Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Elder Scrolls Online: The subscription fallacy

In the run up to the release of Elder Scrolls Online, I've heard a lot of people say,

This game isn't worth a subscription. Maybe if it was free-to-play...

My question for these people is the: what game, in your opinion, would be worth a subscription model? Because if you answer, 'None; no game is worth a subscription model,' that completely changes the meaning of what you're saying.

If no game is worth a subscription model, then a statement about this game not being worth a subscription is not a statement about the characteristics of this game, but a general principle. And that's fine, you're perfectly free to hold that principle. But if you do, it precludes you from expressing an opinion on this game.

The only way a statement about this game being worth (or not worth) a subscription can have any merit is if you can see some game being worth a subscription. Then you can evaluate this game on its own terms: compare it to the kind of game which would be worth a subscription, and decide, on the basis of that comparison rather than on the basis of a principle, whether this game is worth a subscription.

It's the same with murder. If you maintain that all murder is wrong, then a particular case of murder will always be wrong, regardless of any specific circumstances. There's actually no point discussing the details of the case, because murder is always wrong. On the other hand, if there is some case in which murder might not be (so) wrong - and this is where people usually bring up the idea of going back in time and killing Hitler - then we can have a discussion of the individual characteristics of this case and evaluate whether it was, perhaps, in fact not (so) wrong.

Abortion is similar case. If you think that abortion is always wrong, then there is no way that you will think that abortion could be right in a specific case. If you think that abortion can sometimes be the right choice, then we can have a discussion of whether it is the right choice in this case.

And exactly the same is true of subscription models in games, or anything else which can take the form of a principle of belief. You may well be entitled to hold that belief, but doing so precludes you from evaluating any specific case.

In short, you can either hold a principle, or you can compare and evaluate. You can't do both.

Be clear about which it is you're doing.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Why the GEZ is evil

Okay, since I'm ranting today, I'm going to explain why the German television license, the GEZ, is evil.

Until recently it was much like the BBC license in Britain; that is, you had to pay a license fee to support the state-run broadcasting networks. And similarly, if you didn't have a TV or radio which could receive those broadcasts, you basically didn't have to pay.

Since the start of the year, however, the rules have changed: now, anyone with a TV, radio, or internet connection, has to pay the license fee of about €20 a month. The actual fee for a TV owner is slightly lower than before, so many people are perfectly fine with the change, and haven't even noticed.

But the problem is the 'internet connection' part of the new rules. If you don't even have a computer, but have a smart phone - hell, if you even have a standard phone with a clunky, slow browser that loads at a snail's pace - you have to pay.

Why? Because you can access the websites of the state-sponsored broadcasters on the internet.

Let's get this straight: because you could visit the German ARD website, you have to pay a license fee.

And that's evil, because of the principle it establishes.

If you could visit the site, you have to pay, regardless of whether you actually do so or not.

I could also visit a porn site: does that mean that I have to pay for it even if I don't? Hmm, I could send a bill to everyone in the world asking to be paid for writing this post, because they might read it.

I could visit all sorts of sites on the internet, because, you know, the internet is a big place. Do I have to pay for all of the sites I don't visit, as well as those that I do?

Ah, you're pushing it too far, you respond. But I'm not. Because even if the German government does not intend that this model should be extended to the rest of the internet, then it must think that only it - or perhaps it and other governments - has the right to apply this model.

Either this model - paying for potential rather than actual use - can be applied to all websites, or it can only be applied to those websites which the government decides it can be applied to. In other words, while companies can't charge you money for something which you can only potentially use, a government can. On this model, the government can make the public pay for anything it wants, so long as it posts a website which anyone in Germany could visit.

While the GEZ is now basically an internet tax in everything but name, it sets up one of two principles. Either any company on the internet can charge you for its content, or governments can force the public to pay for whatever they want. Both are extremely dangerous.

Kant's first definition of the categorical imperative, which forms the basis of his system of morality, is this:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.

On the basis of that definition, the current GEZ is immoral.

