Mine4erf beta test
Ads are probably more trouble than you think
In a news post a long time ago, I mentioned that admins and logged-in Tools don't see any ads on the site, but I asked the team to code my user (balder) as an exception. That way I'll always be "eating my own dogfood" and keeping an eye on just how crappy our ads really are.
As I write this news post, I'm watching one (or more) of our sidebar rectangles repeatedly making calls to some .tv domain, trying over and over to show a video in one of our ad slots.
Our ads are not supposed to do that. They're not allowed to show in-banner video. I've talked with our current ad company about it several times.
They are also not allowed to play any audio. They are not supposed to take over your screen. They are not supposed to "stuff" ads from other providers (i.e. resell ad space to other ad companies, by refreshing the ad slot over and over). They are not allowed to show political, religious, adult, or multi-level-marketing ads. They are not supposed to give you a fake virus message (or a real virus). They are not supposed to make your phone go to the Google Play or Apple store.
Many of these things still happen. When they do, that's a problem that I created for you, and it's my problem to solve. So it has been my part-time job for the last nine years, tracking down these kinds of things and trying to make sure they never happen.
We've been through about thirty different ad providers since 2014. I've had countless emails and conference calls with the ad companies and the affected users. John, Red, Brendan and I have tried lots of different, often fairly sophisticated things. For example, you might notice that our sidebar ads will time out after one minute and become Amazon affiliate banners. That's one thing we've tried that worked a little and didn't reduce revenue by too much.
But because of the nature of how ads are sold and served, we generally can't do anything to control what the ad does on the browser's side. We have to rely on the ad companies themselves to root out malicious actors and undesired ads. They do that, and they work hard at it. But for them, it's a game of whac-a-mole that can never be won for good.
Well, I started 2018 with some goals. And one of the biggest is "solve ads forever."
Ads are probably more necessary than you know
My ideal solution would be to kill ads forever, for all users. I don't want them on my site, or my screen. I'm sick of fighting a war I can't win.
Mostly, I really, really don't have time to mess with this anymore. If my time spent fighting ad-related fires causes even one extra skipped update in a year, then the cost of lost pledges (and the hard-to-count cost of letting you all down) has to be counted against our ad revenue.
Unfortunately, ads are still a lot of money. They're the only way to monetize the 97-99% of readers who don't subscribe or buy merch. It's important to have some revenue that is *not* tied to updates. And ads don't require capital costs and fulfillment, like selling a T-shirt or a deck of cards. They're one important pillar in our business model.
So when I look around for something to replace that pillar, I don't see many good options. Affiliate marketing doesn't come close. I've dug pretty deep into selling our ad inventory directly. It's just way more work for way less money. I've carefully considered things like the Basic Attention Unit, but it won't work for Erfworld, and I seriously doubt its longterm viability. I considered the "reduce ads but snark at people who use AdBlock" strategy. I hate AdBlock, but I understand why people use it and I can't say I blame anybody who does. Penny Arcade once ran a Kickstarter to get rid of ads on the site for a year. I won't even start with that. Just, no. I've even gotten pitches to sell our (hashed) user data.
Quadruple flippin' no.
In many years of looking, I've never seen a plausible "maybe if we did this, it could replace ads" idea.
But! I'm still trying. Here's our new best shot.
Mining is a thing in Erfworld. Maybe it can be a thing for Erfworld
In the final week of 2017, an idea came up with the web team that made us all say, "That's not obviously dumb. Let's test it."
John mentioned that he's been mining cryptocurrency, specifically Ethereum ($ETH), for some time, netting him a couple of bucks a day even after accounting for electricity costs. Quick maffs, and it didn't take an implausibly high number of people mining crypto for Erfworld to approach what we make in ads.
There were lots of questions and concerns around this idea. I'm always extremely cautious about asking Erfworld readers to do anything. We talked it through, researched, talked some more, built something simple, and bug tested it. In early January, we asked the IRC channel-goers to try it out, and I dogfooded it with them. I've been running our crypto miner daily since then.
It definitely worked in alpha. We mined enough Ethereum to be worth it. Not everybody's computer could manage it, but nobody's computer broke, and there's no reason it should have. We learned some things that let us make a plan. Everybody who participated in the test got sent some goodies (thanks Renter, Bandaid, Danielle, Omnimancer & sdub!) and I created the Special: Digging badge for them:
You can get this badge if you mine even one share in our mining pool. You'll be mining Ethereum to our wallet, but mining gems for yourself.
