A response for Tesh-Out of Topic

September 30, 2010

This is OOT for Tesh, who posted on a subject here. Basically he’s wondering “what if we took this guy’s advice. Rather than write a novel in his comments section, here it is. Behind the break for your viewing pleasure. Edit: Break seems to be screwing up formatting, so I’m trying to change it.

He’s (market guy) clueless.

1. Tariffs on Chinese products if they don’t value up. He does know that tariffs on that level would not just kill the “$3 shirt and $30 DVD player” right? It would kill the entire consumer electronics industry as well as untold numbers of support businesses. Probably suicide a lot of others too.

2. Building Nuke plants. How the hell does he think we are going to pay for them? He rants about government entitlements, but a network of nuke plants across the country is a huge expense.

3. Welfare people working at nuke plants or being PUT IN JAIL. Oh come on. I have a friend who works in a nuke plant. It’s hard work, and long hours, and hard to impossible for a single parent to raise a family doing. It also requires serious background checks and security records.

This guy really sounds like someone who has no idea of what his suggestions mean.

4. Flat Tax: There’s a difference between making taxes business friendly, and destroying our ability to fund government. Plus, he’s just pissed off every single business making a physical good due to point 1. You honestly think businesses will flock to the USA when its shown they are willing to pull an Argentina and drive up the cost of making a business work?

5. Health Care: Good luck. I hope he accepts the increase in mortality and denial of care that both fixes will cause.

6. Immigration: lol. No seriously, lol. How in gods name does he think we are going to fund a police force capable of preventing even a sizable part of illegal immigration? Magic? Does he not ever think about the mountains of debt and funding its going to take to implement stuff like this?

7. Frauds/legalizing: Because no one abuses Oxycontin or other legal meds sold in a pharmacy, and no black market exists for them. And also because making every single businessman keeping his eyes over his shoulder due to hyper-aggressive fraud enforcement is going to make people want to be here. Sarbanes-Oxley worked so well, eh?

8. Mandating deflation. Soviet Union much? How much of this “natural progress” was due to what he wants to kill in point number 1 anyways? Yeah, lets kill off loans for speculation and consumption too, and gut the entire credit card industry. That’s not going to have ripple effects, no.

9. LOL: “We must then reduce the debt even though we just got into debt hell by a titanically expensive public works project, funding a huge police force to guard our borders, gutting our tax revenues, crippling our business gains through discouraging consumption and rising prices overall of goods across the board…”

Sorry man, I can’t avoid being harsh on him. I’m not against the need to radically change things, but these are not solutions, these are ways to make China the economic powerhouse of the 21st century. This sounds like a tearsheet of Libertarian fantasies with no basis in reality.

That was my response. Here’s a bonus: what life would be like in that system: Jenny woke up today, and groaned. It was work day, and the local nuke plant had her number. The plant was the only employer in town since the Ticker Tariffs killed a lot of local businesses by starving off their overseas supplies. The only thing left was Wal-Mart, and rumor had it that the government was slipping them money under the table to keep them in buisness. Most of the smaller chains had died a long time ago. That left the plant. Problem was that there were so many people the plant couldn’t fill the slots. So they hired “flex time” which meant most of the non-critical personnel rotated and worked only a few days per month.

They had to, since the vagrancy acts were passed: it was either work there, or go to jail. Unfortunately for most it was jail. See, they forgot that nuke plants had strict security when they passed them. That means anyone with even a slight criminal record was ruled out for working there. Jenny should know, her ex had been busted as a kid for several small-time robberies. He reformed, and found Jesus, and tried his best to help out. But in the end it was useless: he couldn’t get a job in the border police, he couldn’t get hired at a nuke plant, and he was too old for the army, so they just sent him back to jail. At least she was lucky: her friend Rosa’s husband was found to have been an illegal and got deported, and had no chance of getting back in.

Jenny wasn’t so sure she was the lucky one at times. It seemed like all her money went to keeping herself fed. Everything was more expensive: cars cost more because they were tariffed. People had to keep a flat percentage of money as a health savings account because most of the insurers folded up a long time ago. Even weed cost more: it was legalized and was reaching nearly 100 bucks a carton due to it being the tax whipping boy to make up for the lower flat taxes.

