Books, culture, fishing, and other games

October 29, 2003

On Star Wars Galaxies

A post and discussion on Terra Nova started me going on a comment there, about half-way through I decided to expand a bit and move it over here. I haven't even read, yet, the linked essay/review that started the thread, this was mostly sparked by B. Smith's comment replying to the post. I'll probably post an addendum later.

Mr. Smith is overly harsh, and not entirely accurate. There is some pseudo-dynamic (at least) content in SWG (Star Wars Galaxies), for example, and it's a positive trend. ATITD (A Tale in the Desert) uses quite a bit more.

Dynamic content is nice, and more would be good, but in and of itself it is no solution. And it can be expensive, though isn't necessarily, depending on the type.

In SWG the handling of resources (including Ted's butterfly hides) is somewhat dynamic. It is managed on what appears to be a random factor, but with a relatively fixed schedule for changes. This adds a lot to the resource gathering section of the game. You can't take resources for granted. That superduper nice steel you're using to make swords may not be available at all, anywhere in two weeks. Sure, the system could be better, but it beats resource gathering in DAoC (Dark Ages of Camelot) or EQ (Everquest) by a lot. And the existence of harvesters helps a lot in that it does provide for doing boring stuff while the player is offline. There is a constant need for surveying, though, and moving harvesters (once a week or so), to come anywhere near optimal resource gathering. I doubt many achieve it.

And the generation of the random spawn lairs and their destruction by players is also dynamic content. Sure, they respawn, or something does, but isn't that the way nature works too? Programming of sorts controls both, with an element of chaos thrown in. What doesn't seem to happen is a gradual pushing back of wild into the most remote sections of the planets as players clear areas. That would be a step further. Thing would get even more boring, though, if players could completely settle a planet, wiping out all but very minor pockets of 'wild.'

Even so, SWG remains infected with grind disease. In some skill trees (or branches) it's nearly absent; in others it's a massive infection. But that old-time grind feeling also depends a lot on player personality and activity. I hear people complain constantly about how boring the entertainer skills are to practice. I had the opposite experience. I now have a master musician and though there were times when working her skills was a bit tedious, on the whole it was less so than with other skills. Why? Because she was mostly interacting constantly with other players. The skill development faded into the background. The most tedious times were when she played a crowded cantina where most of the other entertainers were AFK macroing. In this case it's the players' perception that advancing entertainer skills is boring that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because they see it as boring, they are acting in a fashion (or not-acting, in this case) which makes it boring for others.

(Evil thought department) If players could eject anyone macroing with a time-based command (must be issued X times at intervals over Y period, without Z counter command), this sort of behavior could be controlled sensibly. The problem isn't the afk-macroing per se, it's that it's done in a very public space where it interferes (lag, annoyance when an apparently not-afk character will not respond, stupid macro spam) with 'normal' active game play by others. The afk-miners don't bother me because they're usually off in corners where the resources fall (or the minor bugs in stand/sit gradually migrate them to). The afk macroing entertainers often do. But even in this case there are exceptions. A dancer macroing all night while sleeping in a Yavin-4 cantina could be a real public service. I've worked those cantinas a little now. They are lonely places and need entertainers badly. The tips are darned good out there. But there is a lot of dead time between patron visits.

But then my musician is my most social character by a mile... and, oddly, the most fun to play though she has NO combat skills at all. (The 'oddly' is ironic, people...). She runs harvesters out in the wilds and works them solo. She's good at running from danger. She's turned into an equal-opportunity flirt. Mostly it's very low key stuff, with a racy bit or two thrown in at moments to wake up those around. It's a lot of fun to provoke reactions from people who are stuck in the grind. Have to be careful not to start bar fights though... not too many at least.

The architect tree is another that is rather low on grind in that the mouse/key-click ratio is low. I'd like to see more of this sort of movement, when the preparations for the skill activity take time, but there isn't a lot of sitting in one place repeatedly key-clicking to do the actions involved in actually acquiring the skill. Architects have other serious problems though, such as a rapidly diminishing market since structures don't decay sensibly. (Same for clothing, which is silly, no matter what that combat-oriented characters say. Clothes wear out and should wear out, or tailors suffer terribly in the long run.)

SWG needs those player-built cities. Dynamic content is mostly provided by players, not developers. The environment in nature is constantly changing, yes, but humans change it orders of magnitude faster. How many millennia did it take nature to carve the Grand Canyon? How many years did it take man to dam it? (Okay, the scope isn't the same, but the principle is there and real or the Greens wouldn't be screaming...) Developers could and should do a bit more, either through coding or human intervention, but what they MUST do is enable players to change their environments more. Yes, it allows for more griefing. Any time you give someone power they are also given the opportunity to misuse that power. Spread it around as evenly as possible, though, and MAG (mutually-assured griefing) kicks in to moderate the problems. ATITD seemed to work pretty well that way from my experience there.

One of the coolest things about ATITD is the way what players did changed the way the economy worked and the way the world looked, gradually. SWG has a little of that, but it has a very different curve. SWG is more frontloaded, it all happens a lot faster. Both do a reasonable job of giving the little guy, the newb, a role even in a more advanced economy. In SWG you can go harvest organics from even small beasts that you can sell all day long (once you learn pricing) on the bazaar. And those hides are needed. In ATITD the basic raw materials are always in great demand, so a newb can participate in the greater economy from day one in a meaningful way. SWG even has opportunities for low-level artisans to make a cred or three on their output, if they're inventive (I've done it and do it.)

SWG does a lot with giving players choices in their roles, far more than EQ or DAoC. I think most players fail to see this because they are trapped in their own meme, seeing their "role" in one way. Most of them head out and start right up the combat trees. There's opportunity there too, but it still, by definition, is only one tree in a larger forest. And rubbing your hands on the bark of a paper birch is very different from crushing a pinecone in your hands (ouch!).

And there's the major issue that most of us still try to "win" these games rather than play, or live, in these virtual worlds. Thus we ramrod our characters up skill trees (guilty!) not so much to have the abilities as to have the bragging rights. Instead of thinking, "What can I do now with what my character has and is," we tend to spend all our time thinking "Wow, when I'm a master I'll be able to do everything!" That is, do everything except have a well-defined victory condition for my character. Once we get to master, or triple master, we haven't won anything except the ability to do what a master can do. Role-playing that isn't actually more fun than role-playing what a newb can do. In fact, a lot of the purists have more fun role-playing a bumbling apprentice. So, lacking a new, well-defined goal, we either quit or start over again. Back to the grind. (Can you say "self-destructive impulses?")

You know, isn't that the way we act in life too? Seems the flaw in design here is in our character as players rather than in our characters and their environments.

But from a market-theory perspective, I suppose games should be designed with our inherent character flaws in mind. Maybe we need externally imposed goals since we're such fools about creating our own. Maybe we really do need for game developers to be paternalistic gods. Maybe we're seeking in virtual worlds what we can't seem to find in the real world, even more so than we normally think when we see them as an escape from the real world.

The Addendum:

Okay, I went over and read Timothy Burke's essay on The Mystery of SWG. While in the first half he's too general in his statements for me to feel he's making any sort of compelling argument, in the second he gets more specific (not specific enough, in all cases though). I suspect he's preaching to the choir in the first half in that he's assuming the reader plays and knows SWG, and is involved in the meta-game sufficiently to follow the various forums where players comment and vent. That's acceptable in that context, not in a stand-alone essay.

That aside, I mostly agree with his points in the second half. While above I argue a lot of the problem stems from player attitudes and expectations, I end on the point that market demands are the issue from a business standpoint, not ideal game development in a purist sense. If all players fit the developers ideal, SWG would be more satisfying to those players. That is almost tautology.

The problem isn't just with the developers' ideas of what the players want, however, I think it's as much a problem that we the players don't know what we want. What we say we want often does not map onto our behavior. The only way for developers to improve their hit rate on our real wants is to throw us into virtual playgrounds, watch our behaviors (including listening to out chortles of joy and whines of complaint), and then adapt our surroundings to move the ratio of "works/doesn't" in the direction that pleases their target customers, on the whole, the most.

Burke's thrust is that this process is broken in SWG. I didn't start playing until after the game went live, maybe two months after (having been through many launches, I tend to avoid starting at the launch, before or after is better), so my timeline is shorter and my perspective more limited. I can't fault his statements in this area. I can say that they are not wildly off the norm for MMOGs, however. He can't explain SWGs "failure" (in his eyes) on something that is pretty much the rule in its industry, unless all the other games are similarly failing. He may believe that to be the case, it's not clear, or he may simply be saying (as seems to be the case) that SWG failed when compared to his expectations. If the latter is the case, as I believe, then we must also consider that his expectations may be at fault.

Still, his points on the use of the Star Wars IP are interesting and potentially important. The problem with using existing IP is that it limits creativity, it does not increase it. I am opposed to the us of IP in this fashion, on principle. One of the reasons I was slow to try SWG is that I did not like the idea that the game might be constrained by Star Wars as it exists in movies. Such pre-existing content has too much tendency to channel game play into certain veins.

But Burke appears to differ with me in this respect. It seems he wants more Star Wars, not less, in SWG. I don't like scripted outcomes. Every bit of additional scripting hardcoded into a virtual world will further pre-determine outcomes.

I'm differentiating between scripting and coding. Scripting, in my usage, implies "this is how it is because it's the way things are in this world," as opposed to coded dynamic events where "if the player(s) does this, then this other thing will result, which may influence yet other events in the future." In a scripted world (and I saw ATITD as having a lilttle too much of this mixed in with the dynamic content) the outcome is never in doubt: the good guys must win. The how may vary somewhat, but "the bad guys" are fighting a losing battle as well as they can. Can the Empire win in a Star Wars universe as it's set up so far? Or would that violate fan expectations too much to be forgivable? This point may well determine whether or not Star Wars endures as important in the long run. If the Rebellion wins in the long run, will the pain and cost be sufficient to justify the satisfaction of the expectations of its audience? If not Star Wars is lowered to the level of a moderately thrilling romance from its potential to become a 20th century King Lear. (Oh, I think it's already missed that mark, but I wanted an extreme reference on the high end.)

