Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

Having been unemployed now for the better part of a year, scrambling for odd jobs and attempting a career change, I’m more sensitive than ever to the cost of things.  There are a great many rants that I could indulge in, but at the moment, I’m in a contemplative mood.

Y’see, payment models are part of these MMO games that I write about here and there.  Syl has a new post up that’s tapping into a bit of the blogging hivemind, which is buzzing about money again.  I’m of a mind that the subscription model is a very poor value for me, F2P is a bit better when it’s not annoyingly restrictive or weirdly monetized, and “buy and play” of Guild Wars and Wizard 101 is still my favorite model.

Thing is, what little gaming I do these days is either on my smartphone with something like Slingshot Braves (which I’m still not spending money on, though I’d like to, in a way) or Flight Rising on my PC.  In the former, I’d probably pony up a few dollars if I could buy specific gear I want, and in the latter, I don’t mind advertisements as the monetization vector.

It makes me wonder… has an MMO toyed with advertisements in their major cities?  As noted in Darths and Droids, of all places, games actually can benefit from some verisimilitude by having sloganeering or even advertisement in big cities.  The setting has to make sense, of course, and advertising isn’t always really a big money maker, but it seems like something someone might have tried, or could have tried.  The Secret World, or The Matrix Online, maybe.

Anyway, I certainly don’t begrudge devs their money.  I have my own money problems, and won’t pay for something that doesn’t offer me good value, but, as with Humble Bundles, I’m OK with spending money on games.  I’m not a whale, I’m a stingy consumer.  Offer me something worth paying for, and I probably will.  Try to manipulate me with stupid things like lockboxes, slot machines, subscriptions or other obvious ploys to get money with little effort, and I’ll just move on.

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Yay, we have another slippery slope bit of HWFO to keep November interesting before Deathwing dominates blogs.  (Yes, those are icons I created for Puzzle Pirates.  Whee for self-promotion!)

Oh, right.  Context.  Here, have a few links.  (These cover a range of opinions, so I’m not endorsing any particular viewpoint but my own.)

RaviousSyp, Arkenor, Spinks, Tobold, Hunter

So apparently, Warhammer Online intends to sell a thingamawidget that lets player characters advance a single level (out of 40 possible), completely free of grind.  Naturally, that means the sky is falling.  (OK, OK, not everyone is saying that, but what good is a slippery slope argument without a little hyperbole?)

First of all, levels in a PvP game are a Bad Idea.  Player skill should be paramount in PvP, not avatar level grinding.  WAR is broken on a fundamental level because of this.  Not to be too pointed, but I think it’s actually a Good Thing to get everyone up to the level cap faster, since that’s where the playing field is more level… class imbalances aside, of course.

Secondly, this is pretty clearly a nonexclusive item.  Players who get riled up about someone getting ahead can just go grind to catch up.  As such, it’s not about the sale item itself, it’s about someone else having something that you don’t have yet… or in the case of level capped characters, it’s whining about someone else not having to walk uphill barefoot in the snow to reach the vaunted upper echelon of the game.  If you’re not having fun with the game, and have to denigrate someone else to feel superior, grow up.

Thirdly, it’s a single-use item, best used by characters in the apparently mind-numbingly slow endgame to bypass some grind.  I just don’t see it actually doing much.  Yes, this might set a precedent for selling advancement, but…

Fourthly, I’ve argued before that games like WoW should sell level-capped characters direct from the factory (conveniently with low overhead).  If the “game starts at the level cap”, why in the world are they forcing players to monkey around for months before they play the real game?  If someone wants to raid on day one, let them.  And charge them for it, naturally.  (Does anyone really complain about the dollar cost of the sub time that it takes to get a character raid-ready?  I don’t see it, but maybe I’m not reading the right places.)

Fifthly, I’m tired of the “those dirty capitalists” arguments, whether they are leveled at the producers who are running a business or those dirty, dirty people who have money to burn and want to spend it on games.  This is how markets work; they naturally evolve as demand and supply tease each other, and customers and providers jostle to get the best deal.  Funny thing about that; it tends to also improve the product offered as well, as honest competition makes everyone bring their best product to the table at the lowest price.  There are naturally growing pains as a market matures, but mature they do, even if some of the customers don’t.

Sixthly, for all the arrogant arguments about “a subscription is cheap if you can afford a computer and an internet connection” or “it’s cheaper than a movie and dinner” or whatever other knee-jerk mindless defense of the cost, there is an inordinate amount of moaning about how other people spend their money.  The same people who will look down their nose on other people not wanting to pay a subscription have no restraint in whining about other ways money gets spent, as if it’s any of their business.  Apparently it’s only OK to spend money the right way, which is to say, the way we do it.  Get over yourselves, folks.  The market is expanding, and your gated communes aren’t sacrosanct.  (Though I also support private servers for those who really want those gates.  Live and let live, I say.  Of course, that might cost you more.  This also applies to an argument Dblade rightly made at Spinks’ place, that advertising spam and item shop sales intrude on subscribers’ immersion.  Private sub servers should be able to have all that static turned off.)

As Spinks notes, this is possibly the clearest measure yet for how much time in an MMO costs in real dollars.  That cost has always been there, but it’s hugely variable.  I, for one, welcome a clearer basis of comparison.  That benefits the consumer looking to spend their money and the producer who wants to better understand what to sell.

Until we have a socialist utopia where MMOs are developed for the Good of Mankind with no eye whatsoever on the monetary side, we’re going to have to deal with the business of games.  More choices are a Good Thing, as they have a refining effect.  It’s entirely possible some incumbents will be burned in the high stakes game.

It’s about time.

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While money is on the discussion floor hereabouts, I wanted to share this gem from Karl Denninger.

Avoidance Will Not Work

His site might be a bit on the gloomy side, but there are some very real problems with the economy at large.  It’s wise to pay attention to these larger issues.

And maybe get some food storage.


More data to chew on… A Warning to the Political Parties

It all boils down to math and sustainability.  It’s not even ideological or demagoguish at this point, just the cold inevitability of math.

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One of the arguments I see often in favor of the subscription model is that it’s “affordable”.  This is often paired with an argument that a movie and a dinner is more expensive, or that a $50 game has a mere six hours of gameplay, and that MMOs offer more than either of those options for a lesser price.

That may be true for some, but not as a universal constant.

The trouble is that “value” is a variable.  More than that, it’s a derived variable, a function of cost, time and personal preference.

See, I can afford 15 dollars a month for gaming on the whole.  I’m not rich by American standards (though by worldwide standards I’m most certainly above the median), but I am blessed sufficiently to make enough to take care of my family, prepare for the future and have a little left over.  Some in my position spend that money on fishing or hunting or some other hobby, some spend it on booze, I choose to spend it on games.  A bit of discretionary spending is a luxury I’m grateful for… though it might be noted that I have enough games to keep me entertained for a lifetime already, given the replayability of many games, both digital and traditional.  I need not spend more money on games, and indeed, as I spend more and more time creating games, the balance shifts further.

However, according to some loan sharks, I can also afford a new car and a $300,000 house.  Though I can afford those luxuries according to some calculations, there is little wisdom in making purchasing decisions based on what I can afford.  That’s a rather nasty trend that has had significantly negative repercussions for the national and world economy.  I prefer to look at value.

I happily pay for things I can use when I please, for as long as I please.  I’ll even pay a premium for that right.  It’s why I bought my car outright (used, of course) rather than lease.  Yes, it cost me $3200 up front, which might be a year or so worth of a lease on a comparable (if newer) vehicle, but I own that car.  I need not finance it further (other than feeding and care, of course).  I intend to drive it to the ground, and in the long run, I will get a great deal of value out of that purchase.  Even counting inevitable repairs (and ignoring feeding costs since a new or leased car would eat just as much), that car will cost me less than purchasing a new car or leasing a car for the duration of time that I’ll be using it.

…and that’s the key behind why MMO subscriptions are of very low value to me.  They are a price for access granted for a chunk of time.  I do not get many hours of MMO play in a month.  Some do, and for them, certainly, the price per unit of play approaches nicely low numbers to give a sense of value for their purchase.  For me, however, when I can spend $15 on something like Recettear that gives me easily 40 solid hours of play or more, which is naturally spread out over perhaps six months, a subscription doesn’t even come close to comparing.  World of Goo, a game I purchased on sale for $5, has given me and my family hundreds of hours of play over more than a year.

Yes, it could easily be argued that those are different games, but then I look at Guild Wars, also purchased for $5 on sale, and note that I have gotten dozens of MMO-ish gaming hours over a year, and at no further recurring cost.  In many ways, I even consider Guild Wars to be a superior game when compared to something like WoW or LOTRO.

So while I can technically afford a subscription to something like WoW, LOTRO or EVE (the three most likely games I’d sub to), such a purchase would not give me good value for my money.  Undoubtedly some do get good value out of a sub, but I do not.

I believe that the further splintering of the MMO industry into various business models is a Good Thing for the continued health of these games, as the demand curve is padded out and more customers bring in revenue that would not be captured at a single price point.  The business model inevitably affects the game, and just as item shop games have warts, sub games have warts… they are just different ones.  No game will be a perfect fit for everyone, but if the market on the whole has sufficient variety, nearly everyone can find something they like and are willing to pay for.  Smart devs will find niches that aren’t served well and make a fair living.  That’s a healthy market.  A smart game will diversify itself across that demand curve, like Puzzle Pirates or Wizard 101 do.

I think that the MMO industry cannot afford not to diversify.  We’re seeing it already.  Doubtless we’ll see more. Just as the actual game design has to keep changing, the business has to keep changing.  It has to reach out to the spectrum of valuation and affordability, rather than try to shoehorn everyone into the same mold.  Individual games would also be well served by spreading out across the demand curve.  Arguably, that’s what DDO did, and did well with, and LOTRO and EQ2X are angling for the same dynamic.

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Alternate title:

What Value, Identity?


In simpler terms, we pay for our entertainment in one way or another.  So-called “Free to Play” games (F2P) tend to either ask for money in bite-sized chunks (microtransactions) or ask you to earn your goodies by playing for a longer time than other players (paying with time), or maybe even “offer wall” points from a third party or some such gibberish.  Some games ask for both money and time.  A rarer game might try to be advertisement-based, running with a network TV/Google approach to monetization; get the eyeballs in and inundate them with advertising spam.

Perhaps now we get to see another way to pay for our MMO crack, er, service:  with your identity.

Apparently, identity theft is a pretty big industry, er, crime.  There is even a counterindustry built around protection rackets, er, protecting your identity, like the Lifelocks of the world and their competitors.  Your identity has value. It’s really no surprise that there would be those out there in the unsavory world of business, er, crime, that might be trying to find ways to unlock some of that value.

Welcome to a Brave New World of cataclysmic proportions, where paying for a product, er, service, isn’t merely a business transaction, it’s personal.

Next up?  DNA authenticators and paying with a pound of flesh.  (With discounts tied to the Big Brother international registry of BMI, of course.)


Acerbic slippery slope aside, I do officially register a complaint about this Bad Idea.  Hatch, Larisa, Dwism, Ixobelle (x2!), Ratshag, Klepsacovic and Spinks cover it pretty well, though.

Oh, and if we’re honestly going to talk about cleaning up the forums, might I suggest the following?

Forum Mute

Combine that with a /complain function and no nonsense moderation, and you’ll clean things up without all those nasty, tricksy unintended consequences and Facebook diseases on the way down the slippery slope.


More from Ysharros, Spinks, BBB, Copra (as cited by Longasc, he’s right that this is about building a brand and a business… the concerns of the little people aren’t relevant), KIASA, Lum, Chastity, Gnomeaggedon, Melfina (yay for a rational feminist perspective), br3ntbr0 (with a video, no less), Jason and Tobold.  This even teased Ryan Shwayder out of his slumber.

Bonus points to Stabs for finding this little gem.  Oh, and this really shouldn’t surprise anyone, either.  This is somewhat… alarming, too.

Ooh, shiny!  Channel Massive (hi, Jason!) has a nice roundup of a spectrum of responses.  As usual, I disagree with about everything Darren says (the man has no common sense), and TAGN has a good post up.

…oh, and Syp totally called it; whenever he’s away from the shop, something big happens.  It’s eerie, I tell you!

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This is an addendum for my original Making it Real article, but I think it deserved more than a comment in the thread with a few links.

Hat tip to Shamus for this one:

Johanna Blakely: Lessons From Fashion’s Free Culture

TED talks are all over the place in quality, but this one does point out some interesting thoughts on IP protection and innovation.

I have to wonder if the same spirit behind Linux might be moving things like Psychochild’s article on Elemental Advancement.  He could have tried to keep that under wraps as a trade secret, but sharing it lets the blogging hivemind make the concepts better.  It’s then on his head (or someone else’s!) to execute the ideas in a commercially viable way, for which he could and should be rightfully recompensed.  It’s the work of execution that would be rewarded, not really the idea.  This is also why you will never sell an idea to a game company.  Go ahead and try; they will laugh in your face or outright ignore you.  Ideas are cheap. (To be clear, Ixobelle wasn’t selling ideas there, he was selling himself, but the Blizzard response is standard; game companies will not buy ideas.)

The talk’s argument roughly suggests that ideas should be cheap, free and unfettered, and that execution is really what matters.  When ideas can be free, innovation has fewer limitations.  Her list of industries with different IP laws and lack of copyright is especially enlightening.

To reiterate on what I was writing about in the last article, then, if you make your game idea into reality and sell it as such, as a physical game, you are effectively monetizing the actual production and materials, not so much the idea.  The idea can be taken and molded by house rules or knockoff products, but if you maintain quality, you’ll still be the standard of comparison.

Taken another way, you can make your own Magic cards and play with them.  Sure, Wizards owns copyrights on their particular game art and the “tap” icon, but you can take a sharpie to blank cards and play all day long.  You’ll never get them into a sanctioned tournament, but if you’re happy playing with friends at home, who cares?  If you do want to play “for real”, though, you pony up and buy the cards.  If you want the prestige of “real” cards and the option of playing in official venues, you go through the gates.  If you just want to play with the cool ideas, you can do so at home with homemade cards and homebrew ideas.

The WoW TCG has a set of free PDFs that comes directly from the devs, allowing you to print out some game cards and play the game.  It’s just a small slice of what the game ultimately has to offer, but it’s a way to get people playing.  My Alpha Hex paper beta runs along the same lines, though I’m also using it to get playtest feedback.  In either case, the “real” game has more to offer, and can be monetized as such.

IP laws can be weird and wild animals, as Scrusi rightly notes.  I’m not sure that a totally anarchic society of free ideas would function as well as the idealists would suggest, but then, the Big Brother draconian DRM direction doesn’t seem to be paying off with much more than ill will and sequelitis with a nice side dish of piracy.  We don’t make clothes (utilitarian tangible things) in video game design… but offline tangible variations might just be a nice avenue to explore sometimes.

In the meantime, throwing a few game design ideas out there into the wild just may be a good idea.


UPDATE! Scott Adams of Dilbert fame weighs in on ideas… quite coincidentally.  I like his take on it, though, and his closing line is one that Ed Catmull echoed as well:  “Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.”

In a creative industry, like the one I work in, we’re paid for getting things done.  Ideas are valuable inasmuch as they help get things done, but at the end of the day, if the work hasn’t been completed, and especially if there’s no product to sell, no number of ideas will make the guys writing the checks happy.

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The Utah GOP rejected Bob Bennett last night, a conservative Republican incumbent senator.  Pundits are suggesting this will have a ripple effect in the upcoming elections, as a strong anti-incumbent sentiment has been festering for a while.  From what I can gather, Bennett’s position on TARP (support) and his championing of a bipartisan health care reform bill (not the one ultimately signed into law) were keys to why people wanted to see him leave.

The anti-TARP position is pretty easy to explain; there’s a natural pull to austerity in any financial crisis, and when the government votes to spend taxpayer money to bail out businesses (especially the ones who caused the crisis), an allergic reaction from said taxpayers is not unexpected.  I won’t belabor my personal objections to TARP, but will instead suggest (once again) Karl Denninger’s The Market Ticker as a good place to prowl around regarding the bill.  Denninger digs into the market implications of the bill (and other political gerrymandering), which tends to make for a fairly nonpartisan critique.

The health care bill issue is a little fuzzier.  It’s worth noting that the bill that did pass isn’t popular among American citizens.  Those who supported it are also in a bit of political hot water, but in Bennett’s case, he supported a different bill proposed as an alternative.  What’s interesting to me is the commentary around this aspect of Bennett’s loss.  Nearly every writer who addresses it in this nice roundup of articles tries to blame Bennett’s loss on partisanship.  They believe that Utah voters considered it a cardinal sin for Bennett to work with a *gasp* Democrat on the proposed bill.  Even Bennett is reported to believe that opposition to him was based on the “toxic” partisan atmosphere of Washington D.C.


No, reasoned opposition to Bennett’s actions in the proposed bill have nothing to do with his efforts to work “across the aisle”, they are purely objections to what the bill contained.  It mandated that citizens must purchase health insurance.  See, people don’t like Big Brother telling them what to buy.  (A critical component of opposition to the bill that did pass as well, by the way.)  It doesn’t matter whether Big Brother is using his Democrat hand or his Republican hand, it’s the action of the government trying to direct citizens that doesn’t go down well.  (That’s a peculiarly American political thing; the country was formed largely in opposition to an overpowerful government, and established on principles of small central government and self-governing freedom.  Almost everyone rebels when told what to do, we’re just wired that way, but the trend seems to run deeper and broader in America, French guillotines notwithstanding.)

Cooperation across the aisle tends to be a healthy thing.  The problem isn’t cooperation, if there’s a problem, it’s with what that cooperation produces.  When the Democrats and Republicans cooperated on a bill that the people didn’t like, the bill is the problem (and to a degree, the people who supported it), not the principle of cooperation.

It’s amazing to me that the vast majority of commentators don’t see that, and instead, try to frame the discussion in partisan terms.  It’s not a surprise, since that sort of juvenile debate tactic has reigned supreme for a while, ever more acrimonious.  It’s just… an affront to logic, common sense, and rational thought.  It’s also a fine way to dodge the real issues that should be debated, namely the results of the bills in question and why people might be bothered by what they mandate.

It’s not unlike the puerile fanboy arguments that we see in the console wars or the endless debates about WoW vs. MMOoftheMonth.  When the arguments turn more to namecalling and ad hominem attacks, the real issues are lost.  Sometimes, that’s because the real issues aren’t really anything to argue about, since they are merely matters of opinion and taste.  Arguing to try to prove someone else’s opinion is wrong never really accomplishes much.

The more troubling times are when the real issues are decidedly worth discussing, but neither side of the debate wants to address them.  As in Bennett’s bipartisan proposed bill, the discussion should have been about whether or not people wanted to be forced by the government to buy health insurance.  Increasingly, the debate in American politics isn’t so much Republicans vs. Democrats, it’s the People vs. the Government.  The Rs and Ds both want control, and the people want to govern themselves.  The niggling little details about what form that control takes isn’t the issue that should be debated, rather, the existence of that control in the first place is the big question.

It’s like the idiotic debates from the 80s about “Coke” vs. “Pepsi”… as if those were the only drinks that anyone would even consider imbibing.  It’s the nature of any rivalry played to the crowds; Red vs. Blue, F2P vs. Subs, Engineer vs. Soldier, White vs. Black, Boxers vs. Briefs, Sox vs. Cubs, Horde vs. Alliance, Edward vs. Jacob and so on.  The polar argument takes on a life in itself, totally distorting any reasoned critique of surrounding issues.  (Twilight is still atrocious, whichever team you’re on.)

It’s almost as if the Rs and Ds are arguing about how the deck chairs on the Titanic need to be arranged, and anyone arguing with them is demonized, while the citizens just want them to get out of the way so they can board the lifeboats.  It’s no surprise that some of those squabbling power brokers get tossed out of the way when the people start to panic a bit, and the boat lurches seaward.  Suggesting that the people did so because the deck chairs weren’t the right color, or because the arrangers cooperated on one chair is extremely selective interpretation of events, and a gross misunderstanding of the real issues at hand.  Just get out of the way!

So, while this particular article is rooted in a singular political event that may well show hints of voter patterns to come, it’s really that sense of larger issues that I wanted to underline.  We can’t afford to get lost in the trappings of idiotic debate tactics that dodge the real questions.  Bread and circuses can keep people entertained and busy, certainly, and picking sides creates an investment in the show… but more often than not, it’s not the show that’s important.  Remember that magicians want you to be distracted while they work their sleight of hand.  Less benign characters also benefit from such distraction.

tl;dr version?  Learn to read between the lines, ignoring partisanship and fanboy shrieking.  Find the real issues, and don’t be distracted.  Dig deeper than “Paula vs. Simon”.

Edited to add:

The particular case of Bennett also reminds us that the sense of political entitlement and inertia is a fickle thing.  Bennett’s record is fairly conservative, but screwing up on a few big ticket items really can be enough to make people mad… if they are paying attention.  (Not unlike WAR’s recent billing issue; a significant blunder can totally destroy the goodwill banked in the past.)  I think it’s a healthy thing for politicians to be afraid of their constituents, and to realize that their job isn’t assured.  It’s good to know the people are watching, and have the power to change things.  The uneasy truce between the power brokers and the people, fueled by healthy distrust and leeriness about abuse of power, goes a long way to forestall any huge abuses.  That’s what the balance of powers in the U.S. Constitution is all about.

A while ago, the Illinois Senate seat that Ted Kennedy held for a dynastic 48 years (in itself a symptom of entitlement issues) was up for grabs after Kennedy’s death.  It went to an upstart Republican (Kennedy being a Democrat), seen by some as a signal that people are tired of the “same old” politics.  Incumbents tend to enjoy a significant edge in most elections, partly because people fear change, and have gotten used to the gravy train.

Still, it’s not wise to push people too far, and increasingly, American leaders are doing so.  Bennett is, in some ways, a victim of larger societal forces at work, but blaming those on partisan hackery is missing the point.

That’s not to say that there’s no partisan bickering.  There is plenty of that sort of nonsense at play.  It’s just not the real issue, and getting caught up in it doesn’t solve anything.

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