Overcast 2: Great Update, Unfortunate Business Model

I listen to a lot of podcasts and the best way to listen to them is with the Overcast podcast player on iOS. It has a feature where it skips some silent sections and speeds up other parts of podcasts using a feature called smart speed. Smart speed has saved me upwards of 50 hours that I can then use to listen to… more podcasts.

Overcast 2 just came out:

After a year of work, Overcast 2 is now available as a free update for everyone. It’s mostly a major under-the-hood improvement, with relatively few user-facing changes. But they’re pretty good, I think.

And now, all features are free, and I’m trying a new business model.

By all accounts it is a great update that, in addition to other improvements, adds streaming podcasts for immediate listening instead of waiting for downloads . However, I don’t like the new business model. Previously, the app was free with a one-time in-app purchase (IAP) to get the best features (smart speed and voice boost) after sampling them in a time-limited demo. With Overcast 2, everybody gets those features for free. Which makes it even easier to recommend this app to people who were previously using Apple’s built-in podcast app.

The new business model in Overcast 2 is a completely optional $1/month subscription billed in 3 month ($2.99), 6 month ($5.99), and 12 month ($11.99) bundles. The developer calls this patronage, it’s clearly modeled after a service that does something similar called Patreon.

We had a great way to pay app developers on iOS before, with a one-time upfront purchase price or in-app purchases. Some developers release new versions as separate applications with separate purchases. Now the only option is a recurring monthly charge? I hope this doesn’t become a trend. 

The price isn’t unreasonable, it might be close to what you would pay if there were an option for true upgrade pricing on the iOS app store. It is almost entirely inoffensive at the moment because there is no difference in the app for people who sign up and those who don’t.  Although the developer gives himself an out if he decides to patron-only features in the future, there are no features locked behind the subscription today.

I gladly paid $4.99 for Overcast’s premium features when it first became available more than a year ago because I knew it would save me time versus listening to podcasts without smart speed. It is still the best podcast player app and I will continue to use it. The problem is that now I will feel weird about it because I can’t continue to pay for what I’m using.

It’s the same creepy feeling I have about workplaces with an “unlimited vacation policy.” You get the feeling at those places that they really want you to not take time off at all. Or when I walk by a person busking on the street who happens to be playing music that I enjoy. I don’t want to stop and listen because it means that I’ve enjoyed the music and I should now pay or become the asshole in the situation for not doing so. It’s even more exacerbating when I saw this same dude on the street playing the same song yesterday and I gave him $4.99 and now he’s pretending that he doesn’t recognize me.

Maybe it’s just me, and if Overcast had always had this same business model it would have seemed less strange, but the way I see it is that  everybody who had paid for the $4.99 IAP up until yesterday is going to feel like a bit of an asshole if they don’t sign up for this new business model. There is no recognition in Overcast 2 that you had paid yesterday, or a month ago, or when Overcast was first released. Maybe it isn’t possible with the tools Apple gives 3rd-party app developers but I would have appreciated a 5 month clock of “patronage” to match the old price.

New Overcast users, and those monsters who were using the app without the premium features, should be happy about the change if their cold and dead hearts never have an inclination to pay for what they’re using. It sucked when Adobe added subscriptions for their “creative cloud” apps (though their deal is worse because you have no access to some without paying) and it sucks when an independent, artisanal, New York-based, app developer does it too. It just feels worse when I can’t get on board with the new model for the independent developer because I am getting what I want for “free” as far the app is concerned even though I’ve already paid into it.

Team Fortress 2 Invasion

A new update to Team Fortress 2:

An extraterrestrial force threatens the planet in Team Fortress 2’s new event created exclusively by the community, for the community– INVASION! Over a (light)year in the making, we’re excited to finally hit the launch button and have the community join in on our fight against the alien menace! So buckle up, grab a space gun, and get ready to have your mind probed (and blown)!

The TF2 team is proud to announce Invasion, a wholly community-created update featuring an animated short, 16 new cosmetic items, reskinned weapons with cool death effects, a taunt, four maps, Unusual particle effects, and even an update landing page. It represents a boatload of work from some incredibly talented members of the TF2 community. Buy your Invasion Community Update Pass today!

The pass isn’t required for playing the new maps, just for keeping track of kills during the event and tossing some money the way of the people in the Team Fortress 2 community that made the maps and other content.

