Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Tao of Bugs Bunny

Well, so now we have a fun little flu bug for the media to hawk like its the coming of the anti-christ.

Its a times like this I remember the words of Bugs Bunny:
"When you are nervous or in doubt,
Run in panic Scream and Shout!"

People, just because the media knows scaring you to death sells ad space does NOT mean its anything to panic about. A few statistics to consider:

The number of deaths by Swine Flu this month: One.
The average number of auto fatalities a month in 2008: 3109

So, were you to get in your car once a month and drive to the doctor to be checked for Swine flu, you would be about 3,000 times more likely to die getting there then to die of the disease.

Should you be taking reasonable sanitary precautions? Sure, you should *always* be taking reasonable sanitary precautions. After you play with your pets, wash your hands. Its never a bad idea. Covering your mouth, if you can, when you cough is always nice to others.
But realize we live in a bacterial stew everyday of our lives, and all evidence indicates that a certain amount of germ exposure is good for us.

So if someone suddenly sneezes on you, or doesnt have a chance to cover their mouth when they cough, before you go off on them, consider the effect that your haranguing them now may have on their concentration in the parking lot- where they are doing something that CAN kill you. Driving their car.

And remember. Something isn't magically more dangerous just because you heard about it 5 times on the news today. One case is still just one case, no matter how many times the media tells you about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Green Capitalism and other Oxymorons

So, its time to shout about naked emperors again.

This time, my target is so called "green capitalism."

Green capitalism is, at its heart, an oxymoron.  Capitalism is predicated on consumption.  The more resources we consume and turn into goods, the higher our GNP and the more wealthy our system says we are.

The whole system is geared in fact to drive towards greater and greater consumption of goods.  Take, for instance, a dining set.  In my grandparents time that was something they saved half a lifetime for and handed down to the next three generations.  In our time, every married couple wants to buy at LEAST one of their own.  And they can because competition has driven price down to where they can do that.

Unfortunately, decreased prices leave the maker of that dining room set in an awkward position.  Some goods are by their nature consumable, such as food.  In order to produce dining sets that cost less, the producer must sell more of them over his life time in order to be able to continue to buy food for his family.  The market for non-consumables is constrained to the number of customers there are. This inevitably drives that dining set towards "consumable" status, because that is the only way to sell enough of them to pay for all the consumables the producer must purcahse to live.  (A related effect also drives the quality down since each dinign set must be produced more cheaply to produce a profit.   This further adds to the consumable nature of the product.)

In the end, Capitalism drives more and more resources to be used up faster and faster. This is inevitable.  Moving to so called "renewable resources" where possible reduces the impact some what but it will never be possible to have a capitalist economy based 100% on renewable resources.

The only way out of the viciuous cycle is to stop consuming things that can be non-consumables.  And the only way to stop that consumption is to stop having to pay for consumables in our lives.  And that leads to a totally different economic model.  One where real needs are met directly by society, not through an artificial mechanism of stored purchasing power.

Another one bites the dust....

As I assume most of you have heard, it looks like Oracle is buying Sun.  This leaves one wondering what is going to happen to various Sun projects.  I have some pretty strong suspicions about what will happen to Netbeans, at least.  To quote Oracle's web page...

"Eclipse is one of several open source communities (Apache, PHP, and Glassfish are other examples) in which Oracle invests significant development resources. A Strategic Developer and Board Member of the Eclipse Foundation, Oracle is a leading participant in the Eclipse Web Tools Platform and Technology projects."

Ofcourse, they wouldn't have fared any better being bought by IBM so I suppose the NB guys must've felt the axe falling for a bit.  While they have my sympathies, I actually think this is the right thing to do.  Sun held onto the NB flag for way too long after it was clear it was an also ran.  If I were Larry I'd take the two really outstanding parts of NB-- Matisse and the Profiler, and re-tool them as Eclispe plugins.  In the long run they could be huge successes that way, more so then when they were part of Netbeans.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why we buy

Sellers don't exist without a market to sell to.

While I've never met an MMO player who didn't profess feelings for gold farmers that fell somewhere between disdain and violent hatred. The fact of the matter however is that gold farmers and character levelers are fulfilling a market need. If the customers weren't there, they'd find some other way to make money.

So the fact of the matter is that "normal" players, despite their avowed hatred of these members of the community, are patronizing them and doing so in great enough numbers to support a fair sized market with quite a number of sellers.

Why do the players do this? I'd argue its our fault as game developers. In order to succeed in our games we require that our players pay in pain. Everyone knows the term "the grind" but how many have stopped to really think about how negative a term that is. The fact of the matter is that the players gave tht name to MMO "gameplay" and its NOT a compliment.

The discomfort is severe enough that at least one player decided it was less uncomfortable to have sex with a stranger then spend the time grinding.

The question i have is, WHY do we put our players through such misery? If we wanted to be honest Id say it was two reasons:

(1) Laziness on our part. Repetitive boring gameplay is *easy* to implement.

(2) Fear of users consuming our content too fast. We want to streatch out their time on line because they pay us by the month, so we make them do these repttitive boring things to make it take longer for that inevitable end-game to happen.

Neither of these are good reasons IMHO. Someone at the IMGDC conference which I have been attending this weekend made the excellent point that noone buys gold from gold farmers in order to get basic quipment. Its always the VERY expensive carrot we hang out there, be it mount or whatever, that drives the players to conclude that they'd rather pay a gold farmer then do it our way.

Clearly, these mechanics are un-fun. Otherwise noone would be paying someone else to do it for them. So who is responsbile ultimately for the prevalence of gold farmers?

We are, when we design un-fun games. Lets fix the problem where it really lies.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

High in the Clouds

Anyone who knows me knows that I instinctively want to attack and tear down over-hyped nonsense. In the past this has included such things as Second Life.

More and more I am running into "cloud computing" as the latest meaningless buzzword.

Well its not really meaningless if you think about it. What after all is a cloud?

A cloud is a body of vapor, made up predominantly of empty air. To create a cloud you need a lot of hot air. So "cloud computing" is actually pretty descriptive of what really exists. Mostly vapor and hot air.

The latest guys to jump on the cloud computing buzz-word and try to ride it like a senior on prom-night are "OnLive." They claim to be able to move your game to the cloud and then (to quote their web site) "instantly sending your controller actions upstream and the results back downstream" over the "broadband internet."

Well, to begin with, as Prof Waldo likes to point out, a guy named Einstein proved quite awhile ago that instantaneous communication over distance is impossible. Even giving them a bit of lee-way on the word "instantaneous" this reeks of someone who has never had to do ANY internet game design. Latencies are an unavoidable reality on the internet. The nature of the beast. Unless they have invented time-travel technology, they are in the same boat as everyone else there.

So until they show me this magical latency disappearing act working reliably in the uncontrolled field, I'm going to count that as one part vapor and two parts hot air. And without that, this whole concept fails. If you've ever played a game that experienced "lag", imagine experiencing that all the time, unpredictably, on every keystroke.

Even if they could make this proposition work, one has to ask "why would you want to?" What they propsoe to do is to take the computing that today is being done on computers we game developers and operaters get for free -- the end user's machines -- and move it all to server horsepower we would have to pay for. Ontop of that they then saddle us with vastly increased bandwidth demands we ALSO have to pay for.

The future of online gaming is clearly the OTHER direction. Figuring out how to use MORE of the free massive parallel network we call our users, not less. There is some interesting research being done right now in Universities in Germany, Scottland and Taiwan exploring how to build that network and utilize it in a way that is reliable and that cannot
be influenced by the owners of the machines. I think practical applications of this work are probably still 5 to 10 years away, but that is clearly the right direction.

In the end, there really is only one possible environment where Onlive's technology can make sense, IF they can get it to work at all. Thats in the hands of the cable providers. They have to pay for the boxes they put on top of your TV, and they ship a lot of them, so they want them as thin and cheap as possible. They also own the bandwidth. So driving bandwidth usage is actually good for them. But thats the only market I can see where the economics *might* make sense. Interestingly enough, since they control the pipes, thats also the only market where they could actually control the latencies of communication to some degree. Instantaneous isnt possible but if they were willing to prioritize the game traffic over all other traffic inside of their closed network, and invest some hefty hardware resources to it, they could probably bring it down to an acceptable level.

But right now, OnLive is a heated mass of vapor. Time will tell if they can manage to be anything more.

My next target in "Cloud Computing" will be our practical experiences with EC2. Watch for it!