No One Wants To Be Tracked

Having worked for clients that want the latest and greatest, I saw first hand the lengths people are going to in order to get your sale. In fact, for months after I left Shane Co., I kept seeing ads for their jewellery. However, I’m not engaged. Big companies like Google and Facebook make an obscene amount of money tracking our online activity. You can do some things with plugins like the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials and Facebook Container. However, it’s also the responsibility of businesses not to reward this kind of data collection. Elysium Studios stands firm in our commitment to do right by our customers.

Look Ma! No Trackers!

We are proud of the fact that we don’t use nor implement Google Analytics or any other tracking system on our website. No Google Tag Manager, no Google Analytics, no other creepy tracking codes. In fact, if only we could get someone from ToS;DR to look into our privacy practices, I think we could get an A+ grade.

Elysium Studios is committed to the seven cooperative principles, and the seventh involves a concern for the community.

The 7th Principle combines two elements of the Co-operative Values in the [International Cooperative] Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity: those of “self-help and self-responsibility” and “the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others”. These two elements of the co-operative identity and values are brought to life by this 7th operational principle.

This combination of these two elements arises because co-operatives emerge from and are rooted in the communities in which they conduct their business operations. Their success is based on their ability to support those communities to develop in a sustainable way.

The Guidance Notes on the Co-operative Principles

Enabling Facebook and Google to continue to collect data on you would not be sustainable nor responsible. So, if we’re not going to track you and follow you around the web like a creepy stalker, how do we plan to sell you visual novels and online dating services? Well, we believe in a two-step process. We will be known by our engagement in the community and our high quality visual novels.

Engagement in the Community

Sample flyer from ROFLCON III, image courtesy of Jason Eppink under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Unsurprisingly, Elysium Studios is all about the communities we are a part of. Not just the visual novel community but also the communities we intersect. Nearly every day, I speak with someone who just doesn’t know what a visual novel is. I explain that it’s like those old “choose your own adventure” books, but we add music and art and more interactive choices. In the last week, I’ve explained visual novels to defence attorneys (one of which has a son who plays Doki Doki Literature Club), bus drivers, and a cashier at the Fort Collins Food Co-op.

Because of who we are and what we stand for, we can talk to a lot of people. We’re not just a video game company. We’re a co-op, a B-Corp, a 100% female (and worker) owned business powered by open source technology. Bringing together video games and online dating, we’re doing something that is at least a conversation starter. And we’re not doing it in New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles but all along the Front Range.

Our Commitment to Quality

Engagement can only get you so far. After that, people start buying your products and subscribing to your services. But are they ready for prime time? It’s only slightly tongue-in-cheek that we claim we make artisanal visual novels.

We also plan to be around until the end of the Internet. Wouldn’t it make sense that we should make our products to last as well? You can do something poorly and only make a little bit of money. You could. Or you could commit yourself to doing something epic and yet, still maintainable.

Cover image by Patrik Nygren, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

Until the End of the Internet

A screenshot from Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide
A screenshot from Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

One of my favourite games as a young adult (that’s how you say teenager nowadays, right?) was Neverwinter Nights. I had first learned about it from the web comic Megatokyo, which surprised many in my DD group. It was long enough ago that I was using Windows. For reference, I only made the switch to Mac after my first years as a polytechnicienne. However, I switched to Mac at the dawn of the Intel Mac and the days of PowerPC apps were numbered. Apple killed Rosetta, which was the software providing PowerPC emulation and allowing PowerPC apps to run. Once Apple killed Rosetta, one of my favourite games from my teenage years was lost to me.

Well, until recently that is. And it wasn’t so much lost as I had to do some screwing around with Wine and CodeWeavers, but that’s beside the point. But the thing was, Bioware (the original developer of NWN) was not committed to the future of its products. Here at Elysium, we are. The people at Basecamp made a commitment to be around “until the end of the Internet” and so will we.

It’s a promise to our customers

We dedicate ourselves to supporting our products forever. Not just the awesome SaaS-based offerings we’re planning to launch this year but our games too. We will do our damnedest to stand against the tide of impermanence that seems to engulf the Internet. We are building Elysium Studios to last. We’ll be here until the end of the Internet.

