Heh, I’ve reached a strange point in my WoW life. Up until now I had been leveling up slowly, taking my time, joking in the guild chat, devoting time to explore the world and the places I’m not supposed to be at.

Thanks to the wonderful dynamics of a PvP server, all that is changing. After level 40 or so, solo questing and hunting has become a real chore, with zones full of red-named players that want to see you die, no matter the means or the (lack of) reward. The last time I had a balanced battle was at level 29. Since then, it’s been all gangs of 3 against 1, level 60s ripping me apart in a few hits, players that wait until your health bar is low from fighting mobs before attacking you. Hunt for a few minutes, die an unavoidable death and spend the next 5-10 minutes getting back to your corpse. I have tried to join the dynamic, and it made me even more sick.

Considering the only reason I am in a PVP server is the people I guild with, and that being a slower than average player prevents me from playing with them, I have reached a point where either I pump levels to catch up with them (high-end, gank-free instances) or I’ll leave the server and the friends.

I suspect my enjoyment of the game will not survive this change of pace. It’s the best, most polished, most fun, funny and entertaining MMO I have tried, but sometimes the universe just conspires against us.

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Ads and the free Internet

Interesting topic of discussion here. Summary: well-known internet ad firm says systems that block their ads will remove opportunities for sites that want to remain free (their claim is a lot more outrageous, but of course they’re an ad firm so what do you expect?).

Like I mentioned a couple posts below regarding MSN Messenger, the real problem comes when you annoy people. Like most people remark in the slashdot discussion, I never have had a problem with Google Ads, and I have clicked them a few times. In fact, they are the ONLY type of ad I think I have ever clicked in a website. That alarmist company can take their popups, flash animations and *gasp* ads with sounds, and hide them where the sun doesn’t shine. They are facing stiff competition from a company that knows how to create a service that other companies AND their customers appreciate, and therefore their business is in trouble.

I remember discussing the issue of annoying ads back in 2000 when my boss was involved in creating an internet company. I told him I had just seen a site where clicking on the article I wanted to see took me to an ad page from which I could go to the actual article, and how dumb that was. He replied he couldn’t see that kind of cheap trick work. I guess he believes too much in building value for his businesses (he never floated his internet startup, and it has become a successful service in its own right instead).

Firefox is now my browser (again, after many years of going with IE), I don’t have flash installed on it and I don’t plan to, when I specifically want to view a Flash site I’ll use IE but that’s all. Call it a poor man’s ad-blocker, but it’s fairly effective.

To anyone who is in the business of annoying other people: understand that most of us WANT to see your company go bankrupt, and will do everything in our hands to help that happen.

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Added 5 or 6 new pics to the Gallery. Also discovered a handy tool to remove all the crap that Photoshop insists on including in JPG files. Thumbnail pics gone down from 18Kb to 4Kb, what’s not to like?

Edit: finally revamped the Gallery to use a database backend and an upload form through the web. Took a while to figure out all the proper parameters and code in the PHP script and the server panel, but it works now.

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Messenger 7

Congratulations, Microsoft! After several years of staying with Messenger and refusing to use other IMs, your latest and greatest additions to an app already crammed with CRAP has finally convinced me.

Trillian here I come.

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New spam technique?

Maybe someone can shed light on this. This morning I found 300 emails in my inbox, from various Mailer Systems, notifying that "my email could not be delivered", all from various sources and different styles. Some of them included the original email or the subject, which was essentially spam.

My PCs were turned off at the time all those error emails were generated and sent, so I doubt I have been virused or trojaned. The possibility is that someone is sending spam and putting a real email address (mine in this case) in the From: / Reply-To: fields. If blacklists and anti-spam filters are using and registering these fields, this would be a damn great way to either ruin someone’s address, or more likely, render those systems unusable by filling them from non-spammer data. Spoofing a From: / Reply-To: field is the easiest thing in the world, but I had never thought of this use. I now fear my e-mail address (which has been relatively spam-safe for years) will be blacklisted and ruined forever.

Anyone knows anything about this issue?

Links I’ve found about this:

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XBox Live Arcade

Microsoft finally launches a casual game download service for the XBox. Strane, considering the next iteration of the console comes out in about 6 months, and the service is launched in Europe of all places. I assume they simply want to test and polish the download / promotion / billing system so it’s available out of the box for XBox 360’s launch.

Oh and Jason is right: I have given up and joined the masses in accepting the XBox 360’s name. Guess I’m too old to keep fighting for lost causes. 🙂

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CARVI 2005

The Virtual Reality-focused conferences at CARVI 2005 took place these past two days. Very well organized by EUVE, lots of interesting talks and people to meet. I had fun giving my talk exploring where Virtual Reality and Videogames meet, and got asked tons of questions during the coffee breaks.

