Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
 
The Favorites of Selune - Skin Deep - Session 1

The previous session ended with the Favorites of Selune handing over their weapons peacefully to the ruffians guarding the euphemistically named seamstresses' guild (I had expected that they would be bored at that point and start a fight). So this session starts with them meeting Madame Emerine, the guild mistress (and brothel madam). They manage to convince her that it wasn't them who killed Belina, and get their weapons back. What Madame Emerine knows is that since recently Belina had a special secret client, whose identity she doesn't know. But Belina's brother Irv acted as a go-between and thus should have that information. Only problem is that Irv believes that the sorceress in the group is responsible for the dark magic that killed his sister. To help finding the boy and convincing him otherwise, the group hires Beatrice, the scarred woman who is the protectrice of the guild to escort them for three days.

They find Irv near the tavern at the market, but he is afraid of the group and tries to run away. [I handle that as a skill challenge. Not my favorite part of 4E, but at least players get to roll some dice in a session otherwise having only role-playing.] They catch Irv and with some sweets and diplomacy manage to persuade him that they only want to help finding Belina's killer. Irv reveals that Belina's lover is Prince Ular, commander of the guard, whom the group already met in the previous session. The prince even wanted to set Belina up as his mistress in a house somewhere.

The Favorites of Selune then interviewed some other potential witnesses: One couple that had dined in the tavern at the time they arrived, but as they hadn't stayed the night they knew nothing. So they visit another local couple, who had stayed the night due to renovation work in their home, Master Dynrod the leatherworker and his wife. They find Master Dynrod in his workshop where he is making a bellows, but he and his wife didn't hear anything that night either.

So finally the group goes to the palace, where they have an appointment to make a formal statement. They are treated not very friendly, left waiting for an hour before being led to the guard commander, Prince Ular. The prince clearly suspects them, and interviews them for a long time in a hostile tone. The group offers to use a raise dead ritual on the dead girl [something I hadn't planned for, so I improvised here], but the prince said that this ritual was already being cast, and that there would be a line-up tomorrow. While the interview is dragging on, the door opens and a guard announces the prince's sister, Princess Taidra. Taidra is a very beautiful woman with long blond hair, and very charming to the adventurers. She demands of her brother to let them go, as she is convinced that it was "the Underdark menace" who killed the tavern wench. As the prince only has suspicions and no evidence, he has to let the Favorites of Selune go.

So the group returns to the tavern, where in light of the events of the previous night they set up a guard rotation this night. In the early hours of the morning the guard suddenly sees a black cloud appearing in the room, but falls unconscious before he can raise an alarm. Waking up a bit later, each player [I took them aside one by one] sees the following: His friends are gone, and the character now finds himself alone in the room with five dark-skinned gnomes. In fact all six players have been transformed into svirfneblin, but don't realize their own transformation at first, only seeing the other five group members in that form. Having asked each player individually for his first reaction, we rolled initiative. I was lucky, the two players who *didn't* just call out rolled the highest initiative. So we got the hunter firing two arrows at the warrior, while the druid jumps out of the window while calling for help. [Very fun scene.]

Finally the adventurers realize what happened, and they also are immediately aware that with all that talk of the Underdark menace, they wouldn't be very welcome in the city, and risk being attacked on sight. They call back the fleeing druid, and while looking out of the window find a bellows outside, with its nozzle pointing inside the room through a hole in the wall. They take that bellows, and find a maker's mark from Master Dyson, and residue of a greyish powder. As the druid already called for help, they hurry to grab their things and flee through the tunnel they discovered in the previous session in the cellar, leading out of town. Having been awoken by the druid's call for help, the innkeeper is awake downstairs. He adds to the chaos by now also calling for help, shouting that there is "an invasion from the Underdark". The group reaches the cellar, and flees town before any guards arrive.

The druid of the group remembers that there is a higher level druid living in a forest to the south of the city. And as druids know about transformations, they decide to head there. When the sun goes up they notice that as dark gnomes the sun hurts their eyes. They also have lost many of their racial abilities, them having been replaced by the racial abilities of svirfneblin. Reaching the shade of the forest is better for their eyes, but after a while in the forest they come across a group of kobold shepherds with the flock of drakes, who immediately attack. As it was getting late, we decided to do that combat in the next session.

