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Elder Scrolls Online: The subscription fallacy

In the run up to the release of Elder Scrolls Online, I've heard a lot of people say,

This game isn't worth a subscription. Maybe if it was free-to-play...

My question for these people is the: what game, in your opinion, would be worth a subscription model? Because if you answer, 'None; no game is worth a subscription model,' that completely changes the meaning of what you're saying.

If no game is worth a subscription model, then a statement about this game not being worth a subscription is not a statement about the characteristics of this game, but a general principle. And that's fine, you're perfectly free to hold that principle. But if you do, it precludes you from expressing an opinion on this game.

The only a statement about this game being worth (or not worth) a subscription can have any merit is if you can see some game being worth a subscription. Then you can evaluate this game on its own terms: compare it to the kind of game which would be worth a subscription, and decide, on the basis of that comparison rather than on the basis of a principle, whether this game is worth a subscription.

It's the same with murder. If you maintain that all murder is wrong, then a particular case of murder will always be wrong, regardless of any specific circumstances. There's actually no point discussing the details of the case, because murder is always wrong. On the other hand, if there is some case in which murder might not be (so) wrong - and this is where people usually bring up the idea of going back in time and killing Hitler - then we can have a discussion of the individual characteristics of this case and evaluate whether it was, perhaps, in fact not (so) wrong.

Abortion is similar case. If you think that abortion is always wrong, then there is no way that you will think that abortion could be right in a specific case. If you think that abortion can sometimes be the right choice, then we can have a discussion of whether it is the right choice in this case.

And exactly the same is true of subscription models in games, or anything else which can take the form of a principle of belief. You may well be entitled to hold that belief, but doing so precludes you from evaluating any specific case.

In short, you can either hold a principle, or you can compare and evaluate. You can't do both.

Be clear about which it is you're doing. View Comments

Why the GEZ is evil

Okay, since I'm ranting today, I'm going to explain why the German television license, the GEZ, is evil.

Until recently it was much like the BBC license in Britain; that is, you had to pay a license fee to support the state-run broadcasting networks. And similarly, if you didn't have a TV or radio which could receive those broadcasts, you basically didn't have to pay.

Since the start of the year, however, the rules have changed: now, anyone with a TV, radio, or internet connection, has to pay the license fee of about €20 a month. The actual fee for a TV owner is slightly lower than before, so many people are perfectly fine with the change, and haven't even noticed.

But the problem is the 'internet connection' part of the new rules. If you don't even have a computer, but have a smart phone - hell, if you even have a standard phone with a clunky, slow browser that loads at a snail's pace - you have to pay.

Why? Because you can access the websites of the state-sponsored broadcasters on the internet.

Let's get this straight: because you could visit the German ARD website, you have to pay a license fee.

And that's evil, because of the principle it establishes.

If you could visit the site, you have to pay, regardless of whether you actually do so or not.

I could also visit a porn site: does that mean that I have to pay for it even if I don't? Hmm, I could send a bill to everyone in the world asking to be paid for writing this post, because they might read it.

I could visit all sorts of sites on the internet, because, you know, the internet is a big place. Do I have to pay for all of the sites I don't visit, as well as those that I do?

Ah, you're pushing it too far, you respond. But I'm not. Because even if the German government does not intend that this model should be extended to the rest of the internet, then it must think that only it - or perhaps it and other governments - has the right to apply this model.

Either this model - paying for potential rather than actual use - can be applied to all websites, or it can only be applied to those websites which the government decides it can be applied to. In other words, while companies can't charge you money for something which you can only potentially use, a government can. On this model, the government can make the public pay for anything it wants, so long as it posts a website which anyone in Germany could visit.

While the GEZ is now basically an internet tax in everything but name, it sets up one of two principles. Either any company on the internet can charge you for its content, or governments can force the public to pay for whatever they want. Both are extremely dangerous.

Kant's first definition of the categorical imperative, which forms the basis of his system of morality, is this:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.

On the basis of that definition, the current GEZ is immoral.

View Comments Instant Video Bullshit

Okay, so recently announced that the Prime account includes Prime Instant Video, a video streaming service which has been a part of for some while.

So I'm going to cancel my Prime account.


Previously, Amazon Prime cost €29 a year. Starting in August, it will cost €49. Ah, you might say, but for that extra €20, you get to stream all the videos you want. That's got to be worth €20 a year, right?

But what do I get for that? A bunch of American TV shows and movies, for the most part. That's fine. I like American movies and TV shows. From where I'm sitting, I can on my shelf several volumes of Scrubs, House, 30 Rock, Community, Castle, Psych, The Mentalist, and The West Wing. Hell, I've imported a bunch of anime releases from the States, and have my blu-ray player set up to play both region 1 and 2 discs.

Now, most of the series I mentioned are on Amazon Instant Video, but they aren't up-to-date or complete. Psych is missing Season 1, House is missing Seasons 3, 5 and 7, Community only goes up to Season 3, The Mentalist and Castle only to Season 4, which is the only season that 30 Rock does have. Scrubs has only Season 8, and The West Wing is missing completely.

It also doesn't have any Futurama and it doesn't have any South Park. Of the Simpsons, it has Seasons 1-3 and 20-25. Also, Amazon Instant Video in Germany has about 10 anime movies and series: you can watch the first Eden of the East movie, but not the series that comes before it or the movie which comes after.

So the selection is patchy to say the least. If you actually like the shows, and actually want to watch them all, you're out of luck.

But did you notice what I did there? I talked about Amazon Instant Video, not Prime Instant Video. See, Prime Instant Video contains the 'free' shows and movies that you can watch when you have an Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon Instant Video, on the other hand, is a pay-to-watch service: you can buy the season as a whole, or individual episodes for about €3 a pop. As a quick comparison, Season 4 of The Mentalist will cost you €34.99 on Amazon Instant Video; Amazon is also selling the DVD of the complete season for €9.99. Not all series are so much cheaper on DVD, admittedly, but all seasons of The Mentalist cost 50% less.

And guess what? NONE of the shows I mentioned above are on Prime Instant Video. They're only on Amazon Instant Video.

That is to say, even if you do have an Amazon Prime account, you're still be paying €3 extra an episode to watch those shows.


And you know what I also like? American TV shows and movies IN ENGLISH.

But with Amazon Instant Video in Germany, you can only watch in German.

Of the supposedly 12,000 titles on Amazon Instant Video in German, only 154 have the [OV] tag, indicating that they are in the original language.

I mean, seriously? Have you heard German dubbing? The German dub of Columbo turned him into a supercop badass and completely missed the whole point. Most shows are not quite as bad as that, but with any given comedy, half of the jokes will be missing.


Incidentally, if you are a German who doesn't speak English and is, for some unfathomable reason, interested in Prime Instant Video, then a) you're probably not reading this post, and b) make sure you buy the full Prime account for €49 a year rather than falling for the subscription model of €7.99 a month for Prime Instant Video on its own. At nearly twice as much (€95.88 a year) you actually get less service.

To recap, for a €20 price hike, I get a service which has an extremely reduced selection of videos compared to Amazon Instant Video - to the point where it has hardly any series I might actually want to watch on it. Amazon Instant Video itself is expensive, also has a limited and patchy selection, and only allows me to watch in German.

Amazon Instant Video is basically a weak selection of videos and a rip-off. But you know what? I wouldn't care if it wasn't for the Prime Instant Video component. The service Amazon Instant Video offers is essentially no different to the movie and video part of the iTunes Music Store, and I've never purchased a video there, either. But what Prime Instant Video does, and iTunes doesn't do, is take a service I like (Amazon Prime) and force me to pay extra for a service I don't want and will never use. Amazon Instant Video, and the iTunes Music Store, I can chose to ignore; but with Prime Instant Video, it's like being forced to buy a loss-leader. It's not quite as despicable as the GEZ, mind, you, but the principle is similar.

Bye, Amazon Prime. It was nice knowing you when you didn't, um, suck.

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Blowing my own trumpet

Last night some of my students were disappointed when they found out there there wouldn't be another course next semester.

This morning I received a $20 donation for my Skyrim mod, Khajiit Speak.

