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Fallout 76 Rant: The Impact of Legacy Removal

Posted in botch, video game, video game design, business by commorancy on January 25, 2023

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While Pipe might be life in Fallout 76, the Legacy removal might actually mean the death of Fallout 76. While some gamers are praising the removal of Legacy weapons from Fallout 76, those who are impacted by this change might actually have the power to sink the Fallout series, and possibly even Bethesda itself. Let’s explore.

Misguided Maneuver

It’s clear that Bethesda is horribly misguided internally. On the one hand, I get Bethesda’s rationale behind the removal of these “illegal” mods from Legacy weapons. On the other hand, Bethesda’s rationale is entirely misguided and fails to take into account the real damage that has now been inflicted on the game and, ultimately, the game’s player base. The real question now is not whether the game is better, but whether Fallout 76, ironically a survival game, can survive this change.

One thing is certain, some players are reeling from this change and rightly so. Bethesda itself also doesn’t seem to fundamentally understand the player base which has been born out of these legacy weapons having been included in the game for literal years.

What is a Legacy Weapon? A Legacy weapon is any weapon that was formerly in the game and could be obtained through loot drops, but was removed from the loot drop list by Bethesda Fallout 76 devs in the game’s early years (loot drops removed around 2018-2019). This meant there was no way to obtain these weapons after the loot drops stopped… until Legendary Modules were introduced when Nuclear Winter began in 2019. Once these legendary modules were added, for a short time it may have been possible to craft such weapons on a crafting bench until the crafting of these weapons was also patched. Since then, these weapons have been unavailable.

Which Weapons were Removed?

The “Legacy” weapons to which this article refers are any legendary energy or plasma weapon with an explosive attachment. These explosive attachments have now been deemed “illegal” by Bethesda even though they were perfectly legal when they originally dropped. Such weapons could be obtained earlier in the game’s life legitimately, but today are no longer obtainable and are now marked as “illegal” by Bethesda’s Fallout 76 team. Weapons which have now been removed include:

  • Explosive Gatling Plasma
  • Explosive Laser Pistol
  • Explosive Laser Rifle
  • Explosive Gatling Laser
  • Explosive Flamer
  • Explosive Gauss Rifle
  • Explosive Gauss Shotgun
  • Explosive Gauss Minigun
  • Explosive Gauss Pistol
  • Explosive Tesla Rifle

All of the above weapons have had their explosive attachment removed by the Fallout 76 devs, turning many 3 star Legendary weapons into 2 star weapons.

Note, I won’t even get into the severe bugs introduced as a result of the removal of these Legacy weapons… bugs which have heavily impacted many rogues in addition to the Legacy removals. It’s not pretty for Bethesda or Fallout 76 right now.

Righting Wrongs

Once Bethesda knew these weapons shouldn’t have been included in the game back in 2018-2019, a patch should have been swiftly crafted and implemented then to remove these “illegal” weapons. This would have saved Bethesda this headache today. Instead, Bethesda waited and let this situation fester for going on nearly 5 years now. Not only did it fester, it actually born a whole new type of gamer in Fallout 76… a type of gamer willing to spend real cash money to not only obtain and own these “illegal” weapons, but who were also willing to pay Bethesda for Fallout 1st and pay Bethesda for Atoms to buy the Atomic Shop’s literal valueless junk.

Yes, this new type of gamer is the one who is literally propping up Bethesda’s Fallout 76 game. These are the gamers who are paying Bethesda’s bills, keeping Bethesda’s lights on and ensuring their staff remain employed.

Removing these weapons is literally a situation of “biting the hand that feeds you!”

Fallout 76 Gamer Types

When Fallout 4 began and also when Fallout 76 began, the primary type of gamers that Bethesda had hoped for were those interested in playing the game firmly on their “golden path”. In programming, a “golden path” is the path that most users will take when using any piece of software. This path is the path the engineers design the game for users to find and use. I dub these types of users the “golden” users. The vast majority of software users fall into “golden” users. Video game software users take a different route.

Gamers are somewhat different for this “golden path” approach for a number of reasons. The primary reason gamers are different is that video games entice children to play. By the very nature of this product being a video game, children are naturally one of the video game industry’s primary demographics… regardless of the game’s rating.

Let’s define children. Children include ages 8-17, with the primary age of most children playing ranging from 12-14. Because children don’t have a lot of life experience, their minds aren’t constrained by “adult” thinking. Children play games in ways that suit their fancy, which means children do not always remain on the golden path. In fact, in most cases, children stray from the golden path frequently in video games. Children actively try to poke holes in, find problems with and generally do things that an adult gamer might never think to try.

Children aren’t the only players doing this, however. Many adults can maintain this childlike poke and prod thought process well into their 30s. This leads to the next type of gamer I dub the “rogue” gamer.

Rogues vs Golden

Rogue gamers don’t follow the golden path laid out by the developers. These gamers intentionally and actively seek to find bugs, exploit holes and obtain “rare” objects in a game, including weapons. Almost every “rogue” gamer seeks to one-up their fellow player by finding something that their friend doesn’t have, whether that be a way to build under the map, go out of bounds or obtain a weapon that few other players have.

Rogue players don’t play the game as intended and are unwilling to follow EULA rules. They’re so flippant in the way they play the game, they actually don’t really care if their account gets banned or if Sony shuts their PlayStation down by disabling their PSN account, for example. In the gaming world, Rogues don’t care about the rules or abiding by them. With that said, they do care about finding the latest rare thing to have in the game.

The thing is, many of these rogue gamers come from well-to-do, dare I say wealthy families. This means they are willing to pay and pay and pay. They will pay for Fallout 1st. They will pay for Atoms in the atomic shop. They will even pay other players real cash money on places like eBay to buy rare in-game items.

In short, many rogue gamers keep Bethesda’s (and by extension, Microsoft’s) bills paid and the lights on. That’s not to say that every rogue gamer is wealthy enough to do this, but many are. At this point, I think you might understand where this is heading.

One thing that rogues typically don’t care about is the game itself or even the game’s story. They’re not playing the game because it’s Fallout and they’re not playing it because it has interesting lore or interesting quest lines, they’re playing the game because it’s an MMO, because it has multiplayer, because it has combat and because they can find and exploit heavy guns that no one else has. Rogues will only follow down a quest line because it unlocks their character to have or use something unique or better than someone else, not because of interest in the RPG aspect or the story.

Golden players, on the other hand, play the game by the rules using weapons considered legal within the game. These are also players who typically respect the Fallout canon, who are genuinely interested in the story being told, who play by the rules, who choose to play using guns the game provides and who don’t stray outside of the bounds simply because they find a loophole. These are dedicated Fallout players who’ve likely played many previous Fallout games, if not all of them.

Mixing The Two

These player types are not hard walled into two groups. Some players remain mostly golden, but go occasionally rogue when they deem appropriate. For example, some of Bethesda’s rigid game rules go too far. Some players become rogue when it’s necessary to bypass some of these Bethesda rigid rules, simply to save time, to cut weight down or for other reasons that help them play the game better.

Bethesda doesn’t get its player base

One thing is certain, Bethesda does NOT fundamentally understand who’s actually playing Fallout 76 and who is actually paying their bills. It goes even deeper than this.

Because there was a whole separate black market for these high powered “illegal” weapons, Bethesda completely overlooked this aspect of its game. Instead of taking advantage of these payers and bilking them for money, they decided to remove the weapons from the game.

It’s clear, you can either benefit from these players by making real money off of them or you can alienate them… and alienation is exactly where we are now.

Black Tuesday

On Tuesday January 24th, 2023, rogue players had to say goodbye to their “illegal” weapons. Bethesda removed weapon modules from the game, which during the 2018-2019 years were perfectly legal to own and use. This change sends not only a mixed message to players, it sends an exceedingly bad message.

It says that Bethesda really doesn’t give one crap about a huge segment of its very player base who are paying its bills, keeping its staff employed and keeping the game from going under.

This change is likely to be the beginning of the end for Fallout 76. Why?

Perplexed

Rogues are as perplexed and mystified by this late change now as anyone. For years these weapons were in the game and remained so. However, it’s just now that Bethesda decides to rid the game of these weapons?

Because these rogue players comprise a substantial portion of the revenue given to Bethesda for Fallout 1st and other pay-for-play features, it’s surprising Bethesda was so willing to risk losing that revenue and possibly even the entire game over this silly change.

Rogue players must now make a choice. They can either stay and play a hobbled version of the game using no special weapons or they can go find a new game where they can, once again, feel special and own special weapons. This is the actual real danger to Fallout 76. Rogues are fickle players. They only stay and play where they can find their “specialness”. If they can’t find and remain special, then the game is done and they leave it.

That’s exactly the crossroads at which Bethesda now finds itself. The question is, are there enough newbie players to keep the lights on and the staff employed? The answer to this question comes in how Bethesda chooses to respond.

High Levels and Endgame

After playing any game, not only have you amassed levels for your character, you have unlocked perks and skills. The problem is, once the quests have ended, what do you do with these skills? That’s fundamentally the problem with most games. You spend your time playing through the quest lines leveling up your player only to find that when you reach the end, all of that leveling up and those perks were for nothing… as there’s no endgame content.

Many gamers find little to no endgame content to utilize that high level skill. That means, you reach the end and you go find a new game to play.

Fallout 76 is only different in its endgame because it offers Events (and Legacy weapons). After the quests are done and there’s no more quest lines to follow, the Events and Daily quests are what’s left. These are repetitive activities that offer a slight chance for rare loot rewards. It also offers the chance to try out a new overpowered weapon.

Leveling up in Fallout 76, unfortunately, is mostly worthless. Because guns cap out at level 45 or 50, that essentially means your player is capped out at level 45 or 50, regardless of the level number your player may actually achieve. The only benefit to leveling up is to max out the Legendary perk cards, an addition that gives higher level players a tiny bit of an incentive to stay with the game.

Once a player reaches level 650-700, that player can easily have maxed out the Legendary Perk cards.  Max leveling these Legendary Perk cards sees a tiny bit more damage out of weapons, if utilized correctly. So then, what’s left after this? Not much, other than going Rogue and trying to find unobtainable, but overpowered weapons which formerly existed in the game.

While these weapons were once in the game circa 2019, they have since stopped dropping as loot long, long ago. That means that new players can’t easily obtain these overpowered weapons unless they monetarily buy them from another player. Hence, a player economy is born.

Initially, caps were the answer to this economy. Unfortunately, caps became mostly pointless as a currency in the game when Bethesda moved to bullion, scrip and stamps offering up the newest, most rare items. This is when players moved to selling these highly prized and overpowered weapons for real cash money, as in USD. Internet forums and trading boards came to exist to list and sell these weapons for real money.

In one fell swoop, Bethesda shut all of this down… the trading, the sales, the weapons, all of it. Without these weapons in the game, there are no more sales of them. You can’t sell what’s no longer in the game.

It goes way deeper than that. Not only did it kill third party sales of in-game weapons, it is poised to see a massive number of high level players abandon Fallout 76 and cancel their Fallout 1st subscriptions. Why play a game when there’s nothing special left?

Endgame content is firmly limited to Events. Unfortunately, in retaliation for these high powered weapons being in the game, Bethesda ramped up these events to be likewise overpowered. Without these weapons in the game, the events are STILL way overpowered…. to the point where these events are likely to FAIL the vast majority of the time when using standard weapons. Bethesda retaliated against the players by removing the weapons, but failed to reduce the overpowered nature of the events back to a level where standard weapons can be successful. Right now, these “golden” level 45 and 50 level weapons are not enough against these highly overpowered event enemies.

It gets worse, as players dwindle from the game due to natural attrition and now because Legacies have been removed, new players will be hard pressed to find enough higher level players on a server to take on the Scorchbeast Queen, the Titan or even Earle. These events are now so overpowered because Bethesda souped them up against Legacies, it’s near impossible to win these events with non-Legacy weapons, especially if a server has maybe 10 players on it.

Bethesda is definitely at a cross roads.

Microsoft

Now that Microsoft owns Bethesda, Bethesda is most definitely playing with fire. In fact, Bethesda’s choices surrounding Fallout 76 have always been questionable. Legacy removal is probably one of THE most questionable changes Bethesda has ever made for Fallout 76, considering when the problem actually started. Why does Microsoft matter? We’ll come to that answer in a bit.

For now, Fallout 76 is on the cusp. We don’t yet know the fallout (ha) from Bethesda’s meddling with Legacies. The point is, we cannot know how the rogue players will respond or how much financial damage these players who abandon the game can literally do to Bethesda.

It’s clear, without these Legacy weapons in the game, rogues who were playing Fallout 76 solely because these weapons existed will evaporate… and along with that, so will the income from Fallout 1st and all other income that keeps Fallout 76 afloat. Are the rogues a big enough population to make a dent in Bethesda’s income stream? My personal guess is, yes… at least for the longevity of Fallout 76. Without the rogues, Fallout 76 may be hard pressed to remain a viable entity, let alone Fallout as a franchise.