 
Triple A games for the masses

The sales strategies for video games for different market segments appears to be pretty much set: On the one side we have expensive triple A games for a small hardcore market, and on the other side we have cheap or pseudo-free games that sell millions of copies to casual gamers. You only earn small amounts of money per game on those casual games, but as your production cost are low and you sell so many copies (or make money from a few whales among lots of free players), overall you make a profit. But what if you could have the best of both of these worlds: A game that sells for $60, which also sells millions of copies to not-so-hardcore average gamers. How could you get there?

Well, one thing to consider is that if you design games in a specific genre for a hardcore audience, you tend to add more and more features to it. That moves the game away from the average customer's needs. So if you want to make that triple A game for the masses, you will need to make the most generic version possible, one which appears to be rather bland and unexciting to the hardcore players. You will need to make the everygame for the everyman, a game that is clearly identifiable as being at the very core of a genre without adding anything new to it. A game that doesn't require familiarity with the genre to play, because most of your target audience is people who don't usually play such games.

Then of course you will need to market your game in a different way. You need a much bigger advertising budget. And you need to concentrate on advertising your game in places where regular people will see it, from bus stations to regular newspapers and TV ads. The specialized gaming press isn't your focus here, they'll write about your game anyway once everybody is talking about it.

If you look at this plan to make a triple A game for the masses, it might look somewhat familiar. Isn't there a Destiny advertisement at your bus station or in your newspaper? Haven't you just read some Destiny reviews calling the game generic and lacking innovation? Hasn't the game shipped $500 million worth of copies at launch anyway? Haven't you played the most generic MMORPG with millions of players and the most generic RTS with millions of players from exactly the same company?

I think that if you see the mediocre reviews of Destiny in specialized gaming magazines or on Metacritic, you might be getting a wrong impression of that game. Who needs a high Metacritic score when you target customers who don't know about Metacritic, but read the positive stories in the Washington Post instead? I don't think Activision Blizzard worries much about the bad opinion some core gamers have of their games as long as those games make millions of dollars. And they do. If there is one company that has understood the secret recipe to making extremely profitable triple A games for the masses, it is Activision Blizzard. If you hate their games, it is because you simply aren't their target audience. If their games appear well crafted, polished, but somewhat generic and inoffensive, that is by design. And the ultimate joke is that the core gamers are going to buy the games anyway, because they can't afford not to know the game everybody is talking about.

Monday, September 15, 2014
 
Movement in video games

Try a little exercise: Stand on one spot and try how fast you can turn a full 360°C. You'll find that it's not so fast (especially if there is friction on the ground and you can't spin on one foot), usually it would take over a second. I was reminded of that when I played Destiny on a console, where rotating around your axis with a gamepad takes about that realistic amount of time. It would also be the time it would take to rotate in many PC games if you use the keyboard to turn. Only if you use a mouse on a PC you can suddenly turn much faster, a fraction of a second, depending on your settings.

That made me wonder why developers don't put some mechanism in which makes such a movement the same speed regardless of which form of input you use. It certainly works in World of Tanks, where the speed with which you can turn depends on your tank, and not your mouse settings. But then again you also have an obvious advantage in a shooter game if aiming with a mouse instead of gamepad. I wondered if I was doing well in Destiny because the game *assumes* that I'll be slow targeting the enemies, as the gamepad is my only option. Do PC shooters require faster aiming, because faster aiming is possible?

With the army using video games for combat training, one has to wonder how realistic movement in video games actually is. Not just the speed of turning. But for example most games allow you to walk sideways at the same speed and ease as forwards. Try that is real life! I hope we aren't training our soldiers to do things like circle-strafing, because that wouldn't really work so well in reality.

Do you know of any video games with more realistic (and thus slower) movement? Does that work for a game?

Sunday, September 14, 2014
 
Destiny first impressions

Disclaimer: These impression are based on a free copy of Destiny for the PS3 that I received.

