Amazon Marketing Services Seems Useless for Free Promotions

I tried a little experiment with Amazon Marketing Services and Kindle Direct Publishing that yielded very unsatisfactory results.

Exactly one week ago on August 14, I set up my novella, Marduk's Mark, for a free Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP from here on out) promotion. Basically when you publish your book exclusively through Amazon, you can enroll them into the KDP program and one of the perks is that you can set your KDP books up for free promotional runs of up to 5 days per 90 day KDP period.

I wanted to reach many new readers so I decided to also run an advertising campaign using Amazon's own Amazon Marketing Services (AMS from here on out) for this time period. Seems easy enough: use their own tools to advertise a free book promotion period! At least I thought it was easy enough.

I set up the free KDP promotion and let them know that the promotion should start on Friday, August 11, 2017. I like to start up free promotional periods on Friday because of a book on Kindle advertising I read a while back. Sure, its information may be completely outdated by now, but old habits die hard. Once done with setting up the free promotion, I opened up the AMS link found within the KDP site (thus reiterating that these two services work together in my mind as they link to and from each other) and set up a Sponsored Products ad campaign that would run exactly through that promotional period, from August 11 through 15, stating that the novella would be free for a limited time. The very same period as the free book promotion. Makes sense if I want the promotion to read the most amount of people possible from within the very marketplace that the book is being offered and if I wanted those people to know that hey, it's free! I thought I was being pretty smart about it all as I even gave the AMS team more than enough time to review the advertisement.

I submitted the advertising campaign and went to check on my account a few hours later and I was surprised to see that it had been rejected. I checked my email and sure enough, there was a message from AMS saying that the advertisement had been rejected because it included copy that stated a price that may not be correct when users went looking for the product. Huh? Excuse me? The ad does say that the book is free for a limited time, and it was set up to only run during the days of the free promotion. Do theses services don't speak to each other behind the curtain? So I decided to reach out to them and explain my logic. Their reply:

I hope you’re doing well. I will gently take a look into this for you.

I surely understand what you point out by saying that your ad got rejected without contemplating the Free Promotion that you set for the same book you intend to advertise. I find your feedback to be valid and I’ve opened a case for the Amazon Marketing Services team to take a look into this rejection.

I will follow up on this until I get an answer from them. As soon as I get their resolution, I will write back to you to let you know what they say.

Thanks for your patience while I work on this for you.
— Kindle Direct Publishing (operator name withheld)

Today is August 14 and I got that email on August 8. I am assuming they will not get back to me at this point, which is a same. I thought I could count on the AMS platform as a tool to advertise free KDP promotions, but it seems you just can't include the fact that you are running a KDP promotion into the copy of the ad, making AMS unsuitable for that purpose. If it doesn't work for free promotions, I am also assuming it may not work on Kindle Countdown Deals either (a promotion in which you you start at the lowest price and your book increases in price until going back to standard retail price) as the original reason for the ad being rejected was "- The ad copy contains a specific price, discount or savings amount that may not remain correct throughout your campaign."

I am assuming that they don't link promotions and ads because the KDP site actually has an option for the user to abruptly terminate the promotion and if the user were to abruptly terminate a promotion while such an ad were running then there would really be a situation in which the ad copy would contain a price or a discount that may not remain correct during the ad campaign. I understand that.

However, Amazon is not a mom and pop shop; it is one of the biggest and most technologically aggressive Internet businesses in the world. They don't just sell ebooks and assorted retail items; they also offer very robust web services to businesses (the company I work for uses quite a few of their cloud services) and advanced voice recognition API's, among many other high-tech services. That they can offer all of this advanced technology and can't have a simple fail-safe like being able to create ads linked to KDP promotions so the ad campaigns are terminated immediately if you terminate the promotion (with a disclaimer explaining that if a user happened to be staring at the product when you hit the panic button that user still gets the promotional price because he did open the product page before you stopped the campaign) is a major oversight. Heck, they could also make you agree to a condition that if you link an ad to a price you can't change the price until the ad campaign is over and thus link both things. They could even have it as a condition for a kind of promotional price campaign option so that you can only create ad campaigns that mention the price by going through that promotional price campaign which gives Amazon the power to link the campaign and the promotion. They are the ones building the tech (and this is frankly peanuts as far as developing the functionality is in comparison to many of the services they provide) so they can surely solve this quite easily and I am surprised that is even an issue at all.

