OotC: Since we last talked, you launched the original Space Shot game, where players pay to compete for a seat on a suborbital space flight. Tell us about your experiences launching Space Shot.
Dinkin: We are now launching Free Space Shot [http://www.freespaceshot.com] which is a top to bottom major new version. We surveyed our users and they asked for:
- Cheaper price
- More prize choices
- Faster and simpler game
We were able to make the price FREE! By using Google ads, we can make enough money to pay for the entire tournament and do it again forever.
We expanded the prize offering to offer flights for two around the Moon and $100 million, a flight for one around the Moon and $50 million, flights to orbit and $10 million, a $300,000 scholarship, or a parabolic zero g airplane flight with an astronaut and $2,250. The first three prizes are unprecedented in world history.
We doubled the speed of the game and halved the complexity of it.
Most of all, we targeted a new demographic based on our attending sci-fi conventions, air shows, space conferences and expos. We found kids 9-13 are much more excited about our game than their older siblings and parents, but increasingly have internet access through home and school. They don’t have credit cards, so it’s a good thing that it’s zero price for zero g.
OotC: The competition is a tournament game based on predicting the weather in Central Park, New York? How did you arrive at the idea of weather prediction? What advantages does that have over, say, basing the competition on some other simple near-random game (maybe a space-themed variant of rock-paper-scissors), or using a lottery?
Dinkin: Yes, we are still predicting the weather in Central Park, New York City. Even kids in Austin and Mexico City know Central Park. We arrived at the idea of weather prediction through a process of elimination. We didn’t want to do arcade games because they are expensive to license or produce and they are not suitable for all ages. It is also hard for an ordinary kid to be competitive in a physically challenging game. How often does a tennis player ranked less than 10th win a major tennis tournament?
We couldn’t do a game of chance. Parents and teachers want to see challenging science, math and statistics as part of a skill game before they will recommend it to their kids. It’s the same reason breakfast cereals have vitamins and minerals.
Weather prediction is a skill that kids can take a moment to learn and a lifetime to master. They can use our on site research to get a competitive prediction, but they can get an edge by, for example, converting a Celsius forecast to Fahrenheit to try to tease out a little more information on the weather than people usually look for.
One thing is certain. Once we have thousands of people predicting the weather in Central Park, the aggregate forecast will be better than any forecast from any other source.
OotC: Now you are launching an improved “version 2” of the game. What changes have you made from the original?
Dinkin: It’s free. The original cost $3.50. Players can win in one month instead of two and get their results back in one day instead of two. Ties are so infrequent that we simplified the predictions to ask for half as much information. We introduced new technology to allow players competing for different prizes to play against each other. It will create some tension in the finals since different prize vendors will have different players they are rooting for. Maybe we will invite them to provide research support to the players in the finals.
OotC: The original game had a single prize of a suborbital space flight on Rocketplane Kistler’s Rocketplane XP spacecraft. Now you have a number of different prizes. Give us an idea of what experiences a winner can expect for each of these.
Dinkin: You and the person of your choice can go on a trip around the Moon. First you will blast off to rendezvous with your Lunar ship docked with the space station and spend a week there. Then you will board a specially prepared Lunar Soyuz. It will have a service and propulsion module attached. You will fly around the Moon and come back to the space station and spend another week there. You will spend a total of three weeks and get about nine million frequent flier miles.
Or you can go on a trip to orbit. We are setting aside as much money for these winners as Anousheh Ansari and four others have paid to go to the International Space Station.
Or you can take a ride on the biggest roller coaster in the world. You would be going up to 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, to the edge of space. The view from there is life changing.
A $300,000 scholarship would be more of a dream come true for the winner’s parents than the winner. Being debt free at the end of college is nice.
A parabolic airplane flight would be 12 arcs: two at Mars gravity, two at Lunar gravity than 8 at zero g. This one is not quite as cool as the others, but there are also 50,000 times fewer competitors competing for each parabolic flight compared to the flight for two to the Moon; with the $2,250 scholarship it has a $6,000 retail price vs. $300 million for two trips to the Moon and $100 million cash.
