Why YouTube Buying Twitch Is Probably Not A Good Thing (Ironically With YouTube Video)

Well, the seemingly inevitable has likely happened. YouTube (i.e. Google) is reportedly about to buy Twitch for $1 billion. Yes, this is being reported as rumour and isn’t confirmed yet but come on, you know it’s happening, I know it’s happening. If it wasn’t, one of the companies involved would have denied it but they’re keeping tight-lipped. It’s happening.

I’m not surprised to see this at all. Twitch getting bought was inevitable. Short-sighted venture capitalists want their investments back with a profit and they want it now, plus I’m sure that much like YouTube when Google bought them, Twitch is burning through cash on bandwidth alone, despite their existing advertisers and partnership program. While YouTube’s bandwidth needs are no less than cosmic, Twitch’s are arguably worse because it requires a constant stream of high bandwidth to feed content into their system and then it needs that same amount of bandwidth multiplied by each user watching your stream and it needs it all at the same time whereas YouTube can spread it out as not everyone watches simultaneously. And that’s just the live stuff, we’re not even counting the additional bandwidth and storage needs for archived streams. Plus as we all know, the advertising market isn’t healthy and is made worse still by scumbags who use AdBlock.

My biggest concern is not that Twitch was bought but much like with Facebook buying Oculus, it’s who bought them.

The initial reaction I’ve seen by many people I follow is that this is a good thing because it will hopefully solve the constant lag and other reliability problems Twitch has had almost since the beginning. I agree that getting access to YouTube’s monolithic infrastructure can only improve things and I welcome that, though YouTube isn’t perfect when it comes to bandwidth either. Almost everything else I’m not so sure about.

YouTube has a lock when it comes to on demand, user created video online. There are other choices but YouTube’s where 95% of people go and if you want your video noticed, you have to have it there. Twitch is essentially the same in the streaming space. There is competition but these are de facto monopolies here. Now they’re joining forces and one company will control both of these spaces. Lack of competition is never good for consumers. Truth be told, I don’t think consumers will see as much direct impact from this as content creators but as someone who does create content on both services, I’m obviously concerned about that. Plus, let’s be realistic here folks. What affects us also affects you because it impacts what content we produce, how much of it and the quality of it.

Twitch’s service from a bandwidth perspective may improve and that’s definitely good but I’m not going to mince words here: The service in general from both of these companies for content creators (at least the majority of us who aren’t huge) is terrible. They have awful management platforms, they’re unreliable, they’re buggy, their support is awful (though you can at least occasionally get help from Twitch on Twitter, with YouTube you’re left on your own or to their useless forums) and they only promote what’s already popular, leaving newcomers largely screaming into the void. I don’t see how combining two companies who are bad at service into one will make the service any better.

In less general terms, I have a couple of specific worries with Google imposing itself onto Twitch. The first is the massive bugbear that haunts any gaming YouTuber and that’s copyright. If you follow gaming YouTubers at all, you know about the Content ID apocalypse that happened last year, when hundreds of channels had thousands of videos taken down or their monetization removed by an automated system enforcing claims for copyrights on either the footage, the audio or both. In almost all these cases, the videos were covered under Fair Use and in fewer but a still staggeringly large number of cases, the claims were either incorrect or outright fraudulent (i.e. made on behalf of people who didn’t actually own the rights to the content they claimed.) When this happened, many YouTubers lost their livelihoods because the burden of proof and appeal is always on the channel, not the claimant and even if it turns out a claim was a mistake or fraudulent, the YouTuber doesn’t get back the money they lost while under the weeks long appeal process. Hell, false claimants aren’t even punished or barred from making future claims. To a point, this problem has stabilised but it’s far from resolved

Google is spineless when it comes to copyright and the DMCA and doesn’t have a robust or efficient process for channel owners to deal with claims because they’re a de facto monopoly, they don’t have to. Yet, they just bought a company whose entire business model is built around copyright infringement. Twitch is a gaming only streaming service, you’re not allowed to broadcast anything else on it. Yet gaming video is the more hotly contentious sector on YouTube when it comes to copyright. How are they going to handle this? I don’t know, Google obviously has a small nation’s worth of lawyers who had to have discussed this before they put any cash on the table for Twitch but their track record on this issue is nothing less than horrendous, whereas Twitch is very liberal with it. Maybe it’s legally different when you’re live streaming and maybe that’s why Twitch hasn’t been sued out of business yet. Or maybe there’s a reckoning in the pipeline for them we haven’t heard about yet. No one knows but Twitch getting YouTube’s copyright policies put on it won’t be good for streamers.

The second is the very different way these two companies handle partnership with content creators (i.e. how content creators make money on the services.) Twitch has requirements that you have to meet to get a partnership but when you qualify, you can do so but only with Twitch itself. When you’re partnered, you get a piece of the revenue from ads that display on your channel. With YouTube, while you can partner with the service directly (as I am for the time being), a while ago, they allowed the creation of Multi-Channel Networks or MCNs. You may have heard of Polaris, Fullscreen, RPM, Machinima etc., these are MCNs. The original idea was to give collectives of YouTubers a means to organise as a group, sell their own ads and generate more revenue and opportunities for themselves and by extension, YouTube itself.

The problem is they left MCNs completely unregulated, allowing just about any idiot to create one or become a sub-network of another MCN or even a sub-network of a sub-network, essentially becoming a pyramid scheme at that point. This ended up flooding the market, with now hundreds of MCNs being created, many of which are either run by people with no idea what they’re doing or worse, are scammers who are taking advantage of naive (often young) YouTubers, taking a chunk of their money while providing little or nothing in return. There are a lot of good MCNs but there are a lot of shady ones too and their reckless and irresponsible behaviour is a big part of why last year’s Content ID crackdown happened and why only the big channels get carte blanche on that issue now.