In practical terms, that means:

  • The day you become an Elysium customer, you can trust that Elysium Studios will be around. In the event that the game you play or the service you’ve enjoyed enters a legacy phase, we’ll continue to allow you to use it as-is indefinitely, assuming you continue to abide by our terms of service and keep your subscription active (for those products that have a subscription).
  • Your data is safe. Regardless of status, all our products receive the same rigorous care when it comes to security and privacy. While we may not add new features to legacy products, we’ll continue to apply the latest security updates; maintain the infrastructure that keeps them safe, fast, and secure; and continue to offer technical support.
  • Elysium Studios is our life’s work – we’re in this for the long haul. Being a worker cooperative, we’re all invested in the future of Elysium Studios. In the unlikely, unforeseen, and unanticipated event that the cooperative or one of our products is acquired by another company, we’ll do everything in our power to make sure the product and the promise live on.

Changes and Questions

Elysium may update this policy once in a blue moon. If that occurs, we’ll notify you about significant changes by emailing the account owner or by placing a prominent notice on our site. We’ll probably also create a dedicated page for this policy to live on. Minus the nostalgia about Neverwinter Nights. Maybe.

Cultivating Solidarity and Cooperation at Elysium Studios

Elysium Studios is founded on the principles of solidarity and cooperation. However, we will not rest on our laurels. We will actively work to make every Elysian feel like part of the team. Being a cooperative, solidarity and cooperation is a part of the culture here at Elysium.

In our last post in this series, we discussed the basics of why a solidarity economy is necessary in this day and age. Today, we will discuss how Elysium Studios intends to foster solidarity and cooperation. This, being one of the six core values of the solidarity economy, is crucial to how we conduct ourselves as a cooperative.

Solidarity and Cooperation: More than just empty words

Sure, we value solidarity and cooperation. Every company says that to varying degrees. Few of them go to the degree we have by forming our business as a cooperative and a B Corp. Everyone here at Elysium knows that we’re all building something we will all benefit from equally. The proceeds don’t just go into my pockets, but are put back into the cooperative and into the community.

There is a sense of mutual trust and respect amongst the worker owners and we rely on each other to advance the cooperative in our daily work.

How not to do it

I’ll tell you about an experience I’ve had as a computer programmer. I had a boss that was more of a boss than a colleague. He was completely unreasonable in his demands, he wouldn’t pay his staff when he said he would, and he had very little empathy for what other people were going through. Communication with him was incredibly abysmal and when I saw his name calling on my iPhone, I was filled with a sense of dread. This boss was incredibly influential in one way. He taught me how not to be a boss.

A Better Approach: Psychological Safety

Here’s one thing I love about my former employer, Greystone Technology: they care about their people. Greystone Technology has a very important value when it comes to talking about its staff called “Psychological Safety”. Here’s a video from Greystone that I think explains it well.


They’re right about one thing: a company’s culture can’t just be “fun”. That tends to be pretty shallow and it doesn’t allow people the trust that they need to flourish as professionals. We cannot rest on our laurels just because we’re a cooperative and a B-Corp. We must strive to be better and to do that, we need to be honest with ourselves and each other.

As someone who isn’t an artist, I have a hard time holding myself back from checking in on the creatives working on the visual and musical assets. Having said that, though, I need to learn to let go and trust them as professionals. Deep down, I know that the team I’ve built got this. I just need to make sure it shows in my language. Therefore, I am committing to the process of directed autonomy and psychological safety. It’s not my job to be a babysitter, therefore I’m going to trust them to be the great, highly-talented professionals I know them to be.

In conclusion

I think it is fair to say that solidarity and cooperation are a result of trust. The beautiful thing about being a cooperative is that we’re all in the thick of it. We’re all involved in the active production of our first visual novel, My First Castellan. This is by design, as I hate the idea of management. When I first read Steve Wozniak say that old engineers become managers, it saddened me.

As a computer scientist, I hate not being in the thick of it. And I got my doctorate because I want to make amazing stuff, not managing the people doing that. So, when I learned about cooperatives, it excited me because it’s a way to spread the decision making power and to not join the Babysitter’s Club, as Peter Melby would put it.

(Cover photo credits by Thomas Hawk, used under the Creative Commons BY-NC licence)

Ethics in… Running An Online Dating Service?

I was browsing Quora before heading home from the office and I saw something that troubled me. I saw several false reviews on a question about which dating app was better: Tinder, Grindr, or Transdr. Spoiler alert: I said none of them were appropriate given the background of each platform. Hence, why we are launching an online dating service of our very own. However, I saw a number of accounts posting false information about trans people. Their grammar was absolutely atrocious (i.e. using the word “transgenders” instead of “transgender people”) and their answers factually bereft. Not to mention, they all promoted Transdr, a transgender dating app with an extremely problematic history.

And yes, we’ll return to our eight part series on the Solidarity Economy soon.

