Thursday, May 26, 2005

Death of Paper Gaming

Paper gaming. It's a term used to describe playing a game that basically, isn't a video game. In other words, the term refers to board games, card games and dice games.

Paper gaming is a billion dollar industry still, with brands like Monopoly, Sorry and Clue leading the way - and even Magic the Gathering chiming in around 200 to 300 million a year, depending on the popularity of its expansions in a given year.

Yet, despite that success, paper gaming is dying. Those who deny that, just simply are not looking at the numbers nor are they counting the number of brick and mortar game stores that are closing down year to year.

Here’s a classic example of where gaming is today: Sale of Baldur's Gate video games (which are a D&D branded set of games), outnumber the sale of the books by a healthy margin. Here’s another factoid: if the subscription numbers are true, then World of Warcraft brings in more monthly revenue, than paper D&D makes in one year - and of course with a higher margin to boot. The active player base between the two brands, probably favors World of Warcraft by a 15 to 1 margin.

The cost of goods on your average board game means it's almost impossible to make money with them. Even a brand with reasonably high exposure and recognition such as Axis and Allies, can't make the grade, and that's with prominent placement on a Toys-R-Us shelf.

Trading card games come and go like sailors at a brothel. The market is flooded with just about every intellectual property imaginable attached to a weak TCG mechanic. Yugioh rules this world at this stage and Magic will always be king, but other than those two, every other TCG is a dog (with the exception of Pokemon which treads water every year, much to the delight of the small faction that now runs the brand).

So what to do? Well sell your Hasbro and Mattel stock immediately. I'm not kidding, those companies will do nothing but atrophy as time goes on and Hasbro in particular still carries a fair amount of debt. The stock will spike occasionally after a good Christmas, but in the long haul these shares will atrophy.

If you are interested in making games (and what self-respecting nerd hasn't dreamed of creating a new game mechanic, publishing his own D&D adventure, or revamping some war game), then take a deep breath and consider wisely…

Even if you produce the greatest RPG book in the history of time and space, your ability to sell just 40,000 units will be extremely, extremely difficult. Now factor in your high COG and your low overall margin and ask yourself if the gamble is worth it.

Want to make a new TCG? Good luck, even with a multi-million dollar marketing campaign, tied to a kid's television broadcasting prominently on Saturday mornings, Duel Masters fell flat on its back and is poster child for the "swing and a miss" trend that is predominant in the gaming industry right now.

If you are a gaming retailer, the news is worse. A reasonably successful demand for the new D&D Miniatures, did almost nothing to benefit your average brick and mortar game store. Why? Well, a sizeable percentage of those miniatures are purchased online and through auction sites. Why pay 15 dollars for a 8 figure booster, when you can acquire a case at a 30% discount and then just resell the minis you don't need, back online.

Online purchasing mean the big boys eventually win, Amazon, Toys-R-Us and those boys will eventually win the online retailing game, e-Commerce has moved in that consolidated direction since the .COM bust back in 2000.

My friends, I hate to tell you this, but we are at the dawn of the final decade for paper gaming. In 15 years, Monopoly will probably still survive, but its volume will diminish severely. The board game section at Toys R Us will be reduced to the third of its current size. Trading card games will have new digital equivalents. Paper based role playing has faded already and within twenty years, relegated almost exclusively to retirement homes.

It's sad, but I also believe it’s inevitable. Until then, I'll pull out my MLB Showdown and leave my EA Sports X-Box games to gather dust on the shelves. There's just something about rolling a twenty sided die and then slamming the game board when Vernon Wells hits a homerun that no amount of console graphics can provide.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Prestige Marketing in Video Games

Today, I promised I'd talk about secondary marketing and video games, which I believe is the future of massive online games. I use the term ‘secondary’ marketing incorrectly.

NOTE: What I mean by ‘secondary’ marketing, is the notion that Company A produces a widget and then Company B buy that widgets and resells the widget for a much higher markup based on the demand and alleged 'rarity' of the widget. I also use the term to label the idea that people will pay extra money to increase their prestige within a particular hobby. People pay extra for an “exclusive” Barbie, or a “rare promotional” baseball card. Perhaps, what I mean, is better described as "prestige marketing"...