I must be doing something right :-)

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A Modern Education

Jeff Jarvis (Public Parts, p. 54)

In our schools, we teach students there is one and only one right answer to every question. Then we add the questions together in tests and teach to those tests, expecting students to spit back what we feed them. We call that achievement. We should instead be encouraging experimentation, rewarding challenges to our accepted wisdom, and designing schools around learning through failure.
I couldn't agree more. If I can find a way to truly implement this idea in my teaching, I will.
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Education and technological incompetence

A couple of years back, I completed my Masters degree. It was principally concerned with open, online and distance learning; in short, educational technology in the modern learning environment. Now, while I never really expected to be able to apply all those ideas in my job, since our learning institutions are still very much based around classrooms and traditional structures, I did at least think that it would be generally accepted that, as the information age moves into the digital age, the importance of such technology would be basically unquestioned. The internet, portable computing, and constant connectivity are increasingly ubiquitous. Denying that is like Cnut trying to hold back the tide.

Some six years before that, I worked for an institution which was integrating the internet and computing into examinations. Instead of pen-and-paper exams for each separate discipline, we were beginning to do combined, networked exams. Students would begin in the morning, have a number of tasks to complete over the next few hours, had full access to computers and the internet, and took breaks when they wanted. The general idea was to make the examination as 'realistic' as possible, essentially reflecting a day at work, along with the resources and skills required to deal with it.

By no means was the procedure perfect, but it nevertheless embodied the principle that education and examinations should adapt to the actual way the world works. Educational institutes do not exist in a bubble; they should prepare students in a way which is relevant to society and the work environment into which they will be thrust upon graduation. Even if not all institutes could or should be consistently cutting edge, surely all must be informed by the realities of the world outside.

When I began teaching in the late 90's, I purchased a briefcase which ultimately broke under the weight of the stuff I had to carry around in it: textbooks, dictionaries, cassette players and so on. I quickly lightened the load by purchasing an electronic dictionary, which was soon supplemented with and ultimately replaced by a Palm handheld. Nowadays I have only a MacBook Air, a set of USB speakers, and the occasional textbook. The university has a wireless network which, even if a bit flaky, covers the whole campus. Beyond that, smart phones have expanded internet connectivity to the point that essentially all my students are online at all times. Not being able to access the internet is the exception, rather than the rule.

Textbooks are next for the chopping block, as Apple's keynote yesterday indicates. As mobile computing becomes increasingly powerful, yet also more lightweight and affordable, and as the digital publishing becomes easier, lugging heaps of textbooks to lectures will become a thing of the past. I'm not fantasizing here, nor jumping on the 'Apple will revolutionize education' bandwagon; this is just the way the world is now. This semester, for the first time, I have students using iPads to write academic papers. Between exams today, most students pulled out their smart phones and checked Facebook or whatever. In many ways the important point is that this technology is not brought into the classroom by teachers, but by the students themselves.

In this context, I would argue that it is largely anachronistic that my students today are writing an exam with pen and paper. After all, the only time in their lives that they will actually do such a thing is in an examination. But I accept, with qualifications, that our institution does not have the resources or confidence to administer the kind of networked examination that I described above.

Worse, in my view, is the professor who says, amidst sexist jokes, that universities should be the same today as they were 60 years ago.

But what I truly cannot stomach, and the reason for my post today, is the recent decision by my department to ban the use of electronic dictionaries from examinations. We only permit paper dictionaries. Let me make this clear: a year ago, electronic dictionaries were allowed. Now they are not. And I'm not talking about smart phones, or iPads, or something with an internet connection, but a technology that I would consider two generations out of date (electronic dictionaries to PDAs to smart phones). Why? Because some of my colleagues, by their own admission, are unable to tell the difference between an electronic dictionary and a smart phone, and are unable to tell whether the student using one might have an internet connection and be cheating; and because these same colleagues think that, because you can find words more quickly using an electronic dictionary, it gives the student an unfair advantage over those who don't have one.

These 'arguments' are so vacuous that I refuse to dignify them with a direct response. I do not expect everyone to be as much of a geek as I am, but people whose job it is to offer instruction to the youth of today should have a basic level of technological competence and understanding. Without that, how can you possibly stand in front of a classroom and offer your students relevant instruction in an appropriate manner?

Though it may seem harsh, I simply cannot believe that anyone with such an attitude has the right to call themselves a 'teacher'.

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Today's Bild headline: 'Wasp swarm: how to protect yourself from stings.' Odd, I haven't seen a single wasp this year. Maybe they're all hiding behind that cloud, waiting to launch a precision strike?

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