Reviews are frequently based on a comparison of the reviewer's expectations with the actual product. I didn't have any expectations for Destiny, which is why my impression of the game is generally a positive one. I've been playing a Titan up to level 10, through all content of Earth and some content on the moon. And as I don't play so many shooters, and especially not console shooters, if anything I was positively surprised how much fun Destiny is. Apparently the game was hyped a lot before release, and many reviewers correctly pointed out that the game isn't the second coming, but as I said, it depends on what expectations you have.

That is not only a problem for reviewers, but also for players. Destiny is a hybrid between a shooter, and a MMORPG, on a console. Which means it suffers from certain limitations of shooter games, of MMORPG games, and of console games. People very much involved with one genre tend to overlook the inherent limitations of that genre, but with a hybrid game the fans of each genre discover the flaws of the other genre, and that can grate. Plus if you usually play on a PC, the console brings some extra problems, like long loading times and fiddly controls.

The world of Destiny is a curious mix of MMORPG open world zones and linear shooter levels. That isn't just visually, but the rules actually change if you leave the open world and enter a shooter level: Suddenly your respawning is limited, and death brings you back to a checkpoint, resetting all events back up to there. But because it is an online game, there is no pause function. Too bad for you if your phone or doorbell rings, or there is some other real life intrusion. On the positive side your checkpoint is saved even if you log out, so you can resume the action at that point the next day. You can even first fly back to the central hub, The Tower, identify found items, buy some new gear, and then continue in the middle of the fight where you were. You can use that to get around the silly feature that if you die because you ran out of ammo, you'll respawn with still no ammo. Flying to the tower won't fix that, but the gunsmith there sells ammo refills which do.

You play one of three character classes, Titan, Hunter, or Warlock, a weird mix of SciFi and Fantasy. I'd love to tell you what the difference between the classes is, but I can't. Because if you start a new character and play him through the intro up to level 2 and the Tower, the three classes play pretty much the same. You attack is determined by your weapon, which is the same in the intro for the three classes. There are differences in the stats, the grenade, and the melee attack, but these differences are small compared to a MMORPG, where you would expect a warrior and a warlock to play very differently. When gaining levels, you gain class abilities, so later there is presumably more difference between the classes, but I didn't play several classes to higher level to find out.

Combat plays mostly like in a shooter game, but with a weird system for weapons: Unlike in a MMORPG, a higher level weapon does not necessarily deal more damage. Instead the weapon has an attack value, which basically determines up to what level of enemies you can damage with it. How much damage it deals is determined by the weapon's impact stat. So if you exchange a low attack value, high impact weapon for a high attack value, low impact weapon, you will do *less* damage to lower level enemies, and only starting from a certain enemy level the change makes sense. This also explains why you can get high level weapons by doing low level missions: The higher level of the weapon doesn't really make a difference in a low level mission. There are weapons with low impact and high fire rate, and vice versa. It might be just me, but I think the high impact weapons are better, because enemies move very fast into cover and thus you don't necessarily always have the opportunity to spray them with many bullets. A boss mob with a regenerating shield can be a tough nut to crack with a machine pistol, but get one-shotted by a sniper rifle headshot.

Destiny's biggest weakness is it's limits to interacting with strangers. In the open world you kind of auto-group with anybody close to you. But in the darkness zones of the story missions you are alone unless you invite up to two other people into your fireteam. Which only works well if these people are already on your friends list. As there is not keyboard there is no typed chat, and the voice chat only works inside a fireteam, so you can't use it to find a team either. Fortunately the strike missions don't have that problem, there you'll automatically be grouped with other random players if you didn't bring your own friends.

Overall Destiny isn't the world's best shooter, nor the world's best MMORPG. But the weird hybrid kind of works, so it isn't a bad game either. One certainly can have hours of fun with it, even if one isn't an expert in console shooters. Having hit level 10 in less than one weekend, of a level cap of 20, Destiny apparently follows the MMORPG convention of short leveling, long endgame. And I can't say yet how engaging that is going to be. As neither "raids" nor PvP interest me much, I might not even play the endgame very much.

Friday, September 12, 2014
 
If you have GMail, check this tool!