Posted by dan at 02:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 24, 2003

Wurts, a Sixth Time

I finally got around to finishing book six of Wurts's epic. That I put it that way says something. It was an effort. She edges up into the ultraviolet, from the mere purple, as she moves towards the climactic events. "As she moves towards" is meant to imply she has not, apparently, arrived at them quite yet. Though the front matter makes no mention, it appears there is to be at least one more book in this epic of epics. I will read it to see how she wraps her plot, but it will be an effort.

So I don't sound like a Janny Wurts hater (I'm not), rather like a considered critic, let me do more than say her prose is too purple. In addition to her fondness for excessive use of modifiers, she suffers a deficit of understanding of "in media res." Without claiming to have examined every chapter, I can say that I have noted over and over again that many chapters would be instantly improved with the simple excision of the first two paragraphs. Almost always these are pure description, and overladen with modifiers to "pretty up" the description. My reading strategy involves reading the first line of the chapter to confirm it's descriptive, then dropping down a half page to where the third paragraph starts and actually starting there. Almost always that is the first place where action actually takes place. In an epic of six (so far) books of more than 500 pages, this becomes a bit tedious. I do think she was a bit better here in this sixth book.

What Wurts needs is a good editor, one with a firm blue pencil accustomed to drawing large Xs over paragraphs and strikethroughs on unnecessary modifiers.

This is a good place for a sample. I am going to risk delving into the sixth book at random, and pick the first sentence my finger lands on. I will probably find a perfectly fine sentence since I take the risk, let's see:

"Were he spotted, they need do nothing at all but close in and form ranks and surround him."

Murphy's Law in action! That is a perfect example of what does not, to me, characterize Wurts's prose style. Well, perhaps she is a little redundant there, but it's pared clean of her normal modifiers.

Here's the opening to a paragraph on the prior page:

"Twilight fell. The drifts lay on the land like iridescent silk, tucked in folds of cobalt and violet beneath a sky deepened to indigo. Under a spattered brilliance of stars, Arithon climbed down from the pine that had sheltered him."

This is not excessively excessive, but it's more in line with what I see as the norm. Notice the careful attention to the colors, the iridescent silk and the spattered brilliance of stars. Contrast this with the verb use, the passive, cliched "twilight fell" and the plain "climbed down." I get the impression Janny is far more interested in her modifiers, the description, than her verbs and nouns, the action.

Yet she is a wonderful plotter. Her plot in this epic is such that it's kept my interest, despite my dislike of her prose style, though over 4000 pages.

Before I move on to other, more interesting aspects, another example is in order.

"Closed in the barren solitude of a two-penny attic chamber, the quartz sphere her need had put to the test delivered a stark lesson in humility. Eliara pressed shaken hands to her heart."Ath's mercy, forgive!" She realized how little she understood the coiling depths of the power she engaged day to day, without thought, sheltered beneath the insular traditions fostered by the Sisterhood."

Again, notice the modifiers: "barren," "two-penny attic," "quartz," "stark," "shaken," "coiling," and "insular." I would prefer something on the order of, "Closed in the attic chamber, the quartz her need had put to the test delivered a lesson in humility." I just don't need those extra words. They buzz like annoying flies. My imagination is sufficient to fill in the rest. She already told us the attic chamber was mostly empty. We know it was very cheap. Why the lesson is "stark" when it's already humble, I don't really understand. By adding that "stark" she makes it seem less humble, not more. (After all, she thinks it deserves another whole modifier!) And her use of "shaken" is ill considered. A shaken hand is one that someone just shook, not one that is still shaking. Yes, her sense for it is not technically incorrect, it's just subtly wrong in the context. This is another common characteristic of her prose style. Wurts seems to like to use unexpected words that are almost, but not quite, right. These annoy me often.

A certain amount of self-consciousness in prose style can be fun and a pleasure to read. A word that surprises and delights with its precision, its perfect rightness, brings me a warm glow of pleasure, a frisson of delight, not a buzz of irritation. I believe Wurts is intentionally employing a slightly wrong word to instill more of a sense of alienness to the diction and tone. But it only instills an annoying rasp like nails on a blackboard to my sensibilities. The ultimate test of this sort of thing is "does it work?" In this case, to me, it simply does not.

Now, I will eventually get around to rhapsodizing over the skill with which Steven Brust does exactly what I think Wurts is trying to do. We'll see if I can adequately describe and illuminate his achievement. An important distinction between them, aside from this one already made, is that Brust is style-driven, not plot-driven. Wurts should stick with her strength and avoid her weakness. Her strength is her plot(s). She is capable, clearly, of writing clean, pared-down prose. That Murphy's hit in the first sentence is but one example. But she has a desire to write poetry into her plots, and she simply fails. All she does is slow the pace and dilute the effect of her plot. There is a place for slowing the pace, I will grant her that. It does not occur nearly as often as do her purple passages. When a book is over 500 pages in length I'm not terrible anxious to see the pace slowed in any case.

Gripes about prose style aside, and praise for intricate and involving plots established, there's another element to Wurts that intrigues me. It annoys me too, but not in the fashion above. This epic feels as if it has political content (of course, the postmodern critics will say, all writing has political content!), but it's very tricky to determine exactly what is that content. It feels like a sort of complex allegory, but I don't think it is. To give it more credit than it's due, it reminds me in this fashion of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare is a very slippery character. There are all sorts of political content in his work that inspires all kinds of discussion and argument, but no definitive answers. I feel a similar sort of response to Wurts's epic.

She establishes a conflict between "light and shadow." Note, not "darkness." Two half-brothers, the combined pair that fulfilled a prophecy to return sunlight to the world, are cursed in the process with a geas-driven hatred for each other. One, the Prince of Light, Lysaer, whose power is light and bolts of light, lacks training and character to even battle the curse for control over his own actions. The other, the Master of Shadow, Arithon, has mage training and acquires bardic training, both which help him fight the curse (albeit less successfully than he believes, at the time). In the process of struggling with the curse, however, still acting under its influence, Arithon serves as trigger to catastrophic events. He, who was destined to be the restored Prince of the realm, becomes the reviled demon responsible for every child's cry. His half-brother, in contrast, is beloved and is raised up as the savior that will protect them from the Master of Shadow.

The topsy-turvy of the convention of light and shadow assumes a very sinister coloring. Lysaer assumes an Hitler-like posture, exercising masterful propaganda campaigns to win over the continent and undermine the truths of his half-brother's efforts to actually save the world both from the effects of the shared curse, and other, even more dangerous, threats. There is class warfare and genocide, with the merchant class interested in promoting technology siding with Light while the traditional, conservative royalists, who were overthrown in a revolution before the start of the first book, siding with Arithon. But the conservatives (in many senses) share much with what would be a modern Green party. They know the world is sentient and all things have life. Things, rocks, trees, animals, are not simply objects to be used and disposed of, but must grant their permission. This has echoes of the Rosseauian Noble Savage. Except, while a bit savage due to circumstance, and certainly noble to an extreme degree, the deposed royalists are cultivated, not barbarians as the townborn merchants would have it. The royalists are the conservators of the heritage of the world and their people, even of the townborn merchants.

And there's more, there are yet two other main "parties," the Sisterhood, an order of "witches" that seeks to promote the development of technology (but mostly to increase their own political power) and a circle of seven mages, who are so ancient as to be beyond understanding and who have a compact to protect the world, even from the depredations of humans. Within both of these latter groups there are divides. Along with internal struggles and conflicts, there are struggles between these two, and indeed among all factions. It's a confused roil of angry ants scurrying about trying to find order in a very disturbed nest.

As you can see, there is tremendous opportunity to explore political interaction, and Wurts does a lot of it. A lot of it is infuriating in that the two sides, or more sides, often have radically opposed views of the facts. This is complicated by the use of magic (with limits) to spy and see at a distance, at least if the spying party knows where to look. The heavy inclusion of precognition and its effects also complicates things.

Someone, I think Arthur C. Clarke, said "a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This epic reverses that (as it does many things) to "a sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology." The magic is precise, powerful, and limited. And, among the townfolk it's entirely suspect and very out of favor. Yet they find ways to align with various magical groups in order to further their own ends, reminiscent of pacts in modern day politics, especially in this case that of Hitler with Stalin.

While the townfolk seek to limit magic, mostly by killing any they can who show any hint of magical ability, the circle of seven tries to contain technology, most notably the redevelopment of gunpowder. The cycle of development (which the circle has seen many times and on many worlds) which follows after gunpowder is too great a threat to the world itself to be allowed. The irony here is that the magic wielded by Arithon and Lysaer, especially curse-driven to annihilate each other, is more than sufficient to destroy the world. While on the one hand Wurts seems to be criticizing gunpowder, as the motive force behind bullets fired from guns, on the other she seems to be suggesting, "well, if it's not guns, it's something else. The problem is not the object, or the technology, it's the use to which it's put." But that is most likely my read overlaid on her writing.

Which was my original point: In all of this delightful solution of dissolved conflict and upturned convention and expectation is a stimulating and thought-provoking brew of questions and ideas. The epic encourages the reader to question her own view of politics and the interactions between parties of opposition.

Most fantasy books have very clear-cut "good" and "evil" sides. Wurts does not. The issue is clouded with external forces and curses. There are better sides and worse sides, but we are never allowed to totally empathize with one side and revile the other. This is a rather multiculturalist stance, except that Wurts does seem to encourage judgment. One side can be more right, or more wrong, but neither is permitted to be all right or all wrong.