Does Fallout keep Bethesda afloat? It most certainly isn’t the only game that Bethesda publishes. However, Fallout 76 is currently the only Fallout franchise title available. In short, probably not.

Obsidian, another developer, was purchased by Microsoft in 2018, the same year that Fallout 76 released. Obsidian contains the remnants of Black Isle Studios, the original studio who developed the Fallout franchise. Because Microsoft now owns both Bethesda and Obsidian, it’s possible that someone at Microsoft could easily mandate the transition of the Fallout IP and franchise from Bethesda back over to Obsidian to handle.

Bethesda is clearly out of their depths with Fallout and they clearly don’t understand the franchise. Worse, they don’t even understand multiplayer systems in relation to Fallout. This first multiplayer Fallout game is probably the worst implementation that could have possibly been imagined. Partly this is due to its design goals, but partly it’s due to the inept team who couldn’t actually build a workable product… and here we are today. Because the Fallout 76 team failed to build a workable product, they’re now forced to remove a feature from the game that shouldn’t have been in it in the first place. Yet, that feature remained for nearly 5 years, solidifying them as legitimate in the game.

What Bethesda has done is tantamount to yanking a baby bottle from a baby after that baby has already begun to drink. If you didn’t want to give the baby bottle to the baby, it’s simpler not to do it up front than yanking it away after you’ve already given it to the baby. Heartless.

Can Fallout 76 tank Bethesda?

At this point, maybe not. What the loss of Fallout 76 will do is sour future gamers towards Bethesda games.

“Once bitten, twice shy.”

Few will step up to the plate again knowing the disaster that befell Fallout 76, especially once it disappears. Believe me, Fallout 76 WILL end. The question isn’t if, it’s when. After this Legacy removal, I believe Fallout 76’s end days are here. It’s just a matter of time before the remaining high level players (many of whom are now rogues) walk away and find a new game.

Gamers are fickle and these kinds of stupid maneuvers are ripe for rage quitting. Some die hard gamers will remain and play, but only for a short time until they become frustrated with the crappy standard weapons and find a new game to play. At a minimum, I’d certainly expect to see a rash of Fallout 1st subscriptions cancelled in the next 30 days.

The answer is that, alone, Fallout 76 likely can’t tank Bethesda. However, Fallout 76’s demise can most certainly make a big enough dent that someone at Microsoft (Phil Spencer?) retaliates against Bethesda through layoffs (Buh Bye Todd Howard), closures and by handing over various game IP to better equipped and better managed studios.

It’s clear, the current developers are ill equipped to understand what Fallout 76 should be. Let’s understand why…

Rogues, Games and Marketing

Rogues, whether a game studio likes them or not, are a market force. These are players who have money and are willing to spend it. A game studio can either embrace this fact, or go bankrupt trying to eliminate these gamers from the game. As they say, “Get woke, Go Broke!”

Bethesda is firmly in this latter camp. I don’t know what impetus is driving Bethesda’s management team and devs to take this “woke” approach, but clearly it’s not about trying to make money. Clearly, rogues represent real money sales. If a single player is willing to pay $20 or $50 or $150 real cash money for a single over powered weapon in the game, then Bethesda clearly isn’t actually trying make money. Who leaves money on the table?

Leaving an untapped market on the table is not only stupid, it’s probably one of the stupidest things I’ve seen Bethesda (or in general, a game developer) do.

Pay for Play

As much as gamers harp on the pay for play scheme, it’s a real thing, it exists and it needs to exist. Yes, buying an in-game weapon for real cash money is considered pay for play. You can’t deny that. Whether pay for play is good or bad thing is entirely debatable. One thing is certain. Pay for play makes money… and that’s exactly why game developers are in business, to make money.

In fact, pay for play already exists in Fallout 76 with Fallout 1st and Scrap Kits and Repair Kits and the list goes on. Even foodstuffs like Perfect Bubblegum and Lunch Boxes are forms of pay for play. Selling overpowered rifles for real cash money is just the next logical step.

At this point, Fallout 76 is almost 5 years old. When a game is brand new, perhaps pay for play isn’t something that’s needed. However, 5 years later with 95% of players at endgame, then pay for play is perfectly fine and, dare I say, necessary. It extends the life of a game. Anything that extends the life of a game I consider a good thing. It allows new players to step in and know their time won’t be wasted because the game must close down due to lack of players. It allows rogues and endgame players a means of keeping the game interesting and keep them coming back for more play. Anything that keeps players playing is a good thing. That alone continues to make money for Bethesda. I’d say that’s win-win-win all around. Everyone wins.

High Level Players, Veterans and a New Map

One thing that Bethesda has failed to take into account, in among Fallout 76’s many failures, is the failure of planning for high level players reaching the endgame. In The Elder Scrolls Online, this game’s devs seemed to properly plan for endgame high level players. In fact, ESO devs went so far as to convert level 100+ players into then new “Veteran” levels. For example, for every 100 levels, you got 1 Veteran level. A level 300 player would convert into Veteran level 3. These new Veteran levels were denoted by a Veteran symbol next to the player’s new rank, just above their head. This distinguishes Veteran players from low level players of a similar number.

In addition to being converted into Veteran levels, this change also unlocked the game to be played from the beginning using a new harder Veteran challenge level. Eventually, the devs even opened up a new Veteran level territory that required teaming up with other Veterans to handle this new difficult area. This area was so challenging, in fact, there was simply no way to solo it. The hordes were so difficult, you were forced to go in with a team even as a high Veteran level. While the lower level territories remained trivially easy for a Veteran, the Veteran territories were intensely challenging. Even group dungeons were incredibly challenging.

Likening this to Fallout 76, there is no way to liken this. While Fallout 76 devs are busy introducing silly and bugged out territories like Nuka World and slapping high level players on the wrist by removing legacies, the ESO devs (at about this same time in ESO’s lifecycle) were treating high level players like valued players and giving them more challenges. Effectively, the Fallout 76 devs are treating high level players like a nuisance when they should be celebrating players who’ve made it to level 600 or 800 or 1200 or 2000. This celebration should include rewarding these players, not chastising them.

If a player has given up a year or two of their life to play Bethesda’s Fallout 76 game and reached level 1000 (and who continues to actively play it), that’s a celebratory moment. Bethesda devs should be celebrating long standing players who continue to play the game instead of slapping these players on the wrist and saying, “Bad”.

ESO celebrated high level players the right way. Fallout 76 devs treat high level players like nothing more than a mere annoyance.

Here you have one team at Bethesda who fully understands and embraces their entire player base. On the other hand, you have an inept team who hasn’t the faintest clue of who their player base even is. I shake my head at this incredible disparity within the same corporation. It simply makes no sense.

Inept Developers

You’d think that if anything, The Elder Scrolls Online would have taught the Fallout 76 team some valuable lessons. Unfortunately, you thought wrong. It seems that these two MMO system teams do not at all communicate their valuable lessons from one team to the other.

The reality, which has become incredibly apparent, is that the Fallout 76 development team is wholly and completely inept; not just from a development perspective, but from a money making perspective. They don’t seem to understand the value of keeping ALL of the players happy and, most importantly, paying.

A game studio makes money by keeping people playing the game WHILE spending money. You don’t make money when you chase away your paying players. It’s pretty simple. Removing legacies from the game is a seminal chase-away-players moment. It’s also quite clear that the Fallout 76 developers and even the management team don’t get the real danger here.

Instead of embracing the legacies and the whole real money economy that’s grown up around these weapons’ accidental existence, Bethesda turns its back on the players by removing the weapons from the game. Not only has this shut down that entire real world economic situation (which Bethesda could have tapped), players who wanted these items have no reason to stay, pay and play the game any longer.

This means some walk away from Fallout 76 immediately and others leave slowly over time as they lose interest, “because it’s boring”. Some players, specifically rogues, must make their own fun in a game. Legacies were the rogue’s way of making that fun and cutting the boredom. Without the legacies, there’s honestly no reason for these players to remain playing the game… let alone spend any more money on it.

Business Lessons

While I hadn’t intended this article to become a business lesson, it’s moving quickly in this direction. Let me take this section to discuss this aspect of business operations.

Every college student should be required to take at least one or two business classes. What I mean here is that it’s vitally important for students learning software development to understand how their work impacts the bottom line of the company. Not all software features are good for business. There is no more clear illustration of that here than the removal of the Legacy weapons from Fallout 76. Adding new features can help out users. Removing features can easily cause people to walk away from your product.

This is where business classes come into play. Business classes teach students to have the smarts enough to realize that, “Hey, this feature that I’m being tasked to implement has a high chance of losing 70% of our PAYING clients!” Businesses must empower all employees to speak up when they see problems like this.

While software architects come up with ideas, they may not be privy to exactly how many people might actually be using a given feature. Before implementation of any feature that impacts the userbase, someone needs to put on the brakes and say, “Let’s pull the numbers of how many people are actually using this feature before rolling it out!” Sanity must always prevail in any software business. You can’t simply roll out a feature without understanding exactly how it might impact your existing bottom line.

This is why business classes, and more importantly, business intelligence and reporting is important. Blindly making changes without understanding the business impact can easily tank a business. Case in point, Musk’s incredibly poor handling of Twitter. Now we have yet another poor business case, Bethesda’s shitty handling of Legacy removals in Fallout 76.

Too Late

This article is written after-the-fact. Unfortunately, removing these weapons is more or less a done deal. What I mean here is that knowing the way that Fallout 76’s code is written, there’s no way to undo this change. Meaning, it’s easier to stop a code rollout before it happens than it is to undo a change already made. In many cases, it’s actually impossible to undo code changes due to the nature of the way it was rolled out.

At this point, Bethesda is stuck with this change, for better or worse. At this point, unfortunately, we’re probably at the “or worse” point. As I said above, we’re nearly 5 years into this game’s lifecycle. Instead of Bethesda celebrating high level player achievements, these players are being chastised and chased off by removing weapons these players relied on.

The point in becoming a high level player is to take the benefits that go along with that high level, which includes high damage weapons. That’s an expected staple of any game that supports having high level players. If level 1000 players are reduced to using weapons at the same level as a level 50 player, what’s the point in playing Fallout 76? In fact, what’s the point in leveling up beyond level 50?

Not only does this Legacy removal impact high level players, it impacts low level players because they know they can’t get these weapons in the future. That means that players who might have hung around to level their character up to level 1000 for the chance of getting one of these weapons might now get to level 100, quit and go buy something else. That drastically reduces the income of Bethesda… and by extension Microsoft.

When the Fallout 76 team could have embraced these weapons and monetarily leveraged the external market by retooling them to be legitimate and finding legitimate ways to sell and use them, the Fallout 76 team’s lack of business intelligence and foresight prevailed.

It’s anyone’s guess if Fallout 76 can recover from this change. My guess is that this Legacy removal will be the last major thing the Fallout 76 team does before the plug gets pulled on Fallout 76 by Microsoft. Bethesda, prove me wrong.

Compensating Controls

This final thought is yet another failure of business intelligence on the part of Bethesda management regarding the legacy removals. One idea that many game developers employ to soften the blow of any negative change is introduce a compensating positive change. For example, when something gets removed from a player’s inventory because of a policy change, the developer will offer up some kind of freebie for all of those players who are impacted. This can include free currency, a free new weapon, a freebie in the game store or something similar. This freebie offsets that player’s item loss in compensation.

Unfortunately, with this Legacy removal, Bethesda offered players no form of any kind of compensation for the loss of their weapon. They still had their weapon, yes, but severely altered. Bethesda might as well have removed the weapon as the weapon that remained is pretty much worthless. It’s surprising that Bethesda has offered up no compensation at all, but here we are.

For all of the above reasons, the rogues are likely to abandon this game entirely… perhaps even the franchise itself… said as if rogues even care about Fallout as a franchise. That leaves the golden players left to carry the weight, but unfortunately there are likely not enough of these golden players willing to shell out for Fallout 1st in the numbers needed to keep the game afloat. Thus, this change is likely to be Fallout 76’s death knell.

Way to go, Todd! Phil, if you’re reading this, you probably need to have a sit down with Todd to figure out what the hell is going on with the Fallout 76 development team.

Update: 1/29/2023 — Positive Changes vs Balance

While I didn’t discuss this above, there was really no need to state the positive changes by removing legacy weapons. We all know that exactly what taking overpowered weapons from the game means. For those who need this spelled out, it means less powerful weapons now exist in the game. That means shooting more, making more ammo and grinding more to keep your guns working. It also means the need for finding more ways to buff your weapons using Magazines, Bobbleheads and other consumables. It also means reworking perk cards to max out the damage done with these weapons.

In short, it means spending more time reworking your character to find the highest damage build based around the game’s crappy level 45 and 50 weapons. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in futility.

