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CVRcade Trainer App: My adventure with trying it out

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In the indoor cycling space, it’s becoming clear that money is a key easy button to success. Lots of money that is. We have Zwift with its $165.5 million, or Peloton with its $994.7 million (yes, $1 billion dollars). Of course, there are companies like TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest that substitute cargo ships of VC money for longer experience in the space. Or those like KinoMap that simply go with being around the block more times than most others.

And then…there’s CVRcade.

The product was born out of frustrations with relying on Zwift as a racing platform.  In fact, you might be more familiar with the CVR Indoor Cycling World Cup Races that have happened over the last few years. These were essentially the first attempts at doing legit esports competitions within indoor cycling.  And for the most part, they were successful as a demonstration of what could be done.

But they were always reliant on Zwift. Not just the software, but Zwift as a company as well.

CVR needed more capabilities out of Zwift to support esports in a viable way. All the technical and non-technical stuff you’d expect from a partner organization highlighting your platform. Meanwhile, Zwift saw CVR as someone taking their lunch. Zwift didn’t really want to let another entity make money off their app. Instead, Zwift really wanted to be the only one on stage when it came to cycling esports (as we’ve seen in recent weeks with the Australian eCrit).  Each company had their own issues beyond not playing well with each other. CVR was entirely reliant on Zwift for its platform, thus, a challenging long-term business option.  And Zwift simply didn’t (nor does it still) have the right platform in place to host these sorts of events. Everything was cobbled together, and it was starting to show.

So the founder of CVR decided to take his millions and go off and build his own indoor cycling platform: CVRcade

If you want a one-stop shop video, then dive into the below:

Or, you can continue on with plenty of text and photos.

Getting it setup:

I had the most structured posting and ‘things to do’ schedule for this week that I’ve ever had around these parts. Mostly because this weekend I leave for over a month of being out of town, and need to ensure everything I need for nearly 6 weeks of products and reviews is either in my suitcase or photographed/shot already.

But when I got the e-mail indicating that CVRcade had opened up its next wave of beta testers and I was among them (after having signed up this past fall like any other person), I figured I’d give it a whirl. I presumed it’d be a quick install and then I’d be off and running…err…cycling.

Oh god, I was so wrong.

Now, of course this is a beta product. But whether Silicon Valley understands it or not, when you roll out a product to thousands of beta users (as CVRcade has noted in their e-mail), there’s a certain level of functionality expected. Most notably, being able to open the darn app. First, I tried on my Mac. Mostly because I figured that’d probably be a cleaner experience. Turns out, not so much.

I couldn’t resize any windows to do anything. After 25 minutes of dorking around, I gave up and moved over to Windows.

This time it worked though. Oh wait, never mind:

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Turns out that my installing it on the Mac meant I couldn’t install it on Windows.

First off, it’s a @#$#@ beta! Why is there even a fancy license key at all? Second, what are we, 1998? Who the eff uses license keys during installers these days? Authenticate with a server via account and call it done. After some scrolling I figured out you could actually un-license the other computer from that computer – so thankfully it wasn’t a horrendous situation to undo.

Once I got into the app though, it was time to dig through the menus. There’s actually a ton of them, albeit with a number not yet completed.

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In fact, I spent a fair chunk of this video digging through those menus. This video shows off as much of the game as humanly possible up above. From a pairing standpoint, it automatically pairs up with the first trainer/power meter/cadence sensor/HR strap it finds. Thankfully though, if you tap that ANT+ icon in the lower right corner, it’ll allow you to change it to other things:

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When it comes to your bike, the default is a wonky motorcycle sorta thing. You can change it, but that seems to require paying money to get to an actual bicycle (at least only motorcycles were offered to me). Flipping through the bike menus, there’s other odd motorcycle looking things:

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Apparently though these motorcycles use common bicycle tires, since I can choose from a wide array of well-known brand name bike tires:

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There’s a few other bits of profile customization you can do – such as the pressure of said tires, but for the most part things are either super basic, or behind a paywall.

Riding:

CVRcade has the concept of your home track. They view this just like your home, except, well…rideable. It’s where you can warm-up, host events, or even post pictures of your dog (no really, that’s an exact quote). CVRcade wants this to be one of your social networks, and they see that home world as a place for you to customize as you see fit. You could change the track to have hills or some other aspect. Whatever floats your boat.