Meet Sockpuppet #1: Dave Smith

“Dave Smith” (probably not the user’s real name) writes a number of answers about trans people that are factually untrue. In a question about coping with gender dysphoria at school, “Dave” advises suffering through it. Never mind the fact that there are professional resources from amazing organizations such as TYEF and GLAD. Not to mention, Zinnia Jones has written an amazing article about cheap puberty blockers. There is real help available, please seek it out! They also claimed that gay people have existed longer than trans people despite no evidence to support this claim.

I can abide a lot of shameless self promotion of an app… but let me tell you, when you give bad advice to a trans kid, you’re attacking trans people. When you spread misinformation and validate transphobes’ mass exclusion of trans people from the dating pool, you do more damage to trans people.

Meet Sockpuppet #2: Star Brooks

Star Brooks parrots a lot of the bad advice Dave Smith does but she also goes further by claiming that it’s okay not to accept trans people.

Being transgender isn’t as trivial as playing the piano. Many trans people face social isolation and a number of other issues due to a lack of acceptance. This could be from family, friends, or both. I deliberately went to university on the other side of the world when I started my transition just so I could transition in peace. But this next answer blew my mind.

I will never tell you that being transgender is the easiest thing in the world. I won’t tell you that transition isn’t a serious change in your life. But I can tell you that since I transitioned, I have cultivated friendships and relationships that are more authentic and stable. While the larger society may regard me as mentally ill or a pervert, I’m here… proving them wrong. I cultivated the relationships to live a better life and it has made all the difference in the world. In fact, here’s a picture of myself with one of my best friends:

View this post on Instagram

Hanging out with @greenpartyco peeps.

A post shared by Véronique Bellamy (@veroniquebellamy) on

Being transgender doesn’t suck. Transphobia sucks.

So, what does this say about Transdr?

There’s no use in denying it. Transdr has had a very problematic history. Its flippant use of transphobic slurs in its app page, along with these tactics to try to promote it show me one thing. Clearly, the people running Transdr aren’t doing the work necessary to improve the lives of trans people. They’re not using their advertising, their platform, nor their profits to do good. In shamelessly advertising their less-than-second-rate dating app, they also spread misinformation about trans people and to trans youth. This is yet another example of capitalism at its most predatory.

I have had to ask a lot of bold questions in the process of planning and launching an online dating service. However, it has always been my goal to promote Elysium and our products and service with the utmost respect and credibility. This is a core component to being in the Solidarity Economy. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell the future of Elysium Studios, but I can tell you one thing. We will never act in a way contrary to the interests of the trans community.

(Featured image courtesy of Kevin Simmons, used under Creative Commons)

Elysium and the Solidarity Economy

An empty lot with the word "economy" etched into the concrete.
Photo by Michael Goodin, used under Creative Commons.

So, when I created the initial text on the Elysium Studios home page, I mentioned the solidarity economy. But what is the solidarity economy, exactly? Well, according to the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, the solidarity economy is:

An alternative framework for economic development grounded in practice and the following principles: solidarity and cooperation, equity in all dimensions (race, ethnicity, gender, class, etc.), social and economic democracy, sustainability, pluralism (not a one-size-fits-all approach), and putting people and planet first.

I think that Elysium Studios is uniquely positioned and set up to bring about real social change for transgender and gender non-conforming people in Colorado and across the United States.

In this series of articles, I will walk you through the steps of how Elysium Studios navigates the demands of these six principles. We start with talking about solidarity and cooperation. We then build on each topic, culminating to a discussion on putting people and planet first. To top it off, we will then talk about the intersection of these goals at Elysium Studios.

… But why?

Today, perhaps as never before, more people are becoming aware that capitalism has turned our lives and our planet into a commodity. A system that is environmentally unsustainable and socially unjust, and that it is not able to guarantee the happiness and dignified life conditions of all persons in any place on the planet.

Carlos Askunze, REAS Spanish network of solidarity economy.

The why is crucial: it’s because capitalism has sold us all a false bill of goods. Granted, this has been a problem since the inception of capitalism but now, we have an opportunity to make serious change.

In the last few days, a Twitch streamer going by HBomberguy has raised $350,000 for Mermaids UK. Mermaids UK is a charity that has provided transition-related assistance for trans youth. This was necessary because a certain washed up British celebrity coordinated a campaign to deny them funding. This funding came from the UK’s Big Lottery Fund.

I’m not going to deny that this drive is going to help provide Mermaids UK a bit of stability. I also won’t deny the positive impact HBomberguy has had with his charity stream. However, the solidarity economy is necessary in order to provide some stability to charities like Mermaids UK. We must also create economic stability for the trans community.