I’m sure many of these MCNs are salivating at the opportunity to get involved in Twitch now as well. Is that really what we want? I’m not sure it is. I’m not convinced Twitch’s one-stop method of partnership is ideal either and I think giving content creators the ability to shop around is critical. But just folding the still largely unregulated and out of control MCN scene into what is basically the sole source of gaming live streams I don’t think is the best solution either. There has to be a happy medium and neither service has hit it yet but the MCN genie is not one easily put back in its bottle, especially when you see ones like Maker being sold to Disney for half a billion dollars.

As a content creator who is desperately trying to find some kind of audience, this deal just muddies the water further for me and others like my in my opinion. Taking two monopolies in their field and combining them into one even bigger monopoly only benefits the companies and their shareholders, no one else. There’s nothing in this that will make life better for YouTubers and live streamers, though there’s a lot of places things could get worse. I don’t see Twitch losing its brand and becoming just another tab on the YouTube home page but it’s definitely going to get a lot more integrated into Google’s hive mind.

If you’re someone who just consumes online video, you may think this is no big deal to you but make no mistake, what affects content creators absolutely affects you because it alters what we produce, how much we produce and how much effort we put into it. The bigger channels that get the red carpet and champagne rolled out for them already simply by virtue of being popular will continue on business as usual. The rest of us may do the same or we may be faced with getting squeezed even more, at a time when it’s already a Sisyphean struggle to get noticed, even when you make good content. Any way you slice it, we have less competition in online video now and less competition is only good for one group of people and it ain’t us. I really hope YouTube doesn’t screw this up but history doesn’t inspire hope. But hey, we’ll see, it’ll take a while before any changes take place.

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How to Be A Good IT Person

This is a post I’ve been meaning to make for a very long time now. I’ve had the framework in my head for what feels like forever but I never actually sat down and put it to words. Being unemployed has given me even more time to ruminate on it.

Working in various forms of IT for as long as I have has given me a lot of time to think about the best ways to do my job and it’s also given me a lot of opportunities to see how peers approach it . It still amazes me that even though the IT field has existed on a large scale for quite a while now, so many people still get some of the most basic elements of it so wrong. Stuff that really shouldn’t be hard to understand seems to evade so many in this field. I thought it would be a good exercise to put down some knowledge I’ve taken from my now extensive experience that I think is critical for people to know who want to excel in IT and be both well regarded and satisfied. Many who do this job are often bitter and miserable and while we sometimes have cause to be, I don’t think it has to be that way and I think that a lot of it comes down to the individuals themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing IT people in the world, many of whom are better at this than I am and I’m not saying that the advice I put forth here should taken as bible truth by everyone. I do however, think there are fundamentals here that can be universally applied by all members of this field and most if not all of them are not adhered to often enough. These won’t solve all your problems as someone in IT but I think if you derive your own personal creed from some of these basics, you may find yourself satisfied and I dare I say, enjoying a career that many consider brutal and unfulfilling.

So what has almost 15 years of IT taught me?

1. You Are In the Customer Service Industry
IT is not a standalone career path and like most others, it’s derived from something else. Make no mistake, you may spend your day working with Information Technology but whether you’re a help desk rep or a person maintaining infrastructure, you work in customer service. You may not be working a returns counter in retail but your goal is first and foremost to serve your users (or customers) by providing them as reliable, easy and friendly a technology work environment as you can. Without your users, you have no purpose and neither does any of the stuff you work with.

You may be the one guy in charge of an entire company or you may be a person within a larger team with a narrow scope of responsibility that never involves interacting with a user. It doesn’t matter, your goal and ultimate scope are always customer service. You may be different than the guy working the returns counter in retail but at a core level, you both work in the same field. This should be the driving factor behind everything you do. IT people who either don’t believe this or don’t adhere to it are often the ones regarded as having a bad attitude. If your #1 goal of coming into work is not to provide the best customer service you can, you’re doing it wrong.

2. Your Users Are Not the Enemy
This is really a more general rule but I see a lot of IT people not following it. Do you get annoyed when you go somewhere to get service and it seems like the person is having a bad day and taking it out on you? You know what I mean, when you are there to conduct a transaction and the person treats you like you’re a burden and making their day worse. Don’t you hate that?

That’s exactly how you come across when you act dickish to one of your users. No matter what has happened in your day, be it work related or personal, you should never take it out on your users unless they give you a reason to (and yes, sometimes they can.) The user likely isn’t the reason the server crashed or you were denied an important budget item and they almost certainly aren’t the reason you had a fight with your spouse. Treating users like enemies rather than allies is the biggest single reason many IT departments and user bases don’t get along and often see each other as headaches and impedances.

Without your users, you don’t have a job and without you, they don’t have working technology. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not an adversarial one. Treat your users as enemies and they’ll do the same.

3. There Are No Stupid Questions
You’re super good at this stuff. Of course you are, you wouldn’t have the job otherwise. Thing is, your users likely aren’t super good at this stuff and many IT people often forget, that’s kind of the point. If they were as good with technology as you are, they wouldn’t have a need for you now would they? So don’t be a smarmy prat when someone asks a question that seems elementary to you.

I know computers like the back of my hand. I don’t know anything about fixing cars but I would be pretty annoyed if a mechanic acted like I should already know why my check engine light is on. So why should I roll my eyes and act like I’m talking to a five year old when someone asks me why their bookmarks bar in their browser is missing because they accidentally clicked the wrong thing?

You may be an expert in your field but chances are, you’re basically an ignoramus of 95% of other fields out there. Don’t treat people who didn’t choose to go into IT as though they’re stupid of below you intellectually. Truthfully, while you certainly have to have a good head on your shoulders to do this stuff, let’s not kid ourselves, we aren’t rocket scientists or brain surgeons.