Gems - collectible, minable, sellable for Shmuckers
Part of trying out this idea was to make sure it wasn't too big a distraction for me or the team, and would fit into everything else we're trying to do with the site. We were already working on collectible units (users could already collect 3D things, like Fred the stabber and the Decrypted Orly), and we'll be rolling out those before too much longer. By December, we had also built and tested stuff like a marketplace to sell your units and ways to organize your collection. (Another goal for 2018: create more uses for Shmuckers.)
When the alpha test for mining worked, we said "let's make some gems to reward the miners first." This gem mining thing is a beta test that will help us prove that stuff can be generated/bought/sold/arranged on the website.
Here's what they look like:
You can generate up to 10 (fake) gems by clicking the button. Click and drag to rotate the 3D scene, click on any gem and use keyboard commands to arrange it in the scene. We fussed over the color names and lighting, to make them pretty.
Natural allies with the Digging special
You will notice there's a Marbit in the middle of the scene. That is one of the figures that Lauri Ahonen completed before he moved on, and we happen to have a Gobwin figure done by him, too. They're both very cute. In Erfworld, they're both also natural allies who mine for gems.
Since we're asking you to be our natural allies, it seemed natural to make you a Marbit or a Gobwin as you mine. As soon as you have found your first gem, you will be assigned to one of these tribes for the duration of the contest.
Gems have a point value. Whichever tribe mines the most valuable hoard during the contest will win. Everyone who mined at least one gem for the winning tribe will get a badge and a collectible unit of the winning tribe's type.
There will also probably be some prizes for the top miners of each tribe, but let's get through this initial test before talking about those.
Gems are found by Luckamancy
Mining cryptocurrency is telling your computer to solve hard math problems, in hopes of finding a share of a valid solution (that's not a perfect analogy, but close enough). Like real mining, crypto mining's a combination of work and luck. Letting your processor work as part of our mining pool will earn you shares in the miner, more or less at random.
When I run the Erfworld miner with a GTX 1070, I average about 20 shares an hour. For every hour that your miner finds at least one share in the pool, you earn a spin. The spinner looks like this:
For every share you mined during that hour, you get one chance in 1024 of finding a gem. So even if I run my miner constantly, I would only expect to find one gem every 2 or 3 days. As it is, I mainly run it at night when I'm not using the machine, so I am only getting about one gem a week.
Tools at all levels get a free gem to start
To kick this off, we're giving everyone who has been a Tool in 2018 a free spin, with 1024 chances to find a gem. Claim your spin by clicking the Mine4erf link on your user profile:
Once you find your gem, you'll also find out what tribe you are mining for. If your tribe wins the February contest, then you'll get the unit of that tribe (even if you don't mine). Tribe assignment is random, and weighted to favor the tribe with the lower score.
Sell or buy gems for Shmuckers (just not your only gem)
There is now a marketplace for gems. Gems can only be sold for Shmuckers. The one catch is that you can't offer a gem for sale if that it would leave you with no gems. This will keep the market from being flooded by free gems during the beta.
Some additional notes and rules
Other than the free spin for Tools, the gems are strictly a reward for mining. We've created many pretty gems for ourselves in testing, but we're wiping out our collections (I'm not crying, *you're crying*). Any gems on the market, including any sold by the Titans, will be the result of a fair spin on shares mined in the pool.
The only possible exception I can see is if Xin or Lillian wanted to design a gem and put it up for sale or bidding. Titan-created gems might become an occasional and special thing in the future. But programmatically generated gems for sale by us never will be.
Speaking of auctions, there is currently no built-in way to solicit bids if you're selling a gem. We may build an auction system later, or maybe not. My advice for getting the best price for your gem is to put it up for sale at a ludicrous price so it can be gawked at, then post in the Gems4sale thread in the forums. Reach an agreement with a buyer, and you can re-list your gem at that price and send them a private link.
What if this idea is stupid and fails?
I have to say, even if nobody mines Ethereum for Erfworld, this was worth doing. We've learned and coded a lot of things that will apply to unit collection. The gems are pretty. This is going to be fun, whether it's enough to kill the ads or not.
But if it does finally let me strip all the ads off this website? I will just be like...
Personally, I'm going to keep mining every night, and not just for the sake of dog food. I can't wait to get my real spins for my real gems. (Bandaid and Renter and John have earned some, too.)
So head over to the mining page for instructions on downloading and running the miner. If it's something you want to try out, then we'll see you in the mines!
