Monday, October 7, 2013

A Note of Caution Regarding DollarClickorSignup

It's a given in the world of online earning that you will be scammed from time to time.  I've been burned a few times myself, though I've mainly lost time as a result rather than money.  By far my strangest experience with being scammed occurred with a GPT site called DollarClickorSignup.  To this day, I'm still not quite sure what happened.  I'd been a member of the site for years, starting when Lora still owned the site.  I even made the mistake of purchasing a lifetime premium membership there that gave me free referrals -- I call it a mistake not so much because of what the site did to me later, but because I never got much out of the deal...the site was always small and there weren't that many free referrals to be passed around to all the premium members.  Let's suffice to say I did not make a profit on that purchase.  Although it was a site I invested more into than I received back in return, I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere, the low minimum payout, and the reliable payments.  However, I was never a real heavy user of the site; there were always other GPT sites I preferred for offers and surveys.

Lora eventually sold the site to the owner of PiggyBankGPT.  I can't say I was thrilled about this -- sites often decline in the hands of new owners in my experience, but I knew nothing about the new owner specifically.  I also wasn't thrilled when the site stopped making payments through PayPal; as I recall, they were banned by PP because they were allowing members to play some sort of gambling game with their earnings.  I can't say I ever noticed or played the game personally.  I kept the site in my portfolio because I thought I might use it for Alertpay (now Payza) cash or Amazon gift cards, but I was an extremely inactive member after Lora had sold the site.  On one of the last times I logged into the site, I noticed something funny...inactive old me suddenly had a balance of around $5!  My first thought was that my lifetime upgrade was FINALLY paying off.  Indeed, I seemed to have an active referral or two.  Cool!  I was more surprised than anything else, and as I recall I didn't even bother to cash out my unforeseen windfall.  I doubt it would have mattered if I had...

One day soon after, I logged into my DCOS account and found out my account had been suspended.  The reason?  I'd been accused of using proxies, contrary to the terms of service.  I had the option of contacting the admin, which I did, and I proceeded to politely protest my innocence.  And I'm not kidding when I say "politely" -- I knew I'd never used a proxy so I figured it was an honest mistake on the admin's part.  At least, that was what I decided to assume until I had more information, and I doubted getting angry about it would do me any good.  Suffice it to say that I never got any sort of response to my protestation. The next time I tried to connect to the site, I got an Apache 2 test page.  The site appeared to be offline!  This changed my perspective on things...I decided that DollarClickorSignup had decided to scam all of its members and pull a "runner."  You might wonder why the admin would bother accusing me of scamming first, but it's not an unheard of tactic.  That's basically what happened with Future Game -- the guy running the site essentially said, "You're all cheating!" and closed it down without paying out most of the prizes.  I figured other members had probably gotten the same account suspension I had before the site disappeared. 

For months, I assumed that DCOS was dead and buried.  I kept searching for it on the Web, expecting to read scads of complaints or at least commentary on its disappearance, but somehow I never did.  One thing I did notice early on was that Google was displaying MY REFERRAL LINK on the first page of the search results when I searched for "DollarClickorSignup."  That was definitely odd, especially considering I'd not done that much promoting of my referral link!  I really don't understand why a referral link would ever rank ahead of a site's main page, but search engines can be's a phenomenon I'd noticed before, though I'd never been the "beneficiary" of it previously.  Anyway, I didn't really focus on that for quite some time because I still believed the entire site had closed down.  Still, when I noticed that other people were reporting still using the site and getting paid from it I realized that things weren't quite what they had seemed.  Evidently, I'd been IP banned from the site -- I came to find out that I also got an Apache 2 test page when I tried to visit GPTCashCow, a site I'd never been a member of.