OotC: Can each player play for more than one of the prizes at the same time? Can I be in, for instance, the suborbital AND the flight to ISS tournaments?
Dinkin: Yes, you can be in all six tournaments at the same time. Any one game counter is for a single prize. This guarantees that you won’t have a hard choice of “Deal or No Deal” along the way.
OotC: By making the game advertiser supported, you remove a significant barrier to entry – the price of playing. But the trade-off is that people will have to play longer to reach the prizes. What is it about Space Shot that will keep them coming back again and again?
Dinkin: The hook is the dream of spaceflight and the dream of making the world better by learning, and supporting the dawn of the personal space age. Plus, a weather prediction educational skill game is more challenging and interesting than playing bingo or another game of chance.
OotC: Can anyone play the new Free Space Shot game? Do you have to be over a certain age, or a US citizen, for instance? Do you have a particular target audience in mind?
Dinkin: The game is open to players of all ages in all countries that allow educational skill games. Players will need to turn 18 before they fly or use their scholarships. We are targeting kids 9-13 through their parents and teachers.
OotC: What’s behind the idea of making the prizes ‘scholarships’?
Dinkin: I was fascinated by the Space Frontier Foundation Teachers in Space program. Space Shot, Inc. is allowing the players to choose that and other non-profits for us to donate 3% of our net profit to. What I learned from them is that it’s a good deed to give someone a space education opportunity. We want to make kids’ lives better in a way that will make parents and teachers happy.
OotC: I’ve got a couple of children who are keen to play the game. What do you say to parents who might think that shooting their children into space is a little risky?
Dinkin: Spaceflight will be safer in ten years when my daughter turns 18 than it is now, but it will still be quite risky. I have started the Eclipse Danger Foundation and started deploying automatic electronic defibrillators–AEDs–the kind that restart stopped hearts. Our mission is to have more AEDs deployed than people flown into space. We have already deployed our first one in Mexico City at the American School. Some people will die during the dawn of personal spaceflight. But for every astronaut that dies in a flight around the Moon, there will be thousands or millions that have striven and learned and made the world a better place. Statistics will show that if we use 1-2% of the ad revenue to buy an AED every time there is a spaceflight winner, we can expect to save far more lives than will be lost. If the educational game inspire 100 kids to do better at math and science, then go to medical school to become cardiac surgeons, that will save even more lives.
I considered putting my daughter in a glass case like Sleeping Beauty until she grew up (just kidding!), but instead we have toured some of the highest cliffs in the world, Los Gigantos, by helicopter; gone around in a nuclear submarine; gone skiing and went stargazing in a fishing boat. I also let her ride her bicycle and scooter in the street. I could keep her in the house, but she might be at greater risk for diabetes if she never went out to play. Looking at a single risk in isolation may be unwise.
If one of your kids win, you have a new problem. Spaceflight is indeed risky today. Human spaceflight will have to become much safer than the space shuttle to be a commercial success. Expect that flying on the winning ticket will either be much much safer than that (Rocketplane XP for example is designing for more than 100 times that safe) or that your kids will be forced to take the cash alternative prize. That is, if a vendor has a crash occur they will likely be out of business in ten years when it’s your kid’s turn. But even if the vendor has a perfect record, spaceflight will still be risky. My guess is that you told your kids you wanted them to grow up to be astronauts. Did you mean it?
OotC: Finally, the dream of spaceflight is a powerful one, for adults and children alike. Many people would love to fly in space, but have consigned it to the realms of childhood fantasy – something desirable but unattainable. What do you say to them?
Dinkin: Teach your childhood dreams to your kids so they can teach them back to you in turn. Maybe when you see them flying courtesy of FreeSpaceShot.com, you will rediscover the courage to dream again.
OotC: Sam, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us.