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.