Dear Mister Harris: Because They Can

Gaming, General Interest, Miscellaneous, Rants 2 Comments

One Cliff Harris has recently asked why people pirate his games.  Unfortunately, I wrote my entire response to a mischaracterization by the slashdot article that pointed me to his question; they suggested that Cliff was trying to convert these warezers to sales, which on reading the actual article I’ve realized he actually is not.  Nonetheless, I coincidentally answered his question during my rant, and then towards the end I take it on more directly.  Still, there are a lot of people who want to know the answer to the question Cliff didn’t ask, so I’m leaving it in place.

Assuming that developers are missing out on potential sales from disgruntled pirates

… is a flawed assumption. Mister Harris appears to fail to understand the mindset of the pirate, who is a person who has confused what they want with what is ethical.

I’ve been running and co-running a number of small communities about game development for more than a decade now. Several of them have a real problem with pirates who show up looking for help with piracy. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a pirate and a kid using the wrong terms for things (“how do I build my ROM”, etc); as such there’s sort of an ongoing competition among the people who run these groups to see who can get these goons to uncover themselves the fastest, usually by feigning sympathy.

As a result, I’ve seen about three times as many warezers as the human population of Earth. Every single one tries to tell me, after they’re removed, how it’s not their fault they stole – the game is too expensive, or they don’t want to feed EA, or they’ll pay for it if they like it. Many of them have already forgotten that during the sympathy phase, they gave us lists of the games they had. Particularly galling are the people who brag that they have ROMs of every single DS game, or what have you, then turn around and pretend that it’s just due to cost.

With respect, Mr. Harris, you’re asking the wrong question. You could be selling your game for a quarter with a change accepting machine in their rooms; they wouldn’t buy your game. They’re out there getting every game they can find, often just for the bragging rights of having stolen more than their peers. Many of the people stealing your game haven’t even heard of it and will never play it. These people cannot be converted into customers; they are too used to theft to recognize it as such, invariably vomiting up the same tripe about a false and meaningless distinction between copyright violation and theft, because they don’t think of themselves as thieves and cannot face the honest nature of what they’re doing. These people will never voluntarily give up money for your hard work, and you cannot get them to stop taking your work.

There are two somewhat more legitimate questions you might ask, however.

The first is “how can I profit from these people.” That’s not the same thing as turning them into customers. For example, though I do pay for my games, I play a lot of free games on the web which I wouldn’t pay for (I’d just play more Civ instead.) DesktopTD is a great example: when it was news to me I would not have bought it because it looks poor, and by now I’ve played it so much that I don’t even play it for free anymore. During my addiction I might have paid a couple of bucks for it, but probably not, and the market doesn’t offer a sales mechanism that hits that phase.

However, DesktopTD has probably made about $3.50 from me by now. I’m not pulling that number out of thin air; I made an honest estimate of plays based on my best guess about when I found the game and how often I play, and ran it through the numbers for MochiAds. Admittedly, I’m not a warezer, so my example applicability is limited, and indeed I do know a few people who brag that they’re running ad blockers so they’re not inconvenienced with ten seconds of advertisement to put money in the developer’s hands, even though the developer is giving their game away. Most of these people, unsurprisingly, are warezers.

The other question is a bit more direct. Say you’re an interior designer. You’re brand new, the ad agency is several weeks from having your commercial on TV, but you have your cards and your flyers and business hasn’t picked up yet, so you decide to go drive around and make some people aware of your services. You have a choice: drive around the lower middle class neighborhood, where your services are needed more commonly, or around the rich neighborhood, where one uptake is worth twenty from the lower middle class neighborhood.

When it comes down to it, there are a huge number of people willing to pay $50 for a game. Those people expect games to have huge production values, grand sweeping storylines, volumes of beautiful artwork, a custom soundtrack and hundreds of cheat codes.

A one-man game designer can aim at the $5 or even $10 niche without problems; witness XBLA, WiiWare, the Apple store, et cetera. Even so, the one-man game designer is clutching at threads to get those sales; they’re just one person, and there isn’t enough time in the day to make what one of EA’s hundred fifty person teams can make.

What you’re going to find is that if you can just barely get the people who pay $50 to pay $5, then getting the people who won’t buy things at $50 to even spend $1 is damned near impossible.

So, lemme ask you a question in return: why are you driving around the lower middle class neighborhood?

I want to know why people pirate my games. I honestly do.

The answer to your question is simple: they do it for different reasons.  Some just want to play your game and don’t want to pay for it.  Some are collectors.  Some pirated your game because their pirate buddy said “you should try this game”; same word of mouth that you’re used to thinking of as driving sales to you.  Some do it because in some crowds it is a status symbol to out-pirate other people.  Some caught it in a torrent collection with a different item they want.  If your game features top of the line theft protection, some will pirate it because they’re offended you should want to protect your work, and see defying that as a way to stick it to the proverbial man.

More germanely, though, none of them face the reason they do it, so asking why they do it is going to get you a stack of excuses and hollow justifications.  One thing you’ll find out if you ask a psychologist is that even among the badguys, basically nobody thinks of themselves as a badguy.  There are books where psychologists of mafia organizers talk about how their clients have talked themselves into believing that their process of arranging protection and hush money, murdering people and running contraband is somehow necessary or vital to society, how they’re just “giving people what they want.”  It’s exceptionally entertaining in moral gray areas, such as when talked about by pimps, who are doing something that large parts of the world, including some parts of our country, see as acceptable.  The point, however, is better made with obvious scumbags, such as the people who arrange serial murder.

You can’t ask a person who won’t face who they are what made them who they are.  All you’ll get are their self serving fantasies.

They don’t know the truth any better than you do, sir.

Spore may allow model export of creatures

Gaming, General Interest 1 Comment

In an interview with Joystiq, Thomas Vu from the Spore team said there is a strong possibility that Spore will allow full creature model export to Maya, and possibly to other 3D systems as well.

Here’s to hoping they support the much larger tool ecology around 3D Studio Max.

IANA / ICANN Gambling! Place your bets, be a psychic

Bunk News, Competitions, Gaming, General Interest, Humor, Miscellaneous, Nintendo DS, Polls, Programming, Web and Web Standards 11 Comments

It occurred to me that I have a great way to prove the mighty powers of Nostradumbass.

[SB digg, reddit]ICANN has announced their intent to allow the registration of new gTLDs in a repeated auction process, starting for the princely sum of $100,000 for a handful of letters.  In IRC in debate the question came up how many vanity 1st level domains (hereafter vanity 1ld) would be purchased.

[digg-reddit-me]For the purposes of competition – and there’s no money involved, I just said gambling to whore diggs and such – a vanity 1LD is defined as a gTLD which represents the name of a person, company or organization.  This means that .porn is not a vanity 1tld, even though it’ll certainly be owned by a pornographer, because it’s named for its content.  By contrast, .microsoft is a vanity 1LD, as is .billclinton (which probably won’t get bought; I’m just being thorough in definition and Bill has a good sense of humor.)  If a 1LD is assigned on basis of trademark, it’s pretty much in like Flynn.

So.  Where’s the psychicitudeness?

I predict that approximately 950 vanity 1LDs will be purchased in the first auction.  (This has the startling price tag of ninety five million dollars minimum.)

Anyone want to play The Price is Right with me?  Place your bet in comments (preferably as a trackback; this is a new domain and I could use some rank).  Whoever gives the nearest answer to the number that turns out to be correct wins.  (No price is right rules; going over isn’t different than going under.)

Incidentally, if you guys are worried I’ll edit my post after the fact, just check Internet Archive for the day before the auction.  I can’t cheat; I’m being watched by www.bigbroth.er .

Bring it.  950.

A side note, about gaming

Competitions, Gaming, General Interest, Miscellaneous No Comments

Our good friends at DevKitPro want help exposing their project to a wider audience through the SourceForge Community Choice awards. DevKitPro is a deployment of GCC meant to facilitate development for console video game systems, including the Nintendo DS, the GameBoy Advance, Playstation Portable, Sega Saturn, GP2X, GP32, Nintendo GameCube and hopefully soon the Wii.

Some of you may know that I write Nintendo games commercially. DevKitPro and its antecedents were how I got my foot in the door. I’d like other people to know these tools are available, in case they have the passion too.

If you’d like to see other people able to make homebrew gaming happen for their consoles, cast your vote here.

Timeout?

Game Design, Gaming, My Games, Polls 4 Comments

So, I’m writing a web-based game, and I would like to know how people feel about timing out people who have disconnected. The game is a turn-based strategy game with moderately fast play, on the order of every 30 seconds to 1 minute, comparable to Reversi/Othello (Havannah, to be specific.) In particular, I’m not sure where to set the threshholds for a given person timing out.

My plan is to have three threshholds. If you’re playing a game, and someone disconnects, it’s generally for one of two reasons: their connection failed, or they’re quitting to avoid losing. On the one hand, I have spotty wifi at home, and I frequently lose connection for several minutes at a time, and I wouldn’t want to be counted a loser and a poor sport while I waited on my DSL modem to stop sucking. On the other hand, sitting around waiting for someone you don’t know is frequently the suck, and many people do quit to get out of a loss.

So, I’m setting the upper threshhold at 20 minutes. No matter what, if they log off and stay gone for 20 minutes, the game is discarded, and called in favor of the person still online. However, obviously I don’t want people to have to wait around for 20 minutes, so I need to set a lower threshhold. That threshhold will be the point at which someone gets to choose what to do. If I’m gone a little over the lower threshhold, the system will say to the other player “do you want to call it a tie, save it for later, or claim a disconnect win?” If it’s someone who doesn’t know me, they shouldn’t be forced to wait, and should have the option of calling it a tie if the game isn’t very far in, or if I’ve obviously been having connection trouble. However, they should also be able to claim a disconnect win if they smell a jerk.

It would be nice if they could call a tie or a save very early, much earlier than would be appropriate for calling a quitter loss, so the other two threshholds are those two issues seperately. The lowest threshhold is the “save or tie” threshhold, and it should be fairly fast. Someone can choose to ignore it if they want. The next threshhold is the “you quit to cheat” threshhold, and it should be at least somewhat patient. At the 20 minute line, the system will call it, no matter what.
So, the question is, how long should those two lower timeouts be? Twenty minutes is obviously far too long for either. On the balance, ten seconds obviously isn’t long enough; most people can’t reconnect that fast, and we need to be accomodating of people’s computers rebooting, of modem reconnect cycles, of DSL reconnect cycles, and so on.

I’m going to set a range of options. If you don’t see the time you want, feel free to add it; I’ll be using the distribution of answers, not just the most popular, so it’ll still count.
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MoonBooks!

Gaming, Miscellaneous, Nintendo DS, Various Blogs 1 Comment

So, I handed over some webspace to a guy on IRC who was converting books from Project Gutenberg for use with the bookreader in MoonShell for the Nintendo DS. He was trying to share a few books I recognized and they’re all legal, and his webspace was fail, so I figured I’d be goodbear and share.

Lo and behold, I take a look at the space I gave him – http://moonbooks.stonecypher.net/ – a few weeks later. He’s already got 150+ books up. Very rarely am I as happy with someone to whom I give resources as I am this time. This is a great example of shared resources being put to very good use. In particular, Brandon asked me what authors I liked, and when I name-dropped Ambrose Bierce, he went and converted what appears to be everything Bierce ever wrote, including a personal favorite called “Write it Right.”

Bravo. Makes me wonder who else I should be helping out, and I gave out another account today. We’ll see if it’s also put to good use.

Whoa, Machine Sketch Interpretation That Actually Works

General Interest, Miscellaneous, Nintendo DS, Programming 10 Comments

It’s been a good year for holy-crap technologies.  This one – an MIT tool called ASSIST - boggles my mind, and it’s given me some seriously woot ideas.  I’m filing it under Nintendo DS because, even though it’s not a game, that’s just the ideal platform for a better-developed such tool.

[youtube]NZNTgglPbUA[/youtube]

The YouTube video is short, but there’s a longer one at the main page

A Million Dollars For A Strong Predictor

Artificial Intelligence, Game Algorithms, Gaming, General Interest, Miscellaneous, Programming No Comments

That’s right.  Netflix will give you a million bucks if you can write an algorithm which one-ups their existing algorithm by 10% or better on grounds of predicting what their customers will like, based on their prior history.

Now that’s a win.

Wii’s Price and Release Date Set

Gaming, General Interest, Miscellaneous, Nintendo DS No Comments

Lots of blogs aggregate my blog, and most of them – surprisingly, even the homebrew scene aggregators – haven’t set this yet. So, let me just spread the love: the Wii will be released November 19, 2006 at a price of $250. Many details were given. Some games will use the DS as a controller, just as the GameCube used the GBA as a controller (examples from the past include Donkey Kong Country 3, and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, which actually required a GBA for a controller.)  Nostalgic NES games will be $5, SNES for $10, and N64 for $15.

A Capellá, No Less

Gaming, Media Links, Nintendo DS, Video Links 2 Comments

There’ve been a lot of good media clips lately.  This one, well, it’s pretty good.  Some of the lead-in visual gags are a bit tired, but they’ve also got several really good, really inobvious visual gags, so give them the benefit of the doubt.

[youtube]ewrif4WhHfY&NR[/youtube]

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