Friday, December 14

The March Toward a Digital Society

I became interested in a book today ("Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier") and went to to buy a copy. It's only available in paperback, not Kindle. In a rush of emotion that surprised me, I felt an almost revulsion at the thought of buying another physical book.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE TO READ. I buy more books now than I EVER did before I started with Kindle (and we have a house that's full of books!). But the convenience of always having my library available to me wherever I go, on my iPad, on my iPhone, on any of my computers, etc., has so completely won me over that I actually don't even WANT books printed on paper any more.

I'm sure there are purists reading this who are appalled. I would have been, too, had this not just happened to me. A couple years ago, I spent my birthday money buying beautiful leather bound editions of some of my favorite study bibles. I thought I'd spend hours happily turning pages. They're gorgeous! And they sit on my shelf, brand new, hardly ever opened. I have three bible study apps for my phone, tablet, and computer, and they are SO good and SO convenient that I never use printed copies any more.

This change in my perspective fascinates me. I always "loved a good book." I still do, but I just prefer that it's not an ACTUAL book. I have very mixed emotions about this, and I can't decide why. I didn't miss vinyl records when I moved to the much more useful CD format, and I don't miss buying CDs now that I purchase all my music through or iTunes. (I still prefer Kindle and MP3 over iBooks and iTunes, but why that is the case is the subject for another musing.)

I messaged the author of the book through their Facebook page, asking if there were any plans to publish it in Kindle format. And I realized that, at least for today, my interest in the book, which would have led to an immediate impulse purchase, isn't strong enough to make me buy it in what I perceive to be an inconvenient format.

I know I'm a geek. I get that. But I'm becoming a reverse snob. Just like the elitist jerks that turn their noses up at e-books and digital downloads, I find myself doing the same thing for the old formats.

I wonder if I will be able to live with myself in the morning. :)

Saturday, March 3

Will They Get Free WoW Accounts?

News from Blizzard Entertainment isn't good today. They are laying off 600 employees, mostly from customer support and administrative positions, but about 10% of them are developers. (Source) Blizzard Entertainment is one half of Activision Blizzard, the U.S. holding company created when Activision merged with Vivendi Games, who owned Blizzard Entertainment at the time.

In 2011, Activision Blizzard had around 5000 employees worldwide. A layoff of 600 employees is therefore a 12% reduction in workforce, and a layoff of 600 strictly from Blizzard's side is even more significant. Whatever else we might make of this, you just don't fire 12% of your employees without it meaning something serious.

What this does NOT mean.

It does not mean that World of Warcraft is closing, or even losing money. The peak subscriber base during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was reported at 12 million, while the most recent number reported following the Cataclysm expansion was 10.2 million. That's a loss of 1.8 million monthly subscriptions. If you assume that Blizzard makes around $12 per subscriber, given the variance in what people actually pay, that's a monthly gross income drop from $144 million dollars to $122.4 million dollars.

I am not sure how many employees you can afford for $21.6 million dollars, but I'm guessing the answer is "about 600." But those gamers who are now gloating over the imminent demise of Blizzard simply can't do math. Nearly $1.5 billion dollars in annual gross income from just one of their games means they are very comfortable, indeed. Don't forget that Diablo III will be released this year, and expectations are that it will set sales records for a PC video game when it finally launches.

What it probably DOES mean.

You aren't going to lose 1.8 million paying subscribers and not feel it. There will be cutbacks somewhere. Blizzard's big overhead, like any software company, is employee salaries and benefits. It is entirely normal and logical that there would be layoffs following a decline in revenue.

I believe it also means that a lot of jobs formerly handled by humans are now being automated. Recovering hacked and stolen accounts can now be handled online through their web site. In fact, a lot of what used to require a call to customer support can now be handled through their web site.

But I think what it means most of all is that even an incredibly popular game like World of Warcraft and an incredibly successful company like Blizzard Entertainment aren't immune to the laws governing the business world. Competition in the video game industry is at an all-time high. One study suggests that global video game sales would reach $68.3 billion dollars in 2012. That's a lot of real estate to fight over.

What you should do about this.

Nothing. That's right, nothing. If you like World of Warcraft, then keep playing it. The game isn't going to suddenly stop working because of these layoffs. In fact, I'll wager there will be no detectable difference to the players at all. I've never really understood the mentality of video gamers who only play a game if someone else makes it successful, first. If you apply that same reasoning to your romantic inclinations, your love life must be profoundly disappointing.

So if this entire thing is much ado about nothing, why am I bothering to write a blog post about it? For one thing, it's sort of my job. I cover video games for the Advanced Media Network and the Into Tomorrow show. I'm supposed to have an opinion about these things.

For another, I am a World of Warcraft subscriber, still. Even though I seem to spend most of my time these days playing Rift (a game from Trion Worlds, and a direct competitor to World of Warcraft), I am not ready to cut the cord on my five maximum-level characters and bid good-bye to Azeroth. Not yet, anyway.

But mostly, I'm just wondering whether the 600 laid-off employees get free World of Warcraft accounts as part of a severance. If they do, I wonder what Barrens Chat is going to look like now?

"Chuck Norris opened a ticket for a GM, and when they didn't respond instantly, he roundhouse-kicked 600 employees out the door!"

Yep. That'll be about right.

Wednesday, February 29

Phone cords, Modems, and Mayans

So, my wife pokes her head into the office. "How do I fax something?" I'm not processing this, so I stupidly repeat the word. "Fax? You mean, like with a phone line?" Yes, she tells me, over a phone line. It seems that our son has neglected to file his National Merit Scholar paperwork selecting his college of choice, which opens up some scholarship money, and although it doesn't HAVE to be sent until May 31st, you get first priority if it's sent by March 1st. Yeah. Tomorrow.

Thank heaven for leap years?

So I said that our Canon Pixma 420 printer (which I like VERY much, by the way) has a fax machine among its Swiss Army Knife collection of capabilities. We slide the printer within striking distance of the telephone jack, and I go looking for a cord to plug it in.

A phone cord. Good grief! During the 1980s, I was DROWNING in those stinking things. Every time I moved a paper, there were two more phone cords. I swear they were breeding under there! But this is 2012 and I don't have a phone cord.

Except for a 35 FOOT extension cord, and the little tiny stub that connects our phone to the wall. So I take a little tiny stub of cord and a great big MOUND of extension cord, and I connect our printer to the telephone line. I drop the paper into the automatic document feeder (yes, that's one of the reasons I love the Pixma 420), type in the phone number, and press Send. Very simple.

Then the house becomes filled with a sound I haven't heard in YEARS AND YEARS. A dial tone, some beeping, a ringing....and the sound of modems connecting.

WhEEEEEE! Grrrrrrrr...... SPLSHHHHHHHH! repeated two or three times. My daughter, who was watching this unfold with the same level of interest she would show in any reality TV series where bumbling people tripped over their own feet, said "Huh. I haven't heard THAT sound in years."

No, indeed we haven't. And we haven't missed it, either! I do hope the big throbbing brains at the National Merit, base, or warehouse, or Area 51--whatever it's called--will get around to accepting an emailed copy of scanned PDF file by the time Amy's turn is here.

It IS 2012, you know. The Mayans say you don't have much time left to figure all this tech stuff out.