And it's this, and finding out how Arithon eventually saves the world (assuming he does), that will bring me back to read the seventh, eighth, ninth, however many it takes, books. Not the prose style which I will fight my way through. Not the knee-deep (though colorful) adjectives and adverbs.

I can forgive Wurts a less-than-perfect prose style because I can't forget her characters and plots.

Posted by dan at 08:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2003

Bullet Dodged... Sort of

I no sooner got this thing moved "offshore" and installed WindowsME (reminding myself why I hate that version) when that newly freed up box decided to flop over with little Xs on its eyes. The glass is definitely half full. It could have happened before I moved the blog. But, yes, I am annoyed.

For some reason the gods of the machines do not want me running four computers here. I got one fixed last week and had four running for one week, then pop, and Windows exception, and box will no longer boot. It hangs part way through the boot process. I haven't cracked the case yet, I guess I'll reseat the cards and cables and try again before starting the joy of the part-swap game. I thought, at first, it was a video issue. I'm less inclined to believe that now, but it's still possible. That is not the least expensive part to replace, so another problem might be preferable.

This is yet another setback for my plans to expand my mining operations in EVE. I was hoping to ramp that enough that I could pull out some trading capital from my Paypal account to buy another computer, a used one, but fairly current. Oh well, c'est la guerre.

I'm coming up on my monthly deadline for the privacy report I write, so that will keep me writing other things, probably. That said, I've been thinking some about the issue and problem of online anonymity. I think I'll try to write a paper of sorts on that.

Posted by dan at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2003

Two Dialogs on Poetry and Poets

I wrote these some time ago, but they came to mind after reading some comments on poetry somewhere this past week (Oh, the curse of a faulty memory!). Then Julian posted a dialog with Paypal Customer Service over at Play Money that again reminded me, and I thought, why not?

I. Smith

Socrates: I hear, young man, you claim to be a poet. Am I correct, then, in understanding this to mean you produce poems?

Smith: I do.

Socrates: Wonderful! Then perhaps you could share one with me; though, that I might better understand, perhaps you should first explain to me what a poem is?

Smith: You're teasing me, Sir, aren't you?

Socrates: I am not. I do not know what a poem is and I wish to.

Smith: Well, Sir, I can show you better than I can tell you. May I read you one?

Socrates: Of course; but how can I judge if you are indeed reading me a poem, and how can you know if you are reading me a poem, if you cannot tell me what a poem is?

Smith: In the same way I would hold up an apple, and say "This is an apple?"

Socrates: Ah, but I know what an apple is, so I can judge if you speak truly.

Smith: But if I hold up a fruit that you don't know, and name it, a pineapple, say, wouldn't that explain to you what a pineapple is?

Socrates: You would be naming it, as you yourself said, not defining it. By saying it is a fruit, something of which I have some general knowledge, you do begin to define it, but it is hardly a precise definition. There are many kinds of fruit, some large, some small, some of one color, some of another, some sweet, some sour, and so on.

Smith: Then I'll try to define it: A poem is a thing made of words arranged to please the hearers' ears with its sound, and their imagination and intellect with its sense.

Socrates: That is good. I mean, that is the sort of statement I wished to hear as that is one that we can examine. I will not question that poems are constructed of words; Homer has certainly established that. But tell me this: If a work of this sort does not please the hearers' ears, is it a poem?

Smith: It is a failed poem.

Socrates: Come now, is it a poem or not?

Smith: No, I guess it's not a poem.

Socrates: In your process of creating these poems, do you try each word, as you go along, on listeners?

Smith: No, of course not. I finish what I am working on, then I read it to others.

Socrates: And do you call it a poem when you read it the first time to those listeners?

Smith: Yes, of course; it's finished.

Socrates: But how can it be a poem if a poem is "to please the hearers' ears" and no hearer has yet heard it? What if it does not prove to please their ears? Do some not fail to please the listeners?

Smith: Yes, some fail.

Socrates: Then either your definition is not correct, or your process for creating poems is sadly inefficient. Perhaps you meant to say they pleased your own ear?

Smith: Well, while I'm composing that's the standard I use, yes.

Socrates: Ah! Then perhaps this can explain your desire to have a category of "failed poems." If a poem is a work that pleases your own ear, but fails if it does not also please the ear of others, then the definition "failed poem" need not mean "not poem."

Smith: I like that!

Socrates: Does the same logic not apply to the other things you mention, that of pleasing the imagination and intellect with its sense?

Smith: I guess it would have to.

Socrates: Perhaps you would then restate your definition as you have it now.

Smith: A poem is a thing made of words arranged to please the poet's ears with its sound, and his imagination and intellect with its sense, though to be successful it must also please the same faculties of the hearers.

Socrates: Do you mean to say of all the hearers?

Smith: No, I can see I'd better not. It must please the faculties of some of its hearers.

Socrates: Which ones? Does it matter which ones it pleases?

Smith: Ah... Hmm... Yes, it does. It should please the ones I mean for it to please.

Socrates: So, to be a successful poem it must, you might say, please its intended audience?

Smith: Yes, yes, that's better. And its success would be relative to the part of the intended audience it did please.

Socrates: So a poem, can, in your eyes, be less than a complete success, and more than a complete failure. Perhaps we should discuss this matter of "pleasing." How do you mean "please?"

Smith: I mean it makes them happy.

Socrates: Then if it makes them sad, or serious, it must be ruled a failure?

Smith: No, not exactly. Maybe I should say: makes them feel the way I intend for it to make them feel.

Socrates: That would allow for successful poems to make them feel in a variety of ways, but would it allow anyone but the poet to judge if something is a successful poem?

Smith: I don't get what you mean.

Socrates: How would the poet's intended audience know if they are feeling as the poet intended, thus enabling them to judge if it is a successful poem? When a tailor sews up a suit of clothes for a customer, the customer puts it on and can determine in a mirror, or in the judgment of friends, if the fit is good and if he received what he expected, can he not?

Smith. Yes, of course.

Socrates: How can the hearer of a poem make a like judgment?

Smith: I don't know.

Socrates: Perhaps the problem is this. While a friend can judge if the fit of a suit of clothes seems good, who can judge better if the workmanship is properly done, the friend who is not a tailor, or another tailor?

Smith: Another tailor, of course.

Socrates: Would it not then, perhaps, also be true that another poet would be the best judge of a poem?

Smith: Yes! That's it!

Socrates: Very well. Perhaps you might then restate your definition, as you would have it now.

Smith: Okay. A poem is a thing made of words arranged to please the poet's ears with its sound, and his imagination and intellect with its sense, though to be successful it must also please the same faculties of other poets. That's better; if other poets don't know my intentions, who will?

Socrates: Who indeed?

Smith: Shall I read you a poem now?

Socrates: What would be the use? I'm just a philosopher; I couldn't tell a poem from a paean.

II. Plato

Socrates: Good day, Mr. Plato, what topic shall we discuss today?

Plato: Perhaps we could continue in that vein to which Mr. Smith brought your attention; it remains rich with ore.

Socrates: Very well. What would you have us examine?

Plato: In my search for the schema of what would be the perfect State, I have determined that poets and their works are possibly an evil and thus must be banned. However, I love poetry (who does not?) and would prefer to not exclude either the poets or their works. May we examine my reasoning and see if perhaps it is at fault, or if indeed I am thinking rightly and they must be banned?

Socrates: We must examine it. It would indeed be a shame to exclude Homer, Hesiod, Sophocles, or other men such as these, or, indeed, their poetry. Tell me, how do you arrive at this conclusion?

Plato: Poetry is imitative of nature, is it not? It imitates with words the actions and deeds of men and gods, and describes the places in which they occur.

Socrates: That seems a just description of some poetry, that of the epic poets, the tragedians, and the comedians.

Plato: Even so. I allow for those who are not imitative, those who write paeans to the gods and praises for great men, as these are not imitative.

Socrates: Very well, but what is it then that makes this imitative poetry an unworthy thing in your state, and thus its makers unwelcome?

Plato: I reason thus. You are aware of my idea that all things are imperfect imitations of perfect ideals that exist somewhere, are you not?

Socrates: Certainly.

Plato: When a furniture-maker makes a bed, he makes an imperfect imitation of the ideal bed.

Socrates: That follows from your assumption.

Plato: When a painter paints a picture of the bed the furniture-maker made, he is then creating an imitation also.

Socrates: Of course.

Plato: Except, the painter's imitation is of what is already an imitation itself, thus he is creating a twice imitation, one with more faults than the furniture-maker's.

Socrates: That is certainly the case. Mr. Smith's age would call it a "Xerox of a Xerox," and would be able to inform us that repeating this action would eventually result in "a complete breakdown in the communication of meaning," or perhaps would mumble something about "signal to noise ratios, laws of thermodynamics," or "chaos theory." But your way states the essence.

Plato: Thank you. We call he who makes the ideal form of a bed a maker even as we do the furniture-maker, but do we call the painter who paints a painting of one a maker of a bed?

Socrates: We do not.

Plato: The poet and the painter are similar in their functions in this way, are they not?

Socrates: That appears to be the case. But does either the painter or the poet claim to be the maker of a bed?

Plato: No, they do not. But they do imitate the form of the bed, do they not?

Socrates: That does appear to be the case. But does the making of this twice-removed imitation make them evil and provide sufficient justification to exile them from your state?

Plato: Perhaps not in itself. My concern is with the eventual end to which it seems to lead.

Socrates: Then show me where this leads.

Plato: Some say that I should admit poetry, and the poets, on the grounds that they are great teachers. But if what they produce is imitation, how can what they teach be virtue? It must be imitation of virtue.

Socrates: If you are correct thus far it would follow, yes.

Plato: And it is clear that what is an imitation of virtue is not virtue.

Socrates: It is.

