Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

LostInSpace.jpgOn the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how this series goes so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. This is supposed to be about the family lost, not the robot. However, in an attempt to escape the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less…(a location they can see from shore), they shrug it all off as a natural event. Before they can leave, they first need to understand that there’s absolutely nothing natural about that lightning event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work lightning event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen then concocts a plan to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. I guess that’s one way. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. Predictable lightning events are even more unpredictable. At worse, it could fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic here, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written. Eventually, the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently that you’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental state.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

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Why Rotten Tomatoes is rotten

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on December 31, 2019

cinema-popcornWhen you visit a site like Rotten Tomatoes to get information about a film, you need to ask yourself one very important question, “Is Rotten Tomatoes trustworthy?”

Rotten Tomatoes as a movie review service has come under fire many times for review bombing and manipulation. That is, Rotten Tomatoes seem to allow shills to join the service to review bomb a movie to either raise or lower its various scores by manipulating the Rotten Tomatoes review system. In the past, these claims couldn’t be verified. Today, they can.

As of a change in May 2019, Rotten Tomatoes has made it exceedingly easy for both movie studios and Rotten Tomatoes itself to game and manipulate the “Audience Score” ratings. Let’s explore.

Rotten Tomatoes as a Service

Originally, Rotten Tomatoes began its life as an independent movie review service such that both critics and audience members can have a voice in what they think of a film. So long as Rotten Tomatoes remained an independent and separate service from movie studio influence and corruption, it could make that claim. Its reviews were fair and for the most part accurate.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In February of 2016, Fandango purchased Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s understand the ramifications of this purchase. Because Fandango is wholly owned by Comcast and in which Warner Brothers also holds an ownership stake in Fandango, this firmly plants Rotten Tomatoes well out of the possibility of remaining neutral in film reviews. Keep in mind that Comcast also owns NBC as well as Universal Studios.

Fandango doesn’t own a stake in Disney as far as I can tell, but that won’t matter based on what I describe next about the Rotten Tomatoes review system.

Review Bombing

As stated in the opening, Rotten Tomatoes has come under fire for several notable recent movies as having scores which have been manipulated. Rotten Tomatoes has then later debunked those claims by stating that their system was not manipulated, but then really offering no proof of that fact. We simply have to take them at their word. One of these allegedly review bombed films was Star Wars: The Last Jedi… where the scores inexplicably dropped dramatically in about a 1 month period of time. Rotten Tomatoes apparently validated the drop as “legitimate”.

Unfortunately, Rotten Tomatoes has become a bit more untrustworthy as of late. Let’s understand why.

As of May of 2019, Rotten Tomatoes introduced a new feature known as “verified reviews”. For a review’s score to be counted towards the “Audience Score”, the reviewer must have purchased a ticket from a verifiable source. Unfortunately, the only source from which Rotten Tomatoes can verify ticket purchases is from its parent company, Fandango. All other ticket purchases don’t count… thus, if you choose to review a film after purchasing your ticket from the theater’s box office, from MovieTickets.com or via any other means, your ticket won’t count as “verified” should you review or rate the movie. Only Fandango ticket purchases count towards “verified” reviews, thus altering the audience score. This change is BAD. Very, very bad.

Here’s what Rotten Tomatoes has to say from the linked article just above:

Rotten Tomatoes now features an Audience Score made up of ratings from users we’ve confirmed bought tickets to the movie – we’re calling them “Verified Ratings.” We’re also tagging written reviews from users we can confirm purchased tickets to a movie as “Verified” reviews.

While this might sound like a great idea in theory, it’s ripe for manipulation problems. Fandango also states that “IF” they can determine “other” reviews as confirmed ticket purchases, they will mark them as “verified”. Yeah, but that’s a manual process and is impossibly difficult to determine. We can pretty much forget that this option even exists. Let’s list the problems coming out of this change:

  1. Fandango only sells a small percentage of overall ticket sales for a film. If the “Audience Score” is calculated primarily and solely from Fandango ticket sales alone, then this metric is a horribly inaccurate metric to rely on.
  2. Fandango CAN handpick “other” non-Fandango ticket purchased reviews to be included. Not likely to happen often, but this also means they can pick their favorites (and favorable) reviews to include. This opens Rotten Tomatoes up to Payola or “pay for inclusion”.
  3. By specifying exactly how this process works, this change opens the Rotten Tomatoes system to being gamed and manipulated, even by Rotten Tomatoes staff themselves. Movie studios can also ask their employees, families and friends to exclusively purchase their tickets from Fandango and request these same people to write “glowing, positive reviews” or submit “high ratings” or face job consequences. Studios might even be willing to pay for these positive reviews.
  4. Studios can even hire outside people (sometime known as shills) to go see a movie by buying tickets from Fandango and then rate their films highly… because they were paid to do so. As I said, manipulation.

Trust in Reviews

It’s clear that while Rotten Tomatoes is trying to fix its ills, it is incredibly naive at it. It gets worse. Not only is Rotten Tomatoes incredibly naive, this company is also not at all tech savvy. Its system is so ripe for being gamed, the “Audience Score” is a nearly pointless metric. For example, 38,000 verified reviews based on millions of people who watched it? Yeah, if that “Audience Score” number isn’t now skewed, I don’t know what is.

Case in point. The “Audience Score” for The Rise of Skywalker is 86%. The difficulty with this number is the vast majority of the reviews I’ve seen from people on chat forums don’t rate the film anywhere close to 86%. What that means is that the new way that Rotten Tomatoes is calculating scores is effectively a form of manipulation itself BY Rotten Tomatoes.

To have the most fair and accurate metric, ALL reviews must be counted and included in all ratings. You can’t just toss out the vast majority of reviews simply because you can’t verify them has holding a ticket. Even still, holding a ticket doesn’t mean someone has actually watched the film. Buying a ticket and actually attending a showing of the film are two entirely separate things.

While you may have verified a ticket purchase, did you verify that the person actually watched the film? Are you withholding brand new Rotten Tomatoes account reviewers out of the audience score? How trustworthy can someone be if this is their first and only review on Rotten Tomatoes? What about people who downloaded the app just to buy a ticket for that film? Simply buying a ticket from Fandango doesn’t make the rating or reviewer trustworthy.

Rethinking Rotten Tomatoes

Someone at Rotten Tomatoes needs to drastically reconsider this change and they need to do it fast. If Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t guilty of manipulation of review scores before this late spring change in 2019, they are now. Rotten Tomatoes is definitely guilty of manipulating the “Audience Score” by the sheer lack of reviews covered under this “verified review” change. Nothing can be considered valid when the sampling size is so small as to be useless. Verifying a ticket holder also doesn’t validate a review author’s sincerity, intent or, indeed, legitimacy. It also severely limits who can be counted under their ratings, this skewing the usefulness of “Audience Score”.

In fact, only by looking at past reviews can someone determine if a review author has trustworthy opinions.

Worse, Fandango holds a very small portion of all ticket sales made for theaters (see below). By showing all (or primarily) scores tabulated by people who bought tickets from Fandango, this definitely eliminates well over half of the written reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as valid. Worse, because of the way the metric is calculated, nefarious entities can game the system to their own benefit and manipulate the score quickly.

This has a chilling effect on Rotten Tomatoes. The staff at Rotten Tomatoes needs roll back this change pronto. For Rotten Tomatoes to return it being a trustworthy neutral entity in the art of movie reviews, it needs a far better way to determine trustworthiness of its reviews and of its reviewers. Trust comes from well written, consistent reviews. Ratings come from trusted sources. Trust is earned. The sole act of buying a ticket from Fandango doesn’t earn trust. It earns bankroll.

Why then are ticket buyers from Fandango any more trustworthy than people purchasing tickets elsewhere? They aren’t… and here’s where Rotten Tomatoes has failed. Rotten Tomatoes incorrectly assumes that by “verifying” a sale of a ticket via Fandango alone, that that somehow makes a review or rating more trustworthy. It doesn’t.

It gets worse because while Fandango represents at least 70% of online sales, it STILL only represents a tiny fraction of overall ticket sales, at just 5-6% (as of 2012).

“Online ticketing still just represents five to six percent of the box office, so there’s tremendous potential for growth right here.” –TheWrap in 2012

Granted, this TheWrap article is from 2012. Even if Fandango had managed to grab 50% of the overall ticket sales in the subsequent 7 years since that article, that would leave out 50% of the remaining ticket holder’s voices, which will not be tallied into Rotten Tomatoes current “Audience Score” metric. I seriously doubt that Fandango has managed to achieve anywhere close to 50% of total movie ticket sales. If it held 5-6% overall sales in 2012, in 7 years Fandango might account for growth between 10-15% at most by 2019. That’s still 85% of all reviews excluded from Rotten Tomatoes’s “Audience Score” metric.  In fact, it behooves Fandango to keep this overall ticket sales number as low as possible so as to influence its “Audience Score” number with more ease and precision.

To put this in a little more perspective, a movie theater might have 200 seats. 10% of that is 20. That means that for every 200 people who might fill a theater, just less than 20 people have bought their ticket from Fandango and are eligible for their review to count towards “Audience Score”. Considering that only a small percentage of that 20 will actually take the time to write a review, that could mean out of every 200 people who’ve seen the film legitimately, between 1 and 5 people might be counted towards the Audience Score. Calculating that up, for very 1 million people who see a blockbuster film, somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000’s reviews may contribute to the Rotten Tomatoes “Audience Score”… even if there are hundreds of thousands of reviews on the site.

The fewer the reviews contributing to that score, the easier it is to manipulate that score by adding just a handful of reviews to the mix… and that’s where Rotten Tomatoes “handpicked reviews” come into play (and with it, the potential for Payola). Rotten Tomatoes can then handpick positive reviews for inclusion. The problem is that while Rotten Tomatoes understands all of this this, so do the studios. Which means that studios can, like I said above, “invite” employees to buy tickets via Fandango before writing a review on Rotten Tomatoes. They can even contact Rotten Tomatoes and pay for “special treatment”. This situation can allow movie studios to unduly influence the “Audience Score” for a current release… this is compounded because there are so few reviews that  count to create the “Audience Score”.

Where Rotten Tomatoes likely counted every review towards this score before this change, after they implemented the new “verified score” methodology, this change greatly drops the number of reviews which contribute to tallying this score. This lower number of reviews means that it is now much easier to manipulate its Audience Score number either by gaming the system or by Rotten Tomatoes handpicking reviews to include.

Fading Trust

While Rotten Tomatoes was once a trustworthy site for movie reviews, it has greatly reduced its trust levels by instituting such backwards and easily manipulable systems.

Whenever you visit a site like Rotten Tomatoes, you must always question everything you see. When you see something like an “Audience Score”, you must question how that number is calculated and what is included in that number. Rotten Tomatoes isn’t forthcoming.

In the case of Rotten Tomatoes, they have drastically reduced the number of included reviews in that metric because of their “verified purchase” mechanism. Unfortunately, the introduction of that mechanism at once destroys Rotten Tomatoes trust and trashes the concept of their site.

It Gets Worse

What’s even more of a problem is the following two images:

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 7.26.58 AM

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 7.26.24 AM

From the above two images, it is claimed Rotten Tomatoes has 37,956 “Verified Ratings”, yet they only have 3,342 “Verified Audience” reviews. That’s a huge discrepancy. Where are those other 34,614 “Verified” reviews? You need to calculate the Audience Score not solely on a phone device using a simplistic “rate this movie” alone. It must be calculated in combination with an author writing a review. Of course, there are 5,240 reviews that didn’t at all contribute to any score at all on Rotten Tomatoes. Those audience reviews are just “there”, taking up space.

Single number ratings are pointless without at least some text validation information. Worse, we know that these “Verified Ratings” likely have nothing to do with “Verified Audience” as shown in the images above. Even if those 3,342 audience reviews are actually calculated into the “Verified Ratings” (they probably aren’t), that’s still such a limited number when considered with the rest of the “Verified Ratings” so as to be skewed by people who may not have even attended the film.

You can only determine if someone has actually attended a film by asking them to WRITE even the smallest of a review. Simply pressing “five star” on the app without even caring is pointless. It’s possible the reviews weren’t even tabulated correctly via the App. The App itself may even submit star data after a period of time without the owner’s knowledge or consent. The App can even word its rating question in such a way as to manipulate the response in a positive direction. Can we say, “Skewed”?

None of this leads to trust. Without knowing exactly how that data was collected, the method(s) used and how it was presented on the site and on the app, how can you trust any of it? It’s easy to see professional critic reviews because Rotten Tomatoes must cite back to the source of the review. However, with audience metrics, it’s all nebulous and easily falsified… particularly when Rotten Tomatoes is intentionally obtuse and opaque for exactly how it collects this data and how it is presents it.

Even still, with over one million people attending and viewing The Rise of Skywalker, yet Rotten Tomatoes has only counted just under verified 38,000 people, something doesn’t add up. Yeah, Rotten Tomatoes is so very trustworthy (yeah right), particularly after this “verified” change. Maybe it’s time for those Rotten Tomatoes to finally be tossed into the garbage?

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What went wrong with Disney’s Star Wars

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on December 22, 2019

StarWarsLogoRoundedThis article is not intended to review The Rise of Skywalker, even though it is in the theaters as I write this. I will write a lengthy review of this final film later. No, this article is intended to explain what went wrong at Disney with Disney’s not-so-recently acquired Star Wars property. Let’s explore.


Star Wars as a Serial

When George Lucas envisioned Star Wars, he envisioned it as a new take on the Saturday morning “Damsel in Distress” story. In fact, he held true to that vision throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) and even into the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). I’ll deep dive into how these two separate trilogies manifested this “Damsel in Distress” Saturday morning serial ideal.

Prequels

While George’s Prequel trilogy story idea was, for the most part, a snoozefest, George maintained and held true to his Saturday morning serial idea of the female heroine coming under constant distress. If you review Padmé Amadala’s role in films 1, 2 and 3, this idea is readily apparent. In the first film, Padmé’s planet of Naboo comes under fire requiring help… and she, with the help of two Jedi, makes her way to Coruscant to plead her case. Along the way, she runs into all sorts of treacherous situations where her new found Jedi colleagues have to bail her out. These situations are not necessarily of her own making, but they are situations that require rescuing her. In The Phantom Menace, however, there weren’t a lot of occasions where Padmé needed rescuing personally, but there were global situations that warranted her protection by the Jedi.