So anyway, no AMS for promoting book pricing or free promotions. They don't like it and they don't get back to customers after the issue is raised. I guess it's back to other methods to promote outside of Amazon, too bad.

Oh, and hey, Marduk's Mark will be free today and tomorrow as the promotion continues to run. Go grab a copy and hopefully send me some feedback!


Quora answer: Which is the best fighting game between Tekken, Street Fighter, Dead Or Alive, Virtua Fighter, and Mortal Kombat? Explain?

I've been spending a lot of time in Quora, a questions and answer site. While it initially sounds a lot like Stack Exchange, the Quora community makes it feel very different. It probably also has something to do with the way the feed works, which gives it the air of a social media site. Anyway, I have decided to repost some of my content here, as there's no telling if for some reason Quora decides to delete or change the content and I don't want to lose it.

Today's repost: Which is the best fighting game between Tekken, Street Fighter, Dead Or Alive, Virtua Fighter, and Mortal Kombat? Explain?

The following is my opinion only.

As that list is written, my choice for best is Virtua Fighter easily. Let’s compare:

Virtua Fighter was a revelation at the time. Great, smooth graphics (arcade version; the Saturn VF had many graphical glitches) and possibly the first interactive real time rendering of human characters. Easy, intuitive controls that nonetheless allowed a plethora of options. Classic character design that helps the player identify the differing fighting styles to help choose a favorite. The 3D arena implementation was a bit of a disappointment as I did not enjoy ring outs.

This looks odd and clunky, but seeing it in motion for the first time was just awesome.

This looks odd and clunky, but seeing it in motion for the first time was just awesome.

Tekken is a close second, but it is simply not that intuitive to play and just felt oddly clunky. Character design was a big hit or miss, though its textured polygons looked quite good for the time. You could see the potential, but I don’t think that it captured magic with its first installment. The 3D arena implementation was odd, what’s with the endless fighting arena.

At the time, this looked better than Virtua Fighter because of the textures. Right now I think that the cleaner, none-textured Virtua Fighter look has probably aged better as the technology for good textures just wasn’t there yet.

At the time, this looked better than Virtua Fighter because of the textures. Right now I think that the cleaner, none-textured Virtua Fighter look has probably aged better as the technology for good textures just wasn’t there yet.

Dead or Alive is an odd creature. The breast bouncing effect was just hilarious and definitely not sexy, but it played very similarly to Virtua Fighter, which worked in its favor. Like Tekken, the pieces are there for a great game but it doesn’t fully gel together. The countering system was just too easily abused for its own good, but the danger zone concept was wonderful and possibly my favorite implementation of the 3D arena.

Breast physics were hilarious. Take away the odd holds system and this was actually fun.

Breast physics were hilarious. Take away the odd holds system and this was actually fun.

Mortal Kombat hasn’t aged well. The first release was an interesting counter to Street Fighter II that was fun to play, but the lack of depth soon became apparent. Great start to an American fighting game franchise though, of which there are very few and still not a bad play.

This was a lot of fun at the time. Hasn’t aged that well, but it’s still somewhat playable.

This was a lot of fun at the time. Hasn’t aged that well, but it’s still somewhat playable.

Street Fighter has aged far worse than Mortal Kombat. It’s hard to believe that this game has spawned such a successful franchise as just about everything about its gameplay has aged so terribly. Anyway, I would only recommend playing this game for historical reasons.

Let’s face it: the original Street Fighter has aged horribly. Not recommended except as a historical oddity.

Let’s face it: the original Street Fighter has aged horribly. Not recommended except as a historical oddity.

Of course, that’s just the individual first installments. If I were to compare the series, my pick for the best is easily Street Fighter. Here’s why:

Of all those series, not all of them have evolved comparably. Virtua Fighter, which started with a bang is a shell of its former self. Its characters have become guest characters in Dead or Alive and Sega has no clue on how to continue the series. RIP Virtual Fighter. Virtua Fighter 2 was an amazing game; easily my favorite 3D fighter, but it has never been given a proper follow-up as I don’t feel that the other sequels capture its wonderful design. That’s not to say that they are bad games. They’re not; they just don’t make them anymore, and if they do another one, there are certain repetitive issues that they need to work on.

No more Virtua Fighters have been released since part 5. Want to see Akira again? Play Dead or Alive 5.

No more Virtua Fighters have been released since part 5. Want to see Akira again? Play Dead or Alive 5.

Oh poor Tekken. I have no idea what’s happened to this series. The first game had glimpses of genius and the first two sequels certainly improved the title. However, part 3 introduced a certain level of odd humor that the series hasn’t recovered from. It just kept getting campier and campier, introducing more and more oddball characters and convoluting the rules as it went along. I consider Tekken Tag Tournament as the epitome of the series and it’s gone downhill from there.

You wanna see a kangaroo fighting a panda? Tekken’s got you covered!

You wanna see a kangaroo fighting a panda? Tekken’s got you covered!

Dead or Alive understands its place in the world. The counter system has been tamed and got tweaks with every installment. They have worked on the danger zone concept until they have pretty much captured the epitome of what a fighting arena can be. This series has quite simply mastered the art of offering fun playing environments that don’t thrash the balance. The girls have become more realistic, toning down their exaggerated figures yet becoming more graceful and beautiful. Many gamers still give this series a wide berth. That’s their loss IMO.

Well, there’s Akira, as promised! Dead or Alive indeed! Love the arena they’re fighting in!

Well, there’s Akira, as promised! Dead or Alive indeed! Love the arena they’re fighting in!

Mortal Kombat is possibly the least consistent series. Part 2 was lots and lots of fun. To heck with the balance; it was just great! Part 3 was also fun, but the deterioration began. Then came the slew of sequels that almost ran this series into the ground. However, there was magic here, and it all returned with Mortal Kombat on Xbox 360 and PS3. The latest releases, Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat XLdefinitely know what they’re doing. Not only did they fix the gameplay issues and made the base fighting engine much more enjoyable than it used to be, they introduced what is simply the best single player offering of any fighting game title mentioned in this topic (personally, I think Arc System Works offers comparable single player experiences, but their games are not mentioned here). All around a great revival of a series that almost disappeared. Let’s hope they keep it up!

Mortal Kombat X is just a wonderful game all-around.

Mortal Kombat X is just a wonderful game all-around.

Street Fighter, dear Street Fighter. Let’s all forget your first release; it was just an interesting footnote in the history of a franchise that truly started with its sequel:Street Fighter II. What a game! It still plays great! Very nice try at balancing with a cast of 8 asymmetric characters. It has also spawned an insane amount of great playing and great looking sequels, prequels and sidequels(?). Staying mostly 2D with hand drawn artwork as even its old installments still tend to look good (the EX Plus Alpha titles have graphics that have aged about as gracefully as those of the older Tekken’s though, but these are not hand drawn). Its latest release had trouble because of poor single player content but its balance is still spot on! In fact, I consider Street Fighter V an interesting case study in what gamers really care for. As a community, we usually say that gameplay is king, yet when provided with what is possibly the best distillment of gameplay out there, many were instead proclaiming that content is king. Interesting debate for another post.

While lacking in gameplay modes, Street Fighter V is a wonderfully playing release in the series. Showing off my favorite character there: Rashid!

While lacking in gameplay modes, Street Fighter V is a wonderfully playing release in the series. Showing off my favorite character there: Rashid!

Anyway, excuse the long post. I am passionate about my fighting games :)


Street Fighter V First Impressions

Another Installment in My Favorite Series!

