Microtransactions

There's an Andy Warhol quote I come back to again and again. It's from his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

One of the things that made Soulja Boy's video review of Braid so fascinating (for me, at least) was that it showed a successful musician geeking out about something that nerds had almost taken for granted. We'd played this game. We knew it. On the other hand, Jay-Z's lyrics are increasingly about extremely exclusive experiences ("Let's get faded / Le Meurice for like 6 days"), but in the case of Soulja Boy and his Braid video, this was an experience that anyone with an Xbox could have.

Videogames used to be a great social democratiser. If you could afford a videogame, you would be getting the exact same experience as anyone else It didn't matter how many albums you'd sold or how much money you had in the bank. The only experiential difference came down to your skill at the game.

The recent controversy surrounding microtransactions in Forza 5 makes me think we'll be seeing the end of this. If I can't afford to buy a particular car with real money in Forza, then I have to grind and grind until I amass enough in-game credits. According to some calculations, this could take anywhere up to a couple of years for some of the top-end cars.

And that's what I find most troubling about microtransactions. They're extending class structure to something that didn't need one. Now, when I play a game, I'll know I could always pay more and be playing a better version of the same game.

The continuing awfulness of Penny Arcade

770836278 VG7Cr L

If you ask me, Penny Arcade is a brand in trouble. Financially, they're doing well. Their three conferences draw huge crowds annually (although people are saying that's not necessarily a positive thing), but critically, they're facing a massive backlash for their handling of the whole "dickwolves" issue (which is far too long and complicated to get into here - read Rachel Edidin's article on Wired if you want to be depressed).

So given that they're already turning a lot of people against them, why did they think it would make sense to advertise a job like this?

It goes to show the importance of context. If Penny Arcade was a struggling startup, the ad would make a certain amount of sense. Almost every startup has had someone working a job like that (although maybe they'd be slightly ashamed and wouldn't describe the role in such a humblebrag). And no-one would think twice about it. Except Penny Arcade aren't a struggling startup. They're a multi-million dollar corporation with fingers in lots of different pies. Besides the successful conferences I've already mentioned, they've got advertising, videogames, a 'tv' show, books, merch. They're not struggling for cash. And yet, they're looking for a lynchpin of their entire infrastructure and they're looking to pay them peanuts.

Of course, the response from the internet has been predictably savage.

And know what I think is the worst part? They saw absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I get this feeling we'll get a lot of interest for this job... (AN IT HIRE!) http://t.co/SiCjPTAQRJ

-- Robert Khoo (@rkhoo) November 26, 2013

I realise this whole thing is of little relevance to anyone who reads this blog, but I just want to add my voice to say please, don't anyone take this job. Even as a worst-case, there are thousands of other start-ups out there who have this exact same role with the exact same shitty remuneration, but at least you would go home knowing you weren't being exploited by a misogynistic, tone-deaf conglomerate.

What do Hate Groups Think of Jennifer Lawrence?

Hey there. I was just wondering if you could tell me your opinions on Jennifer Lawrence? Tony Alamo Christian Ministries: I have no idea who that is.

You know who Jennifer Lawrence is! She just won the Best Actress Oscar? She was the one who tripped on the stairs when she was going to get her award, and it was adorable?
This is Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. This is a church. 

You didn't see the Oscars this year?
Did you call us because you have nothing better to do? Let me just say, real quick, the Lord's coming back. Very soon. And He's not gonna ask you how many movies you saw or which celebrities you knew. He's gonna ask you what you did for his son, Jesus. He died on the cross, and He did that just for you, and that's what we preach.

**Wait, are you doing that thing where people pretend they don't know what someone or something is to seem cool? Like, my friend is really cerebral and is into a bunch of obscure old music, and one time he claimed he didn't know who the Spice Girls are. Which, obviously, is bullshit. **
Did you hear anything that I just said?

Top 10 Free Kindle Books - "Politics & Social Science" section

A list without judgement:

  • Preparing for the Coming Collapse of the U.S. Dollar 2nd Edition (Surviving in the New America)

  • The Poor Man's Prepping Guide: How to Prepare for Disaster on a Shoestring Budget (Stay Alive)

  • The Art of War

  • Delusions of Grandeur

  • The United States Constitution

  • The Bug Out Bag: What You Need to Stay Alive

  • How To Survive: The End Of The World (How to Survive the Apocalypse)

  • Bug Out: What to Do When It's Time to Get Out of Dodge

  • Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action

  • Beyond Good and Evil

Frequency Illusion

Sophia Coppola and Kristen Sheridan have both got new movies out about a group of attractive young teenagers who break into the houses of rich people.