Plato: Thus anyone who studied from them would be led away from virtue, as one cannot find virtue where there is only not virtue.

Socrates: This follows logically.

Plato: Then the poets and their works would do harm to the citizens of the state as they would lead the citizens away from virtue. Thus poets and poetry must be banned.

Socrates: Very well, you must ban them, certainly, if all this is the case. But I can see you are yet reluctant to do this.

Plato: I would prefer to be shown to be wrong in my thinking than to ban the poets.

Socrates: If it could be shown that poets do not imitate what are already imitations, this would place poetry on the same level as all natural things of the world, would it not? If this were so, would it resolve the dilemma?

Plato: This might be possible if poets did not imitate nature, but themselves could see beyond nature to the ideal forms of things and in fact imitated those.

Socrates: Exactly. But does this resolve the dilemma?

Plato: It does not.

Socrates: And how not?

Plato: Poetry would still remain an imitation, though not as debased an imitation, of virtue, and thus is not virtue.

Socrates: This is so. But does this suggest there might be fault in your reasoning in banning poetry?

Plato: I see it must. For if poetry is now equal to other natural forms of things, yet it is banned because it is not virtue, then all of the other things must likewise be for the same reason. There would be nothing in my state as any thing that is not an ideal must be banned for leading away from virtue.

Socrates: That would appear to be the case.

Plato: Is this why you chose to see poets as inspired by a god?

Socrates: Not exactly, no. That is because poets exhibit the same lack of knowledge of what they produce as do seers and prophets who are inspired of the gods. When I have examined poets as to the meaning of their poetry I find that they, who should be the experts if the making of poetry is as the making of other things, are less expert than many other men at determining the meaning. From this I must conclude that poetry is not "made" as are other things, but must be given to poets by a god as a gift.

Plato: If this is indeed the case, the poets should perhaps be the first citizens of my ideal state.

Socrates: How do you determine this?

Plato: If what they have is a gift of a god, it cannot be an imitation. It must be the ideal form of the poem. If it is the ideal, it cannot lead away from virtue.

Socrates: We appear to have resolved you problem of how to allow admission of poets and poetry into your ideal state.

Plato: Now I must seek a way to provide them with an audience, one other than themselves.

Socrates: Perhaps not. Mr. Smith has determined that the only proper audience for poetry is poets.

Posted by dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 18, 2003

An Essay on the Origins of "Dislogue"

In my explanation of my arrival at the title "dislogue" for this blog, I claimed it as my coinage. That was factually correct as I was unaware of prior use of the term. However, since today's googling to verify that at least some links were forwarding to the new site, I have come to the conclusion that I am not the originator of the term as I defined it. First, a little background:

Once my interest was piqued, I went to The Source, the Oxford English Dictionary ("OED," for those lacking a proper education in the English language and its infinite glories), to see if mention is made there of the word. I came across what OED called an "erron." usage, "dislogistic." Thinking this might pertain, I referenced the "correct" word, "dyslogistic," to discover it was a bit of a wild Canada. To quote the authority:

dyslogistic - also erron. dis.- Expressing or connoting disapprobation or dispraise; having a bad connontation; opporobrious. (The opposite of eulogistic.)

According to the references it was first noticed in 1802-1812 in "Ration." To put it another way, a dyslogy is a roast. It's the opposite of an eulogy. So something dyslogistic is something that, in a more modern usage, "disses" the object. It's interesting how, unknown to the speakers, words tend to conserve echoes of their history. What street punk dissing (or more properly, "dyssing") the local cop would dream he was conserving the two-centuries-old meaning of a word no longer in use, and never truly much used?

But this isn't the meaning, or exactly the word, that I chose to serve as title for this blog. I sought something that implied a broken dialogue, but that wasn't exactly a monologue either. It was meant to be more a "talking past each other" than a talking to each other sort of thing. Any married couple will know exactly what I mean.

It's a paradigm that fits blogging fairly well. Instead of replying directly to each other in the same forum in which the original statement is made, bloggers usually, or at least often, make their response in their own forum. And often it's not exactly on point, though it's at least somehow, tangentally related.

In any case, in my googling I came across pages and pages of cases where it appeared the writers were using the word in this sense. Oh, yes, some are clearly misspellings for "dialogue." Others, however, seem to fit the sense I employ over that of "dialogue." For example:

The following is from a speech to President Clinton made by Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan.

"Japan will also work together with the United States to build more cohesiveness and a feeling of reassurance through regional dislogue{sic} and cooperation." ([Source] Nichibei kankei shiryo-shu 1945-97, pp.1242-1245. Public Papers of the Presidents: William J. Clinton, 1993, I, pp.438-441.)

Note the inserted "{sic}" indicating this is not a transcription error. The word used was "dislogue," not dialogue.

What word better describes the posturing of international diplomacy? Especially in dealing with Oriental cultures, it is common for all sides (when are there ever only two sides in international diplomacy?) to state their position in such a way that each position appears totally unrelated to any other position. The Japanese are less adept at this than the Chinese, though they have been known to exercise it most artistically.

Another, unrelated source, one we must take seriously since it comes from an institution created to teach English, uses the term offhandedly in a matrix on "standards-based writing" for K-12 education. Here it's juxtaposed with "utilize dialogue" a few lines later, so it's meant as contrast. To wit, "...write dislogue to be used in a play." (1) Where better to find examples of dislogue? The mind leaps immediately to great scenes such as in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" where Lady M. is trying to scrub clean her hands, talking past her husband all the while. He reciprocates. I forget the words, the poignancy of the scene isn't in the words, it's in the fact that the words are aimed into the distance, as if they too are trying to distance themselves from the current moment and the concern over the consequences of recent actions.

He's another case perfectly on point, this time it's a trivia question in "? Master of the Universe Sci-fi Quiz ?"

17: From which film is the following dislogue from "I'll be back!" "Only in a re-run!"?

Films, like plays from which they evolved, are great repositories of dislogue. Puns, such as this one, are a specialized form of dislogue, one in which the speaker (or writer) intentionally misunderstands an opening statement (a "straight line" as the comedic industry calls it) in order to respond to a different meaning. Thus we have two speakers talking past each other's intent, rather than to it. The "I'll be back," above, is meant within the context of the film, but the respondant takes the leap outside the frame in which he resides, to the observer's world and view, to respond "only in a rerun," a repeat showing of this same film. It's an ironically self-referential statement of the sort that we literary-critical types thrive upon. (Note too the elegantly redundant use of "from" in the question, a turning back on itself much like the turning back of the film on itself in the reference to a repeat showing of the film.)

This fourth example (if I do say so myself) is a rather brillant argument for my thesis. Here we see a page devoted to the "Irvine Valley College Online Creative Writing Workshop," yet another example of a self-conscious and schooled authority on the very subject of proper English writing (and, presumably, proper usage). Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, Instructor, writes of the workshop:

"September 11, 2001: We are now sneaking into the Fourth Week of the Workshop - some excellent work being done by our group - lots of comments, dislogue. See it all on the Exercises and Workshop pages!"

Anyone who has attended such a workshop will recognise instantly the aptness of this description of the "feedback" process operating. (I am not an MFA, mind you, though I must confess to attending a couple of workshop classes, a full-fledged writers' workshop conference, and a writers' conference or two... or three, they all seem to converge into one big dislogue.) It's interesting that she associates comments, dislogue and work, but it's very accurate. Commenting on other people's work in such a way as to engage neither the work nor the writer is indeed work.

Yet another case to point, in this reply to a frequently-asked question on www.screentwriters.com, we see none other than Dr. Jack R. Stanley ("a full professor in the Communication Department at the University of Texas - Pan American, and the founder of the Screenwriting List and Screenwriting FAQ on the Internet") employing the term much as in the second and third examples above:

Besides slug lines and character names over dislogue, caps are also used in transitions (FADE IN: DISSOLVE TO: FADE TO BLACK, etc.), and then for emphasis. "

Again, the flow of talk in a play, or movie, is referred to as "dislogue."

I will end this small treatise with one last, institutional, example. This is found in the "Code of Corporate Governance for MSM Listed Companies." Under the Principles of Corporate Governance we find in point 6:

"6. The company should be ready, where practicable, to enter into a dislogue with institutional shareholders based on mutual understanding of objectives."

What is especially interesting about this case is the juxtaposition of mutuality of objectives with the disconnectedness of communications. Both corporation and shareholders share objectives, most notably that of profit, but they participate in an ongoing dislogue over methods and strategies. Of course, it's not always "practicable" (interesting choice over "practical") to enter a dislogue, at times real communication is needed (such as when the setting of corporate officials' benefits is on the agenda), but the company should always be ready to engage in dislogue. It's best to talk and let shareholders talk, though communication is not required, nor usually desirable.

So, we see from these examples dating back at least a decade that there is nothing truly new about the word "dislogue." It's been here, unnoticed, for a least a decade. We've simply been looking past it.

I consider it my privilege to have followed, if briefly, in the gigantic footsteps of James A. H. Murray, to have stood on the shoulders of William Safire, if but for a moment. I now return to my more normal slouching posture, a fly caught in a web of words.


(1) That is an unabashed New York Times elipsis, by the way, as it is deliberately used to obscure references to information that might serve to undermine my point. As the paper of record, NYT has established this as a proper and acceptable mode of argumentation. If The Grey Lady says it's okay, who am I to argue?

Posted by dan at 04:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2003

The ISK Report

Prices are easing upwards on isk again. I've once more increased my sell price, now it's right at $3 per million and I still can't stock enough isk. I'm getting more aggressive in my efforts to buy larger lots, but am still cautious. I don't buy if I'm not reasonably certain of at least break-even status on reselling, after fees.

