January 2006

Three reblogs

From Joystiq and other places: E3 to clean up its act, thousands of models to return to the porn industry. Thank god. Here’s a radical thought – maybe this year, I can go to E3 and, oh, I don’t know, get hands-on time with new games coming out next year. It’s a wacky concept, but it Just! Might! Work! (Edit: OK, false alarm. Everyone back to your boobiecams.)

From Greg Costikyan: Someone is so missing the point here. When Disney repackages the music you listened to as a sullen teenager in a perky kid-friendly brand, you know you’re REALLY old. This is NOT my beautiful house.

And finally, Something Awful teaches us the finer points of MMO etiquette. You should listen to them, as Goon guilds are ALWAYS paragons of virtue and kindness.

Cute Thought Police!

If you live in China, the Wonder Netops Twins are watching you.

Here’s a sample. Apparently, in the future, Big Brother is fond of annoying DHTML layers. According to this news story, the intent is to remind Chinese Internet users that they have just as few rights online as they do anywhere else.
Sadly, here in America, the Justice Department hasn’t yet hit on the tactic of cutesy mascots yet.

Why, yes, this IS why we have a Patriot Act.

The Justice Department is trying to data-mine Google.

As a result, government lawyers said in court papers they are developing a defense of the 1998 law based on the argument that it is far more effective than software filters in protecting children from porn. To back that claim, the government has subpoenaed search engines to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is “harmful to minors.”

“The government can’t even claim that it’s for national security,” Everett-Church said. “They’re just using it to get the search engines to do their research for them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.”

Tonight, on a very special episode of “Diff’rent Strokes”…

PC Gamer Just Says No (via TN)

For the record, PC Gamer\’e2\’80\’99s official stance on these types of companies is that they are despicable: not only do they brazenly break many MMOs\’e2\’80\’99 End-User License Agreements, but they all-too-often ruin legitimate players\’e2\’80\’99 fun.

To put it mildly, we here at PCG are furious that these types of ads ever made it into the magazine. We know that their presence has upset you, too, because we\’e2\’80\’99ve received, read, and sympathized with all of your emails saying so.

After months of behind-the-scenes talks with our sales department, I\’e2\’80\’99m extremely proud to announce that starting with last month\’e2\’80\’99s issue, PC Gamer will no longer accept ads or ad dollars from Gold Farmers. Screw them. As a company, we have agreed to turn down what literally amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual ad revenue so that you, as a reader, can game easy knowing that we\’e2\’80\’99ve got your back. I challenge my fellow PC gaming mags and websites to follow our path and to help us close down these bastard companies by attrition.

I’ve always been more of a CGW and CGM guy myself… but you go, Vede. You go.

He’ll balance the budget AND sacrifice a faun on the new moon.

If you live in Minnesota, you finally have someone willing to pick up Jesse Ventura’s mantle for responsible governance. Vote Vampyre World Party 2006! Finally, someone in American politics besides Dick Cheney willing to acknowledge Anakin Skywalker as their political mentor.

My sister has a saying, “Evil Begets Evil!” Well, starting in 2007, it will be the criminals who realize first hand, that there is someone more evil than they are, who cares about the safety and well-being of the innocent!

So if you agree with the potential of evil to safeguard the innocent (admittedly, a concept that really hasn’t been tried outside of Italian horror movies) vote VWP. Do it for the not quite yet fully disemboweled children!

The Second Opium War

Remember way back in the innocent days of the twentieth century? When we looked for the online game that would break the mass market barrier, and get, in a Dr. Evilish voice, ONE. MILLION. SUBSCRIBERS?

Those were such innocent days. I slaved away in a dot-com cubicle blowing off my lack of any real work to do by mocking these newfangled gaming things, and Clinton was still President, and Britney Spears was a talentless android.

Fast-forward to today. I jumped over the fence, and now find myself too busy at work to actually make fun of people any more. Kevin Federline makes us nostalgic for ‘Baby One More Time’. Clinton’s not President – but give her time! And the US MMO market is estimated, by most, to be at or around three to five million total subscribers. (The number’s all over the map, and really is dependent more than anything else on how much churn World of Warcraft is experiencing one year in.) Which is pretty respectable. It’s the size of a fairly small country.

China has over twenty six million.

That’s not just statistically significant quote — it’s statistically overwhelming. Even when you factor in that the Chinese market is insular, and that the average user pays far less ($4-$6/monthly vs. approx. $20 in the West) clearly, Chinese online gaming has succeeded to a far greater extent than those of us in the West. Visitors to China report, in one memorable line, Why do we make fun of Asian MMO gamers, again? John Smedley’s keynote at last year’s AGC, distilled down into one sentence, was that ‘Asia is our future, and I’m going to bring it here.

Yet when you ask the average Western MMO player about China? “Oh yeah. The farmers.”

It’s a stereotype that refuses to go away. Many of the farmers are actually in places like Indonesia or Romania (Eastern Europe is the actual sweatshop of the gaming industry, apparently), or, in the dirty secret most MMO players know and are hesitant to acknowledge, simply Western players who decided to clean out their guild’s accounts.

Still, there’s a lot of farmers in MMOs that speak Chinese. Which makes a certain amount of sense, when you consider that there’s an awful lot of everyone else in MMOs that speak Chinese. Twenty six million of ’em. Few of which actually play the same MMOs that we do — they’re too expensive, and few are localized in the Chinese language (WoW being the notable – and successful – exception). Instead they treat them as colonial beach heads, full of resources to harvest, while running roughshod over the natives who have some cultural objections to being treated as commodities.

Hmm. No, no parallels here at all, nope!

But the casual racism that erupts from this all is what bothers me, and I fear it’s a consequence of… well, vice.

You see, farmers don’t care about the world they parasitically draw sustenance from. They’re just there, looting and pillaging like any proper conquistador. The fact that their activities harm the game they draw life from, and could possibly harm it to the point of killing it (as could be argued is happening to Lineage 2 in the US) doesn’t phase them in the slightest. They’re just small fry in the food chain, after all. The suppliers. The real blame, if you could use the term in this context, really devolves to the dealers and the consumers. Which, dear reader, is you. Or someone you know.

And when you get this kind of rampant cultural imperialism, people tend to get irritated. We see it in Iraq. It’s little surprise we see it online as well, isn’t it? And much as the blunt instrument of American foreign policy results in anyone appearing vaguely Western being snatched off the streets of Baghdad and held for ransom, the typical MMO player generalizes the plague in their midst as being the enemy. And foreign. A dangerous combination indeed.

The answer? The same as any other drug problem. Dry up the market, and the “Chinese farmer” will return to pillaging other colonies. Games have to be either designed to be real-money-transaction resistant (liberal uses of instancing, a transparent economy that is in no way based on scarcity, and a design that makes the ingathering of wealth a function of casual gameplay which players in all tiers of skill can participate in) or simply support it up front and thus make the pimps that have used the gains of virtual vice to infest our community and purchase ‘respectability’ irrelevant.

Because it’s like any other drug problem. You can go beat up on Chinese farmers, or Colombian farmers, all you want. But really, in the end, you have to attack the supply line and reduce demand. And it’s not an easy task. The real world hasn’t managed yet.

But that’s the joy of MMOs – it’s a land of fantasy. And solving this problem is one fantasy I still cling to.

Flaming someone on the Net anonymously: Totally against the law!

Declan McCullagh of C-Net is the first with the word:

Buried deep in the new law is Sec. 113, an innocuously titled bit called “Preventing Cyberstalking.” It rewrites existing telephone harassment law to prohibit anyone from using the Internet “without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy.

Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

As near as I can gather, this means at least 80% of the content of every message board on the Internet is now illegal under US law. And you thought board moderators were bad before!