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by Allison Taich

24 Nov 2009

The San Miguel Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain has already booked an enticing lineup. Taking place in May 2010, the festival will be celebrating its 10th year with confirmed headliners the Pixies and Pavement. In recent days the bill has grown, boasting acts Wilco, Panda Bear, and the New Pornographers. Other announced bands and streaming music after the jump.

by L.B. Jeffries

24 Nov 2009

As numerous facebook games and MMO’s begin to introduce microtransactions, a system where you buy items in-game with real world money, the remarkable strength of economies based on things that are not real deserves a closer look. Since all the goods in an MMO are non-essentials, you are pandering to a person’s need to feel successful at something. An article by Kris Graft at Gamasutra on the psychology of collecting in-game items explains, “Achievements are unique and difficult enough that most players will choose a small handful and distinguish themselves that way. This is the same sort of process that happens in deciding who want to be as we grow.” The article acknowledges that working with friends, enjoying the game, etc. are also factors but the thing that makes someone absolutely need to have that rare piece of armor, to earn that one achievement, is the desire to stand out. This is a resource that you have to manage extremely carefully. Anthony Burch jokes in a Rev Rant on collectibles that the emotional satisfaction of collecting items in a game like Shadow Complex or Super Metroid is like eating a package of Oreos. The first one is delicious, the second still good, third wears down, until after about a dozen you start to feel sick. It’s the same reason a more expensive chocolate or candy bar comes in a smaller quantity, you risk the person disliking the product when they overindulge.

From http://www.blogcdn.com

From http://www.blogcdn.com

Maintaining this resource of psychological satisfaction is extremely difficult because there is no finite quantity in an MMO. An article by Kim-Mai Cutler explains that in MMO games the rules of the system are very simplified. There are only ‘sources’ and ‘sinks’, things like taxes do not exist to free up or restrict resources. You have absolute information about all transactions and absolute control over what is being purchased. All of this control does little to mitigate the fact that when you tinker with even a simplified system, you can cause what Tateru Nino calls an economic earthquake with numerous consequences. For example, in the game Ultima Online they imposed a restriction on the amount of iron players could harvest to forge weapons. People just mined all the ore, the player weapon economy stopped producing, prices rose, and everyone demanded they just create more iron.

Matthew Skala goes into detail about the point Cutler makes on MMO’s suffering from singular costs. A game like World of Warcraft is problematic because there is only one drain on a player’s resources: buying stuff. It’s just collect money (from an infinite supply), purchase goods (from an infinite market), and eventually burn out as they hit the max achievement state. Or as Burch put it above, they end up eating the whole bag of Oreos. One commenter makes a very good point though, the game does have a tax system in the form of repair, skills, and extremely expensive commodities. Advanced skills are purchased, not automatically received, but it’s called ‘training’ instead of a leveling tax. Mounts are extremely costly, but are also highly sought-after in the community. The time required and cost of these goods should not be underestimated; one user points out that they have friends who have been playing the game for three years that still can’t afford the most expensive skills. Protecting the time duration for consuming goods, the spacing between each Oreo, is thus tantamount to maintaining the player’s enjoyment of the MMO economy.

Blizzard’s legal team, who are some of toughest in the business, actively prosecute any botting or cheating programs that circumvent grinding. The company also does not allow anyone to sell in-game items for cash if they can catch them at it. An article at T=machine cites the trial notes from MDY v. Blizzard, “Blizzard’s design intent is for the resources to command a certain high value, so that average players, who might get one or two of the resources in an average amount of play time, may obtain a decent amount of gold from selling them. But because characters controlled by bots flood the market with those resources, the market value of these resources is far less than Blizzard intended, and the average player realizes only a fraction of the intended value from the resources s/he finds.” That value is founded both psychologically and by maintaining scarcity in-game to create perceived value.

So the basic issue for an MMO economy is always going to be that on a long enough timeline all players will have the best gear and maxed out skills. You’re trying to figure out a way to keep them running on the tread mill by finding ways to appeal to that need to stand out. If there are too many Death Knights with the same kick ass set of armor and weapons, it becomes common and players lose interest. The solution in WoW’s case is two-fold: expansion packs and patches. An expansion pack for a game like Diablo 2 or World of Warcraft introduces a new continent to explore, monsters to fight, new skills, and new loot. All of these things are more expensive and more powerful than the previous version of the game. The result is something similar to what Karen Blumenthal at the Wall Street Journal refers to as a tech bubble. A bubble forms when there is a rapid technological or social innovation, as opposed to one that is slowly developed and adjusted to society. The innovation and the bubble are not always intrinsically related, the radio and car became prevalent in the 1920’s over a very short period of time just before the Great Depression. One person starts making a lot of money really fast, others get on board with their own schemes, and the urge to get rich slowly erodes common sense. The article cites two examples of superficial product booms during the internet’s arrival: beanie babies and handbags in the early 2000’s. Their perceived value directly related to a sense of temporary scarcity. The bubble burst because teddy bears and purses aren’t exactly hard to make, it was only a matter of time before the market flooded. In an MMO the same thing is true: people who want the best gear are going to get it eventually. As more do, value depreciates, and new ways to stand out must be developed.