The 500 million lot I mentioned yesterday did sell, at exactly $750. Someone sniped it at the last moment. It had been sitting bidless, in part, I'm sure, due to the high opening ask price for an auction. But the seller was also, to me, questionable for a lot of that size. He has one solitary feedback entry, positive, dated October 14, 2003. To wit: "You can thrust , but need time to trade he did communicated." (sic) Also, the seller required payment in cashiers check or money order, both non-revokable instruments. I rated that transaction as high risk, and the potential reward, while attractive, was not attractive enough to outweight that risk to me. I keep having these visions of the Russian mafia cornering the isk market...

After reading Julian's tale of scam on Play Money, I am resolved to remain cautious. There's no real way to prevent someone from doing what happened there, on the seller end. All we can do is eyeball the feedback looking for warning signs. On the buying end we can check out the sellers' records (or lack thereof) and take them into consideration. As we used to say on Wall Street, "Bulls and bears make money, pigs make shit." Greed bites the hand that feeds it.

It would be interesting to see Paypal try to exercise their guaranteed delivery policy where two verified Paypal members are concerned and virtual funds are involved. I suppose they would point to the shipping address and say the goods were not shipped to that address so we're not involved. But what if I changed my address, as buyer, to "X-Sense Chemical Refinery Station, Stetille IV, Moon 11, Sinq Liason?" Would they then argue that's not in the United States? Darn, they'd have me there too, if the servers are actually in Iceland. I'm not, in fact, sure where the servers are located.

All of this is feed for the discussion over at Terra Nova. We're now into talking about the place of privacy policy in gaming and the possibilities of digital signature-based currency. I admit to being bad: I've broken my resolution to post my longer comments here, rather than as comments there. I do try to come back here first, but then I find myself thinking, "this really has more to do with Terra Nova than dislogue," which is arguable. If it's something I get passionate about (and I probably wouldn't post if it weren't), it's fair game here. To make up for my frailty I've linked to the posts where I commented.

But I also have a self-imposed policy of avoiding politics, as much as I can, here. And I do wax passionate on politics, as any of my family or friends can testify, so the passion test isn't sufficient. I'll have to muse over it more.

I shut down the old blog site faster than I originally planned. I've got the redirect up and will leave that for at least a few days. Then I'll try playing with my old dynamic DNS settings to extend it indefinitely so I can reclaim that PC as a game machine.

Posted by dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

The Virtual Market Report

I continue observing the EVE Online and Star Wars Galaxies marketplaces on Ebay. The former is the easier task. It's a very active, but smaller market, that pulls in a broad mix of currency ("isk") trading, account trading, and item trading. In contrast, the SWG market is mostly currency ("credit") trading. I use the term trading loosely, because I see a lot of listing and not a lot of buying as a ratio of those listings. I think I will upgrade my tools from Ebay's listings to something more sophisticated. With the high numbers of Buy Now offerings, it's hard to tell when something sells. I am not willing to put every offering on my watch list, so I only random sample. A lot could be slipping through the rather large cracks.

I've had a lot better success in selling isk than credits. I've listed about 7 lots of credits at aggressive prices, and sold one lot. In contrast, I haven't had a single isk lot fail to sell in over a month. It's a lot harder to buy isk at low prices for resale though. This probably shows the EVE market is operating a lot more efficiently than the SWG market. It's easy to buy SWG credits at prices lower than the average listing. I bought one lot of 4.5 million, as I mentioned below, almost accidentally, for less than half the listed prices on other lots that size. I turned around some of that in a private, in game, placement. And I sold one pathetic lot of 100,000 at a decent price (to both parties), and that's it. None of my tricks learned with selling isk seem to work.

I did finally manage to make an isk purchase of 40 million. Actually, I won an auction of 10 million, then I added on another 30 million in a separate negotiation with the seller. The price on that should allow me a comfortable 50% profit after fees if I continue selling steadily in my regular units and at these prices.

The EVE market in isk has stabilized. Isk trades pretty solidly in the $2 to $3 range, mostly the lower end in large lots of 50 million or more, and towards the high end for small lots. That's the spread I seek to work.

One event of note, today 1 billion isk sold for $1,372.56. (I missed a chance for some margin there, but it's more than my existing capital!) The seller said he's leaving the game, and that is not a huge amount of isk for EVE (the blueprints for battleships cost a bit more than that), but it's the largest single sale I've seen. He sold a second lot of 238 million for $351.51 also. There's another lot of 500 million isk offered by another seller for a minimum bid of $750. I expect it will sell, but a minimum bid that high is a poor strategy.

I did manage to sell some items in SWG. That turned out to be a time limited event as the items I was selling were part of Act I, it turned out. They are still useful, but they no longer "drop" in game, so my market there vanished. The few sets I still hold I expect to move. I'm trying to decide whether to boost my ask price, but I don't think I will. The only additional value, it turns out after some testing, would be to a pure collector, and I haven't stumbled over any. They hold their value as an easy way to leap into PvP combat without grinding faction missions.

I've been watching for non-credit sales in SWG. There are the normal bulk listings of "exploit" and "cheat" and "macro" guides. Aside from that there hasn't been much. I did see one interesting offering, on which I dropped a bid, for a large amount of resources. The seller advertised it as a bootstrap for a crafter who didn't want to deal with gathering or buying (not a simple task either) enough "grind" resources to work up crafting skill. That was a concept that had occurred to me and it appeared the seller got a fair price (in my estimation) for the eventual sale. That said, it's real work lining up those resources. Once my architect reaches master I may consider something of the sort.

Speaking of which, today I found a listing for a medium generic house, another thought that had occurred to me. Again the pricing looks pretty fair, and it's down in the impulse buy range. But it's down to single digits in hours and no bids, so not sure it's going to sell. I've got it on my watch list.

I suspect player association buildings and fusion generators will sell. Topnotch weapons and armor should also. So far I haven't seen much though. It's very hard to filter out all the credit offerings to find the rest. Now that I'm getting better at it though, I am seeing some armor offerings. They just are very lost in all the credit listing spam. After filtering out "cred," "creds," "credits," and "credit" I still have 8 pages, most of which is credit listings that don't use those combinations. Adding "cr" to that list dropped it to 7 pages, 349 items. At least half of what's left is credit listings, another 10% is macro/exploit/cheat guide spam. Probably 15% or more is account or game box sales. That doesn't leave much.

I do see a rifle, some armor, the house I mentioned and two others, a couple heavy mineral harvesters, scattered across ALL servers. I also see some resource listings, some grind materials and some rare materials. They are mostly on Ahazi server and probably all the same seller. Ah! There's a PA hall (a player association building) for $20, $15 minimum bid, on Flurry. That's a fair price. In fact, it's probably low.

And that's it. That may be an average of two listings for items per server. A full search on Star Wars Galaxies yields a total of 2829 items, so it's down near 1% of the total. To create some persepctive, there are 216 Eve items. When I exclude isk items, I'm left with 146 mostly non-isk items. Around half of the total listings for EVE are items, not currency. (The rest are accounts, macro guides, etc.)

Most of the EVE isk listings will sell. I doubt 10% of the SWG ones do, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that 1% do. There's a huge potential market in SWG items, but clearly the sellers and buyers haven't figured it out yet. It may be a maturity factor; players just don't yet know well enough what is rare or valuable, and how to valuate them in real money.

I suspect the inflated (in size) credit market is due to exploits, however. It doesn't make sense to me, based on my own play and observing that of others, that there is this much free currency available. It was, or is, being minted. I have no proof of that, only my observations of the typical earn rate and the typical bank balance of most players with whom I come into contact. The established players are not poor, but they don't all have tens of millions sitting around.

That being the case, I'm going to drop out of trying to sell credits on Ebay. I might do a little private placement, if opportunity appears, but I will look to other possibilities.

I haven't put this month's trading into the spreadsheet yet, but my cash in hand sits at $500. And I have a few million SWG credits in hand, a few disk sets save for sale, and 35 million isk. I spent a bit of my earnings on the third SWG account, and on the purchase of 4.5 million SWG credits and 40 million EVE isk all this month. I'm not paying my game fees from my Paypal account, so those aren't reflected, but they're paid off for this month easily.

Posted by dan at 02:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Apologia Pro Meta Gaming

I've been giving some thought to how the meta game interacts with MMOGs to affect my play patterns. By the "meta game," I refer to the real world context in which the MMOG resides, including "bragging rights" outside the game, sales of virtual items and accounts, and the writing and reading of things about the game, including, but not limited to articles in gamers' magazines or on web sites, strategy guides, and posts on game forums. For years I've been active in the last category. More so than I realize while doing it. When I did a Google on my name a month or so ago I turned up things I'd forgotten I'd written, things for which I could now actually earn real dollars if I chose. These were posted gratis to game strategy sites. But they repaid me personally for the time spent by a further satisfaction gained from the game experience in toto.

All of these activities reside along the borders of intellectual property issues. Some fall pretty clearly, by consensus, to one side, others fall into the gray border zone. If the game companies aggressively sought to fence that border, creating legal freefire zones and injunction fields, I know I would be driven away. As a result I would not play their games either as much, or at all. This is because I can see that a large amount of my satisfaction and enjoyment derived from these games comes from mastering them, or some aspect of them, and then playing 'expert.' For whatever reason I prefer respect gained from what I know as opposed to what I do.

That's not to say I'm not interested in doing things. My current meta game of trading in virtual world "properties" is certainly "doing," but a lot of my interest also stems from "knowing" the market and how to work it. The profit I derive is simply a measuring stick for how well I know what I think I know. (And those profits aren't much to crow about, so I clearly have a lot of room to know more!)

To put to this into perspective, the reality is this. Two months ago I was ready to stop playing EVE Online. My playtime had dropped significantly. I had been active with two accounts, I had joined a guild, I had been spending most of my spare time playing. This is a pretty normal cycle for me. I play until I feel I know a game well, then I start to lose interest. Unless something else welds me to the game.

At times that something else has been involvement in a guild. The social side of the game can be a powerful factor in binding one to it. Thus, when guilds fragment or dissolve, often players stop playing. They were at a point where their interest was all bound up in the social side, not the play side, and as a result when that faded, they realized they weren't having fun any more. Or worse, what they looked forward to in the game experience now provoked only a bitter taste, since the "friends" and the "family" they enjoyed was no more, for whatever reason. In this situation a break up can actually cause an aversion to play. I suffered this reaction in both DAoC and EVE when player guilds broke up. It's one reason I am reluctant to join guilds early on in my play. I save it for when I need something to bind me (as long as it can).

But, despite the guild breakup (no real tale to tell, real life interfered with the leaders' play time, and as a result the guild lost direction and faded away) and my 'burn out' on EVE, CCP is still getting $13 per month from me. What's more, I am considering picking up a second account again. This is all thanks to my interest not in the game itself, but in the meta game of trading virtual world items for real dollars.

For all that game companies often try to limit this meta gaming in their terms of service and user license agreements, it's what's keeping me playing, and keeping me paying. Is the strategy of the game companies backwards on this issue? I believe it is. As long as such markets are not driven by exploit-created wealth, they add to the overall experience, and they solve some of the problems with balancing MMOGs.

Balance is one of the major issues in the success of a game of this sort. It's not a simple, linear issue, it's multi-dimensional and has elements that interact in what might be an exponential fashion. If thing are reasonably balanced, small changes result in small changes. If they are out of balance, small changes can create huge seesaws.

One battle game developers fight is how to put the powergamer, the gamer that plays a lot and obsessively, on a relatively level field with the casual gamer, someone who has time or inclination to only play once or twice a week for a few hours. The powergamer, by definition, will always have an advantage. Someone who plays constantly will have better game skills (out of game, player skills) and more in depth game knowledge, than someone who plays only occasionally will. One issue, with games employing level-based, or skill-based character development, is that casual players necessarily lag behind the powergamers so they don't play together well. Even if two friends (in real life) want to play together, it may not be feasible if one is a powergamer and one is a casual gamer. This is because after a very short time the capabilities of the powergamer's character, or avatar, will far exceed those of the casual gamer. There is no good way in most games to fix this without removing all concept of game balance. At least no one has come up with one.

But the meta game has. Assuming the two players in question are adults with real incomes, that is. The casual player (or the powergamer, if he's a really good friend) can acquire a character on the open market that has the necessary development to play with the powergamer's character. True, that does not automatically instill the casual gamer with the powergamer's out-of-game skill set and knowledge, but it does solve a significant problem that allows playing together, if at different levels of efficiency. Maybe the casual gamer can't play quarterback in this pick-up game, to use a football analogy, but he can play a lineman fine. He's on the same playing field. And the powergamer can impart specific knowledge on an as-needed basis.

Another thing the meta game provides is a way for players to more easily decide what they want to do and what they don't. If they want a sword-of-godly-swordsmanship, but don't want to camp the ogre giants of death for two weeks, fighting petty battles with kill stealers and poachers, they can get one. Someone else who likes, or tolerates, that style of game play, can do the work the buyer finds distasteful. If they want to fight, but not bother with issue of making credits to maintain a nice house, that they also want (to use a SWG example), they can buy the credits on ebay and get on with the fighting.

The net result of this to the game companies is more paying accounts. The new sword owner might have quit rather than renewing. The casual player with the powergamer friend would probably do likewise. I would have quit EVE were it not for my discovery of the fun of trading virtual goods. And none of these activities cost the game companies a penny. It cannot even be shown that there is a significant revenue trade-off if someone buys an account from another player (who is quitting anyway, or who, perhaps, likes building characters from scratch... as I tend to) rather than from Software Etc or CompUSA. The weight of the sale of the 'box,' after distributing and retailing costs, is far lower than that of the revenue stream from ongoing monthly fees.

All of this suggests, at least to me, that game companies should take a hard look at their licenses and terms of service. They should encourage, not discourage, activities of this sort. They should focus on discouraging exploits that do destroy balance. If someone has to do the work in game to acquire something that is then sold on the meta market, there is no balance issue. If someone can mint credits using a game bug there is.

Posted by dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2003

A Fish to Remember

This note and picture by Rich Lowry over on NRO's The Corner, brought to my mind one of my most memorable catches. It was possibly even smaller.

I mostly fish the Chattahoochee here in Atlanta these days. Oh, I'll occasionally drive up to the mountains, or catch a flight to Denver (maybe once every two years) for a week of fishing, but mostly it's a quick few hours no more than 15 minutes drive away. The fish are about an even mix of rainbow and brown trout. If I feel like browns, I move to the shady borders; if I want 'bows, I move out into the faster water. The former are a better challenge on the whole. But the latter often run bigger by a few inches.

I keep hearing tales of brook trout in the same waters, but I've never seen, much less caught one. I'm more prone to believing the fishery guys drop a few up by Buford Dam. The water coming out from the depths of Lanier is cold, and brook trout need colder water than 'bows and browns. Since I rarely fish just below the dam because that water is so cold, well, maybe that's why I've never seen one. The times I have fished there, and tolerated numb feet, I've caught all browns and 'bows too.

In fact, until the fish that sparked this, I'd never, to my knowledge, caught a brook trout at all. That's not too surprising, since the stocking of the alien species has driven the brookies far up into the headwaters in the areas they survive at all, but it was a state not to be tolerated and I set about fixing it.

I decided I wasn't interested in winching out some fat, stupid (and grossly unnatural) fishery brookie. Brook trout, while known for coming exuberantly to the fly, should not be fat and dumb. I knew they were native to the mountain streams an hour or so north, from my reading and research. I also knew the abundant stocking made them pretty scarce. They don't compete well with the bigger trout. And maybe they're a bit more vulnerable to fishing pressure too, being so exuberantly willing to come to flies. So I made it my project to catch a native brook trout somewhere in some small North Georgia stream.

This was a few years ago, and it was a hot summer (that's pretty safe, most of them are here), but under the trees up a few thousand feet, with the cool breeze coming off a cold stream, it wasn't bad. I stumbled my way through thickets of mountain laurel and azaleas, tripping over boulders, clambering over fallen trees, all the while trying to protect my 8' rod from mishaps. The first stream I tried was a headwater stream of the Chattahoochee way up in the National Forest. It was far enough off the road that it was a challenge to get to, but not so far as to be a real hike. The brush was thick over it. I followed it a ways, looking for pools or other holding spots, and watching for activity in the water. A big pool was smaller than your average bathtub. It had good flow, that is to say the ground was not exactly flat so the water moved pretty fast, but there wasn't all that much water. It was perfect for my aim.

As I was stepping around yet another knot of laurel, I saw a splash in a side eddy in a decent pool. My heart quickened. I froze and stooped slowly, then turned to study the spot. Of course, I could see nothing except dissipating ripples. I'm actually quite good at seeing fish. But trout are exceptionally good at being unseen. I was patient and waited a while, maybe five or ten minutes, staring intently through the water's surface, looking for the slightest sign of unusual movement. Nothing.

The spot was about ten feet away, so I edged a bit closer, then paused to make some adjustments to my rod. Casting here, where there was a low arch of laurel, was impossible. This was a place for dapping. So I adjusted my line and leader so that about three, maybe four, feet was all that extended past the tip guide. I then worked the rod tip, drawing the dry fly with it (it was probably an Adams, that being a great all-purpose fly for these situations, and resembling a buzzing insect right at the surface), careful not to let it snag, helped in that by its stiff hackling. Once the rod tip was over the small pool, I dropped it to set the fly on the surface. I then lifted it and dropped it again a time or two before letting it sit... or so I intended. My intentions were interrupted by a small explosion as a trout came from nowhere to grab it.

There are few absolute shocks as pleasant as this sort. My pulse was thundering and I was laughing out loud. That's one thing about flyfishing: the best moments can only be shared as recounted memories. Very rarely can more than one person experience them as they happen. It's just not a sport made to be social in situ. Now, the aftermath is a different story.

That was a nice trout. It was about eight inches long, positively a lunker for water that small. Its colors were so vivid as to be startling, like a solitary flame azalea against a dark backdrop of pines. In fact, one of the prominent colors was almost that. It had the vivid band of flame along its lateral line that gives it its name: rainbow.

So, while that was a fine and memorable fish, it was not my aim. (And it was a lot bigger than Rich's fish too.) I went back to my trust Subaru wagon (tan, to blend in better), started her up, and aimed out. If a rainbow that big was here, brookies probably were not.

I ended up driving around the back areas of an Army Ranger training area for a while, trying a few likely streams, catching a few browns or 'bows. So I studied my map more and headed further up. I followed a Forest Service road where it was just dashes on the map and in an area of old growth forest found another stream. This area wasn't the laurel tangle that first one was. The stream was small, but casting wasn't out of the question. There just wasn't much to cast into.

I followed it up and downstream maybe a quarter mile looking for signs of fish. I dropped my fly onto likely spots, all to no result. It was later in the day, a time when things slow down, but still, fish in the mountain freestone stream have to be opportunistic feeders or they starve.

After a Diet Coke at the car, and some thought, I switched to a medium-sized Hare's Ear. I started drifting that down under the miniature logjams in the stream. Those tended to back up the flow a little, and they provided excellent overhead cover for wary fish, so they seemed the best prospect. Drifting down into one tangle I felt a tap-tap as I lifted the rod to repeat a drift. Could have been the current combined with a snag of some sort, but it did feel like a fish. So I repeated that same pattern of drift and lift a few times, and again, felt the tap, but came up empty.