Amazon.de Instant Video Bullshit

Okay, so Amazon.de recently announced that the Prime account includes Prime Instant Video, a video streaming service which has been a part of Amazon.com for some while.

So I'm going to cancel my Prime account.

Why?

Previously, Amazon Prime cost €29 a year. Starting in August, it will cost €49. Ah, you might say, but for that extra €20, you get to stream all the videos you want. That's got to be worth €20 a year, right?

But what do I get for that? A bunch of American TV shows and movies, for the most part. That's fine. I like American movies and TV shows. From where I'm sitting, I can on my shelf several volumes of Scrubs, House, 30 Rock, Community, Castle, Psych, The Mentalist, and The West Wing. Hell, I've imported a bunch of anime releases from the States, and have my blu-ray player set up to play both region 1 and 2 discs.

Now, most of the series I mentioned are on Amazon Instant Video, but they aren't up-to-date or complete. Psych is missing Season 1, House is missing Seasons 3, 5 and 7, Community only goes up to Season 3, The Mentalist and Castle only to Season 4, which is the only season that 30 Rock does have. Scrubs has only Season 8, and The West Wing is missing completely.

It also doesn't have any Futurama and it doesn't have any South Park. Of the Simpsons, it has Seasons 1-3 and 20-25. Also, Amazon Instant Video in Germany has about 10 anime movies and series: you can watch the first Eden of the East movie, but not the series that comes before it or the movie which comes after.

So the selection is patchy to say the least. If you actually like the shows, and actually want to watch them all, you're out of luck.

But did you notice what I did there? I talked about Amazon Instant Video, not Prime Instant Video. See, Prime Instant Video contains the 'free' shows and movies that you can watch when you have an Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon Instant Video, on the other hand, is a pay-to-watch service: you can buy the season as a whole, or individual episodes for about €3 a pop. As a quick comparison, Season 4 of The Mentalist will cost you €34.99 on Amazon Instant Video; Amazon is also selling the DVD of the complete season for €9.99. Not all series are so much cheaper on DVD, admittedly, but all seasons of The Mentalist cost 50% less.

And guess what? NONE of the shows I mentioned above are on Prime Instant Video. They're only on Amazon Instant Video.

That is to say, even if you do have an Amazon Prime account, you're still be paying €3 extra an episode to watch those shows.

Awesome.

And you know what I also like? American TV shows and movies IN ENGLISH.

But with Amazon Instant Video in Germany, you can only watch in German.

Of the supposedly 12,000 titles on Amazon Instant Video in German, only 154 have the [OV] tag, indicating that they are in the original language.

I mean, seriously? Have you heard German dubbing? The German dub of Columbo turned him into a supercop badass and completely missed the whole point. Most shows are not quite as bad as that, but with any given comedy, half of the jokes will be missing.

Awesome.

Incidentally, if you are a German who doesn't speak English and is, for some unfathomable reason, interested in Prime Instant Video, then a) you're probably not reading this post, and b) make sure you buy the full Prime account for €49 a year rather than falling for the subscription model of €7.99 a month for Prime Instant Video on its own. At nearly twice as much (€95.88 a year) you actually get less service.

To recap, for a €20 price hike, I get a service which has an extremely reduced selection of videos compared to Amazon Instant Video - to the point where it has hardly any series I might actually want to watch on it. Amazon Instant Video itself is expensive, also has a limited and patchy selection, and only allows me to watch in German.

Amazon Instant Video is basically a weak selection of videos and a rip-off. But you know what? I wouldn't care if it wasn't for the Prime Instant Video component. The service Amazon Instant Video offers is essentially no different to the movie and video part of the iTunes Music Store, and I've never purchased a video there, either. But what Prime Instant Video does, and iTunes doesn't do, is take a service I like (Amazon Prime) and force me to pay extra for a service I don't want and will never use. Amazon Instant Video, and the iTunes Music Store, I can chose to ignore; but with Prime Instant Video, it's like being forced to buy a loss-leader. It's not quite as despicable as the GEZ, mind, you, but the principle is similar.

Bye, Amazon Prime. It was nice knowing you when you didn't, um, suck.