Monday, 31 August 2009

Video game publisher experiments with Radiohead release model

For once, some news that makes me entirely grateful that I don't have a top of the range computer: the developers of hellishly addictive football management simulation Championship Manager have made the latest edition downloadable for as little as 1p (+ £2.50 transaction charge) until its full release on 10th September.

Now, already I've wasted countless hours of my life on past incarnations of the wretched thing, and with Eidos seemingly going down the Radiohead release route this time around, I doubt the part of my brain that apparently hates me and wishes me ill would have kept quiet for long - "No harm in just giving it a quick try..." I can hear it whispering. "I mean, it's only one pence - how can you not? What? Oh, shush - having a life is so overrated..."

Saved, for once, by a rubbish graphics card.

But what that sorry scenario goes to prove, besides that I'm pathetically lacking in self discipline, is that with this new release model they're probably on to something.

Firstly, the price might tempt recovering users, like myself, into a relapse. But more than that, I'd be surprised if it doesn't actually improve profits, rather than see Eidos lose money.

Like Radiohead, Championship Manager already enjoys huge acclaim within its own particular field, not to mention an army of loyal obsessives who'll buy pretty much any release. And with this latest move Eidos can at the very least appear to be giving something back to them, for their years of support. However, factor in the publicity they'll have generated by becoming the first publisher to attempt a pay-what-you-like option, plus the later switch to a full price release, and the introduction of a new gameplay feature which requires a £5 payment to receive data updates at six intervals during the present football season (and the next one? and the next one? etc.), and it's not hard to see the commercial sense.

Most importantly, though, in trying this new release model Championship Manager could well steal a march on its closest rival, Football Manager - the game which many diehard Championship Manager fans still regard as the true Championship Manager (a few years back, the original creators split with Eidos, retaining the original base code and database of the game, but not the brand name or its interface) - and also perhaps grab back some of the original audience.

What might be most interesting, though, is to see a) how many other established video game brands try the Radiohead experiment, but also b) what potential it might have in combating piracy. As a distribution model, it's almost directly competitive on price, similarly convenient, arguably builds goodwill and loyalty, and may prove an effective loss-leader/trojan horse for selling later add-ons and updates. But as has been argued of In Rainbows, perhaps this is an option that's only viable for the already popular?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Being Oprah Winfrey. Or Patrick Bateman. Or just a bit grumpy, really.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be Oprah Winfrey? Or Stephen Fry? Or even the estimable Dr Samuel Johnson? Well, tough. You'll probably never find out. What with not actually being them and all. But still, thanks to a new site called cTwittLike it's not impossible to get at least a tiny glimpse of life through their eyes. Or at least a glimpse of the feed on their Twitter homepage.

Cheerfully blurring the line between stalker and follower ever further, cTwittLike lets anyone type in a celeb Twitterer and see what all their followers are saying - almost as if you're IN THEIR HEAD! Seeing everything their ghost-Twitterer's seeing! RIGHT NOW!


Frankly, it sounds horrific. Like some kind of portal to bleak lonely psychotic delusion - which reminds me, I passed through Luton once.

But you don't have to use cTwittLike to look at the Twitter feeds of celebs, and feel all inadequate at the exciting and accomplished lives of their exciting and accomplished friends. If you're a star, you could always use it to see what it's like to be a copywriter complaining about having to think of yet another way to say "In the present economic climate" for the umpteenth time...

But that's never going to happen.

Anyway, back on the theme of voyeurism and inadequacy in the face of the accomplished, apparently there's now a site for exhibitionist job seekers, called Resume Race. Yes, that's right, people can now read, rate and comment on the CVs of others - or submit their own for judgement. It's basically competitive joblessness.

Well, OK, it's probably not like that at all; it's probably a perfectly useful place for getting crowd-sourced feedback on your CV, whether you're employed or otherwise...

But just why call it Resume Race?

It sounds like somewhere a latterday Patrick Bateman might go to brag about the fabulous career that's slowly eaten away his soul. When actually what you're really supposed to do is simply rate yourself in various categories and then see just how big of a gap other people reckon there is between your self image and your CV - and either ignore it enitrely, since you just know you're brilliant anyway, or tweak your CV to more accurately match up to your own towering ego. Which doesn't make we want to despair of humanity nearly as much, oh no. It makes me want to despair of humanity almost as much.

But anyway, let's end with something nice:, a collection of physics-based browser games. Well, I say nice. This one only made me despair of myself, rather than the whole of humanity, and only because I'm rubbish at physics and easily addicted - a fatally time-sapping combination on sites like this, if ever there was one. Even despairing of yourself can be quite cheering sometimes, though - what with everything being relative, and all that. As Einstein actually didn't say. Not that that bit of knowledge will ever help you rescue a frozen viking.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Backing up and the trouble with short URLs

40% of everything on Twitter is 'pointless babble', according to a new study by Pear Analytics,* with only 8.7% of tweets having 'pass-along value'. (The company neglected to comment on the possible existence of babble that has a point).

