Friday, December 28, 2012

Even Valve can act shamefully

Via Hacker News I recently ran across a piece on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's site called First Sale Under Siege — If You Bought It, You Should Own It.

In the piece EFF explains the concept of "first sale":

…once you've acquired a lawfully-made CD or book or DVD, you can lend, sell, or give it away without having to get permission from the copyright owner. In simpler terms, "you bought it, you own it" (and because first sale also applies to gifts, "they gave it to you, you own it" is also true).

Publishers have always hated the first sale doctrine because it reduces their sales, but now with everything moving to digital formats they can act to prevent it. As EFF's piece explains, first sale is under siege because publishers are furiously working to abolish it.

Most gamers are aware of Valve's huge Steam Holiday Sale currently running through January 5th. Deep discounts are the major feature of this annual sale, commonly reaching 50% and often 75% or more.

In addition to buying a number of titles for myself, I also bought a number of gifts for my young relatives. I'd never used Steam for gifts before so I did some research on how it worked. In the process I came across this in the answer to What is a Steam Gift?

Also note that you may only gift new purchases—you may not transfer games you already own. That’d be like wrapping up and presenting the toaster you’ve used every morning for the past year.

Here we have a clear example of first sale being under siege. But more disappointing than Valve being the perpetrator is that the used toaster analogy is wrong and Valve knows it.

Of course real world items such as toasters show signs of wear as the result of being used. Toasters, in particular, readily show wear and accumulate crumbs and other dirt. Obviously a used toaster is less valuable than a new one of the same make and model.

Not only do digitally-distributed games not wear out, an infinite number of copies can be made of the original download. So the sentence should read "That’d be like wrapping up and presenting a clone of the toaster you have, in its original brand new state." But an accurate analogy wouldn't support Valve's argument.

If Valve permitted the gifting of used games it would incur costs both in processing the gift transaction and the bandwidth consumed by the recipient downloading the gift. Valve isn't concerned with recouping those costs, which are but a tiny fraction of the revenue received from a new sale. It wants to avoid the loss of income from a reduction of new sales.

Valve has been called out on this before; one instance is this November, 2011, thread on the Steam Users' Forums called Used toaster analogy is no good in this economic climate. As user puffincat points out, Valve could simply be honest about not wanting to suffer the lost sales.

In using an analogy that it knows to be inaccurate, Valve seeks to mislead its customers. This example shows that even a beloved company such as Valve is not above occasional shameful behavior.

[Update 12/28 15:03] Valve's broken analogy is not a mistake; it's broken for the purpose of shaping consumer behavior. Consider the other two ways Valve could have treated the analogy:
  1. It could have replaced the analogy with an honest admission that Valve and the other publishers think that their sales will be higher by prohibiting the gifting or resale of used games.
  2. It could have omitted the analogy, and prohibited gifting used games without any explanation.
The first option would likely cause some consumers to think of Valve and the other publishers as being greedy, which is not an image companies find useful to project. The second option would have little effect on consumer behavior. Instead Valve chose an inaccurate analogy regarding gifting used games:

That’d be like wrapping up and presenting the toaster you’ve used every morning for the past year.

Can you spot the subtle manipulation in this statement? It creates the idea of being someone so stingy that they'd give a used toaster as a gift. Most people will reject this idea since they don't wish to appear to be a cheapskate. This natural reaction to a concept most people find repellent serves to shape consumer behavior to Valve's benefit—gifting only new games.

There's a word that perfectly describes the inaccurate analogy:

propaganda, noun    Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Thanks to the commenters on Reddit who caused me to think further about the analogy and the point I'm making with this piece.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Minecraft: The Lighter block from SDK's Mods

From the General Information spoiler in the topic for SDK's Mods on the Minecraft Forums:

The lighter block lights on fire when power is applied to it.

According to the Block and Item IDs spoiler, the Lighter currently has block ID 131, but it had block ID 112 when this Mod Compatibility List was published in January, 2011.

This video from March 12, 2011 shows Lighter blocks in use:

Minecraft- spider spawner trap with on/off switch

Mojang recently declared that plugins (mods) cannot have exclusive features, so it's no problem that other mods have blocks with similar functionality to the Lighter, such as the Hibachi in Better Than Wolves or RedPower 2's Igniter.

Mojang issued its statement so that it may freely implement functionality in Minecraft that is similar to that found in a mod. Indeed, Mojang has already done this with the Piston, Ender Chest, Anvil (Better Than Wolves has long had an anvil), and 3D Items.

[Updated Dec. 21, 2012 to add the Anvil and 3D items to the list of mod ideas that Mojang has incorporated into Minecraft.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jeb's Minecraft API slides from Minecon 2012

At Minecon 2012 in November there was a session on The Future of the plugin API. The session opened with a presentation by Jens Bergensten (Jeb) which consisted of ten slides. Below are the text of the slides.

Slide 1
  • Minecraft Plugin API
  • Scope and Development
Slide 2
  • What is a Plugin?
  • It's a file package in your game folder
  • It has unique information that identifies it
  • It's loaded with your world
  • It's listed in server information
  • It adds or removes functionality
Slide 3
  • Where Do You Get Plugins?
  • Download from the web manually
  • Download from the Minecraft repository
Slide 4
  • How Do You Use Plugins?
  • Edit plugin settings per world
  • Upgrade plugin versions
  • Changing plugins may require world file conversion
Slide 5
  • Plugins in Multiplayer
  • Defined in property files
  • Connecting players must have either pre-installed the plugin, or will download it from the repository
Slide 6
  • Developing a Plugin
  • In Java, implementing API interfaces
  • Details still unclear!
Slide 7
  • Publishing a Plugin
  • "Publishing" means "putting in central repository"
  • Administration page on
  • Upload updates and changelogs
  • Not possible to remove updates, so do your own snapshots and pre-releases! =)
Slide 8
  • Making Money?
  • Not via the repository or the game
  • Your own site or via YouTube etc, as it is now
  • Minecraft plugins are not exclusive (read Jeb's comments)
Slide 9
  • Development Plan
  • First step is to make Minecraft flexible
  • Enable Plugin loading
  • Do the rest of the API...
  • Step by step, make vanilla a plugin
Slide 10
  • Movie Time!
You'll have to watch the presentation to see the short video that was shown.