4. Fight For Your Interests
Far too many companies in the world see IT as a burden and a black box. Our departments only cost money, they don’t make it (at least not directly) and the executives see money going into us and because they don’t understand what we do, we’re often first on the chopping block. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my career it IT managers and departments that don’t put up enough of a fight to get what they want and need.

IT is important, it’s mission critical in fact. A company can survive without almost any other department for at least a short time but no IT people means that if something breaks, they’re effectively crippled. We may not directly generate profits but make no mistake, a successful company without IT is no longer successful and we are instrumental in ensuring profit is made. It doesn’t matter if times are tough or not, you need to be good at explaining why IT needs what it asks for and you need to be willing to take the gloves off, get in the trenches and fight for those resources with everyone else.

If you’re denied stuff you need now, it will only make things much worse later on and you have to be willing to speak up and make that known. Cowering back and letting some clueless executive tell you what can wait is a failure on your part. It’s not easy taking a stand, even less so in companies dominated by type-A salespeople but ultimately, it’s what you have to do to provide the best customer service which as stated above, is the industry you’re in.

5. You Gotta’ Love It
I’ve worked with a lot of people in my time who got into IT when it was the hot, upcoming career path because they saw it as an easy way to make good money. They took a bunch of training, got the paper certifications they needed, punch in, punch out and make their money. That’s a lousy way go about any career.

If you don’t enjoy what you do, how can you do it well over the long term? If this is just a paycheque and not something that interests you, gets you fired up and that you don’t ever think about when you’re outside the office, how are you ever going to do the best job you can? You have to be engaged with what you’re doing. If you’re just going through the motions, you’re not giving the work the attention it deserves.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you just need a job and the argument that “You should do what you love and if you don’t love it, you should do something else.” is a simplistic, reductive and often unrealistic way to look at the job market. There are things I would probably love doing more than IT but in reality, they’re not likely to happen or at least, not to bring me the stability I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do though because I absolutely do. I love technology and I love discovering how to best use it to improve the lives of others. If you’re working in IT and can’t wait to get home every day so you can focus on anything else, you should probably find and pursue something that interests you more because just going through the motions ultimately serves no one well.

6. Always Be Learning
This is something I sadly neglected at my last employer because I got comfortable and spoiled there and getting laid off unexpectedly gave me a real wake up call. Like almost any other field, there are always new things to be learning about it and you will never be in a state where there’s nothing left to be enlightened with. Really, this should be obvious in the field of technology where things are always advancing at light speed. Yet many people (myself included) think they know all they need to and just sit still.

Even if it doesn’t look like your job needs more knowledge than you have, keep acquiring it anyway. Read articles, do online courses, run experiments, request training opportunities. Do as much learning as you can whenever you can. It may help make your current job better or it could open new and exciting doors for you going forward. Becoming complacent in the technology field is the worst thing you can do and stagnation is ultimately a death sentence for your long term advancement.

I learned this the hard way and now I’m struggling to regain lost ground. Don’t ever let this happen to you.

7, Be Inventive
One of the greatest things about modern technology is how it can be bent and shaped to serve our needs in ways we or perhaps, even its creators never thought of. Some things are more rigid than others but you’d be surprised how if you just colour outside the lines a bit, you can pull off some downright miraculous stuff that can save time, money or just make something more useful to you and your users.

Never be afraid to experiment or to push the envelope of something you have at your disposal. Just because the manual doesn’t talk about doing a particular thing doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means the people who wrote the manual didn’t think of it. The IT people who advance farthest are often the ones who innovate and disrupt, coming up with new and different ways to solve problems that deviate from the norm. It shows a bigger depth of problem solving and critical thinking skills on your part and the one things I’ve learned is that the more you hone that skill, the more unforeseen opportunities will just seemingly appear in front of you because you know to look for what isn’t readily apparent.

So there we have it, some of my tips that I’ve gleaned from my years in IT about how to be better at it. Really, a lot of those rules can be applied to any number of different career paths but they have all served me well in my time and I think if more IT people followed them, this is a career path that would be better thought of. I’m sure there are many more things out there too and if you work in IT and have your own rules and creed, I’d love to hear about them!

IT can be a great and rewarding career but it’s too often thought of as something you do for a few years until you can advance out of it or until you figure out what you really want to do with your life. It doesn’t have to be this way and it’s something you can do for a long time and love doing on top of that if you just look at it a certain way and spread that enthusiasm to those you surround yourself with and serve. Sure, I’ve thought about changing direction before and I may still some day but right now, I’m still looking for an IT job to replace the one I lost. Not just because I’m damn good at it but because I want to keep doing this. This can be something you love doing, just look inwards and find what calls you to it. If nothing does, that’s OK too but you should think about what can make you happier in that case.

We can be heroes but it’s ultimately down to us. Make yourself a hero!

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UPDATED: Watch Me Beat Daikatana Live This Saturday, May 10th @ 9:00am EST!

UPDATE: The event has now been moved back a day to Saturday, May 10th instead of Sunday, May 11th. We were supposed to do our Mother’s Day stuff on Saturday originally but scheduling changed. Hopefully this will get a few more viewers. :)

Hey, remember when I did Extra Life last year and made a stretch goal to play through the horrendous Daikatana in a single session as a stretch goal? Ahh, good times. Well, if you’ve been keeping track, you may remember that I haven’t done it yet. Life’s been all kinds of ridiculous the last few months and that’s a big part of why I haven’t done it yet but honestly, I’ve just been poorly organised too and there’s no real good excuse for waiting this long.

Well, no more excuses! I will live stream my playthrough of Daikatana on my Twitch channel this upcoming Sunday, May 11th, starting at 9:00am Eastern Standard Time!

