Monday, 26 November 2018

Why moving to digital only is a Bad Thing: part 2 – Money

In part 1, I outlined my fears about a potential drive to abandon physical videogames and looked at the ways in which this will be bad for gamers (essentially, loss of control, higher prices, and the destruction of the second hand market).

But the intoxication with New Things and technological possibilities also means that some people want to abolish physical money altogether. And that’s far more concerning.

Why does that matter? Why does it worry me? Is it just because I’m so old-fashioned I have a mechanical calculator that computes using cogs?

Well, I am an old-fashioned man. And that helps provide context for why money came about in the form it did, and why shifting entirely (I don’t oppose electronic money, I oppose it being the only form) into so-called digital is drunken madness.

First off, why did physical money evolve? In the earliest days, wealth was essentially cattle. But imagine going to the shops with fifty oxen because you wanted some dresses. It’s not exactly convenient. Gold, however, is pretty, lasts effectively forever, and scarce enough small quantities are very valuable. Gold, silver, and electrum (a silver-gold alloy) coins soon came into being in Lydia, home of the fabled Croesus. They were easy to move, and if you’re selling wedding dresses it’s a lot easier to slip some coins into a pouch than to store fifty oxen in your pants.

The Chinese first brought about paper money, and a few centuries ago cheques (akin to paper money) came into being.

It was about the convenience of carrying, storing and transferring wealth, and shifted the concept of wealth from sheer physical property (oxen etc) to a more nebulous concept. However, the move to online only is a step away from control as far as wealth goes.

There was a report in the UK a year or two ago from some chap who had an interesting idea of a third employment category between employed and self-employed to cover the gig economy, and an idiotic idea about abandoning real money altogether and shifting purely to electronic.

If you get hacked or your bank goes down, it’s a pain in the arse. If you get that problem when physical money doesn’t exist, how are you going to pay for little luxuries, like catching a bus/train to work, paying for petrol or food? You can’t spend twenty pound notes when paper money isn’t legal tender any more.

Then there’s the control aspect again. Every time you spend, it’ll be logged. The time and location will be known. Perhaps more importantly, tax can be automatically deducted at source (this would be VAT [sales tax] in the UK). But the individual and the state aren’t the only players. Spending money this way requires a third party, perhaps a bank or an online cash-handling firm. They’ll take a slice. Maybe 0.5%. Maybe 2%. After all, they need to make enough to keep in business. If all their prices go up, what’s your option? You can’t go to cash because it doesn’t exist any more.

As mentioned to me on Chrons by Vladd67, this article is well worth a look. It’s about what’s happening in Sweden right now:
Digital currency is far more profitable for banks, as they get to profit from the fees attached to debit cards, credit cards and Sweden’s bank-developed payment app, Swish.”

Sweden is also at the forefront of exciting new digital payment technologies, including microchips that have been implanted into 4000 peoples’ hands, enabling them to pay via high-five.”

Maybe you consider that ‘exciting’. I think it’s a dystopian nightmare.

Abolishing cash is a demented idea. People are sometimes so focused on what’s technologically possible they fail to consider the negative implications. Just because you could do something doesn’t mean you should do something, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum.

Digital ‘goods’ and money are sold on convenience, but the cost is higher prices and loss of control. Don’t fall for the glib promises of a brave new world. It’s all about sucking the money out of your wallet, then burning your wallet so in the future you don’t even know how much they’ve gouged.


Saturday, 24 November 2018

Why moving to digital only is a Bad Thing: part 1 - Games

I’ve heard rumours on the interweb that Microsoft are thinking of having the next Xbox Random Number return to something that was slammed on the XBone: digital only media. As asserted by LoadingReadyRun’s Checkpoint, which reports such matters with a delightful mixture of competence, fairness, and humour and is well worth checking out, the world has moved on quite a bit. It’s entirely possible this approach will get little censure next time.

Got to say, I’m 100% against a shift to all-digital media. It’s part of changing games from being products to services, and in line with the madness of some who want to abolish physical money and only have it electronically.

Why Abandoning Physical Games is Bad for Gamers

I hang onto my old consoles. Planning on dusting off the PS2 and returning to some old favourites fairly soon, actually. With a physical copy, you can install or remove the increasingly large game download as much as you like, without worrying about it becoming defunct. You can give it to a friend, swap it with someone, or sell it second hand [NB I may be doing this with some books/games in the New Year so keep an eye out]. You cannot do this with a digital only copy.

But maybe that’s a small price to pay for the convenience of digital gaming. Assuming you don’t use your credit card only to have the details stolen, of course. Then it’s a large price to pay.

Browsing the Playstation store (I’ve got a PS4), it’s clear that the price of games there is higher than buying actual physical copies, possibly excepting pre-order periods and the first few weeks of a game’s release. There’s no gradual, natural decline as initial hype fades and shops want to get rid of their stock and reduce prices accordingly. The digital shop has zero physical space requirements and infinite stock. So the price stays high forever. Why would it decline?

And if everything goes digital, that will become industry-wide. Sure, you’ll be able to pirate games, as now, but those of us who don’t want to become criminals will be faced with the prospect of selling our kidneys to fund our increasingly expensive habit or going without Battle Royale: Money Gouger 3.

A related but different note is the move to microtransactions. I thought Fallout 4 was ok. It did make missteps. One of them was making settlement building so frequent. I liked the system itself but I didn’t need dozens of places. I also didn’t need basic items like a weapon rack hidden behind a paywall. If I’ve spent £40 on a videogame I don’t expect something basic like that to be ‘extra’ DLC.

Dead or Alive, the frisky fighting franchise, makes rather a lot from DLC of fruity outfits for characters, perhaps even more than from actual game sales. Similarly, there’s a push for microtransactions with lots of other videogames, whether that’s cosmetic silliness or pay-to-win Satanism. Sometimes this comes from games that seem to have no business having them at all (yes, Shadow of War, I’m looking at you, you greedy little grease princess).

There are great aspects to electronic cash and products. Delivery is faster than waiting for post. You don’t need shelf-space for countless games. But there are major downsides too. The price of games won’t ever fall. Spending physical money and electronic money feels different. It’s easier to get someone to spend numbers on a screen than it is to hand over pound coins (even the dreadful new pound coins that look atrocious). I’m not opposing digital versions of games, but I’m absolutely opposing the wholesale abandonment of physical games. Digital means you get convenience at a cost in money and control. If you’re happy to make that choice, cool. 

But if that’s your only option, it’s not a choice at all, just a mandatory move to line the pockets of companies at the expense of consumers.

In part 2, up in a few days, I’ll take a wider look at money and the desire of some to abolish physical currency in favour of a purely electronic system.


Thursday, 22 November 2018

Review: Sword of Destiny, by Andrzej Sapkowski

This is the second Witcher book I read (The Last Wish is reviewed here).

As with the first, it’s a collection of short stories revolving around Geralt of Rivia, whose job is hunting monsters and whose pastimes include boning sorceresses and being subjected to prejudice on account of the fact Witchers are mutants (which both makes them fearsome warriors and loathed by a large portion of society).

Major characters from the preceding book and The Witcher 3 make appearances, and there’s also a story involving a chap with a Witcher 3 cameo that fits nicely. The quality of the writing is high, and Geralt’s mixed character (he’s not evil but definitely not a knight in shining armour) coupled with the in-depth world-building helps to make the fictional setting feel like a real, immersive place.

This wasn’t a problem for me, but it’s worth noting the short stories shift in time and there’s no firm indicator of what happens when (you can work out some obvious sequencing but there are no dates/years). Unlike The Last Wish, there’s no underlying, unifying story that gets dipped into repeatedly. Every short story is complete, although some have links to others.

I enjoyed it rather a lot. If you liked The Last Wish, I think you’ll like this too.


Sunday, 18 November 2018

Seven Bohemian Rhapsodies

And now for something completely different.


Strings and Piano



42 styles


Fairground Organ -