Following Jeb's talk there was a Q&A session with questions handled by the entire panel of Jeb, Nathan Adams (Dinnerbone), Warren Loo (EvilSeph), and Erik Broes (Grum).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Minecraft: The excommunication of [person4]

[Note: Names are disguised here but are present in the linked material, using the same scheme as in Minecraft harasser says he'll continue abuse.]

[person4] was a well-known member of the [mod A] forums and used to interact frequently and warmly with [person1]. Lately [person4] had started doing Let's Plays, and in the process of building her YouTube presence had apparently started drifting away.

Posted on the [mod A] forum by [person1] on Sun Dec 16, 2012 2:35 pm:

[person4]: She is no longer welcome in these forums for reasons both within and outside of this debate. I will say though that she made an appearance in that 7 hour Stream promoting [mod B], which was the point at which her not being welcome, became a ban. I personally am not aware of the extent of her involvement or position on [mod B], but the extent of her connection with the [API A] community (including her close association with [mod B] supporters like [person3]), and thus [mod B] has become significant enough that I am no longer comfortable with her presence here.

Posted on another forum by [person4] on Monday at 5:52 PM:

I will publicly say here what I say to my live stream when this topic comes up. This entire series of events and drama has been painful for me, for a variety of reasons. Because of that, I have no further comment, and I do not wish to discuss it.

I'm sad for [person4] because all the months of camaraderie and loyalty meant nothing to [person1]—because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus showed up in the wrong video stream, she was cast aside.

I'm also sad since I had hoped that [person4] might help bridge the rift in the Minecraft modding community.

I find this deplorable.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Minecraft harasser says he'll continue abuse

While updating my blog today I ran across a comment that caused me to start searching. This is what I found.

(Note: names have been disguised here but are present in the linked material, same with expletives.)

From an IRC chat log:

<[person3]> besides, to be honest, i dont think your in a position to moan about this after your mission to 'Destroy [person2]'
<[person1]> mission "[person2] is a c***" was retaliation [person3], not initiation

and from a subsequent IRC chat log:

[23:22] <[person3]> you said it was your intent to literally destroy [person2]
[23:22] <[person3]> your words
[23:24] <[person1]> will I f*** with [person2] as much as possible within *my own moral boundaries*?
[23:24] <[person1]> absof***inglutely

This is a crystal clear declaration by the harasser that he will continue the abuse despite Mojang's statement on Minecraft modder conduct at Minecon last month. Note that the target of the abuse is female.

This campaign of destruction is why I wrote the above-linked item about Mojang addressing misconduct as well as a couple of earlier pieces here and here. It's been apparent to me for over a year, and I've been considering calling for a formalized Minecraft modder code of conduct since last spring when several incidents took place. (Repeated code of conduct violations were why a professional League of Legends player was banned for bad behavior.)

[I previously covered these quotes in a comment an earlier item.]
[Updated with a sentence clarifying target's gender, and updated again to censor the expletives.]
[Updated again with additional material from the second chat log.]

Riot Games bans League of Legends player for bad behavior

Riot Games has banned a professional League of Legends player for "persistent toxic behavior."

Here is the post from the League of Legends Community forums:

Hi Summoners,

Today I’ve got some tough news to share with you. We take sportsmanship and player behavior very seriously, and we fundamentally believe that pro players should not be exempt from scrutiny over their behavior. In fact, we believe pros have an additional opportunity to act as positive role models for the entire community.

The decision to impact someone’s career is not one we make lightly, which is why this is tough news to deliver. Unfortunately, our Tribunal recently was forced to permanently ban a pro player as a response to his persistent toxic behavior, and after closely reviewing the individual’s case and history, the Riot eSports team has issued a ruling that follows this post.

We fully understand that there are other pro players who behave poorly from time to time, and we do not condone any unsportsmanlike behavior. It’s important to note how severe and consistent the behavior of this particular individual was, as is outlined in the ruling. No other professional players in NA approach this individual’s harassment score – that said, we monitor all pro player behavior actively and we will continue to make that clear to all pro teams, and will take necessary action should any other players demonstrate unacceptable behavior in the future.

Promoting good sportsmanship and improving player behavior is a mission that’s extremely important to Riot, and this ruling is a reflection of our commitment.

The next post in the thread, which is the ruling, states:

He has a persistent record of in-game harassment, verbal abuse, offensive language and negative attitude.

This follows up ArenaNet's move in August to suspend Guild Wars 2 players for bad behavior. At the time the consensus was that taking this action immediately after the game's launch was effective in setting the tone for good player behavior.

Game companies will take action against a harassing and abusive player regardless of the player's prominence. They do this because allowing a game community to become toxic reflects poorly on the game, and by driving players away can affect the company's bottom line.

As Riot Games stated, prominent members in a game's community (modders or professional players) are not exempt, and may even be subject to more scrutiny due to the fact that they serve as role models.