Does the game have balance after legacies? No, it does not! Fallout 76 is actually quite unbalanced. It is entirely because Bethesda has now given enemies many questionable unbalanced buffs. Removing legacies from the game doesn’t in any way negate these problematic introductions around enemies. Let’s list these enemy problems…

  • Enemies are allowed to instantly and silently teleport right behind you and instantly damage or kill you. Not balanced.
  • Enemies are still given perfect aim with every single shot, where players are given VATs that misses more frequently than it manages to hit. Not balanced.
  • Enemies have perfect accuracy with every single shot and are given 100% anti-armor per shot while players must live with weapons that afford drastically reduced accuracy and are given zero anti-armor per shot unless using perk cards and/or Anti-Armor legendary weapons. Even then, anti-armor afforded to the player is never 100% even though enemies are given 100% anti-armor shots. Not balanced.
  • Enemies have majorly enhanced perception, which can instantly negate Sneak cards. For example, if one enemy “sees” you, the horde around them all instantly see you. It’s not enemy by enemy, but by the horde. Not balanced.
  • Daily Ops is worthless due to actual enhanced perception given to enemies. Players spend major amounts of time building their character’s method of combat. If the player has chosen a sneaky sniper build, for example, Daily Ops entirely negates that. This means Bethesda expects us to completely retool our build strictly around Daily Ops? Not balanced.
  • Daily Ops, once again, is worthless due to stealth fields given to all enemies. Stealth invisibility fields negate using VATs. If you’ve built your character around using VATS criticals, once again Bethesda has negated that. Not balanced.
  • HP bar above an enemy lies. If an enemy’s bar says level 50, yet it takes hundreds of shots to kill it, that’s not level 50. A level 50 enemy should take a similar number of shots to kill it no matter what type of enemy it is. Not balanced.
  • Weapons show a high level of accuracy in the UI, but do not provide that high level of accuracy when shooting. Not balanced.
  • Weapons show specific damage numbers, but never actually provide that level of damage when shooting. For example, an Instigating Fat Man purports around 1500 damage in sneak, but never actually shows more than about 100-200 damage when landing a direct hit while sneaking. Not balanced.

As you can see, the vast majority of Fallout 76 has no balance at all. Unless you consider enemy tactics and damage stacked against the player as balance, there is very little balance about the game. The legacies were, in fact, the only way to negate Bethesda’s entirely unbalanced game. In fact, the legacies gave balance back to a game against Bethesda’s unfair and unbalanced enemies.

Unfortunately, we’re now right back to a completely unbalanced and unfair game, where enemies can cheat against the player using tactics like teleportation where the player been given no such ability or defense.

Balance in Fallout 76? Hardly.

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What Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax means?

Posted in business, microsoft, Sony, video gaming by commorancy on October 28, 2020
Can the PS5 succeed?

I’ve had this question recently posed to me on a Twitch stream. Yes, I stream games on Twitch in addition to penning this blog. I haven’t cross promoted my Twitch stream on this blog because blogging and gaming are mostly unrelated. However, if you’re interested in watching me game, please leave a comment below and I’ll post my Twitch channel. Let’s explore the answer to the above question.

Bethesda and Microsoft

Microsoft isn’t really a gaming company. They are a software company who produces gaming products in among all of their other hardware and software product lines. Sony is, likewise, not really a gaming company for a similar reason. Sony is mostly a content producing company who also produces gaming hardware.

Anyway, Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax likely means eventual changes to all of Bethesda’s game franchises. In fact, I’m actually surprised that the FTC has allowed such a purchase considering the negative impact it will likely have on consumer choice.

Sony and Microsoft

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Sony and Microsoft are rivals when it comes to gaming systems. Sony has the PlayStation and Microsoft has the Xbox. Because Microsoft owns the Xbox console, purchasing large gaming companies firmly pushes this situation into conflict of interest and consumer choice reduction territory. Additionally, Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax before the PS5 has really launched can become an easy way to keep the PS5 from succeeding.

Why? Microsoft has designs on making the Xbox Series X console succeed and be more successful than the PS5. To do this, they want to lock Sony’s platform out of as much content as they can. How will this manifest with Bethesda’s games?

While the final outcome is entirely uncertain, the handwriting is on the wall. What I mean is that Microsoft may eventually make all of Bethesda’s newest released games exclusive to the Xbox. That means that Bethesda’s game franchises (plural) may ultimately end up playable only on the PC and on the Xbox console. Yes, that could mean that both the Nintendo Switch and Sony’s PS5 are equally negatively impacted by this purchase.

Both Sony and Nintendo could find themselves without future Bethesda titles on their gaming platforms. That could mean no more Fallout, no more Elder Scrolls, no more Doom and no more Wolfenstein will make their way onto Sony or Nintendo’s platforms. It doesn’t stop there. Titles like Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield, which has yet to be released, could be pulled from release on both Sony and Nintendo’s platforms… leaving this game only available on PC and Xbox.

Sure, it may lose Microsoft money by not releasing these games on these non-Microsoft platforms, but Microsoft will more than make up for those game sales losses by pushing more Xboxes and PCs into the home. Eventually, these games will be sold to newly purchased Xboxes and PCs more than making up for the losses in sales on those other platforms. Basically, Microsoft has an easy way to do the dirty to both Sony and Nintendo as far as Bethesda games are concerned.

Microsoft is also well aware of the leverage they hold over the gaming industry by purchasing Bethesda. More than this, Microsoft can steer new consumers onto their Xbox line of consoles and away from Sony and Nintendo consoles strictly by enforcing Xbox Exclusives.

Exclusives

Bethesda isn’t the only studio on the planet. However, Bethesda is a large studio with many very cherished video game franchises… franchises that bring in a lot of cash and drive console purchases.

While Microsoft can enforce making upcoming Bethesda games exclusive, Microsoft doesn’t necessarily have to take this step. However, knowing that Sony pretty much kicked Microsoft’s butt with the PS4’s sales, Microsoft isn’t eager to repeat that trend with the Xbox Series X. Purchasing ZeniMax gives Microsoft a definite edge. It also means Microsoft might also be eyeing the purchase of Activision, EA, Rockstar and even Ubisoft. Don’t be surprised if Microsoft snaps up some of these additional game developers as well.

By Microsoft purchasing large game studios like Bethesda, they can control which console becomes the dominant console this time around (i.e., theirs). This means even more exclusive Xbox games.

Exclusive games force consumers to buy specific hardware platforms to play these exclusive titles.

PS5

What does this news mean for a console like the PS5? It puts the PS5 at a severe sales disadvantage. Microsoft could request Bethesda to not produce PS5 games. Without Bethesda’s support on the PS5, that leaves the PS5 at a major disadvantage in the upcoming next gen gaming market.

This is part of the reason I am not purchasing a PS5 at this time. I’m waiting on how this plays out. Bethesda’s ownership by Microsoft means a very real possibility of future exclusive Xbox titles from Bethesda, with no releases on the PS5 or the Nintendo Switch.

This change would put Sony and Nintendo with a clear sales disadvantage. Sony would have to rely not on Bethesda games to drive the PS5’s sales, but instead rely on Sony Studio game releases… games they have developed themselves or by studios they own (i.e., Sucker Punch).

That doesn’t mean the PS5 will be worthless, but it means that the future of Bethesda’s games being released on the PS5 has become very unclear. In fact, I’d use the word “muddy” to describe these waters.

Here are some questions that come out of the above:

  1. Should I buy and Xbox Series X or a PS5? The answer to this question entirely depends on what Microsoft has planned for Bethesda. If they intend to turn all future Bethesda releases into Xbox exclusives, then the answer to this question is… buy an Xbox Series X. Even then, I’d still recommend buying an Xbox Series X because there’s a zero chance of losing Bethesda games on the Xbox. However, there’s a high probability the PS5 will lose Bethesda’s future games. The even larger answer to this question also depends on whether Microsoft plans to buy more large game studios.
  2. Will Bethesda lose money? The answer to this question is, no. Microsoft has deep, deep pockets. They can withstand any short term monetary losses from making Bethesda’s games exclusive to the Xbox and they can also withstand the long term needs to recoup those losses by selling new Xbox consoles and any exclusive Bethesda games. The more consoles Microsoft sells, the more games they can sell.
  3. Will Microsoft force Bethesda to make exclusives? Yes, they will. This is guaranteed. The question is, which games will be forced into this category? That’s still unclear. Will it only be some of Bethesda’s games, all of them, new games only or some combination of this? We don’t know. However, I can guarantee at least one of Bethesda’s games will be released as an Xbox exclusive. My guess is that most of Bethesda’s games will become exclusives.
  4. What about existing Bethesda games? What happens to these? Microsoft isn’t stupid. They will allow existing games to continue to be sold and operate on the PS4 and any other older non-Microsoft consoles. They won’t rock this boat. Instead, Microsoft will look at upcoming unreleased games and use the games that have never been released to become exclusive.

As a result of these questions and answers, it’s clear that if you love Bethesda’s games and you wish to play future upcoming Bethesda game franchises, you may want to wait before investing in one of these new consoles. It would suck to spend a wad-o-cash to walk home with a PS5 only to find that the one Bethesda game you thought you could play is now an Xbox Series X exclusive. That means, you’ll never see that game released on the PS5. Microsoft is very likely to make this situation a reality.

If Microsoft buys even more of these large developers, they could lock Sony’s PS5 out of the mainstream gaming market. That would push Sony’s PS5 into a situation like Nintendo (and the PS Vita), where the console maker is entirely responsible for creating compelling game franchises for their respective console on their own. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to keep a platform like the PS5 alive.

In other words, with the purchase of Bethesda, there’s a very real possibility that this time around that Sony’s PS5 will be the underdog.

Ramifications

The bigger ramifications of this purchase is the lack of and reduction of consumer choice. This purchase can easily push Microsoft into an even more monopoly status than they already are. Locking down the biggest game developers to exclusivity for the Xbox means causing the PS5 to ultimately fail and for the same reason the PS Vita failed.

Personally, I believe this is Microsoft’s true agenda. The Xbox One’s sales paled in comparison to the PS4. Microsoft is not eager to repeat this situation with the Xbox Series X. By buying large developers like ZeniMax / Bethesda, Microsoft can all but assure the success of the Xbox Series X… and, at the same time, assure Sony’s failure of the PS5.

This purchase is honestly a one-two punch to Sony…. and for Sony, it’s gotta hurt.

Sony and Gaming

If Sony is smart, they’ll run out and buy Rockstar or Ubisoft right now. They shouldn’t wait. They should purchase one of these companies as fast as they possibly can. Rockstar would be the best choice for Sony.

Sony could then have this same bargaining chip in their back pocket just like Microsoft has with Bethesda. Should Microsoft dictate Xbox exclusivity for Bethesda’s upcoming games, Sony can do the same thing for Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption (once they own Rockstar). Ultimately, it will be a “tit for tat” situation.

In fact, Sony should buy both Ubisoft and Rockstar and have two bargaining chips. Even still, such a game exclusivity war would lead to fracturing the gaming market in half. Basically, the consumer would be forced to buy multiple consoles to play games that formerly landed on both consoles. It’s a loss for consumer choice… which is why I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t stepped in and blocked this one.

I’m guessing that because the final outcome has not yet manifested, the FTC can’t see the forest for the trees. However, once hindsight forces 20/20 vision, it will be too late for the FTC to block this purchase.

What does this mean for Fallout?

I know this is a very specific question about a very specific game. However, I was asked this very question on a Twitch stream. Let me answer it here.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout series and you’re unsure which of the upcoming console to buy, I’d recommend waiting to see what Microsoft has in store for upcoming Bethesda games.

With that said and to reiterate what I’ve said above, there is now zero chance that Microsoft will withhold Fallout for the Xbox Series X and newer Xbox consoles. However, Microsoft can easily block the release of future Fallout games from the PS5 and the Switch. This means that a consumer’s investment of cash into a PS5 could see the console without any future Fallout or Elder Scrolls or Doom games.

What that means is that should Bethesda take on the challenge of remastering Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Fallout New Vegas for the newer consoles, these games may only find their way onto the Xbox Series X as exclusives and may not be found on the PS5.

Basically, proceed with caution if you really, really want a PS5. You may find that like the PS Vita, without titles released from Bethesda, the PS5 may end up a dying console before it really gets the chance to take off, particularly if Microsoft buys even more of these large game studios. If the PS5 does fail due to Microsoft exclusives, it will be mostly thanks to Microsoft.

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Game Review: GTA Online

Posted in botch, gaming, video game design by commorancy on June 25, 2020

gta-coverThe GTA Online multiplayer world uses the same Los Santos map (mostly) as GTA 5 and is basically GTA 5 with multiplayer support. However, there have been some alterations to the map for certain expansions, such as the Diamond Casino add-on. The Diamond Casino, for example, is a mostly fully working casino with table games, slots and a once-a-day spin-to-win wheel. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in GTA’s online world. Welcome to Randocity’s GTA Online review for 2020. Let’s explore.

Where GTA Online diverges from GTA 5 is how it uses GTA$. While it costs GTA$ to buy stuff in GTA 5 single player campaign, the prices were much more reasonable. When you enter the GTAO world, the prices become astronomically high by comparison. An outfit that costs $500 in GTA 5 might cost you $50,000 or a $1 million in GTAO money.

Cars that might cost you $50-100k in GTA 5 might cost you well over $2 million in GTAO. There are plenty of other examples of exceedingly inflated prices in the online version of the GTA world. They’re inflated for a reason, though. This is where the fun meets tedium. There is actually a name for this in the gaming world. It’s called “grinding”.

GTA Online Missions

Almost every mission in GTAO will give you some amount RP (reputation points) and GTA$ in some amount. Unfortunately, the amount of GTA$ awarded is usually very small, like $10k up to $100k. Some are even lower like $5k and sometimes even less. You rarely ever get more than $100k in one mission. If you are awarded more than $100k, you usually have to split that money (i.e., heist) amongst other characters and players involved. Though, there are a few gun challenges that will award $200-250k for completion.

As another lame example, Lester’s Diamond Casino heist typically awards $2.1 million, but that money must be spread out between all of the participants… leaving you again with maybe $300-500k at most. You don’t get all of that $2.1 million. Most of that money disappears into the ether of the game. The money is claimed by AI NPCs, which is disgustingly pointless. That money isn’t even really there. The award number is all for show since you’re only going to get a very minimal (preset) amount of it.

When you do missions for your nightclub, Tony takes a nearly 10% cut of the money from it… money that again simple disappears into the game’s ether. Tony is a fictional character who appears mostly by phone and doesn’t “need” that money. Instead, it’s a cheat-you-out-of-money mechanic that simply skims that money off of the top and leaves you with far less money than you thought you were getting. This intentionally designed (and poorly thought out) system is not only disheartening for the gamer, it makes gaining money in GTA Online much, much more difficult than it needs to be.

In fact, it’s the way MOST of GTAO missions work. You have $100k worth of products to move, yet you’ll only get $90k (or less) out of the deal in the end.

Consider that your player character is the one doing ALL of the work, then the game turns around and stiffs you for 10%, 20% or even 50% of those earnings? It’s Rockstar ripping the gamer off for no reason. It’s a way to make the game tedious and time consuming without actually rewarding the gamer for a job well done. Plainly, it’s a slap in the face and it’s entirely unnecessary.

Even Fallout 76 plays this game with the vending machines. You lose 10% off of the top by selling items in a vending machine. Granted, though, you can mark up your item by 10% and recoup that cost in Fallout 76. In GTAO, you’re stuck with these lame mechanics. Oh, but these missions get even worse.

Mission Vehicles

Here we have a game called Grand Theft Auto. It’s a game about stealing, modifying and owning vehicles. Yet, when a mission starts, are we given the choice to use the vehicles we have formerly stolen? No. Rockstar decides to give us the most unwieldy, poorest performing, least customized, most horrible handling vehicle in the entire game and then expects us to deliver goods using this thing.

What the hell is with that? We spend $2 million to buy delivery trucks, Terrorbytes and semi-trucks the size of Texas and we’re forced into using a crappy vehicle that can barely drive? I don’t even have any idea what Rockstar was thinking here. It’s called Grand Theft Auto!

The online gaming experience with GTAO is, at best, mediocre. It was designed with one goal, to make money for Rockstar. To that end, they make the missions so lengthy and complex, the payouts so low, the end result so unsatisfying and then they expect us to come back for more? Are we expected to be sadists or something?

I don’t even get why people tolerate this level of garbage in a game. Anyone playing this game can clearly see that its a cash grab by Rockstar. It’s no wonder why players resort to bugs, duping and glitching to make bank in these online games. Would you want to spend 5 real hours making less than $100k in this fictional game world? It would be okay if the prices reflected that income level, but they don’t.

Bunkers, Motorcycle Clubs, Offices, Nightclubs, Garages and Arcades

GTA Online is chock full of properties to buy. So many properties exist, in fact, there is really no way to buy them all… unless you buy into Rockstar’s way overpriced Shark Card system. This is where Rockstar makes their bank. This is why tedium abounds in the game as described above.

Rockstar sells “Shark Cards” that start at $20 real dollars and go up to $85 real dollars. For that $20, that will buy you $1.25 million GTA$. For between $85 (when on sale) and $99 real dollars (off sale), that buys you about $8 million in-game dollars. $8 million in GTA Online will only buy you perhaps 1.5 properties or approximately 2 very expensive cars (Deluxo and Stromberg). You can see that even when plopping down real cash money, you’re not really getting very much for what you’re buying.

This is where Rockstar has pretty much failed this game.

Glitching and Loopholes

At this point, this is where players choose to make their own fun. Instead of playing GTA Online on Rockstar’s terms, they take the fun into their own hands and glitch, glitch, glitch their way until they have a billion or 10. This is why griefing is common in these games. This is why players take advantage of bugs, lagging, mods and other outside game mechanics to make bank in this game. I also don’t blame these gamers for playing this game out-of-bounds. Who wants to subject themselves to becoming a sadist?

If game developers would choose to give us satisfying amounts of reward at the end of a mission completed, we might be more willing to work within the bounds of their system. Unfortunately, they want to make things so costly and drop so little cash at the end of a each mission, you would have to spend literally months grinding, grinding and even more grinding and still never afford most things in the game. Things that they want you to afford to have fun within the game world.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Multiplayer

One of the biggest problems with Grand Theft Auto is its requirement to force multiplayer activities onto other gamers. Literally less than 1% of the GTAO missions can be played solo. Almost every mission requires more than one person. Sometimes it requires 2 people, sometimes it requires more than that.

Even without a multiplayer system, the missions are challenging. Throwing multiple players and griefers alike into the mix makes some of them impossible to complete. Some of the missions for your businesses force involvement from other players. For example, you will have to transport weapons from one place to another. Yet, the game insists on alerting every other player on the server to that fact. In a real-life scenario, that wouldn’t happen. Yes, in the real world, trucks move stuff around, but they don’t announce what they’re moving to the world. Yet, GTAO does so with careless abandon, “Hey you, this player is moving $500k in goods. Go over there and harass them!”

Why GTA Online insists on announcing this to the game world is a questionable multiplayer system. Players can already see other players on the map, where they are and their marker. That’s already well enough information. If a player is moving cargo, force other players to physically drive over there manually and check it out. If they want to initiate combat to take out the truck, then so be it. There’s no reason for Rockstar to announce every single player movement to the rest of the server.

Missions are mostly okay when dealing with NPC AIs. However, when you throw another player into the mix (who could care less about your mission) and who is there solely to blow you up multiple times… that’s not challenging, that’s ridiculous.

Sure, you can change servers, but that doesn’t resolve the fundamental game problem. You’ll end up in another server with another griefer doing the same exact thing. Again, players end up resorting to glitching to avoid these situations.

Actions and Consequences

Building an online world with an in-game economy is a challenge. To date, I don’t think any game developer has done it right. If you’re planning to charge $6 million for something in the game world and that thing is needed to progress missions, then you need to provide missions that can see the player obtain that amount of money in a reasonable timeframe (a day or two). If it takes longer than this, as a game designer, you have failed.

In GTAO, simply go to YouTube and look for all of the GTA money making videos and you’ll see one common thread. You need to do a crap ton of missions to make that cash flow a reality…. requiring missions that have a high probability of failure due to multiplayer griefing. More about this below.

Glitching Part 2

While Rockstar has offered us single player sessions like ‘Invite Only’ or ‘Solo Session’, Rockstar has restricted many of the missions to being run only in ‘Public’ sessions. This means that Rockstar forces you to endure griefing simply to get your missions completed.

That leaves the gamer looking for alternative ways to avoid this situation and consequence. Hence, more glitching.

For example, on the PC and Xbox One, there are ways to force the game to kick everyone off of the public session you are using. With the PS4, it’s a bit more complicated to achieve. Once every other player has left, this leaves you in a solo public session. As a result, missions that require being in a public session can be performed without the possibility of other online gamers interfering with your mission objectives. That doesn’t mean NPC AIs won’t cause problems, but it does eliminate the problems from other multiplayer gamers. Rockstar should have given us this gameplay choice rather than forcing us to resort to glitching.

Unfortunately, the downside is that some missions require multiple players to complete because of stupid mission requirements. For these missions, you are forced to endure public griefing on servers by requiring multiple players.

Online Missions

Unlike GTA 5, a single player campaign game, the online missions almost always require matchmaking. This means being forced to work with random players who join that specific gaming session. As a result, some missions can be impossible to complete because some of the gamers are simply inept. They can’t perform the combat needed, they play contrary to the mission objectives or they simply end up dying. Because many missions only offer up 1 team life, that means that a single careless or intentionally sabotaging gamer can sink the mission for the entire team.

In fact, I believe some players join missions with the intent to tank the rest of the mission and keep it from being completed. They get some kind of jolly out of doing this.

Because these are the primary kinds of missions available in GTAO, it makes GTAO a far less than enjoyable experience.

Relaxed Restrictions

At some point, Rockstar needs to reconsider the way GTAO is designed. Instead of forcing multiple players on nearly every mission and forcing the use of Public servers, they need to rethink this. It’s probably too late for GTAO on the PS4, but it isn’t for the PS5 version or GTA 6’s online system.

I’m not saying that Rockstar needs to make GTAO fully single player friendly, but it would greatly help if there were many, many more 1 player only missions and missions that don’t announce to the rest of the server.

Mission Types: A History

The primary mission types in GTA Online include deathmatch, race, capture the flag, last team standing, king of the hill (last man standing) and survival.

Keep in mind that other than ‘race’, every other mode is a modified version of ‘deathmatch’. This basically means that you’re joining other players solely for you to kill their characters or them to kill your character. I don’t know about you, but deathmatch is so old it’s not even a fun game mode anymore… at least not for me. I’ve done deathmatch so many times in so many games, I’m bored with it. Why have online games not innovated in multiplayer gameplay space since the 90s? Why must these games rely on antiquated multiplayer features that were designed in 1992 or earlier? Why can’t we move beyond these modes and, like our graphics and sound systems, into next gen multiplayer modes?

It shouldn’t all be about deathmatch or racing. Even worse, King of the Hill and Last Man Standing modes almost never work out like they start. Players join these modes and devolve the entire mode into deathmatch. They don’t even try to become King of the Hill or actually Capture the Flag or be the Last Man Standing. It’s simply about how many kills they can get. Unfortunately, Last Man Standing is really just deathmatch wrapped with a weak shrinking world concept. Ultimately, deathmatch is less about who is left standing and more about continuing the match until a timer expires. Whomever gets the most kills wins. In Last Man Standing, it’s one life, no respawns and whomever is the last one is the winner. It’s all still deathmatch, but as I said, wrapped in a weak concept.

History Lesson

None of these multiplayer concepts are original to GTA Online, nor are they new. They are simply pulled from much older multiplayer games that started the whole thing, like Doom (1993), Age of Empires (2000) and Battlezone II (1999).

I played Doom in 1993 when it first released. We would sit in a computer lab in college eating pizza and playing deathmatch. That is, until, we found out that Doom’s networking system was basically bandwidth hogging the entire network. The software wasn’t designed well from a networking standpoint. The iD software company would eventually fix this network hogging problem, but not before it brought many networks to their knees.

Today, networking systems in multiplayer games are much smarter about the amount of traffic they generate. This is not a problem with GTA Online, but that doesn’t absolve Rockstar for using antiquated multiplayer features within GTA Online. I literally groan every time I log into yet another multiplayer game that has, once again, failed to innovate and relies on deathmatch as its primary objective of online play.

Even Fortnite is guilty of this. Fortnite is a Battle Royale system which is just a fancy way of saying Last Man Standing. I already explained the LMS system above. Deathmatch was first introduced in Doom (iD software) in 1993. Deathmatch was expanded to add network matchmaking in iD’s 1996 game Quake. Today, Last Man Standing is not in any way a new or innovative feature. In fact, the LMS system was first introduced in 1983 in Bomberman. Yes, 1983’s Bomberman was the first game to introduce a deathmatch type game since LMS is technically a type of deathmatch.

The first so-named mode of King of the Hill was introduced a bit more recently in 2006’s Gears of War and appeared again in 2007’s Halo 3. However, this mode actually originated under a different name in a game called Age of Empires II: The Conquerers, released in 2000.

You might think that Capture the Flag is also somehow newer, but you’d be wrong again. The Capture the Flag game mode was introduced in the game Battlezone II, released in 1999.

As you can see, all of these multiplayer game modes began as extensions of deathmatch and expanded into more formalized concepts that were built during the 90s.

Why Rockstar can’t spend a little of that effort designing new game modes that befit the Grand Theft Auto theme is beyond me. You spend all of that time building out a rich, vibrant world and then you throw in antiquated multiplayer features that are about as much fun to play as watching paint dry.