Did you know that during the height of the "Pokemon card" craze, the demand for the product was so high, that the single biggest logistical problem for the company producing and profiting from the cards, was finding ways to increase to production? Literally, every available outlet that could produce and package the cards was tapped out. The company literally could not produce cards fast enough. At the height of this craze, production was so high that there were more Pokemon cards produced each year, than there were people in the United States.

Yet, on web sites like eBay, individual "rare" Pokemon cards were commanding 100 dollars or more. The fact of the matter was, there were 100,000 copies or more of that allegedly "rare" card.

Secondary market, doesn't work on the reality of ample supply, it works on the "illusion" of scarcity of it. More importantly, it also works on the notion that acquiring the product increases one’s prestige and reverence within the hobby itself.

The first concrete example I ever had of the power of secondary marketing, was the Upper Deck baseball card craze of 1989. Literally, a case of Upper deck baseball cards in 1989 was commanding thousands of dollars. The reality was, Upper Deck was not only cranking them out a break neck pace they continued to produce the "rare" set until 1991.

To this day, a Ken Griffey Jr. card from this set sells routinely for 100 dollars or more. There are probably at least 50,000 copies of this card in sleeves and plastic protectors, because the card is so "rare" and valuable.

Magic the Gathering proved that secondary market can drive and define a game's identity. Consider how ridiculous the notion is of a card game whereby the more you spend to acquire cards, the better you are at the game. The more you pay, the more you win and the more success you have at the game. Add to that a continuing cycle of cards rotating in and out of what is "legal" to play and you've not only tied the purchasing of your product to winning, you've also stamped a limited life span on each purchase. A Magic card, no matter how expensive it is, is only ‘legal’ for two years in the most common format of the game.

Magic players are dumb asses, they truly are. I say that knowing many of my friends and acquaintances love the game with a great passion and the game is, at its core, a great strategic game. But Magic players are scalped into a 300 million dollar a year business that is about 80% profit and that may be a low estimation. The highest cost of goods on a pack of Magic cards is the foil wrap they come in and that chimes in at about a penny and a half per pack. Rarity? I've personally seen entire boxes stacked with Black Lotuses and original foil Serra Angels. The notion some of the cards are 'extremely' rare and valuable is once again predicated on an illusion of scarcity.

How long before video games exploit this? If Magic the Gathering can command 300 million, or if Pokemon in its hey day can generate nearly 1 billion dollars in a single year, how can companies like Sony and NCSoft ignore that revenue potential?

When you consider how lucrative the secondary market for video games is already, even as a cottage industry, with no real business strategy behind it, it seems obvious to me, this is where video games will eventually. There are people who make 30,000 or more a year, harvesting items, currency and wealth on video games and then distributing what they acquire to the highest bidder in real dollars. Now 30,000 a year, isn't much more than a job at 7-11, I grant you that, but like I say, that's just one person, acting as a cottage industry.

What if the companies behind the game, started to tap into and exploit this demand and market? The idea that people will pay more to succeed in a gaming community, has been proven umpteen times over. While many will gripe about it and say the game is 'ruined', many of those same gripers will then begrudgingly pay "just to compete".

Don't think the secondary market translates digitally? Think again. Magic Online has already proven that.

Magic Online is garbage. The game crashes, it has security leaks, it is ripe with fraud and dubious practice. It has serious scalability issues and is a technical abomination. It has limited graphics and a very high learning curve for new players. It does everything wrong, that makes a video game successful. As a result, it has a fairly limited player base, a mere fraction of what a game like World of Warcraft commands.

Now, what if I told you that the average Magic Online player spends 50 dollars a month? Isn't that 350% more revenue than what your average subscriber to an online RPG pays? What if I told you because the game is very low tech, the development costs and support costs for that game are also considerably less?

