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Goose and Gander

In a surprisingly hot-topic twist, the internet was awash in reactions last week to Blizzard shutting down a vanilla private server. While the bloggers had the right idea, various random commenters had a much different reaction. The mental gymnastics are on point:

I don’t think you quite understand how this works. nothing is being stolen, absolutely nothing. Vanilla WoW cannot be purchased or played anymore.

here’s another scenario for you. lets say for instance you want to play one of the old Battlefield games like 1942 or Battlefield 2. you can’t though. you know why you can’t? the Gamespy servers got shut down. so if you wanted to play one of those games online how would you do it? well you could organize a LAN party but you’d need atleast 16 people with 16 gaming PCs all in the same place but good luck trying to make that happen.

the other way to do it would be to find a dedicated group of fans that are modders. they reverse engineer the code, they write new code that allows anybody to host servers for the game in question. put that code out on the internet as a mod. then people start hosting servers for this 14 year old game. EA loses nothing in this process because they aren’t supporting the game anyway.

this is what this group was doing with WoW. Activision wasn’t losing anything by these people playing Vanilla WoW.

I mean, let’s be real here. Blizzard/EA/whoever owns the IP, and gets final legal say with how it is utilized. That’s what copyright means. If they want to sit on an unsupported franchise and let it rot, that is their right. You can make some sort of moral “abandonware” or “historical preservation” argument, but again, the law is pretty clear here. Whether or not Blizzard is losing anything by letting others pirate their material is besides the point.

Now, if you’re fine with being a pirate, that’s all right with me.

The owners/employees of Nostalrius had an AMA on Reddit earlier, and they described the costs involved with running the server: $500-$1000/month for server/bandwidth costs. For ~150,000 active accounts (defined by at least one log-in event in the last 10 days). Which really confirms how and why there are so many zombie MMOs still shambling about, i.e. it’s apparently super cheap to run. You know, minus the employee wages, of which none were paid in this scenario, even though they apparently committed 20-30 hours a week on top of their day jobs.

It is debatable how much money Blizzard is “leaving on the table” in this scenario though. 150,000 active users on a private WoW server is larger than most actual MMOs on the market currently. Crucially, however, these were all F2P users – how many would convert to $15/month customers is a matter of debate. If 10% converted, that’d still be roughly a quarter million a month. That’s enough to pay 44 people’s $60k salaries per year with some left over. Assuming that they even needed 44 full-time people to shepherd over legacy code.

The problem is opportunity cost. And marketing/messaging. Blizzard could probably make money off of legacy servers… but would it be more money than they could by spending that human capital elsewhere? As someone with less than zero interest in vanilla WoW, I know that I would prefer those 44 full-time people doing something more useful, like staunching the +150k subscriber bleeding every quarter from WoW Prime. When was the last time new content was released again?

Releasing and maintaining legacy servers would be the equivalent of Blizzard rooting around in the couch for spare change while the house burns down around them. Which it is.

How Not to Get Money

[Blaugust Day 28]

Much like Steam before it, CrunchyRoll has completely supplanted any desire of mine to pirate its product – in this case, anime. It was really a combination of things, as it was getting annoying finding anime torrents with more than 4-5 seeders, having to download 10+ GB worth of show that you’re going to end up deleting anyway, bad fan subs, missing episodes, and so on.

#Firstworldpirateproblems, truly.

Then here came CrunchyRoll with streaming content, professional subbing, and even simulcasts if you wanted to pay for Premium. If you didn’t want to pay, you could still watch the shows of your choice, with ads. Ads which, incidentally, are completely blocked with AdBlockPlus such that they barely register as a flicker on the screen.

Originally, I think I was tricked into subscribing for CrunchyRoll Premium in that they were holding the final episode of the show I was watching hostage. It might have been legitimate, in that the show just ended in Japan, and Premium users get access to the latest episode at least a week before it goes “free.” Whatever the reason, I signed up for the “free trial” of Premium and then stayed subscribed ever since. I consider it a fairly good value overall, especially since I can watch everything in 1080p. You wouldn’t think resolution matters in hand-drawn content, but you would be surprised. Or maybe that was just me being surprised.