I made a note of the spot and rested it, moving off elsewhere to fish a bit. After a bit of time had passed, I went back, this time with a smaller, slightly different nymph, and tried again. Fish on! I was a bit excited. Even though I was using my little 4-weight which bends about like overcooked spaghetti, my strike lifted the fish right out of the water. As it swung back towards me in the return arc, I noted a couple of things. First, it was small. I don't think I've ever caught a trout so small. Second, yes, it was a trout, not a chub like I caught (and sometimes even fished for deliberately) on a stream a few miles off that ran about the same size. It may have been three inches. Maybe. Third, it wasn't a rainbow, and it didn't look like a brown. But it was so small and undeveloped, that I wasn't sure it was a brook trout.

Fortunately I had my Polaroid along (this was before digital cameras became inexpensive). I lay it alongside my reel on some gravel wet from the stream's splashing, took a shot or two and eased it back into the water where it darted off, back under its logjam.

I then went back to fishing and a short while later caught a second, slightly larger fish. It looked much like the first, except the markings were more pronounced. This one I was pretty sure was a brookie. Even so, I repeated the picture-taking process so I could get some expert judgment.

Back in Atlanta, I took my pictures into the local flyshop for consultation. I didn't say anything, just showed them the pictures and waited for the remarks. "Hey, nice little brookie! Where'd you catch it?" I was vindicated. "Don't see many of those," he went on.

I, of course, couldn't tell him where I caught it. No, I mean I couldn't. I could point to the area on the map, but the stream didn't really show there. And he didn't really mean the question in that sense anyway. When I replied "way up in a tiny stream in the mountains," he nodded. "Brookies have it tough. That's about the only place to find them."

There are some nice brookie streams crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is also a beautiful drive. One of these days I'll have to make that drive again, this time not intent on getting from here to there, this time hopping from stream to stream, trying all the choice spots.

Posted by dan at 06:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003


After some tinkering with my second Linux box, and some thinking, I decided to follow the trend and go offshore. I really don't want to run my own blog server behind my firewall on my DSL connection, considering the work and other demands that pose challenges to uptime. I did a bit of research and found a nice hosting company, Lunarpages, that has all the Movable Type prerequisites in place and seems to know what they're doing. And their customers agree, and some of them are already running MT-based blogs on the Lunarpages servers.

At least I think I'm offshore. It's pretty hard to tell these days. I think Lunarpages is Brit-based, but they have U.S. and Canada listed too. I had one small glitch in setup, but it was resolved with 24 hours on a weekend. I wasn't even expecting to be set up before Monday, frankly, so I'm pretty pleased with their service.

It was a pretty smooth transition, though I did it manually. After looking over the suggested methods of archiving the database, copying templates, and all the rest, I decided I could just open one browser to the old site and one to the new, and cut and paste everything more quickly and reliably. From what I can tell so far, it worked out just fine. It wouldn't have been very practical on a different style of blog with many short entries, but on my more longwinded thing, no problem. (I do dread tackling my second blog, the one I do on medical privacy issues, but I will. That one is shorter entries, and more of them, though it's still managable in size.)

I plan to run dual servers a while, but once I'm sure things are stable, I'll put up a redirect page on my old server. Set your bookmarks to the new one now or then, any posts will go on both places in the meanwhile. (I love cut and paste!)

The new site is located here: dislogue.dansch.net.

Oh, and I think comments work at the new site. I don't know why they'd work for me and not everyone else, since I too come in from "outside" now. Anyone care to give it a try?

Posted by dan at 05:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 09, 2003

Is my face red!

After all that time talking to BellSouth tech support it now appears my IP problems were due to some combination of my Linksys router and cabling. The router was old, so that's not hard to believe, but the fact that it was working fine up until BellSouth's outage of 10 days ago made it seem unlikely that it was the problem. And, in my defense, powering it off and on, resetting it, and everything else I tried didn't affect the interval in which a new IP address was assigned, so it seemed darned unlikely to be involved.

Well, something was. I swapped back to the new Linksys that includes wireless and monitored the IP address and saw no changes. It's been about 18 hours now, and the interval was about 110 minutes, so I've run through more than nine of the old time cycles without an IP reassignment. I swapped the cable at the same time as the router, and there's a possibility of yet another odd coincidence, but I put long odds on that router being the problem now.

Putting in the new router, of course, introduced yet another problem. EVE wouldn't stay connected to the server (though Star Wars Galaxies was just fine). That was one of two things too. It was either the MTU setting, which I adjusted downwards a bit, or the firmware upgrade I did in desperation. Somewhere in there I fixed it.

I should be a bit more anal(ytical) and methodical in my troubleshooting, and normally I am, but I was so darned frustrated and tired, after postponing seriously tackling the problem until the big project was finished, that I just did a bit of "throw everything but the kitchen sink (short of dollars!) at it."

So, one down. Now to figure out how to fix comments on this blog.

This server runs on one of my newer systems and I'd sort of like to reclaim that box for other things (gaming!), at the same time I managed to cobble together another working system out of parts from two others that died a few months back, so I decided the route to take was a complete server rebuild on the new (old) box. It's a 700mhz Athlon, so it's not too wimpy for blog server status (my DSL line will be the limit, not the server hardware, I think), and it has an older video card, which matters little on a server. The plan is to build the OS in a mostly secure fashion, get my needed internal services up, then install Movable-Type and set up a test blog to troubleshoot comments. Once I figure out what's wrong there, I can port my blogs from the current server to the new one easily and swap IP addresses.

The trouble will be in testing. What I need for that is a second phone line. What I don't want to pay for is a second phone line. My alternative, and I'm trying to convince myself that business justifies it, is a wireless modem and a contract for Verizon's new wireless service. Right now, for $80 per month, I can access in internet from nearly anywhere in the US that I can use a Verizon cell phone at pretty respectable speeds. And they give me $100 in rebates towards purchase of the wireless card, and one month free if I commit to 2 years. My friend and erstwhile boss, Ross, has been using the plan for a few months and loves it. It would let me give up my Earthlink dial-up account (my current backup and travel ISP), which costs me $25 per month, so the net would only be $55 monthly for better speed, more mobility and no hotel phone charges for email, surfing and gaming! Tempting.

No, honest, I'm not trying to convince you, I'm trying to convince me. It's almost working. If I can talk them into giving me a package deal with a cell phone, maybe I could shave the price even further. Time to do some research and a spreadsheet,

Meanwhile, back to building this new server. This time I set up my own email service too. No sense being tied to an external ISP for functionality I can provide myself.

Posted by dan at 02:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2003

The Lexicography of Gaming

The guys over at Terra Nova have started a list of terms, a sort of Dictionary of/for Gamers.

Sticking to my resolution, I am posting this here, rather than there as a comment. They also reference an article by Greg Costikyan in one of the comments that is worth reading.

As an English MA type, I am both fascinated and infuriated by the contortions through which English is run by subcultures. It used to be more the latter, but I am pounding into my psyche the reality that English is a language full of life. Living things change constantly, or they die. We may not like all the changes, but they are. Rather than fight them, I have resolved to enjoy them as buds of fresh life on old, gnarly branches.

The subculture(s) of gaming has been steadily evolving its own entensions and additions to English. Since most communication in gaming is done by typing, and gamers are more interested in playing the game than in language, abbreviations and acronyms rule. If something can be abbreviated unambiguously, it will be. Sometimes it will be even when it is ambiguous, and context quickly evolves to distinguish multiple usages of the same terse "word." (I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have run into this myself, so sooner or later some will occur to me.)

Some of this may be game specific. That is, a game may use a word or phrase unique to its vworld, which is used often enough that it's immediately abbreviated. This abbreviation may conflict with standard gamerspeak, causing confusion and the creation of tacit usage rules such that the two conflicting abbreviates are distinguishable. What is amazing to me is how fast this evolution takes place. It's also interesting that it's geographically dispersed where online gaming is concerned, since the players who all virtually meet are in fact scattered all over the globe. This results in the new "words" and usages seeping out into the general language simultaneously from many different geographic seed locations.In the future I suspect the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and other dictionaries that track the origins of words will be pointing to online communities as the seedbeds as opposed to any geographic locale in the real world.

Dan Hunter started the list with a couple of my favorites. I'll quote him:

"twink" (v/n) the action of a higher-level player helping a lower level player rather than the lower level player doing everything themselves. Usually means providing higher-level assets (swords, rares, etc) than the lower level character could obtain themselves. Often used where a single person has multiple avatars at different levels, and has the higher level avatar provide the asset to his/her lower level avatar. Source: Koster, LegendMUD, UrbanDictionary. (Not to be confused with "twink" in non-gaming, sexual contexts)

"nerf" (v, trans) the action of developers reducing the strength of an in-game asset where the asset is too powerful and unbalances other parts of the game. Arose when swords in UO were rebalanced and the characters felt they were hitting each other with nerf swords. Source: Koster, LegendMUD, UrbanDictionary.

I can't argue with either definition. I suspect the first derives from the sexual context. A "twinked" character is unformed as would be a young, adolescent male (in the sexual usage, it refers to a young homosexual male). It may have stemmed from the common gamer slur of calling those they look down on "gay." I resisted this term at first, but it's now so taken over my own vocabulary that I can't recall the earlier term we used (there was one!) I first came across this in EverQuest, I think, but it might have been Ultima Online earlier.

"Nerf" derives from the popular office (and home) toys made from the soft foam material. Often bats and other weaponlike devices are made from the material, which effectively downgrades what was a weapon to a harmless toy. It's thus a hyperbolic term. Almost always when it's used it implies something went from being useful to useless. In reality, that is rarely the case. To add to Dan's definition, this is also a noun. A change to a game to make something lucrative or profitable no longer so is "a nerf." So it applies not only to assets, as he describes, but also to situations. Removing the profit from a much exploited "FedEx" run would be called a nerf.

Let's see if I can add any. Some of these are unique (so far, to my knowledge) to games, others are not but see slight twists on more common usage.

