Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 10, 2019

candlelightHere’s where jurisprudence meets our every day lives (and safety) and here is also where PG&E is severely deluded and fast becoming a menace. There is actually no hope for this company. Let’s explore.

California Fire Danger Forecasting

“Officials” in California (not sure exactly to which specific organization is referred here) predicted the possibility of high winds, which could spark wildfires. This happened earlier the week of October 7 (or possibly earlier). As I said, these are “predictions”. Yet, as far as I can see, no strong winds have come to pass… a completely separate issue, but it is heavily tied to this story.

Yet, PG&E has taken it upon themselves to begin powering off areas of Northern California in “preparation” for these “predictions”… not because of an actual wind event. If the high winds had begun to materialize, then yes, perhaps mobilize and begin the power shut offs. Did PG&E wait for this? No, they did it anyway.

What exactly is Public Safety?

In the context of modern society, pretty much everything today relies on electric power generation to operate our public safety infrastructure. This infrastructure includes the likes of traffic lights to street lights to hospitals to medical equipment to refrigeration. All of these need power to function and keep the public safe. To date, we have come to rely on monopoly services like PG&E to provide these energy delivery services. Yet, what happens when the one and only one thing that PG&E is supposed to do and they can’t even do it?

Granted, what PG&E has done is intentional, but the argument is, “Are the PG&E power outages in the best interest of public safety?” Let’s explore this even further.

PG&E claims that these power outages will reduce the possibility of a wildfire. Well, that might be true from a self-centered perspective of PG&E as a corporation. After all, they’ve been tapped several times for legal liability over recent wildfire events. They’ve even had to declare bankruptcy to cover those costs incurred as a result. We’ll come to the reason behind this issue a little bit later. However, let’s stay focused on the Public Safety aspect for the moment.

PG&E claims it is in the best public safety interest to shut down its power grid. Yet, let’s explore that thought rationale. Sure, this outage action might reduce the possibility of sparking from a power line, but what it doesn’t take into account is the reduction in and lack of public safety from all of the other normal-everyday-public-safety mechanisms which have also had their power cut. As I said, street lights, traffic lights, hospitals, medical equipment, 911 services, airports and refrigeration.

The short term effect of shutting the power off might save some lives (based on a fire prediction that might not even come true), but then there are other lives which might be lost as a result of the power being shut off for days. Keep in mind that PG&E claims it might take up to 5 days to restore power after this scheduled power off event. That’s a long time to be without standard regular public safety mechanisms (simply ignoring the high wind advisory).

If PG&E has been found responsible for wildfires, then why aren’t they responsible for these incidental deaths that wouldn’t have occurred if the power had remained on. Worse, what about medical equipment and refrigeration? For people who rely on medical equipment to sustain their lives, what about these folks? How many of these could die from this outage? If it truly takes 5 days to get the power back on, what about the foods being sold at restaurants and grocery stores? If you do trust it, you might get sick… very, very sick… as in food poisoning sick. Who is responsible for that? The retailer or the restaurant?

Sure, I guess to some degree it is the retailer / restaurant. They should have thrown the food out and replaced it with fresh foods. Even then, perhaps the distributors were also affected by the outage. We can’t really know how far the food spoilage chain might go. At the root of all of this, though, it is PG&E who chose to cut the power. How many people might die as a result of PG&E force shutting off the power grid versus how many might potentially die if a wildfire ignites?

I’ve already heard there have been a number of traffic accidents because the power has been cut to traffic lights. It’s not a common occurrence to have the power out on intersections. When it does happen, many motorists don’t know the rules… and worse, they simply don’t pay attention to follow them. They just blast on through the intersection. Again, who is responsible for this? The city? No. In this case, it is truly PG&E’s responsibility. The same for food poisoning as a result of the lack of refrigeration. What about the death of someone because their medicine spoiled without refrigeration?

Trading One Evil For Another

Truly, PG&E is playing with fire. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The reality is, either way, shutting off electricity or leaving it on, PG&E risks the public’s safety. They are simply trading one set of public safety for another. Basically, they are “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” By trying to thwart the possibility of setting an accidental wildfire, the outage can cause traffic accidents, deaths in hospitals, create food poisoning circumstances and this list goes on and on. When there is no power, this is real danger. Sometimes immediate danger, sometimes latent danger (food poisoning) which may present weeks later.

The reality is, it is PG&E who is responsible for this. PG&E “thinks” (and this is the key word here) that they are being proactive to prevent forest fires. In reality, they’re creating even more public safety issues by cutting the power off indiscriminately.

Cutting Power Off Sanely?

The first problem was in warning the public. PG&E came up with this plan with too short of a notice. The public was not properly notified in advance. If this outage scenario were on the table of options for PG&E to pursue during the wildfire season, this information should have been disseminated early in the summer. People could have had several months to prepare for this eventuality. Instead of notifying months ahead, they chose to notify at a moment’s notice forcing a cram situation when everyone floods the stores and gas stations trying to keep their homes in power and prepare. At the bare minimum, PG&E should be held responsible for inciting public frenzy. Instead, with proper planning and notification, people could have had several months notice to buy generators, stock up on water, buy a propane fridge, buy a propane stove, prep their fridges and freezers, and so on.

With a propane fridge, many people can still have refrigeration in their home during an extended (up to 7 day) power outage. This prevents both spoilage of foods and of medicines. Unfortunately, when it comes to crunch time notices, supplies and products run out quick. Manufacturers don’t build products for crunch time. They build for limited people to buy over a short period of time. Over several months, these manufacturers could have ramped up production for such a situation, but that can’t happen overnight. PG&E was entirely remiss with this notification. For such drastic knee-jerk actions to public safety, it needs to notify the public months in advance of this possibility. This is public menace situation #1.

Indiscriminate Power Outages

Here’s a second big problem with PG&E’s outage strategy. PG&E can’t pick and choose its outages. Instead, its substations cover whole swatches of areas which may include such major public safety issues as traffic lights and hospitals, let alone restaurants and grocery stores whose food is likely to spoil.

If PG&E could sanely turn off power to only specific businesses and residences without risking the power to hospitals, cell phone infrastructure, 911 and traffic infrastructure, then perhaps PG&E’s plan might be in a better shape. Unfortunately, PG&E’s outage strategy is a sledgehammer approach. “Let’s just shut it all down.”, I can almost hear them say. Dangerous! Perhaps even more long term dangerous than the possibility of not setting a wildfire. Who’s to say? This creates public menace situation #2.

Sad Infrastructure

Unfortunately, this whole situation seems less about public safety and more about CYA. PG&E has been burned (literally) several times over the last few wildfire seasons. In fact, they were both literally and monetarily burned so hard that this is less about actual public safety and more about covering PG&E’s legal butt. Even then, as I said above, PG&E isn’t without legal liability simply because they decided to cut the power to thwart a wildfire. In fact, while the legal liability might not be for causing a wildfire, instead it might be for incidental deaths created by outages at intersections, by deaths created in hospitals and in homes due to medical equipment failure, by deaths created via food spoilage in restaurants and grocery stores… and even food spoilage or lack of medical care in the home.

The reality behind PG&E’s woes is not tied to its supposedly proactive power outage measures, it is actually tied to its aging infrastructure. Instead of being proactive and replacing its wires to be less prone to sparking (what it should have been doing for the last 10 years or more), it has done almost nothing in this area. Instead of cutting back brush around its equipment, it has resorted to turning the power off. Its liability in wildfires is almost directly attributable to relying on infrastructure created and installed decades ago by the likes of Hetch Hetchy (and other early electric infrastructure builders) back in the early 1900s. I’m not saying that every piece of this infrastructure is nearly 100 years old, but some of it is. That’s something to think about right there.

PG&E does carry power from Hetch Hetchy to its end users via Hetch Hetchy generation facilities, but more importantly, through PG&E’s monopoly electric lines to its end users. PG&E also generates its own electricity from its own facilities. It also carries power from other generation providers like SVCE. The difficulty with PG&E is its monopoly in end user delivery. No other company is able to deliver power to PG&E’s end user territory, leaving consumers with only ONE commercial choice to power their home. End users can opt to install their own in-home energy generation systems such as solar, wind or even diesel generators (when the city allows), but that’s not a “commercial” provider like PG&E.

Because PG&E has the market sewn up, everyone who uses PG&E is at their mercy to provide solid continuous power… that is, until they don’t. This is public menace situation #3.

Legal Troubles

I’m surprised that PG&E has even decided to use this strategy considering its risky nature. To me, this forced power outage strategy seems as big a liability in and of itself as it does against wildfires.

PG&E is assigned one task: Deliver Power. If it can’t do this, then PG&E needs to step aside and let another company more experienced in to replace PG&E’s dominance in power delivery. If PG&E can’t even be bothered to update its aging equipment, which is at the heart of this entire problem, then it definitely needs to step aside and let a new company start over. Sure, a new company will take time to set it all up, but once it’s going, PG&E can quietly wind down and go away… which may happen anyway considering both its current legal troubles and its bankruptcy.

The state should, likewise, allow parties significantly impacted by this forced power outage (i.e., death or injury) to bring lawsuits against PG&E for its improperly planned and indiscriminately executed power outage. Except, because PG&E is still in bankruptcy court, consumers who are wronged by this outage must stand in line behind all of those who are already in line at PG&E’s bankruptcy court. I’m not even sure why the bankruptcy judge would have even allowed this action by PG&E while still in bankruptcy. Considering the possibility of significant additional legal liabilities incurred by this forced outage, the bankruptcy judge should have foreseen this and denied its action. It’s almost like PG&E execs are all, “F-it, we’ll just turn it all off and if they want to sue us, they’ll have to get in line.” This malicious level of callous disregard for public safety needs much more state and legal scrutiny. The bankruptcy judge should have had a say over this action by PG&E. That they didn’t, this makes public menace situation number 4, thus truly making PG&E an official public safety menace and a nuisance.

Updated 10/11/2019 — Clarification

I’ve realized that while one point was made in the article, it wasn’t explicitly called out.  To clarify this point, let’s explore. Because PG&E acted solely on a predicted forecast and didn’t wait for the wind event to actually begin, PG&E’s actions egregiously disregarded public safety. As I said in the main body of the article above, PG&E traded one “predicted” public safety event for actual real incurred public safety events. By proceeding to shut down the power WITHOUT the predicted wind event manifesting, PG&E acted recklessly towards public safety. As a power company, their sole reason to exist is to provide power and maintain that public safety. By summarily shutting down power, not only did they fail to provide the one thing they are in business to do, they shut the power down for reasons other than for fire safety. As I stated above, this point is the entire reason that PG&E is now an official menace to the public.

↩︎

 

One Year Later: Has Fallout 76 improved?

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 1, 2019

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsSeeing that Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game and that Bethesda heavily enjoys its revisionist tendencies, this question arises about not only this game, but about revisionism in video games in general. It’s ironic then that this simple brown paper bag has come to represent everything wrong with Fallout 76. Has Fallout 76 gotten any better in nearly one year since its release? Let’s explore.

Revisionism in Entertainment

There’s something to be said for revisionism. As many entertainment products today are delivered digitally and are now also being created digitally these days, this opens the door to revisionism. The difficulty with changing stuff is that what we initially purchased is not what that thing is today. Whether it be a movie, a book, TV series or even a video game. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened in the music industry so far.

Throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, visual and literary entertainment was always set in stone. Heck, this idea goes back into the renaissance with such works as the Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Though, even then there were controversies with some clergy deciding that fig leaves needed to be added to certain artworks, thus forcing a revision. These instances were rare and usually happened while the work was in progress. However, sometimes a second artist might be commissioned later to paint fig leaves. What that usually meant was, what you saw when it first arrived is the same thing you’ll still see today. Unfortunately, too many entertainment makers see revisionism as something to make their product better, but does it? Can changing the content of a book, movie or video game a year or two later actually make it better?

This is up for debate. What it does is make the entertainment become a cloudy and murky experience. What you fondly remember about the product and experience could be completely invalidated because a creator later decides to completely rework large portions and change what you remembered most.

In fact, many people remember works for certain specific things that happened within. If revisionist changes remove or alter those specific sections so that they are no longer in the work, you may have modified what people remembered about your product. And this is the fundamental problem. Such revisionism can actually make a product worse. Fallout 76 is a poster child for this problem.

Editing for Correction

Now, I’m not against basic editing. In a written work, if you misspell a word, need to correct grammatical errors or word omissions, these are perfectly acceptable changes. If the dialog in a film is misspoken or acted in a less than professional and convincing way, I’m fine with a reshoot and reedit so long as the dialog and scene remains functionally equivalent. These are all edits that make sense in the context of a body of work. They don’t substantially alter the work, they simply polish it. Polishing a work to make at work the most professional it can be is perfectly acceptable.

However, changing a work by adding substantial content, altering the story, changing the outcome, changing the setups, changing the rules and so on, these are not simple corrections. These change the fundamental story outcome. These substantial changes are considered revisionism and are way outside the bounds of simple corrections. That would be like someone deciding to change the Mona Lisa’s smile on the original painting simply because they think it is too vague. You just don’t do this to the original work. Sure, you can create a derivation of that work and publish it separately, but you should never alter the original work by substantially changing its content.

For this reason in the art community, there’s a lot of controversy about “cleaning up” historical works of art that have layers of dirt, dust and debris on the surface. The “clean up” process could amount to changing the fundamental work rather than being a simple cleanup. The chemicals used might even long term damage the work. It means someone has to take liquids to the work, clean off the “dirty” layers and expose the “clean fresh” layers. The difficulty is, by doing this it may remove original content intended to be there by the original artist. With older works where the artist is no longer living, we cannot consult them for how to best “clean” their works. It’s all best guess. Modifying and cleaning these works may make them look better, but does it fundamentally alter the content? This is the contentious and controversial part… and it is exactly this controversial part that applies to ALL works when they are revised.

Reuse of Assets in Video Games

Video games are both entertainment and works of art. In fact, it takes a lot of graphical art content created by teams of artists to release a video game. Such art includes texture maps which get layered onto 3D objects. These maps make the objects appear naturalistic and real. Granted, some of the art is scanned from actual nature… such as tree leaves scanned in from real trees to create realistic trees in a 3D landscape. Even skin surfaces are likely scanned from actual human skin. However, some texture maps are hand crafted, stylistic art. These are the truest art in every sense of the word.

Revisionism in texture map art isn’t really a big problem in the video game world. In fact, once these “assets” have been created, it’s more likely a video game publisher will overuse these assets rather than modify them. By ‘overuse’ I mean reuse them not only in the original game, but future games also. I’m sure the devs think, “Why recreate the wheel with every new game?” Instead, reusing assets that already exist makes sense in some limited cases. Reuse also costs less development money.

On the other hand, reusing too many assets from a previous work makes your current work seem less than original. That would be tantamount to an author taking whole passages from a novel and copying and pasting them into a new novel. After all, if they worked in the old novel, why wouldn’t they work in the new novel? At least, that’s the thinking. The problem that creators overlook is that consumers can easily spot these reuses. Consumers can overlook small reuses of words and phrases in a novel, particularly if a specific character has a peculiar speech idiosyncrasy when using those words and phrases. In this specific case, it adds to character development. However, there’s a fine line between reusing words and phrases to make a character development point and plagiarizing your own past works. Consumers do recognize large plagiaristic reuses and judge the work’s merit accordingly.

Fallout 76

Here is where we come to the crux of this article and Fallout 76. Fallout 76 is a completely hosted, online video game world. It is also a world almost entirely derived from Fallout 4 with only the terrain, cities and landscape being different, but at the same time entirely reusing nearly every Fallout 4 asset and even the game engine itself.

Fallout 76 is also a world where nothing except assets and visual and audio data exists on your computer device. It is a game where only the rendering occurs on your device. The actual game world itself resides remotely on servers that Bethesda owns and operates. Even your character and saved game exists not on your computer, but on Bethesda’s server. If Bethesda shuts down the Fallout 76 service, so too does your character disappear along with all of the time you spent creating that character. Unlike Fallout 4 where your saved games live on your device and you can reload and play the game years later, Fallout 76 is beholden to Bethesda to remain in business for this game service to continue to exist. If Bethesda were to fold or shut the game down, Fallout 76 would cease to exist along with all of the work and time you spent with your character. All you’ll have left is a bulky game client on your device with no where to connect. Only videos or screen shots you may have of your game progress saved on your local device will be there to remember what that game was. I should point out that in Fallout 4, if you use mods, you should also make sure you have a saved game without mods. If Bethesda shuts down entirely, so too does Bethesda.net. This means that you will not be able to unload or remove mods as long as Bethesda.net remains down. So, make sure you have a vanilla save of your character without any mods loaded in case this eventuality occurs (side note). While Fallout 4 is playable without Internet, Fallout 76 is entirely dependent on it.

What that also means is that because the Fallout 76 engine runs remotely, it means Bethesda can roll out wholesale changes to the product at will and at any time. And, unfortunately, they perform this revisionism regularly. However, they’re not performing this revisionism in a way that makes ‘editing’ sense.

Earlier I discussed simple editing that allows for polishing a product. Unfortunately, that’s not what Bethesda is doing with its Fallout 76 revisionism. Instead of polishing Fallout 76 to fix basic bugs, glitches and improve the basic performance and fundamental user experience, Bethesda is adding large new sections of content and changing the rules of the game. The added content is over and above (and outside) of the context of the original game story as it was released. In fact, most of the additional content that Bethesda has so far added has not impacted the base original game. Even though this is still a form of revisionism, it revises the work by adding new stuff, but at the expense of not correcting basic problems within the original game… and not expanding the game in actually meaningful Fallout-themed ways.

“Where is the game today?”, you ask. Great question. Fallout 76’s original “Adventure Mode’s” fundamental game experience is still the same as it was when it launched (as lackluster as it is), bugs and all. Unfortunately, to add many of the new additions to the game, Bethesda has had to tinker with some of the fundamental game mechanics and rules that operate the base game. What that has meant to the game is broken, changed and altered base game playability. This means that for Bethesda to add these inconsequential new features, it has broken even more pieces of a game which where formerly fully working… in addition to the broken features that have not yet been fixed. They’ve even introduced newly broken features.

And here is where Fallout 76 is today. Instead of Bethesda focusing on simple basic editing to correct fundamental and original game flaws to make the original gaming experience better, it has decided to focus almost solely on adding new content to the game in an attempt to attract new consumers. In that process it has broken even more of the game rather than fixing original broken functionality. It is an entirely flawed rationale.