So I'd been scammed, albeit in a bizarre way.  The odd thing is that other people seemingly weren't being scammed in the same way.  If you spend enough time on the Internet, you can find someone willing to call pretty much any online earning site in existence -- no matter how honest -- a scam.  I tend to dismiss those reviews which don't match my personal experience with a site, but this time I was in an odd position...*I* was the lunatic, the one person who had been scammed by a site.  Why me?  I still don't know and probably never will know, but I have two theories.  The first is that the new owner of the site resented the premium memberships that had been sold by Lora.  That would be understandable -- after all, Lora got the initial purchase money, but the new owner had to bear the costs of giving free referrals to premium members.  Getting rid of me offered a way for DCOS to save money; given that I wasn't very active, I was worth more "dead" than alive.  I would've thought that all premium members would've gotten the boot, though, in which case it seems like it would've been easier to simply do away with the memberships without banning people.  My second theory is that I was killed by my favorite search engine.  Since my referral link appeared on the first page of Google's search results, I might have gotten some undesirable referrals and been banned under the assumption I was creating fake referrals.  This theory is certainly more favorable to the admin -- it might even be called an honest mistake under the circumstances -- but I'm somewhat skeptical of it.  For one thing, wouldn't the admin be aware that these referrals were coming from Google?  Why was there no dialogue before I was evidently IP banned (and IP banned in such a way that I would think the site was dead rather than that I'd been banned)?  They knew I was a long-time member and someone who had purchased a premium membership.  If they ban everyone who gets bad referrals by default, anyone could force any other user to get banned by signing up under that user's referral link...what kind of system is that?  All in all, it stinks to high heaven.  At the end of the day, I do think DollarClickorSignup knew exactly what they were doing for me, even if I still can't understand the reason I was singled out.

So just what should this epic post mean to someone who is thinking about joining DCOS for the first time?  The main advice I would give you is to exert caution when dealing with the site.  If premium memberships are still being offered, I'd definitely tell you to steer clear of those!  At the same time, the reviews elsewhere on the Web are probably accurate.  Chances are the site WILL pay you.  But if it does end up scamming you, at least you'll know you won't be its first victim.                             


Friday, March 2, 2012

Avoiding an Unanswerable Pre-Survey Profile Question

One of the best things you can do if you want to receive more and better-targeted surveys is to answer all the profile surveys at your survey site or sites of choice and to keep them up to date. These surveys usually don't pay you anything, but they will (hopefully) allow you to participate in more paying surveys in the future. Nonetheless, I've always suspected that survey sites have a tough time getting their panelists to answer profile surveys -- it's a somewhat tedious process for the survey-taker. To get more people answering profile questions, some survey sites get a little creative; for instance, Global Test Market has started asking survey respondents to answer a few profile questions before being redirected to a paying survey. This isn't a bad idea: it's easier to fill out profiles a little bit at a time, and this is a way to reach people who rarely login to their survey site accounts and thus may be only dimly aware of the existence of profile surveys.

Unfortunately, GTM's execution of this concept leaves something to be desired. The site has repeatedly presented me with a profile question I cannot answer because of the limited answer options made available. It concerns my Internet service provider -- my actual provider is simply not one of the choices. Call it one of the perks of living in a small town: Time Warner abandoned our market a while back so a much smaller company is the only cable Internet/TV provider around. What makes this particular question so terrible is that "Other" or "None of the Above" simply aren't options, and I can't skip the question and just proceed to the survey either. Terrible question design!

This has been a problem for some time, and what I did originally was simply close the survey whenever I saw that dreaded profile question pop up. Probably lost a few dollars that way. Still, I'd rather miss out on surveys than pick the wrong answer just to get it out of the way...we're not getting paid to make things up, and market research only works if respondents are truthful. However, I've discovered a much better way of dealing with the Profile Question From Hell: simply refresh the survey or re-click the survey invitation link from your email. Either action will lead you the real survey. We shouldn't have to engage in Profile Question Avoidance Maneuvers, of course, but this at least provides a solution until Global Test Market fixes that particular question.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Paid Viewpoint's Brave New World of Surveys

I recently mentioned Paid Viewpoint in my list of quick and daily earning sites, but I thought it really deserved a post of its own given that I've been spending more time there of late. What's particularly interesting about Paid Viewpoint to me is that it really seems to be trying to change the whole paradigm of online survey taking. They seem to recognize what survey takers find frustrating and annoying about surveys and have actively designed their site to provide a better experience for all.