Yeah, I can't support this, and I can't support the webcomic while you're doing this.
If I hear that this program has been ended, great. Until then, I'm done reading and I'm done recommending it to people.
Don't encourage the ecological damage that cryptocurrencies cause, don't try to psychologically exploit your audience (as Occams put it, "skinnerboxing readers for currency"). Just...make a good comic. Scale back your ambitions a little if you can't currently meet your costs. Or if that's not the problem you're having, just live with ads and live with people using adblock. Unfortunate, but a necessary evil that creatives have dealt with for as long as there's been advertising. You don't have to reinvent the wheel on everything.
I dislike crytpmining immensely. I'll just stay a Tool. But providing a way for non-Tools to contribute to get rid of ads seems noble enough for me.
My free gem is awesome - colossal baby blue! Too bad there's nothing really for sale for me to buy for a reasonable number of schmuckers. People, start selling those gems for a reasonable fee!
I'm a Tool, and I hate this idea. Like really a lot, I hate it.
Others have mentioned the ecological cost of turning real-world burned coal, oil, and gas into a speculative bubble of useless virtual 1s and 0s. Others have mentioned the extreme risk of tying your business model to the value of a thing that has no intrinsic value, and is backed by nothing. I agree with them.
I would back a Kickstarter per year in addition to my Tool subscription. I will not participate in this bullshit.
Suggestion: just cut out the middleman here, and pay your artists to create cool virtual things we can buy with Shmuckers. You're the only source of Shmuckers, so we give you dollars, you give Shmuckers. We use Shmuckers to buy units & gems, or pay upkeep on units, or whatever else you can think of. Leave the blockchain scams out of the equation.
@ Octavian, the vast majority of people cannot sell their gems as they have only their free tool gem. The amount of gems gained trough mining is very, very small at this time. I was an alpha tester and had an early start. It will take some time before people have mined some gems and can sell them. The whole thing barely started after all.
I'll be honest, this is my first dabble at cryptocurrency, and it's really an eye-opener, reading all of the comments here both for and against it. I'm generally a very green person, so I understand the concerns I'm hearing, but ... any honest and true green math is amazingly complex; most people do the calculations in a vacuum without trying to factor in everything. I won't claim to know the answer, all I know is that solving it isn't trivial.
Anyhow, good comments, but let's all be civil, k?
Cant stress enough... not all cryptocurrencies have a massive environmental cost! Proof of work does (bitcoin, ect)... Ethereum (What you mining) will be moving to Proof of stake eventually (less eviromental) Proof of capacity are most enviromental (I can run a burstcoin miner on my phone and not see any difference in power than I would watching youtube videos). If you going to make a comment on "Crypto is evil cause they destroying the planet" Remember not all crypto is created equally! There are options!
Finding more ways to monetize is understandable. I sincerely appreciate that you have made this into something interesting, and definitely am glad that you did not decide to do what some sites attempt (which is to try to mine currency without permission). It requiring such a good graphics card however means I can't even try it out if I wanted to. I can play just about every game out there on playable settings in beautiful 1920x1080 resolution at 60 FPS, yet that's not good enough I suppose.
Though I prefer assisting as a Tool, albeit a low level one, myself. I feel that paying for content that I receive is the way that any sort of monetary transaction should work in the first place.
Ads are insidious in this regard. Advertisements are profitable because a small portion of gullible people actually buy things from them, forcing the overwhelming majority of people to deal with nonsense. I've never bought anything based on what I have seen in an internet advertisement in my entire life, and I've been on the internet actively for just around 20 years!
So in my case, I literally earn someone no money at all for viewing their advertisements. Yet since we're all treated equally by advertisements, with the tiny minority of people who actually buy things from the ads counted as a part of us rather than as the individual audience they are, there's no real way to fix this. It's just how advertisements work, and will continue to work, for as long as people continue to be easily swayed into purchasing things just because some funny or misleading or pointless video/image/etc told you to.
I wish you the best in luck in keeping money flowing in, of course. I'm doing my part, small as it is, to help with that. I wish that more people were willing to pay for worthwhile content, but sadly, that's just not the world we live in either. The overwhelming majority of people expect to get everything for free, and because of this, those who actually are willing to pay end up having to pay far more than their "fair share" for many things. It has nothing to do with being rich or poor, either, when something as little as a few dollars a month is a trivial amount of money for everyone except for those who are too poor to reasonably afford something like internet access in the first place (making this entire point moot).
Hm, well this has certainly turned out to be a polarizing topic.