While Bethesda’s changes may seem to bring in new players for the short term, the difficulty is that these newly added game additions have severely limited play value. In fact, these additions have such limited play value, I’d expect gamers to get tired of playing them within 1-2 weeks at most. Most give up on them in only a few days. The original game might take you a month or two to get through. Yet, these newest additions might hold someone’s interest for a week (usually less) if you’re lucky! Yeah, that’s a lot of work for such a tiny payoff. Worse, these additions do not extend or modify the original story. These are effectively “mods” that add something new, but add no value to the original game’s story or content or, indeed, expand Fallout in consequential ways. These additions are effectively end-game content. They’re tiny and almost entirely inconsequential.

Backpack

I won’t go into discussing every addition, but I will discuss this one because it offers us insight into Bethesda’s thinking. This add-on item gives the player a backpack that offers a little more carry weight based on the character’s level. A level 10 character, for example, would get fractionally more carry weight (10 points). For each 10 levels, your character will get maybe 10 more carry weight, but you’re required to toss the old backpack and recreate a new one to get the updated carry weight, thus applying all new mods again to get your new backpack back to look like your old backpack’s setup.

It’s a lot of work doing this at each 10 levels. This is one of the fundamental design problems with this game. Instead of directly allowing leveling up of existing armor and weapons, you must scrap it and recreate it anew… or find it again. If it’s Legendary, then it is stuck at whatever level it is. Most weapons and armor top out at level 50 and the perk benefits stop there. This effectively means that even if your character is level 150 or 300, you’re still wearing level 50 armor…. which effectively caps the player’s level at 50. The level cap is not based on what your character’s level is, but the maximum of your armor and your weapons. When these max out at level 50, being a level 300 player doesn’t really in any way help you. The only thing it does is means you’ve been playing the game for a long time. But, effectively your level is capped by the highest level armor and weapons you have on you.

The small backpack, I believe, tops out also at level 50 with a maximum of 60 carry weight. You can’t infinitely keep leveling up the backpack. Though, there is a large backpack that doubles this carry weight, but requires even more grinding to achieve. This means that once you reach level 50 and can craft a level 50 backpack, that’s as far as the small backpack perk goes. Sure, you can add on additions like the cooler and other perks, but all of that is still capped at the maximum level of that backpack.

Unfortunately, for the backpack, the situation gets worse. When it was first introduced, the way to get the small backpack was through a series of convoluted quest lines involving a “Boy Scout” badge-like approach. You had to get “badges”. To get these badges, you had to perform any number of varying activities. You only had to have three of a larger number of badges. Once you had three badges, you then presented yourself with your badges and a successfully completed test and you were issued the small backpack plans. So then you graduated to the Possum rank only to start this whole process all over again for a second series of grinds to get the large backpack plans.

However, later, Bethesda in its infinite revisionist tendencies decided that you could simply go find the small backpack plans in a container. No longer did you need to jump through all of the convoluted lengthy tadpole badge hoop quests. Quests, I might add that could be difficult to accomplish without a teammate. For example, to complete one of the quests, you had to “revive an ally”. What that meant is staging it with a teammate. It’s not super easy to die in Fallout 76. Even then, there are two death types. One type is an incapacitated death where a player can stimpak and revive you. The other death type offers no hope of revival. The player simply has to respawn somewhere and start over.

Staging an incapacitated death can be difficult at the best of times. Getting this specific badge meant either grinding until you ‘accidentally’ found someone in that state or staging it to get it done sooner. Staging this is harder than you might think. I’m not even sure why this was required for the badge, yet there we are. Like using liquid flux to create fusion cores, reviving an ally is a questionable requirement for this quest line. I’m not even sure what Bethesda was thinking. Some of these requirements make no sense.

The point is, Bethesda invalidated the need to go to through the long “Boy Scout” quest line allowing you to bypass all of that by simply grabbing the plans, as long as you know where the container is (which is incidentally located in Morgantown Airport in the Overseer’s Cache). Though, if you wanted the backpack extras, you still had to go through the badge quests to earn scout credits to buy these additions (yet another currency type in the game)… as if caps, scrip and atom were not yet enough.

Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs

I’m not talking about the flying kind here. Worse, because Bethesda has chosen to prioritize the addition of new content over pretty much everything else, it likewise means Bethesda’s team has completely ignored fixing even the most basic of flaws in the original base game.

For example, in a video game that relies on shooting mechanics and melee attacks to function, you’d think a AAA developer could at least make these mechanics sound and “just work”. Unfortunately, even in the base game which was released a year ago, these fundamental basics have never functioned correctly. You can literally shoot directly at enemies and the bullets simply won’t connect. Not just once, but many times in a row. Even button presses on the controller aren’t reliable. Press, press, press… and nothing. It might take 5 successive presses for even one press to be registered by the game. This is a actually first in the video game industry. No other game have I ever played where a game’s control is this unresponsive and unreliable. If, as a video game developer, you can’t even register a button press from a controller, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the video game business?

Anyway, while the game consumes the ammo and shows the animation of the gun doing its thing, the game doesn’t recognize the collision on the enemy, even when you’re standing less than arm’s-length next to the enemy.

Oh, but it gets worse. When you spawn into a game world, there’s a huge time delay between the time when your character appears in the game world and when the visual part of the game releases control to you to begin playing. This time discrepancy is not insignificant. It could be upwards of 1-2 minutes before your game is handed control and the world is fully rendered. What that means is that if you spawn into a “hot zone” of enemies, your character could be dead before the loading screen has even disappeared.

Fallout 76 has even more basic problems. For example, when you spawn into a new game world, your character can spawn into a “blast zone”. A blast zone is a zone where another player has set off a nuke and irradiated the area. Irradiated areas in Fallout 76 last for at least 30 minutes to an hour real time, maybe longer. Because you’re spawned into the “last place” where your character formerly was and because you’re not given a choice where to spawn on load in, you could load into an irradiated zone unprepared. This, of course once again, means your player is dead upon spawning in. Worse, because the game force drops all of your junk upon character death, you’ve lost all of the junk you were carrying with little hope of getting it back. If your character does not have the preparation to handle a nuke zone (Hazmat suit or similar), you can’t venture in and get your stuff back. If you choose to hop servers to get out of that blast zone, you definitely can’t get your junk back. Junk drops exist in only one server. If your character dies in one game world and you are forced to hop game servers, your junk is forever gone. One of Todd Howard’s promises of Fallout 76 was that we shouldn’t need worry about ‘servers’. Yet, in this case, we very much do.

These are bugs that shouldn’t exist. These are bugs that should have been solved before the game was ever released. Yet, here we are a year later and they still exist. These are, by no means, the only problems / bugs in this game. In fact, there are so many bugs, I could write a book and still miss some. Anyway, let’s make a small-ish list:

  • Looping “stuck” audio out of one or both audio channels
  • Random server disconnects
  • Random inventory lost
  • Random character deaths
  • Getting stuck in power armor
  • The “wendigo” character problem (character has stretched elongated limbs)
  • Getting stuck on scenery (forced to fast travel)
  • Spawning inside of objects (stuck)
  • VATs doesn’t calculate accuracy correctly
  • VATs not working correctly
  • Perk cards not working (Storm Chaser almost never works when it’s raining)
  • Lack of perk cards for certain basic features (no weight reduction for rifle class?)
  • Too many perk cards for some functions (how many rifleman cards do we need?)
  • The Scorchbeast Queen event only appears IF another player decides to nuke that area. If not, the event never appears… and it’s the biggest multiplayer event in the game! … and yes, I do consider this a bug.
  • Losing junk after character death because of “server disconnect”
  • Stupid crafting recipes:
    • Fusion Cores — Crafting a fusion core requires only every single version of stable flux? Wait..what? You’re making a nuclear battery. It should require aluminum, copper, nuclear waste, plastic and silver. You can’t make a battery from liquid flux alone! Where does the case come from? The properties of flux, while irradiated, cannot produce an electric current in its liquid form when simply combined, let alone produce a hard shell case that approximates the shape of a fusion core.
    • Tick Blood Tequila — This one requires pure crimson flux. What? It’s not named Irradiated Tick Blood Tequila, it’s named Tick Blood Tequila. It shouldn’t require ANY flux.
    • Stable Flux — Making stable flux requires components that are only available in nuke zones and, more specifically, only available in very specific nuked zones. And even more specifically, are only dropped from very specific killed enemies in these very specific nuked zones. To craft stable flux requires 10 “raw” flux and 1 each of glowing mass, high radiation fluids and hardened mass. You cannot find raw flux, glowing mass, high radiation fluids or hardened mass on ANY other enemy in the game, in any other containers or in any other non-irradiated locations. The additional components can only be found in irradiated zones on very specific enemies after a kill. Even then, these drops are not guaranteed.. which means you need to kill A LOT of them to find all three of these “extra” components. Stable flux is easily the rarest required item in the game… not including cosmetic outfits (Red Asylum Outfit, Witch’s Costume, White Powder Jumpsuit, etc).  Not only are they rare, but they weigh a ton. Each Stable Flux weighs 1 unless you have the perk Pack Rat card which reduces the weight of all junk items.
    • Raw Flux — Separate but related to the above, raw flux is only found in nuke zones. It cannot be found anywhere else in the game. This means that every player in the game is beholden to other players to “create” a nuke zone to enable obtaining of not only raw flux, but high radiation fluid, glowing mass and hardened mass. You can obtain flux from the Queen event when it closes, but only if it just happens to drop it at the end and only if the event closes successfully. Raw flux (when refined to stable) is a required component for certain quests and crafting as well (Tick Blood Tequila and Fusion Cores).  Note that raw flux is considered ‘Aid’ not ‘Junk’. You’ll have to apply Thru-Hiker to reduce the weight for these.
    • Why Raw Flux is Aid and Stable Flux is Junk, I’ve no idea. But, inconsistency abounds in this otherwise mediocre game… thus one big reason why it IS mediocre.
    • Any other recipes that require “stable” flux
    • There’s not a single recipe that requires “raw” flux. Yet, it’s a huge component in the game. Raw flux is not even worth much anymore (revisionism at its finest).
    • Food Recipes — Most food recipes only provide food and nothing else. Sure, you can go find other more fancy recipes, yet they also only provide food. I’m not sure what Bethesda was thinking here, but if you spend the time to go track down a specific advanced recipe, that recipe should provide more than simple food. It should provide a perk increase, such as added luck or agility or improved health or AP regeneration. Yet, most advanced recipes offer none of this. What’s the incentive to find and craft advanced recipes when it provides nothing more than what a basic recipe provides? Sometimes even the most basic recipes offer better perks than the “advanced” recipes.
    • DLC — The add-ons that Bethesda has offered beyond the base game have excluded the use of perk cards entirely. For example, the distillery added to the game during a spring DLC addition gave us the ability to craft alcohol using a newly added crafting table. The problem is, none of the existing base game perk cards apply to this new crafting table. And no new perk cards were introduced, either. For example, Super Duper is one of the most widely used base game cards. This card offers the chance to double whatever you craft on crafting tables… except, this card does not apply to the distillery crafting table. While you can sometimes double your output while crafting stimpaks or radaway or when crafting ammo, you cannot double the output when crafting beer, wine or whiskey. It makes no sense, if Super Duper applies to all other crafting tables, it should apply to the distiller crafting table. That Bethesda selectively declines to apply known perk cards to its add-ons is just a jerk move… and, in my opinion, makes the game worse.

And here we come to even more issues:

  • Gun ammo is unloaded at every game load-in — Instead of the game remembering which gun was currently being held and how much ammo it has, the game unloads the gun of ammo on login. This means that if the game crashes or you quit and come back later, you must reload your weapon immediately upon login. If you fail to remember to do this MANUALLY, you will ‘click’ and nothing happens.
  • Quests fail to progress for nonsensical reasons — Quests can get stuck simply because the game won’t recognize the most basic of things. Some quests requires that you be drunk to complete them. In some cases, the game simply won’t progress even though the UI shows the effect is active. The quest simply chooses to ignore it and not progress.
  • Quests disappear — You can be questing along, then have the game crash only to load in and find that quest is no longer part of your quest inventory.
  • Quests cannot be abandoned — In previous Bethesda games, you could quit a quest and restart it by going back to the source. That is not possible in Fallout 76. If you pick up a quest, it stays in your quest inventory forever (or until it randomly disappears on its own). This is particularly problematic for quests that reload with incredibly loud voice overs (Grafton and Rose).
  • Quest markers do not always appear in the HUD — Quests put up markers in the compass HUD. Yet, at times, these markers are simply not there. Not all quest progressions are easy to locate. Perhaps it’s a specific computer terminal in a building with perhaps 20 terminals. Without a marker, you would have to run to every single terminal in the building and try them all. It’s one thing if a game is based on having no markers. It’s entirely another if the game has quest markers that fail to work reliably… and this is where Fallout 76 lives.
  • Music that can’t be muted — There is certain environmental music that cannot be muted. Even though I’ve turned off music in settings, the game insists on still playing music at certain events.
  • Paper Bags Drops — For a long while, dropping items into the environment was fraught with peril. You could drop something that should appear in a paper bag, yet no bag would ever appear and your item was entirely lost. While it seems that this issue may have been mostly solved, it still exists occasionally. I have dropped paper bags which never appeared even after it was claimed to have been fixed.

So now, let’s discuss C.A.M.P. bugs. I’d rather not because there’s a huge laundry list of items here, but let’s do it anyway.

  • Camp Circumference — When you drop your camp down, a circle is created that outlines the border of your camp’s buildable areas. You can’t see this circle in full. You are limited by seeing this circle from a ground perspective. This mean you must guess as to exactly how this circle fits onto the ground. If you get it wrong, you must pay to move your camp again. Each time you move your camp, you lose more caps. You can’t adjust or fine tune your camp’s circle. It is where it lands. Bethesda could have raised the camera off the ground to show us the circle from above, yet nope.
  • Randomly disappearing objects — I’ve had a number of camp objects that I’ve built simply disappear. Sure, someone reading might think, “Oh, it was just damaged and needs to be repaired”. Nope, I’ve checked that. The object is simply gone. I’ve had this bug happen a month after the game launched and I’ve had it happen as recently as a week before writing this article. This is a long standing bug that has basically existed since the game launched… and it still exists today. Worse, when these objects disappear, they still contribute to the camp’s budget. Even deleting everything in your camp will not free up these lost objects. Writing Bethesda support won’t lead to anything fruitful. The Bethesda support team actually does nothing other than write emails about how they can do nothing to help you.
  • Camp Budget — Bethesda has increased the camp budget exactly once… when they introduced the Distiller crafting table. Even then, you can’t build much with the allotted camp budget. It’s large enough to create a small structure, but if you want to defend that structure with turrets, expect to make your camp buildings much, much smaller. Turrets still cost a whopping amount of camp budget simply to create a single turret. If you want 5 turrets, expect at least 1/4 of your camp budget gone (perhaps even more than this).
  • 24 players per server — It’s crystal clear, this number of players is too many for the way they’ve built their servers. Half this number would make the servers much less laggy, much faster and overall perform much better. Yet, we’re forced to deal with 24 players on a server where even just one player can bring the server to its knees when spamming a crafting table at their camp.
  • Portions of objects disappear — If you’ve ever set up a fertilizer resource (a Brahmin Pen) or the new Scavenger Bot (Atom shop item), you can find portions of the object become invisible. I’ve had the hay on the Brahmin resource vanish. I’ve had the scavenger hatch become invisible. And again, no, it wasn’t damaged. When I open the workshop, the only thing that appears is a vibrant green untextured object. It’s most definitely a bug.

These are but many of Fallout 76’s most basic fundamental mechanic flaws and these are not anywhere close to all of them. These problems have existed in the base game… long before Bethesda added their newest add-ons. These are fundamental problems that, for a AAA game title and for an AAA developer like Bethesda, shouldn’t even exist. That these basic fundamental flaws, problems and, yes, bugs, exist means that Bethesda shouldn’t even be in this business.

But, wait there are even more problems afoot.

Graphics

Not only does Fallout 76 add an annoying haze overlay effect onto bright light sources, the graphics of Fallout 76 are actually much, much worse than Fallout 4. The shadows are incredibly low res by comparison. Some images don’t resolve to high res until you’re within arm’s length of the image. You can literally see the 8 bit sized pixels. For example, the GNN poster is a lighted decoration you can put up on your camp. When you approach it from a distance, you can see a very pixelated image. When you move within arm’s length, the pixelated image stays for a moment, then loads to higher res right before your eyes. You can even see the image load in. Sometimes textures will randomly toggle between low res and high res even while standing still.

In Fallout 4, this low res image loading problem never existed. The images were loaded at high res the moment you were within gunshot range. That Fallout 76’s graphics engine is this piss poor tells me Bethesda has no idea how to run a quality MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game). Though, I’d debate that 24 players constitutes an MMORPG. Perhaps MORPG (multiplayer online role playing game) more accurately describes Fallout 76. I digress.

Worse, it’s not limited to image loading.12-7-2018_5-55-00_AM-ztlpzw1g There are many problems with Fallout 76’s graphics including, but not limited to, seeing god rays through rocks, seeing image artifacts on trees when looking downhill, low res textures, poor quality lighting and this list goes on and on. Comparing Fallout 4’s graphics to Fallout 76, there really is no comparison. Fallout 4 looks sharp and crystal clear. Its sun and effects look realistic.

In Fallout 76, the sun disc used to have a horizontal lens flare effect. This was early when the game first released. In later releases, this lens flare effect was inexplicably removed and has never been added back. It’s still not back. The distance effects look bad and I mean really, really bad. The distance effects in Fallout 4 were fair, but looked mostly okay. There are definitely better graphics engines, like Ubisoft’s AnvilNext, but Fallout 4 did a decently respectable job for its engine.

In Fallout 76, the whole graphics system has taken a huge step backwards. The rendering is worse, overall. Some of this I get. The devs needed to reduce how much is required to download over the network. Otherwise, the network chatter would be too overloaded and the game wouldn’t function, particularly with gamers on slower networks. I get that. But, at the same time, it makes the game look amateur. This is one of those times where a AAA developer should have withheld the game and decided not to release it.

You can release junk or you can release nothing. Junk turns your brand sour. Releasing nothing increases expectation of the next product. Bethesda should stick to what they do best. Single player offline video games. Stay way from these online games where not only does Bethesda clearly have no experience, they have learned nothing since launching The Elder Scrolls online. At least use that MMORPG as a learning experience. Nope, they started over from scratch and had to relearn everything they already learned from ESO. Even then, Fallout 76 is still stumbling through mistake after mistake… mistakes that had already been corrected long ago in ESO.

Grinding and more Grinding

Grinding has always been a thing in most MMOs. Grinding is the way for the game developer to keep gamers interested in the game. Developers must ask themselves, “How much grinding is too much?” Bethesda, unfortunately, hasn’t asked itself that question and has firmly led Fallout 76 into the territory of too much grinding.

In fact, in Fallout 76, you’ll spend more time grinding for resources than doing just about any other activity in the game. Even going into final battles is less about the combat and more about grinding for XP, eating food and the loot drops. No one goes into the Queen battle to actually kill the Queen. They go into it because of what they’ll get from her in the end and what they’ll get from when the quest closes successfully. It’s not about the combat, it’s about what drops you get.

That’s not good game design. That’s crap design. You want to design a game for gamers to want to engage in the combat because of the combat, not because of loot drops. Unfortunately, because the combat in Fallout 76 is so exceedingly bad, the only thing we can look forward to at the end of a Queen event is the drops. In fact, I believe all of the loot the Queen drops should stop being dropped period. No more random queen loot drops. Instead, she should drop only caps and scrip (the newest currency you get when you sell Legendary items). This currency can then be redeemed at a vendor in the game world, such as at the legendary vendor Purveyor Murmrgh. This currency can then be obtained in other ways throughout the game. This means that if you choose not to do the Queen event, you can still get the same loot in alternative ways and using alternative means. You’re not beholden to join a combat event simply to obtain flux, legendary items or plans or whatever other things the Queen usually drops. Instead, no matter which role playing choice you choose to follow in the world, you still have equal chance of getting choice weapons, armor and loot drops. An open world RPG should allow for multiple paths to get to the same point.

Open World RPG

An open world RPG is about being able to do things in whatever way the gamer chooses. If the gamer wants to focus on crafting, they should be able to skill-tree up through a crafting system. If the gamer wants to focus on combat, there should be a combat skill-tree. No one skill-tree should become THE skill-tree. In Fallout 76, if you choose not to adopt combat as your skill-tree choice, you really can’t get much from the game. Further, loot drops in the world should not be unique to a specific triggered event. All loot drops should be equally available throughout the world to all skill-trees… perhaps, as I suggested above, by dropping currency rather than weapons and armor. The currency can then be exchanged for weapons and armor.

However, certain “main quest” quests may be required for all players and these required drops should allow all players to access and use certain fundamental items necessary for later main quests. However, all tertiary quest loot drops should be available in differing ways to all player types.

Stable Flux is a good example of this. This resource should be available in ways other than by visiting nuke zones. You should be able to buy this resource in the world from at least one in-game-world vendor. Grahm is a wandering Super Mutant vendor and is a very capable and shrewd vendor. Because he’s constantly traveling the wasteland, he’s the perfect vendor to sell stable flux. Not only does it make sense that he can wander into nuke zones and gather and refine flux, he can then sell it to us. Perhaps not in large quantities, but he should at least always have it on him to buy.

Flux shouldn’t be the one and only one needed resource in the game where the gamer is required to gather it under very limited and specific conditions that rarely occur. This part of the game was entirely a mishandled by Bethesda. Bethesda also needs to recognize that there is more than one play style that can be had in an RPG world. It needs to recognize that not all gamers go into Fallout 76 for the gun combat. Many do, but not everyone does. For those who choose not to go for the combat, the game itself penalizes this style of gamer by not allowing easy access to the rarer items in the game. In other words, you are forced into Fallout 76 for the combat if you want to gain access to the rarest items in the game. To be more balanced with all gamer types, Bethesda needs to rethink this stance.

Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuOne of the biggest introductions into the Fallout franchise was the addition of power armor. This is heavy armor powered by a fusion core. When you enter the armor, the character is encased entirely in a metal shell covered over by pieces of armor. These armors have specific ratings and have specific attributes.

In Fallout 4, Power Armor was considered the strongest armor in the game, particularly if you wore Legendary pieces. If you had a certain set of power armor, you were practically invincible under most conditions. However, the armor did take damage and break. In Fallout 4, power armor breaks relatively quickly… particularly the legs. While it protects you well, it also damages quickly. The legs were the weakest parts of the whole set.

Unfortunately, in Fallout 76, Power Armor has actually become a joke. It’s easily the weakest armor set in the game. It’s weaker than its corresponding sets in Fallout 4. It’s weaker than even Marine armor found in the game. For example, wearing power armor in Fallout 76 sees absolutely zero protection against a level 52 Colonel Gutsy shooting 5.56 ammo… even if your character is level 150 or 300. A single bullet from a Colonel Gutzy with 5.56 eats straight through the armor and damages at least 1/10th of the HP bar. It might even damage more than this per shot. This is entirely bugged. Certainly, in Fallout 4, 5.56 loaded Gutsy did eat through health rapidly, it’s not nearly as rapid as it is in Fallout 76. The two tertiary benefits to power armor is its radiation protection benefit and its ability to fall from any height without sustaining HP damage. Yet, its armor protection levels are exceedingly weak.

This power armor problem has only gotten worse, not better. Power Armor is now even harder to maintain. When Fusion Core generators used to offer 100% charged fusion cores, Bethesda has changed the rules of the game and they now only provide 50% charged fusion cores. This means you now have to carry double the amount of fusion cores that you formerly had to carry when they were 100% charged. Now if you want 100% charged fusion cores, you need to make them with Flux or hope that the energy power plants still provide 100% charged cores in those workshop generators. Admittedly, those power plant generators used to offer 100% charged cores every 7 minutes, but with Bethesda’s revisionist tendencies, I haven’t tested this to find out if they still do. My guess is that they now provide 50% charged fusion cores.

Worse, most fusion cores randomly found sitting around in the game outside of a generator have a 25% or less charge. I don’t even get this change. Bethesda, do you want us to use Power Armor or not? It clearly seems that by making these silly reductions that Bethesda doesn’t want us to actually use Power Armor. So then, why even include Power Armor in the game? If they want to restrict the use of power armor, simply raise the weight of the fusion cores. Leave them at 100%, but raising the weight means carrying less.

One last thing about Fallout 76 and Power Armor is the lack of legendary armor pieces. While Fallout 4 had multiple legendary pieces of Power Armor (chest, legs, arms, etc), there is not a single piece of legendary power armor in Fallout 76. Not a single piece. Yet there is every type of regular armor in a one, two and three star legendary format. Even worse, for PVP purposes, Power Armor is weaker than level 5 regular armor when the combatant has perk card Tank Killer equipped at maximum. What’s the point in having and wearing Power Armor when a card like Tank Killer is available? Talk about overpowered and needing a rebalance. Tank Killer is one card that needs to go.

It’s crystal clear, Bethesda devs don’t want us using Power Armor. It has no legendary effects, it’s weak overall and the game offers up such stupid perk cards as Tank Killer that bypass armor ratings. So then, what’s the point? Even regular armor is stronger than this. It’s okay to provide a card like Tank Killer if an equal and opposite perk card is available to counteract Tank Killer and strengthen the Power Armor. But, there is no equal and opposing card. Yet another design miss that has never been corrected. In fact, none of these power armor issues have ever been addressed in Fallout 76.

Characters, Loot and Caps and Requested Features

This is another issue that has not ever been discussed or addressed and has existed since release. Fallout 76 allows players to create up to 5 different characters to use in Fallout 76. How we choose to use those characters is up to us. If one of our players has progressed well beyond level 15, yet still has a level 15 set of power armor, it’s stuck in that character’s inventory. How about letting us share the wealth between our characters? What if I want to transfer scrip, caps or pioneer scout credit between characters. Atom is a global currency available to all characters. Why not scrip, caps and pioneer scout credit?

Bethesda has yet to address or even offer a system for transfer of caps, loot, weapons or armor between our 5 characters. Instead, we have to rely on a third party to temporarily hold and then hand back our loot, caps, armor and weapons. I mean, seriously. Why do I have to make friends with a random on Fallout 76 just to impose on them and have them hold my stuff simply to transfer between characters?

Instead of giving gamers what we want from this game, like the above suggested feature, Bethesda spends time creating Biv and Distillers (unnecessary), the backpack (pointless), Fasnacht (stupid), Meat Week (lame), Scrip (really?), Nuclear Winter (not needed), Survival mode (minimally even used) and Atom Shop items (expensive). All of these developments so far are definitely inconsequential and meaningless to the overall Fallout 76 base story.

How about overhauling the perk system and give us perk card load outs? Let us, at one click, rearrange our perk cards without having to go into the perk card system and manually, one-by-one switch them in and out. Note, this feature is heavily needed after reaching level 50 when SPECIAL points are capped. You can’t add or rearrange your SPECIAL points, but you can rearrange perk cards at will. So, why not add something we want, like 5 perk card preset load-outs? This allows us to set our character up for a bloodied build or a shotgun build or an explosives build or even eating food build with one click? Why don’t we have this feature? Why carry around a bunch of equipped random useless perk cards when they’re not needed. Only equip them when they need to be used… like equipping camp cards when in camp or crafting cards when crafting. It’s insane to expect us to spend time rearranging our cards for 5-10 minutes before we can begin an activity. You certainly cannot spend time in the middle of combat doing this. But you could easily single click a favorite perk card load out to load while in the middle of combat… particularly if a gun breaks and you need to switch weapons and combat tactics.

In fact, why aren’t there armor load outs? Why do I have to manually go and load each armor piece manually. Why can’t I create an armor load out and then favorite it? Then, when I need it, simply select the load-out favorite and that set of armor is immediately worn. It makes no sense what Bethesda is doing with this game. How about giving us requested features rather than these mostly stupid additions? How about fixing long standing bugs? How about giving us gamers some love rather than a bunch of hate (banning tons of gamers for duping without actually knowing if they did).

Rebalancing and Revisionism

A revisit to Fallout 76 a year later wouldn’t be complete without discussing Bethesda’s constant and incessant meddling with Fallout 76’s rules. With any game, be it a board game or a video game, a set of established rules must exist when a game launches. These rules govern how the game is to be played. You’ll understand why I bring up board games in just a moment.

With video games, particularly with MORPG games like Fallout 76, the game developer seems to think they can randomly change the rules like they can their hat or their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t work that way. Establishing and maintaining a set of consistent and constant rules in which a game operates is fundamental to learning how to play a game.

Yet, Bethesda has invalidated rules, changed rules, reduced rules, increased rules and mucked with the innards of the rules with each and every release under the guise of “balancing”. Let’s circle back around to board games. If Hasbro decided to rewrite Monopoly’s rules based on the way “many” play Monopoly at home, many people would be rightly angry. The official rules have been established to play the game in a specific “official” way. Sure, some people personally change the official rules for expediency. For example, following every Monopoly rule exactly to the letter could mean an extremely long drawn out game. Therefore, people have changed and simplified the rules to reduce the duration of such a long game. Some people aren’t in it for the long haul, they simply want to play the game in 20 or 30 minutes and end it. There are a number of board games that have alternative rule sets that lead to shorter play times. These alternative rule sets are not official, but they exist to allow players to enjoy the game without all of the minutiae required when using the official rules.

With Fallout 76, a video game, it’s still a game… not unlike a board game. Much of the game is automated, interactive and visual, but it’s still nonetheless a game… a game with an established set of rules. We learn these rules quickly.

However, when a game developer decides to alter the rules continually, it’s difficult to keep up with an ever changing set of new rules. This is why establishing a single set of rules and maintaining that set consistently is the answer. Modifying the rules every month means no one can know what the rules are today, tomorrow or in a month. You can’t adequately play a video game if the official rules are constantly changing. This is why revisionism in video games is ultimately detrimental to a video game and to the video game industry as a whole. Consistency in a video game is the key to success. Variability leads to failure… particularly in a role playing game where rules define what makes an RPG an RPG.

Improvements?

Has Fallout 76 improved since its release? No, it hasn’t. Certainly, Bethesda has added new, but mostly inconsequential features such as backpacks, limited duration events offering cosmetic item drops, liquor that’s worse than the original already in the game,  money making cosmetics to its store and a few pay-to-win features (scrap and repair kits). But there is little here that offers solid well crafted, thoughtful additions that make that game world a more compelling play experience. These additions have been weak, shallow experiences lasting short amounts of time and, frankly, leave a bad taste in the mouth. Many of them are not even in keeping in the Fallout universe… I’m looking at you Nuclear Winter.

Slowly and at the same time, Bethesda is gutting the game of its original rules and methodically replacing them with a new rule set. These new rules are intended to slow the player’s progression down, make the game even more grindy, keep the gamer playing longer to potentially visit the Atom store and actually buy something, you know, with real money.

Unfortunately, the actual base game has not improved. It is still the same mess it was when it was released nearly one year ago. The same bugs that existed then still exist today. Sure, a few have been fixed, but far too many are still active. Worse, in Bethesda’s zeal to add new content, they have broken more mechanics than they have fixed. What this means is that while the game has added new content, it’s come with a steep price of even more bugs on top of the existing bugs. It’s a never ending bugfest compounded by even more bugs created by each add-on.

Worse, Bethesda is clearly not using standard code practices. There have been many instances where bugs fixed in one release reappear in the next release. This regression behavior isn’t possible if a company is using industry standard coding, code storage and release practices. Regression bugs are not possible when code is properly documented, when it’s checked in properly and when one person can’t overwrite a previous coder’s changes. It’s crystal clear, Bethesda’s code and release practices for Fallout 76 are an unmitigated disaster. Not only is the game itself a disaster, so are Bethesda’s coding practices. It’s clear, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue how to write and maintain a 24/7 always on service, let alone a video game… let alone software.

As an example of this horrible coding, Bethesda introduced a new bug that caused all red headlamps found in the game world to inexplicably become Atom Shop restricted items. When an in-game item is marked with the Atom Shop symbol, it cannot be dropped or sold to other players. This meant you could no longer sell red headlamps mods or helmets with a red headlamp found or created in the game because the red headlamps became restricted. This meant that you, likewise, couldn’t at all sell power armor sets containing a red headlamp that, you know, you have found in the game world while this bug was active. Bethesda was extremely slow to respond to fix this bug. It took them about 1 month before it was finally addressed… even though they roll patches weekly.

Another bug they introduced in July saw to it that gamers with a large number of power armor sets had to spend a large amount of time reassembling all of these sets of armor. In July, Bethesda separated all of the power armor pieces from their corresponding power armor frames. This meant spending not only the time to reassemble all of the power armor sets one-by-one, it meant being heavily overencumbered. For example, I had at least 10 sets of power armor on my player. Some were also in my stash. When they separated all of the power armor pieces, they all dropped all armor pieces separately into my player’s inventory… even from those that were in the stash box. This meant that my character ended up carrying about 500-600 more in carry weight after that patch. Because my character was not in camp when this occurred, I couldn’t fast travel back there. To reassemble power armor, you have two options. Deploy the power armor and reinsert all of the pieces wherever you are in the world or do it on a power armor station. The former method can be done anywhere, but you’re easily and frequently interrupted by combat. Because the power armor frame only remains out for a maximum of 60 seconds, you don’t have much time to do this… and it’s easy to run out of time. Doing it on a power armor station, there is no 60 second timer as long as you’re crafting.

Because a bunch of my frames were in the stash, I couldn’t get access to those except either at a train station or at my base. Because my base was closer than a train station, I had to spend time hoofing my overencumbered character back to the base so I could reassemble. This probably took 30 minutes because of the AP problem and enemies. Then, when I got there, I had to drop each and every frame down, reassemble and then do it over and over until all were reassembled. All told, this issue took close to 1.5 hours. All so that Bethesda could “rework” the Power Armor which, by the way, is still just as broken as it was before the patch. Whatever they did didn’t do anything to fix the underlying problems. Worse, instead of you know, actually playing the game, I was messing about with fixing up something that I shouldn’t have had to fix. When patches encroach on the user experience, you REALLY need to think long and hard about releasing these patches. Bethesda’s patch could have easily auto-reassembled all of the armors after the patch so that the users didn’t have to spend time doing this. They have access to all of this on their system internally. There’s absolutely no reason why I (and so many other players) had to spend our gaming time screwing about with reassembling power armor sets when we could have been, you know, actually questing… the reason we actually bought this game in the first place.

In short, the game has not improved. In fact, it is pretty much the same exact disaster it was when it released almost one year ago. In many ways, it’s actually worse. The base game has not improved at all.

What has been added to the game is inconsequential and, for the most part, unnecessary. The backpacks are, in fact, entirely pointless and even moreso once they released the plans into the overseer’s cache without the need to go through the convoluted Boy Scout quests. Instead of the backpack, the devs could have simply raised the carry weight on our characters. No, backpack needed. The backpack was simply an Atom shop marketing gimmick to get people to buy into their expensive ‘skins’ to make the backpack more “visually pleasing”. Does it really matter if your backpack looks like a Nuka Cola cooler or a piece of luggage? In fact, most of the Atom Shop skins that have been crafted are actually quite ugly. The basic backpack is functional looking and at least looks like a backpack. The other backpacks are horrendously ugly contraptions strapped to your back. The Nuka Cola cooler could have looked cool if it weren’t completely covered up by a bunch of horrendously ugly straps obscuring most of the Nuka Cola logo. If it had simply been a Nuka Cola branded cooler backpack with no straps at all, that would have been fine. This skin needs a major rework.

Game Modes

As of this article, there three game modes available:

  • Adventure Mode — This is the original game mode that was introduced upon release. It still contains nearly all of the same bugs it did when it was released.
  • Survival Mode — This game mode has been retired as of October 1st, 2019. This mode was introduced early in 2019 and offers what Bethesda claimed to be a more challenging experience. Well, it wasn’t. It’s was simply an annoying experience. It was intended as a PVP environment, but was nothing more than a way for PVP players to run around shooting one another other in a Death Match style playground. In fact, if you tried to actually quest in a Survival Mode server, you wouldn’t get very far before being killed by another player. It was actually worse than that, too. In this PVP environment, there’s was no level based combat. A level 300 player can hang out in newbie territory picking off level 2 players solely for fun. At least Nuclear Winter has leveled the playing field so that level 300 users and level 5 users have similar odds of winning because it’s not about the level, it’s about the strategy.
  • Nuclear Winter Mode — This game mode is a Battle Royale game (aka, Last Man Standing). Ever user starts out with a new level based on this game mode. Levels, abilities and weapons from Adventure do not work in Nuclear Winter. You must find all of this stuff when playing Nuclear Winter and it only lasts as long as the tournament lasts. Nuclear Winter was introduced entirely to placate Fortnite and Apex Legends players and attempt to attract those same gamers into Fallout. It hasn’t worked. It’s a game mode that does not in any way belong in the Fallout universe. This game mode is not exactly fun, but it is tedious. It’s all about who can find the biggest weapons, best armor, kill the most and hide the best. There’s nothing really challenging here. Fallout needs to drop following industry gaming trends and innovate. Come up with new gaming ideas instead of rehashing old ideas in tired and uninspired ways. Worse, this game mode does not at all fit into the idea of Fallout. If Bethesda wants to create these derivative games, at least create them separately using a newly created franchise with new characters and abilities. Don’t tack it onto Fallout simply because you can.

