random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: Economics

Market Games

Supermarket

There are very few today who would deny that the quality of our food has dropped, partly as a result of the change embodied by the death of the local shop and the rise of the supermarket. Where once the only change was that our food was pre-grown, now we find it has been pre-grown, pre-made, pre-cooked, pre-packaged, pre-distributed, and often find our purchases are precluded by lack of choice for good measure. Of course, supermarkets are the just one example of today’s monopolies, that much should be clear. Enter the store at one end, and you can start your purchases with your baby food at one end, and walk all the way through life till you need find a buy-one-get-one-free headstone and a “Value” lawyer to deal with your wills and probate. Plus the stores are so big these days that you might in fact need the coffin by the time you finally leave.

Advertising Takes The Logical Next Step

Zool: An early example of in-game advertising

We should be clear about one thing. In-game advertising isn’t new. And not just the self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek form of advertising epitomised by the Loom™-toting pirate in LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island. Anyone who remembers Zool from the early 1990s might recall the Chupa Chups sponsorship deal, and the FIFA series has been using advertising on their billboards for many years, though what with ‘image rights’ being big money for clubs and players alike, the football genre could be said to have entrenched itself in the realm of ‘reverse’ advertising.

Nevertheless, the presence of advertising in games has been pretty low key, considering the industry’s growth over the past decade or so. Advertising is not usually so slow to find its way into new forms of media entertainment, Internet advertising being the biggest example of recent times. So the news that in-game advertising rights for Counter-Strike (the ‘big one’ as far as non-MMORPGs is concerned) have been sold to IGA should only come as expected. Previously adverts for Valve’s flagship had been reserved for brief loading screens, an idea which apparently never took hold. Where Internet advertising has had much reaction to the point where many people block out adverts as a matter of course, this will be more difficult to achieve in such a gaming environment, and should it succeed, might result in future games featuring truly hard-coded advertising avenues.

Skype’s Revealing Customer Policy

Apparently, getting what you paid for isn’t necessarily the name of the game any more. Although I was well aware of it at the time of purchase, no niggly smallprint or obligatory T&C which no one reads hid this caveat, it still comes as something of a surprise to be informed that something I paid for disappeared if I don’t use it. In my personal experience, Skype hasn’t done itself many favours in terms of maintaining a decent service. Certainly, it ‘does what it says on the tin’ the majority of the time, indeed it was only as I decided to test Skype’s SkypeOut feature (which worked handsomely, to the company’s credit) that I came across this email. This quote, in particular, amused:

You’re receiving this email around 30 days before your Skype Credit balance expires. Skype Credit expires 180 days after your last purchase or SkypeOut call. If you’re not using your balance we need to expire the credit sooner or later to comply with normal business accounting rules. Not very exciting, but true.

Even in today’s confused business world, where caveats and charges are hidden inexplicably from view, the very idea that Skype feels it obliged to rip its customers off in order to comply with ‘normal business accounting rules’ is staggering. From my meagre experience with mobile phone companies, this would appear to be anomalous to their standard practice. I have never been informed by PayPal that my account would be emptied because I haven’t used my funds, nor indeed have I come across such a statement from any of the other myriad of online services who use an online account system such as theirs.

Perhaps Skype would be well advised to comply with normal business operating rules instead of focusing on using cunning and thievery to earn themselves a few dollars. Take the much maligned Linux version of their program; the current official release still stands at version 1.2.0.18, released October 25, 2005. To their credit, the 8 months spent working up to the release of version 1.3 BETA on June 28th was not wasted, with full ALSA support, better chat features and numerous bugfixes, but this has not prevented issues with the ALSA sound system causing lockups: this is still just a BETA release. To suggest that this is symptomatic of Skype’s overall work ethic would be unfair; the Windows version of the program has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months, though it should be mentioned that many bugs at times seemed to have been put aside (such as memory leaks in the program, particularly in multi-user chats, or users in a person’s contact list disappearing sometimes at will) whilst new features such as video calls were scripted in.

No doubt being the most famous name in the game, Skype have found it difficult to maintain a lead, with sustained efforts to introduce all the features users demand whilst ensuring the package is solid and generally bug-free, and the service has maximum availability and quality. Nevertheless, it seems Skype’s “not very exciting” excuse for some small scale pilfering is an unnecessary blemish on the company’s otherwise fairly decent track record. Now, time to make some long distance calls to Tristan de Cunha…

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