A list of 5 million GMail addresses was published, together with *a* hacked password for each. According to Google those passwords must have come from somewhere else, because mostly they weren't GMail passwords. If you used that somewhere else password for GMail too, you have been notified by Google already. If you haven't been notified, you can use this tool to see if your address has been compromised.

Unfortunately it doesn't tell you WHICH of your passwords from somewhere else has been compromised. So it could be one of many gaming sites that have been hacked over the years where you used your GMail address as UserID.

For me that was the opportunity for some drastic action: I made a list of all the games and sites that I have an account on, and changed them ALL. That took hours, but because I used a list of freshly created strong passwords, all my accounts should now be secure. Some of them already had extra protection, e.g. the authenticator from Battle.net and some other 2-step verification systems, but I changed their passwords anyway.

So how do I store all those passwords? Old style, written down in a book hidden in my library. It would need a weird combination of burglar/hacker to get that list. And because it is hand-written with no trace on a computer, the list itself can't be hacked. I prefer that system to Password Manager software. If you have a password manager on your home PC, what do you do if your hard drive crashes and all your passwords are irretrievably lost? Sorry, I trust paper more than I trust software.

 
Selling out

In the interest of full disclosure I'd like to report that I received a code for a free copy of Destiny yesterday. Given recent events, that of course made me think: Will I get death threats from Woody or other people who consider free games for bloggers to be corruption? I thought it might be time to repeat a previous message of mine on the subject of selling out.

I believe that everybody has a price. Mojang is currently selling out, but for $2 billion, who can blame him? Me, I have a standing offer that you can buy my complete blog for just $100,000. I never even adjusted that for inflation or the Euro/Dollar exchange rate. If you pay me $100,000, I'll sign over the blog and the Tobold identity to you, and you can market your game with fake reviews and recommendations under that name as much as you like.

Having stated my price, I would also like to point out that I am not corruptible for less. And I very much assume that this also the case for most game writers, whether blogger or professional journalists. Yeah sure, we will take your free game, we will take your swag bag, and if you want to give us a tablet, we will take that too. Just don't expect us to change our opinion because of that.

A free copy of Destiny means that I will play that game, which I might not have done if I hadn't received it for free. This *will* increase the chance that I write about the game. It will *not* change what I write about the game. My review of a hypothetical bought copy of a game and a free copy of the same game would always be identical. Now there are small indie games where me mentioning or reviewing a game could possibly make a difference, as exposure is more important for an indie game than what exactly the review says. But for an AAA game like Destiny there is already a huge exposure, and the handful of readers of my blog won't make any difference. I received the free copy with no obligation attached or mentioned, just "Hey, I like your blog, do you want a free copy of my latest game?" from a game developer.

Everybody has a price, but most people aren't cheap. It is not as easy to buy a favorable opinion as you might think. Unless, of course, if you are prepared to pay those $100,000.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
 
Refining the question

Syp is asking whether special editions are getting too pricey. I don't like that sort of question, because the word "too" is always a judgement. And whether something is "too pricey" is not only subjective, but also depends very much on personal disposable income. I'm sure there isn't a special edition anywhere which would be "too pricey" for Bill Gates.

But let's refine that question. Whether a special edition is too pricey depends among other things on what exactly you get for your money. And that quickly gets us to the related question of what game developers can put into a special edition without pissing off the customers of the regular version. Syp mentioned how the $100 Imperial Edition of the Elder Scrolls Online came with a race that regular players couldn't play, which caused some controversy. Imagine the regular edition of a MMORPG came without raid content, and you would need to upgrade to a twice as expensive edition in order for you to be able to participate in the raid content. Good idea on paper, but I doubt it would go down well.

Things that do not provoke any protest are usually physical items, not in-game items. Collectors editions containing CDs with the soundtrack, or books with artwork, are not very controversial. But those items actually cost money to make, so much of the extra income from the collectors edition is then eaten up by the cost of producing that edition. Which is why increasingly the main selling point of special editions is in-game stuff, which is cheap to produce. That stuff is then valuable to the customer *because* the other players in the game don't have it.

