Saturday, September 12, 2020

Why Sign In?

Plates Across America™ provides a demo of its single-player game so that you can know if you would be interested in playing. We know that signing up for a new, possibly unknown service makes a lot of people nervous. However, the two-player racing game is not available in the demo and requires signing into our game. Why? 

 There's a much longer article that could be written with the technical details, but the short answer is:

to improve security and prevent abuse. 

Once you provide the ability for more than one person to interact on a website, the potential for it to become a problem grows significantly.  You would not be playing our game for very long if people started harassing you, whether it be with malicious intent, offensive content or trying to sell you something. 

Requiring people to log in, and verifying their email, provide a first defense to prevent anonymous people from doing bad things. As a second line of defense, even if some "bad actors" do sign up and begin to behave badly, we have the ability to block their account to ensure the abuse is stopped.  Our terms of service outlines what we will not tolerate and ensures we have the right to deny access to abusers.

We hope this explanation gives you a better understanding of why we require signing up to play the more compelling two-person race game.  If you are ready to sign up and try out the race game, just visit:

Plates Across America™ sign-in page

Happy Travels!



Sunday, September 6, 2020

Free Games are Not Free

Imagine you are out shopping and are browsing through the aisles of your favorite store. After a while, you glance over and notice someone standing further down the aisle. They are staring at you and holding a clipboard. You were so distracted with what was on your mind that day that you just now noticed them, but you are not really sure how long they have been there. Have they been watching you the whole time?

You bend down to pick something off the bottom shelf to look closer.  As you do this, you look over and the person writes something down on the clipboard.  You put the item back, glance over and again, they frantically write some more.  You decide to move on to another aisle to escape their gaze.  But they follow you, writing more as they go.

Being a little too creeped out by this person, you decide to leave the store and continue your shopping elsewhere. As you enter the next store, you look up there is that same person by the shopping carts. Again, looking at you and making more scribblings on their clipboard.  It's like the Twilight Zone.  You leave the store immediately to drive home, now sufficiently frazzled.

As you drive, you are consumed with the thought of this person following you. Who were they? Why were they following? What were they writing? How did they know where I was going?

As you calm down a bit, you peek in the rear-view mirror. You see this person is now sitting in the back seat of your car. Startled, you scream. You pull over, demand they get out of the car and hand over the clipboard. You see that they have written down your every action. Every store you visited, product you touched, every turn you made in your car, how long you stopped at each stop sign, the radio station you are listening to and which songs you sung along to. The clipboard contains a record of your every action and behavior throughout the day.

The Internet

How would you feel if something like that scenario happened to you in real life?  Would you be tolerate someone recording your every move no matter where you went? Would you allow them to follow you around all day? Would you be happy if that person was selling your information to anyone and everyone willing to pay for it?

Besides the physical person and clipboard, that scenario is exactly what happens to you every day on the Internet and with most every web site you visit.  The only difference is that the person with the clipboard is invisible (unless you know how to look). What nearly no one would tolerate in their physical life is being allowed to happen with their on-line life. Practically speaking, there is really no difference between these two scenarios nowadays.

There is a multi-billion dollar market in buying and selling your personal data and that of every other person on the planet. Most any web site you visit is participating in either writing on that clipboard, or buying the data it contains.

If I have a company with a web site, should I be allowed to

  • track your every move;
  • share that data with anyone I please; or
  • combine that data with the data from all other companies?

Not only do most web sites do this, it is currently deemed as the "right way" to run a web-based company.  The industry acceptance practice dictates that you should not be entitled to any privacy. They all put "tracking pixels" on their site which enables them to see your every move. This is not limited to simple things like which web sites you visited, but can include recording every movement of your mouse, where you hover over, for how long and where you click.  The most valuable asset for these companies is the log of all your personal actions.

Free Games

There is a well-known phrase:

"If the product is free, then you are the product."

This perfectly sums up what is going on with the "free" games that are out there.  These are provided by companies that participate in this anti-privacy web culture.  You give up your privacy, they sell your data and you get to play for free.  What we like to say is that for these "free" games:

"They are only free if you do not put any value on your privacy."

Why does it Matter?

