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Month: June, 2020

Behold the natural evolution of “in-game purchases” for video games: instead of “pay to win,” this new system is “pay to lose” or “pay to not be able to play at all.”

Background:

The financial model of the video game industry now makes heavy use of in-game purchases (“microtransactions” / “DLC” (downloadable content) / “loot boxes”). These supplementary purchases frequently bring in more revenue than traditional sales.

Most transactions fall into these categories:

  • Pay for additional content: the “expansion pack” model. This is old-fashioned, but still exists.
  • Pay for cosmetic items (e.g. “pay 5 dollars and you get a helmet shaped like a giant bird”)
  • Pay to skip the grind (e.g. “pay 10 dollars to get to level 100 and be able to use the best sword, rather than playing the game for 100 hours).
  • Pay to win (for multiplayer games, e.g. “pay 5 dollars, and in the next 5 matches, your tanks will reload twice as fast”). Frequently seen in mobile games.

Proposal:

Conspicuously absent from these models are “pay to stop being addicted to the game” and “pay to force myself to become a more responsible adult.”

Below are a few proposed new categories of in-game purchase wherein a user would pay in order to play less of the game (Figure 1):

  • Pay to cause the game to automatically quit if you’ve been playing for more than an hour.
  • Pay to prevent the game from running at all until after your taxes are filed.
  • Pay to prevent playing the game after 11:00 PM on a work night / school night.
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Fig. 1: These new in-game purchase options would be irresistible for an individual with an important presentation to give in a few days, but who couldn’t bring themselves to stop playing this addictive game. “Pay to lose” may seem counterintuitive, but it opens up a large number of surprising new microtransaction options.

PROS: Increases civic virtue and personal responsibility.

CONS: May reduce overall game revenue, since this process would tend to kick out the bigger spenders.

 

 

Improve your car with the new bicycle-bell-inspired “secondary car horn” option. Now you’ll have options besides just honking at people! Unless you are a goose, in which case that will remain your only option.

The issue:

Imagine that you are driving a car down a narrow road and you see a person unloading groceries from a car trunk.

There are two common options:

  1. Continue driving: hope the person unloading the car doesn’t walk out into the street
  2. Honk the horn, to inform the person unloading the car that you are there

The second one is safer, but is considered extremely rude.

Thus, in real-world scenarios, most people will probably politely run over the car-unloading pedestrian rather than honk potentially unnecessarily.

The root problem here is that there is no “polite” way for a driver inform others of their presence. This is also becoming more of a problem as quieter electric cars become more common (so the car engine isn’t generating a “hey nearby people, a car is running” sound at all times).

Proposal:

This was solved ages ago for bicycles with the traditional bicycle bell, which conveys the sentiment “in case you weren’t aware, a bike is passing by!”

The car horn, on the hand, conveys the accusative sentiment “hey, you have committed some major driving error!”

What is needed is the bike-bell equivalent for a car—a “more polite” horn (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Left: a traditional steering wheel only features a startling “honk extremely loudly” option. Right: we can add a bicycle-bell-inspired “chime to inform pedestrians of a car nearby” button as an alternative to the normal car horn.

Conclusion:

Why isn’t this a feature, anyway? It seems like this should have been standard on cars since the mid-1980s.

PROS: Improves public safety and may reduce the number of people run over every year.

CONS: Adds one cent to the manufacturing cost of the steering wheel.

Avoid being stressed out by non-stop negative news with this new local news app idea, which will report positive happenings as well! And if there aren’t any, it will fabricate them out of nothing, so don’t trust it too much!

Background:

There are many phone apps that provide neighborhood-focused local news updates in real time (e.g. “Nextdoor” and “Citizen”).

This can make a person aware of every single burglary, car accident, “suspicious dog,” and other strange happening that may occur in their general vicinity.

The issue:

While this information can be useful, it often leads to an unrealistically alarming and paranoia-inducing view of daily life.

For example, in a large city, a person is almost always within a mile or two of a robbery or burglary, and these apps will constantly ping the user that crimes are being committed on a non-stop basis in the user’s immediate area.