In fact, in some ways, less players with a higher revenue stream actually wind up helping you. It means you require less bandwidth, less hardware and less customer support. If Magic Online has 50,000 players, this equates to over 175,000 of a game that fails to exploit secondary purchases and markets and the cost of support. The fact the Magic cards purchased online are just digital objects (you literally pay for database inserts, I suppose) and can only be tenuously converted to an actual physical card does not sway demand. People will still pay, most especially, and this is key, if the purchase increases the players’ ability to compete and succeed in the game itself. Prestige within the hobby is always something people will pay for. Games like golf and tennis figure that our years ago.

So how does a game like Everquest, step lightly into this business approach? Well it has to be done gingerly I believe, especially for the first one. It has to be sold as a 'feature'. I don't know the marketing angle on it, but it seems to me, I should have the option of paying more money to World of Warcraft, in return for prestigious quests, prestigious items and other 'unique' qualities. And yes, the initial reaction from gamers will be to holler and scream, but many of that same crew will begrudgingly commit to the purchase once they see how "cool" the additional feature/quest is, or once the competition of the game itself drives them to do it.

Tying a virtual economy to the real economy is no easy trick, but the revenue potential is too high for someone not to try it. The first few attempts will likely be clumsy and fail, but someone will get the balance right. When they do, suddenly your user base translates to a higher revenue stream. Given how expensive making and maintaining these games have become, I believe its inevitable.

So yes, one of the days, Halo 3 will offer you a special quest to retrieve a special weapon, but only if you pay 5 dollars or if you retrieve a special code from a Burger King Happy Meal. The possibilities and ties in are endless and the code can be just as simple as inserting a unique item into a player’s record. Again, as getting users to pay for a database insert, the cost of goods on such a scheme is probably negligible compared to the revenue potential.

Look for things like this, it in the next year or two. NCSoft already tried a small venture, they released a DVD version of their video game, where if you purchased the DVD you got one additional power and access to a unique cape design that regular users could not access. The DVD contained no new game code that had not already been release. Despite the fact 95% of their users already owned the product, the small additional ‘features’ and prestige, pumped up sale of the DVD significantly.

In short, if there is one thing the gaming and collectable industry has taught us, there is no limit to the demand for items (even digital items) that increase the prestige of the obsessive hobbyist and gamer. I expect that simple fact to become exploited in more and more creative ways in the video game industry as time goes on.

I have one more rant about the gaming industry in me. I have forgotten to mention paper/dice/board gaming, which is becoming more and more of a relic. I think tomorrow I will talk about the atrophy of TCGs, paper games and board games.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Slice at the Gaming Industry

So E3 is over and it seems like an appropriate time to take a slice at the gaming industry.

The video game industry is still in its wild west stage. There are still a lot of players, a lot of unconquered territory and there's definitely a gold rush feel to it all.

Walk around E3 some time and watch the suits hanging around some of the displays with their tongues hanging out. They literally smell money and are grinning ear to ear because of it.

It's also a very tempermental market place right now. Branding and game loyalty mean nothing. That can turn (and has turned previously) in a heart beat. If Microsoft thinks Halo 3 is 'assured' to keep its core audience and maybe even add to it, they are taking a heavy gamble. The core audience wired into Halo 2, could abandon Halo in weeks and adopt some new game, let alone by the time Halo 3 releases.

This is why I feel the Halo 3 strategy of Microsoft, (holding Halo 3 back to coincide with the PS/3 release, to diminish the attention paid to the PS/3 release), could back fire, and back fire hard.

This is not and will not be the first time Microsoft over estimated its customers' loyalty to one of their brands.

It also needs to be said, that "speed to market" is killing the creativity in the industry right now. It also means 70% of all video games released these days are garbage or so chock full of bugs, their innovation is not worth tolerating.

This is a similar cycle that the 'internet' suffered through from 1996 to 1999. Too many websites, too many DOT-COM companies, just cranking out crap to try and catch a genie in a bottle.

The internet, went through its Darwin phase, where the weak and the chafe died out and those bilion dollar stock option dreams went the way of the Dodo.

The video game industry is poised for this kind of cycle soon and I believe some of the casualties will be fairly important.

Look for Microsoft to ditch its online RPG soon, within a year. Look for PC based online games to slowly lose market to console based networks. Those who fail to port their RPGs to console in the next two years, will die, fast and hard, no matter how high they are soaring now.