However, this constant motif of peril and rescue is an important story element in George’s Star Wars universe no matter the form it takes. This situation happens with more and more regularity as the prequels progress, putting Padmé in ever more and more perilous situations requiring rescue by someone… someone like Obi-Wan on Geonosis and again someone like Anakin. Further we see Anakin rescue her again and again once he becomes her lover. This peril and rescue story element sets up incredible tensions and keeps the story narrative flowing properly. It also breeds another story motif which I’ll describe shortly.

Even as much as the acting was stilted and wooden, this “Damsel in Distress” motif comes through clear as day.

Midquels

During Episodes 4, 5 and 6, Princess Leia is the damsel. In these films, once again, Leia is set into ever more and more perilous and precarious situations requiring rescue by Luke, Han, Chewy and on occasion, even Lando. It’s a never ending motif that lends credence to the story and helps the audience keep its eye on the ball.

I’ll point out a few of these. Leia’s rescue by Luke during the swing across in A New Hope. Leia’s rescue by Han from Hoth Base in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s rescue by Han at the end of Return of the Jedi after being injured. Leia’s rescue from being Jabba’s slave. There’s nothing more motivating to another character and satisfying from the audience than getting the damsel out of harm’s way. Such a situation allows a character to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve success to save the damsel. This one is yet another motif that is common in Star Wars… “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds”. This motif is in all of the films, even Disney’s versions. But, the two concepts of “Damsel in Distress” and “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” go hand-in-hand. The characters need motivation to put themselves in very dangerous situations (and for the audience to believe it — eye on the ball). Thus, rescuing the a lead character, male or female, is just the motivation the character needs.

After all, Luke’s motivation for defeating the Death Star in Star Wars was predicated on saving Princess Leia (and the rest of the rebellion, of course). Luke, however, had personal stakes in this fight. Even Han’s last minute rescue of Luke was born out of both vying for Leia’s attentions. Both Luke and Han knew what they stood to lose (or gain). Luke then was able to overcome insurmountable odds by leveraging the force.

Disney’s Sequels

Here’s were things begin to go awry, but not right from the start. The Force Awakens manages to keep both the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” motifs mostly in-check throughout most of the film. In fact, The Force Awakens uses Finn as the agent to carry this motif along throughout most of this first Sequel film. Unfortunately, this motif remained relatively paper thin and Finn is unable to “save” Rey most of the time simply because Rey is not in danger. However, JJ is very good at copying ideas, but not at implementing them properly. For this first film in the final trilogy, these two important story motifs manage to maintain their place mostly within The Force Awakens, but only weakly. Although, by the end of The Force Awakens, these motifs begin to fail by seeing Rey become far too powerful and far too independent way before she should have. In fact, by the end of the film, Rey was so capable of managing to save herself, no other characters really needed to be there to help her.

By the second film, The Last Jedi, the “Damsel in Distress” motif was entirely tossed aside. No more saving Rey. It just wouldn’t be a motif in the film at all. Rey was such an independent and powerful “Mary Sue” that she could handle any situation with ease. No need to have Finn, Poe or any other character feel the need to “save Rey”. For as far as they were concerned, she didn’t need saving. The removal of the “Damsel in Distress” motif yanked out one of the core themes of this “Saturday Morning Serial”. It also left many fans disenchanted by this change in direction of Star Wars.

By The Rise of Skywalker, not only does the series entirely abandon the idea of “Damsel in Distress”, it throws the idea in the face of audience as entirely unnecessary. It states definitively that Rey is a “Mary Sue” of the highest order and is fully capable of rescuing herself without need of anyone else. No longer is Star Wars about being a team effort, it’s about a single person’s rise to power… something which the Jedi order actually forbid.

…. And here is where Disney’s Star Wars falters ….

By The Last Jedi, Rey is so capable of saving herself that there’s no need for anyone to “come save her”, not even when strapped into an interrogation chair when Kylo is laying the figurative thumbscrews to her.

When Leia is trapped in a cell on the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke and Han hatch a plan to save her against impossible odds… and they succeed, even if not for the garbage shoot. When Rey is trapped in a cell on Kylo’s carrier, no one hatches any plans to save Rey. She has to save herself. In The Rise of Skywalker, it goes way beyond that. Rey has become so powerful and self-sufficient, anyone trying to “save” her would look like an idiot. This is the reason why Disney’s Star Wars has more in common with fan fiction than it does actual canon. Disney has effectively turned Star Wars into a series about wish fulfillment.

Star Wars was not and has never been about empowering the female lead to become entirely self-sufficient and “save the galaxy” by herself (like Holdo). Star Wars was also not about wish fulfillment. Star Wars is about having a team of people save each other, but specifically still managing to afford the “Damsel in Distress” motif at times. Even still, it wasn’t always the damsel who always needs saving in Episodes 1 through 6, but Leia did need help relatively frequently. After all, Leia did have to rescue Han after being frozen in Carbonite and sent to Tattoine… an alternate form of “Damsel in Distress”. This motif is not always about rescuing a female. It’s about a team effort of rescuing each other against great odds.

While the “Damsel in Distress” motif may be considered a bit antiquated in these more female empowering times, it still has a place in storytelling… and in particular, it is a key element of Star Wars that simply can’t be discarded. Star Wars is, for better or worse, stories about the female ending up in situations needing assistance by her male cohorts. Though, setting up the reverse in today’s times might be perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, Disney has lost its way in this franchise. It sacrificed the core “Damsel in Distress” motif to its own sociopolitical ideals of “female independence and empowerment”. Female independence is not a central theme in the Star Wars cinematic universe and never has been. Star Wars is a story about working together as a “team” (male or female) to create a positive end result.

Listening to Leia’s speech on Hoth to her pilots right before battle sums up what Star Wars is about. I can hear some people saying, “Well it should be about female independence”. I counter with, look at how that turned out for both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker… hint: not well. Even trying such shtick as “Role Reversal” (aka 2016’s Ghostbusters) is so obvious as to what it is, it’s almost impossible to avoid the backlash. The Star Wars universe has already overcome such petty squabbles such as “female” versus “male”. In Star Wars, the characters live in a universe where the most important thing is SURVIVAL, not which gender is most important.

While a Star Wars TV series may be able to expand on many different motifs, including delving into female empowerment, due its lengthy episodic nature, theatrical releases have only a few precious minutes to unfold a story that makes sense using the existing Star Wars motifs. Holding true to the Star Wars original story methodologies and ideals would have fared far better for Disney than what we were handed in Disney’s trilogy.

I liken this problem to the idea of “tossing out the baby with the bathwater”. It may solve a certain problem, but it creates more problems than it solves (aka JJ’s 2009’s Star Trek reboot). With Disney, that’s where we are… and that’s why Disney’s Star Wars films consistently draw fan ire, contempt and criticism.

This article is not intended to describe everything wrong with Disney’s Star Wars. Instead, it is intended to draw attention where Disney first went astray from what Star Wars is fundamentally designed to be. Clearly, there are many, many more story and situational problems within Episodes 7, 8 and 9. However, all of these other problems stemmed directly or indirectly from the primary problem described above.

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Rant Time: Flickr is running out of time & money?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on December 19, 2019

Flickr2I received a rather questionable email about Flickr allegedly from Don MacAskill, CEO of SmugMug.

Unfortunately, his email is also wrapped in the guise of email marketing and arrived through the same marketing channel as all other email marketing from Flickr.

Don, if you want us to take this situation seriously, you shouldn’t use email marketing platforms to do it. These emails need to come personally from you using a SmugMug or Flickr address. They also shouldn’t contain several email marketing links. An email from the CEO should contain only ONE link and it should be at the very bottom of the email.

The information contained in this letter is not a surprise in general, but the way it arrived and the tone it takes is a surprise coming from a CEO, particularly when it takes the format of generic email marketing. Let’s explore.

Flickr Pro

I will place the letter at the bottom so you can it read in full. The gist of the letter is, “We’re running out of money, so sign up right away!”

I want to take the time to discuss the above “running out of money” point. Here’s an excerpt from Don’s email:

We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow. Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data. We bought it because we love photographers, we love photography, and we believe Flickr deserves not only to live on but thrive. We think the world agrees; and we think the Flickr community does, too. But we cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.

Let’s start by saying, why on Earth would I ever sign up for a money losing service that is in danger of closing? Seriously, Flickr? Are you mad? Don’t give me assurances that *I* can save your business with my single conversion. It’s going to take MANY someones to keep Flickr afloat if it’s running out of money. Worse, sending this email to former Pro members trying to get us to convert again is a losing proposition. Send it to someone who cares, assuming there is anyone like that.

A single conversion isn’t likely to do a damned thing to stem the tide of your money hemorrhaging, Flickr. Are you insane to send out a letter like this in this generic email marketing way? If anything, a letter like this may see even MORE of your existing members run for the hills by cancelling their memberships, instead of trying to save Flickr from certain doom. But, let’s ignore this letter’s asinine message and focus on why I decided to write this article.

Flickr is Dead to Me

I had an email exchange in November of 2018 with Flickr’s team. I make my stance exceedingly clear exactly why I cancelled my Pro membership and why their inexplicable price increase is pointless. And yes, it is a rant. This exchange goes as follows:

Susan from Flickr states:

When we re-introduced the annual Flickr Pro at $49.99 more than 3 years ago, we promised all grandfathered Pros (including the bi-annual and 3-month plans) a 2-year protected price period. We have kept this promise, but in order to continue providing our best service to all of our customers, we are now updating the pricing for grandfathered Pros. We started this process on August 16, 2018.

With this being the case, bi-annual Pros pay $99.98 every 2 years, annual Pros pay $49.99 every year, and 3-month Pros pay $17.97 every 3 months. Notifications including the price increase have been sent out to our users starting from August 16.

I then write back the following rant:

Hi Susan,

Yes, and that means you’ve had more than ample time to make that $50 a year worth it for Pro subscribers. You haven’t and you’ve failed. It’s still the same Flickr it was when I was paying $22.48 a year. Why should I now pay over double the price for no added benefits? Now that SmugMug has bought it, here we are now being forced to pay the $50 a year toll when there’s nothing new that’s worth paying $50 for. Pro users have been given ZERO tools to sell our photos on the platform as stock photos. Being given these tools is what ‘Pro’ means, Susan. We additionally can’t in any way monetize our content to recoup the cost of our Pro membership fees. Worse, you’re displaying ads over the top our photos and we’re not seeing a dime from that revenue.

Again, what have you given that makes $50 a year worth it? You’re really expecting us to PAY you $50 a year to show ads to free users over the top of our content? No! I was barely willing to do that with $22.48 a year. Of course, this will all fall on deaf ears because these words mean nothing to you. It’s your management team pushing stupid efforts that don’t make sense in a world where Flickr is practically obsolete. Well, I’m done with using a 14 year old decrepit platform that has degraded rather than improved. Sorry Susan, I’ve removed over 2500 photos, cancelled my Pro membership and will move back to the free tier. If SmugMug ever comes to its senses and actually produces a Pro platform worth using (i.e., actually offers monetization tools or even a storefront), I might consider paying. As it is now, Flickr is an antiquated 14 year old platform firmly rooted in a 2004 world. Wake up, it’s 2018! The iStockphotos of the world are overtaking you and offering better Pro tools.

Bye.

Flickr and SmugMug

When Flickr was purchased by SmugMug, I wasn’t expecting much from Flickr. But, I also didn’t expect Flickr to double its prices while also providing nothing in return. The platform has literally added nothing to improve the “Pro” aspect of its service. You’re simply paying more for the privilege of having ads placed over the top of your photos. Though, what SmugMug might claim you’re paying for is entirely the privilege of the tiniest bit more storage space to store a few more photos.

Back when storage costs were immense, that pricing might have made sense. In an age where storage costs are impossibly low, that extra per month pricing is way out of line. SmugMug and Flickr should have spent their time adding actual “Pro” tools so that photographers can, you know, make money from their photos by selling them, leasing them, producing framed physical wall hangings, mugs, t-shirts, mouse pads, and so on. Let us monetize our one and only one product… you know, like Deviant Art does. Instead, SmugMug has decided to charge more, then place ads over the top of our photos and not provide even a fraction of what Deviant Art does for free.

As a photographer, why should I spend $50 a year on Flickr only to gain nothing when I can move my photos to Deviant Art and pay nothing a year AND get many more tools which help me monetize my images? I can also submit them to stock photo services and make money off of leasing them to publications, something still not possible at Flickr.

Don’s plea is completely disingenuous. You can’t call something “Pro” when there’s nothing professional about it. But then, Don feels compelled to call out where they have actually hosted Flickr and accidentally explains why Flickr is losing money.

We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in cloud computing, and modernized its technology along the way.

What modernization? Hosting a service on AWS doesn’t “modernize” anything. It’s a hosting platform. Worse, this hosting decision is entirely the cause of SmugMug’s central money woes with Flickr. AWS is THE most expensive cloud hosting platform available. There is nothing whatsoever cheap about using AWS’s storage and compute platforms. Yes, AWS works well, but the bill at the end of the month sucks. To keep the lights on when hosting at AWS, plan to spend a mint.

If SmugMug wanted to save on costs of hosting Flickr, they should have migrated it to a much lower cost hosting platform instead of sending empty marketing promises asking people to “help save the platform”. Changing hosting platforms might require more hands on effort for SmugMug’s technical staff, but SmugMug can likely half the costs of hosting this platform by moving it to lower cost hosting providers… providers that will work just as well as AWS.

Trying to urge past subscribers to re-up into Pro again simply to “save its AWS hosting decision”, not gonna happen. Those of us who’ve gotten no added benefit by paying money to Flickr in the past are not eager to return. Either give us a legitimate reason to pay money to you (add a storefront or monetization tools) or spend your time moving Flickr to a lower cost hosting service, one where Flickr can make money.

Don, why not use your supposed CEO prowess to have your team come up with lower cost solutions? I just did. It’s just a thought. You shouldn’t rely on such tactless and generic email marketing practices to solve the ills of Flickr and SmugMug. You bought it, you have to live with it. If that means Flickr must shutdown because you can’t figure out a way to save it, then so be it.

Below is Don MacAskill’s email in all of its unnecessary email marketing glory (links redacted):

Dear friends,

Flickr—the world’s most-beloved, money-losing business—needs your help.

Two years ago, Flickr was losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Our company, SmugMug, stepped in to rescue it from being shut down and to save tens of billions of your precious photos from being erased.

Why? We’ve spent 17 years lovingly building our company into a thriving, family-owned and -operated business that cares deeply about photographers. SmugMug has always been the place for photographers to showcase their photography, and we’ve long admired how Flickr has been the community where they connect with each other. We couldn’t stand by and watch Flickr vanish.

So we took a big risk, stepped in, and saved Flickr. Together, we created the world’s largest photographer-focused community: a place where photographers can stand out and fit in.

We’ve been hard at work improving Flickr. We hired an excellent, large staff of Support Heroes who now deliver support with an average customer satisfaction rating of above 90%. We got rid of Yahoo’s login. We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in cloud computing, and modernized its technology along the way. As a result, pages are already 20% faster and photos load 30% more quickly. Platform outages, including Pandas, are way down. Flickr continues to get faster and more stable, and important new features are being built once again.

Our work is never done, but we’ve made tremendous progress.

Now Flickr needs your help. It’s still losing money. Hundreds of thousands of loyal Flickr members stepped up and joined Flickr Pro, for which we are eternally grateful. It’s losing a lot less money than it was. But it’s not yet making enough.

We need more Flickr Pro members if we want to keep the Flickr dream alive.

We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow. Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data. We bought it because we love photographers, we love photography, and we believe Flickr deserves not only to live on but thrive. We think the world agrees; and we think the Flickr community does, too. But we cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.

Flickr is the world’s largest photographer-focused community. It’s the world’s best way to find great photography and connect with amazing photographers. Flickr hosts some of the world’s most iconic, most priceless photos, freely available to the entire world. This community is home to more than 100 million accounts and tens of billions of photos. It serves billions of photos every single day. It’s huge. It’s a priceless treasure for the whole world. And it costs money to operate. Lots of money.

Flickr is not a charity, and we’re not asking you for a donation. Flickr is the best value in photo sharing anywhere in the world. Flickr Pro members get ad-free browsing for themselves and their visitors, advanced stats, unlimited full-quality storage for all their photos, plus premium features and access to the world’s largest photographer-focused community for less than $5 per month.

You likely pay services such as Netflix and Spotify at least $9 per month. I love services like these, and I’m a happy paying customer, but they don’t keep your priceless photos safe and let you share them with the most important people in your world. Flickr does, and a Flickr Pro membership costs less than $1 per week.

Please, help us make Flickr thrive. Help us ensure it has a bright future. Every Flickr Pro subscription goes directly to keeping Flickr alive and creating great new experiences for photographers like you. We are building lots of great things for the Flickr community, but we need your help. We can do this together.

We’re launching our end-of-year Pro subscription campaign on Thursday, December 26, but I want to invite you to subscribe to Flickr Pro today for the same 25% discount.

We’ve gone to great lengths to optimize Flickr for cost savings wherever possible, but the increasing cost of operating this enormous community and continuing to invest in its future will require a small price increase early in the new year, so this is truly the very best time to upgrade your membership to Pro.

If you value Flickr finally being independent, built for photographers and by photographers, we ask you to join us, and to share this offer with those who share your love of photography and community.

With gratitude,

Don MacAskill
Co-Founder, CEO & Chief Geek

SmugMug + Flickr

Use and share coupon code [redacted] to get 25% off Flickr Pro now.

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Am I impacted by the FTC’s YouTube agreement?

Posted in botch, business, california, ethics, family by commorancy on December 16, 2019

kid-tabletThis question is currently a hot debate among YouTubers. The answer to this question is complex and depends on many factors. This is a long read as there’s a lot to say (~10000 words = ~35-50 minutes). Grab a cup of your favorite Joe and let’s explore.

COPPA, YouTube and the FTC

I’ve written a previous article on this topic entitled Rant Time: Google doesn’t understand COPPA. You’ll want to read that article to gain a bit more insight around this topic. Today’s article is geared more towards YouTube content creators and parents looking for answers. It is also geared towards anyone with a passing interest in the goings on at YouTube.

Before I start, let me write this disclaimer by saying I’m not a lawyer. Therefore, this article is not intended in any way to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, there are many lawyers available who may be able to help you with regards to being a YouTube content creator and your specific channel’s circumstances. If you ARE HERE looking for legal advice, please go speak to a lawyer instead. The information provided in this article is strictly for information purposes only and IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.

For Kids or Not For Kids?

screen-shot-2019-11-24-at-2.33.32-am.png

With that out of the way, let’s talk a little about what’s going on at YouTube for the uninitiated. YouTube has recently rolled out a new channel creator feature. This feature requires that you mark your channel “for kids” or “not for kids”. Individual videos can also be marked this way (which becomes important a little later in the article). Note, this “heading” is not the actual text on the screen in the settings area (see the image), but this is what you are doing when you change this YouTube creator setting. This setting is a binary setting. Your content is either directed at kids or it is not directed at kids. Let’s understand this reasoning around COPPA. Also, “kids” or “child” is defined in COPPA any person 12 or younger.

When you set the “for kids” setting on a YouTube channel, a number of things will happen to your channel, including comments being disabled, monetization will be severely limited or eliminated and how your content is promoted by YouTube will drastically change. There may also be other subtle changes that are as yet unclear. The reason for all of these restrictions is that COPPA prevents the collection of personal information from children 12 and under… or at least, if it is collected that it is deleted if parental consent cannot be obtained. In the 2013 update, COPPA added cookie tracking to the list of items that cannot be collected.

By disabling all of these features under ‘For Kids’, YouTube is attempting to reduce or eliminate its data collection vectors that could violate COPPA… to thwart future liabilities for Google / YouTube as a company.

On the other hand, setting your channel as ‘Not For Kids’, YouTube maintains your channel as it has always been with comments enabled, full monetization possible, etc. Seems simple, right? Wrong.

Not as Simple as it Seems

You’re a creator thinking, “Ok, then I’ll just set my channel to ‘Not for Kids’ and everything will be fine.” Not so fast there, partner. It’s not quite as simple as that. COPPA applies to your channel if even one child visits and Google collects any data from that child. But, there’s more to it.

YouTube will also be rolling out a tool that attempts to identify the primary audience of video content. If YouTube’s new tool identifies a video as content primarily targeting “kids”, that video’s “Not for Kids” setting may be overridden by YouTube and set as “For Kids”. Yes, this can be done by YouTube’s tool, thus overriding your channel-wide settings. It’s not enough to set this setting on your channel, you must make sure your content is not being watched by kids and the content is not overly kid friendly. How exactly YouTube’s scanner will work is entirely unknown as of now.

And here is where we get to the crux of this whole matter.

What is “Kid Friendly” Content?

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question. Your content could be you reviewing toys, it could be drawing pictures by hand on the screen, it could be reviewing comic books, you might ride skateboards, you might play video games, you might even assemble Legos into large sculptures. These are all video topics that could go either way… and it all depends on which audience your video tends draw in.

It also depends on your existing subscriber base. If a vast majority of your current active subscribers are children 12 and under, this fact can unfairly influence your content even if your curent content is most definitely not for kids. The fact that ‘kids’ are watching your channel is a problem for ANY content that you upload.

But you say, “My viewer statistics don’t show me 12 and under category.” No, it doesn’t and there’s a good reason why it doesn’t. Google has always professed that it doesn’t allow 12 and under on its platform. But clearly, that was a lie. Google does, in fact, allow 12 and under onto its platform. That’s crystal clear for two reasons: 1) The FTC fined Google $170 million for violating COPPA (meaning, FTC found kids 12 and under are using the platform) and 2) YouTube has rolled out this “for kids / not for kids” setting confirming by Google that 12 and under do, in fact, watch YouTube and have active Google Account IDs.

I hear someone else saying, “I’m a parent and I let my 11 year old son use YouTube.” Yeah, that’s perfectly fine and legal, so long as you have given “verifiable consent” to the company that is collecting data from your 11 year old child. As long as a parent gives ‘verifiable consent’ for their child under 12 to Google or YouTube or even to the channel owner directly, it’s perfectly legal for your child to be on the platform watching and participating and for Google and YouTube to collect data from your child.

Unfortunately, verifiable consent is difficult to manage digitally. See the DIY method of parental consent below. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t offer any “verifiable consent” mechanism for itself or for YouTube content creators. This means that even if you as a parent are okay with your child being on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or even Snapchat, if you haven’t provided explicit and verifiable parental consent to that online service for your child 12 and under, that service is in violation of COPPA by handling data that your child may input into that service. Data can include name, telephone number, email address or even sharing photos or videos of themselves. It also includes cookies placed onto their devices.

COPPA was written to penalize the “web site” or “online services” that collect a child’s information. It doesn’t penalize the family. Without “verifiable consent” from a parent or legal guardian, to the “web site” or “online service” it’s the same as no consent at all. Implicit consent isn’t valid for COPPA. It must be explicitly given and verifiable consent from a parent or legal guardian given to the service being used by the child.

The Murky Waters of Google

If only YouTube were Google’s only property to consider. It isn’t. Google has many, many properties. I’ll make a somewhat short-ish list here:

  • Google Search
  • Google Games
  • Google Music
  • Google Play Store (App)
  • Google Play Games (App)
  • Google Stadia
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Docs
  • Google’s G Suite
  • Google Voice
  • Google Chrome (browser)
  • Google Chromebook (device)
  • Google Earth (App)
  • Google Movies and TV
  • Google Photos
  • Google’s Gmail
  • Google Books
  • Google Drive
  • Google Home (the smart speaker device)
  • Google Chromecast (TV device)
  • Android OS on Phones
  • … and the list goes on …

To drive all of these properties and devices, Google relies on the creation of a Google Account ID. To create an account, you must supply Google with certain specific identifying information including email address, first and last name and various other required information. Google will then grant you a login identifier and a password in the form of credentials which allows you to log into and use any of the above Google properties, including (you guessed it) YouTube.

Without “verifiable consent” supplied to Google for a child 12 and under, what data Google has collected from your child during the Google Account signup process (or any of the above apps) has violated COPPA, a ruleset tasked for enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Yes, this whole situation gets even murkier.

Data Collection and Manipulation

The whole point to COPPA is to protect data collected from any child aged 12 and under. More specifically, it rules that this data cannot be collected / processed from the child unless a parent or legal guardian supplies “verifiable consent” to the “web site” or “online service” within a reasonable time of the child having supplied their data to the site.

As of 2013, data collection and manipulation isn’t defined just by what the child personally uploads and types, though this data is included. This Act was expanded to include cookies placed onto a child’s computer device to track and target that child with ads. These cookies are also considered protected data by COPPA as these cookies could be used to personally identify the child. If a service does not have “verifiable consent” on file for that child from a parent or guardian, the “online service” or “web site” is considered by the FTC in violation of COPPA.

The difficulty with Google’s situation is that Google actually stores a child’s data within the child’s Google Account ID. This account ID being entirely separate from YouTube. For example, if you buy your child a Samsung Note 10 Phone running Android and you as a parent create a Google Account for your 12 or under child to use that device, you have just helped Google violate COPPA. This is part of the reason the FTC fined Google $170 million for violations to COPPA. Perhaps not this specific scenario, but the fact that Google doesn’t offer a “verifiable consent” system to verify a child’s access to its services and devices prior to collecting data or granting access to services led the FTC to its ruling. The FTC’s focus, however, is currently YouTube… even though Google is violating COPPA everywhere all over its properties as a result of the use of a Google Account ID.

YouTube’s and COPPA Fallout

Google wholly owns YouTube. Google purchased the YouTube property in 2006. In 2009, Google retired YouTube’s original login credential system and began requiring YouTube to use Google Accounts to gain access to the YouTube property by viewers. This change is important.

It also seems that YouTube is still operating itself mostly as a self-autonomous entity within Google’s larger corporate structure. What all of this means more specifically is that YouTube now uses Google Accounts, a separately controlled and operated system within Google, to manage credentials and gain access into not only the YouTube property, but every other property that Google has (see the short-ish list above).

In 2009, the YouTube developers deprecated their own home grown credentials system and began using the Google Accounts system of credential storage. This change to YouTube very likely means that YouTube itself no longer stores or controls any credential or identifying data. That data is now contained within the Google Accounts system. YouTube likely now only manages the videos that get uploaded, comments, supplying ads on videos (which the tracking and manage is probably controlled by Google also), content ID matching and anything else that appears in the YouTube UI interface. Everything else is likely out of the YouTube team’s control (or even access). In fact, I’d suspect that the YouTube team likely has entirely zero access to the data and information stored within the Google Accounts system (with the exception of that specific data which is authorized by the account holder to be publicly shown).

Why is this Google Accounts information important?

So long as Google Accounts remains a separate entity from YouTube (even though YouTube is owned by the same company), this means that YouTube can’t be in violation of COPPA (at least not where storage of credentials are concerned). There is one exception which YouTube does control… its comment system.

The comment system on YouTube is one of the earliest “modern” social networks ever created. Only Facebook and MySpace were slightly earlier, though all three were generally created within 1 year of one another. It is also the only free form place left in the present 2019 YouTube interface that allows a 12 or under child to incidentally type some form of personally identifying information into a public forum for YouTube to store (in violation of COPPA).

This is the reason that the “for kids” setting disables comments. YouTube formerly had a private messaging service, but it was retired as of September of 2019. It is no longer possible to use YouTube to have private conversations between other YouTube users. If you want to converse with another YouTube viewer, you must do it in a public comment. This change was likely also fallout from Google’s COPPA woes.

Google and Cookies

For the same reason as Google Accounts, YouTube likely doesn’t even manage its own site cookies. It might, but it likely relies on a centralized internal Google service to create, manage and handle cookies. The reason for this is obvious. Were YouTube’s developers to create and manage their own separate cookie, it would be a cookie that holds no use for other Google services. However, if YouTube developers were to rely on a centralized Google controlled service to manage their site’s cookies, it would allow the cookie to be created in a standardized way that all Google services can consume and use. For this reason, this author supposes a centralized system is used at YouTube rather than something “homegrown” and specific to YouTube.

While it is possible that YouTube might create its own cookies, it’s doubtful that YouTube does this for one important reason: ad monetization. For YouTube to participate in Google Advertising (yet another service under the Google umbrella of services), YouTube would need to use tracking cookies that the Google Advertising service can read, parse and update while someone is watching a video on YouTube.

This situation remains murky because YouTube can manage its own internal cookies. I’m supposing that YouTube doesn’t because of a larger corporate platform strategy. But, it is still entirely possible that YouTube does manage its own browser cookies. Only a YouTube employee would know for certain which way this one goes.

Because of the ambiguity in how cookies are managed within Google and YouTube, this is another area where YouTube has erred on the side of caution by disabling ads and ad tracking if a channel is marked as ‘for kids’. This prevents placing ad tracking cookies on any computers from ‘for kids’ marked channels and videos, again avoiding violations of COPPA.

The FTC’s position

Unfortunately, the FTC has put themselves into a constitutionally precarious position. The United States Constitution has a very important provision within its First Amendment.

Let me cite a quote from the US Constitution’s First Amendment (highlighting and italics added by author to call out importance):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The constitutional difficulty that the FTC has placed themselves in is that YouTube, by its very nature, offers a journalistic platform which is constitutionally protected from tortious interference by the United States government. The government (or more specifically, Congress) cannot make law that in any way abridges freedom of speech or of the press.

A video on YouTube is not only a form of journalism, it is a form of free speech. As long as YouTube and Google remain operating within the borders of the United States, United States residents must be able to use this platform unfettered without government tortious interference.

How does this imply to the FTC? It applies because the FTC is a governmental entity created by an act of the US Congress and, therefore, acts on behalf of the US Congress. This means that the FTC must uphold all provisions of the United States Constitution when dealing with matters of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.

How is does this problem manifest for the FTC? The FTC has repeatedly stated that it will use “tools” to determine if a YouTube channel’s content is intended for and is primarily intended to target children 12 and under. Here’s the critical part. If a channel’s content is determined to be targeting children 12 and under, the channel owner may be fined up to $43,530 per video as it will have been deemed in violation of COPPA.

There are two problems with the above statements the FTC has made. Let’s examine text from this FTC provided page about YouTube (italics provided by the FTC):

So how does COPPA apply to channel owners who upload their content to YouTube or another third-party platform? COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app. If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a “website or online service” covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected. If the content is directed to children and if the channel owner, or someone on its behalf (for example, an ad network), collects personal information from viewers of that content (for example, through a persistent identifier that tracks a user to serve interest-based ads), the channel is covered by COPPA. Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements.

and there’s more, which contains the most critical part of the FTC’s article:

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.

The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

Content, Content and more Content

The above quotes discuss YouTube Content becoming “covered by COPPA”. This is a ruse. Content is protected speech by the United States Constitution and is defined within the First Amendment (see above). Nothing in any YouTube visual content when published by a United State Citizen can be “covered by COPPA”. The First Amendment sees to that.

Let’s understand why. First, COPPA is a data collections Act. It has nothing whatever to do with content ratings, content age appropriateness or, indeed, does not discuss anything else related visual content targeted towards children of ANY age. Indeed, there is no verbiage within the COPPA provisions that discuss YouTube, visual content, audio content or anything else to do with Freedom of Speech matters.

It gets worse… at least for the FTC. Targeting channels for disruption by fining them strictly over content uploaded onto the channel is less about protecting children’s data and more about content censorship on YouTube. Indeed, fining a channel $42,530 is tantamount to censorship as it is likely to see that content removed from YouTube… which is, indeed, censorship in its most basic form. Any censorship of Freedom of Speech is firmly against First Amendment rights.

Since the FTC is using fines based on COPPA as leverage against content creators, the implication is that the FTC will use this legal leverage to have YouTube take down content it feels is inappropriate targeting 12 and under children, rather than upholding COPPA’s actual data protection provisions. Indeed, the FTC will actually be making new law by fining channels based on content, not on whether data was actually collected in violation of COPPA’s data collection provisions. Though, the first paragraph may claim “data collection” as a metric, the second paragraph is solely about “offending content”… which is entirely about censorship. Why is that? Let’s continue.

COPPA vs “Freedom of Speech”

The FTC has effectively hung themselves out to dry. In fact, if the FTC does fine even ONE YouTube channel for “inappropriate content”, the FTC will be firmly in the business of censorship of journalism. Or, more specifically, the FTC will have violated the First Amendment rights of U.S. Citizens’ freedom of speech protections.

This means that in order for the FTC to enforce COPPA against YouTube creators, it has now firmly put itself into the precarious position of violating the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In fact, the FTC cannot even fine even one channel owner without violating the First Amendment.

In truth, they can fine under only the following circumstance:

  1. The FTC proves that the YouTube channel actually collected and currently possesses inappropriate data from a child 12 and under.
  2. The FTC leaves the channel entirely untouched. The channel and content must remain online and active.

Number 2 is actually quite a bit more difficult for the FTC than it sounds. Because YouTube and the FTC have made an agreement, that means that YouTube can be seen as an agent of the FTC by doing the FTC’s bidding. This means that even if YouTube takes down the channel after a fine for TOS reasons, the FTC’s fining action can still be construed as in violation of First Amendment rights because YouTube acted as an agent to take down the “offending content”.

It gets even more precarious for the FTC. Even the simple the act of levying a fine against a YouTube channel could be seen as a violation of First Amendment rights. This action by the FTC seems less about protecting children’s data and more about going after YouTube content creators “targeting children with certain types of content” (see above). Because the latter quote from the FTC article explicitly calls out types of content as “directed at children”, this intentionally shows that it’s not about COPPA, but about visual content rules. Visual content rules DO NOT exist in COPPA.

Channel Owners and Content

If you are a YouTube channel owner, all of the above should greatly concern you for the following reasons:

  1. You don’t want to become a Guinea Pig to test First Amendment legal waters of the FTC + COPPA
  2. The FTC’s content rules above effectively state, “We’ll know it when we see it.” This is constitutionally BAD. This heavily implies content censorship intent. This means that the FTC can simply call out any content as being inappropriate and then fine a channel owner for uploading that content.
  3. It doesn’t specify state if the rule applies retroactively. Does previously uploaded content become subject to the FTC’s whim?
  4. The agreement takes effect beginning January 1, 2020
  5. YouTube can “accidentally” reclassify content as “for kids” when it clearly isn’t… which can trigger an FTC action.
  6. The FTC will apparently have direct access to the YouTube platform scanning tools. To what degree it has access is unknown. If it has direct access to take videos or channels offline, it has direct access to violate the First Amendment. Even if it must ask YouTube to do this takedown work, the FTC will still have violated the First Amendment.

The Fallacy

The difficulty I have with this entire situation is that the FTC now appears to be holding content creators to blame for heavy deficiencies within YouTube’s and Google’s platforms. Because Google failed to properly police its own platform for 12 and under users, it now seeks to pass that blame down onto YouTube creators simply because they create and upload video content. Content, I might add, that is completely protected under the United State Constitution’s First Amendment as “Freedom of Speech”. Pre-shot video content is a one-way passive form of communication.

Just like broadcast and cable TV, YouTube is a video sharing platform. It is designed to allow creators to impart one-way passive communication using pre-made videos, just like broadcast TV. If these FTC actions apply to YouTube, then they equally apply to broadcast and cable television providers…. particularly now that CBS, ABC, NBC, Netflix, Disney+ (especially Disney+), Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, Apple and cable TV providers now also offer “web sites” and “online services” where their respective video content can (and will) be viewed by children 12 and under via a computer device or web browser and where a child may is able to input COPPA protected data. For example, is Disney+ requiring verifiable parental consent to comply with COPPA?

Live Streaming

However, YouTube now also offers live streaming which changes the game a little for COPPA. Live streaming offers two-way live communication and in somewhat real-time. Live streaming is a situation where a channel creator might be able to collect inappropriate data from a child simply by asking pointed questions during a live stream event. A child might even feel compelled to write into live chat information that they shouldn’t be giving out. Live streaming may be more likely to collect COPPA protected data than pre-made video content simply because of the live interactivity between the host and the viewers. You don’t get that level of interaction when using pre-made video content.

Live streaming or not, there is absolutely no way a content creator can in any way be construed as an “Operator” of Google or of YouTube. The FTC is simply playing a game of “Guilty by Association”. They are using this flawed logic… “You own a YouTube channel, therefore you are automatically responsible for YouTube’s infractions.” It’s simply Google’s way of passing down its own legal burdens by your channel’s association with YouTube. Worse, the FTC seems to have bought into this Google shenanigan. It’s great for Google, though. They won’t be held liable for any more infractions against COPPA so long as YouTube creators end up shouldering that legal burden for Google.

The FTC seems to have conveniently forgotten this next part. In order to have collected data from a child, you must still possess a copy of that data to prove that you actually did collect it and that you are STILL in violation of COPPA. If you don’t have a copy of the alleged violating data, then you either didn’t collect it, the child didn’t provide it, you never had it to begin with or you have since deleted it. As for cookie violations, it’s entirely a stretch to say that YouTube creators had anything to do with how Google / YouTube manages cookies. The COPPA verbiage states of deletion under Parental Consent:

§312.4(c)(1). If the operator has not obtained parental consent after a reasonable time from the date of the information collection, the operator must delete such information from its records;

If an “operator” deletes such records, then the “operator” is not in violation of COPPA. If an “operator” obtains parental consent, then the “operator” is also not in violation of COPPA. Nothing, though, states definitively that a YouTube creator assumes the role of “operator”.

This is important because Google is and remains the “operator”. Until or unless Google extends access to its Google Accounts collected data to ALL YouTube creators so that a creator can take possession of said data, a creator cannot be considered an “operator”. The YouTube creator doesn’t have (and never has had) access to the Google Account personal data (other than what is publicly published on Google). Only Google has access to this account data which has been collected as part of creating a new Google Account. Even the YouTube property and its employees likely don’t even have access to Google Account personal data as mentioned. This means that, by extension, a YouTube creator doesn’t have a copy of any personal data that a Google Accounts signup may have collected… and therefore the YouTube content creator is NOT in violation of COPPA, though that doesn’t take Google off of the hook for it.

A YouTube content creator must actually POSSESS the data to be in violation. The FTC’s burden of proof is to show that the YouTube content creator actually has possession of that data. Who possesses that data? Google. Who doesn’t possess that data? The YouTube content creator. Though, there may be some limited edge cases where a YouTube creator might have requested personal information from a child in violation of COPPA. Even if a YouTube creator did request such data, so long as it has since been deleted fully, it is not in violation of COPPA. You must still be in possession of said data to be in violation of COPPA, at least according to how the act seems to read. If you have questions about this section, you should contact a lawyer for definitive confirmation and advice. Remember, I’m not a lawyer.

There is only ONE situation where a YouTube content creator may be in direct violation of COPPA. That is for live streaming. If a live streamer prompts for personal data to be written into the live chat area from its viewers and one of those viewers is 12 or under, the creator will have access to COPPA violating personal data. Additionally, comments on videos might be construed as in violation of COPPA if a 12 and under child writes something personally identifying into a comment. Though, I don’t know of many content creators who would intentionally request their viewers to reveal personally information in a comment on YouTube. Most people (including content creators) know the dangers all too well of posting such personally identifying information in a YouTube comment. A child might not, though. I can’t recall having watched one single YouTube channel where the host requests personally identifying information be placed into a YouTube comment. Ignoring COPPA for a second, such a request would be completely irresponsible. Let’s continue…

COPPA does state this about collecting data under its ‘Definitions’ section:

Collects or collection means the gathering of any personal information from a child by any means, including but not limited to:

(1) Requesting, prompting, or encouraging a child to submit personal information online;

(2) Enabling a child to make personal information publicly available in identifiable form. An operator shall not be considered to have collected personal information under this paragraph if it takes reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all personal information from a child’s postings before they are made public and also to delete such information from its records; or

(3) Passive tracking of a child online.

The “Enabling a child” section above is the reason for the removal of comments when the “for kids” setting is defined. Having comments enabled on a video when a child 12 and under could be watching enables the child to be able to write in personal information if they so choose. Simply by having a comment system available to someone 12 and under appears to be an infraction of COPPA. YouTube creators DO have access to enable or disable comments. What YouTube Creators don’t have access to is the age of the viewer. Google hides that information from YouTube content creators. YouTube content creators, in good faith, do not know the ages of anyone watching their channel.

Tracking a child’s activities is not possible by a YouTube content creator. A content creator has no direct or even incidental access to Google’s systems which perform any tracking activities. Only Google Does. Therefore, number 3 does not apply to YouTube content creators. The only way number 3 would ever apply to a creator is if Google / YouTube offered direct access to its cookie tracking systems to its YouTube content creators. Therefore, only numbers 1 and 2 could potentially apply to YouTube content creators.

In fact, because Google Accounts hides its personal data from YouTube content creators (including the ages of its viewers), content creators don’t know anything personal about any of its viewers. Which means, how are YouTube content creators supposed to know if a child 12 and under is even watching?

Google’s Failures

The reality is, Google has failed to control its data collection under Google Accounts. It is Google Accounts that needs to have COPPA applied to it, not YouTube. In fact, this action by the FTC will actually solve NOTHING at Google.

Google’s entire system is tainted. Because of the number of services that Google owns and controls, placing COPPA controls on only ONE of these services (YouTube) is the absolute bare minimum for an FTC action against COPPA. It’s clear that the FTC simply doesn’t understand the breadth and scope of Google’s COPPA failures within its systems. Placing these controls on YouTube will do NOTHING to fix COPPA’s greater violations which continue unabated within the rest of Google’s Services, including its brand new video gaming streaming service, Google Stadia. Google Stadia is likely to draw in just as many children 12 and under as YouTube. Probably more. If Stadia has even one sharing or voice chat service active or uses cookies to track its users, Stadia is in violation for the same exact reasons YouTube is… Google’s failure of compliance within Google Accounts.

Worse, there’s Android. Many parents are now handing brand new Android phones to their children 12 and under. Android has MANY tracking features enabled on its phones. From the GPS on board, to cookies, to apps, to the cell towers, to the OS itself. Talk about COPPA violations.

What about Google Home? You know, that seemingly innocuous smart speaker? Yeah, that thing is going to track not only each individual’s voice, it may even store recordings of those voices. It probably even tracks what things you request and then, based on your Google Account, will target ads on your Android phone or on Google Chrome based on things you’ve asked Google Home to provide. What’s more personally identifying than your own voice being recorded and stored after asking something personal?

Yeah, YouTube is merely the tippiest tip of a much, much, MUCH larger corporate iceberg that is continually in violation of COPPA within Google. The FTC just doesn’t get that its $170 million fine and First Amendment violating censorship efforts on YouTube isn’t the right course of action. Not only does the FTC’s involvement in censorship on YouTube lead to First Amendment violations, it won’t solve the rest of the COPPA violations at Google.

Here’s where the main body of this article ends.

Because there are still more questions, thoughts and ideas around this issue, let’s explore a some deeper ideas which might answer a few more of your questions as a creator or as a parent. Each question is prefaced by a ➡️ symbol. At this point, you may want to skim the rest of this article for specific thoughts which may be relevant to you.


➡️ “Should I Continue with my YouTube Channel?”

This is a great question and one that I can’t answer for you. Since I don’t know your channel or your channel’s content, there’s no way for me to give advice to you. Even if you do tell me your channel and its content, the FTC explicitly states that it will be at the FTC’s own discretion if a channel’s content “is covered by COPPA”. This means you need to review your own channel content to determine if your video content drives kids 12 and under to watch. Even then, it’s a crap shoot.

Are there ways you can begin to protect your channel? Yes. The first way is to post a video requesting that all subscribers who are 12 and under either unsubscribe from the channel or alternatively ask their parents to provide verifiable consent to you to allow that child to continue watching. This consent must come from a parent or guardian, not the child. Obtaining verifiable consent is not as easy as it sounds. Though, after you have received verifiable parental consent from every “child” subscriber on your channel, you can easily produce this consent documentation to the FTC if they claim your channel is in violation.

The next option is to apply for TRUSTe’s Children’s Privacy Certification. This affords your YouTube channel “Safe Harbor” protections against the FTC. This one is likely most helpful for large YouTube channels which tend to target children and which make significant income through ad monetization. TRUSTe’s certification is not likely to come cheap. This is the reason this avenue would only be helpful for the largest channels receiving significant monetization enough to pay for such a service.

Note, if you go through the “Safe Harbor” process or obtain consent for every subscriber, you won’t need to set your channel as ‘for kids’. Also note that “Safe Harbor” may not be possible due to Google owning all of the equipment that operates YouTube. Certification programs usually require you to have direct access to systems to ensure they continue to comply with the terms of the certification. Certifications usually also require direct auditing of systems to ensure the systems comply with the certification requirements. It’s very doubtful that Google will allow an auditing firm to audit YouTube’s servers on behalf of a content creator for certification compliance… and even if they did allow such an audit, YouTube’s servers would likely fail the certification audit.

The final option is to suspend your channel. Simply hide all of your content and walk away from YouTube. If you decide to use another video service like DailyMotion, Vimeo, or Twitch, the FTC may show up there as well. If they can make the biggest video sharing service in the world bow down to the FTC, then the rest of these video sharing services are likely not far behind.

➡️ “I don’t monetize my channel”

This won’t protect you. It’s not about monetization. It’s about data collection. The FTC is holding channel owners responsible for Google irresponsible data collection practices. Because Google can’t seem to police its own data collection to shield its end users from COPPA, Google/YouTube has decided to skip trying to fix their broken system and, instead, YouTube has chosen pass their violations down onto their end users… the YouTube creators.

This “passing off liability” action is fairly unheard of in most businesses. Most businesses attempt to shield their end users from legal liabilities by the use of its services as much as possible. Not Google or YouTube. They’re more than willing to hang their end users out to dry and let their end users take the burden of Google’s continued COPPA violations.

➡️ “My content isn’t for kids”

That doesn’t matter. What matters is whether the FTC thinks it is. If your content is animated, video game related, toy related, art related, craft related or in any way might draw in children as viewers, that’s all that matters. Even one child 12 and under is enough to shift Google’s COPPA data collection liabilities down onto your shoulders.

➡️ “I’ve set my channel as ‘not for kids'”

This won’t protect you. Google has a tool in the works that will scan the visual content of a video and potentially reclassify a video as “for kids” in defiance of the channel-wide setting of “not for kids”. Don’t expect that the channel-wide setting will hold up for every single video you post. YouTube can reclassify videos as it sees fit. Whether there will be a way to appeal this is as yet unknown. To get rid of that reclassification of a video, you may have to delete the video and reupload. Though, if you do this and the content remains the same, it will likely be scanned and marked “for kids” again by YouTube’s scanner. Be cautious.

➡️ “I’ll set my channel ‘for kids'”

Do this only if you’re willing to live with the restrictions AND only if your content really is for kids (or is content that could easily be construed as for kids). While this channel setting may seem to protect your channel from COPPA violations, it actually doesn’t. On the other hand, if your content truly isn’t for children and you set it ‘for kids’ that may open your channel up to other problems. I wouldn’t recommend setting content as ‘for kids’ if the content you post is not for kids. Though, there’s more to this issue… keep reading.

Marking your content “for kids” won’t actually protect you from COPPA. In fact, it makes your channel even more liable to COPPA violations. If you mark your content as “for kids”, you are then firmly under the obligation of providing proof that your channel absolutely DID NOT collect data from children under the age of 13. Since the FTC is making creators liable for Google’s problematic data collection practices, you could be held liable for Google’s broken data collection system simply by marking your content as ‘for kids’.

This setting is very perilous. I definitely don’t recommend ANY channel use this setting… not even if your channel is targeted at kids. By setting ‘for kids’ on any channel or content, your channel WILL become liable under COPPA’s data collection provisions. Worse, you will be held liable for Google’s data collections practices… meaning the FTC can come after you with fines. This is where you will have to fight to prove that you presently don’t have access to any child’s collected data, that you never did and that it was solely Google who stored and maintained that data. If you don’t possess any of this alleged data, it may be difficult for the FTC to uphold fines against channel owners. But, unfortunately, it may cost you significant attorney fees to prove that your channel is in the clear.

Finally, it’s entirely possible that YouTube may change this ‘for kids’ setting so that it becomes a one-way transition. This means that you may be unable to undo this change in the future. If it becomes one way, then a channel that is marked ‘for kids’ may never be able to go back to ‘not for kids’. You may have to create an entirely new channel and start over. If you have a large channel following, that could be a big problem. Don’t set your channel ‘for kids’ thinking you are protecting your channel. Do it because you’re okay with the outcome and because your content really is targeted for kids. But, keep in mind that setting ‘for kids’ will immediately allow the FTC to target your channel for COPPA violations.

➡️ “I’m a parent and I wish to give verifiable parental consent”

That’s great. Unfortunately, doing so is complicated. Because it’s easy for a child to fabricate such information using friends or parents of friends, giving verifiable consent to a provider is more difficult for parents than it sounds. It requires first verifying your identity as a parent, then it requires the provider to collect consent documentation from you.

It seems that Google / YouTube have chosen not yet set up a mechanism to collect verifiable consent themselves, let alone for YouTube content creators. What that means is that there’s no easy way for you as a parent to give (or a channel to get) verifiable consent easily. On the flip side as a content creator, it is left to you to handle contacting parents and collecting verifiable consent for child subscribers. You can use a service that will cost you money or you can do it yourself. As a parent, you can do your part by contacting a channel owner and giving them explicit verifiable consent. Keep reading to understand how to go about giving consent.

Content Creators and Parental Consent

Signing up for a service that provides a verifiable consent is something that larger YouTube channels may be able to afford, But, for a small YouTube channel, collecting such information from every new subscriber will be difficult. Google / YouTube could set up such an internal verification service for its creators, but YouTube doesn’t care about that or complying with COPPA. If Google cared about complying with COPPA, they would already have a properly working age verification system in Google Accounts that forces children to set their real age and which requires verifiable consent from the parent of a child 12 and under. If a child 12 and under is identified, Google can then block access to all services that might allow the child to violate COPPA until such consent is given.

It gets even more complicated. Because YouTube no longer maintains a private messaging service, there’s no way for a channel owner to contact subscribers directly on the YouTube platform other than posting a one-way communication video to your channel showing an email address or other means to contact you. This is why it’s important for each parent to reach out to each YouTube channel owner where the child subscribes and offer verifiable consent to the channel owner.

As a creator, this means you will need to post a video stating that ALL subscribers who are under the age of 13 must have have parental consent to watch your channel. This child will need to request their parent contact you using a COPPA authorized mechanism to provide consent. This will allow you to begin the collection of verifiable consent from parents of any children watching or subscribed to your content. Additionally, with every video you post, you must also have an intro on every video stating that all new subscribers 12 and under must have their parent contact the channel owner to provide consent. This shows to the FTC that your channel is serious about collecting verifiable parental consent.

So what is involved in Do It Yourself consent? Not gonna lie. It’s going to be very time consuming. However, the easiest way to obtain verifiable consent is setting up and using a two-way video conferencing service like Google Hangouts, Discord or Skype. You can do this yourself, but it’s better if you hire a third party to do it. It’s also better to use a service like Hangouts which shows all party faces together on the screen at once. This way, when you record the call for your records, both yours and the parent+child’s faces are readily shown. This shows you didn’t fabricate the exchange.

To be valid consent, both the parent and the child must be present and visible in the video while conferencing with the channel owner. The channel owner should also be present in the call and visible on camera if possible. Before beginning, the channel owner must notify the parent that the call will be recorded by the channel owner for the sole purposes of obtaining and storing verifiable consent. You may want to ensure the parent understands that the call will only and ever be used for this purpose (and hold to that). It is off limits to post these videos as a montage on YouTube as content. Then, you may record the conference call and keep it in the channel owners records. As a parent, you need to be willing to offer a video recorded statement to the channel owner stating something similar to the following:

“I, [parent or guardian full name], am 18 years of age or older and give permission to [your channel name] for my child / my ward [child’s YouTube public profile name] to continue watching [your channel name]. I additionally give permission to [your channel name] to collect any necessary data from my child / my ward while watching your channel named [your channel name].”

If possible, the parent should hold up the computer, tablet, phone or device that the child will use to the camera so that it clearly shows the child account’s profile name is logged into YouTube on your channel. This will verify that it is, indeed, the parent or legal guardian of that child’s profile. You may want to additionally request the parent hold up a valid form of picture ID (driver’s license or passport) obscuring any addresses or identifiers with paper or similar to verify the picture and name against the person performing consent. You don’t need to know where they live, you just need to verify the name and photo on the ID matched the person you are speaking to.

Record this video statement for your records and store this video recording in a safe place in case you need to recall this video for the FTC. There should be no posting of these videos to YouTube or any other place. These are solely to be filed for consent purposes. Be sure to also notice if the person with the child is old enough to be an adult, that the ID seems legit and the person is not that child’s sibling or someone falsifying this verification process. If this is a legal guardian situation, this is more difficult to validate legal guardianship. Just do your best and hope that the guardian is being truthful. If in doubt, thank the people on the call for their time and then block the subscriber from your channel.

If your channel is owned by a corporation, the statement should include the name of the business as well as the channel. Such a statement over a video offers verifiable parental consent for data collection from that child by that corporation and/or the channel. This means that the child may participate in comment systems related to your videos (and any other data collection as necessary). Yes, this is a lot of work if you have a lot of under 13 subscribers, but it is the work that the U.S. Government requires to remain compliant with COPPA. The more difficult part is knowing which subscribers are 12 and under. Google and YouTube don’t provide any place to determine this. Instead, you will need to ask your child subscribers to submit parental consent.

If the DIY effort is too much work, then the alternative is to post a video requesting 12 and under subscribers contact you via email stating their YouTube public subscriber identifier. Offer up an email address for this purpose. It doesn’t have to be your primary address. It can be a ‘throw away’ address solely for this purpose. For any account that emails you their account information, block it. This is the simplest way to avoid 12 and under children who may already be in your subscriber pool. Additionally, be sure to state in every future video that any 12 and under watching this channel must have their parental consent or risk being blocked.

Note, you may be thinking that requesting any information from a child 12 and under is in violation of COPPA, but it isn’t. COPPA allows for a reasonable period of time to collect personal data while in the process of obtaining parental consent before that data needs to be irrevocably deleted. After you block 12 and under subscribers, be sure to delete all correspondence via that email address. Make sure that the email correspondence isn’t sitting in a trashcan. Also make sure that not only are the emails are fully deleted, but any collected contact information is fully purged from that email system. You want to make sure that not only are all emails deleted, but any collected email addresses are also purged. Many email services automatically collect and store email addresses into an automatic address list. Make sure that these automatic lists are also purged. As long as all contact data has been irrevocably deleted, you aren’t violating COPPA.

COPPA recognizes the need to collect personal information to obtain parental consent:

(c) Exceptions to prior parental consent. Verifiable parental consent is required prior to any collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from a child except as set forth in this paragraph:

(1) Where the sole purpose of collecting the name or online contact information of the parent or child is to provide notice and obtain parental consent under §312.4(c)(1). If the operator has not obtained parental consent after a reasonable time from the date of the information collection, the operator must delete such information from its records;

This means you CAN collect a child’s or parent’s name or contact information in an effort to obtain parental consent and that data may be retained for a period of “reasonable time” to gain that consent. If consent is not obtained in that time, then the channel owner must “delete such information from its records”.

➡️ “How can I protect myself?”

As long as your channel remains on YouTube with published content, your channel is at risk. As mentioned above, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risks. I’ll list them here:

  1. Apply for Safe Harbor with TrustArc’s TRUSTe certification. It will cost you money, but once certified, your channel will be safe from the FTC so long as you remain certified under the Safe Harbor provisions.
  2. Remove your channel from YouTube. So long as no content remains online, the FTC can’t review your content and potentially mark it as “covered by COPPA.”
  3. Wait and see. This is the most risky option. The FTC makes some claims that it intends proving you had access to, stored and maintained protected data from children. However, there are just as many statements that indicate they will take action first, then request proof later. Collecting data will be difficult burden of proof for most channels. It also means a court battle.
  4. Use DYI or locate a service to obtain verifiable parental consent for every subscriber 12 and under.