Jenny had a plan though. She heard that China was booming, and that since it was mostly men there now due to the disastrous one-child policy, they had a quiet need for women. So one day she hoped to pay a local Coyote enough money to get her onto the next boat to Beijing. Her mandarin wasn’t so good, but anything was better than being useless, right?


Why I’m not playing FFXIV-yet.

September 24, 2010

Drew asked me in an earlier comment if I had picked up FFXIV yet. I haven’t, part due to money being tight, but also part due to my time with FFXI. It’s not simple to explain, so I’ll give my personal history playing it.

I started playing FFXI at PS2 launch. Before that, I was playing with a small group of friends on Everquest Online Adventures, also on PS2. We had been looking forwards to FFXI for a while, and when it came to console we started playing. We were console players since Phantasy Star Online for the Gamecube.

Half of us left, Half of us stayed. I stayed, and wound up playing on Siren server a lot. Since I don’t have my PS2 or FFXI account any more, I can’t tell, but I played about two years.

Here’s the thing: that was actual playtime.

Yeah, I played a MMO for about 2 years of my physical life. FFXI launched on PS2 in 2004, and apart from a few months break I played it continually till maybe a two years ago. There were a lot of eight hour days, sometimes more in my worst moments. Not all of it was playtime in the sense of playing: leaving it on while I did other things happened too. I’m worried I may have played even more: without my FFXI account I can’t tell. I wasn’t alone either. A lot of people did. If you were in a HNM endgame shell, chances are you were unemployed just because its impossible to be in one due to pop timers and not be. My friend in game was.

I don’t really like raiding, and did a lot of bullshitting. If I had been more focused, I probably either would have leveled every single job to 75 or raided hardcore. There are 20 jobs in FFXI, and I had capped 5, with none below 37. But I spent a lot of time playing that game.

When FFXIV released I thought cool, but I started to worry some. You see, FFXIV is designed to make the transition from FFXI earlier. It uses all of the same races of FFXI, just renaming them. It uses even the same hairstyles and facemarkings. You can link your SE account to it.

While this gives continuity to the last game, it had the unintended effect of reminding me just how much I played FFXI. When 4-5 real life years pass while your main leisure activity is one game, being reminded of it tends to make you uneasy. I had fun, but still I’m uneasy.

For good reason, too. FFXI now is a beast, but the FFXI that released on the PS2 launch was a bare shadow of itself. FFXIV will grow to have an insane amount of content and probably the deepest endgame of any game, same as it’s parent. I’m not sure I can invest my soul into another game like it.

Oh, I’ll break down and play it sometime. But for now I’m not champing at the bit. I still have the internal dialogue running about how worth it giving that many years of my life to a game is, and if its possible to do so with its spiritual sequel. Right now I play Champions Online, and mostly because I can turn it off easily if I like. As for FFXIV we’ll see.

MMORPGs: Are they Dying?

September 21, 2010

Syp at Bio Break has written here about the common idea that games in the past were far better. It’s tough, because I agree 100% on the need to stop worshipping older games as the pinnacle of design. However he anticipated something unintentionally I have been thinking a lot about recently. I think that the “better” aspects are hurting MMOs. I’ll quote him here:

Have we lost some features and types of gaming mentalities that did make the genre richer?  I don’t doubt that we have.  But have we gained a lot as well?  From my perspective, definitely.  I take so much for granted these days in MMOs that I would’ve given so much to have back in 2002.  I sincerely do not miss forced grouping, overly harsh death penalties, and the feeling of being completely lost in a game world.

What we have gained according to his list is accessibility and the elimination of negatives. However, has the genre actually evolved? Or have flaws just been stripped away to attract more people? They have evolved, but in a way people may not like.

Lets look at the upcoming MMOs that people are excited about and what they add:

-Star Wars: The Old Republic: Full voice acting, and the melding of Mass Effect style story sequences and rail shooter  levels.

-Guild Wars 2: One of the things they trumpet is a Gears of War style revive system where party members can prevent you from a fantasy form of “bleeding out.”

-FFXIV: Gorgeous cutscenes and the story-based missions FFXI was known for.

-Vindictus: High quality game, but not an MMO. You play as pre-named characters, even.