Look for the 'life cycle' for RPGs to diminish. People will want to login and play for 6-8 months top and then abandon their characters and their game for the newest 'flavor of the month'. If your business plan is counting one a two year player loyalty cycle, you will die, because the percentage of players who will stick around that long will diminish even more.

Look for games that tap into socializing, to grow a niche market. SIMS had some popularity and boasted the highest percentage of female players than any online game ever developed. Someone will key onto this and take that style of gaming to another level and it will catch on. It may be a niche market, but it wil make money and the media will pay attention because it's the kind of "kitch" thing the media likes to talk about.

Most of all though, look for the secondary markets of gaming to become exploited by the companies that produce the games. I will talk about this in more detail in another rant, but I will leave you with this:

On various web sites, online stores and auction sites, people will actually purchase 'virtual' items to improve their experience in an online game. 'Virtual' currency, 'virtual' weapons and 'virtual' items can fetch a reasonable price. If you were to add a collectible element to that and control that market at some level through the very company that generated the game, how much more revenue would it generate? I believe the answer will surpise you and I will talk about that the next time I post.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Final Thoughts: Star Wars

The Star wars saga is over.

There will be other spinoffs, books, comics, TV shows etc, but Star Wars is a cinematic experience and that experience is now over.

The prequels were lesser than the originals, not so much because of their content, but because the time and era that surrounded them. When the prequels came out, action and fantasy movies were not only common place, they practically dominated the Hollywood menu. To the point where films of that kind had become tiresome and Star wars was therefore reduced to "just another movie with a lot of special effects".

Alas, I have to tell you the last installment Revenge of the Sith, doesn't do much to elevate the Star Wars prequels beyond that, truthfully, its strongest assets are nostalgia and eye candy. It's a little more than that, in places Revenge of the Sith is magical, but on the whole the movie wheezes, lumbers and clumsily plods away to its inevitable end.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie, I like all Star Wars movies, but the reason I like the prequels are entirely different than the reason I liked the originals. I want to share with you something I wrote, that tries to explain my admiration for the series, despite its flaws:

I am watching a scene where the Emperor goes to the opera, in Revenge of the Sith and it suddenly came to me why this franchise is so great.

If this were Star Trek, the opera house would be "a perfect replica of carnegie hall", simulated by the ship's computer to make the crew feel more at home and the opera would be "Figaro" to illustrate the longevity and humanity of Mozart. The main characters would be drinking tea and wearing military uniforms and they'd all have this 'elevated' air, speaking melodramtic dialog about the immortality of 'music' and I'd be falling asleep in my chair.

If it were Lord of the Rings, we'd get a massive helicopter shot from the mountain nearby that slowly panned into the opera house, then the camera would do a 360 degree turn and settle into on some New Zealand sunset, while some endless theme song swelled and pounded into my head for the one millionth time.

This is how and why Star Wars is different. I say this not to disparage other fantasy films, but to illustrate why Star Wars can appeal to me. Star Wars takes the road less traveled, not always, perhaps not even often enough, but when it does, it's bold, unique and for me personally, magical.

What we get for an 'opera house' in Star Wars is a lush, lavish interior, with incredible imagery and light through the window to the outside. Then during the opera itself, the music and the stage imagery, is beyond bizarre, more surreal and ethereal than even the most avant-garde glam-rock show. It just sits there in the background, completely alien and non-sequitur while some of the most important and best delivered dialog is delivered to main character.

It's this attention to detail and the willingness to polish that detail into something extremely alien and bizarre that can often make a Star Wars movie seem so magical.

Like all Star Wars movies, Revenge of the Sith is flawed. In fact, it's very flawed in many, many places. This is not a perfect movie and nothing can ever hold a candle to the hysteria of Star Wars 28 years ago. If you were a child of the 70's (like me), Star Wars was your generation's Beatlemania. The cultural phenomenon and the cinematic revolution spawned by the first two original movies, will never be duplicated in our lifetime.