"FexEx" (v, n) A transaction in which a player buys or obtains an object in one place and delivers it to another rapidly for a profit. Often refers to those where especially high profit in game currency results ("FedEx 'sploit").
Derives from "Federal Express," the company that built itself on fast (next day), reliable delivery. It will be interesting to see if this ever becomes a trade mark issue as was the case with Xerox and others. I don't recall where I first saw this one.

warp(ed) (v, n) Short for "time warp." When lag causes an avatar or npc to get out of synch on the client from the server's positioning, it often instantly readjusts the position at the client resulting in a teleport to a new location. Sometimes also called a "port," most reserve "port" term for a player-initiated act to teleports a character from one spot to another in game. I believe I first met this term in EverQuest. (this is also less commonly called "skipping")

grind (v) The act of doing an action repeatedly and as quickly as possible for rapid experience gain. Usage varies slightly from game to game. It especially applies to crafting, but is also used as a synonum for "exp" hunting. Grind has replaced an earlier term (which now escapes me). I first met this one in Star Wars Galaxies.

exp (v) Short for "experience," it supplements the earlier use as a noun that signifies the measure of the progress of a character in numerical form. It is now also a verb meaning "to play specifically to gain experience" (as opposed to socialize, loot, etc.) Similar to grind, but implies more fun, usually. A common usage would be "I'm out exping on tin-can-of-death-juniors." I don't recall how long ago this one appeared.

CTD(ed) (v, n, adj) "Crash to desktop" Game client software crashed returning player to OS desktop. Often used to explain unexpected disappearances of a character/player from the game world, or "AFK" type status. This is a techie usage also, not unique to gaming, but used a lot for its terseness.

LD(ed) (n, v, adj) "Link Dead" Refers to loss of connection between the client and the game server. This often results from internet connectivity problems, but might also indicate the player manually disconnected somehow (perhaps intentionally). A character might be LD, meaning persistant in the vworld, or the character might vanish instantly. Both would still be said to be LD, though the former is more common. Common in Star War Galaxies where characters actually persist after disconnecting for some time with an "LD" flag over their heads, but it predates this game.

rollback (n, v) Refers to restoring, or to the restoral of, a game server to a prior state ("snapshot"), negating all actions taken since the point of the snapshot to which it was restored. Generally happens after catastrophic server failures or player exploits of a serious game-imbalancing nature. This term goes back some time, and also derives from a techie term (rollback the database, etc.)

time warp (n, v) (1) See warp above.(2) see rollback above.

AFK (adj, v intrans) "Away From Keyboard" (1) The act of leaving the keyboard while an avatar or character remains present in a vworld. "I am going to afk, brb." (2) The brainless state of a character when the player is not present to direct it. "He's afk" can refer to the player or the character (or both). In many games an "afk" flag will appear after a certain inactivity delay, or can be manually placed by the player. This leads to an afk character.
This probably derives from chat rooms as much as games. It's been around as long as there have been virtual communities.

AFK macro(ing) (v) As above, except the player is at work or asleep, and the character is mindlessly grinding for experience. "I am going to afk macro all day while I am at work." This is generally frowned on by the community at large. Some games expressly forbid it, others do not. It dates far back in online gaming history.

PvE (adj, v) "Player versus Environment" The act of "hunting" non-player characters or "mobs" as opposed to other player characters (PvP). (contrary to Greg's assertion, this IS abbreviated) The usage of the abbreviation I first saw in EverQuest, and I believe that was when I first saw the phrase also (not sure though, may have stumbled over the phrase in criticism/reviews of games first).

carebear (n, adj) A derrogatory term launched by PvPers against nonPvPers who are typically trying to curb the former's freedom to attack any player's character at will. This is commonly used to refer to nonPvP, "carebear servers." I think this one dates back to early Ultima Online.

ninja loot (v) To loot someone from else's kills in a fashion that isn't obvious as a means of loot stealing. "Careful, JackBQuick is ninja looting!" Since typically only the character, or group, who makes a kill (measured by last blow or most damage, depending on the game) can loot that kill, this often refers to someone inside a group who is looting outside the agreed upon practice.

KS(er) (v, n) "Kill Steal" To jump into someone else's PvE fight, especially with the aim of stealing their experience and loot. Some games award experience proportionately which makes this more of a maneuver to loot steal. In others, which do not, it's a way to "exp" fast by gaining a share of the experience from a kill one would not normally have a chance of achieving. KSers and KSing are/is frowned upon by most communities.

Posted by dan at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2003

Back to Blogging

Whew! I won't apologize for not writing; I have been! Over 200 pages of policy manual worth of it. And it's done and I'm celebrating. Pinot noir, salmon with dill, salad, and blogging. Ah, this is the life!

My DSL woes continue. Despite a lot of troubleshooting, and being, now, on first-name basis with a couple of very nice (and smart!) BellSouth techs, I can't nail down what's causing my every-two-hour (roughly) resets of my IP address. I have determined it's running on a real-time clock, it's not duration based, but no more than that. If I force a new IP address by resetting my firewall/router or something of the sort, the expected reset still happens at the expected time. I have conceded that the problem could as well be on my end as theirs, so I'm working my end gradually. The trouble is I am a bit leery of trying the obvious (and it's darned inconvenient, since it takes my internal network offline) and bypassing the firewall/router with one PC for a while to see if I still get the resets. I've tried to catch the timing right twice, exposing a machine to attack for up to 20 minutes. I have gotten ambiguous results so far. I really need to set a machine out there for at least a couple of hours straight, and that means no connectivity (and this blog down) for that period. Now that the big project is done, maybe I can work up the guts to reconfigure a Linux box as sacrifice.

I say "sacrifice" because a check of my logs showed regular kiddy-script attacks on my web server. I also see regular port pings on the worm ports on my firewall logs. Setting a Windows PC out there unfirewalled (don't call that Microsoft thing a firewall!) for more than 30 minutes is asking to spend some time cleaning it of viruses, worms, trojans and all the other nice toys. Even a Linux box is not at all immune, just a bit lower risk since most of the boys home from school are running canned scripts to attack Microsoft.

It really is comical to read the logs. Most are truly clueless. But too many are not. Those ensure I will have to quarantine any box I put out there and rebuild it, to be safe.

On more fun subjects:

My role as arbitrageur in EVE is less than successful, to date. I haven't succeeded in making a single buy of isk. I've bid steadily, but the others working the market are so efficient I dare not risk the thin margins offered. The fees between ebay and PayPal are too big a slice to allow enough profit to justify the risk. I continue selling what I "earn" mining, however. That's a trickle at the moment. I'm eyeing my infrastructure, now that I'm done with the big work project, with thoughts of upgrading so I can expand operations. I am mostly getting repeat buyers now. That's both flattering and a pain. I'm still reaching for my 30 positive feedback points so I can do multi-listings, and only one feedback per unique user counts. I'm sitting at 23.

But my entry into Star Wars Galaxies trading is proceeding well. I've been watching the credit market on one server and finally dumped a bid on a big lot of credits at a lowball price. I won. With nearly 5 million credits in hand, at that point, my ingame operations took off. I am reselling some of those credits at a nice profit. I've only made one auction sale, but I moved another 20% of the total to an ingame group of friends that was moving to the same server. We'd been doing some credit swapping between two servers, but he was complaining about the hassle of raising capital on that server to swap to my character there so my character on thisserver could exchange it for some of the credits I bought on ebay. So I told him I was selling some of my excess on ebay, and he asked about pricing, and that led to interest in buying, and after he consulted with his roommates they pooled their cash and PayPal-ed me $25 for a million credits. No fees! That was below my selling price, but well above my buying price, and he is a friend, after all. After another sale on ebay, I'm nearly at break even on my accidental purchase!

For whatever reason fewer items are trading thus far on SWG than, for example, EVE. With the credit market being soft, for reasons discussed on Terra Nova, I want to move away from just trading credits. I see the opportunity as being in buying large blocks (as in millions) of credits on ebay, then using that in game to buy items, and selling the items on ebay. Not many are doing this, clearly. It has a much higher "touch" factor than trading credits since both parties must meet in game to accomplish the transaction. Well, that's not entirely true, and I do have in place the infrastructure to accomplish unattended transfers, but they are relatively expensive and I will only do that for large deals.

I have made three sales of items on my now primary server, to date. Each has been a fixed price sale at $4.95 (keeping it in that impulse buy range, and I know at least the first was exactly that because I had to explain what to do with the item in question). I've made one delivery, the others should happen tonight. Delivering credits is a lot easier with the /tip command. The receiving character does not even have to be logged in. The items I'm selling I buy on the bazaar in game. They are just hard enough to find that many people don't want the hassle, and others don't really understand how the bazaar works. And the prices charged in game seem steep compared to $4.95. At $25 per million credits my cost works out to $0.30 worst case. There is a bit of logistics involved, but that's it. Ignoring the logistics (since I do them in parallel with other game tasks anyway), my profit is running around 1400% after auction and PayPal fees. If only I could pay my mortgage with percentage points instead of dollars!

Is there a point to all this? Nothing new: find a niche, meet a demand, supply a service in a way no one else is. It probably won't last as an exclusive, but I haven't yet spotted anyone else doing it this way. Most of the entrepreneurial types are hawking them in game for a credit profit of around 66%. I've heard of one case of a 733% profit, in credits. Now this is true arbitrage. I buy cheaply in one market, use those goods to trade in another, and then translate the profits there back to the original market. The reason I can achieve the rather obscene percentage profit is the two markets are far out of synch. They will come into synch as I, or I and others, tie them more closely together.

On the topic of Terra Nova, I'd been posting a lot of comments there. I decided I was getting too much of my writing impulse out of my system by doing so and will try to curb it. Instead I will comment and argue here more, since I have my own platform.

Posted by dan at 05:51 PM | Comments (1)