You can see this in the real world value for items on websites that sell World of Warcraft gear. The expansion pack is the tech boom, the loot’s value rockets up and then bottoms out as everyone gets a hold of it. Finding consistent figures on this is really hard because technically these goods shouldn’t even be sold for money, so take this with a grain of salt. At Bank of WoW the value of gold money is generally stable at about $ 6.45 per thousand. The gear, however, plummets in value. At a gear website the top tier armor and gear will run you $ 1086.99 followed by a smaller set at $ 786.99. All other items and gear are $ .01. The latest expansion pack has been out since November 13, 2008, so this value depreciation only took a year to create. Player engagement is maintained by a steady process of patching the game, which constantly changes the benefits of gear and skills so the most powerful one will become weak and different ones will increase in value. Exchange and achievement are always pursuable options as the peak achievement state is modified.

Ultimately, it’s still difficult to find a stable economic system in a game because you can never be sure when it’s easier for the player to just grind for the item in-game. It’s essentially a massive exercise in asking the player what they think an item is worth: hours of their time or actual money? All the games have to do is make sure there is always something to buy and that players can’t do it all the time.

by Evan Sawdey

24 Nov 2009

Our Noise is an oral history of Merge Records, featuring interviews from its founders (McCaughan and Ballance), it’s numerous signees (featuring members of Lambchop, Spoon, the Arcade Fire, and more), and various admirers and business partners (like Dischord Records founder/Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye). Author John Cook alternates his chapters between recounting the history of the Merge label and then profiling one particular band. In a short amount of time, the main players are firmly established: Mac is a svengali-like figure, gathering likeminded rock types around him while being in it primarily just for the music; Laura—by contrast—has a knack for the business side of things, capable of keeping people on budget even during the most dire of times.

You don’t have to be familiar with Superchunk, the label, or even any of the bands on the label to enjoy the stories told within. You don’t have to know Britt Daniel’s personal history to relate to how he wound up getting major-label cash to become an alternative rock star, only to suffer from terrible reviews and downright depressing sales figures when all was said and done.

For still being in the game after putting out two decades worth of classic albums (including such standard-bearers as the Magnetic Fields’ 99 Love Songs and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea), it’s obvious that Merge—with its success and its struggles—is still wanting nothing more than to make some peers of its own. In our rushed digital age of today, there’s something profoundly sweet about such a simple sentiment.

AMAZON

by Adrien Begrand

24 Nov 2009

With gross earnings topping an astronomical $105 million, to say that it’s been a good year for AC/DC is a bit of an understatement. With a third generation discovering the band’s music, they’re now more popular than they’ve ever been, there’s no venue too small for them to play, exorbitantly-priced shows are selling out left and right, and to top it off, their spirited 15th album Black Ice did not disappoint when it came out a year ago. And typical of a huge act, they know how to sell their brand.

Which leads us to Backtracks, a monstrous new collection cunningly timed for the holiday season. With an eye-popping price tag of $225 (US), the Deluxe Collectors Edition is designed to whet the appetites of the die-hard fans. It’s an ingeniously designed multimedia package that relies heavily on the “wow” factor. And wow, indeed: three CDs packed to the gills with rarities, two loaded DVDs, a lavish 180 gram LP, a 164 page coffee table book, a host of reproduced memorabilia, and the capper, the whole shebang fitting into a fully functional one watt amplifier. Just how good the amp sounds or how durable it is (there’s no volume control, if that’s any indication), is beside the point. This package is just too damn cool. But amplifier, book, replica buttons, picks, and posters aside, what about the real meat ‘n’ potatoes of this set? How does the actual music measure up?

Overall, Backtracks is not quite the treasure trove that fans might have been craving all these years, and it might have been a better idea to offer complete remastered CDs of AC/DC’s first four Australian albums instead of the single-CD mishmash, or even dig a little deeper into the live/studio vaults. That said, in spite of some bumps along the way, it’s still a very fun seven or eight hour trip, one that comes closer to giving the fans bang for their buck than some might think.

by Bill Gibron

24 Nov 2009

Forrest Gump is perhaps the most maligned Best Picture Oscar winner of all time. Not even a new 15th Anniversary Box Set, fashioned like a collection of yummy confections (just like ‘Momma’ spoke about) will ease the controversy. Indeed, since it became a monster hit both in theaters and in the minds of award season voters, Forrest Gump fails about every test of cinematic classicism. It feels dated and of its era, the optimism of a pre-Dot.Com bubble burst awash in every eager, overly earnest narrative beat. It has the feel and focus of a determined epic, something that everyone involved believes is important without any of the onscreen scope or power to prove otherwise. Even worse, it’s become part of the standard bearers of satire, lampoons and spoofs of Tom Hanks’ take on the title character driving any available artistic measure deep into the ground. Oh, and did we mention it beat Pulp Fiction for the 1995 Academy Award?

Perhaps time will never be completely kind to this film, but the overall outrage over its existence is way overblown. In truth, Forrest Gump is a fine motion picture - nay, even at times, a great one. Sure, the whole feather motif is heavy handed and syrupy and the title moron as innocent everyman can get so saccharine and cloying as to almost cause diabetes. But Zemeckis is not some hack, manipulating his audience with false sentiment and unearned emotions. Everything about Forrest Gump feels natural and organic to the story being told. Indeed, it’s the tall tale itself, and not the way that Zemeckis presents it, that should cause the most consternation. Over the course of five seminal decades in the post-war “adulthood” of the United States, this movie takes the side of the jingoists and the patriots - and never once parts company.

AMAZON

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Red Baraat Blows Hartford Hall Down Celebrating the Festival of Colors (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Red Baraat's annual Festival of Colors show rocked a snow laden Hartford on a Saturday evening.

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