Instead, Rockstar lost their way with GTA Online in so many different ways. That’s not to say that GTA Online’s multiplayer missions don’t offer somewhat newer multiplayer game objectives, but they are effectively deathmatch type missions using matchmaking. I despise matchmaking. I’ve always despised it from the first time I played Halo 3 using it.

The difficulty with matchmaking is that these systems are never smart enough and don’t take into account enough factors. The matchmaking is still very rudimentary. Most times, I find myself paired with a teammate that either is so clueless as to be pointless or that person really only has one thing on his/her mind: deathmatch. They’re not there to complete the mission, they’re there to screw with both YOU and the other players and is there solely to try to kill everyone.

These matchmaking sessions don’t have ‘leaders’ or offer ways of kicking people off of the team if they aren’t carrying their weight. If you don’t like how the team works, you are forced to leave it. That’s not an optimal way of handling multiplayer. In any matchmaking session, there should be a designated team leader. That team leader should have some power to kick players from the team who are not performing or who are performing contrary to the mission.

Unfortunately, Rockstar offers us no such mission management system. You’re stuck with the team you get, for better or, in most cases, worse.

Heists

To round out this article, let’s now talk about the biggest problem with Rockstar’s GTA Online world. Money. I don’t mean that it’s hard to get, but well, it is. But, it’s way more than that.

When the Diamond Casino arrived, they added with it a new Lester casino heist that grosses $2.1 million in GTA$… and therein lies the problem. Well, several actually. $2.1 million in the GTA online world is peanuts. It’s chump change. It’s small potatoes. Grossing $2.1 billion in GTA online might be more worth it. Let’s understand how badly this system gets this heist wrong.

To setup and manage a heist, you’re required to BUY lots of very expensive stuff. From arcades, to vehicles, to clothing, to safe doors, to alarm systems, to personnel… and that GTA$ ALL adds up very quickly. All told, you’re expected to shell out around $5-8 million (maybe more) in GTA$ simply to even begin the heist, let alone finish it.

If you were required to follow Rockstar’s rules, you end up shelling out massive GTA$ simply to even play the f*cking game. Worse, other activities require just as much GTA$ cash simply to even get started. For example, want to start moving loads of cars? You’re gonna need to buy an Executive Suite to the tune of a cool $1.5 million GTA$. Then, you’re expected to shell out between $1.5 and $3 million to add on a vehicle warehouse and another $1.5-3 million to buy a crate warehouse.

Wanna sell guns in GTA online? You’re gonna need to shell out $1.5 million to buy a bunker, then add-on at least $3 million in doodads to make the f*cking thing work. Need to transport that crap? Expect to spend $2-3 million on a Mobile Operations center. Then there’s the $2-4 million Terrorbyte, a separate mobile operations center (?) you need to purchase for yet another setup.

This crap never ends in GTA Online. There’s always this thing they’re expecting you to spend up to $5 million in GTA$ to buy.

Let’s get back to the Casino heist for a moment. After you’ve shelled out all of that cash to even get started with the heist, what do you get out of the deal? A lame arcade that nets about $5k a day. Seriously, you outlay millions of GTA$ for a return of $5k per in-game day? It takes about 5 real hours of playing to even reach $20k in the safe. It’s ridiculous.

Then, after you do the heist, the whole heist grosses $2.1 million. You think, great, I’ll get at least some of my money back… except you’d be wrong. That $2.1 million must be shared amongst ALL of the players including Lester and every person you were required to hire to help with the heist. If you have your live friends join in, they’ll get a cut too. That means you’ll net at most $200k to $300k from that heist.

You’ve spent all of that time, effort and, most of all, massive amounts of GTA$ to buy all of the crap that Lester required for the heist, yet you net $300k (probably less) for all of that effort? Where’s the incentive here, Rockstar?

I don’t even get what Rockstar is thinking. Well, I do, actually. For gamers, GTA online is crap on a stick. The only thing that GTA online is, is a cash cow for Rockstar. You’re lining their pockets with cash every time you buy another Shark Card because you’ve run out of GTA$. You’re just sinking cash into the game with no hopes of recovering that in-game cash back because there’s a never ending smorgasbord of crap that Rockstar makes you buy simply to even begin basic missions. When you do complete the missions, they never give you enough GTA$ back to recover the money they required you spend simply to get started.

As I said, crap on a stick. GTA online has its fun moments. Unfortunately, most of those moments are too few and far between. Like most online games, the only thing I find myself doing is logging on to get their freebies. Speaking of that…

Freebies

The one and only one concession here is Rockstar’s weekly and monthly freebies and discounts. This is the only way you can actually afford to buy most crap in the game… that and spinning the wheel in the Casino in hopes of winning the pedestal car. Rockstar regularly puts property types on discount, sometimes up to 50% off. At 50% off, this means that a $2 million property is now $1 million. The problem is, you never know when Rockstar plans to do this.

You simply have to wait it out and hope the discount comes soon. If you need it now but only have part of the cash, you can do one of two things:

  1. Buy a Shark Card
  2. Wait for Rockstar to launch a promotion

It’s really the only two ways. Sometimes Rockstar gives away GTA$ for doing certain things. For example, recently they had a “perform 10 daily objectives and get $1 million” promotion. Others are log in this month and receive $250,000. There are plenty of weekly and monthly freebies that can fill your wallet and help you along with the game.

The problem is that you can’t bank on these. They come when they come, or they don’t. You simply have to play the waiting game and hope Rockstar decides to throw a bone in our direction. Otherwise, you’re limited to whatever in-game money making missions you can play… and believe me, these missions offer up a pittance. Go find a car for Simeon? Sure, but you’ll only receive $5-9k for it when you turn it in. Even then, Simeon’s text is cryptic. He only gives you the names of the cars, not a way to identify them. It’s up to you to go search the bowels of the city to find the car that he wants. Even then, you have no idea of value for any of Simeon’s list of cars. It’s all best guess as to what Simeon will pay you in the end, until you turn it in.

The money does add up some if you do a lot of activities in a short time… such as racing and various multiplayer missions. Even still, if you’re truly lucky, you might be able to net $2-3 million in a gaming session. It’s enough to buy one expensive car, perhaps. That amount won’t buy you the full $6 million Diamond Casino suite, however. That’s why I’ve stated that Lester’s $2.1 million haul is pointless. You’ll need to grind a whole lot more to afford that Casino thing. For this reason, that explains exactly why there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of YouTube videos explaining how to make GTA$ in GTA Online. Yet, most of these videos are actual scams designed to steal from you, so be careful. Some of the videos may see your account banned. Again, be careful.

Banning

Many of the money making schemes involve playing games at the Casino and doing certain things with the actual game in the process. That also means that most of these schemes may see your money wiped out or you might find your account outright banned. Be cautious with following any advice of a YouTuber. YouTubers are only in it for the YouTube views. They don’t care if your account gets wiped or banned from GTAO. Take their advice with a grain of salt. If it looks too good to be true, it’ll probably get your account banned.

I saved this section for last because it’s the one thing that many gamers try thinking they’ll make a lot of money fast in GTAO. Yes, you can make money pretty fast on the high stakes tables, but you can also lose it just as fast if Rockstar catches you playing games with the Casino. They can even lock you out of using the casino entirely. Thinking that you can scam the tables by playing games with the game itself is only likely to get your account banned. Don’t think that Rockstar isn’t watching your account. They watch all accounts.

If your account turns up with an exceedingly large unexplained balance of GTA$ from one day to the next, they’re gonna take a close look at what you’ve been doing. Once they realize you’re using an exploit, they’re going take action against your account. Many gamers don’t realize this and attempt to play games within the game. Don’t do this.

Rockstar knows what it takes to earn cash in the game world by using legitimate means. If an account goes from a $500k balance to $500 million overnight, yeah that’s gonna send up some red flags all over the place at Rockstar.

Thinking you can scam the game out of a lot of GTA$ isn’t the brightest of ideas, either. Rockstar knows the scams because they’re published publicly on YouTube for all to see. If you’ve watched a YouTube video to see how it’s done, you can bet someone at Rockstar also watched that same video. If you choose to ignore this advice and go ahead with attempting to scam the casino out of cash, you’re not likely to have that money very long.

Overall

Grand Theft Auto V single player campaign was an overall fun experience and it also offered player rewards that met with expectations at the end. On the other hand, GTA Online offers no satisfying rewards that are worth the effort. Being handed $5k at the end of a mission in a world where you’re expect to shell out $4 million to simply play missions or buy a decent vehicle, yeah there’s no incentive to play GTAO.

If Rockstar had followed the same money formula in GTAV within GTAO, I wouldn’t be so harsh on Rockstar. Unfortunately, Rockstar fell into the greed trap trying to get people to buy into real USD Shark Cards. Doing so, they jacked up all of the GTAO prices, sometimes 100x the cost of the same thing in GTAV. Even the prices at Los Santos Customs are at least 10x (or more) the price in GTAO.

I really wanted to love GTAO, but Rockstar failed the economy in this game badly. Money on GTAO should be easier to obtain or the prices of properties and goods should be much lower… particularly properties and vehicles required to run missions. Overall, I give the online version of this GTA 3.5 stars out of 10.

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Fallout 76: Where to find Deathclaw Hide

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 6, 2020

NukaColaPA-fIf you’re trying to complete the Possum challenge for Leatherworker, you’re probably looking for Deathclaw Hide. Let’s explore.

[Update 7/1/2021] As of this update, Deathclaw Hide now reliably spawns as loot on Deathclaws again, though not every time. It seems that Bethesda has added Deathclaw Hide back to the possible loot drop list for Deathclaws. Because it doesn’t drop every single time, you’ll need to kill a few Deathclaws before it drops.

[Update 8/21/2020] There is a new temporary opportunity to pick up Deathclaw Hide during Meat Week. A Deathclaw spawns at the Forest’s Primal Cuts event as the final beast. This event’s location is right next to the red truck just outside Flatwoods. In addition to the Prime Meat you get from completing the event, this final Legendary Deathclaw sometimes drops Deathclaw Hide. By the way, this is the only Primal Cuts event that isn’t completely broken. The other locations I’ve attempted are entirely borked. At those other locations, the final wave of beasts never arrives causing the event to fail. This one in the Forest is properly working. If you’re wanting to collect Prime Meat for Grahm’s Cook-Out, this is the only Primal Cuts event to attempt. Meat Week (along with this event) ends on August 27th. Good Luck!

[Update 7/25/2020] As I predicted below, it seems that the Alpha Deathclaw carcasses at the fissure sites no longer drop Deathclaw Hide (or any other loot). I have visited several fissure sites, including Fissure Prime, and all of the carcasses are now empty… even when opening up the container into full screen mode AND even on private servers. This indicates that Bethesda has stopped the loot from dropping on these carcasses. The below information must now be amended to note this change in the game. Bethesda could return loot drops to the carcasses in the future, but for now loot no longer spawns on these fissure carcasses. Thanks go to reader Duggle for pointing this out.

With that said, I am still getting Deathclaw Hide from Deathclaws that you can kill. In fact, I found Deathclaw Hide on a Matriarch Deathclaw in the Abandoned Waste Dump cave today (7/25). However, I tried visiting that cave 5 more times after that and did not receive any further Deathclaw Hide drops, but did receive Deathclaw Hands (which doesn’t count for the challenge). It seems that you’re going to have to be diligent with world hopping this cave by killing the Deathclaws in this cave.

In fact, I’m beginning to believe that Bethesda may have made Deathclaw Hide a once-per-day drop from any Deathclaw. Why do I believe that? It seems that I’ve been able to find one Deathclaw Hide from the first couple of Deathclaws killed in a 24 hour period, but I’ve received no more after that from other Deathclaws. This could all be happenstance and rarity at work, but after a couple days of this loot drop behavior in a row, I’m leaning heavily in the once-per-day direction. If you’ve been able to get more than one Deathclaw Hide from killing a bunch of Deathclaws during a 24 hour period, please let me know in the comments below.

It seems that reader Duggle was able to get several Deathclaw Hides in the same session and even by world hopping. So, it seems the once-per-day drop for me was merely a fluke.

Where to find Deathclaws?

The only two places I know of which spawn Deathclaws as part of the location are the Abandoned Waste Dump cave in the Mire and the lower level Deathclaw that spawns on Deathclaw Island in the Forest (not far from Vault 76). There are mini-event locations that can also spawn Deathclaws, but these mini-event areas are randomly spawned from about 10-15 different mini-events… which makes this specific Deathclaw mini-event infrequent.

There may be one more location for a Deathclaw spawn and that’s at the Thunder Mountain Substation TM-02 in the Cranberry bog not far from Watoga. I haven’t visited this location in quite some time, but the last time I was there it regularly spawned a Deathclaw with a bunch of bugs (usually glowing ants). Updated note for 7/28/2020. I’ve recently visited this site again and I can confirm that it still spawns a Deathclaw with 4 glowing ants which the Deathclaw had killed.

Reader Duggle points out that a Mythic Deathclaw spawns inside of Hopewell Cave. I haven’t farmed this cave, but it’s worth heading into this cave and killing this Deathclaw to find out.

[Update 4/27/2020] It seems that since Wastelanders has been released, Deathclaws are once again dropping Deathclaw Hide. I found it on the Deathclaw on Deathclaw Island. I’ve also seen Deathclaw Hide drops from Radtoads. It seems Bethesda has potentially fixed the problem that caused this article to be written (see update Caveat just above). Still, these Deathclaw Hide drops seem to be rare.

Possum Challenges

The one thing about the Possum Challenges is that there’s always this “one thing” you can’t seem to find (or do). With the Leatherworker challenge, this one is no different. I have no idea why Bethesda feels the need to make these challenges drastically more difficult by limiting the ability to find the things you need. For example, the Possum Electrician challenge is entirely broken. There’s no way to actually succeed with this challenge because the ‘Restore power to a Power Plant’ challenge won’t complete no matter how many times you “Light Up” the Poseidon Power Plant  … it seems Bethesda may have finally fixed this challenge to award the point after powering up Poseidon.

Fallout 76_20200206065538

With pretty much every other animal in the game, you can find their hide in the loot pile after you kill them. Perhaps not finding it all of the time, but at least 50% of the time. This would mean you need to kill a minimum two of these animals to find its hide.

With the Deathclaw, unfortunately, Bethesda seems to have taken Deathclaw Hide off of a Deathclaw’s drop list (or at least, after Wastelanders, reduced its drop rate substantially) which you only find out after spending time and ammo killing several Deathclaws. It seems Deathclaw Hide is now back on a live Deathclaw’s drop list (see update above), but it is still a reasonably rare drop. So, no longer does a Deathclaw drop Deathclaw Hide. This makes the Leatherworker Possum challenge nearly impossible… until you know where to look.

Fallout 76_20200206065455

Thanks, Bethesda.

Rant Mode On

At this point, I can’t believe this is an oversight. In fact, I believe that it isn’t. I believe these changes are intentional by people within Bethesda. To consider this unnecessary change as anything more than accidental in among so many other “accidental” changes is naïve. There is absolutely no way Bethesda is this mistake prone. No way! No company makes so many mistakes in writing code. No one does this. One or two mistakes here and there I can accept as accidental. With Fallout 76, it’s been a series of mistakes after a series of mistakes after even more mistakes.

In fact, it’s almost like Fallout 76 came to exist through a series of mistakes. No one (let alone a company as big as Bethesda) makes that many “accidental” mistakes and still produces a semi-functional product. No! These changes are not accidental, incidental or unintentional. No company operates like The Keystone Cops (too young for this reference?   ⃪ click here).

These mistakes are definitely intentional! They have been introduced by Bethesda’s engineers intentionally. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps job security? No company I’ve seen introduces bugs intentionally… except Bethesda and software engineers hoping for …

Job Security

What exactly is “Job Security” in the software and technical professions? I’ll explain.

Many technical staff are not confident in their own skills or abilities. Their job insecurity sees them play games to make themselves appear “more valuable” and, thus, help their prospects with job security. Everyone wants to be considered a valuable team member. Unfortunately, playing this “job security” game in the way described below is highly unethical, but few technical staff see it this way.

By Technical Staff, I’m referring to software engineers, software designers and software coders. I also include systems administrators, systems engineers and systems architects as well. All of these technical roles have the ability to play such games to help increase their perceived “value” to the company.

No one wants to be considered obsolete by their employer. To that end, many software designers, engineers and even systems administrators, choose to keep their jobs secure by engineering their own continued necessity. How do technical employees engineer their own continued necessity? By introducing system breaking bugs. If things are “broken”, the company will continue to need someone to “fix” it.

How this situation manifests is that these folks break small things here and there. They don’t break the whole system, though they could very easily do this if they wanted. No, instead, they engineer breakage in small tertiary components. They engineer situations that are just problematic enough to be annoying, but not problematic enough to keep the product from working entirely. Though, I have worked with some folks who will and have chosen to break the entire system, bringing down the entire product for several hours.

There’s a fine line when considering breaking small things versus large things. Breaking the whole system is a firing offense. If you break the entire system such that no one can use it for hours, that’s something that will get at least one person fired. This doesn’t afford job security. Just the opposite, in fact. Breaking the entire system will get someone fired.

Breaking tiny tertiary pieces isn’t a firing offense (at least as long as the engineer doesn’t go blabbing about what they did). In fact, breaking something small is usually seen as unintentional by most bosses. After all, a boss might think, “Why would they break this tiny thing intentionally?” For this thinking logic, such small things are assumed to be a bug.

Many software engineers (and similar people in similar lower level positions) take advantage of this flawed managerial thinking logic and choose to break underlying, but very small components. Why? As this section states, job security. If small things are continually broken, the company will need someone who “knows that code” to fix it. Hence, continued employment for that person. Yes, it’s a shitty thing to do, but people also want to remain employed. When you hire bright people to write code, you also hire their scheming minds. Expect them to take advantage of such internal managerial flawed rationales to their own benefit.

How does this relate to Deathclaw Hide? It relates because the person who manages this specific portion of Fallout 76 wants to remain employed by Bethesda. If they break something small, Bethesda will eventually turn to them to ask them to fix it once enough people complain. See, job security does sometimes work… as long as they don’t get caught at it. It seems that too many employees at Bethesda are playing the “Job Security” game at the expense of Fallout 76. After all, this video game is already mostly a piece of junk. No one is going to see a few more mistakes as any more than “par for The Whitespring golf course”.

Rant over.

So where can I find Deathclaw Hide?

I’m coming to that. I wanted to rant a little about Bethesda before I got to this point. Since Deathclaw Hide no longer spawns on Deathclaws after you kill them, you must rely on loot containers and via other means.

Unfortunately, it seems that the same engineer who removed Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for Deathclaws also seems to have removed it from the drop list for regular containers as well. This means you won’t find it in toolboxes, wooden containers, coolers, safes or any other similar containers. I know. I’ve spent days culling through every container I could find looking for it. Deathclaw Hide doesn’t even spawn in Deathclaw nests!

I even went looking in non-conventional places. I started searching through Scorchbeast nests. Specifically, the nests in Watoga. I rationalized that Scorchbeast nests tend to turn up unusual bones and stuff. There is a nest on top of Watoga’s Municipal Building (where Mayor for a Day is located). There is also a nest on top of Watoga’s Civic Center. While these nests both spawn all sorts of goodies, such as Scorchbeast Hide, Scorchbeast Brain, Scorchbeast Meat and Scorchbeast Heart, it doesn’t spawn anything related to Deathclaws.

However, the Scorchbeast Guano piles will occasionally spawn Deathclaw Hands. Unfortunately, these don’t count towards the Possum Leatherworker challenge, even though Deathclaw Hands provide 3 leather. Go figure.

After spending time making various runs to these Scorchbeast Nests, I then had another thought.

Fissure Sites

I realized that I was going about this all wrong. Around the lip of every fissure is an array of dead animals. I also realized long ago that existing already-dead carcasses in the game spawn the hide of the dead animal.

While a Bethesda engineer decided to remove Deathclaw Hide from the live Deathclaw drop list, he/she forgot to remove it from the already dead carcasses that you can find around Appalachia. For example, there’s an already dead Yao Guai at the Abandoned Waste Dump. This permanently dead carcass spawns Yao Guai hide. If you ever need Yao Guai hide for any challenge, make your way to the Abandoned Waste Dump and pick it up. No need to kill anything. Just loot and be done.

This is why I began thinking, “Where can I find already dead Deathclaw carcasses in this game?” That’s when it dawned on me to visit the fissure sites.

Sure enough, there are already dead Deathclaw (and other) carcasses around the lip of fissures. Deathclaw Hide still spawns on these already dead Deathclaw carcasses. Yay! No need to run around killing Deathclaws if we don’t have to, eh? If you’re looking for Deathclaw Hide, you’ll want to visit the lip of the fissure sites to loot these already dead Deathclaws. The difficulty, of course, is that these fissures tend to spawn a crap ton of Scorched and at least one Scorchbeast, in addition to irradiating you. Be prepared with RadShield, RadX, Radaway or Power Armor and also be prepared to take out the enemies… or, alternatively, use the Sneak card to sneaky sneak your way in and out without being easily detected.

Unfortunately, you will only find one hide per carcass. Even then, it doesn’t always spawn. But, it spawns more often than anywhere else. Fortunately, there are 9 fissure sites around Appalachia that you can visit and check out the dead Deathclaw carcasses. At least one of them will have a hide. If you server hop, you can probably find all 5 of the hides that you’ll need to complete the Possum Leatherworker challenge.

I have found that the fissure sites are the most reliable places to locate Deathclaw Hide in Fallout 76. That is, until another engineer chooses to remove Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for these already-dead Deathclaws at the fissure sites, too. 😕

Update 7/1/2021, the video sizes have returned to normal. Thanks for your patience.

Good Luck.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you know of the location for other dead Deathclaw carcasses around Fallout 76 (besides fissures), please let me know where you found it in the comments below.

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What’s wrong with Quora?

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

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

Questions and Answers

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

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

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

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

Quora

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

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

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

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

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

Quora’s Real Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quora’s Answers

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

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

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

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

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

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qlowns

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

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

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

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

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

Quora’s Backward Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

Valuing both the Lock and Key

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

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

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

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

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

Google vs Quora

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Answers

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

Should I write for Quora?

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

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

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

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Amazon How-To: The ASIN

Posted in advice, Amazon, shopping, tips by commorancy on May 24, 2019

Amazon-LogoMany thousands of people shop Amazon daily. Did you know that every product at Amazon has a unique identifier? In most stores it’s called an SKU or stock-keeping unit. Amazon’s stock code is called the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN. Let’s explore.

Product Identifiers

Every product stocked at any retailer uses a product identifier to locate that product in its database. In fact, many retailers have their own unique identifiers which are separate from such other identifiers as the Universal Product Code (UPC) or the Industry Standard Book Number (ISBN). In Amazon’s case, its unique identifier is the ASIN, not the UPC. The ASIN is visible on the URL of every product you view on Amazon. It’s a 10 digit code containing both letters and numbers. For example, a pair of cut resistant gloves has the ASIN of B012AFX9VY.

Many store products might have as many as two, three or even four unique identifiers. Books, for example, use the ISBN as an identifier in addition to the UPC code and Amazon’s ASIN. However, stores and online retailers typically use their own product identifier to identify stock in their system. For example, Target’s stock identifier is the DPCI code which goes back to Target’s original days of price stickering or tagging its merchandise with a Department, Class and Item… hence DPCI.

Even the UPC code, which is typically used at the register to ring up items, is simply translated to Target’s, Best Buy’s, Walmart’s or Amazon’s unique product identifier to locate the item and its price in its database.

How is the ASIN helpful?

Knowing the ASIN is useful because this quick identifier allows you to locate to a product on Amazon easily. If you’re on Amazon’s web site, you simply need enter the product ASIN into Amazon’s search panel and it will immediately bring up that item’s listing.

If you’re off of Amazon’s web site and you have the ASIN, you can easily craft a URL that will lead you to Amazon’s product listing in your browser. To craft a functional URL, is simple…

Append the ASIN number to the following URL: https ://amzn.com/ASIN … or in the case of these gloves: https://amzn.com/B012AFX9VY.

While that domain may seem strange, Amazon does own the amzn.com domain. This domain is actually intended to be used as a URL shortener for locating Amazon products in combination with an ASIN. Simply by post-appending the ASIN to this much shorter URL, you can feed this into your browser’s URL field and get right to the product’s details, pricing and all of that information. You can also use it on social media sites as a much shorter URL to aid with character limit restrictions.

Product Reviews

Many of us rely on Amazon’s product reviews to know whether the product is worth considering. Many of us also contribute to Amazon’s product review area for the products we purchase, particularly when we feel strongly about the item’s quality (good or bad).

Amazon has recently taken its website backwards in time (before Web 2.0). Amazon’s older editor was much more feature rich than its newest editor.

When writing product reviews, you could immediately search for items right in the ‘Insert Product Link’ area and then insert those product links and place them into your product review. Unfortunately, with Amazon’s recent interface change, Amazon web developers have inexplicably removed the insertion of product links via this former feature. Now, you have to know the product’s ASIN and craft a product link yourself.

Worse, you can only get access to this ‘Insert Product Link’ feature when you’re crafting a new comment on a product reviews, not when creating or editing a new product review. Odd. You don’t even get it when you edit a comment.

Here’s the latest search panel when attempting to insert a product link:

AmazonProductLink

As you can see, it’s odd. I mean, why even change it to this non-intuitive interface? Now you are required to open a new browser tab, go chase down the product using that separate browser tab, copy the URL then come back to this panel and paste it in and hit enter. That’s a lot of extra work which could be done (and was previously offered directly) in this panel. After that, it will either find the product and offer a SELECT button or fail to provide you with anything. And that “http ://…” nonsense is entirely misleading.

You can enter ASIN numbers right in this field and it will locate Amazon’s products from this panel strictly using the ASIN only, even though it does not indicate this in any way. No need to type in that silly http:// stuff. I’m not even sure why they want you to spend the time to go find and insert URLs here. Why can’t this panel search in Amazon’s product database directly with key words? Ugh.. Oh Amazon, sometimes I just don’t get you and your want to be obtuse.

Creating / Editing Product Reviews

Let’s move on. The new product review editor no longer offers a facility for inserting product links via a search helper tool. It’s simply gone. Poof. Nada. However, you can insert them if you happen to know the format, but you’ll have to manually craft them using the ASIN or ISBN.

If you’re wanting to add product links to your review, you have to now do it ALL manually. I’m entirely unsure why Amazon’s web development team decided to take this odd backwards step in its user interface, but here we are. You would think Amazon would be pleased to have people hawking additional products in their product reviews, but based on this step backwards, I’m guessing not. Either that, or someone at Amazon is clueless… maybe it’s a bit of both? *shrug*

Crafting Product Links in your Product Reviews

When you’re writing a product review and you realize you’d like to insert one or more product links into your review using the completely idiotic ‘new’ (and I use the term ‘new’ very loosely) and far less intuitive editor, you’ll need to craft them yourself.

The format of an Amazon product link is as follows:

[[ASIN:B012AFX9VY The Product’s Description Here]]

Example:

[[ASIN:B0792KTHKJ Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart speaker with Alexa – Charcoal]]

The format of the product link is:

[[ID_TYPE:ID_NUMBER PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION]]

where

ID_TYPE = ASIN, ISBN or any other product identifier which Amazon supports
ID_NUMBER = The product’s unique identifier, like B012AFX9VY
PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION = The description of the product with spaces

Once you create a product link, you can use it in place of words and it will show a clickable link. Take note that there’s no space after [[ or before ]]. For example:

This product offers you two pairs of [[ASIN:B012AFX9VY Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves]] for use in the kitchen.

once published, the sentence should translate to…

This product offers you two pairs of Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves for use in the kitchen.

Questionable Changes

Because Amazon seems intent on sabotaging and gutting its own web user interface at the expense of important and useful features for shoppers, it’s possible that such product links may no longer function at some point in the future. You’ll want to try this out and see if this tip works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s very possible that Amazon no longer allows product links inside its reviews. However, they are still available as of this writing. If you find that product links no longer work, please let me know in the comments below.

However, the https ://amzn.com/ASIN should continue to work unless Amazon loses or dumps this domain. Note that this feature doesn’t work when using https ://amazon.com/ASIN. Amazon’s primary domain of amazon.com is not set up to handle short ASIN link syntax. You’ll need to use the amzn.com domain instead.

If this information helps you, please leave a comment below. If not, then please leave a comment below and let me know that, too. Happy shopping and reviewing!

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Rant Time: Event planning and food

Posted in botch, business, dining healthy by commorancy on November 6, 2015

In recent months, I’ve visited several corporate events. One thing I find that is becoming increasingly common place is the way food is being described at these events. Not only is this a disturbing trend, it’s amazingly discourteous to the attendees. Let’s explore.

Catered Events

If you’re an event planner and you put the word Dinner on your invitation, you need to serve an actual full sit down dinner meal. So, whether that’s catered from a buffet style table or directly from the kitchen of a restaurant using a menu, a full sit down meal is what your guests are expecting when you use the word Dinner. However, DO NOT use the word Dinner on your invitation and solely serve appetizers, finger foods and small plates. Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too disturbing trend in event planning.

Appetizers, Small Plates and Finger Foods

When guests attend your sponsored event at dinner time (6-10PM), you need to feed them some kind of meal… especially if they’re paying you for the event. There is nothing worse than showing up for an event only to find out that the food consists of small fried unhealthy average to low quality food. Your guests attend your event not only for whatever the event represents, they attend for the meal as well.

If you have no intention of supplying a meal and you only intend to supply small appetizer plates, then you need to let every guest know that in advance. Stating this on your event notification is sheer common courtesy. It might dissuade some attendees from attending by making this notification, but that’s better than having your guests walk in the middle of your event. Not only will they walk, they will never attend another one of your events due to your stunt. Tricking people into a Dinner only to serve them appetizers is not only a low thing to do, it’s just not cool. Your guests are like everyone else, they want to eat a healthy meal not a bunch of fried foods. In fact, when you preempt their dinner time with your event, they are expecting to eat dinner there. So, don’t abuse that expectation and serve them a crap meal.

Be Honest

When you send out your invitations, be honest with your guests. If you only intend to serve appetizers and small plates, kindly state that on the invitation. It’s not only courteous to your guests, it lets them know exactly what to expect when they get there. It also allows your guests to make an informed choice whether to attend your event and how to plan their meals. There is no point in letting your guests think they’re about to be served a meal and then serve them tiny hors d’oeuvres all night. Doing this is a sure fire way to make your guests realize just how cheap your event is.

Don’t lead your guests into your event and then pull this kind of stunt. This will completely backfire on you and your organization. In other words, don’t expect those people to ever attend again or indulge in whatever your company has to offer.

Cheapskate Events

I fully understand why it happens. I do. You’re at the run of your event and this is your ‘last thing’ and your budget has run out. So, the best you can afford is appetizers. Fine, let your guests know that this will be an appetizer only event. And specifically, if it’s roaming appetizers (i.e., people carrying them around the venue), you need to let your guests know that too. Roaming appetizers typically mean some of your guests will get an unfair share of food and other guests will get very little.

In fact, if you can at all avoid roaming appetizers, do so. Roaming appetizers do not at all help your party. Sure, it looks cool to have the staff roaming around with plates. Let’s be honest, it’s not the best way to serve your guests their food. Sure, you can start off with a couple of roaming appetizers, but then have the rest brought to tables where guests can serve themselves.

If you do intend to serve appetizers all night, then make damn sure you serve enough for every person at that event at least three times over. You also need to make sure the kitchen has enough to serve the most popular item at least 5 times over. In the end, your appetizer only event might actually cost you more than if you had just served a more satisfying meal.

Event Planning and Courtesy

If you’re in the event business, you need to understand just how discourteous it is not to inform your guests of the venue, the types of foods that will be served and how and when they will be served. If your event is short, is planned after the dinner hour, and you make no mention of food or dinner, then people won’t assume they will be fed a meal. This is a perfectly fine expectation to set. Just make sure to set the right tone regarding food when sending out your invitation. Don’t rope people into an event by making them think they’re going to get a dinner and then serve them a small handful of finger foods.

I don’t know what this trend is all about, but it needs to stop. It’s probably one of the worst trends I’ve seen recently in party planning and it’s definitely one of the worst if you want your guests to actually listen to what you have to say. That even assumes your guests stay along enough to hear your message.

In so many cases today, common courtesy is entirely dead. More and more, I see event planners playing this game. This is not a game that will win anyone over to whatever it is your event is supposed to represent.

Don’t let your event become a victim of this huge event fail.

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Rant Time: You gotta hate Lollipop

Posted in Android, botch, business by commorancy on May 27, 2015

You know, I can’t understand the predilection for glaring white background and garish bright colors on a tablet. In comes Lollipop trying to act all like iOS and failing miserably at it. OMG, Lollipop has to be one of the most garish and horrible UI interfaces that has come along in a very long time. Let’s explore.

Garish Colors on Blinding White

Skeumorphism had its place in the computer world. Yes, it was ‘old timey’ and needed to be updated, but to what exactly? One thing can be said, skeumorphism was at least easy on the eyes. But, Lollipop with its white backgrounds and horrible teals, pinks and oranges? Really? This is considered to be ‘better’? Sorry, but no. A thousand times, no. As a graphic designer and artist, this is one of the worst UI choices for handheld devices.

If, for example, the engineers actually used the light sensor on the damned things and then determined that when it’s dark in the room and then changed the UI to something easier in the dark, I’d be all over that. But, nooooooo. You’re stuck with these stupid blinding white screens even when the room is pitch black. So there you have your flashlight lighting up your face all while trying to use your tablet. I mean, how stupid are these UI designers? You put light sensors on it… use them.

Stupid UI Designers?

Seriously, I’ll take skeumorphism over these blazing white screens any day. I mean seriously? Who in their right mind thought that this in any way looked good? Why rip a page from Apple’s horrible design book when you don’t have to. I’ll be glad when Lollipop is a thing of the past and Google has decided to blaze their own UI way. No Google, you don’t need to follow after Apple.

Just because some asinine designer at Apple thinks this looks good doesn’t mean that it actually does. Get rid of the white screens. Let’s go back to themes so we can choose the way we want our systems to look. Blaze your own path and give users the choice of the look of their OS. Choice is the answer, not forced compliance.

Smaller and Smaller

What’s with the smaller and smaller panels and buttons all of a sudden? At first the pull down was large and fit nicely on the screen. The buttons were easy to touch and sliders easy to move. Now it’s half the size with the buttons and sliders nearly impossible to grab and press. Let’s go back to resizing buttons so they are finger friendly on a tablet, mkay? The notification pulldown has now been reduced in size for no apparent reason. Pop up questions are half the size. The buttons and sliders on there are twice has hard to hit with a finger.

Google, blaze your own path

Apple has now become the poster child of how not to design UI interfaces. You don’t want to rip pages from their book. Take your UI designers into a room and let them come up with ideas that are unique to Google and Android. Don’t force them to use a look and feel from an entirely different company using ideas that are outright horrible.

Note, I prefer dark or grey backgrounds. They are much easier on the eyes than blazing white backgrounds. White screens are great for only one thing, lighting up the room. They are extremely hard on the eyes and don’t necessarily make text easier to read.

Google, please go back to blazing your own trail separately from Apple. I’ll be entirely glad when this garish-colors-on-white-fad goes the way of the Pet Rock. And once this stupid trend is finally gone, I’ll be shouting good riddance from the top of the Los Altos hills. It also won’t be soon enough. For now, dayam Google, get it together will ya?

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Xbox One is already dead before its launch?

Posted in entertainment, gaming, microsoft, redmond by commorancy on November 6, 2013

Xbox One family-580-90Wow… just wow. Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty, has recently stated in this IGN article and this IGN article that Call of Duty Ghosts can only run in 720p resolution and 60hz refresh rate on the Xbox One. Let’s explore why this is yet another devastating blow to Microsoft.

Xbox One

Clearly, Microsoft is banking on Xbox One to last for another 8 years like the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, not gonna happen. The Xbox One is clearly under powered for full next gen console needs. And, you would think the Microsoft hardware engineers would have thought of this issue long before even breaking ground on new hardware. You know, like actual planning.

With all of the new TVs supporting 120 Hz refresh rates and higher and TVs running 1080p resolutions (and 4k TVs not far off), it would be natural to assume that a next gen console should be capable of producing output in a full 1080p 60hz frame rate (as its base resolution). In other words, Xbox One should start at 1080p 60hz but be able to go up to much faster speeds from here. According to Infinity Ward, this is not possible on the Xbox One. I’ll say that one more time. Infinity Ward has just said that 1080p 60hz is not even possible on the Xbox One.

Next Gen Consoles

Because of this significant and avoidable Xbox One hardware deficiency, Infinity Ward has taken the step to produce Call of Duty: Ghosts in 720p at 60hz refresh rate (upscaled to 1080p) on the Xbox One to keep the ‘experience’ similar on all platforms. Let’s compare. Every big game title produced on the Xbox 360 is already 720p 60hz upscaled to 1080p.  What this ultimately says is that the Xbox One hardware is no better than the Xbox 360.  This hardware is basically dead before it’s even hit the store shelves. A next gen console should not see limitations in hardware until at least 2 years following its release. A new console should never see any limitations being hit by any launch titles.

If one of the very first launch titles is already taxing this console’s hardware, this platform is dead on arrival. This means the Xbox One has no where to go but down. It also means that you might as well stick with the Xbox 360 because that’s what you’re buying in the Xbox One. It also means that the games will never provide a high quality next generation game experience no matter which game it is. Seriously, getting high resolution at full speed is why you buy a next generation console.

Granted, I can’t vouch for Infinity Ward’s programming capabilities as I don’t know any of their developers. But, I know they have been producing this franchise for years. I would also expect their software engineers to have both the knowledge and expertise to properly produce any game for any platform they set their sights on.

In other words, I cannot see that this is some agenda on the part of Infinity Ward to try to discredit the Xbox One hardware.

Xbox One vs Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 hardware is well capable of producing games in 720p at 60hz already. It’s been doing this resolution and frame rate for years. Why buy another console that also has this same exact limitation of the current hardware? You buy into a next generation console to get something new. Namely, higher resolution gaming experiences. If the Xbox One cannot provide this, there is no point to this platform and this platform is dead.  DEAD.

Xbox One: Dead on Arrival?

Based on the above, the Xbox One’s lifespan has been substantially reduced to, at best, 1-2 years on the market before Microsoft must redesign it with a new processor and graphics card. This also means that early adopters will get the shaft with ultimately dead hardware and have to buy new hardware again very quickly to get the newest Xbox One experience.

If you’re considering the purchase of an Xbox One, you should seriously reconsider. I’d suggest cancelling your pre-order and wait for the newest next gen console from Microsoft. Or, alternatively, buy a PS4 if you can’t wait that long. Why spend $499 for a console that gives you the same capabilities as the Xbox 360? It makes no sense, especially considering that there are no compelling launch titles on the Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the Xbox 360. It’s worth giving the extra time to make sure your $499 investment into this console is a sound choice.

Coding to the Weakest Hardware?

For the longest time, the Xbox 360 was the weakest hardware of all of the consoles. Clearly, it is still the weakest of hardware.  For the longest time, developers catered to developing their games to the weakest hardware choice. That means, lesser graphics quality, lesser texture quality, lesser everything quality. I’m hoping this is now a thing of the past.

It now appears that game developers are tired of developing to the weakest hardware. Call of Duty Ghosts hopefully proves that. And, rightly so they should. Instead of producing low-res low quality gaming experiences on all platforms, they should provide the highest quality gaming on the best platforms. Then, take that and scale it back to fit on the weaker hardware platforms.

So, this scenario has now flipped the development practices. I’m glad to see developers embracing the best hardware and delivering the highest quality gaming experience on the best hardware. Then, reducing the quality to fit the weaker hardware. It makes perfect sense. It also explains why Infinity Ward reduced the resolution on the Xbox One. But, being forced to reduce the quality of the game to a lower resolution doesn’t bode for longevity of the Xbox One hardware.

What about the PS4 and 4k gaming?

According to those same articles above, the PS4 apparently doesn’t have this 1080p limitation. Call of Duty: Ghosts will run on the PS4 in full 1080p with 60hz refresh. Whether the PS4 is capable of higher resolutions is as yet unknown. Consider this. One of the very first 4k TVs introduced was produced by Sony. I would expect the PS4 to have been built to possibly support 4k gaming experiences. That doesn’t mean it will right now, but it may in the future. The Xbox One? Not likely to provide 4k anytime soon. If Microsoft’s engineers weren’t even thinking of 1080p resolutions, then they most certainly weren’t thinking about 4k resolutions.

If you’re into future proofing your technology purchases, then the PS4 definitely seems the better choice.

Flickr flustr: When design doesn’t meet function

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on May 27, 2013

NewFlickerLongIt’s not often I write multiple articles involving the same topic, but in this case I’m making an exception. I think it’s important to explore and understand the reasons why I believe this new Flickr interface change is such a failure.  As a visual artist, I look at the new Flickr interface and wonder what the designers were thinking? See the image to the left.  It’s clear the designers were not aware of the many ways that users use Flickr. Let’s explore.

Original Flickr Interface

The original Flickr design was compelling (if not dated) for many reasons and was also useful for many different purposes. The reason the original interface held up so well and for so long is because the original designer’s vision still held true even today, dated as it may seem. “Why has it held up?”, you ask. Let’s examine.

The images were spaced just far enough apart that the images, colors and shapes didn’t clash with one another. Image thumbnails were generally of the same size whether portrait or landscape. The page was centered leaving white borders on the sides giving well enough space for the eye to rest.  There were limited numbers of photos per page keeping down the clutter. There was just enough information below each image to give the necessary details about the image (like a placard in a Gallery).  From a management perspective, there was also just enough information to show how popular an image is and whether or not it has comments.

Basically, this original interface, while somewhat antiquated and dated, was still very functional on many levels.  Both amateur and professionals alike could use and reference this interface for their own purposes. Amateurs could use it to store their snaps. Professionals could direct paying clients to their portfolio without image clashing or the interface being too busy. It was well designed from the beginning for many purposes and uses.

With this original interface, Flickr even began offering limited customization of the page layout such as images alone or images with sets on the left or other similar layouts. Yes, it was always limited customization and I had always hoped for more customization features to come.

New Flickr Interface

The new ’tile’ interface (which incidentally looks too much like Windows 8 Metro) removes nearly every pixel of white space and fills the entire page (edge to edge) with images. It unfairly penalizes portrait image thumbnail sizes over much larger thumbnails for landscape aspect images. So, you have huge landscape sized thumbnails immediately beside tiny sized portrait thumbnails. More than that, because it removes all white space from the page and fills the entire screen with images, there is no place for the eye to rest. It becomes one big jumbled mess of a screen that’s hard to view and even harder to concentrate on a single image. While the original interface design kept the images spaced far enough apart to let you focus on a single image, the new interface doesn’t. Instead, it forces your eye to constantly jump around to find something else to view. This makes the page too busy and way too cluttered.

Worse, when your eyes get tired of focusing on the images, they begin to focus on the white borders between the images. Because the white borders are of odd shapes and sizes, it begins to take on the motif of a badly copied Mondrian painting. In other words, the entire interface is one big cluttered busy mess. It’s not pleasant to view for any period of time. So, instead of taking time to visit a Flickr site in a relaxing way, many people will likely get eye fatigue fast and browse away from the entire Flickr site. The new site makes you want to look at something less tiring and less stressful. Art should be about the images, not the layout making you queasy.

Worse, in no way does this new interface say ‘professional’.

Polar Opposite Reactions

I hear a lot of people say they like the interface. My first initial reaction was also positive. But, that only lasted for a few moments until I realized the problems. I initially liked it because it was something new and a change, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t ‘better’.  I hear many people saying that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. That it’s horrible. So, why does this interface generate such polar opposite reactions from so many people? It’s because Flickr went from a general purpose interface appealing to a wide array of people to an interface that appeals to only a small subset of those people.

For a casual photographer who takes photos of their dog or baby or kids, it gives a really great at-a-glance image set to know what you have. This especially works well when the images are mostly the same or a series of similar shots. Also, for those people who like coffee table books of images, this is the next best thing to that. You can bring it up at home on your screen and show people your photo album at a glance. It’s much easier to see all your images at once with this interface. For casual use, these are the people I’d expect to like the new interface. It makes seeing the images easy and they’re accessible. In other words, it’s a little like Facebook’s gallery style. But, that doesn’t make it any less cluttered, busy or stressful to view.

For the professional photographer, the exact opposite is true. You do not want your images crammed up on the same page together like this. It’s busy, cramped, the images don’t flow properly, your eye can’t focus and doesn’t allow your clients to focus on each single image easily. It pits too many images against each other vying for attention. This is bad for a professional. Again, it’s just too busy and cluttered. You would never intentionally build a portfolio that looks this way. Why would you ever expect this from a site like Flickr? So, for professionals, this is the absolute worst interface that could have been built to show off professional photographs in a professional way.

The same above for professional photographers also holds true for visual artists. If Flickr were a gallery, it would now be one wall cluttered with hundreds of images. If I were hanging my art in a gallery, I would want them spaced far enough apart that they don’t clash or create the wrong message. I also would be allowed to place my art in the order of my choosing. Yet, at Flickr, the photostream is still limited to the order in which it was uploaded. This is something that should have been fixed long before rolling out this new interface.

The Interface Mistake

Flickr developers have completely lost touch with why the original interface worked for pretty much every use case.  It worked because it offered something for every level of photographer, casual through professional including visual artists.  It was by no means a perfect interface. After all, it needed a lot of improvements.  But, it worked and it worked well.  It was also on its way to becoming something better especially with the latest round of customization features added.

Because the Flickr developers just didn’t clearly understand the full amount of use cases, they developed this new interface that entices primarily just one use case, casual users. The people who snap their baby, their dog, their house or whatever else they can find around the house.  These are those people who want an at-a-glance style interface that’s big, bold, cluttered and in-your-face.  A virtual coffee table book, if you will.  Or, in other words, the Facebookers.

Professionals and visual artists don’t want this. They don’t need this. It’s not professional. It’s not the way you want your photos represented to a potential client. It’s reminiscent of video game or a mobile device or Facebook. It’s not representative of a gallery exhibit or of a portfolio. This is where the Flickr developers have lost touch.

Flickr is a Gallery

The designers need to firmly understand that Flickr is a gallery. We are creative people supplying creative images to this gallery. It’s not a video game. It’s not a mobile device. It’s not Facebook. It is an image gallery. We want to showcase our images, not show them off like some kind of video game or toy or social network. Treat the images with respect, not as toys.

Because it is a gallery, customization is in order. The tile interface is fine as one theme among many display themes, but not as the sole theme for Flickr. Flickr needs to take a page from the WordPress book and offer multiple themes and styles. Let us choose how our images are showcased to our visitors. Yes, customization could easily become haphazard and random, but that’s the nature of customization. It has to. I don’t necessarily recommend allowing CSS level editing, but I do recommend that gallery themes become available. The time has long come for this Flickr feature. This feature is what Flickr developers should have been working on. The tiles theme, again, should have been one in among many different themes available to choose.

Don’t lock me into one single theme that doesn’t allow for customization. If I don’t like it, there’s nothing I can do except move my images elsewhere. Offer me choice. Let me choose my theme and my presentation to visitors. Flickr could have chosen this theme as the default theme, but then let us go into a theme selector and choose among 10-20 different gallery themes. Choice is the answer, not busy unprofessional Facebooky tiles.

Separate Management Interface

Because I’m the manager over my images, I don’t necessarily want to see the same interface that my visitors do when managing my images. I want a separate management interface that allows me to see and manage my images at a glance. I want easy, fast access to my comments, sets, collections, view stats and everything surrounding my images.  I don’t need to fumble through the visitor experience only to expend extra time attempting to manage my images through a cluttered and busy interface. I want a clean concise management interface that users don’t see.  It doesn’t really matter how pretty the management interface is as long as it’s functional for image management. Functionality is the key to image management.

The Fiasco

There were a number of mistakes made here.  The developers did not do enough homework to understand why the original interface worked so well for so many use cases before rolling out the new interface. They refused to see just how narrow of a use case is the new interface. It really only appeals to one of many use cases.  Additionally, Yahoo offered no preview. In other words, there was no beta test for users to give feedback before rolling it out site wide. Offering a preview window would have saved Flickr a lot of grief and is probably the single biggest mistake Flickr made in this whole update.

Developmentally, the mistakes they made included not offering customization. Users have been clamoring for such features as rearranging the image order of their stream. I agree, I would love to have this feature and have been waiting for it for a very long time.  I would like to see other features regarding things like frames and virtual lighting. I’d like to have seen more Ajax features (easy drag and arrange). Users want more customization, not less.  Instead, they locked every single user into a single interface experience that not only alienates most professional use cases, it also offers no customization to change things about the interface. In other words, Flickr has take a huge step backwards.  The interface may appear more slick, but the lack of customization takes us back to a time well before Yahoo ever bought Flickr.

Then it comes to bugs. Instead of actually correcting existing bugs and misfeatures, they worked on changing the style of the main page leaving all of the existing bugs and misfeatures out there. Seriously, the most important thing is to make the landing page ‘pretty’? What about all of the features that were not complete or the bugs that were not fixed, or the features that were never added?

The final mistake, the treatment of Pro account holders. With the increase to 1TB of space and upload limits well increased, the need to purchase Pro is really no longer necessary.  Those who recently purchased a Pro account this year feel cheated out of their money.  And, rightly so. Yahoo didn’t live up to their side of the deal with the money given to Flickr for Pro accounts. Instead, Yahoo basically thumbed its collective noses at the Pro account users not only from the monetary perspective, but also from interface perspective.  Basically, Yahoo just completely tromped all over the Professional photographers who bought into the interface for that use, but also those who paid into the Pro accounts that gave bigger limits needed to be a Professional user. Yahoo hasn’t even addressed this issue at all.

Yahoo has a lot of work to do to repair Flickr Pro user relationships.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late. Many Professional photographers are already migrating their imagery away from Flickr to alternative services that are, hopefully, more reliable and offer more professional interfaces and support.

Lacking Support

Through this whole ordeal, Flickr support has remained amazingly silent.  They asked for comments and have said nothing about it. They did state they were ‘listening’ for whatever that’s worth. But, we all know that listening and doing are two entirely separate things. There should have been a lot more help and support coming from the Flickr staff after such an amazingly huge change.  Yet, it appears that the Flickr team has rolled the interface out in a fire-and-forget approach. Basically, with a ‘this is it’ attitude given off by those who have been able to get hold of a support person. 

Clearly, if this is the level of support that Yahoo / Flickr is providing to users for this type of service, it’s probably worth moving on to a service where your money will get you real support when you need it. Where the support people actually do care about making a difference and keeping the customer happy.

By the time Flickr realizes the problem and manages to correct it, it will probably be too late. It’s probably already too late.

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