And, of course, nothing beats a few sunny days in the Basque Country. Good times.

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Independent games viability

Interesting quote from Greg Costikyan: "fostering an independent games movement really requires solving three problems simultaneously: First, creating a desire among developers to do something different; second, finding a solution to the business issue of creating a viable channel for distribution of independent product; and third, changing gamer culture. By that I mean that people who like indie music and film are willing to accept lower production values in exchange for individual vision and creativity."

Imagine a world where you pay $15-$25 for games that last 2-3 hours. That would be the games equivalent of the modern DVD market. However, would the DVD market work at all without the big movie theater industry behind? Would the modern CD industry work without radio, MTV, clubs and live events?

Oh and let’s not forget that games platforms disappear after a few years, and the backwards compatibility efforts are not solid enough (even if that article is fairly inaccurate, the perception is what counts). At least, according to Jason Rubin, we’re approaching the end of the technological feature race – something that movies reached over 50 years ago. But with several competing platforms fighting for exclusives, the scope of the industry is in fact segregated in 3-5 sub-industries, with the corresponding reduction in awareness and overall power.

So the question is, how would this elusive "independent games industry" be, look, work like? The best I can think of are cable TV-like models for consoles; which is why I believe that Microsoft’s XBox Live project is the single most important weapon in their arsenal. But then, why did I never have any faith in the whole Phantom console thing? I guess because of the catalogue.

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The cost of entertainment

Browsing through, I came across this bit where a UK store is speculating with a retail price of 400 pounds for the XBox 360. That got me thinking into the prices for other territories.

400 UK pounds is roughly US$ 700. However history says a more likely US price would be $500. History also says that the rest of Europe would see a price of 500 Euros. Weighing in the standards of living, average salaries and whatnot, this means gaming in Spain and most of Europe is twice as expensive as gaming in the US. A similar problem happens with the price of games themselves. No wonder the European market is still behind the US, despite being potentially bigger. I’m going to build some rough figures to get an idea:

Price of a movie ticket:
US: $7 ($7)
UK: 5 UKP ($9)
Spain: 5.5 E ($6.7)

Price of a PS2 game (checked Episode 3 on PS2 in Amazon and FNAC):
US: $50 ($50)
UK: 40 UKP ($72)
Spain: 60 E ($72)

Price of a DVD movie (checked Collateral and Troy)
US: $20 ($20)
UK: 16 UKP ($28)
Spain: 20 E ($24)

Average salaries (circa 2002):
US: $37K /
UK: 22K UKP ($39K) (Interesting bit: median salary was 18K UKP ($31K))
Spain: 19.2K E ($23K) /

(Sources: (US) (UK) (Spain) )

Relative prices of a movie, game, DVD:
US: 0.189, 1.351, 0.540
UK: 0.227, 1.818, 0.727
Spain: 0.286, 3.125, 1.042

So, in Spain, a game is more than twice as expensive as in the US, for people of similar standard of living / social status. Of course the salaries are for 2002 whereas the exchange rates and costs are more recent… but I don’t think the results are too far off anyway.

Now, if you need to earn double of the national average in order to be able to afford games in a similar way as the average american does, well you see why gaming is not terribly popular in Spain. At least, paid gaming. 🙂 Let’s make a wild guess that 20% of the population earns at least twice the national average. With a population of 40million (compared to the US’s 290m), you’d conclude that the spanish high-end game market would be roughly 5% of the US. According to, Spain has 2.6% of the worldwide games market, so these figures are not too far off. For our population, we should be somewhere around 6% of the global games market.

Now let’s look into pricing. Given our standard of living, to achieve similar unit sales %’s as the US or UK we would need prices of games slashed from 60E to around 25E. Such a 60% price drop would probably bring revenue per unit down to 20% of what it is today (considering fixed costs such as operations, manufacturing, distribution and etc). If you sell 3 times as many units, but only make 1/5th the revenue, you end up losing money. Such bold attempts have caused enough damage to our industry in the past.

Ok, enough pulling numbers out of my hat. There are enough assumptions here to fill several trucks. Is there a sweet spot where a small price drop could bring a noticeable increase in sales? Well, if that price drop happened, the public wouldn’t increase overnight without some serious publicity and campaigning. Since the games market is handled by several competing companies, it’s unlikely they’d all agree to something like that. However, with the new crop of consoles coming out during the next year, it would be a great opportunity for one of the console makers to pull it off. I’m looking at you, Microsoft.

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