Colorado: the Delaware of Cooperatives

Colorado has a lot of laws that make it easier to open and run a cooperative. Not just one type of cooperative but all kinds of cooperatives. From worker cooperatives to consumer cooperatives, you can create a wide variety of cooperatives thanks to the flexibility of Colorado’s cooperative laws. This truly makes Colorado “the Delaware of Cooperatives”, as cooperative attorney Jason Wiener put it.

Additionally, you can form a cooperative as a public benefit corporation. This legal structure allows your cooperative to pursue certification as a B Corp. Your social mission will also have a legal mandate as a result. In other words, the social and solidarity economy has no better base than the State of Colorado.

The Road Map for Elysium in 2019

We at Elysium Studios have a lot of amazing things to look forward to in the new year.

How’d 2018 go?

It’d be irresponsible for me to talk about what we’re up to in 2019 if I’m not going to mention what happened in 2018. I’ll lay it out pretty simply.

We got sideswiped

Originally, my plan was to launch an online dating service first and then, work on visual novels. I figured it would be easier to monetize an online dating service. After that, we could develop the bandwidth we would need to develop amazing visual novels.

Then, FOSTA-SESTA happened.

We have done an amazing amount of work to launch a dating service we can be proud of with a unique premise. But, we have to table it thanks to FOSTA-SESTA. Rest assured, it’s still on our minds. We’ll be working extra hard to launch this in a way that is consistent with our values. However, we have had to switch focus.

Our First Visual Novel: My First Castellan

We’ve been talking about it little by little on social media. We’ve hinted about it here and there. I’ve always thought of the Kickstarter as the point where we’ll officially “announce” My First Castellan. However, there’s no use playing coy now. Our first visual novel is coming along quite nicely. The theme song is (almost) done, thanks to Matt and Mioune. The character art is progressing nicely and our background art is phenomenal. Furthermore, we have a team of amazing professionals who I’m proud to announce will be our first employee-owners in 2019.

What’s on Deck for 2019?

Our Visual Novels

Yes, I said “novels”. The writing is finishing up quite nicely for My First Castellan. Madison is doing a phenomenal job at creating background art. We’re looking forward to launching the Kickstarter in March, doing a Steam early release in July or August and finishing up the game in December. However, we also have two other visual novels in our road map. I think we can get started on one of them soon after the early release of My First Castellan.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about that one soon. For now, My First Castellan is progressing very nicely. We’re looking for co-op and union shops to produce the backer rewards for our Kickstarter, including some nice dakimakuras.

The Elysium Standard & Authors Room

Writing a visual novel on Scrivener has presented a number of challenges, not the least of which is the format. Currently, I’m using the UK Stage Play format published by Matt Carless on the BBC website. Even with this format, it’s tough to delineate the choices. As such, I’m working on two things to help delineate these choices and improve collaboration in the creation of visual novels:

The Elysium Standard

The goal of the Elysium Standard is to create a format that works for visual novels. This will make it easier for casual readers of the script to be able to ascertain nested choices. This will be an open source standard and we will publish it for free (along with templates for Scrivener, Markdown and LaTeX) on elysium.coop. But, if you want to use it in a more collaborative way…

The Elysium Writer’s Room

This is a cloud app that we’re developing to allow writers of visual novels to use the power of git to work collaboratively. Access to Writer’s Room will be free to authors willing to push their work to an open source repository on GitHub or GitLab. We will also work on versions for the desktop and mobile.

Games.coop

We’re looking forward to launching games.coop in 2019. It will be the ultimate place not just to buy games but also to make games. We plan to open games.coop in June to visual novel creators. From there, we will slowly roll it out to developers of other games.

Our online dating service

We’re hoping that we can make enough modifications to launch our online dating service towards the end of 2019.

Challenges

  • Simply put, we don’t have enough engineers. I would love to put a front-end and a back-end engineer on each of our projects. However, we don’t have the resources to do that. Yet.
  • Nothing’s been released yet. As much as I hate to say it, we don’t have anything to show for our work. This tends to hurt us in the credibility department, though we’re hoping we can change this in 2019.

Hiring

Elysium Studios is planning to announce a couple of paid internships in mid-2019 or so. Likely for a second character artist and a PHP Software Engineer. While we’ll be attending a few college career fairs in the area, if you live in the Boulder, Colorado area… keep your eyes posted on us.

What Makes Elysium Studios “The Pride of The West”?

I was talking with Madison, the woman doing the background art for My First Castellan, about our new slogan: “The Pride of the West” and she mentioned how cowboy and western it sounded. And I get that… that’s one image it invokes. However, I think Colorado embodies the New West and the pinnacle of everything it stands for.

Continue reading “What Makes Elysium Studios “The Pride of The West”?”