The major issue that Paid Viewpoint fixes is the "screening problem." If you've ever taken surveys online, you know what I'm talking about. The simple fact is that the vast majority of surveys I get invited to I don't qualify to complete -- that's because market researchers often just want to poll very specific demographics. If I'm the wrong age, don't use a certain product, work in a particular profession, don't have a certain medical condition, etc I may not be eligible to complete a given survey. What's terrible about this system as it exists is that survey takers end up wasting lots of time on surveys that they get screened out of. Many surveys are poorly designed and force respondents to answer multiple questions before screening them out. I've spent 10-15 minutes on a survey before only to be told I don't qualify for it -- you just want to pull your hair out or start throwing things when that happens because you typically get nothing or next to nothing for the time you've just lost. Paid Viewpoint totally eliminates this frustration: you get paid to answer EVERY survey you're invited to. You also accrue money as you answer on a per question basis; your answers in a given survey may affect the number of questions you're ultimately asked, but you do get paid for every answer you give. It's a fair system which is very respectful of panelists' time.

As you might expect, Paid Viewpoint needs to create fairly sophisticated profiles of its users to match them with the right surveys. Indeed, you'll be asked to answer profile questions pretty much every day. On most survey sites, filling out profile surveys is just something you do in order to get more survey invites -- most don't pay you anything for filling them out even if they're quite long. (I suspect in practice this means that many survey takers don't actually bother to fill out profile surveys, let alone keep them up to date as their circumstances change.) Once again, PV has a better system: it pays you for answering profile questions in just the same way as it does for regular surveys (these are called "biz" surveys on the site). Answering profile questions honestly is a must -- every user receives a TraitScore based on their perceived trustworthiness which affects what surveys they're invited to. Still, even with all this profiling you do get to keep SOME privacy...they don't even make you give them your real name!

So, from my perspective, Paid Viewpoint is indeed building a better survey site...but that doesn't mean you should just join it and forsake all other survey sites! There are still a few advantages that the more established survey sites have over PV. For one thing, your earning potential on a traditional survey site is considerably more because Paid Viewpoint surveys tend to be short and to the point. From a time management perspective, it's great to make $0.30 answering a short multiple choice survey on Paid Viewpoint...however, you can make $1-$5+ per survey elsewhere if you're willing to put the time in that those surveys require. Paid Viewpoint also only pays via PayPal -- many other survey sites offer a choice in redemption methods. The referral system isn't the greatest, either; you receive a flat $1 bonus whenever one of your referrals completes 6+ biz surveys. So there will be no residual earnings based on your referral's further activity on the site and no earnings at all for referrals who quit before they reach that 6 biz survey mark. Another notable downside to PV is that they have a weird rule which punishes people who need to change their phone number or PayPal address. Changing either zeroes your other words, you lose all your earnings to that point! If you're like me, you don't change your PayPal address or phone number very often, but this rule still strikes me as unfair. Undoubtedly, this is a fraud prevention mechanism, but it has the potential to punish innocent people who have to change a PP address or phone number.

All in all, I'm really happy with Paid Viewpoint so far. I'll post another update when I cashout for the first time (hopefully that'll be in the next month or so)...however, I have full confidence that PV will pay since its sister site, Instant Cash Sweepstakes (which also specializes in short surveys), has paid me numerous times. Unlike ICS which only accepts US members, PV accepts users from all PayPal-supported countries.

Is Not Yet Ready for Primetime?

I've had only good experiences with PayPal so far, but that doesn't mean I necessarily want to see PP continue to dominate the online payments space. I've heard enough horror stories to recognize that it's never a good idea to have your eggs in one basket. Thus, I was thrilled when I heard American Express was releasing its own online payments solution,, last year. I was particularly pleased that a big and widely trusted company like AMEX was behind Serve since so many of the other PayPal competitors are fly-by-night operations -- it's hard to say whether the companies backing them are worthy of trusting with your financial operation or have the wherewithal to compete over the long-term. I was even more intrigued when I noticed Serve was bringing something new to the table, namely subaccounts which make transferring money to anyone from family members to employees to handymen a breeze. The beauty of subaccounts is the monitoring that they allow: you would be able to tell where your kid is spending his allowance money, what your roofer is spending on supplies, etc. Naturally, for everyday payments for goods and services you don't need subaccounts, but for very specific purposes it's a great concept. To top it all off, was (and is) offering a $10 bonus to everyone (US only...Serve has yet to go international) who starts an account with them. Naturally, I signed up as soon as I could!