I usually watch 1-2 episodes of some random show or another during dinner, which means I can plow through an entire series in a week or two. This wasn’t a problem, until it kinda was: I had watched just about everything ever recommended to me… that plays on CrunchyRoll.

Now I wanted to watch Steins;Gate. Enter FUNimation:

Spoilers!

Spoilers! …not really, this is episode 2.

Which, incidentally, plays anime through Hulu.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or coworker was really shit-talking someone bad, and you nod your head, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking “Surely some of that is exaggeration. Nobody is that awful.” And some time passes before you encounter that person, so you sorta forget about them. Then you finally meet them and realize “holy shit, they really are that awful! I regret everything!”

So, yeah, Hulu.

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

I heard Hulu was bad with ads, but my mind is still reeling from this encounter. I was trying to watch Steins;Gate, which is already hard enough to follow without two minutes, forty seconds of unskippable ads every four minutes of show. I understand that that’s “normal” television show content-to-ad ratios (22 min of show, 8 of ads), but that is also precisely why I don’t watch television. I have never bought cable my whole adult life and hopefully never will.

Really, you almost have to experience this abomination for yourself:

How about no?

How about no?

Apparently AdBlockPlus will block some ads but not others. I could not verify it for sure, but I’m also convinced that the timer resets sometimes when I’m Alt-Tabbed and it tries to cycle into another ad that it cannot display. At least, it certainly feels that way. Or perhaps I am so used to, you know, the internet that waiting 150 seconds for the content I want to load simply feels like an eternity.

Like CrunchyRoll, FUNimation has a Premium version that supposedly removes the ads. Given how much shit I’ve heard about Hulu, and how Hulu expressly states that “Some shows will still serve ads to subscribers,” I have little inclination to believe them.

So congrats, FUNimation/Hulu, for being goddamn annoying enough that this becomes a better alternative once again:

Just in time.

Just in time.

It took about 35 minutes to download that. Or about four episodes worth of Hulu advertising.

PSP PSX

Way back when, Gaben of Valve and Steam fame put forth an assertion that (game) piracy is an accessibility issue, not a monetary one. In other words, the primary driving force for piracy is because companies make it difficult to legitimately use/acquire their products, and not because people don’t want to pay for them. The economic argument can’t be dismissed, of course, but the accessibility one was particularly novel for its time. The meteoric rise of Steam as a PC game platform certainly has codified the argument as a truism.

I have a series of vacations coming up soon (in fact, I’m on one right now) that will see me far from my normal means of entertainment. Indeed, one such vacation will be 2 weeks in Japan, and the corresponding 13-hour one-way flight is particularly noteworthy. So, in order to assuage my upcoming gaming withdraw, I purchased a PSP from eBay for about $60. I was going to spring for the Vita instead, but the outrageous price of its memory sticks and lack of hackability dissuaded me from a purchase. How could it really compare to a cheaper PSP with nearly a hundred of the best NES/SNES/Genesis/GBA/PSX games on it?

Well, let me tell you how: by not being a giant pain in the ass.

This is truly a First World Pirate Problem, but setting up the PSP to play original PS1 games has consumed more time thus far than I would likely play any one of them. If I sat down and devoted an entire day to copyright infringement, no doubt I could get everything set up and likely streamline the process somehow. But every minute screwing around with POPS loaders and converting .ISO files to .eBoots and wading through sketchy websites for files is another minute I’m not using my leisure time for its titular purpose.

A friend of mine had gotten on the PSP pirate train early, so I hit him up for advice. “Get a Vita.” If the news passed you by, Sony has digitized a rather large selection of PS1 classics to be purchased and downloaded from the PSN service. Much like me with PC games, I’m relatively certain that my friend’s change of heart had more to do with ease of use than necessarily a moral epiphany. Nearly 5-10 hours into this process across as many days, I am certainly pondering how much I would be willing to spend to just have everything work.

Nostalgia is expensive.

Nostalgia is expensive.

$9.99 per 700MB game that came out in 1998 that I already legitimately paid for? Tactics Ogre at $19.99?! Ehhh… let me dick around with it a little bit longer.