Weaponizing Video Game Reviews?

File this under First World Problems, but it continues to amaze how fawning and deferential those who cover video games for a living are toward the industry they nominally cover rather than work for. Today’s exhibit is Thomas McDonald’s column in the August 2012 issue of Maximum PC (page 10 of the PDF archive of the issue) which is concerned with the horrors of gamers giving Diablo III one-star reviews because of its requirement that users always maintain an online connection in order to play.

McDonald writes,

I don’t think always-on DRM is such a hot idea, but it’s Blizzard’s game, and if they feel it’s necessary to protect the integrity of both the product and the forthcoming real-money auction house, and can get it to work, that’s their call. At this late date, no one is buying Diablo III without foreknowledge of the DRM issue, so you either suck it up knowing that’s the price of admission, or you just shut up about it and buy another game.

It is always endearing when people who already have a sizable platform to express their views and have those views heard by others turn around inform those who don’t that their only options are either to “suck it up . . . or just shut up about it”.

Or, you choose option three: Spam public review sites with hostile “reviews,” calling D3 a horrible, awful, hateful sack of pus that probably causes cancer and shingles and kills kittens for fun. And then give it a score of “0,” not because of any inherent problems with the design or content, but because you want to punish the publisher.

To McDonald, requiring an always online connection is not an inherent design problem and those who think it is should shut up about it already. Lets unpack that a bit.

At launch, that always online DRM prevented many people who had paid for the game from being able to actually play it. The always online requirement effectively takes the problems experienced by MMO launches and applies them to every game with this feature. Maybe that’s not an issue to McDonald, but for many people that is in and of itself an inherent problem with a game like Diablo 3.

Despite what McDonald seems to think, it is also not necessarily the case that every video game purchaser hangs on every word put out by the media or company press releases. Consider this Amazon review of Diablo 3 that focuses on the online DRM,

I pre-ordered this game very early on and thought to play while on deployment during my down time, then found out I had to have an active internet connection which is impossible out here. I promptly returned the game for refund (thanks Amazon) and have sworn off Blizzard for good, 10 years of waiting for nothing. I hope your greedy bottom line is worth losing a lot of long time fans of the game. Blizzard you’ll not get another damn dime of my money, ever!

Jesus, just suck it up and buy another game or shut up about it already!

McDonald has no time for the idea that this sort of thing is a legitimate consumer protest against companies as Blizzard,

I’m supposed to understand these outbursts as a form of consumer protest, but this kind of protest is not nuance thought. It’s reactionary.

. . .

It also totally compromises the tools that allow the public to evaluate products. It’s a way of weaponizing public review systems like Metacritic and Amazon, rendering them incapable of conveying useful information.

I’m surprised McDonald didn’t just come out and say that giving a game low rating simply because of its DRM is Communism.

Being able to give a game a low score solely because of its obnoxious DRM problems is a feature, not a bug, of online review systems. Diablo 3’s low score on Amazon and Metacritic is conveying extremely useful information to consumers, many of whom don’t understand the full implications of this sort of DRM.

Seriously, You’re Going to Charge Me Double for that Book?

So I’m going through some paper piles in my home office when I come across a page I ripped out of Previews last year with a description of a book I eventually want to track down and read, Gotham City 14 Miles: Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters,

This essay collection offers the 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo the critical reexamination it deserves, on subjects like counter-culture, Batmania, women, camp, gadgetry, music and more.

So I head on over to Amazon to add it to my wish list, but there’s something odd — Previews lists the MSRP as $22.95, but the only seller on Amazon offering the book wants $49.95 + $3.99 shipping for the 300 page softcover.

Since the book is such a niche product, maybe it’s already out of print and hard to find. A quick Google search turns up a web page the book’s publisher has set up, and right there on the page is a link to buy the book from Lulu.com at the astoundingly high price of $22.95.

I wonder if the Amazon seller even has a copy of the book in stock, or  is just waiting for someone to order it whereupon he or she will procure the book from Lulu.com and ship it out to the customer.

Completely legal, but seriously scumbag tactics.

Anyway, it is also disappointing that since the book is available at Lulu.com already that there is no option to purchase a PDF version of it. If there was, I’d have probably just bought and downloaded it right now. As it is, I’ll add the book to my wishlist, but not sure if I’ll ever get around to actually ordering it.

Kindle 2? Yawn

Amazon Kindle 2So Amazon finally announced its long-rumored Kindle 2 which appears to be just like the original Kindle only 25 percent more of everything.

I bought a Kindle right after it went on sale last November, but stopped using it after a couple months. Amazon doesn’t seem to have fixed any of the defects with Kindle 2.

Amazon says the battery lasts 25% longer letting the user “read for days without recharging”. Yeah, right. The Kindle battery life was awful. With its much-vaunted Whispernet turned out, battery life was pretty much non-existent. Most of the times I actually wanted to use the Kindle, the battery was dead. I’ve never seen a device go through power so quickly when it wasn’t even turned on.

Similarly, Amazon says they’ve added more storage so you can carry along more than 1,500 books, but the major defect with the original Kindle was a lack of any way to manage large libraries. I had hundreds of books on my Kindle — the only way to organize them was in one long frakking list which the user then had to page through. No folders, subfolders, tags, categories or any other organizational system other than one big damn list.

The only thing that’s halfway interesting in the Kindle 2 is the text-to-speech feature and I’d really like to hear that demonstrated on a variety of books to see how useful it really is.

Me, I went out recently and bought a Sony PRS700 which is Sony’s second generation reader that has a touch screen and a backlight. The backlight is stupid and pointless (if you’re considering buying a PRS700 for the backlight, don’t). The touch screen works great — I have a habit of underlining and annotating books as I read, and the PRS700 works great for that. Morever, the battery life is fairly good and the PRS700 actually allows the user to sort books into what it calls “Collections,” so I can keep my hard scifi novels separate from the historical romances separate from the science and history books.

And whatever you do, if you’re using an ebook reader don’t pay for the DRMed crap books Amazon and Sony want to sell you unless you have a software tool to remove the DRM. Both readers will accept non-DRMed files and non-DRMed files are the only way to ensure that in a few years you’ll still be able to read the books you buy today.

Why No RSS Feeds for Amazon Wish Lists?

Maybe I’m just out here on the cutting edge and no one else in the universe would find this useful, but I’m always amazed that Amazon doesn’t have RSS/Atom feeds for wishlists. I could subscribe to all of my relatives/friends wish lists in Google Reader and give Amazon yet another opportunity to suck up my hard earned cash.

But, alas, no. I gave up on Amazon Wish Lists awhile ago and was using TheThingsIWant.Com which pretty much sucked except that it had RSS feeds. But now it appears to be down for the count (offline the past few days).

Companies seem to omit services like this because the knock is that the average user has no idea what RSS is, much less why they’d want to use it. Which is true enough, I guess, but there are plenty of Amazon-related sites geared to non-technical users that at the moment are forced to scrap wish list information from Amazon. Why hamper the development of such services by not offering native RSS/Atom feeds?