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The way it works today, once you reach 24KPH, you’re automatically ‘teleported’ to the track of the day world. So if you really like your own home world, don’t ride too hard in it. The teleportation looks like this for a number of seconds:

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So take that Zwift, world switching!

Then you randomly land in someone else’s backyard. You can also change to various worlds using the track menu on the upper left side. However, be warned – if you aren’t pedaling, you’ll be kicked out of this world quickly and back to your own.  Deportation via the groovy teleportation page is free of charge. Assuming you do start and maintain your pedaling, you’ll see some core stats along the bottom.  This includes wattage and heart rate, but also even frame rates and ping times. You can change the camera angle to take in the scenery using the ‘C’ button.

You can control a bit of the direction of where your bike is (such as when cornering) by using the left/right arrow keys. This is also useful for avoiding crashes, because you can do that in CVRcade.

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Otherwise, you basically just pedal alone. By yourself. In 1987 NES graphics.

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I didn’t see anyone on the main gameplay map of the day, nor any other map I poked at until late in the afternoon (when I saw one CVRcade person, and then another unknown person).  And certainly, I get it: Developing a new social network is hard. But with thousands of people invited a mere 2-3 days ago, I’d think there would be at least one other person on this planet willing to give this go.

I pedaled around a bit more, attempting to break the current record noted by ZNN of 4 minutes of riding.  As you might expect, riding around in an empty world with poor graphics is kinda boring. At least in an empty Zwift or Road Grand Tours world/map the graphics are enough to largely carry themselves. Plus, I’m also at least riding something that looks like a bike.

I tried out a few other worlds too, including this one which was marginally more appealing. But even that had weird inconsistencies with trainer control. Going up/down inclines the resistance control was way too strong and then was significantly delayed well after I was past the apex of the hill before it started reducing resistance.

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Eventually I got bored enough that I decided to go off to a different platform and get in an actual workout.

The Upsells:

Now, as bad as the app is overall in terms of wanting to use it, there are some fascinating nuggets in here.  Up until this point no money was requested for using it.  Meaning that unlike Zwift or others with a monthly subscription fee, this seems to be based more on the purchase of points, which can then be applied to a wide variety of things.  So by default, you can ride for free, but then you can pay to get extra stuff. You purchase what are called cadeCOINS, which loosely translate to $10 = 1,000 coins (far better conversion rate than Bitcoin):

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From there you can spend them on anything from bikes to structured workouts to courses. It’s all a little bit thin on details, but this is actually the one part of the entire experience that’s most clear:

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But here’s where it gets interesting: In-home setup.

See, if you wander far enough into these menus they offer two things:

A) Ability to buy a complete indoor training hardware platform
B) Ability to have some random person come and set it up for you

See, check this out. You can start to go through the menu where it prompts you with which type of experience you want, and then picks the hardware accordingly.

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As you go through the menu you’ll get asked a pile of questions, including this bizarre one on whether or not you have a computer:

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Given this app only runs on computers, it seems a peculiar question to ask.  Albeit, not as odd as asking whether or not you have a bike:

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The actual reason it’s asking you this is because you can ‘play’ CVRcade without pedaling a single inch. You can simply use a controller and mash a bunch of buttons. For some reason CVRcade thinks that those of us sweating and gasping for air want to compete against someone holding a slice of pizza while pressing some buttons sitting on a couch. Mmm…pizza.

I suppose the intent here is to pitch these as upsells.  And in fact, if you keep going and inserting an address (I selected 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as my test address), it’ll give you an itemized price list, home setup included:

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But there’s some quirks in here. Why’s it adding a speed-sensor when the Magnus transmits speed to the app already.  And then lower on it adds a trainer skewer, which again, I’m pretty sure the Magnus has inside the box. Never mind that CycleOps stopped making the Magnus some six months ago and now sells the M2 instead.

Still, all of this isn’t all that far from what Zwift has been trying to cobble together over on the Zwift shop.  Many have long argued that the entire process of getting set up, including things like ANT+ adapters and extension cords and what-not is a high bar.  So CVRcade is aiming to resolve that (apparently using Amazon Home Services).  Just like Zwift offers ready-made packages today (minus the home installation bit).

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And in fact, the CVRcade home installation bit could actually be quite compelling, depending on how it’s priced and whether the people doing it actually have any meaningful bike-IT experience.

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So while this whole section feels like someone in their bedroom put it together after a Mountain Dew-fueled Saturday night, the underlying concepts aren’t that far from what Zwift has been trying to do.

Wrap-up:

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At this juncture, I don’t see many pathways to success for CVRcade as it stands today.  However, I’m all about trying to help out companies – so I’ll suggest they follow my bulleted list below for how to get things back on track.

1) Reduce and remove: Way too many half-built/half-thought features. Rip them all out. Yank out workouts, training plans, and even home world. Nobody wants to ride past a random internet dude’s dog pics. That’s why we closed the Facebook tab and got on the trainer.  You’ve spread yourself way too thin here “trying to be a social network” (your precise words in a recent live stream), and thus instead of having a few great things, you have a massive pile of sucky things.

2) Make it pretty: I get it, CVRcade sounds cool. Retro even. But in the grand scheme of things, it looks hideous. If you wanted to make a retro arcade app, then simplify it all. A handful of routes, simple, simple simple. That’s what people *like* about old school arcade and retro games.

3) Get rid of the motorcycles: Seriously, be a bike app, or a motorsports app. You’re never going to attract the high-end races you’re all about when their bikes look like motorcycles from F-Zero.

4) Get rid of map building: Down the road, maybe. But for now there’s zero reason why any regular user should stumble into this portion of the app to try and build their own maps. Sure, that’d be awesome in Zwift to build your own tracks. But today it’s just distracting.

5) Stop teleporting me: If I wanted to be deported I’d (insert your own joke here). I came to ride my bike at whatever speed I wanted on the map I selected.

6) Re-think cadeCOINS: I get it, you need to make money (and I totally support that, versus the VC route). But right now it’s still confusing as to what’s going to cost money and what isn’t. Deal with making money after you make the app appetizing. That’s what the beta period is for.

7) Go to a bike shop: Seriously, take this game to your local bike shop and ask if they can set it up for the day. Then, ask real people what they think after 60 seconds of riding it. Consider that feedback as real user feedback, not paid athlete feedback that tells you what you want to hear.

8) Remember what made Zwift popular: Sure, Zwift had/has money to throw at things, but one of the key things that drove people to Zwift initially over Bkool was the graphics. Back in the day, the Bkool graphics was blah at best (now it’s better). CVRcade graphics are horrible compared to what Bkool offered then. I’ve said it a hundred times before: Ugly apps don’t win. Confusing UI apps don’t win. Nobody wants to use something that’s both confusing and ugly.

9) Get rid of the license key as part of install: There’s no reason for this. Period.  Either you trust in your cadeCOINS or not. If not, then why are you using them?

10) Yes, I noticed you can race without riding (just using a keyboard): Why? It’s either a cycling app where you get hot and sweaty or it’s not.

Ok, I think that’s my main thoughts for now.

Now – lest you think I’m some huge fan of Zwift, then you should probably read more of my stuff.  Within this very realm of indoor trainer racing, I have serious concerns about Zwift’s own arrival into sanctioned cycling events and such over the last few weeks (which I’m saving for another post). And hey, at least CVRcade has world switching. So there’s that.

Still, many people have been looking at CVRcade as some sort of way to flee Zwift. As I saw today, that’s simply not a practical avenue. There are far better alternatives in Road Grand Tours, Rouvy, and VirtuGO, plus non-racing apps like The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and Kinomap. CVR certainly has the money to address the problems they have, but I think that’s going to take a serious change in direction, and realization that what they’re building today isn’t going to attract many cycling fans.

With that – thanks for reading!

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48 Comments

  1. Jim Sigafoos

    I can picture the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave sitting on a couch eating pizza and mashing buttons.