Gamers have a strong sense of entitlement. In real life the answer to the question of why your neighbor is driving a nicer car than you is relatively obvious: He paid for it (or got it as part of his job contract). Most people are okay with that in real life. In a massively multiplayer online game many people are not willing to accept that somebody else has nicer stuff because he paid for it. It is one of the principal objections to the Free2Play business model that somebody else might end up with paid-for nicer stuff. And special editions are based on the same tactics of price segmentation that Free2Play games use.

So basically game companies have two option: Either they limit the in-game stuff content of special editions, in which case they will also have to limit the price. Or think of some really great in-game stuff they could pack into special editions (also available as upgrade to the regular edition you bought), and hope that the additional profit is higher than the loss of sales from people who won't play a game like that. My guess is that we will see at least some attempts of the latter.

 
Player agency, death, and battlemaps

One of the more important concepts in how to run a tabletop roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons is player agency: The concept that the players should feel that their destiny is in their hands, that they have choices, and that the outcome depends on their choices. Some people believe that to mean that you can't prepare adventures and only ever should run completely improvised sandbox games, but that is not true. I would even say that to make meaningful choices there have to be a number of certainties in the game world, and NPCs with their own agency working against the players. But in this post I would rather talk about two details of running a D&D game, and how they relate to player agency.

The first thing is character death. If you play a MMORPG, you usually have a way of determining how difficult a combat will be before you start it, some indication of the level of the monster or whether it is an especially difficult boss mob. Dungeons & Dragons doesn't have anything like that, except in the form of player experience: With time you get a general idea how strong certain common monsters are. But ultimately how hard any combat is lies in the hands of the Dungeon Master. There is no such thing as built-in balance in the system. If a DM *wants* to kill the characters of his players, that would be extremely easy, he just has to bring some monsters the players don't know and which are impossible to beat, and then create a situation where they can't flee.

The ideal combat is one where the players have agency because the fight is balanced in a way that if they play well, they succeed, and if they play badly, bad things will happen to them. But as things rarely are predictable in a game of D&D, one has to take into account the inherent randomness of dice rolls. Which is different in the different editions of D&D: Randomness is more likely to kill you in a system with low health pools and high damage, like the new 5th edition. Now some people suggest removing that problem by the DM fudging dice. But in a discussion of player agency it should be rather obvious that the DM fudging dice to achieve a desired outcome is just the opposite of player agency.

One way around that problem is one that is common to both 4th and 5th edition: Character death with a strong safety net. The rules for character health and dying are set up in a way that it is likely enough to reach 0 health and fall unconscious, but from there to "your character is irretrievably death and you need to reroll" there is a very long way. There are several rounds of death saving throws with opportunities for the other players in the group to save you. And, already present in previous editions, there is the possibility to raise the death. It is this safety net system that resulted in there having been only 2 character deaths in 3 years of my campaign. The advantage of the system is that you get all the drama of clear and present danger in combat, without losing the player agency of death being a consequence of player choices.

The other important point in having player agency in your game is whether you run combat as a theater of the mind style or with figurines on a battlemap. Many DMs prefer the theater of the mind style because it demands a lot less preparation and gives them a great deal of control. But if you look at this control under the aspect of player agency, you realize that the control the DM has is because the players have less agency in a theater of the mind than on a battlemap. Communication between DM and players is always imperfect, theater of the mind never creates the exact same image of a situation in the mind of the DM and in the mind of each player. Thus every action of the player is subject to a veto of the DM, the "Mother may I?" style of play. On a battlemap not only has everybody got the same information, it is also undisputed whether a monster is in the range of your attack, or which characters and monsters are going to be affected by an area effect spell.

That brings me to one important aspect: The DM is a player too. It is only logical that he wants "player agency" too. And there are ways to run a good campaign in which both the DM and the players have sufficient agency to make the game fun for everybody. But there are situations where the DM agency is directly opposed to the player agency. And I believe that in those situations it is best if the DM lets go, and transfers a maximum of agency to his players. Which for me includes using battlemaps, not fudging dice, and going for combat encounters where the actions of the players determine the outcome.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
 
Gameplay vs. Story

I'm in the middle of my second playthrough of Divinity: Original Sin, and I'll probably stop playing there. On my first playthrough I used the Lone Wolf talent on both characters, which meant that they couldn't have henchmen and I played through the whole game controlling just two characters, buffed with additional health and ability points. On the second run I didn't use that talent, so now I control 4 characters, each of them having less health and ability points. That makes a nice change to gameplay, so combat remains interesting. But there is a large other half to Divinity: Original Sin, in the form of story and exploration. There are no random encounters, everything is scripted, and playing through the game a second time means having the same dialogues again, following the same story, and running through the same scripted encounters. Which gets boring fast. As it took me around 100 hours to finish the game once I would still very much recommend Divinity: Original Sin, but compared to let's say a less story heavy game with more random elements like Diablo, Divinity has less replay value.

On the one side you could say that the story is getting into the way of gameplay in this situation. On the other side I don't think I would have enjoyed the game so much if it hadn't had a story. The exploration of the world and the story contributed a lot to the entertainment. I get bored quickly of so-called rogue-like games where all you get is a random dungeon and gameplay with no story. And I tend to play through Diablo games only once (which isn't what that game is designed for).

That isn't to say that games can't be great fun if they have only gameplay and no story. Nobody ever complained about the lack of story in Tetris or Pac-Man. Even many modern casual games get along nicely without much of a story: Farmville, Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, they all are nearly exclusively about gameplay, not story. But once we get into more cinematic games on the PC or console, newer games get increasingly story-heavy. Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, The Last of Us, Batman Arkham series, Skyrim, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Deus Ex, there are a lot of AAA games out there which are essentially about story. And that can be problematic.

One problem I already mentioned is replayability. Often a game only has ONE possible story, with maybe a few minor variations or alternative endings. Playing a story-heavy game twice ends up feeling like reading a book twice, at the very least you wouldn't want to do it without a lengthy pause between.

The other big problem is that if the game has a story, there is a possibility that you don't like the story, even if you like the gameplay. My wife and me bought The Last of Us together, and tried to play it. But she didn't like the gameplay, and I didn't like the story, so after a short trial we both abandoned the game. There are a lot of zombiecalypse and horror games that I don't play because I don't enjoy horror stories (I might be too rational for them). I am also more likely to enjoy a historical or fantasy game than a science-fiction or superhero game. Everybody has preferences, and if a game is heavy on story, that story might not coincide with your preferences, even if you would like the gameplay.

Related to that is that the more cinematic games become, the more realistic the stories get, the more people might come into a situation where the story of the game clashes with their view of the world. And I'm not just talking feminists here, but for example there were a lot of people who objected to the world view of the Grand Theft Auto games. Russia rated The Sims 4 as 18+ game and "harmful", because characters in that game can be gay. And the Call of Duty airport scene caused a lot of discussion about video game brutality. I've even seen discussions about World War II war games which pondered whether these games should allow the Nazis to win. Dungeons & Dragons was accused of leading teenagers towards satanism.

Of course that is a problem that books and movies have always had. But the combination of story and gameplay is often thought to have a bigger impact on people than just reading a book or watching a movie. You often get into situations where because the game is scripted that way or because it makes it is advantageous from the gameplay side, you as the player commit actions that you would consider unethical or even evil in real life. And that is just in the game, there have been a lot of stories how then unethical or evil behavior swapped over from a multiplayer game into the real world. There is a fine line between considering your opponents avatar as your enemy in a multiplayer game and actually wishing the player behind that avatar harm. Although in the case of multiplayer games you could say that this has less to do with the setting and the story of the game than with the adversarial gameplay.

There is certainly a movement which thinks that games can be art, and as such could be used to tell more difficult stories and more difficult themes. And just like every form of art, that can result in a work of art as an expression from the artist which many people can't understand. I must admit I am somewhat puzzled for example by Mountain. There have been a number of games where there has been a discussion whether that software actually *is* a game, because they very much lacked gameplay.

In the end nearly all games contain some elements of story or setting and some elements of gameplay. Which is one of the reasons why games are so hard to review: Was it the story you liked or didn't like or the gameplay? But the interaction between the two is one of the factors that makes games special compared to other more passive media.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014
 
A very limited answer to a very limited question

I was reading Syl's post on Where all the Hate comes from, and while I agree with most of what is said there, I did stumble upon this question of hers on why some people attack so-called social justice warriors: "If you consider this briefly, it is a pretty horrible state to be in, to fight against social progress or those that speak for more inclusion and equality. How can anyone be against that?". And I would like to answer that question.

I am very much for more inclusion and equality. Having said that, I believe there are wide differences of opinion what exactly constitutes "inclusion" and what exactly constitutes "equality". Take one extreme hypothetical example: In a painting of the last supper, I would expect the twelve apostles to be white males. If I would read somebody loudly accusing Leonardo Da Vinci of being a racist, sexist pig because his twelve apostles aren't 50% female and have no minority representation, I would very much disagree. And even if an image is not strictly historical, I would believe that an artist's freedom of expression to show a group of bloodthirsty warlords as being male beats the feminist demand for equal representation absolutely everywhere.

In other words, I am *for* the large majority of the inclusion and equality that SJWs demand, and *against* the often outrageous demands of the extremist fringe of the movement. For me inclusion and equality for example mean that jobs and promotions go to the person who is most qualified, regardless of that person's gender, race, sexuality, or religion. Which means I am *against* "affirmative action" or "positive discrimination", because even positive discrimination *is* discrimination, and thus against the principle of equality. Two wrongs don't make a right.

There is not one party, movement, religion, or ideology in the world where I agree with 100% of the creed. I think of myself as a moderate, and we moderates are often left alone in this world, while the fringes enjoy very strong representation. Even moderate women have expressed their criticism of radical feminism, it is not a "male chauvinist thing".

Reading gaming blogs and sites, I do come across feminist ideas that I don't agree with. I very much understand women's objection against "booth babes" paid by game companies to attract young, male gamers. But I have seen feminists arguing that women who want to go to conventions dressed in sexy cosplay outfits should be banned, even if those women freely choose their outfit and aren't paid or otherwise encouraged to dress like that. Telling a women what she is allowed to wear to me appears an extremely sexist thing to do, even if the person doing so is a feminist and not a conservative male muslim cleric.

So in answer to Syl, I see how it is possible for people to be against some social justice warriors. A large majority of moderate people is very much for inclusion and equality, without necessarily being for every single demand of the feminist or leftist fringe. That doesn't explain the Hate, which is why I said that this is a very limited answer. The Anita Sarkeesian video certainly wasn't an extremist feminist view, in fact I considered it quite moderate. There certainly are a bunch of misogynist jerks out there in gamer land, and it is right to speak out against them (and I have). But you also can't demand a blank check from everybody for every single viewpoint every single social justice warrior might have.

 
Verified identities on Twitter?

Being signed up to various sites on the internet, I regularly get mails of the type "our Terms of Service have changed". Like everybody else on the internet I never read any ToS in the first place, so those mails are usually ignored. But today I got a mail from Twitter announcing changes to their Terms of Service and Privacy policy where I wondered whether there was something bigger behind it. The announced purpose of the changes is "to reflect new features we're testing (starting in the U.S.) to allow you to buy merchandise from some of the most popular names on Twitter, without leaving the Twitter experience". And the first of the changes is that "we may request additional account information to help us prevent spam, fraud or abuse".

That might be nothing. Or it might be a move towards verified identities on Twitter. In the recent culture wars there was talk about lots of fake Twitter accounts being created to give one person multiple voices and make a movement appear bigger than it is, because bigger movements then attract more followers. I don't know in how far Twitter would be worried about that. But if those fake accounts start buying merchandise with the new Twitter features, they sure would have a problem very quickly. It would not be unreasonable for a service where your account is able to buy stuff to require you proving your identity. And that would be a huge change to the way that Twitter operates today.

I am a bit torn here. On the one side I very much hated Facebook deleting my "Tobold" account due to that not being the name printed in my passport. On the other side I believe in John Gabriel's G.I.F.T. theory of online disinhibition. I would have no problem at all with a site where to the public I could be "Tobold", but the company running the site would have my verified identity, as long as that identity could only be used for law enforcement reasons, and not for example for marketing. I would have no problem at all with somebody who is making death threats on Twitter not being protected by anonymity. Obviously I would have problems with somebody making regime critical remarks on Twitter being shot at dawn, so the issue isn't as easy as that. But it would certainly be a debate worth having.

