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Source of Controversy: Hobohunt the Interview

My Saturday is usually spent getting my stuff together for the next week. Writing articles, interviews, and a review schedule that can meet the demands of my readers. I also catch up on what the mainstream is saying and most days as I write, I keep my news feed on. I enjoy a good story.

The story of the Hobohunt controversy broke on what is usually a lazy day for me but I followed the rabbit hole. When I got to the end, I found the source of how this game became a rallying source for the media. Who is to blame is kind of up to personal opinion but this is what I found.

The app wasn’t working on 95 percent or more of the Android products it was made for. So in fact, I haven’t even seen a working version of this app. The fact checking departments of some of these major media outlets were very off as far as how this program is designed to be used. As a matter of fact, ethically there should be a bunch of unemployed journalists at Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. The company itself isn’t responsible for the AP articles.

Fox News, affiliates hired over 110 ghost writers to help move this story on affiliated sites. CNN was a close second with 125. MSNBC, hired over 250 ghost writers from different sites to help move this story. So why did I join in?

Because at no point in time did any of these agencies direct their questions at the creator, Joel Usher. This following interview was done via email on Monday the 27th.

I am not trying to be an ass by asking these questions but they have came to light from multiple sources Joel, so you have to understand that with a heavy heart I ask these.

Free press!  Just kidding, but really, no worries man, I’m happy to answer your questions, and respect that you have a job to do.

The controversy of Hobohunt hit on late Saturday. That is to say when I read the first articles calling you and your friends sociopaths. How did this happen so quickly?

It was insanely fast, the reaction in the press to HoboHunt, we really couldn’t believe it.  I’m not exactly sure what accounts for the rapid spread of the story.  Honestly, I never really expected people to be genuinely offended.  Of course I expected people to think it was stupid, or blandly inappropriate, or something of the sort, but since we didn’t create HoboHunt with evil intentions we didn’t expect anyone to see evil in it.  Whether that is more telling about us or the people who are so opposed to the app, well…

I have had some confidential sources tell me that your company has manufactured reviews on Android Market as well as generating some of these PR articles. There is some of damning evidence to this effect. General user reviews rank the game as 1 star while there are some 5 star reviews written in very similar dialog. How do you answer to these allegations?

I’m not exactly sure what manufactured reviews are. The extent of our involvement in reviews was to say things such as (for example) “HoboHunt has launched, please download it and leave a great rating/review” to our friends/family on Facebook, but we haven’t had any other influence on the reviews.  Haha, further, I’d say the opposing reviews are FAR more similar to each other!

If you did manufacture these reviews then why? Why not let the app users judge for themselves?

Please see above!

I understand that it is hard to promote a game but do you think generating controversy is the best way to market?

The best way?  No, sex is the best way to market a product, but that approach doesn’t really apply to HoboHunt does it?  People have criticized our approach, but with thousands of downloads in just a few days, versus what would probably have been tens of downloads without the press reaction, I’d say it was incredibly effective.  And besides, we’re in the hands of the press, aren’t we?  And the press has definitely taken a few liberties in analyzing the intent of the game.  Be honest, you wouldn’t be taking this story if it weren’t for the controversy.  Why?  So that people read your article, so that you and your publisher make money.  It’s not a bad thing; don’t get me wrong, I’m all about it.  It sells because people are interested in it, that’s entertainment.

To the questions of the broken nature of this app. I downloaded it on 6 different devices and none of them could run it. I understand more than anyone the pains of programmers but as an independent why rush a product to market that is unusable.

Sorry you had a bad experience!  We have had some bugs, for sure.  We hope to push a major patch early next week that will reduce memory usage by about 25%, and hopefully will solve the remaining problems.  Further, this release is going to make every weapon, currently available for in-app purchase, free to all users, permanently.  We realized that not including the weapons sucked, and customers requested that weapons be included, so they will be!  To answer the last part of your question.  Yeah… this is our first app, and we thought we had worked out the kinks, but it is definitely a major learning process!

In defense, you say that this app uses 5 percent of its proceeds to fund homless charities. What Charities and how much have they actually received?

Well, come on, the app has been on the market for 5 days.  We will be sending our donations when the payouts from Google occur, I think at the end of each month.  We haven’t nailed down every charity, we want to pick a new one each month.  We are hoping that people (both fans and critics alike) will suggest their favorite causes on Facebook.  If not, we will identify the beneficiaries ourselves.

You have said in interviews that this program is strictly for use on your friends but how many do you think will actually use this app in that manner?

Ha-ha, well, right now it’s about 100%, I think!  Have you looked at the pictures on the website?  It looks like people are pretty much just hunting their family, friends, and coworkers.  Oh, and pets!

The other issue is when you take a notion of developers of serious games. A game such as Darfur is Dying, Super Columbine Rpg, and Edmund shine a light on a serious issues without making light of them. Why take this approach to this problem?

Well, those are serious developers making serious apps for serious people.  We’re goofy idiots making apps for people with a twisted sense of humor.  At no time will we claim that we are making a serious concerted effort to fix socio-economic inequality!

I have lived in New Orleans and I admit that the homeless problem can get annoying for commuters but don’t you think that this is the appropriate approach?

I absolutely don’t think that hunting people is an acceptable approach to solving a real problem.  So no!

When can we expect to see a working version of Hobohunt?

The vast majority of users have been happily hunting away without problem, but like I said, we are putting through a major patch hopefully within a week or so, which will also make free all the in-app items.  We will continue to monitor and fix any remaining bugs as they appear.

Like I said I am sorry to ask these and if they seem abrasive I am sorry. It is my job though to find the truth.

Once again, I completely understand.  We’re just excited for all the attention, and for the mass of downloads that have come as a result!

I can’t say how much they had to play in this controversy but I can say this. I am not covering this just because the game causes a stir but how the stir was created. While asking your family and friends on Facebook to give positive reviews is a breach of ethics, that’s how review manufacturing works and how bad products get moved.

I would be glad to give this app a fair and unbiased review, once it works. Until then, too many people jumped the gun looking for the next baby shaker app. It’s pretty simple how this truly works, if it bleeds it leads. That has been the basic example of modern journalism for the last 3 decades. If people are reading this for another damning editorial about how this game is warping our minds? Then I am sorry.

As a free press writer, it hurts me to see journalists sell their souls for what is easy ink. It shows sloppy work and at that it’s unethical. You can’t pass judgment on a product that is not working and while being heavily downloaded they are as much to blame as the creators. So from now on when you see something objectionable, Fox, NBC, CNN, as well other news outlets, fire any asshole that doesn’t do their job.

Do I support them? Not yet, I am going to sit back and see what they do next. I want to see if this becomes a tradition for this company. As for my readers, I love you guys, you deserve better than what you have been given by the mainstream and I am working at that.

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