Despite these statistics, however, the existence of services such as BackUpMyTweets (among other options) suggests that at least some of those tweeting their babble (pointless or otherwise) may want to preserve it for future reference. Especially as there seems to be some doubt as to how long Twitter will store your tweets, or at the very least regarding how long tweets remain easily accessible and searchable. Indeed, you might want to back up your other online accounts too, just in case. But are these back up services capturing everything? Well, no, not quite.

The problem - as highlighted by the recent ructions over - which first died, then decided it felt a bit better, then finally dispersed into the universal consciousness (or something like that) - is with URL shorteners. What, if anything, is being done to back up their databases? Or to put it another way, is the connection between, say, and (or between signifier and signified, if you want to get all structuralist about it) being recorded anywhere, besides (in this case) on's servers?

Actually, I do want to get a bit structuralist about it, as it turns out. Because perhaps one way of looking at it is that URL shorteners, at present, represent a threat to the future relationship between what we are saying now and to what we are referring. A potential glitch in the language of history.

With the internet and social networks playing an increasingly significant role in current events themselves, as well as in recording them as they happen, and indeed with short URLs being employed by offline news media to reference the online world, it seems increasingly important that something is done to preserve the semantic relationships these URL services create. After all, on one level, the net is essentially a gigantic, complex, system of languages. A modern day Babel that somehow works.

Of course the net has always had to contend with broken hyperlinks. But a short URL deprived of its reference is something else again - a broken link at least hints at where it was supposed to lead, but a short URL is arbitrary. It isn't even a code that can eventually be cracked, just a random alphanumeric sequence assigned to whatever standard URL a user has fed into it.

Happily, though, a group called now seems to be attempting to deal with the problem. As yet, all we have to view is a homepage containing slightly opaque bits of blurb, but what the group appears to be aiming at is something a bit like the Internet Archive, but for short URLs.

Already, though, the project isn't without controversy - the people behind dispute the altrusim of 301works, hence their decision to release their code and database to the open source community, rather than signing up. But at the very least it seems that the issue is now on the collective radar and might soon be addressed - and lets hope it is, or much more than 40% of Twitter might one day be pointless babble; never mind various other parts of the net.

Still, if you really want to be certain about backing up your every online utterance, maybe you could do your own shortening? (Or, then again, maybe not. Life's plenty short enough already).

*Based on a highly representative sample... of, er, 2,000 tweets. Probably mostly from people bored at work, given the times and days they were selected.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

To catch a plagiarist

When you see a story of plagiarism these days it's not so much that the act took place that surprises you, more that the person in question thought that she could get away with it - especially when it seems the work she plagiarised was sourced from the web.

Samantha Beeston is an award-winning textile designer, and recent graduate. By all accounts, she seems to be going places. Well done her.

Except... well... various images that won her her prizes, as well as quite a number that until recently were posted on her personal website, were never hers in the first place. Instead they belonged to, and indeed were created by Lauren Nassef, a Chicago-based illustrator.

Fine. This is a mash-up culture now, you might be tempted to say, and she seems to be of the generation that has grown up with such things, so has she simply repurposed Lauren Nassef's images for use within a different medium? Have they, for instance, been cleverly juxtaposed with images of her own, or even someone else's, to make some kind of political point or original art? Artistic fair use, and all that?

Well, no. If only.

Just take a look at this page, if you haven't done so already. A minor colour change here, a new combination of Lauren's images there, but that's about as close to appropriation as it gets. It's such straightforward copying that it's hard to imagine even Samantha Beeston thought she was performing some kind of mash-up; though, as yet, it doesn't appear she's commented.

But what interests this blog most is not her motivations, so much as the possibility that while making plagiarism much easier than it used to be, the internet might also, to some degree, be self-righting in these matters - thanks, in part, to the sheer number of its users, but also, in the fields of art and design at least, to the continued success and proliferation of design and inspiration blogs.

These sites make it their mission to seek out fresh images, ideas and inventions in any and every field of art or design, with the intention of inspiring other creative people, again, in whatever creative field. Thus anything new and interesting, such as textile design awards, will pretty quickly come to the attention of all manner of people - all of them with a personal and professional interest in originality and integrity.

Perhaps also the same might be true of music now, given the popularity of MP3 blogs? Or even creative writing, with all kinds of journals, magazines and writers' groups existing online?

Doubtless much plagiarism goes unnoticed - and who knows what can be done about this, since by definition it's going unnnoticed. But does that matter? Perhaps the majority of plagiarism that goes unnoticed is just not very noteworthy, not very profitable? And of the succesful plagiarism: while rectifying matters in the short term could be tortuous for the original creator, what useful attention might their work be attracting during the fallout?

That's the optimistic point of view, of course, and there's every chance someone will point me to a horror story in the comments. Nonetheless, maybe in the old maxim that 'in the stealing of what's worthwhile the succesful plagiarist shall always be unmasked' there lies at least a grain of truth?*

Thanks to @laurasnapes for tweeting the original link.

*Actually it might not be an old maxim, I might have just made it up. But since I equally well might have just remembered it from somewhere, and this is a blogpost about plagiarism, let's call it old.