➡️ “What went wrong?”

A whole lot failed on Google and YouTube’s side. Let’s get started with bulleted points of Google’s failures.

  • Google has failed to identify children 12 and under to YouTube content creators.
  • Google has failed to offer mechanisms to creators to prevent children 12 and under from viewing content on YouTube.
  • Google has failed to prevent children 12 and under from creating a Google Account.
  • Google has failed to offer a system to allow parents to give consent for children 12 and under to Google. If Google had collected parental consent for 12 and under, that consent should automatically apply to content creators… at least for data input using Google’s platforms.
  • Google has failed to warn parents that they will need to provide verifiable consent for children 12 and under using Google’s platform(s). Even the FTC has failed to warn parents of this fact.
  • YouTube has failed to provide an unsubscribe tool to creators to easily remove any subscribers from a channel. See question below.
  • YouTube has failed to provide a blocking mechanism that prevents a Google Account from searching, finding or watching a YouTube channel.
  • YouTube has failed to identify accounts that may be operated by a child 12 and under and warn content creators of this fact thus allow the creator to block any such accounts.
  • YouTube has failed to offer a tool to allow creators to block specific (or all) content from viewers 12 and under.
  • YouTube has failed to institute a full ratings system, such as the TV Parental Guidelines that sets a rating on the video and provides a video rating identifier within the first 2 minutes, thus stating that a video may contain content inappropriate for certain age groups. Such a full ratings system would allow parents to block specific ratings of content from their child using parental controls. This would allow parents to prevent not only children 12 and under from viewing more mature rated YouTube content, it lets parents block content for all age groups handled by the TV Parental Guidelines.

➡️ “I’m a creator. Can I unsubscribe a subscriber from my channel?”

No, you cannot. But, you can “Block” the user and/or you can “Hide user from channel” depending on where you are in the YouTube interface. Neither of these functions are available as features directly under the Subscriber area of YouTube Creator. Both of these features require digging into separate public Google areas. These mechanisms don’t prevent a Google Account from searching your channel and watching your public content, however.

To block a subscriber, enter the Subscribers area of your channel using Creator Studio Classic to view a list of your subscribers. A full list of subscribers is NOT available under the newest YouTube Studio. You can also see your subscribers (while logged into your account) by navigating to https://www.youtube.com/subscribers. From here, click on the username of the subscriber. This will take you to that subscriber’s YouTube page. From this user page, locate a small grey flag in the upper portion of the screen. I won’t snapshot the flag or give its exact location because YouTube is continually moving this stuff around and changing the flag image shape. Simply look for a small flag icon and click on it, which will drop down a menu. This menu will allow you to block this user.

Blocking a user prevents all interactions between that user and your channel(s). They will no longer be able to post comments on your videos, but they will still be able to view your public content and they will remain subscribed if they already are.

The second method is to use “Hide user from channel”. You do this by finding a comment on the video from that user and selecting “Hide user from channel” using the 3 vertical  dot drop down menu to the right of the comment. You must be logged into your channel and viewing one of your video pages for this to work.

Hiding a user and blocking a user are effectively the same thing, according to YouTube. The difference is only in the method of performing the block. Again, none of the above allows you to unsubscribe users manually from your channel. Blocking or hiding a user still allows the user to remain subscribed to your channel as stated above. It also allows them to continue watching any public content that you post. However, a blocked or hidden user will no longer receive notifications about your channel.

This “remaining subscribed” distinction is important because the FTC appears to be using audience viewer demographics as part of its method to determine if a channel is directing its content towards children 12 and under. It may even use subscriber demographics. Even if you do manage to block an account of a child 12 and under who has subscribed to your channel, that child remains a subscriber and can continue to search for your channel and watch any content you post. That child’s subscription to your channel may, in fact, continue to impact your channel’s demographics, thus leading to possible action by the FTC. By blocking 12 and under children, you may be able to use this fact to your advantage by proving that you are taking action to prevent 12 and under users from posting inappropriate data to your channel.

➡️ “What about using Twitch or Mixer?”

Any video sharing or live streaming platforms outside of and not owned by Google aren’t subject to Google’s / YouTube’s FTC agreement.

Twitch

Twitch isn’t owned or operated by Google. They aren’t nearly as big as YouTube, either. Monetization on Twitch may be less than can be had on YouTube (at least before this COPPA change).

Additionally, Twitch’s terms of service are fairly explicit regarding age requirements, which should prevent COPPA issues. Twitch’s terms state as follows of minors using Twitch:

2. Use of Twitch by Minors and Blocked Persons

The Twitch Services are not available to persons under the age of 13. If you are between the ages of 13 and 18 (or between 13 and the age of legal majority in your jurisdiction of residence), you may only use the Twitch Services under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian who agrees to be bound by these Terms of Service.

This statement is more than Google provided for its creators. This statement by Twitch explicitly means Twitch intends to protect its creators from COPPA and any other legal requirements associated with minors or “children” using the Twitch service. For creators, this piece of mind is important.

Unfortunately, Google has no such creator piece of mind. In fact, the whole way YouTube has handled COPPA is sloppy at best. If you are a creator on YouTube, you should seriously consider this a huge breech of trust between Google and you, the creator.

Mixer

Mixer is presently owned by Microsoft. I’d recommend caution using Mixer. Because Microsoft allows 12 and under onto its ID system, it may end up in the same boat as YouTube. It’s probably a matter of time before the FTC targets Microsoft and Mixer with similar actions.

Here’s what Mixer’s terms of service say about age requirements:

User Age Requirements

  • Users age 12 years and younger cannot have a channel of their own. The account must be owned by the parent, and the parent or guardian MUST be on camera at all times. CAT should not have to guess whether a parent is present or not. If such a user does not appear to have a guardian present, they can be reported, so CAT can investigate further.
  • Users aged 13-16 can have a channel, with parental consent. They do not require an adult present on camera. If they are reported, CAT will take steps to ensure that the parent is aware, and has given consent.

This looks great and all, but within the same terms of service area it also states:

Users Discussing Age In Chat

We do NOT have any rule against discussing or stating age. Only users who claim to be (or are suspected to be) under 13 will be banned from the service. If someone says they are under 13, it is your choice to report it or not; if you do report it, CAT will ban them, pending proof of age and/or proof of parental consent.

If someone is streaming and appears to be under 16 without a parent present, CAT may suspend the channel, pending proof of parental consent and age. Streamers under 13 have a special exception, noted [above].

If you’re wondering what “CAT” is, it stands for Community Action Team (AKA moderators) for Mixer. The above is effectively a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It also means Mixer has no one to actively police the service for underage users, not even its CAT team. It also means that Mixer is aware that persons 12 and under are using Mixer’s services. By making the above statement, it opens Mixer up to auditing by the FTC for COPPA compliance. If you’re considering using Mixer, this platform could also end up in the same boat as YouTube sooner rather than later considering the size of Microsoft as a company.

Basically, Twitch’s Terms of Service are a better written for creator piece of mind.

➡️ “What is ‘burden of proof’?”

When faced with civil legal circumstances, you are either the plaintiff or the defendant. The plaintiff is the party levying the charges against the other party (the defendant). Depending on the type of case, burden of proof must be established by the plaintiff to show that the defendant did (or didn’t) do the act(s) alleged. The type of burden of proof is slightly different when the action is a civil suit versus a criminal suit.

Some cases requires the plaintiff to take on the burden of proof to show the act(s) occurred. But, it’s not that simple for the defendant. The defendant may be required to bring both character witnesses and actual witnesses which may, in fact, establish a form of burden of proof that the acts could not have occurred. Even though burden of proof is not explicitly required of a defendant, that doesn’t mean you won’t need to provide evidence to exonerate yourself. In the case of a civil FTC action, the FTC is the plaintiff and your channel will be the defendant.

The FTC itself can only bring civil actions against another party. The FTC will be required to handle the burden of proof to prove that your channel not only collected the alleged COPPA protected data, but that you have access to and remain in possession of such data.

However the FTC can hand its findings over to the United States Department of Justice which has the authority to file both civil and criminal lawsuits. Depending on where the suit is filed and by whom, you could face either civil penalties or criminal penalties. It is assumed that the FTC will directly file its legal actions against COPPA as civil suits… but that’s just an assumption. The FTC does have the freedom to request the Department of Justice handle the complaint.

One more time, this article is not legal advice. It is simply information. If you need actual legal advice, you are advised to contact an attorney who can understand your specific circumstances and offer you legal advice for your specific circumstances.

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Robocalls: Gotta Hate ‘Em

Posted in money making, scam, scams by commorancy on December 12, 2019

robo-call-centerIf you own a phone, you’ve likely gotten a robocall… and they suck hard. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Most Annoying Robocall?

The most annoying robocall ever has to be this one:

“What exactly is this specific robocall all about?”, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you! It’s a sales and marketing multi-level scam. Apparently, this scam was devised by Paul Stevenson when he formed Exitus Elite. This company sells packages of varying “educational materials” (and I use these terms loosely). These materials contain marketing and sales “education information”. Yeah, you’re selling so-called “secret knowledge” about how to make money using marketing and sales. It’s a catch-22 circular sales pitch. You’re selling the exact thing that got you roped into the scam in the first place. And, you had to pay for that “knowledge” the first time before you can actually begin selling it. Yeah… so there’s that. That’s why it’s a scam.

Most scams like this require an investment before you can begin selling the thing you got roped into buying.

Now, don’t run off and go buy into this scam lest you read the fine print details. For example, Exitus Elite offers sales of four differing “knowledge” packages priced between USD $250 and USD $1000. If it were only a one-time purchase, it might not be so bad. Unfortunately, it gets worse.

In fact, you’re actually joining a “Membership” program called “Exitus Elite” that costs $299 per year. After you pay your $299, you are hooked up to someone who can then sell you one of those four expensive “Genesis” packages priced starting at $250. Your purchase helps out the MLM “representative” you buy it from which then allows you to begin selling the very same packages to other people.

Worse, Exitus’s refund details are sketchy at best. They claim a 7 day refund policy, but good luck trying to work that out with them. Their strategy will most likely string you along past the 7 day mark and then claim it’s too late to exercise a refund (usually the reason for such short refund periods). If you try to charge the refund back to your credit card, Exitus’s terms claim the right to be able sue you. It’s actually a scare tactic. They can sue you anyway. It’s just that because you signed up by agreeing to those terms, that “agreement” may or may not hold up better in a court of law. However, no terms a company like Exitus writes can deny you your ability to use your credit card’s chargeback program. If you feel you’ve been scammed by a company, it is your right to contact your credit card company and dispute the charge.

Stay Away from MLMs advertised via Robocalls

It is always your best option is to avoid getting involved with any multi-level marketing programs, especially when they are advertised over annoying robocalls from companies which repeatedly violate the Do Not Call registry. Some MLMs may make you small amounts of money, but you’re always making money off of the backs of other people.

To succeed in an MLM, you basically have to rope people into the same MLM scheme that roped you in, forcing them to pay a lot of money to the company and giving you some tiny amount for “referral”. If you enjoy alienating friends, relatives and co-workers, then perhaps MLM money stealing scams are for you. If not, then try other more legitimate methods for making money.

If you receive this (or any) robocall that sounds similar, hang up and block the number on your phone. This action is your best option to avoid being scammed. Just forget all about that call and do something better with your time and money.

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Should I wear fragrance to work?

Posted in Employment, tips, workplace by commorancy on December 10, 2019

perfume-bottle-c.jpgThe answer to this question is a definitive, “No!” Male or Female… No. Let’s explore.

Why do we wear fragrance?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand the reason behind why fragrances (cologne’s and perfumes) were invented. While most people seem to think that fragrance was originally designed to make you “smell pleasant”, its intent goes much deeper than that. You may even be surprised by what you find.

Fragrance was invented and is presently designed to “make us seem more attractive”. Having our bodies odoriferously “smell pleasant” is only but a small part of the reason to wear a fragrance. The bigger reason is to attract a mate.

This article is intended towards those working in a professional office setting versus working in retail or at a food establishment, though not wearing fragrance at any place of employment is important. Also note that most intelligent people fully understand the connotations of wearing fragrance in public. Thus, wearing fragrance at the office might actually be sending the wrong signals to those around you, particularly your boss. By wearing a fragrance, these bright folks realize that you may be less serious about your work than you are about conducting your own personal affairs at the office. Wearing fragrance can set the wrong tone about your level of professionalism… this is particularly true when wearing certain popular immature scents.

Mate Attraction vs Professional Work Ethics

Most people work to make a living, not attract a mate. In fact, if you’re getting a job solely for the reason of attracting a mate, you’ve clearly got the wrong idea about working in the professional world. When you get a job, you do so to perform a skill or function that that business needs. The business itself doesn’t care about your own personal business while you are on the clock. They want you focused on their business at hand, not smelling pretty.

Wearing fragrance is actually counter to getting your professional work done. It can even cause office distractions which can lead to loss of productivity by others. Let’s understand a few more reasons why wearing fragrance can be a problem in the workplace.

Distraction

When you wear a fragrance, not everyone will enjoy the smell of it. Some will, many won’t. Fragrance is a subjective experience. I’d personally say the odds of running into someone who dislikes your fragrance is likely at least 50%. That means that a large percentage of your co-workers won’t like the scent you are wearing (male or female). Yes, that could even include your boss. Some may even be allergic.

Wearing a fragrance that your co-workers don’t like won’t win you brownie points at work. In fact, you might even get a note from HR for complaints, if you’re really unlucky. If it’s just about a distasteful scent, most people won’t say anything, but they may avoid interacting with you… and that can be bad for professional business. It can even be bad for your own work goals if you need those people to help you get projects completed.

Cleaning Products

Many cleaning products contain scents and chemicals that linger and may be overly strong, potentially triggering allergies or asthma. If you clean your desk with cleaning wipes, you may unknowingly unleash a fragrance / chemical storm into the office around your desk. Be cautious when purchasing cleaning solutions to wipe down your desk. Ensure such cleaning products are fragrance free and environmentally friendly. Even if you don’t wear fragrance yourself, you may still be contributing to workplace air pollution by using cleaning products containing fragrances on your desk surfaces. Such products include Lysol and 409 brand disinfecting wipes and sprays. Seek unscented versions and use them sparingly if they have even the slightest hint of chemical odor.

Additionally, you should walk any soiled wipes or towels into your office’s kitchen or restroom to dispose of your stinky trash in the receptacle there. Do not dispose of stinky trash in the trash bin located under your desk. Cleaning product odors will linger and emanate for quite some time from your trash bin. Most office building restrooms enclose smells within the restroom behind closed doors. Many office spaces also have enclosed kitchens with doors, thus enclosing any such odors in the kitchen. Many kitchens and restrooms also have separate ventilation systems to eject odors from the building. While restroom separation is a given, many offices design their kitchen spaces away from work areas, thus keeping kitchen odors out of workspace areas. Take advantage of this kitchen and restroom separation and dispose of all stinky trash in your kitchen or restroom receptacle, not under your desk.

Allergies

Here’s the much bigger problem for fragrances at work. Because many office buildings have limited or closed ventilation systems, your fragrance has no where to really go once in the air. If it’s sucked into the ventilation system, it may simply be recirculated around the office. This means that not only do the people near you have to smell your fragrance, so will potentially many other people around the building. For allergy sufferers, you don’t actually have to smell a fragrance to be affected by it. Even small amounts that are undetectable by the nose can still trigger allergic reactions.

Because fragrances can trigger allergies and even asthma, you should be cautious when deciding to spray on that mist before heading into the office. In fact, you should always think twice.

Soaps and Hand Lotion

Soaps contain fragrances and impart a small bit of that fragrance onto our person when using those products. However, these fragrances are almost always nearly washed away during our morning shower or bath. These fragrances rarely linger and probably can’t even be detected. There is no concern about fragrances on soaps. Hand lotions, on the other hand, can offer as strong fragrances as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious with using these at work. If it’s unscented, this is best. Most regular hand lotions (not tied to a line of fragrances) are usually fine for use at work. These have light, fresh fragrances that dissipate quickly and disappear.

Hand lotions sold as part of and are based on your cologne or perfume, however, should be avoided at work. These lotions typically offer similar long lasting benefits as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious when using these. If in doubt about the strength of your hand lotion’s scent, always choose unscented instead.

Refreshing At Work

If you feel you must wear a scent at work, do not refresh the scent in the restroom or in your car while at the office. Wear it once and do not refresh it the entire day. I can guarantee you that your office co-workers will hate it when you walk in smelling as if you had spilled the entire bottle on your person… again. Those with allergies will likely be forced to leave the area.

Secret Smokers

If you’re a secret smoker and you don’t want your office staff to know that you smoke, you should do it outside in open air. This way, the cigarette smell won’t infest your clothes. Don’t try to mask cigarette odors by spilling your fragrance on your clothes. It doesn’t work. Not only will the refreshing of the cologne annoy a lot of people, the cigarette smoke smell will still be there. Yes, we can smell it.

If you want to remain a closet smoker, you might have to do it in such a way so that your clothes don’t reek. Fragrance won’t help this situation and might actually make your job situation worse.

If you’re smoking something other than cigarettes (like Mary J or crack), you might want to think twice while doing that on breaks at the office. Eventually, you will either be caught or the heavy fragrance scent in combination with your behaviors will give you away.

If you’re really concerned over the smell of smoke lingering on your person, you may want to consider switching to vaping. I know that vaping has recently come under fire for deaths related to cannabidiol (CBD) use. Don’t use CBD… and especially, don’t use black market CBD formulations which may contain dangerous substances. You shouldn’t be using CBD at the office, anyway. Instead, choose a reputable brand of vaping oil that contains the same amount of nicotine as in a cigarette. Vaping doesn’t impart the cigarette burning smell onto your clothing. Alternatively, you could also opt to wear a NicoDerm nicotine patch while at the office or by using Nicorette gum. These are alternatives that don’t impart cigarette smoke smell or the need to mask that odor with fragrance. Patches can be hidden under clothing and gum can be chewed without anyone questioning it.

I don’t recommend the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or snuff as these tend to stain teeth and give you away even without smelling of smoke. These products also impart a smell on you that’s separate from smoke, but still distinctly smells of tobacco.

Cologne or Perfume as a Gift?

If you receive the gift of fragrance from your boss or an executive of the company, this complicates matters. To solve this complication, wear the fragrance once or twice, making sure you pass by the person who gave you the fragrance. You might even stop and thank them for it. This shows you wear it and like it. This assumes you actually like the fragrance. If you don’t like the fragrance, don’t wear it. Once or twice is enough to show them you enjoy their gift. After that, don’t wear it in the office. If they ask you why you aren’t wearing it, explain that you prefer not to wear fragrances while at work, but assure them that you do wear it when out of the office.

If you’re the type who likes to give fragrances as gifts to co-workers or subordinates, please rethink that gift. Instead, choose a scarf, nice pen or some other non-scented item that might be useful at the office. Gifting fragrance to another employee puts them on the spot to wear it around you and in the office. Don’t put another employee on the spot like this. Gifting fragrances is also a touchy subject. You may gift them a fragrance they can’t actually wear. Some fragrances don’t work with certain body chemistry. Choose a different gift item that doesn’t involve fragrance.

The Subjective Nature of Fragrance

It’s also very important to understand that the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a scent is in the eye of the beholder (or more specifically, in the nose). What that means is that while you may find a scent pleasing, those around you may not. Because of the subjective nature of scents and because scents are worn on the body, it’s actually very difficult to tell someone their fragrance smells bad. It’s usually taken as a personal insult by the fragrance wearer. It’s not that we’re insulting you, we’re telling you that the fragrance you’re wearing smells bad. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the scent. Yet, most fragrance wearers can’t make that distinction and, instead, take it as a personal attack. If someone in your workplace tells you your fragrance smells bad, you need to reconsider using that fragrance in the future. That’s all we’re saying. In fact, it should give you pause to reconsider wearing fragrance at all, but especially not in the office.

You can keep a bottle in your purse and put it on immediately after your shift is over. That’s fine. But, don’t wear any while at the office to avoid a myriad of problems, the least of which being told that your fragrance sucks.

Application

Many people don’t fundamentally understand how to apply cologne or perfume. You don’t apply the scent all over your body. You apply it to two spots on your inner wrist pulse point next to the hand. You then apply it in one more spot on your skin, perhaps behind the ears or on your lower neck / top of the chest. That’s it. Perfumes and colognes are strong. You don’t need much to make a point.

They will wear down over time, yes. Some wear down faster than others, but you don’t need to wear much at all. If you’re intending to wear fragrance at the office (hint: don’t), these three spots are enough. Don’t put it on your clothing at all. It will never wear off of your clothing and it will remain too pungent. Clothing, no. Limited skin application, fine.

This, of course, is how you apply fragrance. This section doesn’t intend to imply you should wear fragrance to the office. No. This is simply how to apply it. You still shouldn’t wear any fragrance into the office when in a professional office building setting. Wearing no fragrance at all is your best choice for staying out of trouble. Let your soap’s fragrance be the only fragrance that you wear.

HR Complaints

If enough people in your office truly don’t like the scent you’ve chosen, they will complain to HR. At some point, you will be confronted by someone on the HR team or your manager regarding this matter. That’s inevitable.

By wearing heavy scents, you may actually be forcing your company to rewrite its employee handbook. As more and more staff abuse wearing heavy fragrances while at the office, complaints will eventually force HR to retaliate by creating a no-scent policy while in the office. Because offices are communal places, we all must work together in relative harmony. If one person seeks to defy that harmony by wearing an obnoxious, overpowering scent, expect to hear about it… regardless of your personal reasons for wearing it.

Finally, you shouldn’t attempt to attract mates while performing your work at the office. Your off time and after hours can be spent in pursuit of a partner, but when at the office, your time should be spent using your hired skill to solve business problems, not distracting others around you by wearing abhorrent fragrances.

Fragrance Free Workplace Policy

If you work for a Human Resources team or a Facilities team at your employer, please consider implementing a Fragrance Free Workplace policy at your place of business. You can’t control a leased building’s ventilation system, but you can control the air quality from your employees and visitors. There’s no need to complicate your hiring and retention process by allowing employees to wear fragrances at the office. If you need an example of how to write such a policy, please check out this Fragrance Free Workplace template from the American Lung Association.

To close this article, let me talk for a moment about sharing. If you work around a fragrance wearer and you have been suffering from a horrible scent or allergies from that fragrance, I feel your pain. That’s why I decided to write this article. I’ve been there, done that. This author gives permission to share this article with any co-worker to give them a strong hint and discuss why wearing fragrance isn’t appropriate at the office. If you work in an HR team, you also have this author’s permission to freely share a link to this article or to link back to this article when writing internal correspondence for your employees.

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Perfect Sushi Rice from the Microwave

Posted in cooking, howto, kitchen, tips by commorancy on December 9, 2019

sushi-rolls-2.jpgCan Sushi rice be cooked in the microwave? Yes, it certainly can. But, you do need the correct cooking tool. Let’s explore.

Electric Rice Cookers?

There are plenty of rice cookers on the market, including those very expensive electric cookers you can get in Japanese or Chinese markets. Do you need one of these very expensive cookers to cook rice? No, you do not… particularly if you already own a microwave.

The difficulty with electric rice cookers and (in general) cooking rice using heat sources is that it bakes much of the rice (and that starchy glue) onto the container surface, wasting at least some of the rice. Sometimes, even a portion may become overcooked or burned while much of the rice is just fine. However, if you cook rice in the microwave using an appropriate rice cooker, you will get 100% of the cooked rice out of the pot. Some Sushi rices can be very expensive, so throwing away a portion in the trash due to the cooking method is wasteful and expensive.

Additionally, cleaning up heated rice cookers is quite tedious. Because of the baked on starches which act like glue, it can be almost impossible to clean up this glued on starchy mess. Soaking is the usual method. How do you avoid the messy cleanup? Use a microwave cooker.

Microwave Rice Cooker

When using the microwave to cook anything, you need to use the correct cookware. You can’t just slap rice and water into a random bowl and hope for the best. You’ll end up not only with a gluey mess all over the interior of your microwave, the rice won’t actually cook properly.

Sistema Rice CookerYou definitely need to choose and use the correct cookware. For cooking rice in the microwave, I suggest this Sistema Rice Cooker a-arrow. This rice cooker cooks about 2-3 cups of rice at a time. You may only be able to cook up to 4 servings in this microwave cooker. If you need to cook a larger amount of rice than this, you may need to choose a different cooker. This is where the electric cooker sizes can be a benefit.

You’ll also want to read the instructions for this rice cooker with regards to top lid orientation. This rice cooker has two lids: an interior lid and an exterior lid. This design helps prevent some boil over. It’s not a perfect design, but it does work decently if you align the two lids in the appropriate fashion. Read the instructions for proper lid alignment.

To put this in perspective, 1 cup of uncooked Sushi rice yields enough cooked rice to produce 3 large sized California rolls or at least double this number of smaller rolls.

You don’t want to overload the cooker with too much rice or you’ll end up with a microwave mess. Speaking of …

Microwaves

How well this Sistema Rice Cooker works depends heavily on your microwave’s wattage. You’ll want a microwave of about 1000 watts. This is optimal wattage to cook rice without risk of a huge microwave mess (or worse). Wattage of 1200-1500 risks burning, melting, overcooking, boil-overs and huge starchy and sticky messes. Let’s understand why.

A 1000 watt microwave boils the rice just the right amount on max power. This means that while there might be a little dripping that comes from the cooker, it’s easily cleaned up. A 1200-1500 watt microwave will much more vigorously boil the water causing boil-overs. A high wattage can also cause the water to boil dry in the container risking a fire hazard or even melting the plastic of the cooker. You don’t want this.

Stick to a wattage that works properly for rice. You can use a 1200-1500 watt microwave as long as you set the power level to 7 or 8. It will take longer to cook, but it prevents boil-overs or the possibility for drying the rice out.

If you have the choice of a 1000 watt microwave, you’ll be happier with the final results. I’ve personally tested 1000 watt microwaves and 1500 watt microwaves. I prefer the 1000 watt microwave for cooking rice in the Sistema.

Rinsing Rice

When cooking sushi rice, you always need to rinse the rice of starches. This is an important step for this microwave cooker. Don’t skip it. You’ll need a good strainer to hold the rice while you successively performing a soaking rinse of the rice multiple times. The water won’t ever become perfectly clear while rinsing, but it will become much more clear than the first time. You want to ensure you get a good amount of the starch off the rice to avoid starch overload in the cooker. There will always be a certain amount of starch build up, but rinsing will reduce this problem.

Timing for White Sushi Rice

To cook Sushi rice properly in the microwave, you need to understand a little about rices. All rice cooks at about the same rate, but timing may have to be adjusted a little due to variances in dryness and the rice type.

Sushi rice cooks properly when using the following rice to water ratio:

  • 1 cup rice to a tad more than 1¾ cups water.

In fact, most white rice follows this same ratio in the Sistema Rice Cooker. However, brown rice will take longer to cook and will need a full 2 cups of water. For this article, I will focus on white sushi rice. If you intend to cook brown sushi rice, you will need to use a full 2 cups of water and it will need a longer cook time. You will need to experiment on timing for brown rices. I’m not a fan of brown rice, so I don’t have a definitive cooking formula for it.

Cooking time for white Sushi Rice is 13 minutes and 30 seconds. Not all Microwaves are identical even with the same wattage. So, you may need to adjust this timing a little. It may take less time or it make take longer depending on the results at the end. If you find that your rice overboils, your microwave may provide higher wattage than 1000, even if it states it is 1000 watts. You may need to lower the power setting on your microwave if you find that it boils over.

Once the microwave cooking cycle has completed, the cooking is not yet complete. Remove the Sistema Rice Cooker from the microwave and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This will allow the rice to soak up any remaining water. Resist the urge to open the cooker to take a quick look. Allow the rice to remain in the cooker unopened for the full 5 minutes. You may need to tip the cooker just a little over your sink to allow any collected water on the top to run off into the sink. You can even wipe it down with a towel if it’s a bit too messy.

If you are using older rice, it may be drier than fresh rice. This means a longer resting cycle after cooking. For extremely old rice, you may need to allow the rice to rest for at least 15 minutes undisturbed. It will cool down, yes, but it will give time for the water to soak in fully to the core. If you don’t like how the rice feels at the end of 15 minutes, try cooking the rice longer by 1-2 minutes. However, you may need to add a bit more water for this extra cooking time.

Rice Brand

While there are many short grain sushi rices available for sale, this author prefers Nishiki brand sushi ricea-arrow. This rice always cooks well, tastes great and makes awesome Nigiri and rolls. You can choose whichever brand you prefer, but it’s worth trying Nishiki brand as I’ve never made bad sushi using this rice.

Consistency

If Sushi Rice is cooked properly at the end of the cooking cycle, the rice should not have liquid water visible in the container. The rice on top will show empty holes and spaces between some of the grains. When you use a rice paddle to move the rice around, it will have a sticky appearance and clump a bit, but it should not have any loose water in the container. It should appear exactly like any other Sushi rice from any other cooker. If the rice still has liquid around it, you’ve added to much water. If the rice is too dry, you didn’t add enough water.

The rice should be moist, but also a bit sticky. Once you add rice vinegar seasoning for sushi, it will add some liquid back to the rice. The rice should have a good bite, but still be fully cooked through. You can taste test it after the 5 minutes resting period. If there is any crunch in the rice, it’s not cooked enough. A crunchy center may indicate old rice. You may need to extend your cooking time in 30 second increments to allow for full hydration of the rice. If you can’t get rid of the crunchy center, you may need to toss that rice and buy fresh rice.

Now that you have your perfectly cooked sushi rice, you’re ready to create your favorite Nigiri, sushi rolls or even your favorite Donburi. Just don’t forget to season your rice with Seasoned Rice Vinegara-arrow before making your sushi.

Cleanup

Cleaning this plastic rice cooker is a breeze so long as you do it quickly. Some warm water, dish soap and a sponge is all you need to wash it off. I highly recommend using unscented dish soapa-arrow when washing plastic to avoid tainting plastics with unnecessary perfumes. Perfumed dish soaps can leech into plastic and impart bad flavors to foods when cooked using plastic cookware. I also strongly recommend cooking ONLY rice in this rice cooker. To preserve this cooker and avoid tainting your rice, refrain from cooking foods or other savory flavored and spiced foods in this cooker, buy and use a different microwave container. Spicy and highly flavored foods, like perfumes, can impart bad flavors into your rice. Avoid this by using this cooker for rice only.

I also highly recommend washing this cooker immediately after removing the rice from the tub while the cooker is still sticky. Don’t wait until it dries on. If you wait, you’ll have to soak it to get it off. If you wash it immediately after cooking, it’s much faster and easier cleanup.

Happy Cooking!

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Holiday Shopping Tip: GameStop Closures

Posted in bankruptcy, best practices, botch, business, retail, video gaming by commorancy on December 9, 2019

GameStopLiquidationBeware of shopping at GameStop during the 2019 holiday season. Like the Toys R Us closure shopping tips I wrote during the 2018 Toys R Us closure, this same set of rules now applies to GameStop. GameStop presently plans to close at least 200 stores this year alone, and who knows how many more stores will close in 2020?  *shrug* They could end up closing all stores under bankruptcy. You should proceed with your holiday shopping as if GameStop is completely closing every store. After all, they very likely will completely close based on how quickly these closures have been coming. You also don’t know if they will close the store where you plan to purchase your items. As a consumer shopping tip, let this be a warning to not shop stores under imminent closure. Let’s explore.

Store Closures

GameStop is now proceeding with many store closures during this 2019 holiday season. Why is this important to you? Because if you’re a regular customer there, you will need to reconsider ANY holiday shopping at this chain. Let’s highlight a few problems with shopping at stores where threat of closure is imminent.

Even if your local GameStop doesn’t yet know about its own closure, that doesn’t mean that that store won’t be closed just a week or two later. Let’s understand the very real dangers of buying from a chain under imminent threat of closure… particularly during the ever important holiday shopping season. Don’t get duped by this company. There are also too many other stores where this holiday video game shopping problem doesn’t exist.

  1. Returns — Buying even a week before the store puts up a “Store Liquidation” banner may invalidate your ability to return a purchased item to that (or any) store if your item is defective. GameStop isn’t a store known for its ethical business practices already. Because you purchased that item from a store targeted for closure, any sales you made there may end up becoming “All Sales Final”. Will other stores honor that closed store’s receipt? That’s questionable. Again, GameStop isn’t the most ethical store chain out there. Corporate could tell all other stores which remain open to reject returns from stores which are in the process of closing or have already closed.
  2. Game Reserves — GameStop allows consumers to place “money down” as a deposit to hold a game (or other merchandise) until it finally arrives for sale. If you have any money reserved for any upcoming games or any other items, you will need to head over to the store and ask for a refund of that money as quickly as you possibly can. You should insist on having that money returned in the form of cash or as a refund to your credit card. Do not fall for allowing the staff to place the money onto a gift card. I’ll discuss the reasons why Gift Cards are a bad idea next. If you have any $5, $10 or $25 reserves left standing, you will lose that money when the store closes. They will not transfer that money to another store or refund it to you after closure. Even still, you DO NOT want to request a transfer of your reserves to another store as that other store could also close. Request your reserve deposits to be returned to you in cash, never on a store card.
  3. Store Gift Cards — Proceed here as if the whole GameStop chain is closing. DO NOT purchase any gift cards from GameStop at this time. When stores begin closing, they tend to no longer honor ANY locally purchased gift cards or indeed honor any money left on gift cards. Laws in some states may still require GameStop to honor cards as long as even 1 outlet remains open. However, that may mean you might need to travel hundreds of miles to redeem it. Though, you may or may not be able to redeem it on GameStop.com. If you have any remaining store gift card credit for GameStop, you need to run, don’t walk, to your nearest GameStop which is still open and use it up on purchasing anything in that store, assuming they haven’t yet invalidated gift cards. This is a situation of use-it-or-lose it. Note that store credit can also be placed onto GameStop’s PowerUp loyalty card. So be sure to double check that no credit remains on that card either. Again, proceed here as if the chain is closing. Don’t risk your money on GameStop store gift cards.
  4. Gift Purchases — Don’t consider purchasing any merchandise from GameStop which will be used as a gift unless you are absolutely certain that you fully understand that neither you nor the gift receiver WILL be able to return that item to GameStop once that local store closes (and it probably will). When purchasing a gift for someone else, you’ll want to ensure they can return that gift to a retailer for replacement or refund. Choose a retailer that still plans on being in business January 1 of next year.
  5. GameStop Rewards Points — As with any store that starts store closure proceedings (a precursor to bankruptcy), one of the first things that is dumped is loyalty cards and point programs. As of now, GameStop has not yet fully disbanded or dumped its loyalty card program, but they have recently reduced it. If you have any remaining points, you will need to use them up pronto by using the Rewards app to convert points into store credit and using that store credit as fast as you can. You can’t ask for rewards points be converted to cash, but you can use these points towards in-store merchandise. Again, this is a use-it-or-lose it situation. Proceed as if ALL of GameStop is closing and use up any remaining rewards points you have outstanding in your rewards account. It’s very likely this rewards program will be cancelled soon, so do this as fast as you read this article. As of this article, GameStop’s rewards system is still functioning (Dec 8, 2019).
  6. In-Store Warranties — Do not purchase ANY GameStop store warranties (or any other store chain’s store warranty) when under threat of closure. If you presently own an in-store warranty with GameStop, you may want to call your local GameStop to inquire how future service will be handled if your store closes. But, be fully prepared to have the manager not give you all the information you need. If the warranty you’ve purchased is through a third party, like SquareTrade, these warranties should remain in effect until they expire. However, any warranties sold and honored solely by GameStop are likely to become null-and-void after closure. You shouldn’t rely on what a manager tells you about its current store warranty programs as they may not have all information about GameStop’s full store closure plans.
  7. Disc Replacement Plan — This is GameStop’s own in-store disc warranty plan. They allow one replacement per plan. If you have any games under this plan, you should take advantage of this plan and replace your discs. This plan is very likely to not be honored after the store closes… not even by stores that remain open. You may also find that stores that remain open are too far away to take advantage. If you buy a game from GameStop and are offered this in-store plan, refuse it. It’s a waste of money for a store chain under threat of closure.
  8. Defective Items — If you have any purchases you’ve already made with GameStop and you intend to return defective items, do it now. Don’t wait. You should also call the store where you plan to return to make sure they are not already in liquidation closure. If they are already liquidating, they have likely suspended returns. You will then need to locate another store location that isn’t presently under closure to return your item. Be quick, though. That store might get the word to close down at any time.

Store Liquidations

In concert with the above, you may be able to pick up a marked-down deal or two in your local store if it is closing. However, proceed with caution here. Know that whatever you purchase is likely “All Sales Final”. It may even say that on the receipt. If it does, you WILL NOT be able to return any purchased items to this or any other store that remains open.

If you intend shopping for holiday gift giving during a liquidation sale, I strongly recommend not. Unless you know the person receiving the gift never returns items, it is never a smart choice to shop store liquidations for holiday gift giving. The person receiving the gift will likely not be able to return the item to the store. However, if it’s a video game system, you may be able to get warranty work performed through the manufacturer (or SquareTrade if you bought such a plan).

Clothing and apparel items, while also not returnable, are likely safe choices during a liquidation if these items are for your own personal use. However, again, when purchasing for gift giving, you need to make sure that the person you’re planning on gifting the item to understands that they cannot return the item to a store which has since closed. I’ve said this several times throughout this article, but it’s always worth saying again. Choose gift giving items carefully and from stores that plan to remain in business.

GameStop Closing

It is as yet unknown how many stores will ultimately close. It is also unknown if GameStop will honor returns in any stores that remain open on behalf of the closed stores that sold that merchandise. As I said, GameStop’s ethics and business practices have always been questionable at best. GameStop is not required to honor receipts for merchandise sold in now closed stores. Be cautious when doing business with GameStop throughout the holiday season for this reason alone.

You should proceed with your holiday purchases as if the entirety of GameStop is closing. Better, don’t even shop there. However, if you have store credit, gift cards or rewards coming to you, you will want to use that store credit up as fast as possible. Know, though, that anything you purchase may not be returnable.

If you want to give a gift card to someone that could be used at GameStop, you should buy a Visa, MasterCard or American Express branded card where that credit can be used at any store that accepts these credit cards. Do not buy a GameStop store gift card as the store may not exist by the time the person gets around to using the card and other stores may not honor that gift card’s credit.

GameStop Exclusive Items

Here’s the one and only one place where I recommend purchasing items from stores which are closing. GameStop has exclusive controllers and toys. Because these exclusives only exist at GameStop, you’ll want to quickly get there and buy those exclusives. Once this chain closes, it may be difficult to locate these exclusives again. You won’t be able to return these items, but you also won’t be able to find them after the stores are closed. GameStop exclusives are really the only investments that are worth the purchase during store liquidation sales.

Laws and Closures

While there are laws about how retail business must act while in business, once a business begins closing locations, some of these laws become murky. For example, one such murky situation is Gift Cards. When you buy a store gift card and a store goes bankrupt, you become an unsecured creditor to the company’s bankruptcy proceedings behind shareholders. This means that if any money is forthcoming from bankruptcy liquidation, it will be distributed to those ahead of unsecured creditors first. What that ultimately means is that gift card holders likely won’t see any money back.

Instead, if you have a gift card to a store in imminent danger of closure or bankruptcy, you should immediately head to the store and use that gift card while they still honor them. Don’t wait on this one.

GameStop hasn’t announced any bankruptcy proceedings as yet, but that could still be just a matter of time. Right now, GameStop is performing self-closures in hope of righting their financially listing ship. That doesn’t mean that closing these stores will ultimately succeed in this goal, but that’s their hope. Cutting out stores immediately cuts their losses, but may cost them money in paying out long term leases for stores which close. These lease payouts may push the chain over the top towards full bankruptcy.

Duping Holiday Shoppers

It is rumored that GameStop’s holiday store closure game plan is to rope in as many unsuspecting holiday sales while the remaining stores remain open. Yet, when January 1 rolls around, it seems this chain plans to have a massive set of store closures. This action alone will thwart holiday returns. This means that you may literally be left holding your holiday bag from GameStop. Once stores close for good on December 31st, it typically means that this chain was simply in it to dupe consumers out of their holiday money without any possibility for returns.

Don’t get suckered in by GameStop’s less than ethical business practices. Choose to shop for your gaming needs at stores without imminent closures, such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Amazon. At least with these latter stores, they will remain in business come January 1 allowing you to return any items that are defective or were simply awful holiday gifts.

Best Judgement

When a store chain begins closing down stores, it’s always worth using your best judgement. Most of what I have written above is pretty much shopping common sense, IF you know that stores are closing. For those oblivious to the woes of a chain not in the best of financial condition, this may be a wake-up call and warning.

When a store chain is under threat of closure, you should always heed this same exact advice as above. Avoid buying from the chain, if at all possible. During the holiday season, it can be tempting to visit any store because you may be having trouble finding a video gaming item. Don’t be temped. Choose Best Buy, Amazon, Target or Walmart before heading to a GameStop. Nothing is more disheartening than gifting an item to someone only to realize that it was the wrong item and it can’t be returned.

While heeding this consumer advice won’t help GameStop turn itself around, they brought this situation on themselves (which is a rant for another day). When stores begin to close, you lose your ability to exercise certain fundamental store rights (like store returns, gift cards, loyalty programs and so on). Once a chain begins to have financial troubles, it’s usually a downward spiral that doesn’t end. Not shopping there helps them fail faster, but it’s better to be safe with your holiday dollars than throw it away on a store where you have no recourse and no returns.

Good Luck and Happy and Safe Holiday Shopping!

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Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032

You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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