Thursday, October 4, 2012

Presidential Debate: Round 1

Both sides lowered expectations and as a result, no one really came off disappointing, but I have to admit, I was a little dismayed about the President's performance.  He seemed, tired and at times a little frayed.  I guess, if I had to sum it up, he appeared to be there as an obligation, not because he wanted to be there.  I suppose, after the last four years, I probably wouldnt want more of the same, either.

Romney, on the other hand, brought his A game.  He was alert, he was charismatic, with a wink and a nod, I could really believe a vote for him would be OK.  He appeared confident, and inspired confidence in return.  As a leader, I could believe in him, and follow his banner.

At least, until I start questioning where he is asking me to go, and realize, I still don't have an answer.  When I put aside the shiny new image, and compare that to his track record, his past comments and stances, I am even less sure.  The man I saw debating the President simply didnt exist a year ago, a month ago, even a few days.

And then, I remember, I am seeing a VERY successful company man.  He is a figurehead, and his job is to pitch the corporate line to his target audience of stakeholders.  That pitch, changes, depending on what the company dictates.  He doesn't make decisions, he only sells the corporate boards direction to the rest of the company.

In that context, the change makes more sense.  Hes a dynamic speaker, but his message will always be to garner support, and not really carry his own message.  Hes offering selling points, but the one thing missing in the debate was anything resembling a concrete plan.

And frankly, Im not surprised.  I dont see how his numbers work.  I need more than a smile and a wink to believe Romney.  I have a hard time believing that corporate entities will really cover folks with pre existing conditions out of the goodness of their hearts.. because its bad business.  Romney knows that.  He also knows, that his proposal is that of the current law.. where yes, you have to be covered, as long as you haven't gone over 90 days without coverage.. then.. well.. you are either SOL or you get hit with rates you cant afford.. so No, I don't believe his line.

The more I go over what was said, and more importantly, what wasn't, I realize, I have the same experience as going onto a used car lot.  Gloss over the bad parts, tell me what I want to hear, and by the way, I REALLY should consider getting the undercoating.

I dont need to feel good.  This country doesn't need a nice warm handshake.  We are smarter than that, even if Romney doesn't think we are.  We need solutions, and a real plan.  We need elected officials who are willing to make a plan happen, and not play partisan politics, who's primary objective is to oppose one man.

That said, the President needs to really appear that he is at the helm.  He is, by nature, quiet, someone who plots, and thinks.  I think, its possible, a lot of the debate was to intentionally let Romney take enough rope to hang himself with.  Perhaps he just played it cool because there were so many ways to be damaged on this topic.  Still, his performance bordered on apathy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wasteland Weekend: The end of the world... temporarily

Out past the lazily spinning windfarms and what was to be the nation’s first spaceport in the Mojave high desert, Armageddon has come and gone. The survivors gather, for protection, pooling resources and erecting a fortress of rusted metal and derelict tires. Drawn by an unseen call, more survivors emerge from the dust. They arrive in vehicles, hastily modified with battering rams and makeshift weaponry. They are covered in dust, wearing a hodgepodge of items that offer protection from the elements and more hostile factors, often times appearing fearsome yet strikingly beautiful in their own right. Soon a city of tents and rust has grown around the fortress, and music can be heard from within the walls, and the survivors bustle around, actively bartering under the new terms of survival. For these souls haven’t found a bleak end at the sunset of civilization but rather, have found solace, in the Wasteland.

Wasteland Weekend

Wasteland Weekend ( ) is in its 3rd year of its most recent incarnation, and is a post apocalyptic themed annual desert gathering. The event offers music, an open bar, sporting events, fashion shows, and stunning visuals (all with an end of the world feel). Something like going to a rock concert, a renaissance fair, and a Mad Max movie at the same time, it offers a 4 day retreat, where you can get to know your inner anarchist.

Going through the rusted main gates, manned by fearsome, mohawked guardians, one quickly can forget an outside world exists, and you are quickly immersed in stunning costumes. The Atomic CafĂ©, made of discarded car parts, serves as the town bar and is a stunning piece of art in its own right. Various bartering posts offer a variety of goods for trade, as currency is generally met with suspicious glare. It’s clear, that many participants are certainly immersed in the bleak storyline of their own creation.

This isn’t Burning Man

One thing heard was frustration that Wasteland Weekend didn’t feel like other desert events, and no wonder. The event makes no attempt to create a model for a utopian social experiment. Rather, it is unabashedly dystopian, and has no issues about being a bit in your face about it. There may be some shock when confronted with the gritty, survival themed participants, moreso if you are reluctant to participate in the theme yourself. Still, there is still a strong community of hard working people willing to help, if you can get past the spikes (offering bacon can be a wonderfully effective means of gaining support from the locals). The bartertown was particularly interesting, where one could trade a bag of trail mix up to a full set of armor if they were clever.

There is a official presence from the local police and fire department, who seemed more bemused at the event than anything. Commenting, that they routinely have trouble with offroaders, they were pleased with how well behaved the participants of Wasteland Weekend were. “Next year” vowed one “I wont be working this, I’ll be a participant!”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Virtual Activism: Why is this working?

