Photobucket Apocalypse: What I Learned about Taking Things for Granted

Writing is my core creative outlet, but it’s not my only creative outlet. Even though I don’t advertise it much on this blog, I also have a side hobby in making computer games. In particular, I have a business adventure I’ve been working on (read: picking at) since May 2009, called Entrepreneur: The Beginning, about a recent high school graduate who must defend his honor against the preppy jock who stole his girlfriend by engaging in a cutthroat game of business. The year is 1985, time travelers from the future have recently entered the town of Hybrid City, and our teenage protagonist, Buck Star, must leverage their need for coffee (and other products eventually) to launch an empire and earn enough money in 60 days to win his bet against Chet Armstrong, and maybe get the girl back? Or, maybe just find himself a new girlfriend? It’s up to the player really.

Here’s a recent screenshot:

coffee10192

Well, I keep a blog about this game over on Slime Salad, a forum for indie game-making, in a thread called “Entrepreneur Central,” and in this blog I post news about progress, screenshots, and videos of new mechanics I want to show off. It’s pretty high-tech. (Not really.) For years I’ve been updating this blog, and for years I’ve been using a nifty little website called Photobucket to host my screenshots, as Slime Salad, for years, had no self-hosting of images, and only recently began allowing for a terribly formatted version of self-hosted images.

Basically, I liked that Photobucket could cast true-to-size images in context to the text about the features each image portrays, and do so with the simple copying and pasting of an image link. It’s quite beautiful.

I’ve been using Photobucket in this way for years, showing off numerous promotional type screenshots of Entrepreneur: The Beginning, a few of my other games-in-progress, my book covers, and on rare occasions, images of something that went wrong in the game (or engine it’s built on) to troubleshoot the problem. I’ve got maybe a couple hundred of images posted on these forums, all in forums I’ve since forgotten about, but are still easily accessible by anyone looking for information.

Because I’ve been using this free service for years to keep my “fans” in the know without issue, you can imagine my surprise when in early July I got an email from Photobucket stating that I’m in violation of their third-party hosting terms.

I thought, what?

I didn’t explore it any deeper. I figured it was a mistake, and I went on about my day. I got no further notice from Photobucket.

Fast-forward to late July, when I return to “Entrepreneur Central” to play catchup on announcements I’ve made in the last year, and discover that all of my beautiful screenshots advertising the game and its newest features have been converted to this:

photobucket apocalypse

I thought, what? So, I signed on to Photobucket to see what in the world they’re on about, and discovered that their free hosting service is still free (with the usual upgrade packages for unnecessary inflation of storage space that I’ll never need), but their third-party hosting rules have changed so that you not only have to pay for it now, but you have to buy their most expensive package to use it.

I shook my head. They now want me to pay $40 a month or $400 a year to display the images I’ve already posted in various forums around the web. These places get little traffic, and “Entrepreneur Central” gets hardly anything, and bandwidth problems are not a factor with my photos. Yet, I’m now supposed to pay money I don’t have to keep my photos on display, something I’ve done for free without any problems for years.

Screw that. I’ll sign on with Imgur, or just use the forum’s crappy image self-hosting feature instead. I’m just irritated that I now have to figure out which images I’ve used for those screenshots (I can’t see them anymore, after all), which threads and forums I’ve posted images to, locate them on my hard drive, and reupload them to a new hosting site and relink them in those same threads I’ve posted tens or hundreds of photos to.

It’s a time-sink, and I’m demotivated by it, and I’m tempted just to scrap the whole idea and leave those shell images in place.

I write this story to prove a point. In my travels through marketing lessons, I’ve learned one core message above all others: Don’t put all of your trust into a single corporation to handle your advertising or marketing needs (or, for that matter, your social needs). Amazon and Facebook might handle the brunt of your sales traffic or existing clientele, and their advertising services may work beautifully in automation today. But all the experts say not to trust any of these companies to feed you forever, and you should always have a backup system in place in case the algorithms, plans, or procedures change and your financial (or social) well dries up.

I think the Photobucket Apocalypse is proof of that.

We can put our faith in God in all things, but for everything and everyone else, they have limited reach and unpredictable behavior. It’s best to have side roads in place on your path to success if you’re trying to make a name or presence for yourself.

I think it’s safe to say this applies to all elements of life. You know that job you have that you love? If someone else is in charge of it, you probably don’t want to get too attached to it. If you want to continue to sell things to people, have a backup mailing list that you control. How’s your love life? Have you taken it for granted yet? These things should be obvious, but all the heartbreak in the world proves we’re still trusting in too many things, people, and corporations that don’t deserve our trust.

Don’t take anything you have for granted. Treat it all like it’s a gift. You don’t know when you’ll lose it. Even if that sounds like a cliché, remember that clichés are born from perpetual truth. You can’t make a cliché out of something that has low relevance. Don’t take anything you have for granted. Even Photobucket might turn on you eventually and screw up your entire system without warning you first that it’s about to hold your images for ransom.

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