I’ve got a newly reloaded, jank-free PC and I’ve got GOG’s version of Daikatana all setup and ready to roll. According to HowLongToBeat.com, it will likely take me 12 hours to get through the game (though there’s only two entries so who knows really) so it’s going to be a long day of watching me suffer through what is widely considered to be one of the worst video games ever made. In other words, it should be a hoot so some hang out and chat with me throughout the day! I’ll have the Twitch chat open as well as Skype so we can shoot the breeze while I suffer.

In addition to that, the Extra Life 2014 campaign is already under way and I’m all registered up so if you’ve got a few bucks and want to kick in to this year’s campaign early, feel free to do so over on my campaign page. There’s not a lot of content there yet as I haven’t figured out what my targets or stretch goals are for this year but rest assured, there will be some and any contributions you make now will count towards those.

I hope to see you on Twitch next Sunday and once again, thank you all for your generous contributions to this great cause last year. I hope my 2014 campaign can be a roaring success once again. I love doing this and I love the cause it supports and none of it would be possible without you all. Thanks again, see you Sunday!

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Introducing Retro Flashback Plays: Come Watch Me Beat Snatcher

So I’ve got this amazing idea you guys. I’m going to play a video game through to completion on YouTube! This is a totally unique idea that no one’s done before but I think it’s going to be huge! So huge that it’s going to make me a ton of money and I won’t need to bother trying to keep finding a job!

OK, now that I’ve given you all a laugh (but probably not), I’d like to introduce you to my new YouTube series, Retro Flashback Plays. Oh geez, another friggin’ Let’s Play? I know I know but hear me out!

Since I started Retro Flashback, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to cover games that either are slow burns (like RPGs among others) or which for whatever reason, aren’t conducive to the 20ish minute format of a normal episode. These are important games that should be talked about but that I just can’t do justice to in a short amount of time. Beyond that, there are some bigger retro titles that I love and want to be able to show people or which I’ve never played before but always wanted to get to.

This is what Retro Flashback Plays is going to be about. Yes, it’s definitely a Let’s Play but it’s going to focus only on older titles and ones that I’ve either never played but have been told I should or that I have played but want to play again and share the virtues of. A lot of these will be games that are historically lesser known but I also have some large gaps in my retro literacy that would make many people gasp. I’ve always intended to fill in those gaps and I figured a great way to do that is with my audience. I’m hoping this makes the idea stand out from the crowd a bit. I’ve been planning this for a while now and I’m really excited about it. Given that I’m unemployed right now, it seems a great time to kick it off.

The first game I’m hitting up is the Sega CD version of Snatcher, the only version of this game in English. This is a cyberpunk adventure game that was the second ever title created by Hideo Kojima, famed insane mind behind the Metal Gear series. Metal Gear 1 was in fact his first game that came before this. It was originally released for the PC-8801 and MSX2 but also came to the PC-Engine Super CD-ROM, Sega CD, PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn between 1988 and 1996. As I understand it, the PC-Engine version is technically the best one but only the Sega CD version got translated into English so that’s what I’m playing. This game was fairly popular in its native Japan but was a colossal flop in North America, selling only a few thousand copies. Despite this, it’s well regarded historically for its weird, uniquely Kojima brand of cyberpunk narrative, storytelling and world. I’ve wanted to play it for years and finally have the chance.

I know almost nothing of the game and prior to recording the first episode, had only seen about half the intro and part of the tutorial area to test my capture setup. This is a completely cold entry for me which I think is going to make it even more interesting to watch. The first episode is a bit long because it doesn’t allow you to save until you finish the tutorial, plus I was learning a bit about how the game’s progression is laid out but future episodes should be closer to an hour.

I hope you all enjoy this and I’m really excited to do more of these with all kinds of different games if it works out well. Please like the videos and subscribe to my channel if you enjoy the series as it helps my channel get noticed by more people. If you have any feedback, please feel free to leave a comment as well. I read them all and have made some big improvements based on feedback from viewers.

Let’s go kill some cyborgs together!

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Why Does South Park Get Away With It? (With Video)

Sorry for the delay between the video and the blog. Life’s a little crazy right now. I kind of talk about why in the video.

Before I get too far in, I should point out that I write this post knowing that I have a particular (i.e. picky) taste in comedy that has only gotten more refined (i.e. pickier) as I’ve gotten older. A lot of things many people find funny I generally don’t get or in some cases, actively dislike. I say this as it might add context to the points I intend to make.

Another day, another video game controversy. It seems a title can’t come out these days without offending someone and the press jumping on the simple narratives that come along with that like hungry sharks after chum. The latest involves Vlambeer’s excellent Luftrausers. Two people on Twitter who I have never heard of but who supposedly are notable in some way voiced very level-headed concerns that some of the character models and uniforms appeared to be loosely modeled after historical Nazi imagery and this made them uncomfortable. This was something that wasn’t mentioned, talked about or written about anywhere before this, despite the game being out for several weeks prior. As soon as this complaint was made, the gaming press did what they do and started blowing its scale out of proportion, suddenly making everyone (including myself) who otherwise never noticed this at best tenuous visual relation start talking about it. It’s funny how so many people acted like it was always there, yet no one mentioned it before these two people brought it up. To Vlambeer’s credit, they actually drafted a lengthy response to this criticism, essentially saying that they’re sorry people were offended, it wasn’t their intention to do so but that being the case, they had no plans to change the game. The two original complainants actually appreciated the response, thanked them for it and both parties happily went about their lives. That’s where the discussion should have ended but of course, the press wouldn’t shut up about it and continued to poke at controversy, then using the hornet’s nest they stirred up as yet another example of how gamers can’t have reasonable discourse. The press did what the press does.

I will never say that no one can be offended about anything. Everyone’s perceptions and feelings are different and obviously, some things will bother certain people and not others. I frequently disagree with what some people take offense to but it’s not for me to say they can’t be offended. That’s the way society works and we should be cognizant of that. I do believe both the press and indie developers have become a little oversensitive to this and I think the need to respond to every offended individual is silly and ultimately will stifle creativity. Art is not about pleasing everyone and trying to do so will only make your art bland and boring.

