Category Archives: nerdy

Our common popular culture – good job, interwebs.

I was recently shown this neat list on Buzzfeed titled 25 Ways To Tell You’re A Kid Of The ’90s. It is basically a collection of pop cultural references about kid’s stuff of that decade.

Chronologically speaking, I was a kid of the 1990s, which lasted from a few of my earliest memories into my teens. Yet, I didn’t get half of the references. The reason is quite simple – the list is based on American kid’s pop culture of the 90s, whereas I grew up on the other side of the pond. This made me think how unthinkable a national definition of the most marked pop cultural occurrences would be today, thanks to cheap and widespread Internet access.

Take the participation in exploitable Internet memes for example. The kids who make them (and many of them are kids, as evidenced by the frequent themes of interaction of teenagers with their parents, school situations etc.) will probably fondly remember that time well wasted for the rest of their lives. As an Internet phenomenon, however, these memories will be shared by everyone who’s a kid of the 00s, regardless of geographical origin.

This also holds true for more conventional subjects of popular culture, such as TV shows. I did get the Bel Air reference at the top of Buzzfeed’s list, but not because I actually watched the series in its original English language (or at all, not everyone had more than 3 channels after all) back in the 90s. “The Internet” told me. IIRC XKCD in particular deserves credit for my enlightenment in this matter. For current shows, pieces of music etc. such late explanations won’t be necessary. People can consume any piece of media they like whenever they like. This may be a new series that normally would only have aired here a lot later and in a terribly dubbed version (In non-English-speaking Europe, the Cosby Show was actually a typical part of mid- to late-90s TV… quite a bit of lag, I’d say).  Or think about otaku kids translating and subtitling the latest episode of their favourite anime and distributing it to their peers around the world just hours after the original Japanese airing – while there might never be an official translation.

This last example is also something to answer people who argue that geographical barriers still exist due to language barriers. It’s pop culture, which literally means that many people like it. So there is likely going to be someone who is able to and will translate, even in case of languages few people speak. But for the most part the world’s proficiency in English will correlate with the advent of more and more content on the Internet – simply because being restricted to websites in your mother tongue is boring.

Another restriction, which is more relevant, is the availability of Internet access. While the necessary equipment has become exceptionally cheap, it’s regrettably not yet available to anyone. I would however, argue that this is a socio-economic barrier, not a geographical one.

Obviously, even though much of it are media items, not all pop cultural products can be digitalized. For example, Buzzfeed’s list included some candy and toys I didn’t know. So some of these barriers will remain. However, I assume that since online discourse popularises products worldwide, chances that they might be marketed in other places rise. Another part of this issue might be solved with the mass production and proliferation of 3D-printers. (Which also scratches at another great benefit the world’s culture, pop and otherwise, gets from the net: the facilitation of creative work – which I won’t go into right now)

So, we see a worldwide pop cultural exchange. We like or hate the same stuff and we laugh at the same jokes, wherever we are. There are still considerable barriers for many people regarding access, but once you got it, you join something that is a genuinely global community. The majority of actual content might be trivial, and I do not expect education and socialization of children to be even close to identical all over the world any time soon.

But just the prospect of getting a cultural heritage that is, to a higher degree than ever before, genuinely common to all mankind  is incredibly futuristic and just plain awesome to the “regional 90s kid” that I used to be.

[Now, out with the cultural anthropology trolls to tell me how many books and articles you’ve already written on this trivial hunch of mine]

tl;dr

While “the 90s kids” don’t universally exist, there are and will be genuine “00s” and “10s”  kids, thanks to an internet-fuelled common global pop culture. I believe that’s a good thing.


Rant (and explanation for sudden reduction of posts)

After a week of downtime, I’ve had it with my former server provider. Their service was spotty from the start, but so cheap that I was willing to accept quite a few flaws. Now, they got the great idea of moving their servers across the Atlantic. Well, no problem, if it improves overall service quality. The customers got notice, that there might be a “few days” of scheduled downtime. However, a few days became more than a week, and yesterday the provider’s own website went down… That’s when I decided I needed to move. I had off-site backups after all, and I was able to get a new host up and running in no time.

Sadly, the sudden and mostly short unscheduled downtimes (the spotty service I was willing to accept) seemed to fall right within the time window of my backup cron… So that’s where last month’s posts went. Should I somehow someday get access to the old server once again, I’ll just repost them here. If not… well, let’s just call that loss and the fees I paid for the old hosting provider “tuition” for being taken to school about jumping at the cheapest offer without really considering the mixed reviews 😉

</rant>

tl;dr

My shitty old hosting provider ate some of my posts and my backups. Now this site is hosted with a new (hopefully better) provider.

 

[edit]: Great, now the whole website of my old provider is down. I guess I won’t see my old posts again anytime soon…

 

This shouldn’t work…

… according to media industry advocates.

The Humble Indie Bundle is in it’s fifth iteration right now, and it’s doing pretty well. For those who don’t know it, it is a package several independent  games (i.e. not made and marketed by one of the big game studios who’s stuff you can get at Gamestop or similar mainstream-only retailers).

What’s so different about it?

First of all, the customer sets the price.

Media advocates: This shouldn’t work, because everyone on the Internet is used to getting everything for free and thus will never pay a decent amount for anything, if it can be gotten for free or almost for free (e.g. setting the price at $ 0.01).

Second, the Humble Bundle games do not use copy protection or DRM (Digital Rights Management)! In some jurisdictions, such as Germany, this would actually make it legal to give a few copies of those games to friends or family, because you don’t have to circumvent a digital lock to do it.

Media advocates: This should mess up sales, especially since the main promotional channel for the Bundle is social media. It is therefore likely, that a bunch of people who know each other are all interested in the offer, and could legally just buy one and share it.  [Actually, real media industry advocates would gladly deny your right to make a private copy for your friends, but right now the legal reality says otherwise]

Strangely enough, the Humble Bundle V is doing just fine, just like its predecessors.

Now, how is that possible?

I suggest a few important reasons, though there might be more.

The games are actually GOOD. And not “good” in the sense of hyped-and-heavily-advertised like the mediocre releases of the Call of Duty franchise or like some annual sports games, who’s only innovation is the renewed license to use the actual player names. These are high-quality, creative, clever and unique works of digital entertainment, who didn’t have much trouble getting sold at regular price points even before the Bundle.

They don’t punish their customers with DRM. Copy protection is often a painful affair. You have to make the 20th account with some game publisher and register your game or install some DRM software which might prove a serious privacy risk, slow down your system or just annoy you with problems that wouldn’t be there without it. The crazy part is: Only paying customers have to bear this. Someone who downloads a pirated copy (the existence of which has never been prevented by copy protection) can just install it and play. And that’s what you get with the games from the Humble Bundle – Install and play. It’s that simple.

Also, they give the right incentives to pay more. The cheapskates that used to give one cent in previous bundles are repelled by the fact, that codes for Steam (a popular distribution system for games that mostly stays out of your way, even for games who do not renounce DRM) are only given out at a minimum price of $ 1. This makes at least those few, who were planning on using Steam, work for their stinginess, by requiring manual downloads. So those people will think twice if their extra time isn’t worth more than 99 cents. Then, there is something else driving up the price. Simply put: The Bundle officially only contains four games, the fifth is a bonus for paying above average. Apart from setting a guideline for what’s an appropriate amount to pay, the average will obviously rise during the course of the offer, further providing an incentive to buy quickly and impulsively.

 

Learning from it

So much for the horrible situation media companies see themselves in. Why don’t more artists and publishers experiment with smart new business models like this one?

People are willing to pay for media. They are not willing to pay 60 bucks for 10 hours of not very original entertainment – a DVD box of your favourite series does a better job at that for a third of the price. And what youth or young adult (allegedly the target group) has that kind of money to spend  on a regular basis anyway?

Customers are not willing to be bullied and treated like criminals after they already paid for a product. Most copy protection systems nowadays make you feel like the supermarket was routinely checking your bags after check-out. This is especially true for games, since those customers tend to be geeky enough to know and notice these things (or their blissful absence). This issue was also relevant for music, but has since been resolved, with the expected results.

So, instead of making uncreative and lame games at outrageous fixed prices, that bully and annoy their buyers before they can actually play, and then blame discrepancy of sales and some fictional expected number on piracy, why not try something new? Not all releases by the main studios are dull affairs, they produce some real gems as well. How about getting more people to buy them at a fairer price and without restricting their rightful use of the product by annoying DRM systems?

 

The exact concept of the Humble Bundle might not work for all publications, or even all games. But it does prove that there are more ways to successfully sell media than the last-century concept of selling physical copies at fixed, dictated prices. And clinging to it by bullying customers with digital locks and prosecute those that are unwilling to accept these conditions seems a waste of time and resources and generates nothing but bad publicity. There should be alternative, more acceptable concepts, as to avoid dragging on a futile conflict for ages and only antagonises media creators and consumers.

 

tl;dr

Media creators, please look to the Humble Bundle for ideas on alternative business models. This might not be exactly the thing for your product, but might serve as inspiration how it could work, without antagonising your customers and fans.