CSS minify rules to blame, so start by turning off your minify settings one at a time until the site starts working again.


WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

Jetpack is an official WordPress plugin that bundles a whole bunch of useful functions into one handy package, including: publicising, short links, sharing, image caching, basic stat tracking, slideshows, backups, mailing lists, custom CSS, Google+ integration and more.

I use more powerful, dedicated plugins for many of these things, such as mailing lists and stats, but I particularly love the ‘Edit CSS’ option for themes that don’t have their own CSS panel, and the automatic publishing to LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, which takes so much of the legwork out of publicising a new post. The Photon tool also does a great job of speeding up image delivery.

Not-Quite-As-Essential WordPress plugins – free

I don’t always install these plugins, it depends what kind of site I’m making. For example, I only use the Image Metadata Cruncher on my photography sites, and some themes come with their own options for social media badges or Mailchimp signup forms. But when I need them, these are the plugins I turn to:

Mailchimp for WordPress

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website

Despite the name this isn’t the official Mailchimp plugin for WordPress, but it should be. It’s an excellent third-party plugin that makes it incredibly easy to drop signup boxes or forms into a page with a short code, and also includes the option to add a ‘sign up’ tick box to your comment and contact pages.

You can upgrade to the Pro version for more options, but I’ve been doing okay with the free version so far.

Social Media Widget

WordPress plugin page

There’s a metric ton of social media widgets out there but I just wanted one that displays nice icons in a row in my sidebar or my footer, and this does the job with optional animations to boot. Simple, lightweight, with a range of different icons to suit most tastes and the flexibility to install more. I really love that it includes Instagram, it took me ages to find one that did!

Image Metadata Cruncher

WordPress plugin page
Plugin website (don’t let the weirdly unpleasant design put you off!)

I use this plugin on my professional photography sites because it gives me full control over how EXIF and IPTC details are used by WordPress, based on the contents of those fields as edited by me in Lightroom or Photo Mechanic.

For example, by default WordPress extracts the EXIF ImageDescription and the IPTC Headline of an uploaded image and uses that to fill the Description and Title fields of the Edit Media form. Image Metadata Cruncher gives you full control over this by letting you tell WordPress which EXIF or IPTC elements to use, where.

It even lets you build up complex sentence ‘strings’ to use on your site, such as:

Photo taken with Canon 7D at ISO 800. Shutter speed was 1/125s and aperture was f/2.8.

Some awesome paid WordPress plugins

Sometimes I find the best option is a paid plugin, and I usually turn to CodeCanyon first. Here’s the two plugins I’ve bought that have been very useful across multiple sites:

Justified Image Grid

CodeCanyon plugin page
Plugin website (try out all the options in the demo!)

This. Is. Amazing. It takes all the images you’ve attached to a post, or a subset of them WordPress-gallery-style, and presents them in an elegant justified grid according to the options you set. It’s effortless and awesome and makes your image galleries look fantastic.

You can opt for one of dozens of pre-made themes (all of which look good out of the box) or delve into the incredibly powerful options to tweak almost everything, including the general size of the images, if they animate when hovered, title styling, lightbox options, and more.

I use it on my professional photography site for blog galleries and portfolio galleries, and on my photoblog for the homepage gallery.

Taqyeem (reviews)

CodeCanyon plugin page

Boasting an oddly not-very-descriptive name, this plugin is actually one of the best available for turning any theme into a review theme. You can add a review box to any post or page using admin options or a shortcode, every element of the review box is customisable using well-documented CSS options, and you can drop the overall star rating into any part of your theme with a line or two of PHP, also covered in the instructions.

That’s yer lot!

Installing the essential plugins I listed above, and setting them up right, will be sure to get your WordPress site off to the best start it can. Enjoy, and good luck!