Browsing the blog archives for May, 2011

Firefox 4

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Technology

I recently upgraded to Firefox 4 and noticed a number of annoying issues.

  • The page refresh button has moved from over on the left hand side of the browser (where it accompanied the Forward and Back buttons) to the right hand side of the URL bar.
  • Links that I hover over now have a “pop up” effect displaying where the link will go to, instead of displaying in a bar at the bottom of the window.
  • I no longer seem to have a status bar at the bottom of my window that shows the progress of the page loading and other miscellaneous utilities.

I’m not really hugely upset, but I think it’s absurd that the Mozilla / Firefox developers keep feeling the need to push UI changes with no sensible reason behind them. Guess what guys? Over 125 million people use Firefox. It’s unbelievable to me that they will just sit down and decide to change things up for what amounts to “It looks cooler” reasons. We’re used to the UI looking a certain way, it’s fine if you want to provide new options. Heck, I’d be okay even if those new options were enabled by default, so long as users like myself upgrading from earlier versions of Firefox didn’t have our browsing experience disrupted by pointless changes.

Fortunately, moving the page refresh button was a simple matter. However I’m forced to install an add-on called Status-4-Ever to get the status bar functionality back. I love Firefox as a browser, but every once in awhile the developers just seem to do something totally boneheaded.

DLC and Me

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Games

Shamus had a post a couple of days ago discussing the outrage of certain gamers over the day-one DLC in Portal 2. I’ve been meaning to write a response for awhile, but I wanted to let my thoughts on the matter simmer for a little while before actually writing anything. That and I’ve been unfortunately pretty busy and not in the mood to write much when I have had time.

My copy of Portal 2 has not yet arrived, so this is still a little off the cuff, and I reserve the right to change my opinion later on after playing it. The fact of the matter is, though, I don’t like the idea of games selling me extras within the game. I don’t like the idea that a game was built with the expectation of selling items within the game from day one. Other people may not have a problem with that, I do.

Why? Well, the answer is complex but it comes down to this: Emotionally, I don’t like it. I don’t like blatant product placement in movies or television. I don’t like advertisement in general. I don’t want to see advertisement and product placement permeate games the way they have other forms of media. I think it’s perfectly fine if game developers create and sell DLC — But I don’t trust game developers to be responsible with the power that in-game advertisement / microtransaction models provide.

Why do I care?
I’ve learned to experience games in a certain way, and I enjoy experiencing games in that way. What I mean by that specifically is the purchase-product model (there might be another name for this, however I am not interested enough in marketing/sales or its terminology to care). This is the model most games have used from Kings Quest & Mario to most current-day games, whether they be released as a box on store shelves or as a digital download. There are a couple of other models for games to follow, whether it is an “Arcade” model where players must pay cash immediately to continue, the “Subscription” model followed by games like World of Warcraft, the “Free-to-Play-Pay-for-Advantage” model used by many Facebook games or games such as League of Legends, and so on.

Portal 2’s in-game store may be kind of innocuous and tucked away, but game developers (or more specifically: game publishers) are always on the lookout for profitable ways to get you on the hook. Whether we as gamers like to admit it or not, games are essentially brain-hacks designed to provide feedback to the reward centers of our brains. For some people those rewards might be visceral, cool graphics and moves displayed by your avatar. For some people they might be more abstract markers of progress – A full progress bar. For some people those rewards might be a cutscene to drive the story forward, or for others it might be an achievement on your gamer profile to show off to your friends. The techniques used by games to entertain us can also be used for evil, and as cliche as it is to talk about game addicts, there are games that are literally designed to be addicting. In fact, addicting games predate videogames — You’ll find plenty of games designed to be addicting in casinos.

The uniqueness of addicting videogames over casino-style games is simply in variety. Videogames as a whole can provide a much more engrossing experience than a casino game, one which triggers addictive patterns of behavior in players with a wide variety of tastes and preferences. The hat-craze that took over Team Fortress 2 began as a status-only feature, but later on grew to add real functionality to the game. This hooks both the players who play for fun and want uniqueness or status, and also the players who play to win and want a competitive edge.

I do think it’s in the best interests of players and the industry, in the long term to promote ethical behavior from game developers and publishers. What exactly constitutes ethical behavior? I’m not going to say, because my opinion isn’t the only one that matters. The point is there needs to be a conversation about what actually is ethical for game developers to do within their games and what isn’t. Is it ethical, for example, to give players a goal that takes thousands of real-life hours to accomplish, even if the actual gameplay involved is merely a grind of slaying identical monsters over and over? Is it ethical to sell in-game advantages, and if so what kind and what power?
Games are extraordinarily complex to talk about in these terms since they are so varied, but at least for me, selling me items within the game is a bright-line red flag behavior that I think is too prone to abuse to tolerate, no matter how good the game is otherwise.