I am a sucker for fighting games. Ever since I played the original Street Fighter at the pub next to my grandmother's place (that's certainly a story for another entry), I knew I had found my own personal gaming Nirvana. Yes, it was kind of an awkward game, but it was fun! This wasn't the original version with the big, hydraulic buttons though. This one had the standard 6-button layout that the series has used for every other installment. I didn't get to know that Street Fighter had a funky version with two hydraulic buttons that used pressure to decide the strength of the attack.

Anyway, ever since then I've been very attracted to the series and when Street Fighter II was released on SNES I worked my rear end off mowing lawns and washing cars to be able to afford it and an SNES (I was a Genesis guy back then). The funny thing was that then Capcom also started releasing the games on Genesis and I never bought another SNES installment as I preferred playing on the Genesis. Then I got the first two Alpha titles on Saturn, and even the Movie edition game. Also the 3D releases on Playstation (EX plus Alpha series), and III on Dreamcast, and all versions of IV on X360 and PC. I'm just establishing that I freaking LOVE Street Fighter, and I was pumped when Street Fighter V was announced... and then I learned that it's a Playstation 4 exclusive. That was crushing, but thankfully they also released a PC version and that's what I played.

So this post is actually going to be very biased in favor of the game because I love the series. It's my favorite video game series of all time and I even own the same versions across multiple systems. So to me, the release of V was a very big deal, and I was very pleasantly surprised when Steam had it available last night (I thought it was releasing today) and I skipped on a few of my responsibilities to enjoy it. Thankfully, I had pre-loaded it over the weekend so there was nothing to download. I was pumped and then... I played it.

They Blew the Budget?

I double clicked on the Street Fighter V icon on my Steam client and was presented two choices: to run the game or to run a low spec version. I have a decent PC, so I chose the normal option, the Capcom logo filled the screen and the little presentation video popped up. It was a step or two (or three) down from the Street Fighter IV presentation video. I still remember that one vividly as it looked so awesome with the ink lines around the characters and the cheesy but fitting "Indestructible" theme song (which I missed on the updates). The Street Fighter V presentation video is much shorter, has a far less memorable music track without any lyrics, and looks kind of weird. Meh, no good.

Ahh well, it's just an intro video, who cares right? So now the game immediately put me into a short tutorial amidst a sparring match between Ryu and Ken, with 3D models based on their Street Fighter Alpha look. The in-game graphics at this point sold me on the game as they look so vivid and animate so fluidly. Beautiful; they make up for the little cutscenes in between lessons that have no animation and look kind of like full page comic book art spreads. They work, but they look quite low budget. I think it would have worked out better to not include these panels and just have the in-game models acting it out.

Anyway, the tutorial was only useful for introducing the V-Trigger system, and it only introduces it half-way as it tells you how to charge the meter and you can practice charging it, but it doesn't have you practice using it once it's charged. Weird. There was also no explanation of EX moves (they work the same as in Street Fighter IV so if you played that, you already know what they do) or dashing. It had an option to skip it but I chose not to skip it, kind of hoping it would explain the changes made to the game but it isn't very useful at that. It also isn't very useful at introducing novices into the game as what's in there is too basic (press right and left to move, press down back to guard crouching attacks, press up to jump, etc.). With the way it started, I expected a tutorial with a scope comparable to BlazBlue Chronophantasma's tutorials. It's not even close.

Finally! The Main Menu Reveals Itself!

With the questionable tutorial now out of the way, it's time to get to fighting! I went into the options and cranked everything but anti-aliasing to the max. If I need to sacrifice a setting, I always start sacrificing that. I have no idea if I could have changed these settings before this point. All the options from the menu are visible from a glance without a need to scroll anything and I applaud that. I question the weird location of the Exit to Windows option; I guess they were baffled that they had to include that on a PC version and they decided to place it as one of the main options on the left. Shrug.

Anyway, I started exploring the menu, looking for an Arcade option as this is how I usually start up my fighting games: by playing the Arcade mode in order to get a feel for the characters. I couldn't find this option, so I settled on Story mode instead.

Story Mode? Seriously?

So I went into the Story Mode, expecting something resembling an Arcade mode with a chat between the characters before each fight. I was feeling encouraged after choosing my character (yes, I started with Ryu, sue me) as there were completion percentages and the game presented me with a screen to choose a story offering 4 options, 3 of them locked. I figured that meant that Ryu had 4 different stories to choose from and that only the first story was available. So I played through that first story and I was done in less than 10 minutes (and that's because the characters talk to each other before they fight, and they do so in the same comic full page spread style as in the tutorial). These were just 4 fights, one round each. Full Super Meter in each fight so just had to do a combo or two, then another combo finishing in the Super and boom, fight over. The CPU opponents didn't even try to fight back.

That's it? I noticed I got some points at the end of each fight that leveled up my Ryu (no idea what that does) and gave me some currency, but that currency can't be spent as the shop isn't in the game yet. I was confused, so I went back to the story menu with Ryu to see if I had unlocked any of the other stories and that's when another disappointment hit me: those boxes that looked like options to select another story for the character actually just represent each stage of the Story mode! One fight per box! So nope, no additional stories. I was done with Ryu's  story. I tried Ken next and it was the same thing (except that Ken had one less fight than Ryu to go through). I was very disappointed. These were all one round fights, so I was unable to get a good feel for the fighting system and, especially, for the V-Trigger system.

On to Survival Mode!

Lacking content in Story mode, I decided to try the Survival Mode. I decided to play as Zangief here since I really like him. Again these were one round fights so they were over fast. The controls worked well; I was able to pull off the Spinning Pile Driver without a hitch. I was also able to pull off his Super (the one that requires a 720 degree motion and 3 punch buttons at once) easily, though it was an odd grapple and not his usual Final Atomic Buster. It worked, but I have no idea why they chose to change it. Unfortunately, this was not the only change. The Banishing Flat move is gone; it's vanished! He can no longer do this! This meant my strategy had to compensate for it (I usually used that move to shorten the range between me and my opponent) and I was thrown off my game for a bit. So I delved into the command list and lo and behold, Zangief has also lost the fast version of his spinning lariat and the 360 degree command throw with kick. It's been replaced with a half-circle kick throw that seems to function like it, but I haven't played enough to see if it is as good.

Anyway, at the end of each single round fight in Survival Mode you are presented with a menu that charges you for benefits. You pay from your current survival score for perks such as healing and stronger attacks. You can try to make it all the way to the end using as few perks as possible for a high score or abuse the perks and end the mode with a low score. 


At this point I tried to get online to play in a ranked match, but it didn't work. I told the game that I accepted a match from any hardware (I am assuming that this is to choose between PC and PS4 players or both) and from any connection quality. No go. I waited about two minutes and there was no match found. I figured that maybe people weren't into ranked matches yet, so I tried for a casual match. Same thing. Getting frustrated, I figured to try for the Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, that mode isn't working yet. The icon is in the Main Menu, but it is dark, as if disabled, and you can't play it yet. I tried to open the Shop and got a message that it will arrive in an update in March.

I ended up in Training Mode, where I chose Karin. I used to like her in Street Fighter Alpha 3, and she was one of the characters that pumped me up the most for Street Fighter V. Unfortunately, she plays quite different here. In her SFA3 version she had a move like Fei Long in which each Hadoken motion with the punch button performed a strike, and successive motions in rhythm would have her perform a combo. She can't do that now unless you activate her V-Trigger. You need to fill a gauge before you do that, so that move isn't available most of the time.

Let's talk about the V-Trigger system now. In short, it's kind of weird. Maybe I'll get used to it, but I believe that the system wrecks game balance. The V-Trigger system has two components: the move that charges the gauge, which is different per character, so it is kind of like the Drive attacks in the BlazBlue series. It is performed by pressing medium punch and medium kick (Strong and Forward if you remember the old button names in arcade cabinets) and it does something different per character. This replaces the Focus Attack, which worked exactly the same for everyone in SFIV. 

The problem is that some of the moves are so useful for some characters and some are so... useless for others. Maybe someone online (whenever I can finally play online) will prove me wrong, but I don't see a use for Ken's move, for instance. He does a short dash and performs a kick. It may be an overhead; the CPU opponent is so stupid that it never allowed me to gauge if the move may have been an overhead. The problem is that the gauge doesn't seem to fill unless the kick hits (or is blocked). So if I perform Ken's V-Trigger move, an opponent can just punish me or jump out of the way and I'll never fill his meter. Ryu's V-Trigger move is basically a parry. If you can time it right, he will parry an attack and fill his meter. That's useful! Chun Li's is an anti-air attack that can chain into an air combo. That's extremely useful as she's been denied her Tensho-Kyaku anti-air in this game (ok, she's been denied that move as an anti-air in all the main SF titles as she only has it in the Alpha series, but at least she could do it as a target combo in SFIV). Zangief's V-Trigger is a taunt that can take a hit without causing hit stun but if you hold down the button long enough, it hits the opponent. Mildly useful; it's much better than Ken's. So far, filling out the gauge allows characters to press the hard punch and hard kick buttons (Fierce and Roundhouse) to engage the V-Trigger gauge and that gives them extra attack properties such as flames or electricity for their moves for the duration of the V-Trigger gauge.

I won't really know how useful this is until I play online, but so far it seems that it's a very easy gauge to fill with some characters and a very difficult gauge to fill with others so I don't have a lot of hope for it.

Interestingly, the game feels amazing as most Street Fighter games do! Control is spot-on, hit detection seems very good so far, and character mobility and combo-ability seem good. Some moves got changed around such as Ken losing his medium punch to hard punch target combo but has a medium kick to hard kick target combo that can lead into the same combos as his punch target combo used to. His Hurricane Kick can no longer be performed in the air and has a weird arc reminiscent of the similar kick move for Ryo Sakazaki and Robert García in Art of Fighting / King of Fighters.

Killer Instinct (2013) Meets Street Fighter?

This is how my first impression feels like. When Killer Instinct was released in 2013 for the Xbone, it didn't have many of the modes that it has now. Its basic Arcade mode was a survival mode (with proper 2-round matches instead of the single-round travesties in SFV) and it didn't have a Story Mode. The big difference is that Killer Instinct was free, except that you could only play as the character that was offered for free during that week. You could do everything with that character though. If you liked it, you could buy packs to allow you as many characters as you wanted. Sure, it was unfinished and only had 8 characters at first, but it was honest about it. It was an online-only title with a sort of "Freemium" model.

Street Fighter V seems to follow that same model of things missing or incomplete but it charges $60 up front. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I would have preferred that Capcom have spent another month (or two, or whatever it took) working on the game until it could release a full product. As it is, without an Arcade Mode and with such a sorry story mode, it just doesn't work. It almost feels like an online match only product as you can't even set the CPU as the opponent in VS mode, but unlike titles such as Titanfall (totally different genre, I know) which have really good online performance, I couldn't even find a match to play in Street Fighter V. Granted, it's just been released, but that's usually when the most players are around to play.


Enter Claralicious!

In between all the work that I do for my employer and the time I've been spending as a father and husband and the time I've dedicated to write the sequel to Marduk's Mark (which is still on the way, I assure you all!), I also took the time to publish a little children's book on Amazon about my pet pooch, Clara.

The book is called Claralicious! and is available in English and in Spanish (as  ¡Claraliciosa!). Anyway, feel free to grab your copy here!

English Version

Spanish Version

Go Fund Me Campaign!

I've been neglecting the blog but that's because there has been a lot going on in my life what with my obligations and the wild, wonderful world of parenthood. 

The second novel in the Wayward Souls storyline is coming along but I wish to dedicate more time to writing it as this second one will be much longer than the first and will be a pivotal entry that sets the tone for many more to come!  

Anyway, over at Go Fund Me I'll be posting a few snippets and some additional artwork that I created to help me flesh out the details for the storyline.