On Going Viral
Life can be funny sometimes, if you let it be. ‘Going viral’ is one of those funny incidences I never really expected to see in my life, let alone end up where I actively chase it like a fat dude after a limited edition Szechuan McChicken burger.
I can use the term ‘fat dude’ because I’ve been one. 3 times. Sigh.
Also, don’t cancel me, please.
I remember the first time I went ‘viral’ way back in 2008 or 9. I had just quit my job as an English teacher in Taiwan, moved back to Canada, and was trying to reenter the finance world I had gone to school for.
Apparently, I didn’t pay enough attention during my business degree as a ‘Financial Crisis’ usually implies ‘Your experience being an expensive babysitter for Taiwanese kids doesn’t help put you above the intense competition. Also, we have no jobs anyway, f*ck you.’
But that was around the time I had a burning desire to once again confront my creative pursuits.
In this case, it was programming.
I had grown up tinkering and toying with any new tech I could get my grubby little hands on. I also had a few relatives who were part of the early adopters of the programming profession. I was fascinated by what they did, and more so, by what they could make a computer do.
Of course, I didn’t have any formal training other than a few fun classes in high school where my teacher installed screen-monitoring software to make sure I would stop trading stocks during class time.
Yea, I had eclectic hobbies as a kid.
Imagine what I do now.
(Would anybody enjoy a hand-stitched crocheted [that word looks weird] peanut butter tuna sandwich pillow?)
Off to the Races
So off I went, unemployed, living in the proverbial and physical parents’ basement, and bought myself a copy of How to Program For Idiots Named JJ.
I knew I had to buy it the minute I saw it.
Everyone around me back then used to have a Blackberry. iPhone was called iPersonanongrata back then.
Probably, and just probably, because I’m from the area where the Blackberry HQ was. I even knew a lot of people that worked there (before they sold out, got divorced, and the company was ruined).
Anyway, I made this updated version of an old-school game that was called ‘Dr*g Wars’. I used an asterisk there because I don’t want Gmail and any of the other Email powers-at-be to think I’m soliciting sales for nose candy. The nerve of those algorithms to think I wouldn’t only do that offline.
So yea, this old-school game, it was stupidly simple but amazingly addictive and fun. You climbed up the ranks in this text-based game based on how well you, vs thousands of other players on this forum-like website, could accumulate wealth, dr*gs, and g*ns.
But mine was a bit more cheeky, and in hindsight, likely offensive, at least in this Brave New World of ours.
The premise was to rise up out of extreme poverty in a gamified fictional world of…uhh…let’s say ‘vagrants’.
It was called Rags 2 Riches and you had 30 game days to do any of the fun activities to accumulate as much money as you can. My friend even made a bunch of Microsoft Paint images for me to include on each screen.
It looked pretty slick in the end. But my programming skills were limited, I lacked the wherewithal to include all the functions I wanted to.
But it still did well.
I mistakenly charged $2.99 for it initially (and later $0.99). But it ended up on the front page of the Blackberry store for a couple days! It even garnered a few thousand sales. I was ecstatic!
Considering how many other, far better, apps were competing there, my little icon showing up on the front of my little Blackberry just made my friggin’ year.
It was positively addicting.
Oh, the Lessons We Learn
But I learned a few important lessons there.
Ones that I later used to earn other companies millions and millions of dollars. Hopefully, ones I can contribute even a fraction to my own net worth someday too.
Never underestimate the power of the network
One of those programming features I didn’t include? A High Score Board. I had a localized version where each person’s personal persony scores were recorded, but not one that showed everyone else’s score.
Take it from me, this one small feature could’ve resulted in 10x the sales, at least. We apes love to outdo each other, even more than our yesterday-selves.
No matter how much you plan, the plan will change.
I also designed the game to never reach more than about $1 million in-game-money for any user. Each player had only 30 days to take their limited actions each day, so everything was programmed around that logic. One of my friends loved the game.
It was his “sh*tter distractor” as he called it while using it for bathroom breaks at work. One day, he showed me his high score of something over $5 billion, if my memory serves me correct. I couldn’t stop laughing, he knew the game better than me…and I designed the damn thing. Crazy.
There’s more to life than money.
That same friend? Yea, he played the game for 6 years. Straight. I should’ve included a time recorder so we could’ve seen how many hours (or poops) he spent on the game.
He’s one of my best friends still to this day, and out of the feeble few thousand dollars I made from that game, the $2.99 he spent meant the most to me. To make an impact on a friend’s life, even if a little bit every day during that most sh*tty of moments, meant more to me than anything that game could’ve made.
Well, maybe not $1 million but you get the point.
Non-Virus Virality Now
Before I upended my life and career to become a writer/blogger/misnomer 2.5 years ago, I had the pleasure of going viral a few more times.
There was the #10 all-time at-the-time crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. That was cool.
I was also on the front page of a newspaper in Taiwan a few times for various reasons. (None nefarious, I assure you.) I sure wish I kept those copies somewhere. You’d have a laugh.
And now I find myself trying to earn a living writing online. It’s certainly far more fun, but it’s certainly also far more competitive and difficult. I think that’s what keeps me coming back to it time and time again though.
I’ve had a really big hit with 800k reads. I’ve had dozens in the tens of thousands. I have hundreds in the hundreds. It’s fantastic when it happens, but I don’t think it’s the reason I’m still sitting here writing.
It’s not necessarily the chase for virality that has me addicted, it’s the chase to live life enjoying what I do.
I didn’t enjoy making money for other people from other people. Not in the former sense of my work. I only did it because I was really good at it.
But it sucked. It sucked the life out of me and I let it do so. The thought of going back to that sucks my hope for the future out of me too. But I’m trying to turn off the vacuum of life and just sit around in my own filth for a while. (Probably in the literal sense, if you showed my apartment to my mother.)
Writing online is like a hot tub full of month-old water.
It’s fun to sit in and relax, but if you look too closely at the money it makes, the amount of work it requires, the neverending ‘finding your niche’ battle, and the trade-off of not selling out what’s left of your soul to earn more isn’t as enticing if you see what’s floating at the top.
Especially if the friend in the tub is playing on a Blackberry.
But I’ll still sit in it. Hot tubs are f*cking awesome.
I’m J.J. Pryor and I support this message.
Please press the heart button/comment/share if you support me in my existential battle with the Evil Algorithms.