Humans are flawed.  We can be manipulated to do things that do not make sense, that we do not need to do or even that we do not want to do. Most people would like to think they are immune to this, but no one is. Even the smartest psychologists, who are experts on the topic, admit that even they are susceptible to manipulation even when they know it is happening.  A good reference on the topic is: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Deeply ingrained into our mental machinery are things that make us vulnerable to being manipulated. You and I are no match for the corporations that are peddling our private data.  They have got the manipulation game refined to such a level that most people do not even notice it happening. The ramifications are scary. The fact that most people are not aware of this, or do not care about it, is even scarier.

Privacy-focused, Family Values

At Plates Across America™, we do not not engage in any of these unsavory practices and we promise never to do so. The game was conceived, designed and developed by a family (wife, husband and daughter) with the philosophy that we should treat you the way we would want our family members to be treated. We are not interested in selling your data or exploiting you in any way.  We will not annoy you with advertisements, excessive emails, newsletters, on-line tracking, solicitations or any of the other nonsense most other companies seem to think is an acceptable way to treat you.

Focusing on privacy and respecting your inbox means rejecting the current accepted practices of the industry.  This is like trying to swim upstream in a roaring rapids.  However, just because it is hard does not mean we cannot try.  We like to think it is only a matter of time before there is a rejection of the current norms and that we will be on the right side of history. Change has to start somewhere, so maybe our efforts can contribute to this in some small way.

Nothing Hidden

We charge a fee for our game because we think the honest way of doing business involves a fair exchange without any hidden costs (such as giving up your privacy).  We aim to provide hours of entertainment, and we only hope for a very small fee in return.

A movie gives 2 hours of entertainment and costs $10. A cup of coffee costs nearly $3 and lasts less than a hour.  Our game costs less than both of those and provides many, many more hours of entertainment.

We do not try to trick you into buying the game. We provide a demo version so you can understand whether it has any appeal to you, and then a generous free trial period that gives you access to the full game and all its features. Only then, once you know exactly what we have to offer, do we ask whether you feel it provides enough value to justify the cost.

We encourage you to try our game and support the idea that privacy-focused companies can succeed. 

Start with our free demo:

Play the Free Demo Game

Happy Travels!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Puzzle Scoring

The main premise of our game is to try to complete a route in as few puzzles as possible.  The general rule is:

The longer the answer, the further you travel. 

If you play the game in our "Race Mode", at the end of the race it will show all the puzzles with you and your opponent's answers side-by-side (see image at right). If you compare the scores, you might see something that does not match the "longer is better" rule. That is because there are some exceptions to that rule. This article explains the nuances of how we calculate the scores to help explain when the rule does and does not apply.  

Lemmas

The word "lemma" has multiple meanings, but here we mean it to be the "root" of word. For example: "wanders", "wandered" and "wandering" are related words and share the same lemma word "wander".  This concept is important in the scoring because we reward a good vocabulary more than someone's ability to creatively add extra letters (also known as "stemming" words). For example, someone should not get a higher score than you just because they to added a trailing "s" to pluralize the word.

Plurals

The important part of understanding how plurals are scored is awareness that there are two different cases.

  • Case (1) Both the plural form and that word's lemma both match. In this case, pluralizing the word is somewhat superfluous and is only really serving to increase the letter count.
  • Case (2) The lemma of the word does not match and the pluralized form is required to be a valid answer. i.e., the ending "s" is required to make the word match.

For Case (1), the plural answer will be scored the same as the singular.  There is no penalty for using the plural form, but also there is no credit for the extra letters.

For Case (2), the plural answer will be ranked below all the other non-plural answers whose lemmas match the puzzle. For example, if the puzzle is "BDS", then "bedside" would score higher than "bedazzles" even though "bedside" has fewer letters. It is far easier to find a word with "B" and "D" and to pluralize it then it is to find a non-plural word with "B", "D" and "S".

Word Frequency

Once all the possible solution words are sorted out by whether they or not they are lemmas and their lengths, the next thing we consider is the word's frequency.  All other things being equal, the less frequently occurring words will score higher than more common, everyday words.

For example, for the puzzle "ADT", the word "audit" would score higher than "adult" even though they both have 5 letters. The word "audit" is not used as frequently as the word "adult" in normal usage. Note that the score advantage based on word frequency is not as dramatic as it is for the lemma vs. non-lemma case: it provides some advantage, but the word length scoring is more important.

Summary

Though word length is the prime element in determining the quality of the answer, it is not the only factor. Understanding the nuances of scoring will help you finish routes faster and score better in the game.

If you have not tried the game, and are interest, here's a link:

Game Demo

Happy Travels!