Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Coming DRM Storm

When EA announced 'Spore' a few years ago, video game enthusiasts everywhere were pumped. Here was a game that promised what video games had only hinted at throughout their existence - a fully immersive and interactive world were the user literally created their own race and evolved them into whatever they wanted.

The game itself has failed to live up to it's massive hype, which isn't a large surprise. What's (unfortunately) even less surprising is EA's decision to use this particular title as the spearhead of its DRM campaign. EA is hardly the first to try to ensure that pirates don't siphon off any potential profits, but they (along with 2K and their infamous Bioshock DRM) are at the forefront of a disturbing new trend in removing any sense of ownership from the end user's hands.

First and foremost, the problem with DRM is that it doesn't have its intended effect. Those who are absolutely set on stealing any form of digital media will find a way to do so. There's no way to stop them, and in trying this hard to dissuade them, you punish legitimate customers.

The larger problem with this can be found in comments from EA's CEO:

"There is a longer-term transition from a disk-based model for retail sales to an “average revenue per user” model. Five to seven years from now, investors will look at EA as how we have 100 million customers where we have an ARPU relationship that amounts to so many dollars a month. It’s different from selling so many disks a month at wholesale prices. It’s a gradual evolution. But we need the tools to be able to do that. The ARPU model is a better margin business for us. It’s less cyclical. It’s a better business. Some of our businesses have characteristics like that: EA Mobile, Pogo.com, and The Sims. We want to move in that direction. People predicted the demise of the DVD rental model for Blockbuster a long time ago. I don’t want to be the guy with a retail store renting DVDs in a world that has moved to Netflix and pay-per-view. We want to innovate and drive along that front, whether it’s with FIFA Online or Pogo or The Sims. Nucleus is a positive step in that direction. Spore has a download model. We could wait for someone else to eat our lunch or we could do it ourselves."


This would seem a sound business proposal, except for the fact that his examples are totally skewed. Netflix succeeds because there is a large contingent (myself included) who don't want to buy every single movie that we want to see. Quite often, one viewing is enough. Certainly there are games like this, but there are already services out there for this sort of thing (Gamefly, etc). He's not talking about game rental, he's talking about game leasing. It's akin to the idea of buying a DVD, and then having to pay x amount of dollars a month to continue to buy back the right to view something you already purchased. World of Warcraft gets brought up in these discussions, and I suppose that's fair, but they're charging for the right to connect to their servers. EA is hoping to charge you for the right to sit down and use your purchased product at your own computer (and, if they had their way, your console as well).

Reaction to this has been mixed. There are plenty of people who trot out the old "it don't apply to me since I'm not doing anything wrong" line. That, in my view, is a mistake. Most of us have already not been doing anything wrong, and we're being punished for it. The pirates are one thing, but they are simply being turned into an excuse to add this self-crippling software (which will require you to re-activate it if you do something so simple as change your video card). In effect, they hold your product - the one you spent your money on and purchased - hostage. Who's to say they won't start making you pay to activate it? Who's to say that this trend will stay limited to video games?

Meanwhile, there are a large number of people who have had understandable problems with this. Enough of them have flooded Amazon.com to the point where Spore's current customer rating is 1.5 stars (an unheard of low rating for a major release), and EA's forums are buzzing with questions as to why software - which not only cripples their product, but often causes sizable issues with the user's computer - is being installed on their system without warning. EA, of course, been deleting these questions as fast as they can. This is a not a matter they wish to discuss, and while they have relaxed their activation policy (from 3-4 activations to unlimited), they would very much prefer you to buy their game and shut up about it.

Sorry, I'll pass.

For more information, check out the following links:

"Wired" discusses the Amazon rating attack
Amazon deletes all customer reviews (predominantly negative) - Oops.
The Register talks about EA (sort of) easing up the restrictions
The Kicker: Talk about DRM, have EA threaten to deactivate your product

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Super Bowl, Here We Come

I should have known. Things seemed too good to be true. The owner of the Minnesota Vikings opened the purse-strings and pumped some money into the team, grabbing a couple of high reward defensive players and a pretty decent wide receiver. The Vikings were the chic pick to win the division, and a lot of pundits went so far as to say that the Vikings had the pick of a dark horse Super Bowl entry. Honestly, after years of watching folks pick teams like the 49's and Cardinals in the same way - only to watch those teams spiral into oblivion - we probably should have known better.

Today, after over a year of trying to Tarvaris Jackson to an unwilling fanbase, Coach Childress announced that Gus Frerotte has been named as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.

I've spent a fair bit of time trying to make a case for Tarvaris. He's quick, he's got a cannon for an arm, and - I thought - that he could adjust to life in the NFL and overcome his initial accuracy struggles. I'll admit it, it's just not going to happen. He still misses receivers left and right. He still has trouble looking off defenders. He still looks uncomfortable on everything except quick slants and rollouts, and opposing defenses are starting to catch on to that fact. On Sunday, when it was third and long in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter, I'm sure everyone in the western hemisphere knew which play was coming (i.e. the only one the coaching staff felt confident Tarvaris could actually execute.)

That doesn't mean that the coaching staff gets off scot-free. Last week, it seemed like every single pass was either a tiny screen or a long 50-yard bomb. What happened to the hard, aggressive play-calling that we brought out during the second half of the Green Bay game in week one? Tarvaris was hitting people on hard slants and medium range post routes, and it opened up the whole field. Against Indianapolis, we were playing as if we were terrified of giving the ball back to them (ironically, they got the ball back more often because of this very fact). I still think that Childress is one of the worst coaches in football, and this game only make me more adamant in that belief. It's my hope that once the Vikings get no better with Frerotte under center, that heads will start to roll.

For now, fare thee well, Tarvaris Jackson. I believed in you, even if no one else did.

Side note #1: During Sunday's game, one of the commentaters was talking about Adrian Peterson's amazing game against the Chargers last year, where he rushed for an NFL-record 296 yards, he guaranteed that Peterson would someday rush for 300 in a game. That's right, he guaranteed that AD will accomplish something that no one in the history of the NFL has ever done. Hyperbole much?

Side note #2: Ryan T. Scott's got to feel a little ridiculous.

Finding New Ways to Suckerpunch the Fanbase

The Twins, no content with the traditional methods of losing games (though they've certainly tried their hand at most of them lately), have decided upon much more colorful ways to break the hearts of their fans.

Take last night, for instance. After 3 innings, the Twins were losing 8-1. I'm not even sure why I kept the game on, but suddenly in the 5th inning, the offense started to come to life. Four runs in the 5th inning, two more in the 6th, and finally another two in the 8th to take the lead. They left a LOT of runners on base in those four innings, but they had rallied back from 7 down to take an improbable lead.

In the bottom of the 8th, Eddie Guardado gave up a long, foul-pole hitting homerun to Grady Sizemore, and the game went into extra innings. All in all, the Twins had used 6 relief pitchers over the course of 7+ innings by the time Joe Nathan came in, and had only given up the one run. Joe Nathan (the best closer in baseball) gave up a 3-run home run to lose the game.

The Twins scored 8 unanswered runs to take the lead, but in the process, they left 13 runners on base (that's more than one per inning) including once were they left the bases loaded, and once where they hit into a double play with the bases loaded to end an inning.

I haven't written much about the Twins lately because they've been fairly depressing, and it doesn't seem like they'll pull out of it in time. They're only 2.5 games back of the White Sox, but time is quickly running out. The White Sox have been doing their best to hand us the title, and we've been doing our best to hand it right back. The coming series against the Rays will be huge. The Twins NEED to at least split, and a series win would go a long way. It's been noted in blogs much better than this one that the expectations for this season were extremely low. I was thinking 80 wins would be just fine, and the Twins have 82 as of today, so they've done better than I thought they would, but to get this far and this close and not make the playoffs because of a September collapse would be maddening.

At least the Vikings are doing awesome.........oh wait...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I May Be a Heartless Person

...but I found the mental environment I had in my head after reading this article a tad amusing.

Not so much the inexorable slow separation of son and father - which would, most certainly, be one of the top ten worst feelings a person could ever have. It's just that the thought of remedying that separation by shouting Disney catch-phrases strikes me as a little hilarious.

Glad the story had a happy ending.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Case For Craig Breslow

For a few years previous to 2008, the Minnesota Twins' bullpen has been an embarassment of riches, even beyond having the best closer in baseball (apologies to Mariano Rivera). In 2007, Pat Neshek had a ridiculous year until his arm starting wearing down later in the season, and Matt Guerrier had a very solid year, too. 2006 was the year Dennys Reyes put up some historically good numbers (and was Neshek's fantastic breakthrough, as well). Before that, you had Crain, Rincon, and even J.C. Romero all pitching very good innings - hell, you even had Johan Santana in 2003. The point being, from 2002 to 2007, a large part of the Twins success was the ability of the bullpen to lock games down from the 6th to the 8th so that Nathan could come in and slam the door in the 9th.

This hasn't really been the case thus far in 2008. Neshek - once on the short list of best setup men in the game - had a few rough outings before losing the season to elbow troubles. Rincon continued (a bteer term might be accelerated) his rapid plunge. Guerrier started out nicely, but he's obviously been extremely overworked, and has been nothing resembling effective for the last month or so. Reyes pitches exclusively to lefties (for good reason, it would seem, as righties have a .422 SLG against him). If only we had another option...

On May 23rd, the Cleveland Indians designated Craig Breslow for assignment. The Twins, deciding they needed another left handed reliever, picked him up off of waivers. In limited work, Craig pitched 11 innings before he gave up his first run. Since then, he's been used mainly in innings-eating roles, or as a lefty specialist if Reyes has already been used. Lately, Gardy's been getting him a little more intensive action, and Breslow's responded nicely. In fact, I'd go so far as to say he's doing the best of any non-Nathan reliever the Twins have right now.

You expect a left handed pitcher to be good against lefties, and Breslow certainly has been.
Versus Lefties





Joe Nathan




Dennys Reyes




Matt Guerrier




Jesse Crain




Brian Bass




Boof Bonser




Juan Rincon




Craig Breslow




Craig eats left handed batters. In 66 at bats against him, lefties have fared worse against Breslow than anyone else, including Nathan (they have a lower batting average against Nathan, but a better get on base slightly more often, and have a higher slugging percentage against him).

Now, having a left handed pitcher who knows how to get lefties out isn't anything spectacular, but Breslow's more than held his own against righties, as well.

Versus Righties





Joe Nathan




Dennys Reyes




Matt Guerrier




Jesse Crain




Brian Bass




Boof Bonser




Juan Rincon




Craig Breslow




He's pitched better against right handed batters than anyone except Joe Nathan, and when righties have hit the ball against him, they haven't gotten much on it (one extra base hit in 71 at bats). This is, of course, small sample size, but it's not all that much smaller than anyone else, and he's clearly done better than anyone else. So why is Breslow still toiling in middle relief while Jesse Crain and an overworked (and dangerously near dead armed) Matt Guerrier are given high pressure games? Gardenhire ought to know better than anyone that lefties can get out hitters besides other lefties. Up until late-January, he had the best pitcher in baseball in his employ, and he was a lefty.

In the past 28 days, Breslow has been called in 11 times - and in 6 of those games, he was brought on to face a token lefty or was brought in when there was no other choice. We already have a lefty specialist, and with all due respect to the recently returned 'Everyday Eddie', Breslow has pitched better this year, and it's time that he got a few more late & close game situations to show for it.