Dollhouse

The Bling Ring

Is there something to be read into this? Is this a subject that especially appeals to daughters of directors past their prime? Should we expect Jennifer Lynch to complete the trifecta? Or is this just one of those things, like A Bug's Life and Antz landing at the same time? I don't know. Do I care? No. I'm just killing time here.

Point - Counterpoint

Point

All future EA games to feature microtransactions

"The next and much bigger piece [of the business] is microtransactions within games," he revealed. "We're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business."

Counterpoint

'Real Racing 3' is ruined by in-app purchases

It's a shame, because the game itself could be great. It features some of the most impressive mobile graphics we've ever seen, the list of cars and courses is endless, and the way it integrates your friends' lap times into your races for a pseudo-multiplayer experience makes it all the more immersive. The problem is that it all just feels so cheapened by the business model; while it's possible to play the game a little each day without forking out money ... the constant nagging for cash grates.

Real Racing Review - 3/10

There's a good game somewhere within Real Racing 3 - and there are plenty of free-to-play games that prove this model can work successfully while respecting the player. Firemonkeys, and perhaps more pertinently EA, have got that balance horribly, horribly wrong, to an extent where the business model becomes the game - with gut-wrenching results.

Idea: Peanut Gallery

Peanut Gallery: A script that takes a start time and an end time and generates a subtitle file for your twitter stream (or a given hash tag), so you can watch a show or other live event with (time-shifted) real-time twitter commentary.

I woke up this morning to a twitter stream full of amazing Oscar commentary. For example, from the ever-reliable Zodiac Motherfucker:

@ZODIAC_MF GET MRS POTATO HEAD THE FUCK OUT OF HERE

By itself, this is a hilarious sentence, but who is he talking about? Without context, I'm missing something. Actually, for most of my twitter stream last night, I don't know what people are referring to. I'd say the same thing happened for anyone who wasn't watching the Sony PlayStation announcement. For certain shows and events, a snarky running commentary makes that show infinitely more entertaining.

I'll probably watch the Oscars tonight -- time-shifting a live event -- and I'd love to be able to time-shift my twitter stream as well. I think a subtitle track for my media file would be the best way of doing this.

Unfortunately, I think this is the kind of thing Anil Dash was referring to in his essay The Web We Lost: I don't think Twitter's API allows this kind of usage. Shame.

Far Cry 3

far-cry-3

I'm finding it impossible to deal with Far Cry 3 in its own terms. It's much easier for me to talk about it in terms of games it's not.

It's not Far Cry 2, for example. Oh my God, Far Cry 2 hates the player. Never mind the respawning enemies making sure that every square inch of that game's sprawling African savannah was actively hostile towards the player. And this was the least of your worries. More than once when I was playing that game, I found myself in the middle of a firefight when my gun would suddenly just fall apart in my hands (weapons 'wear out' in Far Cry 2), I'd panic and run away to consider my next move and that's when my character would suffer a malaria attack (your character is infected with malaria at the start of Far Cry 2 and spends the rest of the game dealing with this). And then I'd die.

Far Cry 3 is not this. It's much more forgiving. More hand-holding. Almost to a fault. Straying too far off the prescribed path (even during the tutorial) will result in a 'mission failed' screen. It's not messing around. It doesn't want you actually exploring the huge, open island without making sure you fully understand the mechanics and the context. As helpful and friendly as this is, I can't help but feel like this is a step back. It takes fewer risks. It's less dangerous. Much as I disliked the random bullshit in the previous Far Cry game, it was at least remarkable.

Speaking of exploring, Far Cry 3 is not Proteus or Misasmata. It's not even Dear Esther. These are all island-based games that are very much about exploration. Proteus and Dear Esther are nothing but exploration. You get from it what you get. Miasmata has a story and a history for you to peel back, layer after layer. Your exploration is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the narrative. It's like the designers took a look at Lost and thought "there's a game there."

Far Cry 3 is not that either. The game is set on a couple of huge, open islands with a long, varied history, but there's actually very little to explore. Every hut on the island is the same. Every cave is the same. There are WWII-era gun emplacements. There are downed aircrafts. There are beached tankers. But these are all just eye-candy, not actually things that affect your game in any way. They don't reveal anything about the story of Far Cry 3 or the history of the Rook Islands. I found one cabin with a body in a noose, but without any context for who this guy was or why he hung himself, it's just a meaningless non-sequitur.

And this is the problem with Far Cry 3 - it's an enjoyable romp, but it doesn't have any aspirations to be anything new or original or even different. The entire plot is built on a series of tired Alice in Wonderland parallels (with a healthy dose of references to The Beach thrown in for good measure). And it could easily have been so much more. As well as his arsenal of heavy weapons, your character is also armed with a camera -- a tool for exploration, for documenting things -- and this could have been used in interesting ways; integrated into the gameplay somehow, but instead it's only ever used to identify enemies before you kill them.

As much as I'm enjoying Far Cry 3, I can't help thinking of it in terms of games it's not because it's just a very bland game done very well. And it could have been so much more, if it tried.

Going digital-only

Over Christmas, we moved again. This time, into the house we bought1. One of the more useful things that falls out of the process of moving is that it gives you an opportunity to take account of your possessions. There's nothing like packing everything you own into boxes and carting them off to another place to make you realise how much shit you own.

Well, somewhere around the 30th box or so, I had an epiphany. I have too much stuff.

"Duh, asshole. This isn't news."

No, you're not listening to what I'm saying. I'm saying that my internal understanding -- my mental self-image -- suddenly went from "I have a lot of stuff" to "I have too much stuff". As in, I could easily offload three-quarters of my DVD collection and not really feel the loss. Which is why I'm sort of glad that HMV is gone. As a nerd who loves movies and games, its disappearance leaves me with fewer places to buy these things in Dublin, fewer avenues of temptation. This is a perfect opening for me to re-evaluate my relationship with these things and how they come into my life. A lot has already changed.

Books: Kindle My kindle has completely transformed my relationship with books. I also count this as the thing that completely turned me onto the idea of digital, rather than physical ownership of media. I realised that I had been fetishizing the form, not the content.

Comics: ComiXology I haven't bought a physical comic in at least a year now. Sorry, Forbidden Planet! Maybe if you weren't missing volume 1 of every series I'd like to check out, y'know?

Games: Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, Wii U e-shop I feel like, of everything listed here, games are the best represented in the digital market. Each platform has its own storefront (Steam isn't official, but it is the de-facto standard on PC) and it's only getting easier and cheaper to buy digital versions of things.

Movies: ?

And this takes me to the point of this post. Yesterday, Philips announced that they were exiting the consumer electronics market. This line jumped out for me:

“Since we have online entertainment, people do not buy Blu-ray and DVD players anymore,” Mr. Van Houten said.

I think this ties in with what I'm saying - there's very little need to own physical copies of digital media. Consumers are realising this and HMV, having built the core of its market around selling DVDs and Blu-Rays, couldn't adapt.

But I have a question about all this. People aren't buying Blu-rays or DVDs any more. So what are they actually buying? Is the lack of a standard for downloaded video harming adoption/uptake, just like we saw when HD-DVD and Blu-ray were competing to see which would be the dominant format? Also, until there is a standard, should we expect the price of digital-only movie purchases to remain high?2

1

This is a whole other blog post, but holy fuck, we bought a house.

2

Take Dredd for example (one of my favourite films of last year). On the US iTunes store, it's $19.99 (€15) for the HD version of the movie plus the 'iTunes Extras', the iTunes versions of DVD extras. On the Irish store, it's €17 for the movie by itself. I'm sure they're waiting for more Irish people to be interested in buying movies from iTunes before adding features and dropping the price, but without dropping the price or adding these features, how do they expect to encourage this interest?

In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh -- Vulture

I was watching one of those iconoclast shows on the Sundance Channel. Jamie Oliver said Paul Smith had told him something he hadn’t understood until very recently: “I’d rather be No. 2 forever than No. 1 for a while.” Just make stuff and don’t agonize over it. Stop worrying about being No. 1. I see a lot of people getting paralyzed by the response to their work, the imagined result. It’s like playing a Jedi mind trick on yourself, and Smith is right. That’s the way I’ve always approached films, the way I approach everything. Just make ’em.

A while ago, over the course of a couple of days, I came across two slogans that have stuck with me and have had a profound impact on my approach to my creative projects. First is from Facebook's Analog Research Lab's who have a poster saying "Done is Better Than Perfect". The other is Brendan Dawes' "Talk - Action = Shit". Now, rather than being paralysed by the fear of the blank page and the fear of releasing anything that is less than perfect, I'm churning stuff out. There's a lot of misses in there, but there are a few hits too.