Monday, September 08, 2014
 
Love, hate, and professionalism

I was reading an article about recruitment at Blizzard, which talks about how lousy an industry this is to work for: Low job security, long hours, low pay. Not just the people who make games, but also the attached industries, for example the people who talk or write about games. And the official numbers just cover those who "made it", that is who have a job contract with a game company or news outlet. That is just the tip of the iceberg: There are many more people who either make games or report on games without having a contract.

An economists view of the situation is very simple: There are far too many people who would love a job related to games, and far too few jobs on offer. The reason there aren't more jobs is that we are already in a situation of oversupply of the market, there are too many games around. So the laws of supply and demand drive down the prices for games, and then drive down what the industry can pay to the people making games. There are people who love games so much that they are perfectly willing to work a game-related job or perform a job-like activity for free. Me for example. My income from donations to this blog in 2014? $25.14. I'm clearly not doing this for the money.

There is a word for people who work out of love, from the Latin word for lover, "amator". They are called amateurs. The word has both positive and negative connotations. If I work out of love, unpaid, and not in any way controlled by an organization, my standards might be not as high as those who work for money, the "professionals". On the other hand in other aspects my standards might be higher, because I am not worried about the commercial impact of my decisions. An amateur creating a game out of love would have the freedom to make the game he thinks is best, and not be pushed towards the middle of the road by some marketing types. An amateur reviewing a game doesn't have to worry losing advertising income from the game company.

I don't believe in things being black & white. Almost always everything is somewhere on a grayscale. I'm not 100% an amateur, because I have those $25 income from donations. And many of the people making games or reporting on games are part amateur, part professionals as well, being either low paid, or part-time employed, or freelancing.

Now there has been a lot of hate going around lately, accusing many of the people involved in making games or reporting about games of having a lack of professional standards. There has been talk of corruption. And just like so much else in this industry, even the corruption appears to be somewhat amateurish. The sums being discussed are one extreme case of $200 Nexus tablets, more commonly swag bags of under $50 value, and $10/month Patreon donations. Even a Nigerian minor border official makes more corrupt money than that.

Now personally I get e-mails every week asking me to put up some advertising or to promote some product in exchange for some money. And I always say no, there are no advertisements or paid-for promotions on my blog. The only deal I accept is reviewing a free copy of a game or product, and even there I only agree if I already had some interest in the product in the first place. If I would never buy a game, I wouldn't review it either, even if I got the review copy for free. Now I am very much on the amateur end of the scale, but I've been to a Blizzard convention with a press pass around my neck and went home with a swag bag. Actually I went home with THREE swag bags, because my wife and me had first bought tickets to the convention before getting a free ticket, and each ticket gave you the right to one of those swag bags. And you could say that these bags had some value, because there was a code inside for a WoW pet, and those codes sold for some money on EBay. Me and my wife used ours and gave away the third code to a friend.

Because ultimately, if you do something out of love, you aren't all that interested in the money. I cherished the press pass as a symbol of recognition of my work, but I didn't give a damn about the monetary value of the free ticket and swag bag. And so if I hear the story of the indie game developer who is flat mate with a freelance game journalist, I don't see corruption. I see two adults who earn so little money that they have to share a flat, who both love games, and who share a certain enthusiasm about games. If would be extremely weird if in that situation the guy who is programming a game at home because his company can't afford an office ISN'T showing his game to his flatmate.

While I am not 100% convinced that an adversarial relation between game developers and game writers would even be a good thing, I am pretty certain of the way we could get there: Pay both of them a decent salary. Which isn't going to happen as long as there are so many people who love games so much that they are willing to work for free or for peanuts. To me it seems somewhat mean to first pay somebody less than a living wage and then to complain about his lack of professionalism. On the other hand we might well be on our way towards more professionalism, because all that hate is going to drive away a lot of the people who work mostly for the love of games. If we continue that hate campaign, we could see less people interested in working for free, leading to higher salaries and more professional attitudes. Just don't complain if games cost $100 then. 

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