Tony Hawk’s Bug Skater 5

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 came out this week, it’s buggy as hell and not worth $60. Daniel Perez:

In a statement sent to Shacknews, Activision says it’s “aware of the issues that players have experienced following the launch of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and are working with the developer to address these so that we can continue to improve the gameplay experience for all of the Tony Hawk fans who have known and loved this franchise for more than 16 years.”

Huh. If only there were some way that Activision could have been aware of the issues before the game shipped, like some kind of methodology to play a game before it comes out and find defects in the software… No, that couldn’t have happened. It’s too ridiculous an idea. Must just be a total surprise.

When is it the Wrong Time to Be an Android User

Dan Goodin writing for Ars about newly published vulnerabilities:

There’s a new round of Stagefright vulnerabilities that allows attackers to execute malicious code on more than one billion phones running ancient as well as much more recent versions of Google’s Android operating system.

Stagefright 2.0, as it’s being dubbed by researchers from security firm Zimperium, is a set of two bugs that are triggered when processing specially designed MP3 audio or MP4 video files. The first flaw, which is found in the libutils library and is indexed as CVE-2015-6602, resides in every Android version since 1.0, which was released in 2008. The vulnerability can be exploited even on newer devices with beefed up defenses by exploiting a second vulnerability in libstagefright, a code library Android uses to process media files. Google still hasn’t issued a CVE index number for this second bug.

When combined, the flaws allow attackers to used booby-trapped audio or video files to execute malicious code on phones running Android 5.0 or later. Devices running 5.0 or earlier can be similarly exploited when they use the vulnerable function inside libutils, a condition that depends on what third-party apps are installed and what functionality came preloaded on the phone.

It is always the wrong time to be an Android user.

The Beginner’s Guide

The developer behind The Stanley Parable has released a new game for Mac, Linux, and Windows. It’s called The Beginner’s Guide. It wouldn’t be right to do a video of this, at about an hour and a half long the video could spoil the whole thing. Wreden describes it like this:

It lasts about an hour and a half and has no traditional mechanics, no goals or objectives. Instead, it tells the story of a person struggling to deal with something they do not understand.

Paste Games’ Cameron Kunzelman has a positive review:

In his 1960 New York Times review of Psycho, Bosley Crowther leans into talking about Alfred Hitchcock rather than the film. He writes in the comparative, calling Hitchcock an “old hand” who has made an “obviously low-budget job,” but it’s crucial for me to point out that those things aren’t necessarily negative for Crowther (although the review isn’t a positive one). Instead, his entire review is about attempting to navigate the relationship between Psycho the film with Hitchcock the man. Ultimately, Crowther finds the film lacking in something and suggests that the problem might be that Hitchcock’s “explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films.” Time has been kind to Psycho, but for Crowther, it couldn’t escape the known-quantity orbit of its creator.

When Davey Wreden opens The Beginner’s Guide with his voice, name and email address, you get the feeling that there’s something Hitchcockian going on here. Hitchcock made himself a part of his cinematic worlds both as a framer and as a cameo actor, and through that he was able to infuse those films with a weird energy.

Still No Word on “Trapped in an Amazon Warehouse Simulator”

There’s this kind of weird genre of games being called Suchandsuch Simulator. A category immortalized into flesh and code by Surgeon Simulator, the game that asked you, person that doesn’t know how to surgeon, to simulate being one with intentionally poor controls. Or there’s Goat Simulator which asked you, person that doesn’t know how to goat, to goat. They’re comedy games. You get the idea.

Owlchemy Labs, ye of Jack Lumber and Smuggle/Snuggle Truck fame,  appears to be playing on this naming scheme and the gameplay style of Surgeon Simulator with Job Simulator, here’s their description:

The year is 2050.

Robots cook, clean, service, and rule organize the world with precision and speed. Human occupations are now memories of the past; long gone are the blue collar jobs that ran the old world. Humans raised in our perfect automated society must not forget their useless ancient ancestors and history.

This is why JobBot was born. JobBot created Job Simulator to teach humans what it is ‘to job’. All praise to JobBot, for he is the keeper of human history.

Yes, perfect. Yes, I would like to job. Unfortunately I don’t have a VR headset yet, and it also requires motion control on either the Oculus Touch (Oculus’ motion controller dinguses) or  the HTC Vive (Valve’s first Steam VR dingus) in order to achieve the unprecedented level of realism depicted in the trailers. Of which there are two more: