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PucaTrade Launches IndieGoGo Campaign for New Features

2 Mar PucaTrade

If you remember I love Magic: the Gathering, you may remember the last time I wrote about PucaTrade, the crowdsourcing-powered website for trading Magic cards.

PucaTrade

I’m back today to announce the launch of PucaTrade’s second IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to add new features to the site. The campaign, which launches on March 2nd and runs for 30 days, will raise money for five upcoming features:

  • A mobile version of the PucaTrade website
  • The ability to trade non-English cards
  • The ability to trade digital Magic: the Gathering Online cards for real-life paper ones, and vice-versa
  • The ability to trade cards of any condition, not just mint/near-mint
  • Support for trading more than one of the same card at a time

Some of these features represent truly unique services, in particular the ability to trade between Magic Online and real-life Magic cards. Currently, a simple way to do this just does not exist. “The reality is that no one is really excited about how MTGO currently handles trading,” says Eric Freytag, PucaTrade’s founder. “We’re really offering something that nobody has seen before: the elegance you’ve come to expect from the PucaTrade experience combined with the MTGO ecosystem.” Personally, I think it could be a great way to help more players get their hands on older cards, many of whose digital versions are affordable but paper forms require a second mortgage.

The idea of support for foreign-language cards is also exciting. Freytag is very enthusiastic about it, calling the opportunity for PucaTrade to go global “a huge deal. In America, we tend to think of non-English cards as unique oddities that are fun to collect, but for a huge percentage of Magic players worldwide, ‘non-English cards’ are just ‘Magic cards.’” He’s absolutely right, and increasing PucaTrade’s potential user base by this much will be an enormous boon for the site’s popularity.

I was initially a little skeptical of the ability to trade cards of any condition. A staple of any good crowdsourcing system is its ability to compartmentalize a project into small tasks that are easily managed by an individual with little to no oversight. Asking your average Magic player to be able to accurately grade their cards’ quality seems like a tall order, but Freytag has confidence in his user base: “Mostly we plan on going really deep on our condition guide, to leave little question about what the card is worth.” He goes on to say that PucaTrade will also add features to upload photos of cards and transfer “PucaPoints” mid-trade, giving traders the tools needed to solve many disputes by themselves.

With Freytag behind the wheel, a user base more than 45,000 strong, and almost half a million dollars’ worth of trades completed each month, PucaTrade looks like it’s on track to knock this campaign out of the park. Adding these features will add a ton of flexibility in terms of how users dictate their trades and help cement PucaTrade as the #1 place to trade cards easily and profitably. If you’d like to donate to the campaign, swing on over to the IndieGoGo page and show your support!

CrowdFlower Lawsuit Could Change Crowd Labor Industry Forever

29 Jul

Should crowd laborers be paid as contractors or employees? According to Christopher Otey, who has launched a lawsuit against crowd labor platform CrowdFlower, the answer is the latter. The results of this suit could carve a huge gash in the face of crowd labor providers, and forever change how the industry functions.

The Rundown

I’ve reported on this case before, back when I was writing for Ziptask, and you can see the full article there. The gist is that CrowdFlower, much like Amazon Mechanical Turk, is a labor platform where workers perform “tasks” for employers and receive payment according to how many they complete. It’s typically not a substantial amount of money;  CrowdFlower’s own CEO has allegedly claimed that its workers are paid far below minimum wage, sometimes as low as $2 an hour.

This does not sit well with Otey, who submits that CrowdFlower’s workers should be classified as employees and receive all the monetary benefits that go with that status. He has launched a lawsuit against the crowd labor provider, and intends to obtain collective and class-action status for it, which would allow other people to join in if they also feel that CrowdFlower has treated them unfairly.

Deciding Factors

I’ve personally spoken to representatives from both sides of this case. On the CrowdFlower side, we have Rich Arnold, the Chief Financial Officer of the company, who claims that Otey’s contributions and relationship with the company are nowhere near the level that would qualify him as an employee. Otey had contributed less than twenty hours of work to CrowdFlower in the two years he worked for the site, and had also done work for many other sites like CrowdFlower. As such, he was not solely dependent on their compensation as his primary source of income. He had also failed to develop the worker/employee relationship that typically defines these arrangements; prior to this suit, Otey had not met and could not name a single person working for CrowdFlower, and no one from the site had ever heard of him, either.

Otey’s representative, labor law attorney Mark Potashnick, approaches the issue with a more big-picture perspective, viewing Otey as a stand-in for the millions of individuals contributing to CrowdFlower. These individuals, he states, do the bulk of CrowdFlower’s work, making the site completely reliant on them. Their contributions are essential to CrowdFlower’s business model, and as such, they are as crucial as any traditional employee would be. He also cites a number of other Ninth Circuit and Fair Labor Standards Act factors that would place Otey and those like him squarely in the “employee” category.

It seems like the primary deciding factor, however, will be the amount of control CrowdFlower has over its contributors while they complete tasks for the site. One of the main sticking points may be how each side defines “control”. Arnold reminds us that by the nature of crowd labor, much of the control is in the hands of the contractor in that they have the ability to decide where and when they work, and on what projects. Whether they’re passing the time completing tasks at Starbucks on their lunch breaks, or completing them at home in their underwear while watching Pulp Fiction, the power is ultimately in the workers’ hands.

Potashnick would rather direct our attention to the rigorous methods CrowdFlower has of vetting their contributors, grading their labor, and assigning high-level tasks. Through the sophisticated infrastructure CrowdFlower has set up, they have all sorts of powers, Potashnick claims, that are not dissimilar to those one would find in a traditional employer. They can track success rates of individual workers to provide feedback, or exclude them from certain jobs altogether if their skills prove unworthy. Again, since the two sides are approaching this topic from very different perspectives, it is difficult to tell which side has more heft to their arguments.

Further complicating matters are recent discovery rulings passed down to CrowdFlower, barring them from further investigating the work history of Otey. The court has ruled that such knowledge is irrelevant to the case, and that the only thing that matters is the relationship between CrowdFlower and Otey.

Endgame: The Fate of an Industry

No matter who wins the suit, crowd labor’s role in the workforce could be forever altered. There are multitudes of sites that operate under a similar structure as CrowdFlower. If it’s found that Otey, and by extension those like him, are employees rather than contractors, the ramifications would be far-reaching.  This ruling would force CrowdFlower to bar its contributors in the U.S. from taking on low-paying tasks. Other companies similar to CrowdFlower may find themselves forced to close up shop rather than face the dramatic restructuring this verdict would require.

On the flip side, if it’s found that Otey and his ilk are indeed contractors, the exact opposite would occur. The precedent set by this case would protect companies similar to CrowdFlower, instead of undermining the very concepts that helped them flourish in the first place.

I found myself at a difficult crossroads when considering which side of this case has more leverage. The fact that the industry will be forever altered, regardless of the verdict, put me in a position where I really had to consider what either side’s victory would represent. A win for the plaintiffs would force some crowd labor sites to restructure and others to cease existing, but would also bring them in line with modern-day U.S. labor laws and perhaps even cement those remaining as a legitimate way to earn a living.

A victory for the defendants, on the other hand, would establish that there is a place in America for this type of labor. I like to think of crowd labor as akin to a snack vending machine; the work is convenient and there when you need it, and anyone can access it, but it’s not really substantial. It’s best used to supplement a main source of income, or as filler when you don’t have one, and I think such a service is unique and useful. Were there a defendant victory, I would love to then see U.S. labor laws restructured to allow such companies to continue comfortably existing.

Either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this case as it continues developing. I just hope I don’t have to watch the industry that I love die a slow, red-tape-swaddled death.

“Crowdsourcing For Dummies” Released

29 May

Image © 2013 Daily Crowdsource

The title says it all. With the release of “Crowdsourcing For Dummies”, crowdsourcing now has its own entry in the popular “for dummies” series. Add this to the fact that crowdfunding is now enough of “a thing” to be parodied, and I’d say that crowdsourcing has officially and finally landed in the public eye. About time!

Daily Crowdsource is on the scene with details about the instructional book:

Over the past year, Daily Crowdsource writer, Crowd Leader, author, Professor, Crowdopolis speaker, & IEEE Computer Society President, David Alan Grier, has been compiling his knowledge in his latest publication, Crowdsourcing For Dummies. It’s a plain-English guide to help you understand crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, & open innovation.

I’m excited about this release because I’ve been communicating with Grier throughout the writing cycle & know he’s put a lot of time into it. Here’s what his latest book will teach you:

  • Plan and launch your crowdsourcing project
  • Find the right platform for your needs
  • Promote your project and attract the right audience
  • Manage and motivate your crowd to get the best results

David Allen Grier is a leader in the field and highly influential when it comes to the topic of crowdsourcing, so the fact that he’s the driving force behind this book makes me very confident about the accuracy of the information contained within. I’m undoubtedly going to pick up a copy as soon as I get my next paycheck. If you’re a fan of this blog, consider the same.

Nintendo Pokes Fun At Crowdfunding With Wario’s “Crowdfarter”

22 May
Image © 2013 Nintendo

Image © 2013 Nintendo

Ask any musician that’s been parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, and they’ll tell you: you’ve only truly made it when someone parodies you. Which is why I’m thrilled to death that crowdfunding is such a big deal that videogame giant Nintendo has lampooned it to sell their new Wii U game, Game & Wario.

Crowdfunding was popularized by sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that present underfunded projects for people to throw money at if they want to see them completed. Nintendo’s parody, the maturely-named “Crowdfarter”, copies elements from the source material in a manner that shows that Nintendo isn’t just trying to cash in on a buzzword. They’ve made a conscious effort here to find the funniest and most ripe-for-parody elements of crowdfunding sites, and to represent them through their “lazy greedy corporate slob” character, Mario’s unscrupulous brother Wario.

Wario is a great fit for this parody; he wants to cash in on the new Wii U system, so he needs a game to do it. But of course, he doesn’t want to pay his own money to make the game, and that’s where we come in. Through Facebook “Likes” and Twitter shares, Wario will “fund” his game and spread awareness at the same time.

Nintendo went to notable lengths to rip on crowdfunding as lovingly as possible. All the elements that make crowdfunding unique are here: we’ve got the poorly-produced introduction video, the lofty and over-hyped funding goal rewards, the updates from Wario where he professes that his project will be “the best Wii U game ever”, and the less-than-subtle indication that the entire thing is less about the final product and more of a huge cash grab.

This parody would feel disingenuous if done poorly, but Wario’s characterization is absolutely perfect for this campaign. He’s unarguably the type of character who would see a system like crowdfunding and immediately attempt to game it for his own self-interested and lazy purposes. Wario might have even inadvertently touched on a deeper crowdsourcing issue with one off-the-cuff line: “Why should I pay for everything when other people will do it for me?” The best parodies always contain a kernel of truth.

Well done, Nintendo. I don’t own a Wii U so I probably won’t buy Game & Wario, but this is a marketing home run.  Check out the parody site here, and throw Wario a Tweet or a Like if you’re so inclined. Goodness knows his lazy ass could use the help.

It’s Back! Magic: The Gathering Announces You Make The Card 4

12 Mar

Image © 1995-2013 Wizards of the Coast LLC

Turns out the number-one cure for the Mondays is your favorite company announcing the revival of an incredibly popular and successful crowdsourcing campaign. Game company Wizards of the Coast announced today that their trading card game Magic: The Gathering, of which I am a huge fan, would be beginning the fourth iteration of their You Make The Card (YMTC) project, starting immediately. Using the ideas and voting power of their fans, Wizards will create a brand-new card that will be released in a future set.

Like the last few contests, YMTC4 will involve an iterative approach. One decision at a time will be presented to the fans, and they will discuss, submit ideas, and vote on that aspect before moving onto the next one. This campaign starts with deciding what card type this card will be; the first three campaigns began by choosing the card’s color or art. It’s similar to the approach Nissan used when soliciting the crowd’s help to design a car.

I’ve previously discussed the past YMTC campaigns, so I’ll take this space to briefly reiterate why they were so popular and such a good example of a company effectively reaching out to their audience. Wizards expertly hits all three of the tenets of successful crowdsourcing:

  • Since Magic research and development is usually very secretive and confidential, fans are incentivized by the rare and significant opportunity to be this closely involved
  • The iterative way in which the contest is compartmentalized prevents the people running it from being overwhelmed with too many disparate ideas, and ensures that each part of the card will work properly with the previously-designed parts
  • Hosting the campaign on the official website ensures that only people who are already sufficiently interested in Magic will find it, and that they will also have access to the massive archive of articles about Magic design that are hosted there.

I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy card we end up with when this contest is over. The first three cards designed by YMTC were fun to build decks around and provided effects that were previously underexplored in the game, so there’s no reason to believe this one won’t do the same.

Get in on the contest while it’s fresh and new by voting in the first phase and following the contest on Twitter under the #ymtc tag, and then pop down to the comments to tell me what kind of cool card you hope will be designed in the upcoming weeks.

 

EDIT 3/18/12 4:30pm EST: Thank you Maro for retweeting my article, and welcome all followers of Maro on Twitter!

Casey Armstrong: Saving The World, Going Open-Source, Turning People Into Robots

23 Jan

Casey Armstrong, VineStove founderCasey Armstrong has been a busy man. Formerly the content director at Daily Crowdsource, Armstrong has recently founded his own company, VineStove. A crowd labor/ microtasking site at heart, VineStove’s general essence is similar to that of Amazon Mechanical Turk, ShortTask, or Fiverr. People post jobs or tasks for others to carry out, and pay them a small amount for doing so. These are tasks that can typically be completed in the ballpark of five minutes; example tasks on VineStove’s homepage include photoshopping an image or researching payment plans.

The thing that sets VineStove apart from those sites, however, is the fact that all the work is done on a strictly volunteer basis. Payment is still rendered, but instead of going to the person doing the work, it’s donated to a charity or nonprofit organization of the worker’s choice. And according to Armstrong, the companies are “doing some pretty cool things. I just added the SENS Foundation, for example; they work on longevity research. Channeling money to them means we all get to live a little longer!”

Casey’s Gift To The World

There’s another layer to Armstrong’s world-saving scheme. In addition to providing labor and funding for these foundations, he intends to eventually make VineStove open-source, allowing anyone with adequate interest to have access to the entirety of code he uses to run his site.

“The end game for me is really the open-source project,” Armstrong affirms. “I want to see microtasking get big and mature faster. I am addicted to sites like mTurk and Quora,  and microvolunteering sites like Sparked; I want microtasking to become a part of everything, really.”

He sees the open-source release of VineStove to be an important step in the process. “It might seem like a gutsy move, but I firmly believe that a crowdsourcing platform is about what you put into it, and not its clever construction or web development. I had struggled to build a microtasking site for years. It took me a lot of effort to learn web development, research my options, and plan it all out… I wish VineStove could have gone up in three clicks years ago.”

By releasing VineStove’s source code to the public, Armstrong’s intention is that anyone with a reasonable amount of dedication will be able to build a platform to serve their purposes, with minimal technical knowledge required. Like a true altruist, he hopes to render the hardships that he himself encountered in building his platform obsolete.

Right, But What’s This About Turning Folks Into Robots?

Getting a site ready to go open-source isn’t an easy task. It takes money, and for a small team like Armstrong’s, a certain amount of extra hands. And oddly enough, the solution to those problems can be found in the form of a crowdfunded robotic intern.VineStove campaign

I discussed crowdfunding a little bit last week; it’s the process of soliciting funding for a project from good-hearted denizens of the Internet instead of trying to get a big corporation or fatcat to bankroll the whole thing. Armstrong’s current project on RocketHub intends to do just that, providing the capital to make VineStove open-source through donations by people like you and me.

The robotic intern is the reward. Donate at least $5, and you’ll earn the ability to join Armstrong in his team on the project by piloting the robot as a proxy. You’ll be able to freely move around the VineStove office, interact with the staff, help out with the website, or even just drive the thing into Casey’s foot for half an hour (if that’s your thing).

While the ability for VineStove to get a different intern with a different skill set each day is one that will undoubtedly add some flexibility to Armstrong’s team, he also states that the project has an aspect of novelty as well. “The robot idea is mostly just fun. I don’t know where it will lead. However, I’m a believer in the internet spilling out into the real world, and I think we’re going to see more internet controlled robots in the future,” Armstrong says. He went on to reference similar projects in the past, particularly one in which mTurk allowed people to remotely control a robotic arm to perform common household tasks.

Become a Member of Team Armstrong

If any bit of this sounds appealing to you, know that there is more than ample opportunity for you to join in and help Casey save the world. With a little more than two weeks left in the funding campaign, there’s plenty of time to donate and help bring microtasking to the masses. If you’ve got a unique set of skills, you can put them to work by signing up to be one of the robotic interns, or just using VineStove itself to do some good-old charity work; all you need is a Facebook registration.

Whether you want to live forever, build your own thriving online community, or just mess around with a robot for a few hours, Casey Armstrong has you covered, and the world is better off because of it.

Update: Gambitious Goes Live, Crowdfunds Video Game Ventures

26 Sep

Via Chris Marlowe at DigitalMediaWire:

Gambitious, the previously announced [on TW too! – ed.] crowdfunding platform dedicated to games, has gone live in the U.S. with seven projects already up and seeking financial support.

As is typical with crowdfunding, Gambitious invites game producers and designers to set their own goals and present their projects to their best advantage. Where Gambitious differs, however, is that it enables projects to offer equity as well as any other investor and donor premiums they want to.

Gambitious CEO Paul Hanraets said this hybrid business model gives game creators more control over their projects and businesses. It also gives the company a foothold in the U.S., where offering equity through crowdfunding is not yet legal.

Hanraets said the passage of the JOBS Act will lead to American investors being able to join their European counterparts in 2013, but until then those in the U.S. can donate in exchange for a copy of the finished game or other considerations.

The Gambitious platform also includes a qualification process that requires a business and marketing plan for every project seeking funding, but guarantees that the creators retain all of their intellectual property.

Gambitious, which is launching in the U.S. later than it originally planned, is a subsidiary of crowdfunding company Symbid.

“It is time to move from the wild, wild, west of crowdfunding to a more professional model,” said Gambitious co-founder Mike Wilson. “Crowdfunding is the best thing to happen to indies since shareware in the 90′s and Gambitious is a transformational way of funding the video game market – legitimizing, protecting, and maximizing the opportunity for all that want a stake in the game.”

Games currently participating in Gambitious include:

    • Candy Kids by Abstraction Games, The Netherlands
    • Cosmic DJ by Gl33k, USA
    • Mushroom Men by Red Fly Studio, USA
    • Piratoons by Fishing Cactus, Belgium
    • Super Micro Heroes by Mutant Games, Spain
    • Tink by Mimimi Productions, Germany
    • Train Fever by Urban Games, Switzerland

Upcoming projects include the beleaguered Earth No More by 3D Realms, as well as:

    • Pantzer Pets by Gamundo, The Netherlands
    • Stronghold Crusaders 2 by Firefly Studios, United Kingdom

It’s worth noting that 3D Realms is the company that produced the first three Duke Nukem games, before floundering on Duke Nukem Forever for fifteen years and handing the project off to Gearbox (Borderlands and Brothers in Arms series). Hopefully their new project won’t take that long.

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