This post isn’t ultimately about Luftrausers though. In reading about this supposed controversy, the one thing I kept thinking of was how South Park: The Stick of Truth came out not long before and has been celebrated and certainly not been pointed at for the offense it causes.

I am aware of South Park but haven’t actively followed it in a number of years. I’ve seen several early versions of the snow, I saw the movie in the theater on opening night (the best theater experience of my life) and I’ve seen a few recent episodes and tons of clips. I am fully aware of how they don’t push the envelope so much as shoot it out of a cannon that’s also on fire. Personally, I’ve laughed plenty at it and I’m a firm believer than when it comes to comedy, nothing is sacred. A world in which anything is not allowed to be made fun of is a bad world indeed. However, I also think pushing the envelope simply for the sake of doing it is comedic laziness and I find that’s a lot of what South Park has been about the last several years. For as much fun as they make of Seth MacFarlane for just pointing at references (and they’re right, I used to like Family Guy but stopped caring about it when I realised how lazy the writing is), I haven’t seen much different from them recently.

The entire idea of South Park is constantly testing the limits of what is in good taste and while I haven’t played the game yet, I’ve been told it goes several steps further than even the show does which given what I’ve seen on the show, I have a hard time even conceiving. That being the case I think is great and I think it shows how our industry has grown to better recognise that some games are strictly for adults and that’s OK. I have no doubt that South Park would have received an Adults Only rating from the ESRB (essentially banning it from sale) not that many years ago. Games like it should be allowed to be made and sold.

The thing that I don’t get though is that people are upset at Luftrausers for having supposed Nazi imagery that could remind people of a troubling period in history and perhaps, even their own life. Fair enough, even though the game has no swastikas, no dialogue and the pixel art soldiers in the game don’t even use Nazi salutes. And that’s just the latest gaming offense controversy, a few quick Google searches will show a litany of others from the past year alone. Yet South Park: The Stick of Truth has an entire character class called Jew and Cartman, one of the game and the show’s principal characters is a horrible, disgusting, racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, fucking scumbag of a human being. His entire character is purposefully designed around being the worst kind of ignorant bigot.

Yet, not only was no one expressing mass offense at this game existing but most reviews and articles I read about it celebrated how offensive it was, saying this was the perfect kind of South Park game that fans always wanted and that if you have even a passing interest in the show, you will absolutely love it. Indeed, I think this game would have been panned in reviews as being unfaithful to the show if it didn’t go so out of its way to be so crass and offensive. Again, I don’t care that people love this game. Despite my being kind of ambivalent on South Park and its style, I think it’s great that something this edgy can succeed on a wide scale. Hell, I’m going to play it some day and I bet I’ll enjoy it too. But to see the press and gamers celebrate this title which goes out of its way to shock and offend while coming down on Luftrausers for having non-existent 8-bit Nazis on it I can’t see a better term to define with than double standard.

Like I said before, people can be offended about whatever they want and to the credit of a great many who speak out loudly during these many controversies, few have ever said that certain games don’t deserve to exist or be released because they were offended by them. When someone starts to call for censorship, then we have a whole other problem. Nonetheless, I find something troubling about how certain elements of our culture are essentially exempt from criticism that other projects get lambasted for, rightly or wrongly. South Park versus Luftrauses is a prime example of this.

It’s really an open question which is why I titled this post as a question rather than a statement because I don’t know. What is it about South Park that makes them exempt from protest over how offensive they are and indeed gets them praise for it? It’s not like they’ve always been free of the critical firing line. I remember reading articles about people writing letters to the FCC demanding the show’s removal after it started. Is it just that it’s been around so long that despite still being popular, it’s fallen off the critical radar and those people just don’t care any more, kind of like violent video games? Do people just expect this so routinely from Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they just go “Oh you guys!” and move on because what they do is no longer fresh?

Is South Park: The Stick of Truth sliding by because people expect offensive content from AAA games now but indies fall under a more artful, critical eye? Personally, I saw what I would call seriously more disturbing stuff in The Last of Us or The Walking Dead, or even the No Russian scene from Modern Warfare 2 than I bet I’ll ever see in South Park or just about any indie game. AAA games definitely get more eyeballs on them but are the audiences who consume indie games not only smaller but on the whole, more critical of individual elements and more into the nuances of the art form than mainstream consumers? Will anyone care that the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Order is likely going to be jammed full of real Nazi imagery or will it get a pass because you’re going to be the one shooting them? If they tried to inject comedy into that game, would it get dogged as making light of a terrible period in history?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions and I wonder if anyone out there does. Perhaps it’s the weird personal standards I have when it comes to comedy. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious. Perhaps this really isn’t that big an issue and it’s just a result of the “enthusiast” press who loves the easy clicks that come from poking the same sleeping Internet bear with one hand that they always decry with the other. I actually commend Trey Parker and Matt Stone for what they’ve done because while I don’t always jive with South Park, I think anyone who manages to push the boundaries of humour and get away with it ultimately benefits us all. People who get offended by content ultimately should only have one choice, that being to state their displeasure if they wish but ultimately, to just stop consuming the content they don’t like and move on. Like most art, humour is a subjective thing and should never be distilled down to a soulless, one size fits all ideal. Nonetheless, I still think that at least in gaming, there’s a double standard where hay can be made about what is essentially a non-issue but something that goes out of its way to make an issue of itself can be held up and celebrated for it. Something’s off there.

So why do you think South Park gets away with it? What am I missing here? I’d love to hear what people think.

Posted in Coverage, Culture, Culture, Internet, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Facebook Buying Oculus Could Be Cause for Worry

So I finally bought myself a PS4 tonight and shut Twitter off for like 2 hours while I played with it. I come back and surprise, Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion! I gotta’ say, I didn’t see that coming, not by a long shot. Given the tsunami of vitriol that’s followed, neither did pretty much anyone else.

Of course, The Internet will be The Internet and everyone involved knew there would be a mass outrage over this. A lot of it will die down and a lot of people will wake up in a few days, be excited about VR once again and just hope no one notices that they were calling for Palmer Luckey’s head not long prior. Many are upset that Oculus sold at all but the most vocal are upset that they sold to Facebook specifically. I haven’t had a chance to try a Rift yet, didn’t back their Kickstarter and am on record as a doubter of its mainstream potential. Still, the technology seems really cool and I had every intention to buy one if it was as good as the hype. The chances of that have taken a nosedive now and yes, it’s because of Facebook’s involvement. While I do think we need to take a wait-and-see approach with this deal (like we have any other choice), yes there are a lot of reasons to be apprehensive and upset about how Palmer Luckey decided to marry his company to.

He went on Reddit with a PR language laden post tonight defending the sale and talking about how this only means good and virtuous things for Oculus. Of course, he treads around that being given autonomy within Facebook does still come with the caveat that they’re now wholly owned by Facebook and the terms of that autonomy can change at any time. He trumps up Facebook’s apparent openness with regards to technology but avoids directly answering any questions on their dismal privacy and security track records and what concerns we should have with those in regards to the Oculus Rift when it ships. He uses language like “Facebook hasn’t asked us to do anything like that” which is not the same as saying “They will never ask us to do anything like that” or “The deal specifically forbids them from asking us to do anything like that.”

The reality here is simple: Facebook is a publicly traded company and profit is their motivating factor. This isn’t something they’re doing out of charity or because they see potential in a cool technology they want to make a reality. They’re doing it because they see it will make them money. They didn’t buy Instagram or WhatsApp because they liked the product, they bought them for the user bases and social graphs that came with them. Now, would profit be any less a motivating factor if someone else bought Oculus? Certainly not. But any other number of companies out there don’t have a history of being frankly pretty fucking evil and having no respect for their users.

People can (rightfully) rant on all they want about Google and privacy but Google has not been breached multiple times or regularly exposed user data by altering privacy settings without consent or even notification. Facebook’s business is advertising and data mining and I find it very hard to believe they just suddenly decided to get into a completely unrelated hardware business without seeing potential for those sectors within it. Do I know what they see in Oculus for data mining? Nope, I’m not that smart, otherwise I’d be a lot richer. But they see something in it and for those of us who don’t approve of how they do business, it’s a serious concern. Data mining in and of itself isn’t a bad thing if the company is providing a valuable, useful and secure service in exchange for it. People can argue if Facebook really provides any of those things but on the third one, I think there is more agreement that they’re pretty lousy at it.

There have already been statements made from Oculus that the Facebook deal allows them to do things like sell the retail hardware at cost, making it much easier to get it to mainstream consumers. Already, unpaid cheerleader “journalists” like Ben Kuchera have come out screaming about how great this is. Yet no one stops to think about what the price of that might be. Facebook isn’t a charity and their shareholders won’t stand for them giving something away that can be a profit center. Selling the Rift at cost is being made up for elsewhere and you’re unbelievably naive if you think it isn’t. Not knowing what that is should raise red flags. Obviously, this deal is so new that we don’t know what the long-term plans are but there are few companies I would trust less than Facebook to be doing this in an honest an open way.

I haven’t had a Facebook account for years and have no plans to go back to it because I don’t trust them. I also refuse to involve myself with the companies they acquire, hence why I don’t use Instagram or WhatsApp. I also won’t go near an Oculus Rift unless I see a privacy policy that makes it clear it won’t be used for data mining and that I will never have to tie into Facebook services to get full function out of it. Facebook certainly isn’t the only evil company in the world but I can’t think of many more I trust less to do right by Oculus than them. Make no mistake, in this world of greedy, short-sighted venture capitalists, the company being sold was an inevitability. Even so, it really surprises me that Oculus couldn’t either start a bidding war or attract a better suitor to make a similar offer for them.

Rumour is that people are abandoning Facebook in droves so perhaps this is just an honest attempt by them to diversify and if so, that’s great. Nothing would make me happier than to find out they truly just want to help VR become the next big thing and “change the world” the way so many claim it will. But they also now own a company with the means to capture and monetise unprecedented amounts of unique data about us, not to mention a lot of the key patents that go along with that. If you’re someone who knows anything about Facebook or how they view their users and their privacy, that should concern you. All we can do is see where it leads and that’s what I intend to do. I haven’t written off Oculus or the Rift at all, it’s just going to take a lot more than just a cool idea to get me on board now. Facebook is not a virtuous company and VR needs virtuous people behind it to see its full potential.

I tell you what though, if Sony are smart at all, they’ll announce tomorrow that Project Morpheus is going to be an open platform that will support anything, not just the PS4. They would have a massive new audience in the blink of an eye.

Posted in Business, Predictions, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dealing with the Internet Reality (With Video)

When I wrote about the Flappy bird thing recently, I touched on the subject of what I termed the “Internet Reality.” There’s been a lot of discussion on hatred and vitriol on the Internet in the last year but particularly in the last couple of weeks because of Flappy Bird. That fiasco has not only ramped up the discussion again but it’s caused forks of it, including several statements by prominent YouTubers on what it’s like for them having to deal with constant negative feedback and the personal toll it takes on them. The games press has also weighed in as they are wont to do, with one of the most popular articles being an editorial by Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek, someone I often disagree with but who is one of the few in games media to have earned the title of Journalist in my opinion.

The article is well intentioned and as one would expect, Patrick received a fair amount of vehement disagreement to it, including a vile and disgusting voice mail that I’m not going to link to for reasons I’ll get to later. I’m sure he expected that which is a sad thing to say but the Giant Bomb moderators managed to silence a lot of it and some good debate rose to the top, though it was still quite polarised.

I have two principal problems with the article, as I do with many that touch on this subject. The first is that it offered no real solutions, it just stated for the fifteen-billionth time that this is a problem that has to stop…somehow. Patrick has since admitted that failing and that some of what people have proposed in the ensuing debate has given him a lot to think about. Good on him for that, it’s more than a lot of other opinion writers would have done (take note Ben Kuchera.) My second and bigger problem is that Patrick’s stance on this issue seems to be the opposite of how most people say you are supposed to deal with trolls and bullies. He says that just ignoring these people isn’t working, that they should be publicly called out and shamed for their behaviour and surprisingly to me, he strongly insinuates that those who choose not to engage with this kind of scum are as big a part of the problem.

I take real offense and exception to both of these points of view. Trolls are simple to understand. they want attention. They want to know they’ve gotten to you. This knowledge is as old as the Internet itself. They aren’t the same as a real-life bully who often can be shut down with one good punch because they aren’t in front of you. By calling them out, you’re not shaming them, you’re enabling them. Some people will point to examples of trolls who backed down when they realised they were speaking to another real human being but for every one of those, there’s a hundred that don’t give a shit. Ignoring them isn’t a bulletproof solution either of course and there will always be a certain amount of vitriol that you will get regardless but I think it can be definitively said that trying to shame trolls only exacerbates the problem.

This sucks. The Internet’s a place where getting even slightly famous paints a massive target on your back for cowards and the mentally troubled to attack you sometimes for your point of view but often, simply because you’re there. If you want examples, see the YouTuber comments in the first paragraph. When you spend every day being attacked from all sides simply for existing, it wears down on your psyche. It’s worse when you’re the guy who made Flappy Bird, who went from having no Twitter followers to tens of thousands in the span of a few hours. Regardless of how honestly Flappy Bird attained its success, I can’t imaging the emotional broadside he must have endured. Some people do this out of a mental cry for help, others are just sick people who do it for laughs.

I’m no stranger to this either. Back in the mid 90s, when the Internet was still a niche thing for nerds, I was involved in a really dumb bit of drama in what was known as the “demo scene.” If you’re an old enough nerd, you’ll know what that is. I go into greater detail about the story in the video but basically, I pissed off some Internet people with questionable morals and it resulted in not only a torrent of e-mail hate but a very legitimate sounding death threat being left on my personal voice mail. I didn’t sleep right for days, I feared for my life and worst of all, I couldn’t do anything about it. The local police didn’t understand “cyberspace” and when I told them I was threatened by people on the Internet, they just shrugged and went “What do you want us to do about it?” This was before most people knew what the Internet was capable of and it took over a week for my terror to subside when I realised it was all just a really sick joke. That was a sobering wake up call and the sad reality is it hasn’t changed and it’s never going to change.

This is the Internet Reality.

Some claim that toxicity is worse in society now and that the Internet has made people more hateful. I think that’s nonsense. The Internet has provided an easy and anonymous means for people to say what they all think without a need to pause and consider it first but it’s stuff people have always thought. Everyone has horrible thoughts about others that pass through their heads every day. I have, you have, we all have. It’s a natural part of how our brains work and in many cases, it’s a coping mechanism. The good and considerate people know to let those thoughts be fleeting as they should be and don’t act on them. The scummier people turn those thoughts into expression, something that social media has made incredibly easy and fast to do. In my New Year’s resolution post, I committed to reduce my own contributions to that.

Stuff like what we see on the Internet now used to be sent as Letters to the Editor at newspapers all the time. Most of it got filtered out by humans but there’s no such filter online. There was also less of it because if you wanted to spew your bile, you had to sit down, write and mail a letter which was enough effort that a lot of people had time to consider and calm down. When you can post a tweet in seconds from a device in your pocket, you don’t have to take any time to ponder if you don’t care to. We’ve all had lapses. I’ve said tons of stupid, spur of the moment crap on the Internet I shouldn’t have. You likely have to. Patrick Klepek did a whole TEDx talk on this subject, in which he admitted he told a Giant Bomb fan to die in a fire for using an ad blocker. We all do it sometimes but again, the good people own it and either retract or apologise.

The problem of people taking it to extremes is never going to go away. It sucks to say but it simply isn’t. To turn the Internet into a place where you couldn’t spew anonymous hatred would not only require stripping away one of the core tenants of what makes it a free platform–something I would take up arms to defend, I firmly believe the safety of online anonymity has done far more good for the world than harm–but it would be nearly impossible on a purely technical level. You would essentially have to recreate the entire Internet from the ground up and that’s simply impossible.

It sounds reductionist to say that “people need to grow a thicker skin” and that “this is the price of Internet fame” but well, both are true. If you’re not someone who can emotionally handle Internet vitriol and who can’t stomach what Internet fame brings, then you need to either step away from it or stop engaging with the people who bring it. It sucks but this is the Internet Reality. If you want to be big on YouTube or a prominent online celebrity, then this is what’s going to happen and you cannot stop it. You can choose to not participate in social media (which despite what some say, is not nearly as required for success, whether you’re a YouTuber or selling a product) and that will certainly help but getting crap from idiots is part of the package. You can either find a way to manage or if you can’t, then you should probably pursue something else. This is something that terrifies me about my YouTube efforts. I want my channel to get popular and get a large and loyal audience but I’ve seen what popularity on YouTube leads to and as a sufferer of depression and anxiety, I really don’t know if I want to expose myself to that. Should it actually get really big some day, I’m going to have to seriously consider how much social media I want to participate in.

So I’ve spent a lot of words talking about how the core problem can’t be solved, are there ways to reduce or combat it so we at least don’t have to deal with as much of it? I do believe there are ways, two of which I think can have the most impact but who needs to step up may surprise you.

The first part of the stopgap is that those who bemoan the death of civility and the level of hate they have to parse need to lead by example. I have an immense of amount of respect for TotalBiscuit. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s the main inspiration for why I wanted to get into YouTube stuff. You can see a lot of his ideas and methods in my videos. That said, for years, he was a colossal asshole on social media. This is something he himself has admitted many times. He engaged his trolls constantly and he frequently blurred the line between what was trolling and what was legitimate criticism, often painting both with the same brush. He was often snarky and dismissive and seemed to go out of his way to egg on the worst elements of his community. He once said in a VLOG that “I like to fight with people.” Similarly, Phil Fish loved to play the victim (and had the press playing right along with him) but he’s famous for acting as bad as any troll. In Indie Game: The Movie, which was generally fairly sympathetic to him, they even showed some of his antics on Twitter, where he frequently told people to choke on his dick and commit suicide, among many other things. He’s a genius who made a great game but his reputation as a diva and a primadonna is well earned.

People who do this kind of thing are indeed part of the problem. Sure, they would have received a lot of hate just for being them but it’s undeniable to claim that they didn’t get a larger proportion of it because it was well known that their buttons could be easily pushed. Rather than just ignore the trolls, many of whom would then move on, they sent a clear signal that the trolling was working and thus, welcome. You can’t be a bully, then claim you’re being bullied. It’s textbook hypocrisy and it only serves to make the problem worse for everyone. On the plus side, TotalBiscuit recently renounced himself from most social media, as did Phil Fish when he “left the industry.” But they are only two examples. Those in prominent positions of influence on the Internet need to lead the charge to make things better and the first way you do that isn’t by encouraging the worst of it.

The second part of this stopgap is far more critical in my opinion and gets right to the heart of the matter: The social networks themselves need to take their large share of responsibility, write strong, concrete rules forbidding abusive practices on their services and implementing policies and procedures to deal with offenders. The entire business model of these companies is to profit off of the content generated by their users and they make billions upon billions from it (well, not Twitter but they hope to.) The problem is that more volume equals more content to mine so they aren’t particularly interested in doing anything that curtails said volume. Simply put: I don’t give a shit. “Corporations exist to make money” and “It’s just business” aren’t valid excuses here and honestly, they never are. These networks are providing the vector by which vile abuse and threats on people lives occur in number ever day, they don’t get to just throw up their hands and say “We can’t do anything about it!” Contrary to what many ignorant people believe, you have no constitutional right to free speech on social media. That right only extends to government, a social network run by a private company can restrict whatever the Hell they want. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit et al. can be a part of this, they just choose not to be.

Twitter recently banned a Rob Ford parody account (though it’s since been reinstated) but told Anita Sarkeesian multiple times that direct threats on her life didn’t violate their terms of service. Facebook protects groups and fan pages for the hate organisations but banned photos of breastfeeding mothers. YouTube only allowed you to mark abusive comments as spam and with their most recent update, has made comments easier to abuse than ever. Reddit shadowbanned me for posting links to my own YouTube content because no one else would, in subreddits that didn’t forbid such a thing but protects other subreddits devoted to creepshots and moronic Internet detectives who incorrectly fingered and harassed an an innocent man for the Boston bombings, who later took his own life. And let’s not forget about all the comments sections and forums out there, most of which ignore any semblance of moderation. None of this needs to happen and none of this should happen.

A while back, there was an incident involving someone in the UK and Twitter that prompted the company to say they were going to implement a Report Abuse function. This would be different from the automated spam function in that reports would be viewed by real people and if deemed inappropriate, action would be taken, up to and including the involvement of law enforcement if the threats were real enough. As far as I know, that has never happened and there hasn’t been a whiff of it from any other social network. These companies are all massive and can easily afford the expense of setting up functions such as these and I believe they have a moral obligation to do so. Rumour is that people are leaving Facebook and Twitter in large numbers and surely a decent percentage of those just want to get away from the toxic atmosphere. Ultimately, I think one could argue there’s a good business case for implementing these measures too.

I think both of these measures implemented in tandem have the biggest potential to disrupt and reduce the Internet Reality. This isn’t a chicken and egg problem, the social networks are what came first and you don’t get to profit off all user content without being responsible for the inappropriate stuff too. If you can stop something that contributes nothing of value while also elevating that which has value, why wouldn’t you? Similarly, it’s the height of hubris to participate in the vitriol and then claim to be a victim of it. You don’t get to cannonball into the sewers with the rats and then whine that it stinks down there. If you’re popular, you have the greatest means to lead by example. Not everyone will follow it but some will and that has a far greater impact than egging people on.

That said, this is the Internet Reality and my two proposed stopgaps are just that. This is a problem that can be reduced in theory but it can never be fully solved and the sooner people start learning to work within that unfortunate constraint, the better off everyone will be. This may mean that some people with great potential will choose to avoid the spotlight and while that’s a shame, it’s the way things go sometimes. I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t have the time or emotional fortitude to deal with this and would rather just let the online idiots be what they are while they focus on their own lives. Aside from times like this, that’s how I am too. We can’t take up arms for every cause, especially those which instantly make us a target in an ultimately unwinnable war. Calling those people part of the problem however only leads to defensiveness and retribution from them and solves nothing. You don’t win allies with a “you’re with us or against us” approach, at least not permanent ones.

I empathise with anyone who has been a victim of this. I’ve been there and no one deserves it, even those who sometimes encourage it. But those who write about this stuff need to learn that it’s OK to accept certain realities for what they are.

The Internet Reality is a shitty thing that shouldn’t exist. But it can be reduced so rather than just complaining, why don’t we see how big a difference we can make, with only a few small changes?

Posted in Coverage, Culture, Culture, Internet, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments