Tag Archives: Richard Garfield

Be not stupid

There is an article in the Guardian. Now, we all agree that anyone has their own views, that has been a given for the longest of times, and those reading my blog know that I have a different view at times, yet for the most, I remained neutral and non-attacking to those with a different view, that’s how I roll.

Today is different, the article “‘Easy trap to fall into’: why video-game loot boxes need regulation” by Mattha Busby (@MatthaBusby) got to me. It is time for people to realise that when you are over 18, you are responsible for your actions. So I have, pretty much, no patience with any American, Reddit user or not, who gives us “a Reddit user who claims to have spent $10,000“. If you are that stupid, you should not be allowed to play video games.

The Setting

To comprehend my anger, you need to realise the setting we see here. You see, loot boxes are not new. This goes all the way back to 1991 when Richard Garfield created Magic, the gathering. I was not really on board in the beginning, but I played the game. The issues connect when you realise how the product was sold. There was a starter kit (which we call the basic game) it will have enough cards to start playing the game as well as the essential cards you need to play it. To get ahead in the game you need to get boosters. Here is where it gets interesting. Dozens of games are working on the principle that Richard Garfield founded. A booster would have 9-13 cards (depending on the game), It would have 1 (read: One) rare card (or better), 3 uncommon cards and the rest would be common cards. I had several of these games I played and in the end (after 20 boosters) it was merely about collecting the rare cards if you wanted a complete set. Some would not care about it and they could play the game. So this is not a new thing, so if you truly spend $10,000 you should not complain. If you have the money it is not an issue, if you did not, you are too stupid for words. In games it is not new either. Mass Effect 3, the best multiplayer game ever (my personal view) had loot boxes as well, I am pretty sure that they were the first. Yes, you could buy them, with money, or with Microsoft credit points. The third option was that you could gather points whilst playing (at the cost of $0) and use these gained points to buy loot boxes, the solution most people used. Over time you would end up with sensational goods to truly slice and dice the opponents, all gained through play time, no extra cash required.

So when I see places like Venture beat (and the Guardian of course) state issues like: “some people, policymakers, and regulators — including the gaming authorities in Belgium and Netherlands — that those card packs have are gambling“. I see these statements as moronic and I regard them as statements of false presentation. You see, that is not what it is about! When you see the attached picture, you see that these cards are sold EVERYWHERE. The issue is that the CCG card games are sold in the shops, which means that revenue is TAXED. The online sales are not and now, policymakers are all up in arms because they lost out on a non-taxable ‘$1.25 billion during its last quarter even without releasing a major new game‘, that is the real issue and they are now all acting in falsehood. So, when I see “I am currently $15,800 in debt. My wife no longer trusts me. My kids, who ask me why I am playing Final Fantasy all the time, will never understand how I selfishly spent money I should have been using for their activities“, as well as “he became addicted to buying in-game perks, which he later described as ‘digital garbage’“. I merely see people without discipline, without proper control. So without any regard for diplomacy I will call them junkies, plain and simple. Junkies who have no idea just how stupid they are. And, since when do we adjust policy for junkies? Since when are the 99% who hold themselves all plenty accountable, have the proper discipline to not overspend and some (like me) never considered loot boxes in a game like Shadow of War, now being held to account, to lessened gaming impact by junkies? Can anyone answer me this?

Now, we need to take into consideration one or two things. Are the FIFA18 loot boxes set in a similar light? That is the one place where (seemingly) FIFA is in the wrong. You see I have been searching to get any info on what is in a FIFA loot box, but there is no information given. I believe that this lack is actually an issue, yet that could be resolved in 24 hours if Electronic Arts would dedicate 1 page (considering it brings them $1.25 billion a quarter) on what is to be found in a loot box (Rare, Uncommon, Common). The second part that I cannot answer (because I am not a soccer fan) is whether the game allows loot boxes to be earned through playing and finally. Can the game be played without loot boxes? It seems like such a small alteration to make and especially when we see the fuss that is being made now. Some additional facts can be seen in Rolling Stone Magazine of all places (at https://www.rollingstone.com/glixel/features/loot-boxes-never-ending-games-and-always-paying-players-w511655). So now that we get a fuss from several nations, nations that have been all open and accepting on games like The Decipher CCG games Star Trek and Star Wars, Magic the Gathering, The Lord of the Rings, My Little Pony, Harry Potter, Pokémon, and that list goes on for some time. In that regard, they are all gambling and in my view, I feel certain that these so called politicians and lime light seekers will do absolutely NOTHING to get anything done because the cards are subject to VAT and the online stuff is lost taxable revenue. That is what I personally see as the foundation of a corrupt administration.

You see, the fact is that it is not gambling. You buy something that is in 3 categories, Rare, Uncommon and Common, you ALWAYS get this in a setting of 1 rare, 3 uncommon and 5 common, which card you get is not a given, it is random, but they will always get that setting. Let’s for example state that the loot box is $7, you get one $3 card, three $1 cards and five $0.20 cards, so how is that gambling? For Electronic Arts, until they update the website to give a precise definition might be in waters that are a little warmer, but that can be fixed by the end of the day. Perhaps they do have such a page, but Google did not find it.

In addition, Venture Beat gave us (at https://venturebeat.com/2018/05/08/ea-ceo-were-pushing-forward-with-loot-boxes-in-face-of-regulation/) “EA will have to convince policymakers around the world that it is doing enough and that its mechanics are not the same as the kinds of games you’d find in a casino“, which is easy as these policymakers did absolutely nothing to stop CCG’s like Pokémon and My Little Pony (truly games for minors), so we can stat that this was never about the loot box, it was about missed taxable revenue, a side that all the articles seemed to have left in the dark.

The Guardian has one additional gem. With: “A bill introduced in Minnesota last month would prohibit the sale of video games with loot boxes to under-18s and require a severe warning: “This game contains a gambling-like mechanism that may promote the development of a gaming disorder that increases the risk of harmful mental or physical health effects, and may expose the user to significant financial risk.”” Here I am in the middle. I think that Americans are not that bright at times, a point of view supported with the image of paper cups with the text ‘Caution Hot’ to avoid liability if some idiot burns their mouth; we know that sanity is out of the window. Yet the idea that there should be a loot box warning is perhaps not the worst idea. I think that EA could get ahead of the curve by clearly stating in a readable font size that ‘no loot boxes are needed to play the game‘, which is actually a more apt statement (and a true one) for Shadow of War, with FIFA18, I do not know. You see, this is a changed venue, when you can add a world player to your team the equation changes. Yet, does it make it more or less enjoyable? If I play NHL with my Capitals team and I get to add Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretsky my chances to get the Stanley cup go up, yet is that a real win or is that cheating? That is of course the other side, the side that the game maker Ubisoft enabled in their Assassins Creed series. you could unlock weapons and gear for a mere $4, they clearly stated that the player would be able to unlock the options during the game, yet some people are not really gamers, mere players with a short attention span and they want the hardware upfront. Enter the Civil war with an Uzi and a Remington, to merely coin a setting. Are they gamers, or are they cheaters? It is a fair question and there is no real answer. Some say that the game allowed them to do this, which is fair and some say, you need to earn the kills you make. We can go to it from any direction, yet when we are confronted with mere junkies going on with spending $15,800, adding to a $69 game, we are confronted with people so stupid, it makes me wonder how he got his wife pregnant in the first place. If the given debt $15,800 is true then there should be a paper trail. In that regard I am all for the fact that there should be a spending limit of perhaps $500 a month, a random number but the fact that there is a limit to spend is not the worst idea. In the end, you have to pay for the stuff, so have a barrier at that point could have imposed a limit on the spending. In addition, we can point at the quote “how I selfishly spent money I should have been using for their activities” and how that is the response of any junk to make, ‘Oh! I am so sorry‘, especially after the junk got his/her fix.

The Guardian gives in addition an actual interesting side: “Hawaiian congressman Chris Lee said “are specifically designed to exploit and manipulate the addictive nature of human psychology”“, it is a fair point to make. Are ‘game completionists’ OCD people? Can the loot box be a vessel of wrongdoing? It might, yet that still does not make it gambling or illegal, which gets us to the Minnesota setting of a warning on the box. It is an interesting option and I think that most game makers would not oppose that, because you basically are not keeping loot boxes a secret and that might be a fair call to make, as long as we are not going overboard with messages like: “This game is a digital product, it requires a working computer to install and operate“, because at that point we have gone overboard again. This as a nice contrast against: “In the Netherlands, meanwhile, lawmakers have said that at least four popular games contravene its gambling laws because items gleaned from loot box can be assigned value when they are traded in marketplaces“, which is another issue. you see when you realise that “you can’t sell any digital content that you aren’t authorized to sell” and as we also saw in Venture Beat ““While we forbid the transfer of items and in-game currency outside of the games, we also actively seek to eliminate that where it’s going on in an illegal environment,”“, we see a first part where we can leave it to the Dutch to cater to criminals on any average working day, making the lawmakers (from my personal point of view slightly short sighted).

So, in the end Mattha had a decent article, yet the foundation (the CCG games) which were the creators of the founding concept were left outside the basket of consideration, which is a large booboo, especially when we realise that they are still for sale in all these complaining countries and that in that very same regard these games are not considered gambling, which sets the stage that this was never about gambling, but several desperate EU nations, as well as the US mind you, that they are all realising that loot boxes are billions of close to non-taxable revenues. That is where the issue holds and even as I do not disagree with the honourable men from both Hawaii and Minnesota, the larger group of policy players are all about the money (and the linked limelight), an issue equally left in the dark. There is one issue against Electronic Arts, yet they can fix that before the virtual ink on the web page has dried, so that issue is non-existent as well soon enough.

It’s all in the game and this discussion will definitely be part of the E3 2018, it has reached too many governments not to do so. I reckon that on E3 Day Zero, EA and Ubisoft need to sit down in a quiet room with cold drinks and talk loot box tactics, in that regard they should invite Richard Garfield into their meeting as an executive consultant. He might give them a few pointers to up the profit whilst remaining totally fair to the gamers, a win-win for all I say! Well, not for the politicians and policy makers, but who cares about them? For those who do care about those people, I have a bridge for sale with a lovely view of Balmain Sydney, going cheap today only!

 

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A sickly gamer?

The Guardian had an interesting article on Monday. It took me a while to get there, because I am intricately familiar with the subject and the issues. The name of the game is gaming, and in the article titled “‘Dangerous gaming’: is the WHO right to class excessive video game play as a health disorder?” has the interesting question.

So as we read (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/feb/05/video-gaming-health-disorder-world-health-organisation-addiction), which holds: “included “gaming disorder” in its draft for the next edition of its diagnostic manual, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which is due for final release this year“, we need to wonder. In the first what constitutes a disease, when is something actually a disorder and more important, is it the first step in getting this label added to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5, with an update which is supposed to come out at the end of the year. Even in the academic field there is doubt, which Netta Weinstein, a senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff University voiced with: “I just feel like we don’t know enough yet and we feel we know a lot“. This is merely one voice. This part is important, as we see the following that matters: “the WHO was initially exploring excessive use of the internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices, but determined that the biggest concern was gaming“, in addition we see: “The authors write: “These features clearly have their parallels with substance disorders and recognised behavioural addictions, such as gambling disorder“. They decided to make a dangerous step. As I personally see it, they are comparing apples with oranges, dumping the load into a basket named fruit and walk away. That view is not just supported, by others; Nena Weinstein gives us (paraphrased): “we found very small correlations, if at all, of symptomology with broader life wellbeing. So we actually didn’t find, for example, that symptoms correlated with health directly. It might be that something that we think of as addiction is actually just engagement and enthusiasm“.

That is the part that matters, gaming is about engagement and enthusiasm, now we can agree that some people go overboard. I for one have spent 5000 hours (not all at in one sitting mind you) in the Fallout universe and close to 3000 hours in the Elder Scrolls universe, I just love my RPG’s. The fact that this comprised a total of 5 games makes this the best value for money ever. I have played plenty of other games, and they were fun too. The fact is that the world is changing in several ways, a fact that the researchers are also ignoring. I also like the opposing view given by Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University. With: “The bottom line is problematic gaming. Whether you call it ‘gaming disorder’, whether you call it ‘gaming addiction’, there is a small minority of people out there where gaming has completely taken over their lives“, he has a point there. I have more than once gone so deep and enthusiastic into Minecraft, so when I suddenly realised that I was really hungry and getting tired, I looked up to notice that it was 03:50 in the morning and I remember the sun being up when I started to play. This happens, and it rarely happens, but still it happens. The fact is that the body reminded me and I did not ignore it. I was less positive about his remark: “in extreme cases some people have played themselves to death, though such incidents are extremely rare“, this is a case I remember, some league of Legend player, high on energy drinks playing 23 hours in one stretch. When it happens once, or perhaps less than half a dozen times on a population of 8 billion, it is not a case, it is an extreme outlier. We could in the worst case state that the proprietor had a duty to set a maximum usage of lets state 12 hours per 24 hours. Was that point ever raised?

Weinstein goes on in the debate on why few get addicted. Well, because there are many types of players and there are in equal measure many types of games. We can argue that in my case one style could lead to addiction, but I have a life with other elements too and even as I might spend a large chunk of my weekend on my console, I have lived for the longest time requiring no more than 5 hours of sleep per day, these days are now alas over (hence less gaming), but choosing the fun of a game over wasting money on alcohol in a bar, wasting it on fake smiles in a casino seems that I have taken a healthier life style. The entirely other side is that I even had more time in the kitchen, making my life even better by making myself a nice steak with a salad, a pasta salad or even a nice Bambi-burger or sourdough. I would not go hungry. My only little squandering would be to ignore my Nespresso and go to the Coffee place up the hill (roughly 723.4 metres) and get myself a yummy cappuccino, extra-large of course, sometimes even splash out and have a big breakfast there on Sunday. A walk in the fresh air, sunshine optional and preferred, good food, caffeine for the veins and after that groceries on the way back and the rectangular entertainment from console or Blu-ray, a life of relaxed bliss!

The package could be seen as addictive, gaming is merely one element in all of that. So as people then go with the mention of ‘all that gaming‘, tell me to just watch some TV. So how does that work? Constant badgering from advertising whilst you get hammered by two screwed up reality settings from places like ‘My Kitchen Rules’, or even worse some ‘married at first sight’, so it’s not that the divorce ratings weren’t high enough, we now get some reality TV show where ‘experts’ know what we need, want or desire? How fucked up is the TV nowadays? It is the second part where I oppose her view. With; “at least some elements of modern video games are closer to gambling. The newly popular and increasingly controversial implementation of “loot boxes”, where players pay real money for unpredictable rewards, is increasingly drawing the attention of regulators“, she only has a partial point. As far as I can tell, this was introduced in gaming by the Mass Effect series (I apologise if I am incorrect). You see, that is an option, but the game gives clear warning that you can earn these boxes by playing. Yet some people cannot go that distance. So like Ubisoft who allowed you to unlock all elements of Assassins Creed multiplayer for less than $10, people had no interest to unlock the abilities, they want it all from the start, a level 1 steroid character. So yes, you can buy chests for real money, but the ones I saw have always allowed you to get those chests by playing the game, it merely takes a little longer to get them. The second element that she is not lingering on is what is in such a loot chest. The loot chest is very much like a CCG (Customisable Card Game), each package will cost you around $5 and the 10 cards will give you 1 rage (or legendary), 2-3 uncommon and the rest are common items. So basically after the first 10 packages you only buy them to get the remaining uncommon, rare or even the legendary cards. Loot boxes work in the same way. That origin actually comes from a CCG game called Magic and was introduced by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced to consumers in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. So, now as it is in video games 25 years later, now they want to regulate it? Oh please, go cry me a river, will you?

Yet Weinstein raises a gem of a point with: “concern about comorbidity (when a person has more than one condition): “We need to know that it is about the gaming itself, or we’re treating something that’s not the actual problem.”“, she poses an excellent issue. You see if we accept that gaming is escapism, knowing what it is escapism from, that becomes the golden question and that is not easily explained.

Prof Mark Griffiths brings another side to the table. With: “I can’t think of a single [case of] addiction where there aren’t any other comorbidities. The addiction is usually symptomatic of other underlying problems. If you’re depressed and therefore you drink heavily, then you treat that with antidepressants“, you see, in that view, if these people escape into gaming, they still might not have a gaming addiction, they merely escape to it and we see the dangers of a wrongful diagnoses. So in the time where the depression is not seen and as these people ‘are cured‘ by gaming less the depression could take over leading to additional harm and even fatality. The problem (as I personally see it) is where is the trigger, the threshold where ‘addiction’ is set at. It is a grey area that cannot be correctly quantified as there are other elements in play. As I see it, it too often relies on what others think is ‘too much’ and that is equally dangerous. The parent who grew up playing outside and as such, junior should be outside, not playing on his console. Do they realise he was playing with school friends in an online 4v4 battle? They are talking to one another on the headsets, so they are still communicating were they not? Our comprehension of several elements is shifting, as a gamer I see the shift, but the people around me do not (want to) comprehend that. It is icky, it is geeky, they do not care.

That part is equally ignored and that is a worry too.

You see social media made the bucket of issues larger, but the level of comprehension beyond using the tool has not increased. That is the danger, usage without knowing what it implies, means or ratifies. Consider the articles like: ‘5 Ways to Generate More Exposure for Your Content Through Social Media‘, to improve your personal PR, or ‘How to Scale Your Social Media Exposure‘, that whilst the people trying to grow followers and to be ‘cool’ have no concept of ‘engagement’ and the use of common sense for that matter whilst exposing themselves to all kinds of risks. Those people will happily sit in any ‘gathering place‘ and remain in negative judgement of a gamer. I remember a nice issue in 1996 in the UK. I was in a bar taking a rest from the ECTS (7 morning presentations on newly released games will do that), so as I was sipping coffee and nodding to someone I knew in the business. He was talking to some girl who was way too good looking for her own good. So when he mentioned he was into gaming, she walked away as he was nerdy. So as she walked away, she had no idea that this was the guy who just made 1.5 million pounds ending with 4 times that much at least over the 3-5 years that followed. You see, even as more and more people are no longer stigmatising ‘gaming’ and ‘gamers’, the issue is that most do it because it is now a $120 billion market and money is money, no matter how you slice it. The actual issue of ‘addiction’ cannot be set for various reasons because it relies on other elements on how you still function when you are not gaming. How you see the world when you are merely shopping for groceries, enjoying a movie, setting in a corner chumping down on ice-cream or engage in conversation with friends. Those are elements that matter and if you can still relate to non-gaming issues with enthusiasm (like how ambulances in Kabul are an excellent way to move C4 from one place to another), we might wonder about the scepticism in all of it, but for the most that person is still OK and unlikely to be a true game addict.

Wasn’t that what mattered?

You see, it is actually the end of the article that had the truffle that mattered; no pig was going to get that one! With “The significance of the WHO’s decision will depend on your point of view. Griffiths admits it’s “a vindication for three decades of research”. Trade bodies such as Ukie naturally resist suggestions that anything their industry produces could be harmful“, this part could actually become the invalidator to his work. Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University seems to forget a few parts. In all this, I have been connected to games and gaming from before that. Gaming had several triggers over the last 30 years. First there is the arcade machines versus the home consoles (and home computers), there is an issue with any emerging technology and the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 are just over 20 years, before that it was all about home computers and the lasting time of a game was no more than one day of game time with only Loderunner to be a larger exception. Even in PC’s larger computers with larger games would be able to get finished in no more than 50-70 hours, and again there is an exception now, it was Diablo. Longer lasting games did not really get to the surface until multiplayer came out and it was not until the Unreal engine took off that people hid for a lot longer behind their computers (overly generalised). Now we can argue that those collecting games were indeed addicted, but were they? What data was there on them? I reckon that it was not until the sixth generation of consoles came out that we have the foundation for some level of actual addiction. Yet when we got back, we forgot the arcade machines. How much money did you pour into those machines? Was it to complete Donkey Kong? Was it to be in the top mention of Space invaders or Pac-Man? Does that make you addicted to gaming, or merely a person trying to pass time or dealing with OCD? I am not sure if I can give the right answer, but between generations 4 and 8 (1989-2012) the market has been in technological turmoil and that is disregarding the massive technological leaps PC’s had made over those years. I feel uncertain that with so many changes in a market that has not stopped running, how can anyone be correctly seen as addicted? For example, who would not spend their entire weekend finding the secrets that Tombraider brought in the first instalment? Who did not run to the shop (and claimed a sickie) the day that Tombraider 2 was released? Who did not drop their jaw the day Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots started on their PS3? That game can still hold up to the most that the PS4 brings to the table today. One view was: “The game has been considered one of the best games of the seventh generation of console gaming and among the greatest of all time“, a view I very much agree with. When perfection, art, challenge and achievement come to the table, the view we have changes, because exceptional quality keeps us at the screen. Just look at all those 4K nature movies Bing Lee sets on the TV’s they really want to sell, that’s not addiction, that is admiration/amazement. So in that all, I think that there is a case that Prof Mark Griffiths might not make the mark on this ‘addiction’ addition, there are just too many variables. And even if we recognise that an unhealthy devotion to games might be worth investigating, it would be to find the underlying cause to it all as Dr Netta Weinstein justifies. In that she is completely correct, so as we realise that Jo Twist, the UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) states the correct part with “We are very concerned about the inconclusive nature of the research and the evidence that WHO is using to base this potential classification on“, she could have (as not seen here) stated the matter a little better than what we got to read.

That is merely $0.04 on the matter (due to the FTSE Crash my $0.02 devaluated whilst writing this).

 

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