  2. Guillaume

    #2: Make it pretty

    TBH, there are currently no options that look good. Zwift happy customer here, but I wouldn’t call PS2 era graphics cutting edge either. Heck, there were better looking PS2 games than Zwift 😉

    • Reginald Brown

      Yeah, but it can run on my phone, so I’ll give it a pass. The graphics are significantly better than this, and I’m not pixel peeping when I’m riding my bike. 😀

  3. Tizzledk

    Wow that was bad… best part ‘do you have a bike?’ and then your reaction…ROFL….best part of the video…I wish you could get that time back DC 🙂

  4. H

    It’s difficult to believe how or why some Zwift community members (I don’t mean Jesper who clearly must be being paid) have jumped on board with this unless they’re being sponsored to do so.

  5. norbs

    God, talk about a shit show. Dual monitors send it into a spiral too.

    The gradient changes are like a kick in the guts.

  6. Mike Prytherch

    I lasted about 20 minutes, turned it off and will no doubt never go back, I get the concepts and the ideas, I get the fact it is Beta, but it crashed on me, the UI from 20 years ago (seriously yes/no comboboxes !!!!), graphics from 15 years ago, worlds that are crap, that stupid 24kph start-up and then the delay in switching worlds WTF… as the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. I recall using Zwift when it was first released, it too had flaws but you could see they had the basics right, I can’t see anything right with this.

  7. Simon B

    So it’s a mix of Zwift, Minecraft (world building and transferring) and F-Zero (old school graphics). Interesting!

  8. Lou

    * goes back to his trainerroad and netflix *

    heck i could do trainer road and play my nintendo switch if i really wanted to thanks to the joycons, hmmmm, i gotta patent this idea

  9. I really think CVRCade should focus on doing just a couple of things really, really well rather than doing everything they can think of but not so well. Like you say ditch all the motorcycle stuff and other fringe features and focus on creating a better racing platform. Find that niche. That’s the reason they took on Zwift in the first place, right?

    I’ve got my beta install code and plan on giving this a whirl on the weekend.

  10. Christina Hanson

    Oh Man .Thank you so much DCR. my afternoon was starting to be boring as S reading through docs and this had me laughing and crying all at the same time.

    Are they going to have CVRcade techs all around the world to set this stuff up? I’m Imagining a drone dressed up in a full kit coming to my door to help me “turn the computer off, then turn it back on again…. does that fix it?” Holy cow…..

    • Christina Hanson

      oh amazon home services….. got it missed that on the first read through doy

    • So they’re leveraging Amazon Home Services, but it’s interesting how it’s done. Here’s the specific ‘task’ item on AHS: link to amzn.to

      Which then various partners can fulfill. I picked a semi-random address in the US (my address in Vegas last week), and sure enough there is a vendor there that can fulfill it – a mobile bike shop. Which, makes complete sense. They charge $75, which I think is a fair price given the task could take 5 minutes, or it could take hours if things get all wonky on the software side (though, that might not be covered).

      I actually think this sort of thing really does make a ton of sense. The process needs to be streamlined a bit, but it’s a key reason why Peloton is so successful. Every purchase comes with installation (and by comes with, I mean you’re forced to pay $250). But still, concept applies.

  11. SquareWheelsLLC

    Who is funding this? I have a square wheel idea I want to get some investment on

  12. Sunny

    …if the coin things are like chocolate gold coins I can eat… Ok I’m in ! at least I can eat chocolate whilst looking at a crappy motorbike get transportamathingied to baron worlds. Somewhat appealing, if only it came with a hardware dongle 👍 🤔

  13. SausageOfDoom

    “you have a massive pile of sucky things.” Truly your most entertaining piece and I mean that, seriously.

    Thank you for all you do.

    Mmm…pizza

  14. Spokejunky

    Well, I do like the Akira/Tron bike mashup.

  15. Craig Schaepe

    It is the worst mix of being overly ambitious and amateur in its execution. In what universe would those graphics be acceptable sure maybe 30 years ago but today WTH. I have been developing software for 35 years and have developed and used lots of beta software and I am very forgiving. But I couldn’t take more than 15 minutes before I uninstalled and then fired up Zwift. I hope they didn’t waste too much money developing it because no one is going to want to pay for it or for that matter even use it.

    • Bruce Burkhalter

      Agree. It is crazy the breadth of stuff they are trying to do but doing it all so poorly. Focus on the basics and get that working well, then add all the other stuff. A dropdown menu with every kind of tire???

