Game Marketing Strategy that P—– Me Off

The morons at Interplay did this with Starfleet Command and they’ve decided to do it again with Starfleet Command II — the game ships with a bonus disk, but the only way to get the bonus disk is to pre-order through the Interplay site. What, the money I spent at Best Buy just isn’t good enough for them?

Normally I completely detest software piracy — people are always offering to burn game CDs for me or ask me to burn some for them, and I always politely decline. I make an exception for this sort of “not available anywhere else” nonsense.


The Register has been reporting on Warner Brothers going after people who registered domain names with the words “Harry Potter” in them — for example, their lawyers intimidated some poor chap in the UK in to handing over

I happen to think this is nonsense. In the real world there are a number of perfectly legitimate entities that use the words “Harry Potter” without authorization from the trademark holder, such as guides to Harry Potter collectibles. If someone wanted to assemble a book compiling various essays on the Harry Potter phenomenon and called it, “Harry Potter Is A Wizard,” Warner Brothers wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

So, to make a long story short, I registered HarryPotterIsAWizard.Com — since The Register pointed out it was available — and plan on putting up a site at that address shortly to protest WB’s and other companies and individuals’ recent egregious domain name actions (such as the silly decision that gave Madonna.Com to the singer).

3dfx’s Stunning Turnaround — From Market Leader to the Chopping Block in 24 Months

A couple years ago graphic chip maker 3dfx was so far ahead of its competitors that people often used 3dfx and 3d accelerator cards as synonymous. Its competitors tended to put out propriety chips that didn’t work well (if they worked at all) and had numerous problems. 3dfx was on top of the world and looked, to me at least, untouchable.

This week, of course, 3dfx went out of business with rival chip maker and reining 3d king Nvidia acquiring the only thing of value 3dfx had left — its intellectual property in the form of patents and some physical assets. What happened?

3dfx got greedy. Rather than simply turn out butt kicking graphics chips, 3dfx listened to the suits who were whispering in their ears that they could make even more money if they cut out the middlemen who put their chips on cards with different configurations and went into the business of exclusively producing graphic cards with their chips. So where once you could buy a 3d card with a 3dfx chip from any number of companies, now the only place to buy such cards was from 3dfx. Unfortunately for the company, it sucked at getting graphics cards out almost as much as it excelled at creating state-of-the-art graphics.

Nvidia positioned itself simply as a graphics chip company and won. Why deal with all the headaches of different card configurations and technical support for every iteration — sell the chips to third parties and let them deal with that hassle (and conversely, let competition among card makers give consumers a much wider range of options than Nvidia could possibly support on its own).

In addition, Nvidia embraced Microsoft’s Direct 3D while 3dfx’s Voodoo cards supported its own Glide system exclusively. Early versions of Direct 3D were horrendous (and some argue the API has improved little since then), but hardware companies ignore Microsoft at their own peril

Of course hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s always that easy to tell the difference between a boneheaded move and passing up a golden business opportunity, but everything 3dfx was doing was so far removed from its bread and butter graphic chip business that it would really have been a shock if the company had been able to pull it off.

There’s also a lesson in there about just how quickly a company can go from market leader to dead meat. A lot of people thought 3dfx was making the wrong decisions, but nobody to my knowledge suspected they’d be out of business in only two years, much less from Nvidia which prior to its TNT chip produced cards that were generally considered inferior at best.

Does Apple Care About Its Customers?

Chris Scott writes about his recent problems buying a Macintosh (short version — Apple decided to use a proprietary interface for their Apple Studio Displays that is incompatible with older G4 computers).

Reading his story, however, this isn’t an Apple problem per se but from my experience is standard operating procedure among most hardware companies. I know people who work in technical support for large computer manufacturers who are very good at what they do, but I’ve also spent more than enough time talking to a customer service representative who knew less about the hardware than I did.

Scott is peeved that the box on his computer monitor didn’t say that it wouldn’t work with “older” G4 machines. It wasn’t quite as much money, but I once bought a game and on the box it said it required a 3D graphics accelerator. No problem — I’ve got one of those. Unfortunately you had to go to the company’s web site to learn that the game did not work with about ten 3D accelerators, including the most popular card on the market at that time (and it took the company about 6 months to get all the bugs finally worked out for those 3D cards).

Animal Liberation Front Claims Responsibility for Vancouver Truck Firebombing

The Animal Liberation Front claim that on December 11 activists placed incendiary devices under three trucks at Ferry Meat Market in Vancouver, British Columbia, though apparently only one of the incendiary devices actually detonated.

In a communique republished by the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, the ALF activists said that,

Ferry Meat Market …was chosen because of its involvement with the barbaric meat trade that claims billions of lives yearly. All businesses large or small which participate in animal abusing industries will continue to be targeted as part of the ALF’s ongoing campaign to tend the slaughter of animals for profit. Let it be known to those with blood on their hands that we are watching.

In case anyone missed the point in that, David Barbarash — who insists he is only a spokesman for the ALF — said in the Press Office release that, “Meat companies and packing plants are frequent targets of animal liberation activists because of the inherent cruelty of raising an animal for slaughter. From the rearing of cows, pigs and chickens, to their confinement, to their ultimate slaughter all involve cruelty, pain, suffering and ultimately, death.”


A.L.F. claim fire attack on meat trucks. Press release, North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, December 13, 2000.

Student Groups on the Dole

A few years ago, conservative students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sued the university on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to force them to pay student fees which went to groups who espoused views they disagreed with. Essentially the students argued they were being forced by the state to subsidize certain viewpoints. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the students, ruling that student fees used to fund student groups were within the realm of the educational mission of the university.

At the time it seemed like a slam dunk victory for the student groups on the dole in Wisconsin, but now it appears those groups may yet end up being made losers by the litigation. Specifically the U.S. Supreme Court said that student fee systems such as Wisconsin’s were Constitutional so long as they had a viewpoint-neutral system. Last week a U.S. Circuit Court ruled that, in fact, Wisconsin’s system was not viewpoint neutral and hence unconstitutional.

One of the interesting things about the latest development is that even one of the benefactors of the system admits it is not viewpoint-neutral. Here’s what Heidi Richgruber, the project coordinator for University of Wisconsin student group Sex Out Loud, told the Badger Herald,

I think the decision is significant. It scares me and makes me nervous thinking that the things which keep student organizations going is in jeopardy. However, I do agree that it is a biased system.

One of the amusing things is the number of groups the Badger Herald was able to track down who complain they simply wouldn’t survive without all of the money they confiscate from other students. From a lot of personal experience, groups that would truly fail without such funding are almost always very poorly managed and/or considered irrelevant by the vast majority of students. By crying that they won’t survive, such groups simply beg the question of what role they serve in the first place if there is almost no independent demand for their message.


Court decision worries U. Wisconsin student groups. Jill Bower, The Badger Herald (University of Wisconsin), December 12, 2000.