Overall

Fallout 76’s play value and bugs are very much the same as they were on release day. The exception is, of course, that in Bethesda’s zeal to add a bunch of new stuff, they have broken even more in the process. In fact, I’d say Bethesda has broken at least half as much more stuff than was already broken. Worse, they have broken previously functional and working features. An example is when they added the distillery. For the distillery to work, they added a new mechanic to “spoil” the fermentable liquors to turn them into drinkable liquors. What that meant was a spoil bar on the item that timed down until the liquor was fully fermented and drinkable. Unfortunately, when the devs touched this part of the game code, they screwed up the speed of spoilage for the rest of the food items (and even fusion cores) within the game. This meant that while ‘fermentable beer’ fermented faster, it also meant that meat, veggies and even fusion cores, spoiled at a much faster rate. Whoops. Big bug.

Did Bethesda correct this problem quickly (or at all)? No. Once that bug was introduced it was here to stay. Food and drink still spoils much faster than it did before that game addition. Even fusion cores run out far, far faster than they did before that addition. Does Bethesda care? No. Do they intend fixing the problem? No.

This is why revisionism in the video game industry has no place. This is why a simple brown paper bag, a simplistic container, still barely works properly. When developers don’t care to fix even the most basic bugs let alone new bugs, then why should I (or any other consumer) care to spend money on these lackluster games? Once Bethesda begins to care about its gamer audience again, I might consider returning. Until then, Bethesda, you’re on your own without my money.

Update — Survival Mode

As of October 1st, Survival Mode Beta ironically didn’t survive. Bethesda has removed this mode from the game entirely. Clearly, its adoption rate was minimal and limited. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Adventure Mode players. What that means is that Bethesda is likely to revisit enabling even more PVP activities in Adventure Mode since the disappearance of Survival Mode. That means ganging up what was Survival mode into Adventure Mode again. This is something I’m not anxious to see return to Adventure Mode.

In fact, I wanted Bethesda to remove all PVP elements from Adventure Mode and make Survival Mode 100% PVP. However, since the introduction of Nuclear Winter, it seems they no longer want to focus on Survival Mode considering its lackluster adoption rate. Still, I’m not say to see it go as it did nothing for me. I’m not an active PVP player, so the point to Survival Mode had weak play value. Nuclear Winter is the ‘hot new thing’. If anything, what this shows is the fickleness of the demographic who currently plays Fallout 76. Once players have had their fill of the Nuclear Winter experience, I’d fully expect Bethesda to wind down that game mode also as users stop playing it.

10:50PM Oct. 1st — Updated to reflect that Bethesda has retired Survival Mode.

While this article endeavors to answer what happened to Fallout 76, it hasn’t in any way addressed why it happened. I may consider delving into this topic in the future if there’s enough reader interest. Please comment below if you’d like to see this additional topic explored.

↩︎

Did Toys “R” Us have to fail?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, ethics, fail by commorancy on September 9, 2019

If you’ve read various articles including this Bloomberg article, you might come away thinking that all of what happened to Toys “R” Us began a decade ago (i.e., the early 00s). In fact, you would be so wrong… and so would Bloomberg. Let’s explore.

The 80s

Around 1981 or 1982, I worked at Toys “R” Us. Even at that time, Toys “R” Us ran a questionable business model. A business model that, I might add, even store managers recognized and thought was unsustainable. In fact, after having discussions with store managers at my store, I got an earful about how they thought that the chain would likely fail within a decade if they kept on using that business model. This was the early 80s.

What business model?

Toys “R” Us sowed the seeds of its own destruction at least beginning in the 80s, perhaps as early as the 70s. What questionable business model is this? The model chosen was to operate the stores in the red (otherwise known as losing money) through 80-90% of the year (aka, “90 in the red”). Then, the management hoped to recoup those losses in the final 1-2 months of the year during holiday season sales. It didn’t always work out.

While this model seemed to work to keep most Toys “R” Us stores afloat through the 80s and 90s, it served to keep the company from really turning a solid profit and, ultimately, led to the company’s massive debt load. What that model meant to the stores is fully stocked shelves every day of the year. This was readily apparent walking into any Toys “R” Us store. The stores were not only full, they were positively brimming over with the latest toys. This also meant putting itself into massive debt each year in inventory and then hoping to pay off that debt at the end of the year when most of the stores finally ran “in the black” (read, turning a profit for the year).

Keep in mind that many of the stores didn’t turn a profit, but so long as enough stores did, they could cover for the debt they had been incurred company wide, or at least so that was the idea. Even the store manager at my Toys “R” Us location could see the handwriting on the wall in the early 80s. This store’s business model was not sustainable and I was, even as an standard employee, told this by various managers. These managers didn’t hold back their thoughts.

Bloomberg, Fads and Sustainability

What Bloomberg got right was that even a decade ago, TRU’s debt load had put them underwater. What Bloomberg didn’t address was that this debt began almost 2 decades earlier of overbuying, followed by hoping that a “hit toy” would kick them over the profit line at the end of every year.

“Hit Toys” were Toys “R” Us’s hopeful thing. They needed that Tickle Me Elmo or Nintendo Wii or Lazer Tag or Cabbage Patch Kid fad toy to carry the chain into the new year with profit on the books. Throughout the 80s and 90s, there were a string of these hit toys practically every year. Fad toys which flew off the shelves and brought Toys “R” Us to profitability each year. It was a risky move for Toys “R” Us to bank on a hot fad each year, but there it is.

Unfortunately, relying on this kind of yearly toy fad to sustain a business every year was not only risky, it began to burn Toys “R” Us as these yearly fads began to die off by the late 90s. Even during mid-late 90s, these fads were much less intense than they had been just a few years earlier. By the mid-00s, these fads were practically non-existent. Sure, there were hot toys, but no where near the levels of sales that Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage Patch Kid fads offered to Toys “R” Us’s bottom line… particularly when Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon concurrently began diluting the toy profits of TRU.

These fading fads were responsible for killing other toy stores chains as well, such as Kay Bee Toys and even the once high flying, high end FAO Schwarz. These fading fads also left Toys “R” Us holding a huge mound of debt.

Walmart

While Walmart did usurp the title of top toy seller from Toys “R” Us, that’s primarily because Toys “R” Us prices were always on the higher side. Walmart did carry toys, but not all toys. If you wanted something you couldn’t find at Walmart, you went to Toys “R” Us and it was pretty much guaranteed they would carry it (even though it might be out of stock). Walmart didn’t even stock many of these. The toy section in Walmart was always small by comparison. Sure, you could find better deals at Walmart, but only from the toys that they chose to carry.

Walmart was also not very kind to collectors in the 90s. If a collector showed up to buy toys, Walmart would try to do everything to keep that toy item away from the collectors… sometimes even going so far as to banning them from the store simply for buying toys. Does it really matter whose dollars are buying an item? Granted, I wasn’t particularly happy that a collector had gone to Walmart to buy out all of the “good” stock leaving tons of “peg warmers” sitting around that no one wanted. But, that’s how toy collecting worked in the 90s.

The whole collector market kind of died off with the advent of places where collectors could buy case packs, like Entertainment Earth. Instead of having to rummage around Walmart at 3AM (when they stocked new merchandise), you could order a full case of figures, guaranteeing that you’ll get at least one “rare” figure. This meant that the once Walmart and Toys “R” Us shopping locations for collectors became a thing of the past. Collectors took their money online to buy cases and stopped buying at Toys “R” Us. Buying case packs is easier, more convenient and doesn’t require the hassles of dealing with surly underpaid Walmart workers.

Toys “R” Us Kids Grew Up

Kids of the 80s became collectors in the 90s and became families on the 00s. The once popular collector market throughout the 90s fell apart into the 00s because the collector market changed and Toys “R” Us failed to understand this important change. The collector market is (or at least was) also a huge market that kept Toys “R” Us afloat in addition to the end-of-year-fads. However, brands like Hasbro and Mattel didn’t grow with the collector market. Sure, Hasbro tried, but the toys they made were tiny improvements over their (sub)standard toys. Mattel also tried with its collector Barbies, but, again they failed to understand the critical quality needed for what collectors really yearned.

In essence, the toy brands themselves didn’t grow to provide what collectors wanted… which left Toys “R” Us mostly without collector money. However, collector brands did grow up for the collector market outside of Toys “R” Us, including Sideshow and Hot Toys brands. These brands are now considered the premiere collector “toy” brands for adult collectors. These “action figures” are some of the highest end, most expensive, most collectable toys out there, yet these are not sold at Walmart, Target or even Toys “R” Us (before they closed). Though, you can find them on Amazon via third party sellers. This is where Toys “R” Us failed to keep up with the kid-turned-adult collectors. Hot Toys figures cost anywhere between $150-350 per figure; a price point that collectors are more than willing to pay to get that level of craftsmanship. A price point that Toys “R” Us never carried. A quality that not Toys “R” Us nor Walmart nor Target ever carried.

While Toys “R” Us continued to sell these low-end toy products to kids, it failed to grow up and to sell high end collectibles to adults. Ironically, this runs counter to their jingle. The most prestigious type of collectibles that Toys “R” Us sold were the collector Barbies and McFarlane figures, offering price points at  $15-40. A price tag that cannot provide the levels of detail, paint jobs and overall craftsmanship that goes into a Hot Toys or Sideshow figure. Adult collectors want high end figures and Sideshow and Hot Toys fill that niche. Toys “R” Us management never recognized this growing trend.

“I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys “R” Us kid”

This jingle is ultimately the rationale that appears to have led Toys “R” Us management down the wrong path. Instead of singing the praises of not growing up, the toy store should have realized that kids grow into adults; adults who still want to buy collectible toys, but who don’t want the junky, low priced Hasbro and Mattel versions. They want premiere brands like Hot Toys offering highly detailed, highly realistic, meticulously crafted and painted figures… not Hasbro’s now antiquated, poorly painted, robot-style 12 inch figures. You might give these cheap toys to your kids, but you wouldn’t display them in a display case.

This collectible market began with highly detailed military figures, but branched out into licenses with Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Warner Brothers and various other large movie franchise brands. Toys “R” Us failed to latch onto this market and, thus, failed to capture the once Toys “R” Us kid who had grown into an adult and now desires these highly detailed collectible toys. As kids grow into adults, tastes change and people want more sophisticated products. Hot Toys and Sideshow found that niche for sophisticated adult tastes. Yet, Toys “R” Us failed to recognize this niche.

If Toys “R” Us had realized this mistake and had added brands like Hot Toys to its shelves, it might have been able to entice the collector’s market back into its stores and pay down some of its debt. Every discount retailer has, so far, failed to realize the adult collectible toy market. However, this lack of foresight hurt Toys “R” Us the most.

Kid Tastes

Additionally, kids tastes have also changed as a result of brands like Hot Toys and products like the iPad. Kids don’t want want to buy Leap or other “toy” or “fake” tablets when they can ask their parents for the real thing. Kids also want the higher end Hot Toys than the poorly crafted Hasbro Ironman figures. While Toys “R” Us did begin carrying Apple products, the stores really thought of these more as a toy rather than treating them as something useful. Best Buy always treated their Apple section with the best possible displays. Toys “R” Us displayed its Apple tablets right next to random other tablets as though they weren’t anything special. I’m not even sure that I’d have felt comfortable buying an Apple tablet from Toys “R” Us. Not only did they have no one versed in this technology on staff, what they carried could have been 2 or even 3 generations old. Toys “R” Us just didn’t treat these products with the respect that they deserved.

As a result of kids changing tastes and higher levels of sophistication, kids really didn’t want much of what was in that toy store after a certain age. This meant that Toys “R” Us was primarily for kids of a certain age and below (probably 8-9 or younger). Even still, these ages were growing up faster.

Toys “R” Us Closure

Did Toys “R” Us have to close? Yes, it did. Without a management team capable of fully understanding the downsides of running its stores using the “90 in the red” model throughout the year (and failing to accommodate the changing tastes of adult collectors), the stores ultimately succumbed to closure. It was inevitable.

What tipped the scale, though, was 2005’s $6.6 billion leveraged buyout of Toys “R” Us by the KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado Realty Trust; a purchase that saddled the corporation with at least $5 billion in debt, in addition to its already mounting toy inventory debt each operating year. There was simply no way Toys “R” Us could recover from and pay down that debt considering its interest each month.

In fact, it was this very same leveraged buyout that not only trashed Toys “R” Us, it also lost its original private equity investors at least $1.28 billion. Even these private equity firms were ignorant of Toys “R” Us’s “90 in the red” model. You’d think that between three different private equity firms, one would have had brain among them. I guess not. Toys “R” Us was not worth buying strictly because of that business model… and it was especially true when considering saddling an already debt overburdened company with even more debt. It was an insanely stupid buyout made more stupid because of the lack performing even the most basic of fiduciary responsibility. Those private equity firms got exactly what they deserved out of that deal. Make the wrong deal, get the wrong results.

If I had been sitting in the room when this buyout deal was being considered, I would have put the kibosh on that deal pronto. If managers of stores could recognize how badly Toys “R” Us was operating in the 80s, why couldn’t a bunch of suits at three different private equity firms see this before plopping down $6.6 billion?

Overvaluation

If anything, 2005’s TRU sale is a cautionary tale. There are way too many buyouts that are purchased at way too high a value. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Companies worth maybe $500 million sell for $3 billion? It’s just insane the money that’s being overspent. Would you walk into Walmart and offer to pay $25 for a $5 tube of toothpaste? I don’t think so. So, why do these investors think it’s okay to spend $6.6 billion on a company worth maybe $1 billion at its best… and it was then likely actually worth much less considering the debt that it already carried. Its insane business model should have further reduced its value.

Could Toys “R” Us have been saved?

Probably not. At least, not with its status quo business model. But, it might have been saved IF Toys “R” Us had adopted a more balanced approach to its store sales and more sane merchandise ordering in combination with letting managers actually handle full store merchandising instead of relying on nice looking, but misguided corporate-standard planograms.

Only stock enough merchandise in a specific store that that store can actually sell. Let managers move stock around on shelves and place the merchandise in their store where it’s most likely to sell. Additionally, don’t send stock to a store where the buying demographic isn’t buying that type of merchandise. If Barbies aren’t popular in a particular store’s demographic region, send limited amounts of Barbies there. It’s a waste of money and effort to stock merchandise that doesn’t sell. One of Toys “R” Us’s biggest foibles was its cookie-cutter store approach. That meant it was sending the same stock to all stores regardless of popularity in that local store’s area. It also meant that it way overspent on toys that would never sell at certain stores. Eventually, they simply had to clearance out those toys. Each store’s inventory should have been customized based on buying habits of local consumers and by the local manager. Only the local store team knows what’s the “hot sellers” in their store.

Clearance merchandise is actually a red flag in the retail business. It means that, as a store, you way overspent on merchandise that you couldn’t sell. If you have excessive clearance merchandise, then your merchandise spends are way off. It also means that your buyer is overbuying stuff that isn’t selling. It means you need to rethink your buyer and it means your new buyer needs to rethink how much to spend on similar types of products.

One of Toys “R” Us’s other foibles was its inability to recognize and stock the “hottest toys” rapidly. If you send 5 of something to a store and it sells out in 10 minutes, you need to stock more of it and you need to do it pronto. Yet, it might take Toys “R” Us 30 or more days to get that merchandise back in stock. That’s 30 days of zero sales… sales that could have been had the next day and the day after that. Missed sales were one of TRU’s biggest problems. Having merchandise in stock that you can sell day after day is a huge win. Yet, if the corporate buyers don’t even know to reorder this thing again, the store is blind. This is why the next part was so important to improving TRU.

Instead, this toy chain should have let the local managers have autonomy via cutting merchandise from their store that isn’t selling and placing rush orders on the hottest toys. By letting the managers, you know, actually manage the store’s inventory properly, the stores could have cut costs and raised profits. The managers could have done this by buying more of popular hot sellers in that area, shuffling cold merchandise to other stores that can sell it and cutting non-sellers from the inventory. In fact, managers should have actually had access to every store’s inventory throughout the chain and when that item last sold there. If a particular item is selling hot in one store, but is completely dead in other stores, the hot item store manager should be able to request stock moved from the cold stores to their store. This way, managers could have directly moved inventory from store to store instead of placing orders for more stock, thus causing more debt. Only after the existing in-store inventory was exhausted should a new order need to be placed. The buyers from the chain should have endorsed this manager autonomy.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a priority for the very rigid corporate run TRU. I could walk into a store in Texas and find specific toys always out of stock. Then walk into a TRU in St. Louis a week later and find twenty of them sitting on the shelf with dust on the top. If stores had been able to request the hottest toys moved from other stores, the chain could have saved a lot of money on new stock orders.

This change in business model could have drastically improved Toys “R” Us’s profitability throughout the year. It probably would have cut down on orders to toy sellers, but something’s got to give when you’re running a retail store chain. If the toy manufacturers had to suffer a little to let Toys “R” Us recover and be a whole lot more profitable, then so be it.

Unfortunately, TRU’s status quo model endured. Even if the leveraged buyout hadn’t occurred in 2005, Toys “R” Us’s fate was pretty much sealed strictly by is “90 in the red” (cookie cutter) mentality. It was only a matter of time before it succumbed to its own debt burden even if it hadn’t incurred a ton more debt after that poor sale. The 2005 unwise sale simply accelerated Toys “R” Us’s already looming demise.

↩︎

What’s wrong with Quora?

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on July 28, 2019

QuoraYou might be asking, “What is Quora?” We’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s explore the problems with Quora.

Questions and Answers

Before we get into Quora, let’s start by talking about Google. Many people seek answers from Google for many different questions. In fact, questions are the number one use for Google. You don’t go to Google to seek answers you already know. You go there to search (or question) things you don’t know. Such questions might include:

  • Where can I buy a toaster?
  • How long do I bake a chicken?
  • How do I make Quesadillas?
  • What’s the value of my 1974 Pontiac T-Bird?