      It almost looks like they bought some program for 10 (or more!) years ago and tried to retrofit it. It is hard to believe anyone would green light this and spend so much money on the development.

    • Aaron

      It looks like Angel Investor tail wagging the dog with a bargain basement (most likely outsourced) development team who has zero knowledge or passion of the actual domain, requirements lost in translation, over budget and behind schedule, executed by someone who’s done this before with B2B software where they can get away with less shine and post-Apple consumer-level quality expectations in 2019.

      So many oddities in this… even the strong branding around “eSports” is a stumble, unless they are doubling down on the retro – I haven’t seen companies name products with an e- since… the 1990s?

  16. EV

    Clearly this is all a clever plot by the ingenious Dr. Min to make us all appreciate just how good Zwift is, and how bad it could have been. Well done sir, well done. Point made.

    • Given how much Zwift spends on other silly things, it would be a pretty ingenious false flag operation. Well played indeed.

    • Niels Andersen

      Zwift is nr. 1 right now. But DR Min has only found the money, he did nothing to build any software and I Can Tell you he is not and expert in software arhitecture. I would say with all the money Zwift Got, they should have been fare Ahead of Where they are to Day.
      But they are experts in using money for nothing. i know it better Then the most 😉

    • WattsUp

      But that’s the point – Min is good at some things, including hiring the right people to build the software. If I was a Zwift stakeholder, I wouldn’t want my CEO at his desk programming…

  17. GLT

    Even given the limitations & annoyances of the beta version, I think I’ll consider it a good sign that the number of offerings in this space is still expanding.

    I remember the bad old days of having to write down stats from the exercise bike screen to type them into my own tracking system. At this point I’m welcoming any hardware, software, or service offering that improves cycling. Won’t pay for the stuff that doesn’t work well, but still enjoy seeing the efforts.

  18. Chris Capoccia

    So if you pick “no” to bike, do they offer to sell you a bike through Amazon?

  19. Chris Capoccia

    “CVR needed more capabilities out of Zwift to support esports in a viable way” 😀 So the answer to that was to come up with something less capable in every way except for world switching?

  20. This looks like minecraft. I honestly think they have missed the mark entirely. I applaud them for trying something different, but the people who ride their bike on zwift do it because it fun, easy, and convenient. They don’t ride on zwift to play a “game”. If I wanted to play a game, I would play fortnite with my kids. I would not ride my bike and simultaneously play a game while getting a bad workout. When I’m working out, I focus 100% on working out. I don’t want the distractions of turning, steering, teleporting, etc… It’s bad enough when zwift has a power drop.

    I suspect the average demographic of a zwifter is 30 – 65. I don’t know many people in that demographic that play games on a computer or figure out how to set one up. And I definitely don’t know ANY cyclist that wants to ride a bike for a workout and play a game at the same time.

    I use zwift because I can get on my bike, start peddling, select Ride, and just go. If it was much harder than that I would go back to perfpro and the computrainer.

  21. DafLJ

    This also flags a question Ray – will you be updating your trainer app guide in 2019? Perhaps even if it only focuses on the main Zwift rivals – Rouvy, VirtuGo, Road Grand Tours?

  22. Rich Jones

    Absolutely no excuses for what they’ve launched as a product. Utterly Clueless.

    Anybody with half-a-brain, using Unity (or some other engine) could have a working prototype, that looks x10000 better, in one week.

    Even the bike assets are literally a 3s/$39 Google away: link to assetstore.unity.com

    I can see the conversations now “but Fortnite has building options! And in-app purchases! We need those” …

    Thought this was 2019, not 1999.

  23. NICOLO BOTTAZZI

    I WANT YOUR T-SHIRT!!!!

    please help me I really need it

    Tks
    Nicolò

  24. Harrison Edgbert

    Thanks Ray you saved me the hassle of trying to figure this thing out. I have been sitting on my invite and trying to figure out when to take a break in my training to give CVRcade a try. Now I see it would just be a waste of my time. I enjoyed the CVR world cup on Zwift and I hope they get there one day. I’ll stick with Trainer Road and Zwift until then.

  25. Microfright

    I got as far as opening it up, and a quick poke around, not even pairing my trainer before closing it, I don’t think I will be back for quite a while.