Proposal:

In order to combat this relentless deluge of negative news, we suggest a modification of the local news app to provide a more “balanced” coverage of what’s actually going on in a neighborhood (Figure 1).

For example, perhaps someone snatched a purse from a cafe, but also at that same time, a kindly neighbor rescued someone’s cat from a tree.

In a “normal” news app, only the purse-snatching would be reported, but here we also report the cat rescue.

 

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Fig. 1: A neighborhood news app tends to only report gruesome happenings and dangerous things (left). This makes sense, but it also encourages a pessimistic view of one’s neighborhood. On the right, we see a “balanced” number of positive items as well: for example, the negative item “Horse theft” is balanced out by a new map marker for the positive item “very contented horse.”

Conclusion:

If we want to design this app in an extra-cynical fashion, it could just completely fabricate all of the positive situations. As an example, it could randomly populate neighborhoods with fictitious feel-good news like “jogger is complimented on their nice hat” or “dog-walker is high-fived by impressed neighbor.” The fabrications will be harder to detect, since there is no local government department dedicated to collecting statistics on cool and uplifting local happenings. Note: this scenario may negatively affect the reputation of the app if the truth is revealed.

PROS: May reduce the stress of urban living and counteract some of the negative features of constant news updates.

CONS: Crucial “negative” news (e.g. “Huge fire approaching! Evacuate!”) could be drowned out by nonsense like “Extra-fluffy cat spotted at corner of Main and 2nd!”

Don’t get on another video chat until you’ve fixed your crazy mountain-dweller hair with this incredible “green screen wig” lifehack!

Background:

When on a meeting with video chat, people generally like to look at least vaguely professional / presentable, even if they just rolled out of bed 5 minutes before the meeting.

The issue:

There are two main problems in video chat for people who want to project a corporate-approved professional image:

  1. The background should look non-disastrous.
  2. The person taking the call should not look like they have been living in a cave for weeks (Figure 1).

Several videoconferencing applications have solved problem #1 by adding a “virtual green screen” feature, which can automatically transform the user’s messy room into an expensive-looking modern mansion interior (e.g. the house from the movie Parasite).

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Fig. 1: This videoconferencing individual may be harshly judged for their unkempt appearance. If only there was a technical solution to this (besides using a comb)!

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can use the exact same green screen technology to allow the user to fix up their hair situation.

The implementation is simple: the user wears a cut-out green screen “hat” (Figure 2) that allows the computer to superimpose a flowing mane of magnificent hair behind them. Hair problem: solved!

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Fig. 2: The head-attached green screen could be secured in place by a hairband, or it could be glued to the front of a pair of headphones.

PROS: Should save millions of hours per year in hair maintenance for videoconferencers.

CONS: May promote a new standard of unrealistically majestic hair.

Stop procrastinating—accomplish items on your to-do list! This new candy-based “Kanban board” will amaze and shock you when it doubles your productivity! Results not guaranteed.

Background:

One popular method of organizing items that need to be done is the “Kanban board” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board) (e.g. the web site Trello).

Conceptually, this resembles a to-do list with categories as columns. Each item to be done a single sticky note (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Here is a basic Kanban-style to-do “list” with sticky notes on a whiteboard. Some of these tasks are quite annoying, and may be postponed for a long time! That snake will have the run of the garage forever, at this rate.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to get motivated to do items on a to-do list, especially if there is no appealing inherent reward.

Proposal:

In order to fix this procrastination-promoting scenario, we simply use clear tape to affix a pice of candy to each to each sticky note (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: The board above has been modified in a cheap and easy-to-set-up manner: a single piece of candy is taped to each not-yet-completed task.

When a person completes a task, they are allowed to eat the piece of candy that is taped to the task’s card.

For especially time-consuming tasks (e.g. “file taxes”), one could imagine taping several dozen small chocolates to the note in order to provide sufficient motivation.

PROS: Allows even the most unrepentant procrastinator to get motivated to accomplish a task.

CONS: May have negative health consequences for people who are especially productive, thus reducing their overall productivity. A paradox indeed.