Lets also look at some of the current MMOs. Global Agenda is a persistent FPSMMO. APB was the same till it shut down. A surprising number of F2P games are simply online console games you’d find on the PS2 or Gamecube. Star Wars: The Clone Adventures and Marvel Superhero Squad are multiplayer minigame collections. Champions Online is an MMO, but it’s segmented, instanced, and could almost be duplicated as a stand-alone console game. Need for Speed World could be as well.

My point is that it looks like the genre is changing in a way that is killing the MMO. All of these examples are not expanding on the concept of a virtual world, but are merging console and offline game conventions into MMOs to provide what Syp lists. The MMOs of the future will be net games: console games with a multiplayer component in order to eliminate piracy for AAA releases.  It’s already started. Go to Beau Hindman’s Rise and Shiny column at Massively and count how many F2P games he tries that stretch the boundaries of what a MMO is.

The future is MAG. People don’t remember that before Halo and Xboxlive made online FPS multiplayer work, Zipper Interactive gambled and won on SOCOM, proving that it could. With MAG I think they have anticipated the MMO market again, and while it’s a fun game, I’m betting its model will spread, with the unintended side effect of putting the final nail in the coffin of the open world. My bet is that when Call of Duty embraces this, we’ll start to see MMO makers even more choose the net game over the virtual world.

Interesting times to live in, no?

Charity and giving: a rant-turned argument

September 19, 2010

EVE is allowing people to donate their PLEX for Pakistan flood relief. Massively posts about it here. This was going to be a rant about it, but I found myself ranting less and trying to make an argument more, so here it is.

What I dislike a lot about the comments is that it’s automatically assumed that giving money to a charitable cause is a good thing. None of them seem to take into account a bewildering list of factors which make charitable giving often a minefield and counterproductive to the intended effect. Just the act of giving shows your sincerity and compassion, which is totally at odds with the reason you should be giving in the first place-to help others, not feed your own ego and feel good about it.

In this case, there are a LOT of reasons why you should be careful in my view. First is that they are dispersing funds to an out-of-country, non-audited agency: The Pakistani Red Crescent Society. While nothing is wrong at all with using local organizations and funds, and the society’s website shows an organization committed to humanitarian goals, it is worrisome to me. The PRCS used to be a Red Cross society and was recognized such in 1948. However there seems to be very little information and no independent auditing: while the governance page lists one of the duties of the executive council is to appoint auditors and review their audits, none seem to be listed.  Again, this isn’t something to go postal over, but it’s vital for a Charity organization to have independent auditing and transparency.

For example, one of their departments is PR, which they list the duties of as:

PRCS Information/Dissemination department was established in the year 2000.It looks after all the promotional, image building and advocacy campaigns relative to PRCS work. Moreover, It is involved in the external and internal dissemination of Humanitarian Values and Law & Fundamental Principles programs at all levels. The department has gone from strength to strength over the last four years handling the PRCS Website up gradation, development & production of Documentary &TV Spots, publication of a Quarterly Magazines & Annual Report.

From here on their site. This is not bad in itself: any charity must be able to support itself through donations and also put out its issues and mindset to inform others. But auditing is vital to ensure that not too much money is spent on these as opposed to getting the good works out to the people.

For a chilling example, according to Charity Navigator, Disabled Veterans of America spends a staggering 94% of its money on fundraising, leaving only 6% to actually help veterans. You can see the breakdown here. This is why auditing is vital. You wouldn’t invest blindly into a stock without doing due dilligence, right? Why do you blindly invest in other’s lives without doing the same?

Another problem is that we are being asked to give even more money to a country we have given BILLIONS of aid to recently, as well as forgiving similar amounts. People seem to be bashing anti-relief because it shows the USA is stingy, but according to a cursory wiki search, we find this:

Between 2002-2010, Pakistan received approximately 18 billion[26] in military and economic aid from the United States. In February of 2010, the Obama administration requested an additional 3 billion in aid, for a total of 20.7 billion[27].

Link here.

This was in order to bolster our alliance with Pakistan and enlist them as an ally on the War on Terror. It seems to be a huge failure, but this aside, there was nothing to stop that money being earmarked to make the kind of infrastructure changes that would lesson the pain of flood disasters.  This should also be a supplement to money already budgeted: our donations are not a safety valve to turn off the Pakistani government’s need to financially support its own people.

I’d go into the fact that despite all this aid, the USA is still seen as an imperialist devil by a lot of the countries on the globe, but that isn’t needed. Just simple common sense should show that something is seriously wrong with the way we give to other nations charitably.

To keep from writing a book, I’ll make one last point. I’ll set it apart for the TL; DR crowd:

The problem with natural disasters is not often the disaster itself. It’s the incompetence of the local or federal governments response to it, and/or the lack of steps they took to prepare for and mitigate future disasters.

Good, accountable, transparent, and just governance is VITAL to mitigate disasters. This is not downplaying how tremendous a potential loss of life typhoons and floods can be. If anything, the potential devastation they can cause makes it critical that the government be good, otherwise it compounds the loss of life and lays the seeds of future problems. The cause of famines in Africa are not the seasonal droughts: the causes are the corrupt governments that divert aid for their wars, or never budget to mitigate future disasters, and rifle the treasury for their own greed.

If anything I want people whether or not they share my personal views to at least think about how they spend their money. The USA is not going to get more prosperous, as our economy is slowly hollowing out due to entire job sectors being devastated due to technological change and foreign competition. Soon we may not have the money to give as the debt that prolongs are prosperity requires paying back, and our own entitlements promised to our citizens deplete us even further.

We cannot give like Christians. Christianity is held up as a model of philanthropy, but its aims in the worst cases are to do so not to effect long lasting change, but as a reflection of a person’s own saved status and forgiven state. Combined with its focus ultimately on heavenly matters, it can lead to giving for the sake of giving, and not giving effectively. Giving must be done to effect change and not to ameliorate short-term concerns or make you feel good. Even compassion needs to be tempered with a hard eye to make sure the best benefit is achieved. It’s because there is no shortage of disasters for those that don’t prepare.

Henry David Thoreau, bitter MMO vet

September 18, 2010

A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.


Do we have too many MMOs?

September 17, 2010

It looks like All Points Bulletin is going to be the shortest lived MMO in recent history as it closes its doors. Meanwhile, many games are embracing F2P as a magic bullet to get players and sales. Pirates of the Burning Sea is an example.

Maybe we should start asking if there are too many MMOs for the market to sustain?

When you get to the point where you need to make your core product free in the hope that people by add-on products, you are facing a saturated market. When people will not pay a tiny sum (and $15 a month is tiny. I can’t even get a haircut for that, but unlimited access to a game? No problem) and need to be cajoled and forced to pay by harmful game mechanics, it’s time to stop making them.

Why? Because they don’t think your work has value.

So the best thing in my opinion would be for MMO developers to take a long holiday, shutter a lot of their underperforming games, and turn to more profitable venues. We see that with devs jumping on trends, like social gaming. Reduce the supply of MMOs to increase their value.

Healthy PvP

September 14, 2010

It’s been on my mind recently, so here’s a short list of what I think would make a healthy PvP system:

  1. No difference between PvE and PvP specs. Champions Online forces you to build your character in a very specific way to enjoy PvP at the higher tiers. In EVE, ships are either PvP or PvE-PvE ships like transports or mining barges have little to no defense. Players shouldn’t have to redesign characters to enjoy PvP.
  2. Capped power differential at upper limits. PvP is about skill, but most systems emphasize builds and gear because they remove skill from the occasion by making large differences in power between characters. There should be advantages, but not insurmountable ones. Aion was bad this way, twinked level 30s decimated normal level 30s and even higher level players.
  3. No open world PvP. Open world PvP sounds cool, but it is  imbalanced through the use of numbers and level differences. Everyone raves about big fights, but the experience is often different: groups of players harassing solo or small players, and ganking. Battleground PvP tends to be a lot more satisfying due to limits.
  4. Optional. Make it forced, people will hate it. Count how many forced PvP games have any real subscriber base. Not many.

This may lean more towards the E-sport model of PvP, but to make any satisfying competition, you need to ensure a level of fairness. A lot of PvP is like a team of basketball players versus one kid who plays at a schoolyard. It’s based on a dynamic of rewarding time spent by power, and cementing advantage. That model doesn’t work.