These are full text questions. And yes, Google does support asking questions in long form such as these above. You can also search Google by using short key words, such as “toastmaster toaster” or “pontiac t-bird” (no, you don’t even need to use the proper case).

These short form questions are solely for use at search engines. When seeking answers to long form questions both Google and other sites can offer responses to your questions. One such site is Quora. Another is Yahoo Answers (a much older platform). Even Google got in on this action with Google Questions and Answers.

Quora

Quora is a recent incarnation of the older Yahoo Answers platform. Even before Yahoo Answers, there was Ask Jeeves. Even Epinions, a product review site (defunct as of 2018), had many answers to many questions. Epinions, in fact, opens a bigger discussion around site closures and content… but that’s a discussion for another article.

The real question (ahem) is whether sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora provide valuable answers or whether they simply usurp Google’s ability to answer questions in more trusted ways. I’m on the fence as to this question’s answer. Let me explain more about Quora to understand why I feel this way.

Quora is a crowdsourced product. By that I mean that both questions and answers are driven by crowds of subscribers. Not by Quora staff or, indeed, Quora at all. Unlike Wikipedia which has many volunteers who constantly proof, correct and improve articles to make Wikipedia a trustworthy information source, Quora offers nothing but the weakest of moderation. In fact, the only moderation Quora offers is both removal of answers and banning of accounts.

Quora has no live people out there reviewing questions and answers for either grammar and mechanics, nor trustworthiness. No one questions whether an answer is valid, useful or indeed even correct. Quora doesn’t even require its answer authors to cite sources or in any way validate what they have written. In fact, Quora’s moderation system is so broken that when answer authors do cite sources, their answer might be flagged and removed as ‘spam’. Yes, the very inclusion of web site links can and will cause answers to be marked as spam and removed from the site. Quora’s insane rationale is that if there’s a web link, it must be pointing to a site owned by the answer author and in which the answer author is attempting to advertise. This stupid and undermining rationale is applied by bots who neither read the content they review nor do they understand that the answer author can’t possibly own Wikipedia.com, Amazon.com or eBay.com.

Indeed, Quora’s moderation is so bare bones basic and broken, it undermines Quora’s own trustworthiness so much so that when you read an answer on Quora, you must always question the answer author’s reputation. Even then, because Quora’s verification and reputation system is non-existent, you can never know if the person is who they say they are. But, this is just the tip of the troubles at Quora.

Quora’s Real Problems

Trustworthiness is something every information site must address. It must address it in concrete and useful ways, ways that subscribers can easily get really fast. Wikipedia has addressed its trust issues by a fleet of moderators who constantly comb Wikipedia and who question every article and every statement in each article. Even with a fleet of moderators, incorrect information can creep in. Within a day or two, that information will either be corrected or removed. Wikipedia has very stringent rules around the addition and verification of information.

Twitter offers a verification system so that celebrities and people of note can send information to Twitter to verify who they say they are to Twitter staff. You’ll notice these as little blue check mark’s by the Twitter subscriber’s name. These check marks validate the person as legitimate and not a fake.

Quora, on the other hand, has no such rules or validation systems at all. In fact, Quora’s terms of service are all primarily designed around “behaving nicely” with no rules around validation of content or of authors. Indeed, Quora offers no terms that address trust or truth of the information provided. Far too many times, authors use Quora as a way of writing fanciful fiction. Worse, Quora does nothing to address this problem. They’re too worried about “spam” links than about whether an answer to a question is valid or trustworthy.

Yet, Quora continually usurps Google’s search by placing its questions (and answers implicitly) at the top of the search results. I question the value in Quora for this. It’s fine if Quora’s answers appear in search towards the bottom of the page, but they should NEVER appear at the number 1 position. This is primarily a Google problem. That Google chooses to promote untrustworthy sites at the top of its search results is something that Google most definitely needs to address. Sure, it is a problem for Quora, but it’s likewise a problem for Google.

Google purports to want to maintain “safety” and “trustworthiness” in its search by not leading you to malicious sites and by, instead, leading you to trustworthy sites. Yet, it plops Quora’s sometimes malicious answers at the top of its search results. Google needs to begin rating sites for trustworthiness and it should then push search results to appropriate levels based on that level of trust. Google needs to insist that sites like Quora, which provide consumers with actionable information, must maintain a certain level of trust to maintain high search rankings. Quora having its question results appear in the top 3 positions of the first page of Google search based entirely on weak trustworthiness is completely problematic.

Wikipedia strives to make its site trustworthy… that what you read is, indeed, valuable, valid and truthful information. Quora, on the other hand, makes absolutely no effort to ensure its answers are valid, trustworthy or, indeed, even truthful. You could ask Google for the answer to a question. You might see Quora’s results at the top of Google’s results and click it. Google placing such sites in the top 3 positions implies an automatic level of trust. That the sites that appear in the first 3 results are there because they ARE trustworthy. This implicit trust is entirely misplaced. Google doesn’t, in fact, place sites in the top of its search because they are trustworthy. It places them there because of “popularity”.

You simply can’t jump to this “trustworthiness” conclusion when viewing Google search results. The only thing you can glean from a site appearing in Google results is that it is not going to infect your computer with a virus. Otherwise, Google places any site at the top of its ranking when Google decides to rank in that position. As I said, you should never read any implicit level of trust into sites which appear in the first 3 positions of Google search. Quora proves this out. Quora’s entire lack of trustworthiness of information means that Google is not, in any way, looking out for your best interests. They are looking out for Quora, not you. Quora’s questions sometimes even rank higher than Wikipedia.

Quora’s Answers

With that said, let’s delve deeper into the problem with Quora’s answers. If you’ve ever written an answer on Quora, then you’ll fully understand what I’m about to say. Quora’s terms of service are, in fact, counter to producing trustworthy answers. Unlike news sites like CNN, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times, where journalistic integrity is the key driving force, Quora ensures none of this. Sure, Quora’s answer editor tool does offer the ability to insert quotes and references, but doing so can easily mark your answer as ‘spam’.

In fact, I’ve had 2 or 3 year old Quora answers marked as ‘spam’ and removed from view because of the inclusion of a link to an external and reputable web site. Quora cites violation of terms for this when, in fact, no such violation exists. The author is then required to spend time appealing this “decision”.

Instead, its bots will remove reviews from its site based entirely upon reports by users. If a user doesn’t like the answer, they can report the review and the review bot will then take the answer down and place it under moderation appeal. There is no manual review by actual Quora staff to check the bot’s work. This work is all done by robots. Robots that can be gamed and sabotaged by irate, irrational, upset users who have a vendetta against other Quorans.

The answer takedowns are never in the interest of trust or making Quora more trustworthy, but are always in the interest of siding with the reporting user who has a vendetta or is simply insane. Users have even learned that they can game Quora’s robots to have answers removed without valid reasons or, indeed, no reasons at all. There’s no check and balance with the moderation robots or takedown requests. Quora receives a report, the answer is summarily removed.

Unfortunately, this is the tip of a much larger Quora iceberg. Let’s continue.

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

All of the above leads to an even bigger problem. Instead of Quora spending its development time attempting to shore up its level of site trust, it instead spends its time creating questionable programs like the Partner Program. A program that, in one idea, sums up everything wrong with Quora.

What is the Partner Program? I’ll get to that in a moment. What the Partner Program ultimately is to Quora is an albatross. Or, more specifically, it will likely become Quora’s downfall. This program solidifies everything I’ve said above and, simultaneously, illustrates Quora’s lack of understanding of its very own platform. Quora doesn’t “get” why a question and answer platform is important.

Which is more important to Quora? They answered this question (ha, see what I did there?) by making the question more important than the answer.

That’s right. The Partner Program rewards people monetarily who ask questions, NOT by rewarding the people who spend the lion’s share of their time writing thoughtful, truthful, trustworthy answers. In effect, Quora has told answer authors that their answers don’t matter. You can write a two sentence answer and it would make no difference. Yes, let’s reward the people who spend 5 minutes writing a 5-10 word sentence… not the people who spend an hour or two crafting trustworthy answers. And this is Quora’s problem in a nutshell.

Worse, it’s not the questions that draw people in to Quora. Yes, the question may be the ‘search terms’, but it’s not why people end up on Quora. The question leads people in, it’s the ANSWER that keeps them there. It’s the answers that people spend their time reading, not the questions.

This is the iceberg that Quora doesn’t get nor do they even understand. The questions are stubs. The questions are merely the arrow pointing the way. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The questions are not the reason people visit Quora.

By producing the Partner Program, Quora has flipped the answer authors the proverbial middle finger.finger-512If you’re a Quora answer author, you should definitely consider the Partner Program as insulting. Quora has effectively told the answer authors, “Your answers are worthless. Only questions have monetary value.” Yes, let’s reward the question writers who’ve spent perhaps less than 5 minutes devising a sentence. Let’s completely ignore the answer authors who have spent sometimes hours or days crafting their words, researching those words for clarity and truthfulness and ensuring trust in each detailed answer.

It’s not the questions that draw people in, Quora staff. People visit Quora for the answers. Without thoughtful answers, there is absolutely no reason to visit Quora.

Indeed, Quora’s thinking is completely backasswards, foolish and clownish. It shows just how much a clown outfit Quora really is. Seriously, placing value on the questions at the expense of answer authors who spend hours crafting detailed answers is the very definition of clownish. That situation would be synonymous to The Washington Post or The New York Times valuing and paying readers to leave comments and then asking their journalists to spend their own time and money writing and researching their articles, only to give the article to the newspaper for free. How many journalists would have ever become journalists knowing this business model?

Qlowns

Whomever at Quora dreamed up this clownish idea should be summarily walked to the door. Dissing and dismissing the very lifeblood of your site, the actual question authors, is just intensely one of the most stupid and insane things I’ve seen a site do in its life.

Not only is the very concept of the partner program qlownish, not only does it completely dissuade authors from participating in Quora, not only does is it completely backwards thinking, not only does it reward question authors (which honestly makes no sense at all), this program does nothing to establish trust or indeed, does nothing to put forth any journalistic integrity.

Instead, Quora needs to ditch the question Partner Program and fast. It needs to quickly establish a system that not only rewards the best answer authors, it needs to enforce journalistic integrity on EVERY ANSWER. It needs to implement a validation system to ensure that authors are who they say they are. It needs to make certain that every answer author understands that they are in every real sense a ‘journalist’. And, as a journalist, they should uphold journalistic integrity. That integrity means properly researching sources and properly citing those sources. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it means that Quora’s answers will become trustworthy sources of information.

Right now, the answer authors are mostly random and low quality. In fact, most answers are of such low quality that you simply can’t trust anything found on Quora. Since Quora does not enforce any level of journalistic standards on the answers, there is no way anyone reading Quora should trust what any answer author writes. An answer may seem detailed, but in some cases they are pure fiction. No one at Quora ensures that answers in any way uphold any level of journalistic integrity (there’s that phrase again). It’s an important phrase when you’re writing something that people rely on.

Making a statement of fact for something that seems questionable needs to be cited with a source of reference. Show that at least one other reputable source agrees with your “facts”. That doesn’t mean that that “fact” is true. It’s easy for other reputable sites to be fooled by tricksters. This is why it’s important to cite several reputable sources which agree with your facts. I don’t want to dive deep into the topic of journalistic integrity or what it takes to validate sources, so I’ll leave this one here. This article is about Quora’s inability to uphold journalistic integrity.

Quora’s Backward Thinking

Indeed, the Partner Program’s existence confirms that Quora’s site importance is the opposite of journalistic integrity. Quora’s team values only the questions and the question writers. They do not, in any way, value the journalistic integrity required to write a solid, trustworthy answer. Questions are mere tools. They do not at all imply any level of trust. Here’s another analogy that might make more sense.

A question is simply the key to open a lock. A key is a tool and nothing more. You pay for the lock and key together. You don’t pay only for a key. Paying for a key without a lock means you don’t value (or indeed) even need a lock. You can’t lock anything with only a key. The two are a pair and they both go hand-in-hand. If you lose the key, you can’t open the lock. If you lose the lock, they key has no value. However, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace the lock. This shows you the value of a ‘key’ alone.

Because Quora chooses to place value only the key and not on the lock, they have entirely lost the ability to protect Quora’s reputation and credibility. Indeed, Quora’s credibility was already in jeopardy before the Partner Program was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. With the Partner Program, Quora has solidified its lack of credibility. Quora has officially demonstrated that it is committed to valuing and paying only for keys and never paying for locks to go with those keys. That means the locks will be the weakest, most flimsiest pieces of junk to ever exist… indeed, the locks won’t even exist.

When you’re trying to secure something, you want the strongest, most durable, most rugged, most secure lock you can afford. You don’t care about the key other than as a the means of opening and securing a lock. Sure, you want the key to be durable and rugged, but a key is a key. There’s nothing so magical about a key that you’d be willing the shell out big bucks solely for a key. You always expect a lock and key to go together. You expect to buy both and you expect them both to work as a cohesive whole. If the key fails, the lock is worthless. If the lock is breakable, then the key is worthless. A lock and key are the very definition of a synergistic relationship. In the lock and key relationship, both have equal importance to the relationship. However, the lock itself is viewed by most people as the most important piece. Locks, however, become unimportant if they can’t secure the belongings they are entrusted to protect. Yes, you do need both the key and the lock for the system to function as a whole.

Likewise, Quora needs both the question and answer to function as a cohesive whole. In the synergistic relationship between the question and an answer, neither is more important in this synergy. Of the two, however, like the lock mechanism, the answer is the most important to the end user because it is what imparts the most information to the reader. It is what must be trustworthy. It is what must contain the information needed to answer the question. The question then holds the same functionality as a key. In fact, it is very much considered a key to Google. That’s why they’re called ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Using the word ‘key’ when in relation to a search engine is intended to be very much synonymous with a real life key you attach to a key ring. A keyword unlocks the data you need.

Valuing both the Lock and Key

Quora needs a rethink. If there’s any value to be held on data, both the key and the lock, or more specifically the question and answer, need to be valued as a cohesive whole. If you value the question, then you must also value the answer(s). This means revenue sharing. The question author will then receive the equivalent % of revenue that each answer author receives based on work involved. Since a sentence might take you 5 minutes to write and requires no trustworthiness at all, the maximum value a question author might receive would be no more than 10%. The remaining 90% of the revenue would be issued to the answer authors based on traffic driven to the site.

Let’s say that $100 in revenue is driven to that Q&A for the first month. $10 is given to the question asker… always 10% of total revenue. That’s probably a little on the high side, but the question asker did kick the whole process off.

Now, let’s say 3 answers are submitted for the question. Let’s assume all 3 answer authors are participating in the revenue program. The remaining $90 is then spread among the 3 answer authors based on total views. Likes might pump up the percentage by a small percentage. If one answer is fully detailed and receives 2.5k views in 30 days and the remaining two answers receive 500 views each, then the 2.5k views answer author would receive at least 72% of the remaining revenue (2.5k + 1k = 3.5k). 2.5k is ~72% of 3.5k. This means this author would receive 72% of the remaining $90 or a total of $65. The remaining $15 would be split between the other two authors. The more participating authors, the less money to go around per answer. Questions that receive perhaps 200 answers might see only a few dollars of revenue per author.

There must also be some guidelines around answers for this to work. Answer authors must be invited to participate in the program. If the answer author isn’t invited and hasn’t agreed to terms, no revenue is shared. Also, one word, one sentence and off-topic answers disqualify the answer from sharing in revenue. Additionally, to remain in the revenue program, the answer author must agree to write solid, on-topic, properly structured, fully researched and cited answers. If an invited author attempts to game the system by producing inappropriate answers to gain revenue, the author will be disqualified from the program with any further ability to participate. Basically, you risk involvement in the revenue sharing by attempting to game it.

This math incentivizes not only quality questions, but also quality answers. The better an answer is, the more views it is likely to receive. More views means more revenue. The better and clearer the answer, the more likely the author is to not only be asked to participate in the revenue sharing program, the more likely they are to receive a higher share of that revenue. The best answers should always be awarded the highest amounts of revenue possible.

Google vs Quora

As I postulated early in the article, does Quora actually hold any value as a site or does it merely usurp Google’s search results? This is a very good question, one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. For me, I find that Quora’s current answers range from occasionally and rarely very high quality to, mostly, junky worthless answers. This junky aspect of Quora leads me towards Quora being a Google usurper. In other words, most of Quora’s results in Google are trash clogging up the search results. They shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, Google returns all results in a search whether high or low quality. Google does offer some limited protection mechanisms to prevent malicious sites from appearing in results. But, Google’s definition of the word ‘malicious’ can be different than mine in many cases. Simply because someone can put up a web site with random information doesn’t automatically make that site valuable. Value comes from continually providing high quality information on an ongoing basis… the very definition of professional journalism. Now we’re back to journalistic integrity. We’ve come full circle.

Unfortunately, because of Quora’s lack of insistence on journalistic integrity, I find Quora to be nothing more than a mere novelty… no better than TMZ or the National Enquirer. I’m not saying TMZ doesn’t have journalists. They do. But, a rag is always a rag. Any newspaper dishing dirt on people I always consider the bottom feeders of journalism… the very dreckiest of tabloid journalism. This type of journalism is the kind of trash that has kept the National Enquirer and other tabloids in business for many, many years. It’s sensational journalism at its finest (or worst). Sure, these writers might aspire to be true journalists some day, but they’ll never find reputable journalistic employment dishing dirt on celebrities or fabricating fiction (unless they begin writing fiction novels).

Unfortunately, many of Quora’s answers fall well below even the standards established by the dreckiest of tabloids. The one and only one thing tabloids and Quora have in common is fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction on Quora isn’t even that entertaining. It’s occasionally amusing, but most of it is tedious and cliché at its most common. Think of the worst movie you’ve watched, then realize that most of these Quora fiction “stories” are even less entertaining than that. There may be a few gems here and there (probably written by professional writers simply exercising their chops on Quora), but most of it is not worth reading.

Worse, the trust level of what’s written is so low (regardless of purported “credentials”), there’s nothing on Quora worth extending a level of trust. Reading Quora for sheer entertainment value, perhaps that can be justified a little. Even then, most answers fall way short of having even entertainment value. Even the worst YouTube videos have more entertainment value. Full levels of trust? No way. Quora has in no way earned that.

Seeking Answers

Yes, we all need questions answered, occasionally. We all need to seek advice, occasionally. Yes, I’m even seeking to answer the question, “What’s wrong with Quora?” Of course, don’t expect to read any answers like THIS on Quora. Oh, no no no. Quora is very, very diligent at removing anything it deems to be anti-Quora in sentiment, such at this article. Anyway, if you choose to seek out Quora for this kind of information, Quora’s immediately problems become your problem. Considering all of the above, Quora is probably one of the worst ways of getting information. Not only can you be easily deceived by an answer author, you can be taken for a ride down Scam Lane. Trust advice from Quora with the same level of acceptance as you would from a 6 year old child. I’m not saying there are 6 year old children on Quora, but Quora certainly acts like one. Seeking Quora for advice means you could, in fact, be taking advice from 13 year old via a Barbie encrusted iPad.

Should I write for Quora?

I’m sure this is the question you are now contemplating after having read this article. This is a question that only you can answer. However, let me leave you with these thoughts. When you write answers for Quora under the current Partner Program, you are doing so for free. Yet, question authors are being paid for YOUR effort, answer and research. You spend the time, THEY get the dime. It’s an entirely unfair arrangement.

To answer this question more definitively… I personally won’t write any future answers for Quora. Quora currently relies on each answer author’s thoughtful, researched answers to make its a success (and bring in ad dollars). If you do not like this turn of events with the Partner Program, say, “NO” and do not write for Quora.

If enough answer authors stop 🛑 writing for Quora, the questions writers can’t and won’t be paid. This will have Quora scrambling for a new fairer equity system. If you are just as disgusted by Quora’s Partner Program as I am, then walk way from Quora and no longer write answers. I have stopped writing answers and will no longer write any further answers for the site until they come to their senses and compensate both question writers and answer writers equally in a profit sharing arrangement.

↩︎

Rant Time: Pinterest

Posted in botch, business, Random Thoughts, rant, reviews, social media by commorancy on June 30, 2019

pinterestPinterest is an image sharing platform using image ‘pins’, which should be interesting. After all, the word “interest” is in its name. You would think that before releasing a platform designed around relevance, the Pinterest team could actually design an engine capable of producing relevant and interesting images. NOT! Pinterest is one of the worst, if not THE worst platform, at displaying relevant ‘pins’ in your feed, not that Tumblr and Instagram are much better at this. Let’s explore.

Search Interests

One of the things that has vexed developers for a long time is how to show you stuff that’s actually interesting and, more importantly, relevant to you. Amazon and Google have done a decent, albeit not any anywhere near perfect, job of implementing such search heuristics, where the results actually offer some measure of interest and relevance to you based on the data they know about you.

This data collection, storage and mining issue is currently a point of privacy contention among many and is even in the news, but ‘search history’ is the primary means of showing you “stuff” that is actually of personal interest. The secondary method, which is less creepy and at least a bit more tolerable, is asking you directly for categories you’re interested in (i.e., sports, fashion, music, your age, single/married, kids, etc). Still, your search history actually contains the most relevant information about you as it’s recent and current. Unlike family relationships that can change (kids grow up, couples separate, graduate from college, move, get remarried, etc), search history implies a lot about your current situation and is way more up-to-date than explicitly given data that gets old even just a month or two after it’s given. Explicit offered data can even be based on lies, because some people roll that way.

As an example of recent search history, searching about baby related stuff (cribs, clothing, formula, diapers) might yield ads from Amazon, Target or Walmart selling baby goods. It only makes sense… and this is an example of ‘relevance targeting’. That is, targeting you with images or ads you have searched for in the recent past. Same for searching for wedding, bridal or other similar information. Same for searching for car buying. Search history is ‘in the now’ information that is clearly relevant to you “right now”. The “right now” portion of search relevance is key to a great relevance engine and to ad targeting.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if you share a computer with multiple people; for example, you might have a family of four or have roommates in your dorm. In cases like these, your daughter might have searched for Barbie dolls and now you have a bunch of irrelevant (to you) stuff related to Barbie or toys or kid related items. The search engine simply can’t recognize who is at the keyboard. It currently can only attribute search results to a specific computer. Until search engines can identify who is at the keyboard with each search (i.e., facial or voice recognition), engines must identify based only on the computer itself (a limited recognition system). This is the reason voice assistants like “Ok, Google”, Alexa, Siri and Cortana are so important. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these assistants yet identify the voice itself. They only recognize the words spoken and translate that into text search.

Search relevance definitely isn’t perfect much of the time and doesn’t work at all when using a shared device. Using a shared device, I do get why ‘relevant ad targeting’ doesn’t work. However, if your device is solely used by you, then relevance targeting should work perfectly… or at least as perfectly as today’s targeting algorithms allow. Yet, for Pinterest, it doesn’t.

Pinterest’s Targeting Engine

Why discuss the above? Let’s illustrate exactly how Amazon and Google work ad targeting relevance. If you’ve searched for “men’s clothing” in the recent past, then Google and Amazon will insert these kinds of items into your ‘feed’. A feed is basically a place on the screen where ‘Recommended for you’ stuff appears.

Pinterest doesn’t use a ‘Recommended’ area, instead choosing to intermix it all together in one immediate and immense jumbled mess. If any dictionary needs an example for ‘cluttered’, Pinterest certainly works.

[RANT ON]

Like bread falling butter side down, so this rant begins. Pinterest has one of the worst designed, most sloppy, most cluttered, most inaccurate relevance engines in existence. In fact, I don’t even think Pinterest has a relevance engine. They seem to vomit up all random irrelevant garbage into your Pinterest feed based on who knows what criteria.

Worse, they then attribute that random spewed garbage to being ‘Inspired by’ (a form of ‘Recommend’) to a board you’ve created. I’m sorry. Wait.. what, Pinterest? How does a picture of a baby in a carryall at all relate to men’s fitness? Seriously, I’m a single guy. I am not currently in a relationship. How does a picture of a baby at all interest me or, more specifically, how does that picture of a baby relate to body fitness? Clearly, a baby is not the definition of ‘fitness’. That is, unless Pinterest is actually trying to promote pedophilia?!?

Worse, I also see pictures of fat hipped women that claim to be ‘Inspired By’ a board on men’s bodybuilding and fitness (no women in that board at all). I also see women’s hair styles flooding my feed claiming to be ‘Inspired by’ a board on men’s underwear. I see pins of women in wedding dresses. I see pins of women’s high heeled shoes. I see women wearing random fingernail polish and acrylic nails. These are entirely fashion related and I have not a single board or pin devoted to women, women’s fashion or, indeed, women’s anything. Not a single board. How can you possibly claim attribution of these completely random images to any board in my account?

I’m not against any of these topics. If I want to see them, I’ll go search for them and look at whatever pins are there by searching. However, I DON’T want them in my Pinterest feed. These pins have no place there.

It Gets Worse

From here, Pinterest’s relevance goes into the toilet (literally… yes, bathroom cleaners are there too). I get that Pinterest might think a single guy might have some interest in looking at the female form dressed or coiffed nicely. But, even if that’s true (and in my case it isn’t, at least I don’t want it in my feed), Pinterest insists on throwing all manner of completely irrelevant garbage into my feed.

It’s not simply limited to arbitrary women’s fashion, oh no no no, my reader friends. Pinterest insists on throwing Arabic writing into my feed… a language I not only cannot read, I also have no interest in. I’m sure that whatever is written there is fascinating, too bad it’s wasted on me by throwing it into my feed, an English speaking person.

It gets worse. For at least six months (maybe longer), my feed was entirely littered with page after page of all manner of tattooed body parts… just the parts. These included ankles, wrists, shoulders, backs, butts and torsos. Sometimes the tattooed body part is so close to the camera, I can’t even identify where it is. Worse, the tattoos are downright fugly. They looked like someone had done it themselves DIY at home. A few were professionally done, but many were so horrendous, who would even consider putting such a thing on their body? Anyway, I have no tattoos, have no interest in getting tattoos and don’t want to see tattooed body parts in my feed. I hadn’t searched for tattoos, so Pinterest didn’t get this ‘idea’ from my search history.

These tattoo body part pins were literally clogging up my feed. Nearly every image in my feed was of a body part. I might understand seeing a little of these images occasionally. As I said, it didn’t come from search. However, while I did have a fitness board that incidentally contained some men with tattoos, they were there because of their physique, not because of their tattoo. Pinterest doesn’t get it. It only saw a tattoo and then insisted that I might have some interest in tattooing my body… thus flooding my feed with body part after body part with UGLY tattoos. A completely wrong assumption, I might add.

Assumptions are, in fact, the prerequisite to search relevance. Unfortunately, Pinterest’s assumption engine is entirely wrong nearly 100% of the time. Just because an image contains a tattoo on someone’s shoulder, you can’t assume that to mean I want to tattoo my body and need help by flooding my feed with tattooed body parts. Wrong assumption, wrong results… or as the older computer adage goes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”

Pinterest Janitor

Here’s where it turns REALLY ugly. To clean up my feed, I had to play janitor. First, I had to spent valuable time going into all of my boards and clearing out ALL pins that had ANY tattoos in the image. Just gone… out of there. That helped a little, but only a tiny amount. It only helped a little because Pinterest’s engine had already ‘learned’ this ‘interest’ based on an incorrect assumption. Unfortunately, ‘unlearning’ learned stuff can he incredibly difficult… and, in Pinterest’s case, it is! Second, I had to spent time going through each new “tattooed body part” pin appearing in my feed, then following that pin through to the original account who pinned it… and then, you guessed it, block the account. That all sounds easy enough, but because of the way Pinterest works, it’s actually quite time consuming jumping from page to page and waiting for Pinterest to refresh each super long, image laden page.

I spent the better part of a week opening pins, going into accounts and blocking account after account after account. Blocking the account is the only way not to see these pins in the future (well, sort of… this is actually broken, too and I’ll discuss this next).

You’d think that a platform like Pinterest could figure out a way to wholesale remove an interest category from a feed… but you’d be wrong. Nope, there is no way to remove an interest (or should I say, exclude non-interests) from the feed. The only way to remove an interest is to, one by one, block the accounts producing the pins. It’s the only way. Even then, new accounts spawn all the time leading to brand new pins of the same old stuff recycled back into my feed… requiring even more blocking. It’s a never ending janitorial cycle.

Now, you might be asking, “Why not click the … (ellipsis) menu on the pin and report it?” I tried that. It doesn’t work. Reporting the pin as spam does nothing. The pins continue to show up. The only way to stop a pin is to block the account who pinned it. Even then, blocking an account has limited ability to even stop the problem…

When Blocking Doesn’t Work

You might think, once again, that blocking an account would block all pins by that account. Again, you’d be wrong. The only thing that blocking an account does is block pins created directly by that account. If a different unblocked account repins one of a blocked account’s pins, it can still end up in my feed. Repins via unblocked accounts allow pins through from accounts that are blocked. It’s not the pin that’s blocked, it’s the account. This is a huge heuristic mistake for a platform like Pinterest.

Even then, blocking an account doesn’t take effect immediately (or sometimes even at all). Pins that are already in your feed stay in your feed, even after you’ve blocked an account. I’ve blocked accounts and for several hours after continued to see that account’s pins in my feed after refreshing multiple times. A block seems to take up to 24 hours to actually take effect fully. Even then, I’m not entirely certain that blocking does much good because of repinning. Repinning is Pinterest’s version of Twitter’s retweet functionality. It allows any account to pin into their own account. Pinterest will then pull that pin out of that account and shove it into random people’s feed… even if the pin originated from a now blocked account.

Still, blocking an account doesn’t do anything to block Pinterest’s crap relevance engine. Even if I block account by account, Pinterest’s engine insists on filling my feed with all manner of random garbage similar to what was blocked.

Following Accounts

You would also think that by following other Pinterest accounts, Pinterest would be more inclined to show us pins by those accounts whom we follow. Again, you’d be wrong. While Pinterest does show pins by followed accounts in the feed, it also intermixes in accounts not being followed. In fact, I’d say that Pinterest tends to show more account pins not being followed than those who are being followed. Sometimes that may have to do with when those followed accounts are active.

For example, if your followed accounts haven’t been active in the last hour or two, then Pinterest still insists on filling your feed with pins (a feature that is entirely unnecessary). If those I’m following haven’t pinned recently, then show me a blank page. It’s fine if the page has no pins. I’d rather see no pins in my feed than a bunch of random garbage.

Anyway, when pins by accounts you are following don’t appear in the feed, it could simply mean they’re not pinning. Instead, your feed is being cluttered by extraneous random garbage. The trouble is, it is truly garbage and not at all relevant. The weird thing is, there is so much more relevant content on Pinterest that the engine never finds and places into my feed. I have to use Pinterest’s search panel to go find it. It’s this random irrelevant garbage that makes Pinterest completely worthless as a platform.

You’d assume that Pinterest would prioritize followed account pins over random pins, but again you’d be wrong. Pinterest has no interest in trying to make their engine more relevant. They’re simply interested in promoting random accounts’ pins into feeds, even when those pins make absolutely no sense for that particular user (i.e., image of babies shown to grown single men).

The Pinterest Idea

The idea behind the Pinterest platform has merit. Too bad Pinterest’s implementation is such absolute shit. Images can be incredibly powerful, particularly so when that image is actually of interest to the viewer. On the other hand, images shown to people who have absolutely no interest in that subject matter is a wasted opportunity to show much more relevant content.

Pinterest wastes its opportunities every single time you refresh the page. Instead of feeding me actual images of interest, I get images of high heel shoes, of wedding dresses, of women in wedding dresses, of women’s hair, of babies, of smokey eye makeup, of tattooed body parts. I even get images of dog food bowls, dog collars and of dogs. I don’t own a dog. I no have interests in any of that. Yet, image after image after image is shown. It’s entirely frustrating dealing with Pinterest’s garbage.

But, that’s not the problem. Pinterest gives us NO TOOLS to actually wholesale remove these uninteresting photos from our feed. We have to deal with them one by one. We have to block accounts one by one. Even after going through all of the hoop jumping of blocking and reporting and hiding, photos of similar content STILL appear in the feed… day after day. Sometimes even the same pin I’ve reported or hidden STILL appears.

Just when I think I’ve got a handle on my feed, Pinterest re-ups and I get a whole new wave of garbage in my feed. With Pinterest, you simply cannot win that battle of spam photos. It’s a trash platform designed to be trashy. I’m amazed that it even still exists. I’m even more amazed that anyone finds it useful.

The Pinterest Dilemma

And here we come to the point that matters most. This is why Pinterest fails. The platform fails because Pinterest attempts to ‘guess’ what it thinks you want to see. Instead of actually asking you explicitly for interest categories, it attempts to learn what you like by the pins you click on. Unfortunately, it goes even deeper than that. It learns what you like by what those whom you follow click on… and those whom they follow click on. It feeds crap to you based on the interests and clicks of others, not what you specifically click on. It assumes that because somewhere down the line, someone you follow clicks on pictures of babies, you must also want to see pictures of babies or a bridal dress. This “sixth degrees of separation” assumption is entirely wrong for a relevance engine and needs to be removed. Of course, Pinterest also makes wrong assumptions simply by reviewing your activity.

When reviewing your personal activity, Pinterest’s difficulty is, like the tattooed fitness guys, its engine guesses wrong nearly every time. Instead of Pinterest seeing a bodybuilder in a fitness pose with a great physique, Pinterest sees the image as simplistically as a “person with a tattoo”. It then makes the entirely wrong assumption that “tattoo in image = interest in tattoos”.  It’s a simplistic, unsophisticated kindergarten assumption. It’s such a basic assumption, only a child could actually jump to that conclusion. Even then, only a child would jump to that conclusion if the parent already had tattoos and invited over a bodybuilder with tattoos. Only then might a child associate tattoo interest.

Having a relevance platform make the wrong assumption and jump to the most wrong conclusion is actually the worst of all possible outcomes for a relevance engine. It then leads your entire results astray and leads to frustration by what’s presented… thus making the platform worthless. It also means that once your “learning” machine learns this entirely wrong data, it’s doubly difficult to “unlearn” it. As I said, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” In fact, Pinterest has no way to correct these completely incorrect assumptions its engine has made.

Pinterest could fix this by asking direct questions about pins to understand if the assumptions it has made about a specific pin is correct. If the assumption is incorrect, it can “unlearn” a learned assumption. Better, simply ask us what we want to see in our feed and exclude all else. Also, give us exclusion features. See a pin, click to exclude all similar pins from the feed. Even then, Pinterest still needs to get rid of its association algorithm where it associates “women in bridal outfits” or “babies in bassinets” or “doggie treats” with “men’s bodybuilding”… which is probably entirely attributed to its completely incorrect “six degrees of separation” relevance idea.

With all of that said, Pinterest does offer a mechanism to stop seeing pins “Inspired by”, but that’s a sledgehammer approach. Using that feature is all or nothing. It will stop the garbage, but it will also stop relevant pins. This feature is poorly designed and implemented. It’s the wrong approach for a relevance engine. Instead, as I said, as Pinterest users, we need exclusionary features that look at the image and exclude all like-kind images from the feed. Unfortunately, Pinterest just doesn’t get it!

[RANT OFF]

Since this is not only a rant and also doubles as a review of the Pinterest service, I rate Pinterest a solid 1.5 ★ out of 5. Pinterest, you seriously need to get your act together.

If you enjoy reading Randocity articles, please follow, like and share the article on your social media feeds. If you have had similar experiences with Pinterest, I’d like to hear your feedback via a comment below.

↩︎

 

 

Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

↩︎

Rant Time: Pizza Hut “Service Fee”?

Posted in botch, business, california, food by commorancy on April 3, 2019

If you’re wondering what Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” is, you’re not alone. I was wondering this myself on my last visit to Pizza Hut. Let’s Explore.

Service Fee

Apparently, some restaurants have found it hard to continue to do business in California. To that end, some of these restaurants have tried various tactics to raise their prices without raising their prices. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. But, there it is.

In that goal, some restaurants have instituted add-on fees to the bill in the form of new line items. For example, The Counter (a hamburger chain) has opted to add an “optional” service fee to the bill. This fee is to counter the higher wage costs they must pay and allow their prices to remain competitive with other chains. Except, it doesn’t keep the food costs competitive.

Pizza Hut appears to have grasped onto this slippery-slope approach with its “Service Fee” on the bill.

Confused

Even the staff taking orders don’t really know what this fee is, who is collecting it or even how to properly describe it. However, they do call it out when they are reading back the total cost of the bill.

When I placed my order, the waitperson misrepresented that it was a state of California fee… meaning, that the state of California was collecting this fee through this restaurant. As far as I know, the only mandated California fee is state sales tax. Yet, I’ve ordered from other restaurants and have paid no such “Service Fees” in addition to state mandated taxes.

No, this cashier was not only confused, she had no idea what it was even for and was clearly not trained to answer the question.

Money Collected versus what?

While I can’t speak specifically to the legality of this “fee”, it doesn’t seem all that legal to me, particularly if the cashier misrepresents the fee. As far as I know, businesses adding line items and collecting fees must provide some kind of product or service for that fee. Otherwise, it’s fraud. I can clearly tell you that my takeout order arrived bagged without plates, utensils or condiments. If that fee was to cover the takeout portion, they clearly didn’t offer any setup for my food. I also ordered pasta, which requires the use of a utensil.

It’s clear, this “Service Fee” is a price gouge attempt by Pizza Hut to rake in more money, but provide nothing in return.

High Percentage

Here’s the kicker on my bill. The “Service Fee” was actually higher than state sales tax. State tax on my order was $2.08 and Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” was $2.10 (exactly 10% of the $20.98 subtotal).

Then, she presented me with a credit card receipt that prompted for a tip. I gave $1. That $2.10 mandated service fee covered for the rest of that tip. I usually give up to 10% on takeout, but that was already given via their “Service Fee”. In fact, Pizza Hut really swindled me out of a nearly 15% tip on a takeout order.

Last Visit

Ultimately, this will be the last time I do business with Pizza Hut in California. Not only are they now swindling customers out of fees they don’t deserve, the Pizza sauce just wasn’t tasty. I simply won’t go back to this restaurant only to get swindled for low quality Pizza.

↩︎

 

 

Rant: Google Ethics Board?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2019

PadlockGoogle has chosen to put together an “Ethics Board” to evaluate the “Morality” of Google’s uses of AI in its products. Will this be enough? Do we trust the people chosen for this task? Personally, I don’t. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Ethics Board

While it’s commendable that Google sees the need for such a board (particularly after its privacy encroaching devices), the difficulty is in knowing if this move is simply window dressing for Google or if this board actually has teeth. My guess is that this board is simply there to take money from Google and place it into each Ethics Board Member’s pocket… and Google is still allowed to get away with its prying privacy-encroaching technologies, more now than ever. This is actually a typical sly corporate tactic regularly used in California to “look good” (specifically to regulators) rather than actually performing.

The reality is, putting random people on a board from seeming positions of trust is completely questionable. I don’t know any of the people chosen, so how can I possibly trust any of them to make the right decision for Google, let alone the consumer? Additionally, are these people versed enough in Google’s technology initiatives to even have a practical say in the matter? Likely not. Will they even be given access to Google’s upcoming technologies? Likely not.

Window Dressing

Unfortunately, many companies do see the need for such oversight, but they set it all up in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons. This is a prime example. Hiring random folks from colleges to “oversee” Google is akin to McDonald’s hiring random folks from non-food industries to oversee its food quality. Seriously, what are these people really going to do?

I can’t even imagine that this board will have any teeth to actually steer Google away from its privacy-encroaching unsavory-uses of its always-on listening devices. Even Amazon has not put together such a “committee”. The only thing this board will likely end up being is a patsy for when Google is found to have violated its own business ethics. They can then look to this board and say, “Well, you approved it” and then point the finger at the board for failing to “foresee” a problem. It’s a way to make shit run down hill and land on these unsuspecting folks on this board.

If I were considered for this board, I’d be highly skeptical of taking that position. It’s simply going to be a shitstorm for that board after Google does something questionable… and believe me, Google will.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

This saying is very apt in this situation. I can’t possibly see anything good coming from the decision to put together this board internally. The only way to possibly oversee a company like Google is from without, not within. There’s no way Google can watch itself ethically. If you’re paying people to watch your business ethics a**, there’s already an ethical dilemma. Because they’re on your payroll, they can’t exactly be ethically impartial. If some board member actually does try to “steer” Google away from some ethical problem, Google can simply replace the board member with someone more amenable to Google’s “new” strategy.

This is a no-win situation for Google, ethics or privacy. The only way this works is if an oversight committee is created by the US Congress (and other governing bodies) to oversee Google, Amazon and other AI offerings the size of Google. Only a third party government committee who is not on a company’s payroll can possibly (and legally) steer companies away from unethical consumer situations.

Unfortunately, the US is far too pro-business and far too anti-consumer privacy to offer up such an oversight committee. There is absolutely no way the government would put the brakes on Google or Amazon or any other company of this size even if what they are doing is ethically questionable.

Privacy Encroaching Devices

As a consumer, you need to consider long and hard about putting such devices into your home. Other than Google Chrome, I do not use have or use Google devices in my home. I already know Google can’t be trusted with this data. Google is an advertising company. It is designed to advertise to you. It’s designed to take what it learns about you and then feed ads to you that “fit” with your needs. In short, it is designed to watch what you do (invade your privacy) and then tailor advertisements based on the data it learned when it eavesdropped. Google is the very opposite definition of privacy. They want to know everything about you so they can “better” target you with ads. Amazon is a much smaller scale version of this. They only do this in relation to the Amazon.com web site.

Google has tentacles pretty much everywhere including within Chrome, Chromebooks, Google Home devices, ChromeCast and, yes, even in Android smart phones… especially in Android smart phones. The biggest problem is “Okay, Google” always on listening devices. There’s no way to know exactly what Google can listen to when it’s always listening… or exactly how that information might be used by Google.

The basic problem around this data collection is that Google stores that information about you on their servers. Servers which can be hacked. Data which can be leaked. Information that can be lost. It’s happened. It will happen again. Such an “Ethics Committee” put together by Google is, by it’s very design, strictly “window dressing”… and nothing more. They can’t stop leaks. They can’t stop data loss. They certainly can’t stop Google’s technology advancements.

Consumers Suffer the Consequences

Unfortunately, this means that consumers must suffer these insufferable consequences from companies like Google. The only way to steer a company like Google is through the courts, lawsuits and eventually the passing of laws. The only way to stop the likes of Google from breaching these unwritten ethical contracts is by holding Google, Amazon and others accountable to the courts of law when they break laws and/or when they go well beyond ethical boundaries. No board of ethics on Google’s dole is likely to stop that.

Having Google set up such an internal committee ultimately means, again, that this move is simply window dressing. These chosen board members, while they might have good intentions, are on the payroll of Google. This, by design, already means there’s an ethical dilemma. Taking Google’s money means you ultimately answer to Google. It also means that when something “bad” happens, that ethics board will end up being Google’s “fall guy”. So then, who watches the watcher?

There’s just no way that this situation ends well for either that ethics board or Google or ultimately, the consumer.

↩︎

 

Update Review: Wild Appalachia – Fallout 76

Posted in best practices, botch, business, gaming, video game design by commorancy on March 14, 2019

Wild Appalachia is the newest DLC addition to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

Fallout 76

Not to get into too much detail, I would be remiss by not discussing what Fallout 76 is. I’ve already written a fairly concise review of Fallout 76 and a Fallout 76 rant. If you’re interested in reading more, you might start with these. Anyway, Fallout 76 is basically an MMORPG similar to the Elder Scrolls online. It offers both multiplayer and single player aspects. I won’t get into too many specifics, but suffice it to say that when it was released in November 2018, it was (and still is) a completely rough game with many bugs, glitching, crashing and is still to this day, highly unstable.

If you’re thinking of investing in the purchase of this game, you must take the very bad with a little bit of good. The good being very limited in this game. There were many promises made for Fallout 76, many of which Bethesda has not yet delivered. Unfortunately, with this newest DLC, there’s not a whole lot here that improves Fallout 76 in useful ways. Yet, it adds some small new things which I will get into next.

Wild Appalachia

On March 13, Wild Appalachia dropped into the Fallout 76 world. Other than a few cosmetic improvements to the UI, the game is basically what it was prior to this release. The primary additions in this release include:

  • Brewing Station — Craft your own Beer, Wine and Hard Liquor at your own base or workshop
  • Two new map points: Tattoo Parlor and Fraternity Row in Morgantown
  • A new quest that rewards you with the crafting station plans
  • A new daily quest that rewards you with recipes for the distillery
  • Increased base budget (to allow for building the distillery workbenches)
  • A new drink called Nukashine (and other new recipes)
  • Brahmin can be milked
  • CAMP sites now remove all grass and vegetation around the area
  • Radios are back. You can create a radio and tune it to Appalachia or Classical stations.
  • A way to report “bad seed” players. It’s anyone’s guess what Bethesda will do with these reports.

Some negative additions include:

  • Poor quality load-in. Where the prior release load-in was relatively smooth and worked well, we’ve taken a step backward. Now the load-in is slow, awkward and adds a new stuttery / jittery experience when the controls are being released to the client.
  • Poor quality fast travel. When the last release had mostly fixed the fast travel lock up problems, the disparity between when you appear and when you get control still exists. In this latest release, it’s gotten worse again.
  • Radios turn off when you fast travel away from your base and then return or when you load in new. You have to always turn them back on.
  • Building camp mode drops frame rates to unacceptable levels (less than 15fps at times).
  • Icons of people on the map get in the way of actually using the map.
  • Mixing the same food items of differing conditions messes with the condition. Items that were added at 100% condition mixed with items that were at 20% condition yield all items at 20% condition in only a minute or two after mixing.
  • Button presses on the Xbox controller are now indeterminate. Sometimes you can press and the button will react, sometimes you press and it doesn’t. You’ll sometimes have to press 2 or 3 times to get the game to react to the press.
  • Food and Fusion cores now appear to expire faster with this update. Bethesda has even acknowledged the faster food spoilage problem. It seems they interfered with the food spoilage clock when crafting this DLC. It probably affected the rate at which Fusion Cores are used also.

Fasnacht Parade Event

As of March 19th, the Fasnacht Parade event was released in the town of Helvetia in the game. This is a limited seasonal event very similar in style to Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens, where you need to first go find the robots, then do things for the robots. With Distinguished Guests, after finding all of the robots and getting them back to the house, you need to go find both place settings and table centerpieces. In the Fasnacht Parade, you must help each robot individually with things they want.

In this event, there are the following Robots:

  • The Butcher
  • The Baker
  • The Candlestick Maker
  • The Beekeeper
  • The Historian
  • The Decorator
  • The Frog Egg Collector
  • The Woodchopper

This is a seasonal event that will run for about 1 week, we assume. So, if you want to participate in this event and potentially win Fasnacht masks, you’ll want to do so quickly.

There is only a chance you’ll win a mask at the end of the event. If you want to be sure to win a mask, you’ll need to participate in this event as often as you can. You’ll probably get a bunch of duplicate masks doing this.

Anyway, the game randomly selects 5 of the above robots to participate in the parade. You’ll need to read the quest requirements along the way to know which robots have been selected. Once you perform the requirements for each robot, for example, collecting frog eggs for the Frog Egg robot or collect beeswax for the Candlestick maker, each robot will make its way to the road (slowly) and get in line.

Once you have all 5 robots in line, the Master of Ceremonies robot will head to the line and begin the parade.

Along the way these robots will be attacked by different creatures in 3 different waves. First frogs, then Supermutants than finally by wolves, Stingwings and a legendary Sloth. After killing all of the interruptions in the parade (and protecting the robots), the MC will officiate a bonfire and the event concludes. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for the entire parade to make its rounds. Just gotta make sure to protect those robots. As of 3/26, this event has closed.

Lemonade Stand

I debated about even discussing this as it’s nearly inconsequential, but here it is. In separate addition to the distillery, Bethesda has added a lemonade stand to the game. It’s a randomly spawned vendor who sells only, get this, two recipes: Lemonade and Hard Lemonade. That’s it. That’s the sole reason for this vendor’s existence. This vendor spawns at various locations around Appalachia complete with wooden stand adorned with blue and yellow balloons. I’ve found him not far from the Charleston train station and not far from the big Teapot under one of the high tension towers. The recipes aren’t that expensive, but at the same time they’re not that useful. It’s not even really lemonade.

The ingredients for “lemonade” include acid and boiled water. Not exactly lemonade. Perhaps Bethesda should have included a lemon plant (or even lemon grass) into the game first? Then had us go pick this plant to make lemonade? I don’t know, maybe that would have worked better? Hard lemonade is made by mixing Vodka with Lemonade. Note that I discuss the effects of the Hard Lemonade below.

Survival Mode vs Adventure Mode

As of 3/26, Bethesda has introduced the somewhat anticipated new PVP area entitled ‘Survival Mode’. This new server has fewer restrictions on PVP. For example when you load in to a Survival mode server, you’re automatically in PVP with anyone who comes along. No longer do you need to initiate PVP through the old (and stupid) “shoot at someone, then they must shoot back” system. Additionally, here are a few more rules:

  • Upon player death, you must respawn at train stations, friendly CAMPs or Vault 76.
  • Cap rewards for player kills are doubled
  • Drop all junk and some aid items on death
  • Only “Wanted” players and the Top 3 are visible on the map
  • All XP gained increased by 20% (possibly temporary)

ServerModeAs far as I can tell, the same rules on the Adventure Servers still apply and nothing has changed. If someone tries to initiate PVP, they can. If they want to grief or harass you or your base, they are still free to do so. No rules around PVP have apparently changed in the Adventure mode servers. You choose which environment you wish to enter at the load-in screen right after pressing “PLAY”.

What went wrong?

While it’s fine to add new things to Fallout 76, Bethesda has been entirely remiss with this game. Instead of trying to fix the MANY existing stability issues, they insist on adding new features to the game which don’t add a quality new experience. For example, the primary addition to this DLC is the Brewing Station.

The problem I have with adding a distillery is that liquor is already incredibly easy to obtain in Fallout 76. Sure, you can now brew your own at your camp, but for what purpose? You can still go find all of the free liquor sitting around on tables and all over Fallout 76 that readily and quickly spawns and that doesn’t require collecting a bunch of corn and razor grain. In just two days of roaming Fallout 76, I had amassed hundreds of bottles of beer, liquor and moonshine. Granted, I know where the spawn points are likely to be, but still I was able to amass a crap ton of beer, wine and spirits. Worse, to brew, you need boiled water and various ingredients like corn, razor grain and similar. This means you need to build out a farm if you intend to brew. If you roam the world looking for already brewed liquor, you don’t need to worry about maintaining a farm on your base or workshop.

Talking to Biv at his bar is as much fun as talking to Rose at Top of the World. This robot is not only as tedious as it comes, he’s just not at all a fun addition to the game. Worse, not only are the quests offered only once per day, you’re likely to get duplicate awards at the end of each quest (or nothing at all). I’m still waiting for Biv to give me the recipe for Lead Champagne. Like the Fasnacht festival drops below, they’re far too random to be of real use.

Additionally, what does liquor really do for you in Fallout 76? Unless you have invested in the three perks Professional Drinker, Happy-Go-Lucky and Party Boy/Girl, honestly not much. Some liquor adds limited points of strength and charisma, but not enough to run around hunting for liquor. It’s not until you invest and rank up the above perk cards that drinking liquor in Fallout 76 becomes useful. Even then, its limits are quite apparent. If Happy-Go-Lucky gave us up to 9 points of Luck instead of 3, it might be a more useful card. Worse, Party Boy doesn’t stack with Happy-Go-Lucky. This means that while the 1 strength of beer becomes 3 when Party Boy is on, it doesn’t impact the Happy-Go-Lucky card when it should.

Where did Bethesda go wrong? They went wrong by introducing this update at a time when it was half complete. Because these are new crafting tables, unfortunately there are no new perk cards to control them. For example, the chemistry table has perk cards that double the quantities produced. With other perk cards like Super Duper (Luck), you can quadruple your output. None of these perk cards apply to the Brewing Station. And worse, because there are no new Perk cards to control the Distillery, you’re limited to crafting them one at a time with full amounts of ingredients. No doubling or quadrupling here.

Even worse, the new liquors have very bad “hangover” effects. For example, Nukashine randomly fast travels you to some location in the world when the hangover starts. Rad Ant Lager gives you +50 carry weight for a limited period of time and then penalizes you with a -50 carry weight “hangover” for around 1 minute. The Hard Lemonade gives you super fast AP regeneration at the cost of the exact opposite effect during the 1 minute hangover. In fact, because AP regeneration comes to a halt and doesn’t regenerate, this leaves you with no AP at all when you run out. These effects are WAY overkill. No other “standard” liquors in Fallout 76 have such bad negative effects. Additionally, there are perk cards there to help out those liquors. Yet, with these new liquors, there are no perk cards at all to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of Rad Ant Lager or Nukashine or Hard Lemonade… making consuming these new liquors useless. Just stick with the “regular” beers and spirits with no such negative effects.

As for Fasnacht, it’s okay. Just okay. The parade is effectively a remake of Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens. If Bethesda could have designed something new here, I might be a bit more kind. Unfortunately, redoing something that’s already been done in the game is, well, boring. Additionally, the mask drops at the end are tedious. So far, I’ve amassed nearly 4 duplicates of every common mask. I’ve yet to get any of the rare masks, like the Jester. Bethesda needs to award masks every single play through and while they are awarded randomly, they shouldn’t make some masks more rare than others. Make the weight of all mask drops equal. This way everyone gets a chance at every mask possible. Additionally, lose the extra stuff. It’s great that plans drop for festival decorations, but no one really wants these. Instead, just place these plans around the Fasnacht festival (and around the rest of the world) for people to find. No need to award these more-or-less useless items.

This is the example of how Bethesda continues to go wrong with this game. They only half think through these ideas and then they half-assed implement them. Worse, the Distillery may have seemed like a great idea on paper, it’s pretty much worthless in practice. If they had given us a new liquor that drastically increases damage output of weapons or drastically increase damage resistance against certain types of foes without the negative effects, that would be a useful addition. Because none of this exists, brewing liquor is pointless.

Mask Drop Rate Controversy

It has come to the attention of many gamers that certain “rare” masks never dropped during the Fasnacht event. These masks included the Skull, Goblin, Old Man Winter, Sun and Jester masks. The masks that dropped most frequently included Giant, Witch and Soldier. The masks which dropped a little less frequently are the Toothy Man and the Owl.

A gamer claims to have received the Sun mask, but it is unclear if the user actually got the mask at the completion of a Fasnacht event or through the Dev room. According to a poll on Reddit, no other masks dropped for anyone besides that one mask for that one user.

It has been estimated at a .03% chance of receiving the Sun, Skull, Jester, Old Man Winter or Goblin at the end of any given event. That means you’d need to play over 3000 events to actually have a chance at receiving one of these masks. Considering that only 24 events exist on any one server in a 24 hour period and considering this event only ran for 7 days, it was almost impossible to receive any masks other than those that did drop.

Why Bethesda decided to dropped these specific masks at that low of a rate is as yet unknown. It’s also very unlikely Bethesda’s devs would ever be forthcoming about their own failures. The reality is, the devs probably screwed up on the math and those masks just didn’t drop.

Bethesda could make it up to us by offering a limited time duplicate exchange. Let us exchange some of our duplicate Witch, Soldier, Toothy Man, Owl or Giant masks for the “rare” masks which we should have gotten had the drop percentages been programmed correctly. Bethesda, you made a mistake, just be straightforward with us and give us an even swap of our duplicates.

The difficulty I have with these masks isn’t the drop rate or the rarity level. It’s the fact that the event only ran for 7 days. For an indefinite and ongoing game, setting extremely low drop rates is fine because you have infinite amounts of time to quest for these items. For an event that runs for only 7 days, Bethesda should have increased the drop rate. The drop rate should have been increased commensurate with the limited length of the Fasnacht event. Instead, Bethesda kept the drop rates at the same levels as events that would operate continually throughout the year.

By prominently showing the masks in promo materials to rope users in to play the event and then promise the hope of obtaining one of the masks, this sets an expectation that these masks would drop with more frequency than zero (0) during those 7 days. If even 10 players got them, that would at least show some effort by Bethesda. Yet, with a .03% chance of obtaining one of those masks in those 7 days, Bethesda seems intent to defraud its users… particularly any gamer who bought the game with the intent of getting one of those masks. Bethesda needs to be more careful with these limited time events when considering the promo materials they are using. Promo materials promise things, but when those things don’t deliver, that’s when a legal problem exists. It’s called fraud.

Crafting Stations

There are two crafting stations for your distilling pleasure: A Brewing Station and a Fermenter. The Fermenter is not strictly even needed. The Brewing Station produces unfermented bottles. These bottles have a condition meter. As the condition deteriorates, it leads toward a completed bottle of liquor. All unfermented bottles of liquor will eventually become fermented. An ‘unfermented beer’ ticks down to become a ‘beer’. This is just the opposite of food spoiling. This means you don’t need to use a Fermenter. You can simply carry them around in your inventory and eventually they will ferment. It’s much faster to use a Fermenter, but you don’t need to use it if you have inventory space and you’re willing to wait. I’ll also point out that using the Fermenter requires space in your stash. As you place up to 10 bottles in the Fermenter, they weigh 1 each which means you’ll need a total of 10 weight of free space in your stash to ferment. For those of us always 1 or 2 points away from being full, that’s no bueno. Again, half-assed implementation. The Fermenter should have had its own 10 bottle space just for fermenting.

Whether or not these unfermented items are affected by the Good with Salt perk card that preserves food condition is unknown. However, knowing Bethesda, Good with Salt probably does slow down the fermentation process if you’re carrying around unfermented beer expecting it to ferment. I would suggest removing this perk card if you intend to let liquor ferment on your person. Of course, removing that card also means that any food items you are carrying will spoil much faster. This means you have to take the good with the bad… probably something Bethesda didn’t intentionally design. A separate and new perk card here would have been welcomed.

Recipes and Nukashine

Bethesda typically gives you a handful of recipes right off the bat with any workbench. The Brewing Station is no different. You get the crafting basics which include beer, wine, vodka, rum, bourbon, whiskey and the new Nukashine. If you want any other recipes, you have to go find them. Of course, you can’t make any specialty beers (without a recipe) like Old Possum, Pickaxe Pilsner or Old Holler Lager. You can only make ‘Beer’ once you get your station. Biv may award you recipes for these beers later. Still, some of these specialty beers will require more esoteric ingredients to be located and farmed… typically requiring ingredients you can’t grow at your base.

The new thing to make is ‘Nukashine’. Nukashine is a combination of a Nuka-Cola Quantum and various ingredients. You can ferment this one twice. Once to Nukashine and again to Vintage Nukashine.

Personally, I find Nukashine to be a pointless beverage. The Nuka Quantum grenades are much more useful uses of a Nuka Cola Quantum. Unlike Beer, Wine and Spirits which offer benefits when using Party Boy/Girl and Happy-Go-Lucky, Nukashine doesn’t extend these perk card benefits.

Worse, Nukashine only offers ‘Unarmed Damage’ benefits… as if anyone runs around in this world unarmed. On top of that, this drink is prone to having your character black out when it wears off. This means that your character will be randomly transported somewhere in the world. It could be some place innocuous like Flatwood or it could be in a Blast Zone with 3 Scorchbeasts and a bunch of high level Scorched. I would be fine with such a tactic IF the game weren’t so entirely problematic after fast travel. Because your character spawns into the game world up to a minute before the client’s visuals release controls to you, your character could be dead the instant the game releases controls. I don’t at all find this part of Fallout 76 challenging. In fact, I find it entirely frustrating… making the use of Nukashine even more pointless.

For this reason, this is why releasing something like Nukashine is an entirely premature addition to Fallout 76. The devs needed to have fixed these fundamental fast travel flaws long before releasing Nukashine. For example, they should have fixed the time it takes between when your character appears in the world and when the client releases controls to you. This time disparity allows the in-game enemies well enough time to kill your character many times over. For the unpredictability of Nukashine’s “blackouts”, this in no way makes this drink useful at all. It’s a novelty to try once, but for being actually useful all of the time, no way. In other words, no one is going to want Nukashine.

Rad Ant Lager and Biv’s Daily Quest

Yet another fail by Bethesda. They just seem to be racking them up. One of the first Atom Challenges in the new distillery world was to Fight a Rad Ant while under the influence of Rad Ant Lager. This would get you 10 Atom. To get the recipe to make Rad Ant Lager, you had to visit Biv at the Big Al’s Tattoo Parlor in Morgantown. He provides a ‘Daily’ quest that will get you that recipe. Unfortunately, because it’s a Daily quest, that means that once he’s issued this quest once in the day, he’s not likely to do it again until the next day.

Because this challenge was very specific and because it relied on a daily quest to get the recipe for Rad Ant Lager, it was almost impossible for MOST gamers to get this recipe to complete this challenge. This is, again, another fail by Bethesda.

Bethesda, if you’re reading, you need to provide more succinct ways to obtain recipes than being beholden to a bot to randomly give you a once-a-day quest. Instead, leave the recipe lying around somewhere easy to find. Have Rad Ants drop it occasionally. Additionally, Rad Ants are one of the harder enemies in the world to find. It just makes this quest all the more difficult. This challenge should never have been a daily challenge… especially not on the day of the release of the crafting stations. This should have been a weekly challenge. A total fail!

Overall

Bethesda is lost. Lost to their own weird ways and lost to what Fallout means as a franchise. It’s not about adding stupid things to the game, it’s about making the game challenging in ways that matter. Bethesda STILL needs to fix this game. There are so many instabilities, problems and crashes that these need to be tackled LONG BEFORE adding new features like brewing stations to the game. Yes, I’m thankful for the larger base budget, but not because I can craft brewing stations. I needed it to add more stuff to my base.

Bethesda, if you want us to buy into Atom and the Atom Store, you need to give us enough budget to craft the Atom Store items in our camps. Because my base has been at the hard edge of the budget for months, I couldn’t buy anything from the Atom Store that took budget. The only things I could buy were emotes, icons, skins and clothing items. That’s it. Statues and other budget consuming items have been pointless for months. That means I would need to delete items from my base to craft new items. Not doing that.

Even still, I am again at the edge of the budget even after the update. That budget addition didn’t go very far, though I was able to finally increase the size of my base… a much wanted facelift.

The distillery is interesting for about 5 minutes. However, adding vending machines, a bank, a way to transfer items between characters and decorating the camp via found world items is much more important to this longevity of this game. Please, stop with the time wasting additions and fix the problems that actually matter and add the features that are useful and that people actually want. When adding something new like the brewing stations, it’s also important to think through ALL of the supporting pieces, like perk cards. For example, should Super Duper apply? In this case, yes, it should. Yet, it doesn’t.

Wild Appalachia is a half-designed add-on added intended to recoup lost players. It’s a shallow and hollow add-on that overall adds little to the game. It’s also not likely to bring back lost players… at least, not for longer than for a day’s worth of play. DLC should keep players interested for weeks, not days. If the brewing station had been part of the game’s original release, it would have been useful for the questing. However, because many gamers are at Fallout 76’s endgame at this point, the brewing station adds little value to the game as the brews aren’t needed… even as hard as Bethesda is pushing players to use these new brews.

The Fasnacht event in Helvetia would have been a whole lot more fun with more variety. Because every play through is nearly identical, including where the enemies are likely to spawn, it makes playing this parade event boring after about the third time. Helvetia needs at least 3 different events that are randomly chosen and run at more frequent intervals. Doing the same event over and over is an exercise in tedium, particularly because you get duplicate rewards over and over… tedium much like talking to Biv at Big Al’s Tattoo Parlor. If you’re going to enforce a cool down timer when we can run another Biv quest, just show us this timer on the screen so we don’t waste our time (and caps) going over there trying to get Biv to give us a new quest. Even better, just have Biv issue the quest to us from afar.

Banned Users and Fallout 76

As a result of the object duping that occurred in several releases earlier, Bethesda created a bot to ‘detect’ possible duping on accounts. As a result, Bethesda banned a bunch of gamer accounts it suspected of having duped in-game items. For example, some of the ways in which it detected this was by seeing over 100,000 items amassed in a single account over a 30 day period. There were other markers it also used to make this determination.

Anyway, Bethesda had banned a number of gamers from Fallout 76 after its bot detected unusual activity on the account. As has been the case, Bethesda may or may not send out email to users it has banned from the game. When they do provide a message, it’s terse, generic and not always applicable to the gamer’s situation.

Here’s the rub. After the release of Wild Appalachia, many formerly banned gamers surprisingly found their accounts had been unbanned. Many took this as a sign that the ban was over. Yet, Bethesda had stated nothing of this situation. After 3-4 days of being able to enter and play Fallout 76 again, these same banned gamers found their accounts banned once again. Bethesda is entirely silent for why these accounts were both unbanned at the release of Wild Appalachia and why they were rebanned 3-4 days later. Bethesda is not forthcoming.

This company can’t really seem to get a break from all of these snafus, yet these problems are all of Bethesda’s own making. If their PR is tanking again, it’s simply because Bethesda doesn’t really seem to be a trustworthy company any longer. Personally, I think Bethesda should stick to offline single player worlds and give up this fantasy of producing MMORPGs which they are clearly ill prepared to manage.

Patch 9 — May 7

While I haven’t been updating this article for each individual patch, patch 9 needs to be discussed. While previous patches introduced one of the stupidest and most pointless items yet included in this game (the camera), patch 9 introduces an overly grindy new questline to obtain a simple and stupid item, the backpack. However, that’s not the reason I’m writing this update.

If you want to find all of the new stuff (which have, so far, all been very pointless), I suggest you play the game. But, before you run off to find the stupid that’s been included, please read on. The updated “new” stuff isn’t really even worth my time describing here, let alone finding it in the game. Yes, these updates are actually pointless and stupid, so there is no point writing about it here.

What is worth describing is exactly how broken Fallout 76, as a game, has become. We thought the Beta was bad, but now the game is entirely broken in so many more new ways. For example, VATs was questionable when the game launched, now it is entirely broken. At least 80-90% of the time, VATs won’t work on Melee weapons… AT ALL. When it does work. it doesn’t work as expected. When I say it doesn’t work, what I mean is… when you click to enable VATs, the percentage meter shows 0%, even when the enemy is standing an inch in front of you. Yes, well closer than needed for a melee weapon to connect and you STILL see 0%. As I said, entirely broken.

With ranged weapons, the VATs percent meter toggles between 0% and some random number between 0% and 90% every microsecond. This means that when you’re ready to release the trigger, it’s likely to be at a moment when the meter read 0% and you’ve wasted your ammo. This happens continuously in VATs. Even weapons that used to formerly offer extreme levels of accuracy (i.e., scoped weapons) can now show 35, 45 or 50% accuracy. Bethesda has ENTIRELY broken VATs in this release and the guns that rely on it.

AND… this is the bigger point I’m trying to make. With every single new patch, Bethesda makes Fallout 76 WORSE, never better. Sure, adding DLC might seem like a positive, but it is FAR overshadowed by all of the stupid fundamental bugs constantly being introduced into the required game engine features, like combat. Maybe Bethesda thinks this makes the game challenging, but in fact it makes the game absolute dogshit… to the point that there’s no point in playing Fallout 76.

All of these unpredictable changes and tweaks that Bethesda keeps introducing is turning this game into an unplayable turd of epic proportions. No, the game isn’t entirely unplayable yet, but it is fast becoming unplayable. With basic systems like VATs completely broken, you have to rely on hip-firing, which is also becoming fast problematic. Just like all other combat, hip firing has also become worse and worse with each new release. In fact, not VATs, not scoped and not hip-firing can you actually hit your target most of the time. I’ve wasted so much ammo to this problem, it just makes me want to scream.

If the point is to make Fallout 76 even more grindy than it already is, then well done Bethesda. But, I won’t be coming back to this game without some MAJOR improvements in the basic game engine. Right now, Fallout 76 is entirely in turd territory and fast becoming barf. Bethesda, stop with the unnecessary and stupid additions and FOCUS on the basics. Make them work. You can come back and add Sheepsquatches and Cameras and Backpacks when the engine actually works properly.

Combat Engine

One of the sorest points of Fallout 76 is its combat engine. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst combat engines I’ve experienced in a game to date. Not only does the game completely miss controller button presses entirely (a separate problem not related to combat), there are times when you can aim dead onto an enemy with a scope and the bullet doesn’t connect. It can do this several times in a row. Worse, some guns like Gauss rifles, entirely misfire. By misfire, I mean you press the trigger, release and the gun makes a sad noise and does nothing. You have to press the trigger and try again. It can even do this several times in a row. This makes the Gauss rifle currently THE WORST rifle in the game. It’s the only rifle in the game that has this misfire problem. No other weapon in the game does this… not even its sister, the Tesla rifle. I digress.

Let’s get back to the combat problems. In any other game, you can see what the enemy’s stats are. Perhaps not right away, but after leveling up and gaining a few perks, you get to see what you’re up against. Not in Fallout 76. The only stat information you are given about an enemy is its level. That’s it. You don’t get to see its HP, it’s attack types (i.e., poison, sonic, etc). You have to find out its attack type by entering combat, even then you don’t really know.

For example, the Sheepsquatch (a newly introduced enemy) has an attack that temporarily poisons you and slows your movement speed… by a LOT. In fact, it slows movement speed by WAY too much. Its attack is so overpowered, in fact, it’s way out of balance. But, that’s not the half of it. There is no counter to this movement speed attack. No perk cards to apply, no liquors to drink, no foods to consume, nothing. Bethesda introduced an enemy with an attack and NO player countermeasure. THIS is why this game is nearly unplayable.

Worse, and this problem has existed since day one, certain enemies can attack you once, but land 4 or 5 hits successively (you can hear your character grunt 4 or 5 times and the HP meter moves that many times)… an impossibility for a single enemy hit. For example, Molerats, Bloodbugs, and Stingwings have this attack. And then there’s robots. Level 52 Colonel Gutsy robots utilize 5.56 ammo weapons, which bypasses 100% of any armor you’re wearing (possibly more). Literally, a level 52 Colonel Gutsy or 68 level Supermutant can, while wielding a 5.56 ammo weapon and even at my character’s level of 152, eat all of my HP in probably 20-30 shots. There is no other weapon + ammo in the game capable of this feat except for the highly broken 5.56 wielding characters. This makes power armor, which is supposed to be some of the strongest armor in the game, actually some of the weakest armor. Even Sentinel armor (non-power armor) is stronger against this ammo type than the higher damage resistant Power Armor. Literally, the damage resistance in Fallout 76 means NOTHING.

Other stupidity is distance of attack. For example, I’ve had melee hits by many enemies from way too far a distance. Even though I can’t even strike an enemy when it’s inches from my character, the enemies can melee strike at distances nearing two or three car lengths away… literally impossible distances. Again, not at all a proper combat system.

Even worse, many of the enemies in the game can traverse vast distances in a fraction of a second. Player characters have no such capabilities at all, yet enemies can be a football field away and then right next to your character attacking in less than 2 seconds. I realize this is supposed to be a mutated wasteland, but that attack pattern is still entirely ridiculous.

When it comes to collision detection of bullets, I ask, “What collision detection?” Seriously, there’s practically none. This means that far too many bullets entirely miss their targets no matter how carefully you aim. Worse, with each new release, Bethesda keeps reducing the damage output of weapons making the weapons useless and the game less and less fun to play. It started with the two shot explosive weapons as a countermeasure to the duping. Since then, Bethesda has kept reducing weapon output damage on each new patch. Sometimes they do this by reducing perk card damage bonuses, sometimes they reduce the damage output of the weapon itself.

With each reduction, the game is fast becoming even more broken. Bethesda can’t even be bothered to fix some of the basic combat problems of VATs and collision detection, yet they’re more than willing to reduce weapon output damage? Bethesda, you need to get your priorities straight.

It’s not as if Fallout 76 wasn’t already one big grindy mess from the beginning, but now it’s just a grind. If you really like spending hours and hours with weapons that do 10 hit point damage against an enemy with thousands of hit points, then Fallout 76 might be your game. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to kill an enemy in some timely manner. I don’t want to spend 45 minutes or an hour entangled in a single enemy engagement for a literal crap loot drop. If you’re going to make me spend at least 45 minutes in combat with a single enemy, you better give me something WORTH spending that time. They’re not. Because the drops are entirely random, you might get nothing (yes, the entire drop could be empty), you might get a level 5 item or, very, very rarely, you might get something worth the time. Most of the time, the loot isn’t even worth picking up from the dead enemy.

At this point, this game should be getting better, not worse. Yet, it has gone from bad to worse. No, I’m not kidding. At this point, this game’s combat system is literally so bad, I actually classify it as “shit on a stick”. If you’re considering the purchase of Fallout 76, I would recommend you to think twice… especially considering how old this game is at this point. I literally cannot recommend this game to anyone.

↩︎

 

%d bloggers like this: