James Marriott, who hurt you?

This rant is a response to this opinion piece in the New York Times. You can read it if you want context, but your life is likely richer for not doing so.

There, I’ve fixed your writeup for you.

In his piece “AI spells trouble for creatives — about time too” James Marriott includes a quote from Daisy Christodoulou: “ChatGPT sometimes produces superficially plausible essays that fall apart under closer scrutiny. But plenty of humans write essays like that too. In fact, it is one of the criticisms of PPE graduates.”

There’s something ironic in including a quote about things being superficial and falling apart under scrutiny, in an article that feels incredibly superficial, and falls apart under scrutiny. I’d quote more of his article in this response, but that means more people might have the misfortune of reading his 8 disconnected and unclear paragraphs.

Because I’m not James Marriott, and I value the time of people who read my pieces, let me offer my quick conclusion:

Mr. Marriott, you do not have a problem with artists or “creatives.”Nor do your lawyer friends, who have people roll their eyes at them, or ignore them at parties. You have a problem with assholes.

The fact that every artist you’ve ever met fits this profile does say something about the company you’ve chosen to keep.

Anyway, let’s get back to your opinion piece. I’m not 100% sure what your opinion is, which is bad, given that I’ve read your article 7 or so times now. Perhaps it’s that “Artists are a bit too full of themselves, and need to be taken down a peg.” Have I got that right? Have I summarized in one sentence what took you eight paragraphs?

Of course, you’re a professional journalist, and I’m not. Actually, my day job is working for a software company that sells what, at least on some level, amounts to automation software. This is likely why you were able to craft such a wonderful headline that grabbed hands, and filled those “creatives” you wish to see humbled with such rage.

James Marriott’s writeup addresses none of the actual issues many artists and writers have with the current generation of what I’ll lump as “content generation technologies.” He doesn’t talk about how their underlying training data may have been taken and used without compensation. He doesn’t cover how many of these models can be flawed backboxes. He just seem happy that this makes artist artists upset.

And so I must ask, Mr. Marriott, why? Why does it give you such glee that so many might be put out of work? Why is it, that when given space in a publication that more people read in a day than will read anything I ever write in my lifetime, you take that space to make perhaps the most petty argument that can be comprehended in favor of AI generated art and writing?

This is barely an opinion. It’s not even a rant. It’s a whiny self-centered hope that an emerging technology will “make some people who annoy me unhappy.”

I wanted to close this rant out by making some more ad hominem attacks, but unfortunately I can’t. You see, I can’t find any more of his work. When you google Mr. Marriott’s name, you find a comedy YouTuber/musician, with 2 million subscribers, and a few hundred thousand views on each video, and no other articles or writing by the one being ripped on in this article.

Square Enix Letter from the President on 2022

The president of Square Enix wrote a letter recently. It has a lot of words like ‘blockchain’ in it, and that has some folks a bit twitchy. If you want to read the full letter, you can see it here. If not, I’m going to summarize it and give some thoughts.

I have a lot of opinions on blockchain and games. My primary one is, “You motherfuckers need to stop freaking out each time a large company, gaming or otherwise, puts out a press release with the words ‘blockchain’ or ‘NFT’ in it”.

This isn’t because I think they’re secretly great, but because letters are cheap to write, and long term strategic business decisions are hard to make. I said as much in my writeup on the letter from last year.

As such, I maintain my position that when a company makes a statement like “We are investigating forward facing technologies for future monetization including non-fungible tokens” what they mean is “Someone in the c-suite got pitched on crypto over Christmas/Thanksgiving/April 20th and now we have to spend a bunch of money to explain to them why it’s a bad idea.”

And while this years letter has a lot more statements about web 3.0/blockchain stuff, I maintain a high level of confidence that this won’t impact Square Enix’s current customers. I’ll get to why in a moment, but let’s review this letter.

The first 8 paragraphs say nothing related to blockchain. Paragraphs 1 & 2 are a recap of current world economic conditions (pretty bad) and current world conditions (even worse). Paragraph 3-6 lay out some specific business plans and moves that Enix is making, and restructuring efforts, including sales of various business units.

Paragraph 7-8 are the most interesting ones that aren’t related to distributed Excel sheets. These paragraphs note a restructuring of Square Enix’s publishing setup in which the eastern and western groups functioned as separate silos. In the statement, the company intends to make them function as “One Square Enix.”

As a cynical man, I have to wonder how smoothly that will go.

Continuing to speak as a cynical man, we get to the remainder of the letter. Paragraphs 9-15 are all about “Blockchain.” Paragraph 9 lays out that Square Enix has “focused on Blockchain Entertainment” and “devoted aggressive investment and business development efforts.”

Paragraph 10 notes that many governments have moved to regulate Crypto (possibly in reference to China) but states that Japan has launched some initiative called “Priority Policy Program for Realizing a Digital Society,” which frankly, I have no god damn clue about. I don’t know if this is pro-crypto, anti-crypto, or just window dressing.

Paragraphs 11-13 are pretty meandering, but can be summarized as “It’s hard to predict the long term impacts of Blockchain technology. Currently, the space is extremely volatile, and we are investigating what that looks like.”

Also, this gem:

“If we consider traditional gaming to have been centralized, then blockchain gaming must operate based on a self-sustaining decentralized model. It is that concept, that philosophy that I see to be key.”

Author Note: I hate this quote. It makes no sense from a technological standpoint. More on that in a future writeup perhaps?

Paragraphs 14 and 15 are the most important, at least in regards to crypto stuff. Paragraph 14 notes that while there is a lot of “interest” in crypto-gaming, that interest is primarily from speculators, not players.

And so we get to paragraph 15, the important one. I’m going to go through the full thing sentence by sentence, as it’s short but important.

“Our Group has multiple blockchain games based on original IPs under development, some of which we announced last year, and we are undertaking preparations that will enable us to unveil even more titles this year.”

Did you catch that? Original IPs! Which means that Square Enix isn’t going the Ubisoft route of experimenting by grafting NFTs onto existing projects. If you’re a FFXIV person, or just a Square Enix fan of various brands in general, you’re likely safe!

“We are also engaged in global sourcing from an investment perspective and will continue to take stakes in promising businesses whether we find them in Japan or abroad.”

I honestly don’t know how to parse this sentence 100%. My guess is it means that they will continue to actively look for valuable locations to invest in related to our gaming enterprise and web 3.0 technology regardless of where it’s located in the world.

“Blockchain has been an object of exhilaration and a source of turmoil, but with that in the rearview mirror, we hope that blockchain games will transition to a new stage of growth in 2023.”

This is wishy/washy bullshit. It promises nothing, hopes for a rich future, but makes no predictions about actually achieving this future. You can probably ignore this sentence.

Oh, and I guess it does end with paragraph 16, but that’s mostly a “Woo, we’ve been around 20 years!” and not much else.

So yeah, in conclusion, yes Square Enix spent money on blockchain, but it’s still “early days” (where have I heard that before?) and there appears to be no intention to apply web 3 practices/technology to existing products.

Oh, also despite that whole “Multiple Games” thing, I can’t actually find any released games or announced games that actually do use Web 3.0/blockchain tech from Square Enix. I’ve reached out to them to clarify, and I’ll update this writeup accordingly I hear back.

Why I didn’t get the Halo: Infinite Helmet – A Brief Note to Discord and 343 Industries

Or an extended response to a survey question.

For a while recently, Discord was running a campaign where if you streamed 15 minutes of Halo Infinite to your friends, you got some sort of special helmet. I say “Was” because apparently the event ended, and they sent me a small survey, asking why I didn’t earn the reward. This is what I put in their survey as a response.

However, this seemed a little rude, so I thought instead of just Tweeting this out at them, I’d talk about it for a moment. So let’s talk about cross-promotional campaigns, and how they feel as a consumer.

First up, let’s think about them in the abstract. I’ve made a handy diagram here to aid the discussion.

Purely from the perspective of a consumer, blue is the sweet spot. If a game I already play is giving me free stuff for doing something I already do/use/purchase, that’s ideal. I make no behavior changes, and I get something extra. This is optimal.

Green is the “Mild Annoyance” location. Games that have fallen into this in the past would include things like Sea of Thieves, and Hunt: Showdown. I like these games. I don’t really like watching Twitch. So when those games offer Twitch promotions, where I can watch Twitch, and get cosmetics, my response is “Urgh.” Whether or not I’m actually going to go through with getting those rewards is dependent on how good the reward is.

Have I done it in the past? Yeah, absolutely. Would I do it again? Depends on how cool the reward is. The important point here that I want to note is this: doing a Twitch campaign for your game in this situation, where I’m in the green zone, is that Twitch is NOT promoting your game. Your game is promoting Twitch.

Now, that’s not to say in the larger structure of this campaign that you, the game developer, are getting nothing out of it. But what you’re getting out of it is delicious metrics for the marketing team, and trying to push yourself up on Twitch’s most viewed metrics. You are rewarding me with in-game items for your game, and because I like your game, I will sometimes do something that is not playing your game, in order to get the items.

This brings me to the red zone. The red zone is when I am already engaged with the product or service being used for the promotion, and not engaged with the game being offered. It’s effectively just a paid advertisement for your game, like you’ve put it up on a billboard.

It’s also where I would like to make an important distinction between my Venn diagram, and this specific situation. If this product being advertised was something I hadn’t heard of, this would be further exposure to it. And maybe that would get me interested.

But as it is, I’ve played 80 hours of Halo:Infinite. I did a whole writeup on the game’s multiplayer. If I wanted to play more, I would. But I really don’t.

So here’s why I didn’t finish this quest: I don’t want play more Halo Infinite. You are trying to bribe me into doing so by rewarding me with an item in a game I have no desire to play.

If you really wanted me to play more Halo, you should have offered a month of Nitro or something. Give me something for the service I am already using.

Instead, you offered a free terrarium decoration with purchase of tarantula to an arachnophobe. I’m not sure why you think that’s an appealing offer.

BeReal – A Social Media Review

This is going to be a bit of a departure from the norm. Usually, I write reviews of games. But this week has been one of those weeks. One of the most weeks of all time. That sort of thing. So instead, let’s review a social media app.

The premise of BeReal is simple: most social media is at least sorta fake, because it’s easy to look for perfect moments and perfect images. BeReal tries to solve this by working differently. Instead of uploading your images and posts whenever you want, once per day the app sends out a notification. That notification is the start of a two-minute window to take and upload an image. You can’t see anyone else’s images until you upload one first, and you can comment on images.

And that’s it. That’s everything BeReal offers at the moment. Let’s talk about it.

As someone who sucks at social media, I like BeReal’s stated goal. The idea of making social media more accurate to depicting folks’ lives is something I think is good. That said, I don’t know that I trust them in that stated goal. After using the app for several weeks, I have quite a few problems with it, and wouldn’t recommend BeReal. I’ll start with the easy problems, that is to say, things that can be fixed, and then go into the harder ones.

First off, from a general usage standpoint, the app currently kind of sucks. It’s constantly buggy. Often it’s not possible to upload a photo in the two minute window. It constantly freezes, and is just somewhat garbage. Adding text to photos isn’t a smooth experience either, and neither is commenting. But these are all technical problems, and solvable with time and money. Which brings me to my second observation.

Money. At some point this app is going to need to actually make money. And it’s going to likely do so the same way every single social media app makes money: advertising and data harvesting. Enough people already have my data, I’m not thrilled to give it to anyone else.

Onto the next problem: actual usage as a social network. I have two issues here. First off, all BeReal lets you do is comment on photos and post a single photo a day. There is no messaging, no ability to ping folks to hang out, none of that sort of stuff. BeReal might be great if you’re a college student, constantly running about to class, or sports, or whatever.

But I’m a working adult. If I take a photo a random point during the day, there’s a 90% chance that it’s just going to be me sitting in a chair. The camera will be pointed away from my monitor because if I take a photo of what’s on that, I could get fired. So instead, you get a picture of my fridge and dishwasher. The remaining 10% of the day will be me sitting in another chair, and playing video games. If I’m out doing something, I’m not going to bother taking my phone out to take a photo.

You have now seen a majority of my BeReal posts.

And that’s the main problem I have with the app. I said earlier that I agree with BeReal’s stated goal: to make social media less fake. That doesn’t mean I think their stated goal is their actual goal. It seems to me that getting users to build a pattern of behavior around taking a photo at a specific point in time is primarily a strategy for making a popular social media platform, and only secondarily about making social media “less fake.”

As a note, you can take photos later and post, but they show as late posts. Personally, I don’t care, but my younger sister said people see it as important that you post in time.

There are probably more problems with BeReal. When I asked my sister who recently graduated about it, she said she found it annoying how first years using the app would all rush for their phones when the notification dinged, even if it was the middle of ultimate frisbee practice. That’s not an experience I have any exposure to, but I think I’d find it frustrating if everyone needed a selfie break in the middle of a zoom call.

Or maybe I wouldn’t give a shit. I’m just so dead inside at the moment.

Anyway. While BeReal makes a stated attempt at resolving one of the major problems with social media, it doesn’t really address the bigger issue: giving buckets of information about every aspect of your life to a gigantic mega-corporation in exchange for the ability to sometimes see a cute photo of a dog is a pretty shitty trade.

Thanks for reading, and more game stuff to come shortly. Like I mentioned, it’s been a week.

Brothers’ War Sealed Write-Up

I went 4-0 at a Brothers’ War pre-release, and made $1.42. And you can, too, if you read this writeup!

The newest magic set releases on Arena in three two days. But I’m an impatient motherfucker, and that’s too long to wait to play with the new cards. So I decided to do something I haven’t in years:

I went to a physical pre-release in person. (I looked it up, it’s been at least 7 years!)

Generally speaking, it was a fun event, and decent use of a Saturday, but it did get me thinking about things. This article will be divided into two-ish parts: actually playing in the event, and general thoughts about the game of Magic.

The Actual Event – Sealed Brothers’ War

The event was a sealed event, which means you get 6 boosters, you crack them open, and then you build a deck. Or if you’re me, you get six boosters, pull the rares out, look at their price on TCG Player, get sad, and then try to see how many of them you can stuff into your color pie.

Anyway, onto building the deck. My deck building strategy and thoughts went something like this:

  1. Wow, these are a lot of big artifact creatures.
  2. I have no real green ramp or powerstone ramp to support any of these.
  3. Shit, that means I’m going to get thrashed if games go long.
  4. I guess I can’t let games go long. Time to break out Ol’ Faithful.

Ol’ Faithful is my limited format strategy for when I don’t have another strategy and it works surprisingly well at the start of new sets:

Just go black/red and try to stab your opponent to death before they can do anything clever.

Fritz’s Ol’ Faithful

With this incredible strategy in mind, I built my deck. The end result was this list right here. If you like visual deck lists, here it is over on AetherHub.

2 Clay Revenant
1 Disfigure
1 Gnawing Vermin
1 Soul-Guide Lantern
1 Go for the Throat
2 Scrapwork Mutt
1 Thran Power Suit
1 Thran Vigil
1 Key to the City
1 Dwarven Forge-Chanter
1 Thraxodemon
1 Mishra's Domination
1 Gixian Skullflayer
1 Junkyard Genius
1 Quietus Spike
1 Giant Cindermaw
1 Excavation Explosion
1 Gixian Puppeteer
1 Ravenous Gigamole
1 Sibling Rivalry
2 Goring Warplow
1 Mishra's Foundry
7 Swamp
8 Mountain

Ed Note: This is a recreation based off of what I remember playing. More on why that’s the case later, but I’m highly confident this is accurate. It’s missing maybe 1 card, tops.

So, the end result is aggro black/red. There’s a bit of unearth with Scrapwork Mutt, and some graveyard synergy with Thran Vigil and Clay Revenant. Most importantly, everything in this list is a 4-drop or under. (The Goring Warplow can be played un-prototyped, but 75% of the time, I’d say it came in on turn two. )

So, how did I do playing Magic for the first time at a pre-release for the first time in 7 years? In sealed, a format I don’t even play digitally?

Well, I went 4-0. I won every single match.

That said, at least half of the games in those matches were decided by these two cards:

Key to the City is pretty good. Quietus Spike is also pretty good. Together, they’re a lot more than that.

While my memory isn’t perfect, my opponents were as follows:

  • White/blue long game with life gain + Teferi Temporal Pilgrim
  • Red/blue combat tricks/prowess/flyers
  • Green/white ramp into stompy boys
  • Green/white/red control into big boys

It’s also worth noting these matches are in order. My prediction that folks would go for ramp into big things was correct. But those decks that could ramp into big stompy things did quite well, as I faced the two ramp decks when I was 2-0 and 3-0 respectively.

So, here are my thoughts on Brothers’ War sealed after a single event, in a nutshell.

  1. Ramp is good, but surprisingly hard to get. I think draft will allow for much easier power stone generation. Even actively trying to get power stones, I only had two cards in my deck that made them.
  2. There was a weirdly low amount of artifact removal. Across my 11 games, Key to the City never got removed, and Quietus Spike got removed maybe once. Creature removal, sure. Small tier burn, also sure. But there’s not a lot of hard artifact removal. Once those big prototype creatures get out, they are going to stick around.
  3. On the subject of the prototype mechanic! I think it’s very good. A 2 drop 1/1 deathtouch that can also be a 5/4 deathtouch is some serious value. Those were the only prototype cards I ran in my deck, but some of my losses were to just things like 8/8s for 8. Go For The Throat doesn’t work on artifacts.

Of course, there’s one more big one, and that’s Retro Artifacts.

I think Retro Artifacts might be the most impactful cards of the set, by a wide margin. This is in part because of the incredible value I got out of Quietus Spike and Key to the City, but I was also on the receiving end of some of them. I lost a game to Psychosis Crawler, and almost lost a second to it as well. Platinum Angel won a game I wasn’t in. Someone else won a game off Millstone of all things, and another person took a similar win with Keening Stone. I had a Chromatic Lantern dropped on me on turn three, which didn’t feel great. (See the aforementioned lack of artifact removal.)

Retro Artifacts aren’t broken, but they’re powerful. Maybe they’re more impactful in sealed than draft, where there’s only 3 packs worth compared the 6 you get in sealed. But in any case, they did a lot of work. Not just in my game, but other folks’ games as well.

So. Those are my thoughts on the set. If you don’t care about a random dude on the internet’s opinions and thoughts about Magic on the whole, you can skip this next bit. Otherwise, read on.

Selling All My Cards

I really like playing TCG’s. I think this might be evident from the fact that I have an entire YouTube channel that’s mostly Magic. Or the fact that I’m a Pokemon Professor. Or the fact that I’m writing a multi-paragraph article about attending a pre-release.

I do not like how collecting cards feels. There’s a post or two in this, and how I reached this conclusion, but it’s irrelevant for the purpose of this conversation. All you need to know is that I love playing Magic and I also have the goal of never obtaining another physical Magic card.

This presents a problem when you want to play in a physical pre-release, which costs money, and gives you cards in exchange. So upon arriving, I set out to try to find someone to buy my cards.

There wasn’t anyone interested in paying for what I’d get sight unseen, which was a bit of a bummer. They would get anything I’d opened, if they gave me the $31.88 it cost to enter. This was both kind of reasonable, and also annoying as hell. I did not want these cards. I did not want to keep them, and I did not want to throw them out.

Things got worse on the whole “Not paying for the event” goal when I actually opened my packs. While there was a chance I could open something big worth selling, I opened jack shit. The single mythic was worth $8. Everything else was a trash rare worth maybe a $1. This was across 6 packs.

However, as the event went on, and I ended up going 4-0, things got a bit better. The prizes were 1 Set Booster per win, so I ended up getting four set boosters, and selling all the cards I opened to my last opponent for $35. To recap, this was six opened draft boosters, and four unopened set boosters. Cost to enter was $31.88, and the bus was $1.70. End result: net profit of $1.42 for five hours of playing Magic.

Anyway, if anyone from WoTC is listening, here’s my terrible opinion I’d like you to hear: that’s garbage. I came second place overall in the event (because I had slightly worse tiebreakers than the other 4-0 player) and walked away $1.42 and 5 arena packs. You can do whatever you want to try to make opening booster packs exciting, but your players are only going to care about how much they can exchange those cards for other things they actually want. In my case, that was cash. In other folks’ cases, that was cards for their commander decks.

You know, the format people actually play.

Overall Thoughts and Wrap-Up

So, after doing my first event in 7 years, would I do another one? Frankly, I’m leaning towards no, even though I like Magic. If someone else invited me to play, and covered my entry fee, I might be inclined to say yes. But for someone in my position who doesn’t care about obtaining physical cards, and just wants to play the game, the 5+ hours of time it took to just BARELY cover my entry after pretty much wining the event was too much.

If I took the money I spent on playing in a physical event, and spent in on Arena, just straight, I could get 5000 gems. That’s 25 booster packs, or 3 drafts, or 2 Sealed Events and 10 packs, MINIMUM. And I could likely play those events in under two hours each, and they’d likely pay out in a way that I could actually then enter MORE events in Arena.

And it’s not like Magic works like Pokémon, where I could enter (or run) an event, and then trade my physical cards I don’t want for pack codes. You can only use one pre-release code per account, disappointingly enough.

So in conclusion: I probably wouldn’t go to another physical prerelease. Magic: Arena and Magic as a physical card game are two competing ecosystems instead of a single synergistic one, and they’re both expensive.

But I did make a $1.42.

If you’re interested in more of my terrible takes on Magic, or want watch me play, may suggest following me on Twitter? Or alternately, if that site burns to the ground in the next week, just subscribe on YouTube.

Authors Note: I have a lot of other thoughts about the state of physical Magic events, but they’re complex, and after consultation, I’ve opted to remove them from this writeup. They may come back in a separate writeup. They may vanish into the air. I hope it’s not the second one.