Sunday, August 31, 2014

Real Money for Fake Items

So, I read an article recently about how a battle in Eve Online cost hundreds of thousands of real dollars.

The (rather snide) article pointed out that you can buy in-game currency for real money, meaning every ship in the game has a real cash value, with some ships costing upwards of $3000.

This immediately brings to mind the pale, friendless virgin pulling out his credit card and dropping the price of a decent used car on a 'fake spaceship'. What a loser, right?

Well, first of all, that's a bit misleading. Yes, technically, all the ships have a real cash value, but you can still get these ships by playing the game... and that $3000 spaceship was probably bought by hundreds of players, many of whom never actually spent any 'real' money on it.

But this isn't the point of this article.

My problem is that this sort of thing is always characterized by someone, who has no clue what they're talking about, as 'spending real money on things that aren't real'.

Here's my point:

Person A opens iTunes and spends $2 on a song they like.

Person B opens their favorite MMO and spends $2 on a magic sword.

Now, if I say that someone has spent some real world money on a digital entertainment product that doesn't actually exist in the real world...which person have I just described?

The answer, of course, is both.

That's the part everyone always seems to miss. That MMO is a game, an entertainment product, and people who spend money on them aren't buying a 'fake item that doesn't exist', they're buying entertainment. If someone wants to spend $15 on some 'virtual items' that are going to bring them a few hours of fun in a game they is that any different from buying a $15 movie online?

Both the movie and the 'virtual item' don't exist in the real world. They're both digital products that you can only see and interact with from the other side of a screen. However, they both provide enjoyment to the person who purchased them.

Basically, 99% of our entertainment products today only exist virtually. I have literally thousands of dollars worth of movies, games and music that only exist as 1's and 0's on my hard drive.

Sunday, August 10, 2014 Custom Xbox One Controller Review

So I finally broke and decided to buy myself a custom Xbox One controller.

Just to be clear, I didn't want a full modded controller. All the 'mods' I went for were cosmetic only. Basically, I see 'features' like turbo buttons and rapid fire to be a little bit 'cheaty' for my taste. I wouldn't mind eventually buying a controller with an extra X + Y button on the underside so I can reload without taking my thumb off the right stick...but to me, that's on a par with remapping your controls on a PC keyboard...not something that's giving you a massive unfair advantage.

Now, I'll be completely honest, I went with controllermodz because they were cheap. A lot of websites I looked at either specialised in 'cheaty' mods, or were ridiculously expensive (as in £200+ expensive). My controller from controllermodz was £90 including postage and packing. Given that a standard wireless controller costs around £60, an extra £30 to make it unique didn't feel too expensive.

So what did I order?
I got the blue digital camo faceplate, silver chrome D-Pad, blue thumbsticks, blue LED for the guide button and my gamertag on the left.

Unfortunately, as I said, I went cheap...and you get what you pay for, and I had problems right out of the box.

My first dissapointment is that, while website has a cool little gadget where you pick your options and you can see what your controller should look like, each option isn't shown by actual photographs. Instead you get a graphic. On the website, the thumbsticks looked like a deep blue, darker than the faceplate. As you can see, they're a lot lighter and closer to turquoise on the controller. Being 33 years old, it shouldn't matter but, to me, they look a little bit 'girly'.

The next dissapointment was far more severe. The A + B buttons had a habit of sticking. I jumped into a game of BF4 online, tried to stand up from the prone position and ended up jumping on the spot until I managed to unstick the button.

The thumbsticks also felt a little loose. I have to be fair here, It's not something a casual player would notice, but I noticed there was a bit more 'play' in the sticks before they engaged. I have bought new standard controllers for my Xbox 360's that felt the same way, so I can't really blame them for this.

Finally, whereas most places will add a design or gamertag by physically printing it onto the controller, controllermodz use vinyl letters, and even more dissapointingly, they did nothing to 'seal' them in place. After a few hours, I looked down and saw the letters had physically bent and shifted.

On the upside, I sent an email to controllermodz and complained about the problems I was having and I got a reply within the hour that was extremely apologetic and they offered me my money back or a replacement with no argument whatsoever. I can't fault their service, and I could easily have got a refund if I wanted. The only downside was I had to ship the controller back to them at my own expense.

Apart from them not paying for shipping, this is something I really appreciate. I tend not to judge a company if they send me something faulty, but judge them by how they resolve it. Many companies have bought my loyalty through quickly and fairly fixing mistakes and controllermodz fall under that category.

In the end, I fixed the problems myself. Other than the thumbsticks (which I simply got used to) I saw the problem with the buttons was caused by the design 'wrap' that  placed over the top plate was a little ragged. It had been folded over into the button holes and was causing friction. The fix was simply to run a toothpick between the button and housing a few times to flatten it out. As for my gamertag decal, I simply straightened out the letters and added a thin layer of clear nail varnish over the top.

Now the big question: Would I buy another controller from Controllermodz?

Unfortunately, my answer is no. While they are relatively very cheap compared to other sites offering mods, you really get what you pay for and this simply does not have that high-end, premium feel you would expect from a custom item.

Even if we look at the sticking A + B buttons as a one off fluke, for me, the nail in the coffin is the gamertag decals...the one thing on the controller that makes it completely unique. It's placed in an area where you hand is constantly, and if they come loose after a few hours playtime, that's not a one-off fault, that's just poor design. There's no way to put a vinyl decal in that position and it not eventually come loose.

Basically, if you're a serious gamer and want something high end that stands out, unfortunately, you're going to have to stump up the extra cash to get it. On the other hand, if you have young kids and want to get them soemthing fun so they can tell their controllers apart, I would highly recommend controllermodz...just have some clear nail polish at the ready for when they arrive.