The Age of Backlogs

Plex Deck Snap 2

Are we living in the Age of Backlogs? Or is it just me?

The thought is prompted by the latest round of tempting Steam sales. It’s hard to resist buying more stuff, yet most of the stuff I found so irresistible in previous sales has remained unplayed, either entirely or in large part. And not because it’s not good or I wouldn’t like to get into it, but because of the vast mismatch between the amount of media readily available to us these days and the amount of time available to partake of it.

I’m not talking only about games here, because one of the chief reasons that games have gone unplayed is that I’ve been spending a good deal of my R&R time on catching up with TV boxsets and reading books. And I have large backlogs of those too.

Captain’s Backlog, Stardate 2014.0627

Games Backlog

Games that I’ve played a fair amount, but not as much as I would have liked lately:

  • LOTRO
  • Chess

Games that I’ve played some, and would like to play a lot more if time permitted include:

  • The Secret World
  • Skyrim
  • Civilization V
  • Hero Academy
  • Star Trek Online

Games that I haven’t tried yet which sound tempting if time allowed include:

  • Neverwinter
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Hearthstone

I can’t bring myself to go look at the games that I’ve actually bought via sales and Humble Bundles and have not played at all or possibly even downloaded yet. There are a fair few of those too.

And nor will I mention the umpteen games I’ve dabbled in that are lower down the priority list than the ones above. SWTOR, Rift and such would be on there.

Shows Backlog

Is it part of the backlog if you’ve started watching it? Or if it’s a rewatch in the first place? Or if it is airing now and you are more or less up to date with it? I’ll leave such question to the lawyers and philosophers, and just look at what is stacked up waiting to be watched…

  • Star Trek – The Next Generation – I started a rewatch of the series, but am not actively watching it at the moment, because if I did. where would I fit everything else in?

  • Star Trek – Deep Space Nine – I’m currently watching it. This was partly a rewatch as I’ve seen some of it before, but it looks like while I saw most of Season 1 before, I may not have ever seen much of Season 2 or later seasons. DS9 is something I’ve been wanting to catch up with for a long time, so it’s at the top of the backlog queue right now.

  • Elementary – I am still half way or so through Season 1. Liking it a lot, and would want to see all of it, time allowing.

  • Game of Thrones – I’ve watched a few episodes of Season 1, but I’m reading the books now. Probably won’t watch any more til I’m caught up with all the books, and then I’ll come back.

  • True Detective – Not started watching it yet.

  • The Wire – There’s a rewatch going on in a community I’m part of, and I’d like join in, but I don’t think I can fit it in. (Have seen it all before).

  • Fargo – I think I’m only one episode behind! Yay!

  • The Good Wife – I am somewhere in the current season. I may even be up to date now? Confused, but not too far behind!

  • The Bridge – Seen one episode, plan to watch it all at some point.

Books Backlog

The very concept of a books backlog may be verging on the ridiculous in my case. If I were to count the amount of unread books that I have at hand, both physical and in ebook form, and consider the rate at which I have actually been getting through them, it’s quite possible I already have enough to keep me going for the rest of my lifetime.

So whatever I mention here is the tip of the icebeg really. Mainly books that I have acquired fairly recently, or titles or series that I have started in the not too distant past and not yet finished. Or in other words, mainly things that are actually loaded on my Kindle and Kindle apps.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones. I’m in the third book, A Storm of Swords. Unless the standard drops off I will likely read all of them over the summer.

  • King’s Gambit – Hard to describe… it’s part autobiography, part an investigation into the culture and psychology of chess. Asks questions pertinent to all games and sports about whether the thing brings out the worst in people that play it.

  • The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 – a selection of short stories by various authors. Frankly it is a stretch to categorize most of them as mysteries per se, but good short crime fiction, often by well known authors. I read the odd story now and then.

  • Samurai – A History – A history of Japan, esp the Samurai, most of all their encounter with the modern world and ultimate demise. The era portrayed (not with too much of an eye to accuracy) in the movie The Last Samurai. Fascinating for fantasy readers because of its exploration of feudal societies, warrior codes and the like. I am slowly working through this. It is readable and enjoyable, but “put-down-able”, so gets displaced in the queue by the likes of Game of Thrones.

  • The Last Ringbearer – This is a highly-rated fanfic novel that tells the story of The Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Mordor. The idea being LOTR was one-sided propaganda or the victor’s mythology, and this is the other side’s story. Yet to start it.