I'm not sure I'm informed enough to meaningfully add to what the pro and anti-cryptocurrency camps have already contributed above. Besides, online comments/forums have got to be one of the least persuasive forums for changing minds!
That said, I'm a little bit surprised by the number of comments from people saying that they feel turned off from Erfworld over this. Rob was pretty up front about referring to this as just a trial - I'm curious to see how it plays out over time and wish the comic the best. This probably isn't the right mechanism for me to support Erfworld, but I'm happy contributing as a Tool and Kickstarting when the opportunity arises.
I already use my spare CPU / GPU cycles for BOINC and World Community Grid. It runs various projects such as (copying from my current list of tasks)...
Mapping Cancer Markers 7.36
Microbiome Immunity Project 7.11
FightAIDS@Home Phase 2.718
...I also run Rosetta@home, which is a separate project not affiliated with World Community Grid. (Anybody who wants to request distributed processing power can create a BOINC project and try to get folks to help.)
For all y'all who are really hating the cryptomining because of its electricity usage, I suggest you really THINK about that, in light of the existence of BOINC.
Wow. So many thoughts on this from so many points of view. Me, I am a proponent of the "There are people who cannot contribute any other way than this. So making it a fun way to take part is a good idea" camp. I personally already run my computer all day while I'm at work to have my passively grinding Black Desert Online going. It seems like this COULD be a companion to that, but I'll need to look into the program and see if it can cohabitate on my computer. I'm a Tool, so I am already contributing. But that doesn't mean I can't contribute any more.
Besides. I'm not the one who pays the electric bill around here.
I can't speak for other people, but as someone who lives in an area where near 100% of electricity is generated from renewable, sustainable sources (and most is completely wasted during nighttime hours anyway), this seems like a great idea.
I can contribute to reducing energy waste AND help erfworld out at the same time.
I can't say I understand the people going "I don't like cryptocurrencies so I'm going to stop reading Erfworld." That's just inane.
There are downsides to any method of monetizing the comic, as Rob explained at length. Online advertising is not exactly all roses and puppies, despite its near ubiquity. He's trying something new.
I don't have a powerful enough GPU to convert the 100% renewable solar energy coming from my roof into ETH, and even if I did, I'd still probably just continue to send Rob money and skip the mining. But it's good to offer options.
Those of you quoting scary statistics about all the terawatt-hours being used by crypto should be aware that most of that is consumed by large-scale mining operations. Those are getting created, or moved to, wherever the electricity is cheapest. The cheapest electricity in the world, by a substantial margin, is now from renewable sources. For this reason the long-term environmental impact of crypto is greatly exaggerated.
I don't have a very deep opinion or knowledge on the disadvantages of cryptocurrencies themselves, but I don't think that all this business is logically worth it. That's a lot of time you've wasted on setting this up and maintaining this, and more will continue to be wasted on this in the future. I don't think doing all that to let people donate in a roundabout way (and potentially tricking/immoral, less cost-efficient and problematic in other ways, as corocoro and other users seem to have raised some valid points, or at least food for thought to consider) is worth it and I don't suppose it's any better than ads, either, which I'm guessing would have taken less work to continue with. Their maintenance time could even drop in the future, potentially all the way to near zero, if you finally find a decent ad provider in the end, or switch to text-based ads. Well, or if you use a Kickstarter instead, which would probably work and seems to garner some support. Personally I've put an exception in my ad blocker for this site, hopefully they won't be too distracting when reading, but that's the life - you simply can't have everything perfect, and at some point desperately striving for that becomes a superfluous waste of time. At any case, I appreciate your work and of course the comic and story a lot, and wish you the best of luck. =)
I did try the miner just to see, and I have to say it's a pretty bad one... it completely chokes my computer to the point where it's completely unusable, even scrolling in a web browser or opening Task Manager are difficult, until I pause it. Even PC stress testing programs used to test overclock stability have never done this for me. So I could only try running it overnight. Incidentally, that gave me a whole bunch of spins, that gave me 0 gems. For reference, in case it helps anyone, I have a GTX970.
Since you are getting into crypto-currencies here, I think it would also be productive to try something more tailored to publishing business. Steemit (https://steemit.com/) offers a blockchain-based social/publishing network with crypto-currency rewards for users. While it (probably) wouldn't provide you replacement of the $50k ad revenue you are looking for, it would definitely provide some sizable addition to income for someone with content as high-quality as yours. And that network is proof-of-stake, which addresses the environmental impact issues raised by some here.