This feels like fraud

According to their website, Murka has been making casino-type games on various computing platforms for six years now. I have three of their games installed on my phone. (Two slot machine games and one blackjack game.)

I want to talk specifically about one of their slot games: Scatter Slots. I’m not going to deny that I do enjoy playing the game. Although I do like it, I have found that there are some aspects to its actual execution that simply could work better. For example, although the graphics, gameplay, and soundtrack are excellent, I found that the in-app notifications and solicitations for purchasing more coins are excessive. I have had several run-ins with their less-than-helpful customer service.

As a result, I wrote a detailed review and gave the game two stars on the App Store. (Out of five).

One thing that makes this game unique among games of this type is that it offers multiple virtual slot machines and a quest-type form of gameplay. You move from one machine to the next on a vintage-looking “map” by completing goals. (For example, win a certain number of coins or spin a certain number of times.)

There is a feature on this game that I truly have mixed feelings about: integration with Facebook. On one hand, Facebook, as an advertising medium would know that I play the game and the game often tries to post on my wall, something I consistently try to prevent from happening. I don’t care when my friends play a game and don’t want them to know when I am. On the other hand, the game saves your progress on Facebook’s servers and, thus, allows you to play the game on one device, put the device down, and then pick it up where you left off on another device.

But I can’t deny that, without this Facebook integration, I wouldn’t know what I’m about to say.

When you switch from one device to another, the game will ask you if you want to restore from the locally saved version of the game, or if you want to load the online version. You could argue that it’s cheating to go back to a save point and revert to what you had before you lost all those coins. Perhaps, but you also lost any progress you might have made.

If you do this, and then play the same “machine” that you played the first time around, something interesting happens. It turns out that the results of a given “spin” aren’t as random as Murka would have you believe. The pattern of wins and losses, and the actual symbols and the location where they appear on the board are exactly the same when you play them from the same starting point.

What this means is that if Murka sets a goal of, say, spinning with the maximum bet 50 times for a given “mission”, then the game already knows exactly how much you’re going to win or lose before you spin the first time. And it’ll be the same no matter how many times you restore from an older saved version. Or even how long you wait before trying again.

I amazed my thirteen year old son by correctly “predicting” the results of a bonus game on the “Spirits of Nature” board. In reality, I had already seen those same results three times before I tried it in front him.

If it were a real slot machine playing with real money, there are regulations that vary from one state to the next that dictate minimum payout rates. I’m not aware of any related regulations for ones with no real money at stake.

That said, there is real money involved to some degree in the form of in-app purchases, as I mentioned above. And if your in-game bank is low enough, they can definitely be tempting. And that kind of inducement makes you wonder if they’re trying to fleece consumers.

One of my many encounters with customer service involved me complaining about the low payout rates of one of the game. The person I corresponded with told me to sit tight and I’d win more eventually. This new information certainly puts that conversation into perspective.

Is it illegal? I’m not a lawyer and I wouldn’t know. It’s certainly unethical, though. I’m not saying not to play this game but you absolutely shouldn’t buy anything within this app. Even if you need extra coins.

Murka certainly has some ‘splainin’ to do.

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Why I’m not getting an iPhone X

I’ve been a fan of Apple products since the late 1980s. Call me a gadget geek, or whatever, and I probably fit the description. I bought a few shares of Apple stock in mid-October, 2001 when all stocks were trading at a discount in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks simply because I liked the company.

I didn’t know that they’d be launching the iPod less than two weeks later.

I bought my first iPhone when the 3GS came out, as that was when my then-contract with my prior phone was up. A year ago, I signed on to their annual upgrade program. So this year, when that program allowed me to choose between an iPhone 8 and an iPhone X, I chose the 8. (Technically, an 8 Plus since I like the size of the device.)

I have three main reasons for not wanting the X and today, on the eve of its formal release, I have yet to see anything that addresses my concerns. And none of these reasons cover the much-discussed privacy concerns raised by others, about the new FaceID technology.

My reasons for not wanting it, have more to do with preferring to keep the existing TouchID fingerprint recognition technology. Here are my reasons, in greater detail:

1. I have CarPlay in my car and connect my phone to it. Furthermore, I have a few HomeKit devices in my house. Without going into detail about the specifics, there’s a bug somewhere within HomeKit that requires the phone to be unlocked — even while using CarPlay — in order to be invoked. I’ve reported this bug to Apple but as of right now, it’s still an issue. My workaround is to unlock my phone while I’m driving. There are no safety concerns given where I put my phone while I’m driving and the fact that I can unlock it simply by putting my finger on the home button. (But I still do that at red lights anyway…). There would be huge safety concerns if I had to raise the phone to my face, if it would even allow it.

2. There are times when I want to keep the phone locked to get to something on my home screen without unlocking it. The two most prominent are my medical ID and my Apple Wallet, which contains most of my loyalty cards to various businesses I patronize. (Indeed, one of the things I hate about CVS’s app is that they don’t let you add their card to the wallet…). It’s much harder to get to these things through an unlocked phone, since they actively require you to open the wallet or health apps. From a locked phone, just push the home button twice, and attempt to unlock the phone with a finger that hasn’t been recorded for its fingerprint, respectively.

3. This one is the biggest one. Many apps, especially games, offer in-app purchases. While I do sometimes make in-app purchases, some apps make it far too easy to inadvertently tap a point on the screen that would result, if I approve it, in my making that purchase. I don’t want to make an inadvertent purchase simply because I’m looking at my phone’s screen. That technically could apply for buying actual apps, music, movies, TV shows, and books, within the respective Apple stores in my device, but games are the worst offenders here.

I’m not going to get into a debate about how secure the facial recognition software is in the iPhone X. Even if I give Apple the full benefit of the doubt on that matter, that doesn’t address these three concerns. And until they are properly addressed (which, in the case of the HomeKit bug, means fixing it), I don’t want it.

Maybe next year. Who knows?

There’s an App for Hypocrisy

A couple of days ago, I did a search on the iPhone App Store under the keyword of ‘atheism’.

There was a free app a bit of a way’s down, called “No Religion Zone.” I had some reservations about downloading this app, since the creator of this app was credited as “New Life Church” in Sandusky, Ohio.

The description of the app didn’t really give me a sense of what they were about. The description didn’t say much of anything other than exploring the difference between “religion” and “relationship”.

Let me shed some light on the meanings of both terms:

A religion is a community, one which requires adherence to a series of beliefs even in the face of new evidence that directly contradicts those beliefs.

A relationship is any link between two or more people who have some degree of familiarity. There is no requirement of faith, belief, or even maintenance (even if maintenance of the relationship is generally a good idea…)

The reviews were, for the most part, equally unhelpful. Here is the full text of one of the five-star reviews the app has received:

I always wanted to have an app like this for a long time ago.. Cos religion makes me sick!&$@!#%+£€

And here’s another:

Best app ever!! No religion baby!!!

And one more for good measure:

Top quality app A++. Very true and inspiring message!

There’s an adage in the tabloid publishing industry that there’s no such thing as too many exclamation marks. All of the five-star reviews for the app have at least one exclamation mark.

There was a single one-star review that actually made sense: it’s more than a little bit longer than the five-star reviews; the reviewer made a point of arguing that “even a humidor that says ‘no cigars’ can still have cigars in it.”

Since I wouldn’t lose any money in the process, I decided to download the app. It took me about ten minutes of navigating the app, that I knew that this was a lost cause and that this app certainly wasn’t worth it. Here’s the review I wrote, verbatim:

Either the leaders of the church promoted by this app either demonstrate a cognitive dissonance or outright hypocrisy. They say “no religion” yet promote church gatherings in support of their faith.

The degree of disconnect between actions (a faith-based community pledging blind faith in some supernatural power and the associated scriptures) and words (not being a religion) is actually not uncommon in some evangelical Christian circles and is often used to defy the constitutional separation of church and state. Bottom line, if you truly wish to consider yourself not a religion, I’ve got another word to apply to your church: a cult.

It’s glaringly obvious that the five-star reviews came from members. And it’s also glaringly obvious that this is an attempt to proselytize to people who shouldn’t be preached to in the first place.

This app has a total of ten reviews (six of the current version) with an average rating of 2.5 stars. With this high an average, I’m reminded of an old XKCD strip:

Curious…

If you use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad, you are familiar with what Apple calls badges, even if you don’t know that’s what they’re called. When an app wants to tell you something, a red circle appears in the corner of that app’s icon, telling you how many somethings it wants to tell you. That’s a badge. Unread mail is a good example. If you have three unread messages in your email box, the mail icon will have a badge with a 3 in it.

Ever since 2010, you can combine up to twelve apps in a single “folder” (on the iPhone and iPod Touch anyway. The iPad supports more but I don’t know the exact number). Folders show badges too. With a folder, it shows the sum of the numbers on the badges on all of the apps in that folder. So if your mail app and the Facebook app are in the same folder, and if you have three unread messages, and three Facebook notifications, they’ll each display a badge with a 3 on it, but the folder will display 6.

Now, I don’t know how to design an app and I certainly don’t know how to crack open an app to get at the code it uses. For that matter, I can’t do the same with the operating system, but I can tell you this:
— the rules for displaying a badge, both at the app and the folder level, hold that it will be displayed if the number of things to tell you is at least 1. No badge will display if it’s less than 1.
— the number that’s displayed on a folder badge is the sum of the number of things all of the enclosed apps want to tell you.

I know this because of a problem I had on my iPhone for about a week before I decided to see if I could fix it. I have a folder called Internet, which contains a total of eleven apps: mail, three web browsers, Facebook, twitter, WordPress, tumblr, Google +, google, and Wolfram Alpha.

To illustrate the problem, let’s say I had a badge on the mail app with a 3 in it. The app would have a 3, but the folder would have a 2 in it. Let’s say the badge on Facebook had a 3 on it (and was the only app with a badge). The folder, like with Mail, would say 2. If both Mail and Facebook had a 3 (each), the folder would say 5.

Yeah, it was pretty annoying. No matter the app or apps, the folder would say 1 less than the correct number. If only one app had a badge, and its number was 1, the folder wouldn’t have a badge at all.

So last night, I methodically sought out the problem. I took the apps in that folder out one at a time, and watched the number on the folder. If the number didn’t change, I put it back in the folder.

And that’s where I found the culprit: the Google+ app. I’m not sure how it happened, but it must’ve gotten a negative 1 for the number of things it wanted to tell me (and in fairness, I don’t use it much…)

So in the example above, with a 3 on Mail and a 3 on Facebook, when you add in the negative 1 (that wasn’t displayed because it was less than positive 1) on Google+, that adds up to 5.

So it’s obviously a bug in the Google+ app. Could the operating system be better at managing this, too?

Lamest Phishing Attempt … Ever

In the aftermath of the news that some 5% of Apple computers may have a Trojan horse, I received the email pictured below.

20120413-123644.jpg

I had to pinch the text to get it all to display within my iPhone in this picture.

Does anyone honestly think this is a legit request? I don’t even want to know what the link actually goes to…

The email address from which this message came, btw, is 79450520@westnet.com.au.

They’re Not Ready for Public Consumption

If you own a device that runs either Apple’s iOS, or Google’s Android platform, you may be familiar with a website called Free App A Day.

FAAD is a decent, moderately well-designed website that negotiates with different developers of apps for your device and convinces them to offer their wares for free for a limited amount of time. The developers get access to more users, and more users equates to more reviews, which, in turn, can give the developers greater exposure even after the app returns to its full price. Most, but not all, apps on this website are games, so if you’re “into” games on your device, you might want to consider checking out the website. (Or the apps that mirror the content of the website…)

Back in September, 2010, they launched their sister site, called FAAD VIP. The idea behind this site seems to be a natural progression from the original Free App a Day website. Instead of negotiating with the developers to offer their apps for free, FAAD VIP instead asks their users to pay full price for a given app, play with the app a little bit, and write a review of it. Every review will, in turn, earn you “points,” which can be redeemed for credits in the iTunes store. (I can only assume that a similar model is in the works for the Android store…)

I joined this and paid the $0.99 for the game Battle Bears -1 almost immediately. This is an unremarkable shoot-em-up game that gets tedious really quickly. The best thing I can say about this game is that they did a fairly good job ripping off a Monty Python sketch in the opening sequence. I wrote up my review of this game within 24 hours of downloading it, and haven’t played the game since.

About a week after I downloaded and wrote my initial review of the game, I noticed that I hadn’t yet received my credits and I returned to the FAAD VIP site and it asked me to confirm that my user name was exactly the same as the name I use for my reviews. It wasn’t, so I corrected my user name on FAAD VIP and, just for good measure, I deleted my original review and rewrote it.

That was September 23, 2010.

On October 12, 2010, I sent an email to their support mailbox, asking about the status of my credits. I gave them a fair amount of information about how to identify my review from a sea of a large number of reviews for the game (many of which had been generated as a result of their promotion of the game).

A few hours later, I received an email in response that said, “It usually takes around 24 hours to get the credits but sometimes more.” The support rep also asked me to verify that everything matched between iTunes and their website.

Considering that I sent this email more than three weeks after I had written my review, this response was, to be polite, less than satisfactory. So I responded by reiterating what I had said in my original inquiry, and concluded by asking, “Please advise how much longer you expect me to wait.”

The response I received back from this email was quite brusque: “As I told you in my previous message, we validate reviews and send credits as fast as we can.
Thank you again for your patience.

On November 4, 2010, FAAD made a comment on Facebook about their FAADVIP program and I related not only my frustrations at not having received my credits by that point, but also about the brusqueness of my last correspondence with their customer service. The person who saw this comment advised me to contact their customer service again. So I did, including my comment about the brusqueness of the response.

The response I received addressed the brusqueness complaint thusly: I am really astonished when you say my answer was “brusque”, for I am always very polite with everyone. I think this person — whose name I still don’t know and who has never referred to me as anything other than “customer” — could teach our politicians a thing or two about giving a non-apology apology.

The customer support rep asked me, once again, to confirm that my iTunes nickname was the same as my nickname on FAAD VIP, and also advised that s/he transferred my issue to technical support. I responded back the following day to inform them, once again, that the names matched, and explaining the source of the brusqueness.

I received a response back on November 8, 2010, informing me that technical support is in charge of validation and that they work as fast as they can. As far as the brusqueness accusation, this is what they had to say: “Then you interpretation of my message was incorrect for there was no “brusqueness” in it. Sometimes, there is just nothing more I can answer than “we do our best to satisfy you”, and that is what My message meant.

Some time between then and December 20, 2010, Apple made a change to their iTunes software that enabled me to actually get a URL for all of the reviews I’ve written for things I’ve downloaded from their store (apps, music, movies, etc…) I wrote back to FAADVIP on December 20, 2010, asking about the status of my credits and providing the URL. If you have an iTunes account, you can see my reviews here. By now I had given up on the brusqueness complaint. They responded by saying they were still working on it.

Since then, I have reached out to them monthly — subsequent outreaches have taken place on January 20, 2011 and February 26, 2011 — to see what is going on and each time they have advised that they are still working on it. I haven’t formally asked why they can’t use the URL I provided as validation that I have, in fact, downloaded that app. (Apple doesn’t let you write reviews of apps you haven’t downloaded.)

Six months have now passed since I rewrote my review of the Battle Bears app, and I’m officially done with the site. Fortunately, I only lost a dollar, which I chalk up to being a lesson learned; I feel bad for those who might have lost more. Simply put, if they weren’t ready for inquiries like mine when they went “live” six months ago, they went “live” way too early. Theirs is a model for poor customer service and how to lose customers for no good reason.

Please note that all quotes from their customer service are copied verbatim from the emails I received.