  • Aid on the Edge of Chaos – Should be fascinating as it’s about the intersection of some things that I’m very interested in. Not started it yet. It’s the kind of book I feel needs attention and thought, so I wanted to read it when I have the energy to really concentrate, but that feeling has delayed me even starting.

  • Quantum – Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality – Maybe this should be demoted from “the backlog” to the category of “books I probably won’t get around to really”. It is a topic of interest to me, and was a very cheap offer on Amazon one day. But I’ve read somewhat similar books before, watched TV shows on such matters etc, so what I’ve read so far in this one has seemed like going over stuff I already heard about.

That will do for now, there are plenty more I could mention.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In the last few years as we’ve entered the era of iPads, Kindles, Netflix, Chromecast, Steam sales, Humble Bundles etc, we have gotten easy access to vast libraries of games and media. On the one hand it’s wonderful to have it all, on the other it puts quite a strain on our time, our wallets and our self-discipline.

Maybe other people are further down the line in learning how to live in this new world. Personally I’m just now recognizing that there is something here that might need to be figured out.

I might need different habits and different ways of thinking about things than I had just a few years ago, when the amount of great and tempting stuff that crossed my path could easily be fitted into my life, with plenty of room to spare.

Subs and Me

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Free-to-play (F2P) versus subscriptions seems to be a perennial topic of discussion in the gaming blogosphere, generating a lot more heat than light usually. I’ve thought of writing about it before, and from many angles. Perhaps someday I’ll do a whole series on MMO pricing models, or do a piece trying to understand the psychology of how and why it gets the community so excited and makes it so divided. Given my posting frequency, perhaps most likely I won’t get round to either. Today, however, inspired by Braxwolf’s post No Time for Subs I’d like to talk about the topic from a purely personal point-of-view.

Subs aren’t for me

Subs aren’t for me, usually. The reasons why they’re not are to do with my own situation and my own personal quirks, and may or may not apply to anyone else. But thinking about those reasons might help us understand why some people love subs, some hate them, and both may have very valid reasons for feeling the way they do.

The future ain’t what it used to be

First thing to say is that I am talking about right now, not always. Right now, at this point in my life, I am rather cautious about subscribing to anything at all. Games, magazines, online services, club memberships… you name it, I’m not keen on subscribing to it! It was not ever thus, and maybe it won’t always be so.

One thing at play here is disposable income. I’ve had periods where I worked in large organizations, getting a large paycheck like clockwork every month, and having every expectation that nothing would change on that front in the foreseeable future. And my income was far in excess of my commitments and what paying for the necessities of life would entail, so basically $15 a month was almost nothing to me. Currently that’s not the case, money is a lot tighter, and the future is a good deal more unpredictable.

I am very bad at canceling

While the future might be less predictable, I’ve come to see that certain things about me are pretty predictable. For example I am very bad at canceling subscriptions to things that I no longer use. For a while I won’t cotton on to the fact that I no longer use that thing. And then I will tell myself I will use it more in future. And after a while of that I will realize I still don’t use it much, and decide maybe I should cancel the sub. Sometime after that I will get around to actually canceling. Maybe it’s just me and my foibles, but then again the same thing might apply to a lot of people. Behavioral Economics claims that people have a so-called Endowment Effect, which means they value stuff they own much more than they’d value it if they didn’t already own it. (It appears even to apply to some extreme cases like people with brain damage that can’t remember which of a set of Monet prints they were given, but still like the one they own now over one they preferred earlier but were not given.) Whatever the reason it is harder to let go of a sub to something that I don’t use any more and certainly would not sign up for now that it rationally should be. So I often end up paying for stuff for six months or more after I stopped getting any benefit from it.

… and my interests are changeable

Another thing that is predictable about me is that there is a good chance that I will lose interest in the thing that has aroused my current enthusiasm. I might be loving a game, imagining I will be playing it for years, and find that after three months of being really into it, my interest level drops off a cliff. Possible not to zero – that also is unlike me. But certainly to a level where paying $15 a month doesn’t make sense. (But, see preceding paragraph, with a high risk that if I had a $15 sub in place I’d end up down $90 or more before I got around to actually canceling.)

For all of the above reasons, I’m not inclined to sign up for any things that nibble bits out of my bank balance without my conscious and intentional say so. I will pay a bit extra to avoid those automatic monthly nibbles and retain control over payments.