  26. WattsUp

    I loved the CVR World Cup – to say it was a ‘life-changing’ experience for me might be a bit of an exaggeration…but then again, maybe not. It’s what really got me into racing on Zwift, and got me into serious training, and I ended up losing almost 30kg. The vast improvement in my fitness and overall health – maybe that is ‘life-changing’ in a way.

    The one core feature that CVRCade was supposed to focus on – and one area where they had a lot of supporters – was on developing a dedicated platform for racing / eSports. The people that knew about CVR, were in to racing, and ould be enticed to move from Zwift – that’s what they wanted. Nobody interested specifically in indoor racing is complaining that loud about world choice. Nobody interested specifically in indoor racing is complaining about Zwift graphics. Nobody interested specifically in indoor racing wants/needs an indoor trainer setup service.

    They had a clear niche to fill, and a clear window to fill it, and they’ve wasted it with a half-assed, scatter-brained approach that screams unprofessional, incompetent leadership. It comes down to ego: the best leaders are the ones that know what they can and can’t do. The best leaders do not surround themselves with yes-men. The best leaders hire great people to do specific things and surround themselves with people that will keep the CEO focused on core competencies. That’s not happening here.

    Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest – those companies are successful because of a laser-like focus on what they’re good at. Yes, they’re adding things as they go, but they only got to that point by starting out delivering one feature in an outstanding way – not by offering lots of things in a craptastic way.

    BTW, I’m CFO of a small start-up (well, not a start-up anymore, we’re in our 9th year) with annual revenue in the millions. I know from first-hand experience the challenges start-ups face.

  27. Andi

    seriously, this is a joke, isnˋt it? Whats the reason for this kind of crap? It much more worse than Zwift in my opinion (donˋt li,e Swift at all…).
    The graphics on my old CompuTrainer software were much better ten years or so ago.

  28. Brad

    While I completely agree with pretty much all the comments here on this “game”, I see it a little differently. It appears that they have spent a lot of time on the platform structure – user configuration, store, overall platform architecture etc, and practically zero time on the graphics and game play side. The graphics, including the power ranger motorcycles were likely lifted from another game based on the same tool set and re being used while getting the base platform in place.. It doesn’t make sense to spend time on killer graphics and no time on the platform structure to control it. Their mistake, or at least where they are stumbling, is in releasing this as a beta way too soon. They would have been better served to grey out (disable) a lot of the configurability options, and spent a little time on graphics before releasing it. The beta should have also show cased the features that they are intending to set themselvs apart from the competition which would have built interest.

    It is also likely that the owners contracted super low cost engineering services (e.g. china, india) with a set of requirements and proceeded with little oversight.

    I will likely never sign up, as personally I prefer a model where I participate, not pay money for ala-carte usage, however, I will watch to see if they come around or fade away.

  29. Jaymaker

    It was pretty awful.

    I agree with all of your recommendations. It was obvious from the beginning they are trying to do waaaaay too much all at once, and are spread far too thin.

    If this is meant to be a ‘game’, then what is the goal of the game when you are rolling single-player? Maybe we should progress through levels in single player mode, then optionally join multiplayer events or offer one ‘community social level’ per day?

    If you are reading this, CVRcade, please think about old school video games. A welcome screen, then a ‘start’ button, then maybe a quick intro, and you are off doing fun things on some kind of mission without fussing for 30 minutes. Maybe while you get this thing going, a better thought out single player mode would help alleviate the instant boredom that prevented me from lasting more than 5-10 minutes.

  30. jmjf

    (does math)

    So 2700 coins for access to fee events for 30 days (+ voice chat and asynchronous replay) plus 3400 coins for 8 weeks access to workouts (1700/28 days) = 4400 coins per month, or about $40 (assuming you buy 5000 coins for $45).

    Somehow I think that pricing model is doomed unless Zwift raises their monthly sub enough that people are willing to deal with the cognitive friction of tracking the 30-day vs 28-day thing.

    Even assuming some people only want one or the other, the pricing model seems to be off.

  31. I crashed into a solid red line. It’s a beautiful metaphor for CVRCade in general.

  32. Dennis nel

    You have patience that’s for sure .

  33. David Ehrlich

    Interesting to compare the quality of the app with the Zwift Beta app

    link to youtube.com