Electron Dance
2Jan/1725

Discussion: It Is Here

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Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about the first two chapters of the book, get in the comments.

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Electron Dance Highlights

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  1. These 2 chapters are really intriguing and absobing, I have read the first 45 pages in one go and I’m stopping just because I know I should sleep now. Will definitely read the rest tomorrow.

    I have a few questions.

    1) “Browsing through the Steam release feed [41] for any particular month will unearth many examples of product launches with anything between 10% and 50% of the ‘official price’ and the portals generally recommend this to gain market traction during the critical launch period.”
    In “between 10% and 50% of the ‘official price’” should “of” be “off”?

    2) “Bundling was rekindled aggregation and became a promising solution to the precarious nature of indie software development.”
    Should “was” be “has”?

    3) “the three games Hokra, Johann Sebastian Joust and BariBaraBall”
    I think “BariBaraBall” should be “BaraBariBall”. Actually, to be honest, I thought it was “BariBariBall”, but search engines disagreed :D

  2. Hi Fede!

    Thanks for getting through so much of it so quickly! Let me have a look at these…

    1) Yes, you’re right. I missed this because it is still grammatically correct!

    2) It’s meant to be “was” as a description of this being a new version of aggregation.

    3) Ah I knew I would make this mistake!!

  3. Hello Joel! Well, it was pretty easy, the hard part was to stop reading.

    The only other minor things that it may be worth to report are
    4) the link of the first reference ([1]) is not appearing as a clickable link in the PDF version (every other link is fine)
    5) the last reference, [78], does not appear in the text, so I guess it’s part of chapter III
    6) the last page is empty

    I found it very well written and informative. If I remember correctly, your plan was to release the first two chapters for free and then sell the rest. In that case, add 1 to the number of copies sold.

  4. Fede! In some ways, the second chapter is the hardest as the concepts involved are very “ouroboros”. I kept struggling with how to order the chapter and avoid repeating myself. I hope that the next chapter will not be as challenging…

    Yes, I’d noticed the first reference link not appearing after I’d put the documents out. I’ve also since discovered the epub version does not look well on Google Play, which means I might have to change my approach to how I turn this into an ebook.

    Reference [78] is actually there but I can see how it might have missed it. Through a quirk of my own reference building script (written in Python) it seems to see the footnote text only after sweeping through the entire document. Thus, the footnote on page 34 got the last reference number. I saw this early on but the fix was going to painful. I *might* get this addressed in time for the proper release.

    Thanks for all the little corrections, these are really useful and will go into the the version going out on itch.

    (and if I’m not mistaken I think you are the first person to sign up for the new mailing list!)

  5. Don’t you just hate it when the first thing people do when they read your new work is help with the proofreading? Okay, maybe that’s just me. I read as much yesterday as I could squeeze between my own writing, watching Mozart in the Jungle with my girlfriend and finding that I’m starting to fall asleep at a remarkably early hour, but I was riveted by what I read and will squeeze some more in later. Thank you very much for this.

    I’m fascinated and frustrated by intellectual property law and I’m glad you’re tackling it. I notice you include a quote about theater. I know theater people and their passion about whose intellectual property it is drives me crazy. They work in the most unpirateable artform in existence, one that offers pure proximity to live experience, yet even the possibility that someone has made an unauthorized (or, in some cases, semi-authorized) recording of a performance drives them into a rage. At the same time, the most successful actress I know reads copies of books — you know, the kind of thing we both write — through some sort of book swap group where people pass on books they’ve read to others so they don’t have to buy them. This doesn’t bother me — if somebody reads one of my books they might look for others — yet I’m perplexed that she’s so irritated that others might watch her own performances without her permission. She reacts to it as a personal violation; I see it as free advertising.

  6. Chris, in this case I don’t mind with the proofreading as it will all be helpful to get the official release off to a good start in a couple of weeks! Although I would also appreciate any critique about the contents themselves. I’ve already had some doubt thrown at me about how I’ve written up copyright/patent stuff. I do miss the writing group I used to attend years ago where we’d be direct with each other about what felt wrong, pacing, structure etc. and it always felt constructive. (If you were the kind of person to be defensive and feel under attack then, honestly, why did you attend?)

    I believe most readers here are using the PDF version but I’ve discovered the EPUB ebook renders hideously on Google Play. I’m having to go back to the drawing board on how I go from Scrivener to ebook. I was compiling Scrivener to ODT, ran a script to build the references, edited *heavily* in LibreOffice, then used Calibre to convert to EPUB and MOBI. That seemed to work but the hellish level of work required to get the ODT into shape took hours. A simple tweak to the underlying Scrivener source is going to cost hours of effort to render into the final product again.

    So now I’m developing a completely different approach which is more heavily automated which hopefully means the ODT step is brief and the resulting ebooks are more robust. I was hoping I could take it easy after the last few weeks of hefty book work but not so it seems..!

    That’s an interesting anecdote about the theatre! I had no idea. I wonder also if it feels like potential negative exposure; perhaps someone took a bit of film of not-your-best-night and that becomes solidified into Your Performance according to the internet. Maybe also the aspect of “people put down your bloody smartphones this is a live performance!” :)

  7. I first realized how the actress in question felt about intellectual property rights when she simply stopped talking to me after I mentioned that I’d seen a DVD of two mutual friends in a musical at a small non-equity theater. The DVD was a professional quality video made by the theater with the cooperation of all directly involved. Everyone in the show and crew had been given several copies, for their files and for their friends. I was given one directly by an actress from the show, but that wasn’t enough for the actress in question, who unlike the two in the show is an Actors Equity member who has been working professionally for years and has appeared on Broadway. Apparently these small theater DVDs are made without the permission of the original rights holders, who in the case of a musical include the composer, lyricist, book writer and probably the publisher of the script. When I asked the actress about this later, she went into a tirade about pirating productions and how would I like it if my books, etc. Naive me, I hadn’t even realized there was anything illicit about the recording I’d watched. I’ve also heard her rant about the possibility of her own acting and cabaret performances being taped (audio or video), so you may be right that there’s also a degradation of quality issue, but it seems to go deeper than that.

    The problem with theater is that the rights in a given production are so tangled, involving not only the original IP owners but everyone involved in the production, that it’s amazing video and audio recordings of major productions eventually get made and publicly released. There are filmed stage productions that are only stored for archival purposes at a few libraries around the world and can only be viewed by someone with a valid reason (writing a student paper, for instance) to see them. The Live at the Lincoln Theater Broadway productions that air here in the U.S. on PBS are never released again in any form (except by those astute enough to record them off the air) and aren’t even on the PBS streaming site. And theater people are amazingly passionate about this.

    I wish I could comment on the contents of your book on a more intellectual level, but you’ve gone way beyond my league in your understanding of these processes. What amazes me is that you actually make them interesting to read about. Given my deeply buried memories of having my mother go back to school for a masters in economics when I was 11, I usually shudder when I see the name Thorstein Veblen. ;)

  8. And that should be Live at the Lincoln Center, not Live at the Lincoln Theater. It’s hard to write and edit simultaneously.

  9. Chris, yes I have to agree it does seem a little overblown and, well, precious. But at the same time, it’s always interesting to note how different people’s “contexts” are. In the theatre, they feel like videoing their performance is like photos stealing the soul, that it tears at the heart of the experience which is one you’re meant to be present at. There might be this latent fear that the more people see of plays “via television”, the more people will be persuaded that, actually, hey, I don’t need to go to theatre. It’s not so special, the home version is fine. Maybe there’s that. And we have seen when people are offered quality against convenience, they often choose convenience… particularly if it’s cheaper!

    And I’m willing, also, to let people make a stand for their particular higher standards rather than suggest, well, goodness me, we have it a lot worse, and we’re gonna bring you down to our level of suffering! (See this attitude when people strike for better pay conditions over here in UK.) But, ya know, I won’t be able to lend my support if they are unable to see the parallels with the lives of other artists. If you’re different and special, I want to ask, can you tell me why you should get a pass and we clearly don’t seem to count?

  10. There is a thing abour your blog I always fear about. It becomes already a state of traumatization. It is called “Comments off”, especially at older entries, since I’m discovering jewels and treasures of your blog sometimes years later and want to give my 5 cents, in order to see the gate is closed. Anyway, I’ll misuse this entry here…

    First: Happy New Year! And I’m glad to have found your portal, since I see many interests and ideas we share together! You rock!

    … I’ll misuse this entry to comment your text about Euro Truck Simulator 2 (http://www.electrondance.com/the-long-road-to-verona). I’ve bought this game for one only reason: that one you’ve described in “Into the black”. It is called here “Free camera mod”. With some workaround in config file you can unlock dev mod for free camera in order to float across Europe like a ghost. No more safety fence and rear-end collisions. Adieu truck. Just you and Europe. And you see things. You see how the whole world is nothing but Potemkin villages along the freeways. Even big cities are just geometrical figures at horizon. And inbetween a void, a darkness, a nothing, and further you see another land, which signifies another freeway it’s made for.

    A simulacrum after Baudrillard. A visualized lie. Locus amoenus is nothing but stage setting. To experience this lie, to look behind undesigned cityscapes – this is I’ve bought Euro Truck Simulator 2 and that’s so amazing. That’s what I wanted to comment there, but now I’m doing it here.

  11. Merzmensch, Happy New Year! The comments used to remain permanently open; the reason for the comments being switched off is that spammers are attracted to older posts and everyone who signed up for comment updates could get spammed. A lot… I am sorry for your trauma!

    But it seems we have competition for Matt W another commenter who likes going off topic. :)

    To flip things around on ETS2, while I understand your fascination with going ghost and getting free reign in that world, I find I love straining against developer’s constraints but not necessarily breaking them. ETS2 is not a natural game for exploration. You’re meant to travel along defined roads and much of the surrounding environment is out of reach, going behind buildings or travelling into the countryside is simply out of the question. But there are many, many ETS2 fans who really dig that constrained exploration factor, that it takes time to reach places and discover things, that it hints at possibilities on the horizon that cannot be investigated.

    This aspect of incomplete, tantalizing exploration is why I’m *personally* not as excited about mods that unlock environments. It’s a fine line, of course. Corridor shooters are extremely linear experiences and a sense of exploration persists although it feels much more like a guided tour. (I didn’t get much out of DOOM 3, but I loved those moments where you got to look out the window; more so than actually going out there.)

  12. I’ve got a few non-typo points.

    – Possibly acknowledge type-in listings/magazines as an early game distribution method. Don’t know if it muddies the waters though. Contributors were paid a lump, and magazine was a publisher/gatekeeper that recovered costs on unit sales. Early use of the ‘bundle’ principle.

    – Not sure the Gilead/Pharmasset example really works. Yes, Gilead get the ongoing money without developing the product, but they are recovering the money they paid for Pharmasset which in turn goes to paying Pharmasset’s development costs. So Gilead’s income is indirectly paying Pharmasset’s development cost. The problem is that the income goes on waaaaaaaay beyond paying for the original development. Unfortunately I can’t think of a better example off the top of my head. There’s Disney’s use of (public domain) fairy tales, which they have subsequently tried to enforce as their IP, but that’s copyright not patent.

    – I found the price/demand curve a bit confusing at first. It would have made more sense with the axes swapped.

    I find videogame economics fascinating, having worked as a game programmer who is now effectively priced out of the market. There’s definitely a massive dose of luck involved in success, and always has been. When you work in games you can see the graveyard. A quality game is necessary, but not sufficient.

  13. Hello CdrJameson, some great points!

    * I’ll think about the type in listings but… I don’t think it adds anything as my focus is how to make games your primary income. No one ever thought about trying to live off those, listings right? I’ll bear it mind though, it might prove useful at some point.

    *Gilead did not take on the risk and that’s a crucial point, they picked up a winner that they did not take the risk on – if the drug failed, Pharmasset would have swallowed that. To me it’s an example of someone taking on no risk and using patents to charge rent. If that doesn’t come across maybe it does need to be reworded.

    * Ah the old demand curve axes chestnut! Economists have the axes this way around because they consider price to be dependent on demand (function of market). When the demand curve is used in this way, no one swaps the axes. But you know what, maybe I should. Maybe I should be the first person to do it because God damn it – it is confusing this way around. However I’ll have to think about whether it’s still helpful in Chapter V which goes into F2P which is all about the demand curve.

    Thank you for reading and passing on your feedback. Feel free to respond to my responses to your responses. I’ll probably respond in kind.

  14. Interestingly this possibility to infringe the boudaries of projected world is what I find fascinating about such videogame exploration. Sure, it can become very meta, the immersion is totally destroyed (and I suppose, I won’t be able to become this immersion in ETS2 anymore, knowing that behind those beautiful hills, in the invisible area, there are nothing but void). You see things you weren’t supposed to see, i.e. no easter eggs or hidden message, just unprogrammed things. I love questioning reality. :-)

    But this meta perception becomes fictional narrative as far as I begin to build my own story about the desintegrated world I discover. I often use games as templates for very different stories and interpretations, which are neither intended by game makers, nor are popular among other players. I did it for example with Jedi Knight games.

  15. Hi Joel,

    Overall I was very engaged by it and those points did feel very minor.

    On the Gilead front, their risk was in paying a fixed amount for Pharmasset and hoping to get it back on the unit sales. If it had flopped then they’d have carried the loss, so it wasn’t completely risk free (and if it was so easy then Pharmasset was under-valued). It’s a good point, but I can’t help feeling there must be a stronger example.

    Tools/engines might be another area worth mentioning. During a gold rush there’s good money in shovels, although recently even that has succumbed to the race-to-cheap (and was always risky – I’ve worked for both an engine developer and commercial games technology spin-off which are no longer with us).

    Also the traditional platforms supported the higher cost model through more gatekeeping, retaining a veto on what could be published and setting high licencing costs. No surprise really that the explosion of stuff comes on the breakthrough platforms of mobile and PC which don’t have such barriers to entry.

  16. “But it seems we have competition for Matt W another commenter who likes going off topic.”

    Aw man, I was going to pretend to warn him against it. But since you’ve brought up going off topic, I was thinking about how Unmechanical is a little like Tengami–I mean, not much at all, it’s far better, but it does have lush visuals that slow the pace too much–and then that I could say that maybe it’s a reverse Tengami, which is to say, “I, Magnet.”

    Also I read your book chapters. They’re very good!

  17. More on topic, the Digital Antiquarian just put up an account of the fall of the original Activision/Mediagenic in which a prominent role is played by an astonishing videogame patent issue. Don’t know if that would exactly slot into the Pharmasset/Gilead spot.

    IMO the issue may not be so much Gilead getting paid for Pharmasset’s work as that the patent laws combine with the US’s absurd system of health insurance to encourage pharmaceutical companies to jack the prices as high as they can possibly get away with, which go well beyond the level required to recoup their developments costs as well as beyond the level that there would be if there were any sort of competition in the markets (which is difficult to encourage, for the reasons you mention in your discussion of patents). This is particularly true in the US because our public insurance systems are forbidden by law from negotiating drug prices down (look for an article called “The politics of medicare and drug-price negotiation”). As you probably know some people such as Joseph Stiglitz have proposed that drug development be funded by a prize system instead of by patents.

  18. I only get one link per post, I think, so here’s a piece about Gilead’s decision as to what price to put on their drug. The goal was to charge as much as possible without getting insurers to stop carrying it, and in fact they overshot the mark some. This, as they acknowledge, leads to many people being unable to afford the drug.

  19. Phillips’ use of the Maganavox/Baer patent was particularly egregious, because Philips didn’t even make a games console most of the time (Even with the videopac and CD-i there’s a massive gap from ’84 to ’91). Just because you’ve got a patent doesn’t mean you have to use it.

  20. Sorry about going dark in the comments the last couple of days and apologies this response might be rambly. The questions posed about the Pharmasset patent example require a lot of thought – the whole book has been like this, where sometimes a single sentence can blow out a whole paragraph. The book has been the anti-blog; whereas I can put out a blog and react to comments, creating the kind of nice progression that takes us from Arithmophobia to Arithmophobia II, the book has felt like it needed to be more grounded and concrete. There is a lot of material on the editing room floor that received hours of writerly love but probably won’t see the light of day.

    So I haven’t had time to sit down and think on it yet as I’ve been spending all my time working on building the eBook in a different way… and, reader, I married him. Actually, I want a divorce. Whenever you do something for the first time it takes forever and a day and I’m making an eBook for the first time, boom. Later chapters will be way easier because all of this will be sorted out. I have this awesome Python script which was originally designed for populating references but has exploded into a full-blown HTML conversion thingy. Although the road to this point has been incredibly hard, I’m really excited to rip into Chapter III as I already have a lot of interview material waiting to be put into use.

    I saw Jimmy Maher’s latest piece pop up in my RSS feeds and thought, oh for god damn hell almighty, why has this appeared like NOW? And why is it so LONG? To my chagrin, I never heard of the Baer patent before and Maher’s write-up was eye-opening. I read it just this morning on the way in to work even though I was sleepy because it seemed more important to digest this before finalising the draft for public release.

    One of the points that gave me pause is that Maher establishes that patents do not cover “ideas” but “implementations”. He is completely right (although curiously “wrong” as he exposes the batshit pioneer patent perspective) but I don’t think I have to bridge this schism aside from perhaps careful with language. I don’t want to be too thorough in this area as the patent/copyright discussion is to develop how games do not really have price protection that Romer says is necessary. Although I do touch on it, cloning is for much, much later in the book.

    I’m trying to figure out whether I want to keep the Pharmasset example because I think it’s dope or because of the sunk cost fallacy. See, until just a few months ago, “The Death of Ideas” was titled “The Drug of Choice” and I’d initially planned more comparisons with pharmaceuticals but that didn’t survive. (Also the focus on choice aspect was ejected into Ch III where it has a more natural home – and Chapter II was already quite a beast.) I have a mountain of documents on the pharma sector. (Shkreli’s exploitation of Daraprim was incredible, but that situation was about market cornering because the patent had expired.)

    Matt, that’s a really interesting link on Gilead, and I was struck by the line “Gilead said it didn’t consider research and development expenses in pricing Sovaldi or Harvoni” which, as professed in the book, is a normal state of affairs – you cannot price according to R&D (although pharma markets have a far better understanding of potential sales). You can sense the feeling that in the article that this is “unfair” but doesn’t consider the reverse case where, despite having the monopoly, you can barely claw back your R&D cost from the market. Also: “Pharmasset had assigned a “placeholder price” of $36,000 for Sovaldi and another $36,000 for a second antiviral drug, for a total of $72,000″ which, although not absolving Gilead because they doubled the Sovaldi course, does show that the price was still crazy compared to what it would have been sans acquisition.

    CdrJameson, I think Gilead perceived a low risk with regards Pharmasset even though the drug had yet to go through proper trials (they acquired in 2011 after initial human testing but FDA only approved in 2013). But its the principal of big business cherry picking likely winners and turning them into cash cows that I find repulsive: they might have taken on *some* risk but it’s the same risk as originating . There’s are several similar patterns in the indie space, but I’d rather not spill all my thoughts this early :) I’m still pondering whether to drop or keep the example. Maybe pharma is too messy, as Matt highlights, because it crosses into healthcare management which is not the same as “buying furniture”…

    As for tools, it was in the back of my mind (I had a comment from David Fox here on this very site about the gold rush and makers of spades getting rich) but I’ve never spotted exactly see how it bolsters the goal of the book aside from being an interesting sidenote. (A similar example is regional pricing variance which which I had something to say about in Ch II but being of such vanishing signficance to the overall picture, it may not appear at all.)

    The issue of gatekeepers protecting high prices is… tricksy. It really comes down to production costs being non-zero so gatekeepers have to make decisions about what to support; I’m trying to establish that you can’t fight the economics and trad gatekeepers were just an (exploitative) response to production cost. Today, though, when digital distributors decide who to support the considerations are quite different and it begins to look like artificial scarcity. There are a ton of issues here and this discussion is probably going to turn up in The Knife Party chapter although there’s an outside chance it gets sucked into Ch III. You might start to see how Ch II was so, so difficult to cut down to a reasonable size – the story keeps spilling out into different areas!

    Thank you for all the responses (some of which have been submitted privately). As you can see, it’s put me in the position of having to justify my words- and that is incredibly valuable.

    So briefly, back to Merzmensch! I just want to be clear that I was not invalidating how you make use of games in this way, deliberately smashing their boundaries any way you can, just that it doesn’t usually pique my interest as much as working within established limits. And we do know that transgressing the rules is, sometimes, the only way to make a game “playable” – e.g. where the game rules are kind of rubbish, like Monopoly, or games that beg for transgression like B.U.T.T.O.N..

    Matt, we *still* haven’t gone back to Tengami. My daughter wants to see more but my son has zero interest.

  21. I’m confused – were the teaser chapters sent out to the usual newsletter mailing list? The last newsletter i got was The Water Downstream.

  22. P. C. – I’ve followed up in email!

  23. Wow, that was fast! Thank You!

  24. What I’d really, really like to see is more chapters!

  25. Thanks CdrJameson! I’m feeling invigorated and want to get properly cracking on assembling Ch 3! You’ll see more words from Jake Birkett and Andrew Smith as well as an RPS staff member and William Chyr. I have to do a second interview with Raigan Burns also (the first doesn’t appear until Ch IV).

    But I have to get this round finished. The discussion here has been more helpful than I think anyone would realise.

    Going to take a break after next week though, I have been working on the book (overhauling how it gets produced) every night since I sent it out in the newsletter.


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