My redeeming features

Meanwhile, I do have some redeeming qualities. While I may be terminally incapable of canceling subs promptly, I am strangely disciplined about not making impulse purchases. Sometimes you hear a fear that people have about cash shops and micro-transactions, that they’ll be nickel-and-dimed to death as all those small purchases add up to some monstrous total bill. They know themselves best, and for them that may be a big danger.

For me there is no such danger, and in fact MMO “cash” shops could not be better designed to prevent me from falling into that trap. Because they are not really cash shops at all. There is basically only one thing you can buy with actual real world money there, and that is the store currency, such as Turbine Points. There is nothing easier for me than to say “I am going to limit my cash shop spending to $X”, then wait for a sale on Turbine Points and buy $X worth, then use those points as my hard budget. Ideally I don’t even tell the MMO company my credit card info, but do one time Paypal transactions. Without the company having any billing authority it is extremely hard to impulsively run up bills.

Just me

Now all this is just me. It’s quite possible that someone could be the very opposite of me. They might have plenty of cash to spare, play all their games obsessively for long periods, be great at canceling subs they don’t need any more, and yet be lousy at controlling impulse buying. I can see why such a person might think subs are the only way to go, and regard cash shops as a devious trap designed to part them with all their money.

For me, I will consider a sub, but I will consider it very very carefully, and chances are high I will probably decide against it. Only if the thing is completely mind-blowing and way beyond any other alternative available to me am I likely to sub.

To Blog or not to Blog?

shakespeare-in-love

The Newbie Blogger Initiative is in full swing, and many people are writing excellent articles encouraging would-be bloggers to take the plunge. Call me a contrary soul, but that gets me wondering if blogging really is for everyone. To blog, or not to blog? Is the answer ever no?

The first thing to say is that if you’re someone who is thinking about starting a blog but feeling hesitant about it, your own reasons for hesitation are probably not good reasons at all!

Everyone is different and has their own hangups, self-doubts and all the rest of it. Some people might have qualms about their writing ability for example, while others might be worried about the technical side of things. Personally neither of those bothered me when I was wondering whether to start this blog. But what did concern me was whether I was really knowledgeable enough about gaming in general or any game in particular that anything I had to say would be of value. I certainly didn’t see myself as an uber player, and I imagined that even in my main game, LOTRO, most people would know at least as much about it as I do. Who was I to be starting a blog? There are blogs out there where people have published detailed guides to all the LOTRO skirmishes! There are people that have crunched numbers in spreadsheets to find out what skirmishes to do to maximize your rewards per minute! There are people who have lovingly detailed every steed available in the game! There are people who’ve spun epic works of fanfic about their MMO adventures! I am very far from being one of those kinds of people, so who am I to be starting a LOTRO blog?

Now if you knew me in real life.. if you knew me very well.. you’d see that kind of thinking is not confined to blogging. I mentioned hangups before, and this is one of mine. Surely I’d have to be much more senior and have had a much more stellar career to be going after job X? Or to apply to college Y? Surely I’d have to be so much more amazing than I am to ask out woman Z? Actually it turned out (eventually, finally, after overcoming the doubts, and with suitable encouragement) the answer was really: No.

Your hangups may differ in detail from mine, but probably you have plenty of them. If you’d like to blog, but you’re hesitating about doing it, ask yourself if the reasons for your hesitation are typical of you. Chances are they are not some well thought out objective reasons why this particular activity isn’t for you, but more likely personal gremlins that bedevil you whatever you’re thinking about doing, and don’t have much relation to reality.

To Blog

Let’s consider some specific concerns that people might have…

  • “I’m not that good of a writer” – Well, there are some excellent writers out there in the blogosphere, but there are plenty of average ones as well. There are all kinds of blogs and bloggers out there. There are people who post screenshots of their adventures, with short little notes on what they’ve been up to this week. There are people who tell you what’s on sale in the in-game store, and what they think is worth buying. Whatever you like to do, and whatever you feel your abilities are, there is going to be some kind of blog you could make that people will appreciate.

  • “I don’t have the time” – Luckily there is no rule about how much you have to write or how often! (I’ve labeled myself a Fewbie Blogger, because there are newbies with more posts published than me.) If you have aspirations to have a large readership then you’ll probably want to blog often. But you can have plenty of fun and plenty of readers with only a post a month, or even less. In betweens posts you can stay connected with the community by reading other people’s blogs, commenting, tweeting and such.

  • “I’m befuddled by the tech” – Some of the best blogs are the simplest. Get a free WordPress.com blog, start posting, and go from there.

  • “If I build it, will anyone come?” – During the NBI, yes! You’ll get visits from the links the sponsors give. You’ll get visits from your fellow newbies, who you’ll get to know. Without the support of the NBI, it could take some time to get more than a trickle of readers, and it would be very easy to get dispirited and give up before you got there. So the NBI is a great opportunity to get off to a flying start.

Not to Blog

So is there any reason to choose not to blog?

I can think of one very big one: Unrealistic expectations.

What are you looking for from blogging? If in the back of your mind you think there’s a chance of finding fame and fortune and influence, and that is what is really motivating you to consider blogging, you’d probably be wise to give it a miss.

If you just like the idea of expressing yourself for its own sake, and you’re happy blogging for fun and being part of a small community, you’re good to go!

Survey: How old is your game PC?

abacus

I’d assumed that among people who blog about games I’d be one of those with the lowest spec PC. So I was surprised when I saw that some people who play a lot more than me and are a lot more knowledgeable than I am about games and gaming tech said things like these on Twitter:

I think this is an interesting thing to investigate for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s always a comfort to know that you’re not alone in your situation. Secondly I suspect that game companies and developers would be very surprised that people like us who play a fair amount of games, and even have game blogs and participate in game communities have quite such old and low spec PCs.

Maybe we can do a little to correct that impression, and perhaps get them to think about serving this part of the market better. Because as business people they will know that we are potentially rather good customers, and they’ll miss out on sales if they don’t properly cater for our needs.

So with that in mind, I thought a simple survey would be enlightening.

With both these polls, feel free to give more info or explanations in comments.

Since I don’t have a huge following for this blog, I’d appreciate it if you would also share this survey more widely so we can hear from more people.

The survey is obviously not going to be “scientific” in any sense, but it should be interesting, and maybe it can be useful in triggering a needed debate that can come to the attention of game companies.

Web Roundup

A roundup of some game related things I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching recently…

Turbine Layoffs and the Future of LOTRO

Contains Moderate Peril and LOTRO Players both had excellent podcasts discussing the recent Turbine layoffs and what it might mean for the future of the game.

There were also a number of interesting new blog posts on the subject:

My overall impression is that the community regards what’s happened as a very bad sign and possibly the beginning of a slide towards maintenance mode or managed decline. i.e. A scenario where Turbine / Warner Bros is looking to get as much revenue as it still can from the game while keeping costs and new investment to a minimum.

Last week’s initial reactions were shocked and pained. Ranni summed up the feelings of many I think:

There’s a sense of loss and sadness that is running deep and wide in my heart.

With some time to reflect and adjust to the news the mood is more one of looking to make the best of things. As Syp put it:

My gaming life, even my MMO gaming life, is not just LOTRO. When it goes, it goes, but I’m very happy playing it for the meantime.

New Directions for MMOs

Brian “Psychochild” Green gave a fascinating interview discussing the history of MMOs, the typical lifecycle of game genres, and ideas for taking MMOs into new directions.

Given that MMOs tend to stay relevant much longer than single-player games, we’ve seen a slower evolution of gameplay than FPSes have. But in late EQ and the middle years of WoW, we saw a focus on raiding that was beyond the reach of many people. Now we see MMOs that focus so much on the single-player aspect of the game that the social aspects don’t feel quite so important. So MMOs have lost some of their appeal, and we need to find the next “big thing” to get people excited again.

The interview puts recent happenings at Turbine into a much bigger context.

Meanwhile Braxwolf tried to put forward a case for MMO developers to make games for kids. It’s not something I know a lot about, but I believe Club Penguin is huge and was at one time a massive money maker, so he may be on to something. On the other hand maybe Disney have that market cornered.

Steam Tags and Internet Behavior

Recently Steam introduced a system that lets people tag games. This caused a bit of a kerfuffle as some maintained this was an obviously bad idea that due to the bad behavior of people online would produce a complete train wreck of nasty and inappropriate tagging. I’m more inclined to agree with Wilhelm that the results are not so bad really.