Unfortunately, Serve isn't quite living up its early promise, at least not from my perspective. At this point, I've got $10 in a Serve account and a Serve debit card, but I feel like my account is in suspended animation for no reason. All I tried to do was link my Serve account to my bank account -- ever since I can barely do anything in my account without getting a message about my account being currently reviewed. My account has been in "review mode" for months. The message I'm getting says I can contact them if I don't receive an update, but I thought I'd use this circumstance as a way to test Serve as a service. Unfortunately, Serve is failing pretty badly so far -- I have my doubts that my account will ever leave review mode unless I contact them about my problem. In my opinion, I shouldn't have to...Serve simply isn't ready to compete with PayPal if it can't handle users linking their bank accounts to their Serve accounts. That's a pretty basic, everyday operation for a payment processor. I hope these account reviews (which, judging from Internet comments, seem to be quite common) aren't simply a way to keep people from withdrawing their bonus money. Most likely, Serve has been overwhelmed by signups and simply can't keep up with the volume of activity...that's really not a good sign for a PayPal competitor, either. Unless Serve cleans up their act, they won't be getting my business in the future.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Quick and The Daily: Penny Edition

The idea of "making a little extra money online" is seductive. What could be easier than sneaking in a few minutes at your computer and working on your own schedule and at your own pace? In practice, things aren't so easy or straightforward. Indeed, although it may seem counter-intuitive, I think "making a little extra money online" for some people may be harder than making a living online would be! That's simply because the little extra money people invariably have other commitments that take up their time and prevent them from focusing more on their online work: some may be stay at home parents raising young children, others have one or more "real world" jobs, and some have medical conditions which require constant attention or treatment. The circumstances vary from individual to individual, but the fundamental problem faced is the same: there's just not enough time in the day to get everything done! It's very easy to get caught in a cycle where you're only doing very low paying work online because you don't feel you have the time to take on anything more complex or demanding.

Sound bleak? It can be. Many people are surprised to find how difficult it can be to earn a relatively small amount online -- say, for instance, enough cash to buy Christmas presents for the kids at the end of the year -- when they can only devote an hour or so of time a day towards that goal. With people in this situation particularly in mind, I've been searching for earning sites that take very little time to use each day but pay at least marginally better than click or captcha sites. These are still penny jobs, for sure, but all it takes is 30 cents a day to end up with $109.50 at the end of the year. That may not be enough for a new video system, but it's enough to purchase a few budget-minded gifts at Christmastime. Unfortunately, most of the sites I'm about to discuss are strongly geared towards US members; I may try to do an international version of the list later on, but they're harder to find.

The first site I want to mention is Sidetick. This is a social network geared towards online earners -- you're allowed to blog about your favorite sites, meet like-minded individuals interested in joint ventures, and also do normal online earning tasks such as offers. The "quick money" part of Sidetick involves commenting on Jenny Stein's daily blog entry. Each day, Jenny posts a new blog topic for people to discuss...usually something very simple. Write a short or long comment on the topic and you'll receive $0.13 for your troubles -- this can easily be done in 5 minutes or less. There are a number of other ways to earn with Sidetick that you can explore if you have more time. One downside: Sidetick's minimum payout is $25 so it'll take a while to cash out if you all you do is comment on Jenny's blog.

Next up is Beezag. This is one of the funnest earning sites I use -- you simply watch TV commercials and get paid for it. The site is a cashback shopping site so you can take advantage of offers related to the products you see advertised. However, you can also just earn from watching purchase is necessary to earn. You'll earn at least 2 cents for each video watched; in general, I find that I earn between 2 and 10 cents a day depending on how many videos are available. However, I've earned as much as 20 cents in one day before here!

The next site on my list, Instant Cash Sweepstakes, is a little bit different in that it lets you earn a few pennies every three hours instead of just once a day. It's a very easy site to use -- you simply respond to multiple choice surveys (usually 3 questions per survey). In return for your time, you'll win either a random cash prize (ranging from $0.01 to $0.10) or entries into prize draws. You can only answer a limited number of questions each session (the precise number depends on your trust score level, which increases as you answer profile questions), but I find that I usually win one cash prize every session on average. The prize drawing entries aren't worthless either -- I've won three $2 cash drawings in my time on ICS.

Since I mentioned ICS, I should also mention its sister site, Paid Viewpoint. It specializes in short surveys that are easy to complete and pay well for the time they take. One particularly interesting aspect of the site is that it shows you making money with each QUESTION you answer until you've completed the survey. It also often (always?) allows you to skip questions you don't want to answer. Perhaps best of all, you're always qualified for every survey you're sent -- if you've used other survey sites in the past, you know how annoying and time consuming the survey qualification process can be. I find that I can usually make 8 cents a day on Paid Viewpoint, but considerably more than that when there are actual surveys to take rather than just profile surveys.

Next I want to bring up Swagbucks, one of the most popular GPT sites on the Web. There are numerous ways to earn with this site: you can do everything from trading in old cell phones to taking surveys. Since we're focused on simple, quick methods of earning, though, I want to focus on Swagbucks' search engine and daily poll section. If you search with Swagbucks, you'll win points periodically after submitting your query or moving to a different page of search results. It's usually quite easy to win for the first time each day -- it's possible to win multiple times per day, but it'll take much more time. The daily poll section allows you to win one swagbuck for answering a simple poll question. This brings us to one complicated question: just how much is a swagbuck worth? The answer is, "It depends!" You can redeem your swagbucks for all kinds of prizes, including gift cards and PayPal cash, which are valued wildly differently. If all you do is search and do the daily poll, you should earn at least the equivalent of 5 cents per day regardless of what prize you opt to redeem.

Down to our last site...FINALLY! This one is one I've used pretty much for as long as I've been earning online: it's a little site known by the name of Cash Crate. This is a classic "get paid to" site: think offers and daily surveys. Both completing offers and daily surveys can get time consuming in a hurry, however...they're not the reason Cash Crate made my list. Instead, I'm promoting CC here because of its Daily Check In feature. It's as simple as it sounds: press a button to check in and get three cents added to your account balance. Granted, it'll take quite a while to reach the $20 minimum needed to cash out if all you do is check in so it's probably a good idea to do an offer or take a survey every now and then at least.

To finish up, I just want to break down a possible daily earnings scenario if you use each of these sites. This is based purely on my own personal experiences so far; your experiences may not match mine.

Sidetick: $0.13
Beezag: $0.04
ICS: $0.04
Paid Viewpoint: $0.08
Swagbucks: $0.05
CashCrate: $0.03
Total: $0.37

That's still small potatoes, but it's better than nothing!

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Check? Don't Panic!

Seasoned online earner that I am, the first thing that crosses my mind when I don't get a prompt payment from one of my earning sites is, "It's a SCAM!" Usually my initial response is not incorrect, but a couple of experiences in the past year have taught me that jumping to conclusions regarding payments is not always wise, particularly if the said payments involve checks. I must admit that if I don't get a payment from a click site I probably will simply drop the site without so much as a word of complaint to the admin -- that's because I know scamming sites are rampant in that sector and because the amounts I'm owed are relatively small. I don't necessarily even EXPECT to be paid from a bux site...often the site goes scam before I reach payout and I stop clicking at that point! Survey sites are a different story, however. In fact, I've never once been scammed by a survey site because I always research them before joining up. Many established survey companies have been around for years; some were doing mail and phone surveys decades before the Internet became mainstream. So, when a survey site doesn't pay me on time, I get surprised.

For the first few years of my "survey career," I never had a single problem with receiving a payment. In the past year, however, I've experienced not one but two different instances of not receiving a check from a survey company in expected time frame. Bear in mind that it can take months to receive a check "on time" -- in both cases, I was waiting for more than FOUR months for a check that did not arrive. Since I'd been paid by both companies in the past, I was reluctant to write them off as scams. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and inform their customer service departments (I had to fill out an online form in both cases) of my predicament. Surprisingly, it worked out well -- in both cases, my checks were promptly sent out after I complained. If you haven't received a payment from a legitimate survey site, I urge you to contact the company that owes you first...sometimes good things can happen despite all the scamming that goes on online.

I must admit that the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I WAS scammed after all, even though I ended up receiving my earnings. If I hadn't complained, I never would have been paid...perhaps the sites were hoping I would simply not notice or not bother to contact them. Frankly, there's no way for me to know what really happened. However, I suspect both were probably just mistakes, mainly because I haven't noticed a lot of other people complaining about the same thing happening to them. One thing to consider is that payments by check are marginally more complicated than those by PayPal or other online means: the payment request must be accepted, the check must be issued, and the check must be sent out. In one case, my check had been ISSUED several months before when I made my just had never been mailed out. Perhaps it had been sitting on a desk or in a drawer for several months. In the second case, my check was newly issued and sent with an apology letter. There are several points of failure in the check sending process -- even the postal service could goof on the last step of the journey, though that doesn't seem to have happened to me yet.

All this may make you wish that all online earning sites paid by PayPal, but I'm actually glad the check hasn't completely gone out of style. We all can use PayPal just as long as PayPal wants us to...plenty of people out there feel like they've been frozen out of their PP accounts for no good reason. My personal experiences with PayPal have been good so far, but I have no desire to put all my eggs in one basket. I am still grateful that the check option still exists despite the hazards.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Beezag Offers a Fresh Take on Cashback Shopping

Cashback shopping is an excellent way to save money on your online purchases. In my experience, however, most cashback shopping sites aren't all that interesting to navigate. Some consist of little more than pages and pages of store links for you to click on with little more than a store name and rebate percentage listed to get you interested. If you already know what you want to buy, that type of layout is very efficient and perhaps ideal. However, what if you know you want to get a good deal on something (perhaps you're shopping for gifts) but don't know exactly what to buy? Unless you want to click on a lot of different store links and go exploring, cashback shopping sites usually aren't geared towards attracting impulse buyers. Beezag, however, is a new cashback shopping site for Americans that's attempting to shake things up a little by combining video ads and rebates in an exciting new way.

On Beezag, you won't find any long lists of online stores or cashback offers. Instead, you'll find videos! These videos are typically professionally-produced commercials that you may have already seen on TV. For every video you watch, you receive points which can be redeemed for cash or donations to charity. For every video you watch, you'll also receive a cashback shopping offer -- to take advantage of it, follow the link at the end of the video, make a purchase, and then forward your order confirmation email to the email address provided. When your purchase is completed and verified, you'll receive a cashback credit as points in your Beezag account. The videos are targeted to you based in part on your answers to short poll questions so they should be advertising products and services of interest to you; I would say the targeting does a pretty good job as I get lots of videos related to electronics and have to struggle to prevent myself from shopping like mad.

You'll generally make between 50 ($0.05) and 250 ($0.25) points for every video you watch (recently some sweepstakes entry videos have also started appearing). You're not required to make a purchase, but when you do the typical cashback rebate rate seems to be 5% on orders up to $100 (in other words, the maximum rebate per order is usually 5,000 points or $5). You can cashout on Beezag once you reach 8,000 points ($8). If you're a regular online shopper, you could probably cashout on Beezag every month pretty easily -- if you're mainly a video watcher, though, you'll still be able to make decent money here. It's a good site for referrals as well since you receive a 10% commission on points they earn. On the downside, Beezag is currently a US only site. This isn't unusual since cashback shopping sites are often country-specific, but I'm sure the Beezag concept will be expanded to other countries before long by the same company or another business.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Exploring Anno1777

Online gaming has become a huge business. By and large, however, the money has tended to flow in one way: from the players to the game administrators. There's nothing wrong with that -- people should be rewarded for their creative work -- but you also can't blame gamers for dreaming of a chance to make money with their hobby. At this point, it's still not easy to make money playing games though a few options do exist. I feel like this sector is going to really take off in the future, especially the concept of the "real cash economy" (RCE) game. In the latter type of game, game money is easily interchangeable with real money -- there is a direct link between the game's virtual economy and the real world economy, and it's a two-way street. The RCE concept is still pretty green, but there's already a fascinating example of the genre available for play right now: Anno1777!

I've been playing Anno1777 for several months now and, while I still think it is very much a work in progress, I also think it has tremendous potential. It's essentially an economic simulation game which provides numerous possibilities for players to make their in-game (and out of game) fortunes. You can fight other players (making them your "slaves" which means you are entitled to a share of their earnings), start businesses, trade shares, trade currencies, work at jobs, etc. Your earnings in many game activities are based on your wellness which increases with consumption -- you can buy a wide range of goods, including food, wine, and clothes, in order to improve your wellness. When you first join the game, you are assigned a country based on your real life location, and you initially earn money in your national currency (for instance, US dollars if you are from the US) which is really an in-game currency. To earn real money, you need to use your national currency to buy gold and then use your gold to buy euros. This may seem a bit more convoluted than would be ideal, but gold is actually a necessary international in-game currency -- for instance, you can buy shares or slaves in a foreign country using gold. You can also deposit money into the game to give yourself a head start (highly recommended if you are planning on starting your own business).

While Anno is a fun game even as it currently exists, I do have some concerns about it. In the past, it's been apparent to all that rabid cheating -- especially the creation of multiple accounts or clones as they are called in the game world -- has been taking place for a long time. Unfortunately, cheating seems to have become ingrained in the culture of the game, and it's going to be difficult to root out completely even though there are occasional purges of cheaters. Another concern I have is with the gameplay. Right now, you can play the game without investing a whole lot of time -- for instance, working takes just a click and it means you can't fight or travel for eight hours. This is good in the sense that it enables players with little time to enjoy the game, but I also worry that the way the game works currently doesn't create enough player engagement. For a real cash economy game to work in the long-term, I think there has to be a set of players who are playing just because they love the game and don't really intend to cash out. There are players like that playing Anno1777 now, but I think the game may need to increase engagement to attract more such players. Another concern I have is that the game may be too difficult for new players. It currently takes a good deal of patience to succeed as a new player because wages and fight bonuses are low. I wonder how many new players will be willing to fight and work for multiple days just so they can buy one bottle of wine. It becomes easier as you expand, but starting out is slow going! You may be able to make real money relatively quickly in the game if you choose to invest, but it will take you a very long time to cash out if you start from scratch and work your way up.

One final concern I have with the game has nothing to do with the game mechanics or rules but rather its graphics. Anno is largely a text-based game, but it does feature some artwork intended to hearken back to the game's nominal setting, 1777. Since the game does incorporate the idea of slavery (in a rather benign way), it's perhaps not surprising that some of the game's artwork depicts slavery too. Still, I continue to find the artwork featuring bound African slaves unsettling -- in the game of Anno, EVERYONE is a "slave" and gives some of their earnngs to their "masters." Yet you're still free to do what you choose how to make money, where to travel to, etc like any free person would. The game isn't a realistic depiction of slavery as it once existed so why should the artwork be so realistic? Some players have declared the artwork to be racist, but I don't think that's exactly right...I would rather describe it as inaccurate based on the nature of the game (where everyone, not only members of a particular group, is a slave) and unnecessary because it makes some players feel uncomfortable. Alas, other players have complained about it without any result so it seems the graphics are here to stay. The effect the artwork can have is something to keep in mind if you plan on promoting the game.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Paybox: Is It the Opportunity or the Scam of a Lifetime?

Paybox is a would-be PayPal and AlertPay competitor that is causing quite a stir at the moment. The online payment processor business is a tough one to break into due to PayPal's dominance, but I think there is enough room for another big player due to PayPal's penchant for freezing funds and suspending accounts. Competition is always the consumer's best protection. Still, at this point, it's not easy for a new processor to emerge and attract business. Paybox has a tough road ahead of it, without question...but it just might be bold enough to challenge a giant. Don't believe me? Well, wait till you hear how Paybox is attracting new users!

Paybox is offering a very sweet offer to members who join it early (these are called EarlyBird members). New users get a staggering $50 bonus for joining. This is very high for the online earning world, but it actually isn't unprecedented in the world of finance: banks, for instance, often offer bonus promotions to encourage people to open new accounts with them. However, Paybox is also paying its early birds daily bonuses for as long as they keep their account active. There's something wonderful about logging into your account and seeing a new $10 or $20 bonus added on to your account -- it's very good for one's psychological health! In return for all this, Paybox is not asking for much. You must login often (bonuses stop accruing after two days without a login and your account can be canned if you go a week without logging in), and you must answer at least one short survey related to online shopping, payment processors, or usage of social media per week. At this stage, early bird members are filling two important roles for PayBox: they are participating in market research to help design the new payment processor and they are bringing in new members, increasing the buzz surrounding the site. Since PayBox offers $5 per referral, people have ample reason to refer others!