However, when Revenge of the Sith works, its magical. It is the kind of magical cinema that is unique and pushes the envelope both in technical delivery of the effects, and in the detail and beauty of its design.

I confess, you could argue the prequels are largely technical films. Lucas was always this way anyway, his very first film was literally just a montage of images, called "A Look at Life". It didn't speak a word and quite frankly, its when Lucas abandons the clutter of "talking" that his films tend to shine.

Go see Revenge of the Sith. You will wince at some parts of it. You will shuffle your feet during some of its scenes as it plods along and wheezes its way through its story line.

Then later, you'll see creatures, vehicles, planets, buildings, even furniture, lights and imagery that will stun you, because simply they've never been conceived and put on film before. If you are open minded, you'll come to admit that these designs are the work of a large team of creative people, that have populated a world with such love and enthusiasm, that no detail has been overlooked.

All of the Star Wars movies (yes, even the one with Jar Jar), took cinema to a new level. They are a different kind of masterpiece than the Godfather, or Citizen Kane, or the Bicycle Thief. You can argue, they are lesser masterpieces, because their genius resides primarily in their fusion of cutting edge technology with simple childlike mythology and adventure.

That's really all Star Wars is, kids movies, done with such wonder, imagination and attention to detail, that to an adult, it can often come across as more sound than fury, more bark than bite. To the heart of a child though, its translates to magic.

I can tell you, that I sat next to a 12 year old boy for Revenge of the Sith last night and he was scared down to his bones and hinged on every word and scene. He even applauded when Anakin "died", happy that the tragedy he had witnessed, was put to death.

Ah, but he doesn't die does he? He goes on to become one of the greatest movie villains of all time. He's the Oedipus complex, Hitler and Frankenstein's monster all rolled into one. He changed the way movies are made and to this day, Star Wars takes more risks than most fantasy films would dare to tread. Even when it doesn't work, I still admire the fact Lucas insists on pushing that envelope a little further, just to see what happens.

I watched a Charlie Rose interview of George Lucas that was completed on September of last year. Lucas reflected on how he would be remembered and offered this sobering thought:

"I think in the end, I'll be a footnote, when they discuss the change in cinema from a light sensitive chemical process to a digital one, I'll be mentioned as 'some guy' who helped foster that. Other than that I just hope children find my films enjoyable for a few more generations."

George is right on the money when he says this. In the large sweep of time, much of what George Lucas accomplished will get swept under the rug, but he will be remembered as a pioneer in cinema. A technical innovator beyond a thematic innovator to be sure, but an innovator none the less.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars is Political?

I have loved the Star Wars movies since I was a boy. Never in all that time, did I consider them to be political films.

Apparently however, they are, at least some sites have taken a George Lucas quite that Star Wars was originally written during the Vietnam war and extrapolated that Star Wars is just liberal dogma:

Libertas Web Site

Pabaah Web Site

In both cases, you need to scroll down to find the relevant article concerning the politics of Star Wars, as I could not find article specific links.

If there are those on the right side of the spectrum that view Revenge of the Sith as criticism of George Bush and the Iraq war, that is their perogative.

As someone who likes to think he resides at the center of the spectrum, I think this 'controversy' is really just a sign of how much Star Wars really means to our culture, for better or for worse.

Is Star Wars a political statement? I don't think so, THX1138 was a much stronger political statement, if that is the case. Really, all Star Wars represents is all the childhood influences on George Lucas, (Christianity, Judaism, Flash Gordon, Japanese epics and cowboy movies), all kind of gloriously rolled into one.

Darth Vader doesn't represent, Bush, Republicans or American policy, he represents "fathers" and the psychological struggles we all have with father figures from time to time. I mean the name 'Vader' means 'father' how much more proof do you need?

I think there's more freudism than socialism in Star Wars, but then again, I could be wrong.

It is amusing though, to once again witness the influence of a silly series of movies about giant talking dogs, space ship driving cowboys and latent robots.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Star Wars Follow Up

The cultural effect Star Wars is everywhere. What other action adventure serial spawns an article from a PhD in Philosophy, and Religion at Boston University.

Daniel Newkirk, offers his thoughts on the 'message' of Star Wars. for the Science & Theology News

read it here

While, I don't agree with every assessment made here, it amazes me that such a learned man, would take the time to disect the themes of Star Wars.

I don't suggest this exercise is futile, or even without merit, but I do suggest that it proves the level of impact that Star Wars has on our culture (for better or for worse).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Star Wars

Star Wars is back.

Love it or hate it, it is hard to deny that you can have a pretty heated discussion with just about anyone regarding Star Wars and its impact on cinema and pop culture.

Even the most hardened cynic, has to confess that Star Wars changed American cinema. Whether those changes were for the better or for the worse is another matter.

I am a child of the 70's, which not only means I am getting old, it means I am in the exact demographic that George Lucas cultivated in 1977.

Now, the alleged "final installment" of Star Wars is upon us and I thought it would be fun to offer my thoughts on the "impact" of Star Wars, in general.

First, lets get the discussion of the "original" trilogy vs. the "prequel" trilogy out of the way. Yes, quite frankly, the prequels are vastly inferior, that is undeniable, simply because there is no cultural significance to them.

Even as a kid back in the 70's, there was a sense that Star Wars was 'important'. Indeed I'd argue that if you were a child of the 70's, Star Wars' impact on you was as socially significant as "Beatlemania" was in the early 60s. Socially significant when measured on the pop culture scale that is, I do realize its just a movie.

The prequels lack that cultural significance and ultimately, this is why the prequel films simply do not resonate like the originals.

Secondly, I recognize Star Wars fans can get obsessive and out of hand and I can be guilty of this as well. Those fans who line up for months or try and reverse engineer children's films into philosophical and even religious dogma, go too far. These films are meant to be a lark, a bit of escapist fun and shouldn't be elevated beyond that. Listing "Jedi" as a religion in a goverment census, might be whimsical, but it also insults the historical longevity and cultural meaning of real religion. (I say that as an atheist with no attachment to any religion, save I suppose atheism itself).

Having said all that, the last installment of George Lucas' 6 part epic, has me excited. I don't expect much thematically, because in truth, the best film George Lucas ever made in that regard, was American Graffiti anyway. I do expect a wonderful romp through my childhood affection for the Star Wars myth and I eagerly await seeing Darth Vader appear on the big screen one last time.

Darth Vader, or "dark father" as the literal translation goes, is a massive villain, with Freudian roots, a booming bass voice and fascist evil undertones, that slice through a boy's fascination with power and dare I say it, the boy's natural wonder for what Nietzsche called the 'Ubermencsh'.

Thus, Vader resonates into a young boy's psyche greater than any other science fiction villain ever created, because he represents our struggle with our own fathers but also our own selfish struggle for power and independence.

Okay, okay, I've gone too far, I've assigned dramatic weight to a simple 'action adventure movie'.

None the less, Vader is what helped sell the original Star Wars hysteria, conversely the villains in the first two prequels, were merely mannequins with no subtext or presence with which we could attach to. It left the Star Wars prequels hollow and without any energy or real conflict.

Now, the next Star Wars movie, brings Vader back, albeit just for a cameo at the end. But because the movie leads up to exact moments of his birth, I believe I will enjoy this film, like I've enjoyed no other sci-fi movie in a long, long time.

Yes, a lot of us children from the 70's assign entirely too much significance to Star Wars. I just offer that many children of the 60's make the same mistake with the Beatles or Jack Kerouac. I guess Elvis and maybe Joe Dimaggio suffer from this as well from generations before, I don't know.

Star Wars, it's just a silly space movie serial. I know this. I just think that with Vader as the central theme and nemesis in the latest installment, I believe I am going to enjoy it very, very much indeed.

EDIT: I just found a delightfully angry review of the movie at the New Yorker web site. You can read it by clicking here.

Although the review is vey funny and very accurate in its assault on the film's weaknesses, one has to wonder if the anecdote about the warm water wasn't derived by the author's personal experience as an adolescent.

Perhaps one or too many dark nights in that lonely closet, is one of the reasons the author can't just sit back and enjoy a film aimed at children.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Trendy Red Sox Fans

Trends come and go. The Farrah Fawcet haircut, the Thompson Twins, acid wash jeans and grown men using the adjective 'gnarly' have all thankfully passed away as time has progressed.

It's time for another trend to go away, alas, it will be a while before it does, for right now, this trend is at its peak.

It's time for trendy Boston Red Sox fans to die the same death, the KISS solo albums did in 1978.

Are you a Boston Red Sox fan? I have a small quiz for you then...

1. Where and what is the .406 club?

2. Which Red Sox player used to spit at the fans and/or the press box when he hit a homerun?

3. Tris Speaker vs. Jimmie Foxx discuss who was greater and why.

4. You are coming from Oak Grove to see the Red Sox, name the subway line you would consider taking to see the game.

5. In regards to question 4, what stop would you get off at?

6. In most places, Who's On First refers to a Abbot/Costello routine, in Boston though, what would most people would be talking about what when they mention 'Who's on First?'

7. Who is Thomas Menino?

8. You walk into Fenway Park from Gate C and start heading to the Bleacher Seats, what would most Red Sox fans confess is dominant smell in those corridors as you venture to the Bleachers?

Now if you struggle with more than 2 of these questions, I would now like to inform you that you are not a real Red Sox fan.

To the real Red Sox fans of the Earth, the natives of New England, the generational tradition that has permeated that region for a century, I have no argument with you. Indeed, you have my respect, as much as I dislike Boston, I confess it is one of America's greatest sports towns. the slacker, who works at Starbucks, with his Modest Mouse CD collection, surfing his favorite web site for Halo 2 cheats and exploits, who wears a Red Sox hat because he read some article about that "Babe Ruth curse" somewhere...

...or to the chubby chick that thinks the Red Sox are the charming epicenter of baseball, but have never been east of Spokane and doesn't have a clue what position Bobby Doerr played...

...or to the ultra-liberal pansy, who digs the notion of the perpetual underdog so much, that he wears a Red Sox hat to promote his devotion to all things weak, inept and vaguely conspiratorial but never once saw Yaz hit a homerun...

...or to man in his 40's, who bought a Pedro Martinez jersey one day, because his own home team has gone out of fashion at work and amongst his friends, and then places said jersey next to his Manchester United shirt, his San Jose Shark jersey and the bevy of other merchandise received from all of you, who have clung to the Red Sox, because its the "nifty" thing to do these days...and especially to those of you who think that doing so, makes you a 'real' fan of baseball, I tell you this:

You are not a Red Sox fan, you are a vapid, follower of social trends. In 15 years from now, when the yarn of the "Babe Ruth" curse has lost its luster, you'll be sporting a Cubs hat, or a Buffalo Bills hat, or some other jersey or icon, which ESPN and the rest of the sports conglomerates are spinning as the 'grand epic tale'.

You and your kind will die one day, just like the notion that 'Tears for Fears' were a great and serious band.

And for me personally, it cannot happen a day too soon.

Personally, I've hated the Red Sox for two decades, and I will continue to do so with utter delight for many decades more, oh and fuck the Yankees too while we're at it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Like Data

I like data.

I like numbers and statistics, I like what numbers can mean, but I also like the fact numbers don't tell the whole story.

I like how data can give you a perspective on history or tell a tale often more real than what a historian will record in a text book. You can compare the employment rates of women in the 20th century and get a very accurate view on the progression of the women's movement (or lack thereof for that matter).

I've liked data for a long time. At the age of 6, I use to record hockey scores and hockey statistics onto paper. I'd create my own standings and I could recite just about every player and position in the NHL.

In fact, stats are at the heart of why I still love to follow sports and of course baseball is a statistician's dream. So much so, that I simulate baseball games with dice and cards just to record, review and analyze the numbers. I even built a web site to record and analyze it all here.

There not even real baseball games, yet the numbers related to these 'simulated' games still generate great interest for me. You know, some people build aquariums, or model railroads, others paint pictures or knit shawls. Apparently, I roll dice and record the results into a statistical database.

I am not sure why it appeals to me so, but somehow sorting, analyzing and reviewing good clean data is very soothing to me.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

I'm Still Good

I don't know what to tell you. I was at a bar and I saw it all happen.

There was poor, there was rich, there were the desperate and the fliratious

There were those that wanted, those that neeeded and those that had so much they needed a rest from it.

Then there was me, somewhere in the middle,(where ever that is) watching it all happen, watching it all go down.

And there it was, in some obscure bar, in some corner of the universe, like a flash, it was there...

...the answer to everything...

...the very thing we all seek when see a psych, or when send a probe to Mars. The thing Orson Welles was seeking when he threw the snow globe onto the ground, or the very thing we seek when we put a pen to paper and write a novel, or every time we create in any capacity, the answer to 'why' was right there.

I had it, yes I had it, for a fleeting moment, I swear I had it and then it was gone. Gone, gone, gone.

And all I can remember was, the answer was simple and made me laugh when I thought of it.

It's gone now and all I got is this stupid blog to show for it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Trashed World of Warcraft

I trashed my World of Warcraft account today. I only had it for three weeks and before I actually had to pay for the first subscription month, I went in and trashed the account.

I can't tell you how dissapointed I am with World of Warcraft. It is, the most dissapointing game I've ever played. There are some fantastic elements to World of Warcraft. It has beautiful graphics, it is easy to play and it is widly popular with a large player base.

It also took all the mistakes Everquest made and corrected them. In fact the resentment most gamers had towards Everquest and its design flaws was highly under estimated by Everquest and heavily exploited by World of Warcraft when it released.

EQ2 on the other hand, totally miscalculated. They marketed EQ2 with the idea that the EQ brand was its strongest asset. That its previous frenzy was the key reason people would return to it and generally marketed their game and their brand as the "best".

In fact, the EQ brand had been tarnished significantly and had built a strong resentment with gamers by the time WoW released. EQ's marketing failed to communicate effectively that "your gripes had been answered with EQ2", instead seem to reflect "EQ2: same old EQ you know and love only with better graphics".

In fact, in hindsight, EQ2 shouldn't have branded itself with EQ at all and instead established a new identity, but I digress.

The bottom line is, that people jumped on WoW's free trial in droves and once they found they could level fast, with a minimum of grief and that all their previous EQ beefs had been solved, they raved about the game and killed EQ2's launch.

WOW game exploded in popularity and WOW's only initial problems were they did not anticipate demand and a lack of servers and server stability was a key issue.

It didn't matter though, fans tolerated the outages, because it was better than EQ and even more than that, they felt they finally had the last laugh on EQ, a game they perceived did not care about them or their concerns.

But to me, now that the hysteria of "hey its better than EQ2" has worn off with World of Warcraft, all that remains is the game itself. And the game itself is relatively weak in mechanics/class design, extremely weak in character customization and is endlessly, endlessly repetitive with no real significant outcome/consequence to your player's actions.

My beefs with WOW include but are not limited to:

1. The music is derivative and weak.

2. Ambient sound, is extremely weak.

3. The look and feel is cartoonish, you spend more time lauging at the monsters and creatures than being inspired or awestruck by them.

4. Everyone looks the same, the lack of customization, especially early in the game, is extremely annoying. You feel and look, just like everyone else.

5. The story and NPC character development is non-existant. I am never involved in any of the communities I visit, except to do quests which are never anything more than 'fetch, grab and kill' missions.

6. None of the missions are unique, hardly any of them develop in story and none involve any thought or skill. It's all about investing time and knowing where to go.

7. The mapping system is terrible and in fact, the game forces you to read web sites, blogs and the like to find out where things are, where to go and what is worthwhile exploring or doing.

People who are engrossed in WOW, have largely been engrossed since its release. 'New' players are harder and harder to find on WOW servers.

What that tells me is I give the game about a year before the entrenched players have exhausted the game's playabilty and begin to gripe about it, much like everyone griped about EQ when its player base began to withered and atrophied.

And hopefully what ever comes along to replace WOW next year, will be a lot more compelling to play and won't look and feel so much like a dumb Saturday cartoon.