Bad behavior was a wider theme, with the Moderate Peril podcast also covering the dark side of internet fame. A common underlying issue here is that a small minority that behaves badly tends to be much more visible than the large majority that behave well. With tagging the majority may prevail most of the time as most people will probably do some tagging and do it sensibly. With social media feedback things may not go so well as the vast majority who are happy don’t feel the need to say anything about it, while a a small minority who are very displeased are moved to vent their complaints.

I’m not sure what can be done about that, but it does seem to a significant problem for people that have even a modest online following. A start might be to step up how often we show our appreciation to people who produce things we enjoy.

Into the West – Peter Hollens

So far this hasn’t been the cheeriest of posts. Let’s finish with a good song that I came across this week. A new version of “Into the West” …

Of Beren and Luthien

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Tolkien is buried together with his wife Edith, and their graves are marked with the names “Beren” and “Luthien”. The tale of Beren and Luthien was inspired by the Tolkiens’ own story.

A Brief History of Tolkien

The following documentary is an excellent short history of Tolkien’s life and the development of his work. The segment on Beren and Luthien starts around 12:45 into the video.

LOTRO: The Shadow of the Future

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With the announcement of significant layoffs at Turbine, I’m feeling sad at what has befallen the staff and concerned about the future of the game.

Our first thoughts must be for the people who’ve lost their jobs, and are doubtless worried about what comes next. At the minimum they face a period of uncertainty and upheaval in their lives before they find their feet in new employment, maybe in new cities. I would like to think their skills will be in demand, and for sure they have great work to show on their resumes. Best of luck to all of them.

I would guess that many of them are also Tolkien fans, and this was not just another job to them. I imagine it was something very special, in much the way that we know that the Lord of the Rings movies were very special to the cast and crew that worked on them. Much the same as it would have been for many of us to have the joy and privilege of making a career out of bringing Middle Earth to life.

Here’s Amlug:

Please take the opportunity to wish him and others well at this tough time. I know that I probably underestimate how much it would mean to anyone to hear from me, being just another player and no-one they know personally.

The Future of LOTRO

‘…already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.’

With this news the future of LOTRO is beginning to look very uncertain. There were layoffs in 2012, and now this. Before Helm’s Deep came out, it seemed that there might be a proportion of the player base that would leave because of the class changes and lack of traditional group content. Just the passage of time meant that many people who were deeply involved in the game a year or two ago have drifted away a little. I’m certainly playing less than I was.

Then came the news that we will not have an expansion in 2014. We were told that there would be smaller but more frequent new content releases, plus updates to existing zones, and revamped game systems. All of that seemed plausible enough to me, and maybe even a good idea. But now, as Fredelas says…

There is talk that LOTRO may be headed for maintenance mode, and even if that doesn’t seem imminent, a lot of us are wondering if we will now ever make it to Mordor and see Sauron defeated.

The Shadow of the Future

‘It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.’

The future we see headed towards us has a way of impinging on the present. Knowing that the holidays are around the corner or an expansion is coming in a month adds an air of excitement and energy to life now. Knowing that someone you care about has only a few months to live alters a great deal about how you see the world and how you live your life.

Uncertainty is not quite the same. Nevertheless I’ve gone from taking it pretty for granted that LOTRO will around for a long long time, to feeling that the end may come sooner rather than later. The blissful assumption that things will carry on merrily into the forseeable future has gone.

Turbine could do a lot to reassure us here…

Assuming that doesn’t happen – and hopefully it still might – how will this uncertainty alter how we feel and act in LOTRO now?

Many people I would guess will start preparing their exit strategy, maybe even leaving right away. I’m glad that I already have my foothold in The Secret World and other games for example. I don’t want to wake up one day and find LOTRO a ghost town or to hear its termination announced and have no place else ready to go.

Other people will want to get the maximum out of LOTRO while there is still plenty of life there. Run those instances one more time while people are still doing them. Catch up with those kinnies while we still can. Go gaze at those amazing views, and grab screenshots.

The best thing about LOTRO is the community. Yet online communities have short lives; they feel like home and we love them, and then suddenly they’re on the way out, and the end can be quick.

That’s a theme in Tolkien too, and one that helps gives the Lord of the Rings its great power. The world as we’ve known it and loved it will pass away. If we’re lucky it may not be for many years yet.

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Perhaps like the Rohirrim we should shake our spears and ride.

Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending.