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Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

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.

Edit:

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.

Nonsense.

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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OK, so $10 for a horse is apparently the harbinger of the apocalypse.  If Blizzard gives it wings, what then?

Is it OK when Blizzard, the holiest of the holy subscription games, dips its toes into mount sales?  Are they an Item Shop game now, further tainted by that pesky capitalism stuff?  *cue rabid fanboy ranting*

Does anyone think that Blizzard isn’t going to make money with this?

Much as I think fussing about this sort of thing is spitting into the commercial winds, I’m with Darren on this in one way; I’ll spend that $25 on a complete game, thankyouverymuch, and play it forever.  I can probably pick up Lost Odyssey for that on sale somewhere, or a few more Steam sales…

I don’t mind that this pretty, pretty horse exists, not at all, I just won’t be getting one.  Ripples of the commercial Cataclysm I keep suggesting, perhaps?

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I don’t think I’ll try for the trifecta of internet taboos this time.  I’ll save the religious stuff for Easter.  Politics and economics are intertwined, though, and unfortunately, considerably more important than some of the other articles I have simmering on the burner.

Karl Denninger has some new articles up that I’d like to highlight.

First, his obligatory “Year in Review” sort of post.  Lots of data with a side order of vitriol.  This will be an interesting year, what with the 2010 elections firing people up (or not, as the case may be).  Apologies to those of you who don’t care about U.S. politics.  I’m actually not a fan of politics, as it happens (politicians bother me), but events on that stage have a nasty tendency to affect the stuff I am a fan of, so it’s good to at least be aware of what is afoot.

Where We Are, Where We’re Headed (2010)

Then there’s this gem that not only roasts the mainstream media, but also serves as a nice reminder of the math behind housing and why we’re still not in a Happy Place economically.  Calling Geithner and Obama to task is icing on the cake.  (Don’t worry, he has blasted Bush as well.  Economic concerns are nonpartisan; both parties are part of the problem.)

The Mainstream Media Wakes Up (HAMP)

And if you’re a fan of the Time Man of the Year, dear old Ben Bernanke, Denninger has this to say of some of his recent comments:

Fed Bubble Blowing:  A Study of Denial

Denninger is a wee bit more… fiesty… than I might be, but he’s keyed into the financial markets, and considering the smoldering problems in that sector of the economy (that affect all of us), it’s been instructive for me to see what he’s concerned about.

The Christmas Eve shenanigans were interesting, too:

Fraudie/Phoney-What Does Treasury Know

When the legislation makes efforts to pass something while citizens are busy, it throws up a few red flags in my mind.  Similarly, when they say “this must pass NOW, or the world will end”, it bothers me, whether it’s about Climate Change, TARP or Health Care Reform.  I can’t help but think of hucksters telling me to “Buy Now, this deal will never be this good again!”, when almost inevitably, a little bit of homework and a bit of patience shows it to be the fraudulent sales pitch it really is.  Why is it that we offer politicians any more respect than cable TV sales channel pitchmen?  In my mind, both are modern day snake oil salesmen, only differentiated by the actual effect they can have on the population at large.

Speaking of snake oil, though:

The True Intent of Health “Reform”

“Global Warming” SCAM -Hack/Leak FLASH

Interesting stuff.

I know, I know, I usually talk about game design and happy shiny fluffy stuff.  Thing is, if societal acrimony increases while the economy burns as our leaders fiddle about with things best left alone, and we really do step into a Greater Depression, complete with political and societal upheaval, the New Happy Shiny might be more Big Brother Soylent Green than endless navel gazing in the MMO genre.  Jack Thompson isn’t the only “political” figure that stands in opposition to gaming utopia.

So… yeah.  That’s my New Year’s “Coming up Next” post.

Please pay attention to things that really are more important than games.  Don’t take my word for what is going on, don’t take Denninger’s word, don’t drink the Hannity or Huffington Kool-Aid.  Don’t trust government propaganda.  As Thomas Jefferson recommended:  Question With Boldness (OK, OK, there’s a hint of religion in the full quote, so I did get in the whole trifecta…)

Question everything, and don’t stop until you have the truth.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Questioning of Game Design.  (See, the philosophy works there, too!)

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HWFO is an acronym coined by the CEO of Three Rings (the brilliant minds behind Puzzle Pirates), Daniel James.  It stands for Hand Waving Freak Outery, and is often used on the PP forums as a disparaging remark to suggest that someone is overreacting.

Karl Denninger does his fair share of HWFO over at the Market Ticker (a fascinating blog about the markets and their dysfunction of the last several years).  But hey, overreacting is what bloggers do.  If we wanted dry, rational reporting on facts, we’d turn to the impartial, accurate, professional media.  I mean, that’s what they are paid to do, right? *cough*

Anyway, KD’s on a tear lately, with a bit more vitriol and urgency to his commentary.  It’s worth a perusal of his archives if you want to get a bead on what the markets are doing, and how the economy is functioning (or not, as the case may be).  You could be excused for mistaking his latest articles as the rants of an anti-Obama nutter, but the curious fact is that he voted for the guy and made a big deal out of pointing out the fact.  He wrote a few times about liking Ron Paul’s stance on the economy, but ultimately voted for Obama.  So remember that when you dig around and find him ranting and waving his arms about the problems he sees.  He wanted Obama to succeed (and probably still does; who really wants chaos and social breakdown?).

So, his take on the 9/12 gathering in Washington D.C. is interesting less for the inherent HWFO, and more for the observation that it’s not a big deal elsewhere in the media.  No, the big news of the day is about Kanye West behaving badly.  A million or more people marching peaceably on the capital in protest of government spending would be big news in a sane society.  (Though, really, some of the protest posters are way over the top.  Hyperbole doesn’t help make a good case.  Of course, when the people in charge are telling us that they Must Pass This Bill Right Nao!!1! or The World Will Collapse!!11!!!1, it’s not like everyone is behaving rationally.)  People are tired of the nonsense from both parties, and the economic abuses that we’re all dealing with.  (Remember Enron?  Bernie Madoff?  Chuck Ponzi?  When the regulators turn a blind eye to this sort of activity, or actively support it, the guy working for a modest salary can be excused for being a bit peeved at The Man.)

Also, KD’s article “An Address To Our Schoolchildren” was interesting.  Rather than more partisan HWFO about the President speaking to kids in school, he took the opportunity to point out a few key ideas that our kids really should be told.  As a bloke who detests current educational thought on math education, namely the blight that is Investigations Math, I really like telling kids how numbers really work.  Math is really simple; it’s pure logic.  The math behind the economy doesn’t add up to “All is Well, Party Hard”.

Short story long, not only is the economy broken in fundamental ways, but people are starting to understand it, and that has some significant long term repercussions.  We’re not yet dealing with a Network moment of national breakdown, and Soylent Green isn’t being served in elementary schools, but ultimately, we really shouldn’t need to have the Apocalypse in our back yard before learning to pay attention to social mood or political winds.  Whether or not we’re on the cusp of a real economic Depression (or something worse or something better), it’s smart to pay attention and be prepared.  Better to have a bit of extra food on the shelves and nothing crazy happen than to think everything is OK only to have a run on the grocery store tomorrow and be caught with your pants down.

Call it a Blue Ocean social strategy.  Pay attention to the news that isn’t in the mainstream media, and you might just find something interesting, and worth doing something about.  HWFO has its place, but it’s the quiet, subtle shifts that are often most important.   If you’re just paying attention to the big flashy stuff, you’re likely to miss a key point.  That’s how magicians work, after all.

Disclosure: I did vote for Ron Paul as a write in vote for President, and am thoroughly disgusted with the political parties, the establishment, and the media.  I’m nonpartisan; I can’t stand any of them.  This mostly caught my eye as an indicator of what is happening out there in a populace that isn’t happy with a broken economy.  When prevailing social mood shifts, it’s good to be aware of what is happening.  I’m not saying that this is The Most Important Moment in Time, but then again, we don’t often recognize history until after the fact, and social change tends to move in small steps rather than big leaps.  It’s best to try to figure out where trends might go when there’s time to plan ahead, rather than trying to react when the train wreck is imminent and unavoidable.  Some may call long range analysis a bit of HWFO, but I call it strategy.  Also, I’m not advocating any politial position here, just encouraging people to pay attention and to be prepared for the long term, however you want to do so.  It’s not Big Brother’s job to take care of your family, whatever party he’s coming from.  That’s your job, so do it.

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Pretty purple epic loot does nothing for me.

This is part of why:  Obsidian Hatchling

Note two key nuggets of information:

One, the Rarity is “Very rare”, kindly noted in pretty purple text.

Two, the cost and supply: “50gold (unlimited supply)”

To be completely fair, it is possible that something with unlimited supply could be very rare, if not many people are actually buying it.  That said, since gold is also itself unlimited (OK, throttled by time and per-character carrying capacity, but practically unlimited), there isn’t much of a limit to how many of these critters can be in the world.  I must admit, I’d love to see an Obsidian Hatchling swarm crash a server somewhere.  Yes, you can only have one per player active at a time, but the mental image of these little guys Zerging through a capital city just makes me chuckle.

Calling them “Very rare” is a bit disingenuous, and is likely more of an arbitrary selling point, rather than any reflection of accurate valuation or representation.  Perhaps it could be cynically noted that savvy customers already know this, but I can’t help but feel that something has been lost in the callous marketing.

“Rarity” in WoW is a better measure of the time investment than actual rarity.

It’s ultimately not a big deal, and I’m certainly nitpicking the nomenclature (something I’m no stranger to, considering my stringent objection to “black holes” in the most recent Star Trek movie), but it’s one measure of how sales and presentation are rather… flexible… in their interpretation of reality.  (It’s also why you need to do your homework when shopping or listening to those who are selling, and why Big Brotherish information peddlers are less than informative.)  The game goes out of its way to make everyone feel Super, which ultimately, undermines the point of being Super.  (Cue Syndrome evil laugh.)

True rarity just wouldn’t sit well with the current crop of MMO designs, for better or worse.  That’s not  “bad design”, just unappealing for some, and underwhelming for those looking for a little more meaning in their entertainment.  (Not everyone, to be sure.)  It falls into the same taboo realm as basing advancement on player skill, and really would be a niche design tenet.

To be fair, I’m not terribly concerned with true rarity, either.  If I’ve achieved something in the game, it’s a goal I’ve set for *myself*, and I don’t particularly care if it’s something that has been done before by someone else.  I don’t care for the pride and preening aspects of these things, either.  As a wise man once said:

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109-10.)  *Cited here: “Beware of Pride”*

At any rate, this is why I have a hard time getting worked up about gear in modern MMOs, or about “Achievements” that anyone with enough time (and OCD) can do.  It’s all about time and perception, and I have neither the time nor the delusion that these “epic rares” are all that epic (in anything but the grind to get them) or all that rare, and with the “Im speshul, yur not” and “true uniqueness” aspects removed, all these things are is indicators of how much time I’ve spent.  I choose to spend my time elsewhere.  (Yes, some things are vaguely skill based, inasmuch as they require raiding skill or social (asocial?) skills to manipulate a guild to do your bidding, but by and large, time is the biggest factor by far.)

By extension, it’s also why I can’t get worked up about playing these MMO things all that much in the first place, at least not long-term.  It’s fun to see your numbers go up and watch merely mortal mobs melt under your maleficent ministrations, but when it comes to feeling special as part of the game world, well… we’re all just heroes in our own minds.  Some of us play that role better than others (maybe because we have to to enjoy ourselves in a world of clones), but in the end, what do we have to show for it?

Are you really a rarity, a sparkling snowflake in a world of me-too caped heroes?  (Sadly, my Death Knight is no longer the only Sendoku.)

Somehow, I can’t make myself any more interested in being a level 80 Druid (or whatever) any more than I want to be an 80 year old Cube Jockey dual specced into Paperwork and Maintenance.  The journey itself has its share of great moments, certainly, but the destination is rather underwhelming, including the epics you have to show for it.  Perhaps a whirlwind spin through the Cataclysm will be fun, but like any good vacation spot, it’s not somewhere I’d really want to call home, or build a self image around.

tl;dr version, I’m still an Explorer, not an Achiever.  This applies to gear and loot as well as Achievements.

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