So, is all this too good to be true? The way I look at it online money is never truly yours till it it is in your hand. It feels wonderful to login to Paybox and see all the money sitting in your account, but there's nothing you can do with that cash until the site launches. Technically, the money in your account is in Paybox's own virtual currency. Until it becomes convertible with US dollars and other real world currencies, your balances are just numbers on a screen. The site has laid out a roadmap explaining the basic plan for the site's development. Online and debit card shopping and person-to-person transactions may be available as soon as next year, but withdrawing funds isn't going to be an available feature until the very end of 2011 or beginning of 2012. Since developing a payment processor is not a trivial operation, I expect the roadmap will have to be revised from time to time so it may take even longer before anyone can withdraw their money. There's even a risk of the site not launching at all!

With all that said, I do think it's worth joining Paybox at this point. The site is not asking for much in the way of personal information (you won't have to provide any financial info whatsoever). It is asking you to login often and take some time to answer short surveys -- admittedly, if the site goes nowhere this will mean you've wasted your time. I think the potential opportunity of being in early on something that could be huge is worth that risk, but you should definitely go in with your eyes wide open. At present, there isn't a whole lot of information on the site about the company. We don't really know if they're trustworthy or not. At present, the worst risk is losing your time, but it's possible they'll ask for more information down the road -- it'd be rather tempting to share private info in order to withdraw the thousands of dollars sitting in your account later! So feel free to join the won't get many opportunities to help shape a new payment processor...but remain careful, cautious, and patient. This is for people willing to take chances, not for those who are only interested in sure things.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Beware of High Minimum Payouts

As an online earner, you probably want your payouts as quickly as possible. The "ideal" site, then, is one that has no minimum payout and pays instantly...good luck finding it. On the other hand, site owners have a difficult time keeping enough cash on hand to pay everyone immediately, plus the process of making payments (which includes checking for cheaters) can be time consuming. Thus, there are definitely legitimate reasons why a site may have a high minimum payout. However, a high minimum payout can also be a cover for a scam or a waste of time.

If I followed a strict "no high minimum payout" rule, I would be a poorer man today: Google AdSense, Inbox Dollars, and Global Test Market all make you earn a lot of money before you can request your payout. So a blanket rule isn't what you need. Instead, you need to consider each site in context. For a site with a high minimum to be worthwhile, you need to be able to earn enough to reach payout in a reasonable time frame. Global Test Market, for instance, is a survey site which can pay several dollars per survey. It's not that hard to reach payout under those circumstances (though the site may be a waste of time for people in countries that rarely get surveys). In contrast, there is a site called E-Mail Pays U which I joined very early on in my online earning adventures. Its minimum payout is a whopping $75 for your first payment. You make money there by reading emails at 2 cents an email plus three cents in daily clicks if you remember to visit the site each day. The problem is you don't get paid emails daily and sometimes not even weekly. While there are occasional offers to complete and you receive $10 to start out with, let it suffice to say that earning $75 there requires a multi-year commitment. I'm happy to recommend Global Test Market, especially to Americans, because I know it's quite possible to reach that $50 payout a couple times a year. I don't normally recommend E-Mal Pays U to anyone, though, because I can't imagine too many people would want to click for 4+ years before getting paid.

Scams are even worse than wastes of time. Readbud is one that has recently fooled lots of people -- they were able to make who knows how much money by showing articles with ads to thousands of "article readers." The high minimum payout of $50 meant that people read and read and read just to try to reach the minimum...the site was able to squeeze their scammed users for as much as they were worth! Readbud was particularly clever in the way it made it harder to earn the closer people got to payout. That made it so fewer people were running around calling it a scam as they couldn't say for sure that site didn't pay...they just hadn't reached payout yet. To avoid scams like these, research is pretty much your only hope. In addition to reading what other people are saying about the site, you should also try to figure out how the site supposedly MAKES money -- it has to get paid before it pays you. Readbud's "business model" never really made sense to me and I felt from day one they were promising to pay more than they could reasonably be expected to make. If a site doesn't pass the "smell test," there's a good chance that something really is iffy about it.