If you have been on Twitter at all, you have probably seen the #SaveCOH tag.

For the last week or so, I have been lending my very meager writing skills to the Save City of Heroes movement.  I wrote a article that has been picked up by CNN  (  We have had celebrity endorsements, massive rally event, and the march goes on.

For a game.

Well, that just sounds silly, doesn't it?  All these people up in arms over a  videogame?  Really?  Its hard enough to think that people would really care that much in the first place.. but then.. you see the numbers... petitions with over 17000 signatures, virtual rallies with 3700 attendees (Heck, I attended Occupy movements that would have killed for those numbers).

It seems, not only do people care.. they are garnering some success at this.

Here are some thoughts on why:

The Game:
City of Heroes is based on the superhero comic book motiff.  As such, the level of violence and difficulty is fairly low compared to many other titles.  I think, this has opend the door to the social aspects of the game.  I know multi generational families play together bridging physical distance.  I know people with dissabilities who can play in COH where most other alternatives are too difficult.
It has some brilliant storytelling, but is a casual game where people can really interact.

The Player Characters:
One of the unique things about COH is the character creation tools.  No other game comes close to the flexibility offered here.  As such, players really feel their character is unique, as oppose to playing one of 16 available variants of a specific race. I think has encouraged a sense of ownership, as players are encouraged to engage in the creative process.  Not only do people tend to make a visual character of their own devising, but they often forge a back-story as well. 

Superhero Culture:
American culture has been in love with the concept of a super hero for generations.  From Superman to Ironman, we have had these creations to look up to, who face adversity and persevere.  They are our modern day Pantheon, our own versions of demi-gods.  We are conditioned to root for the hero, as they fight back from certain defeat.  Who wasn't cheering when Robert Downey Jr put on his first Iron Man outfit as Tony Stark and fought his way out of the terrorist stronghold?  In a very real sense, the players of City of Heroes face the same plight, facing a near certain doom.  Further, this has been a platform that people have used to launch their own heroic efforts, for example: http:\\ , a charity organization founded by players from COH.

An Maturing Gaming Market:
I think, a major aspect, in the successful mobilization here, is simply  the age of the game, coupled with the age of the gaming marketplace.  Simply put, a lot of players have gotten older.  Instead of adolescent boys, the gaming market has simply matured.  People who started playing at 14, are now 34, with organizational, marketing and managerial skills at their disposal.

Social Networking:
MMORGS were pioneering social networks long before Facebook was even being thought of.  But now, with the existence of multiple social networks, its easier than ever to get the word out and organize on line.  In this case, the makers of City of Heroes capitalized on a tight knit social network to ensure consumer loyalty, but now, the same network has organized against the closure, and reached out to other networks as well, creating a bit of a cascade.

Poor Planning:
This one just baffles me.  One rarely sees a major corporation make a knee-jerk reaction to simply end a product line with a loyal consumer following.  Most projects have at least some sort of exit strategy in place for when the product is done, involving a phase out that maintains consumer confidence in the corporation.  It seems, remarkably short sighted for NCSoft to simply pull the plug, considering that Paragon Studios (the studio producing COH) was ramping up a major new installment to the game.  While a financial nose dive would be one possible explanation,  by all insider accounts, that wasn't happening.  This just seems, to be a very poorly executed action that has really upset the consumer.

Ultimately, it seems it was a bit of a perfect storm of factors that have come together to rally and make a social movement not only possible, but effective.  I am sure, the gaming and other industries are all taking notes regarding the way this plays out.  No matter what happens, this  has been a remarkable story of social mobilization, and I only hope the people who have stepped up to the plate, will do so on other causes important to them in the future.

We may have found out, saving the world doesn't have to stop when we log out of the game.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lack of Fashion, reflections on us, and the Mouse

"Can I please take your photo?  We don't get many 'classy' visitors here at the park anymore"

This was said to myself and a friend a bit ago while at Disneyland.  She is a very attractive young lady, and she knows how to dress.

The thing was, we weren't all that made up.  I was wearing slacks, a white Hawaiian vintage and a fedora.  She had a beautiful summer dress, had done her hair and had her white parasol.  The thing was, we weren't even really dressed up.. we just made a little effort.

But we stood out.  We were stopped constantly.  People brought their daughters to my wife, just to say hello.  From behind my sunglasses, I watched people stop, jaws dropped, mouthing 'wow' as my wife passed them.  I realized, people thought, we were in costume.  Even a Disneyland Staffer asked us if were were there as 'theme guests' for Carsland.

A few days later, we attended Dapper Day at Disneyland, and we at least had a lot more company.  Loads of people were dressed up in their 50's finest, and what struck me most was how happy everyone was, and what a sharp contrast we made to the average guest, dressed in shorts, sandals and some t shirt.

Now, I am a creature of comfort.  I love my old boots, my ratty shirts, etc.  The love of my life winces at most of my fashion choices.. but I really had to wonder... what does this say about us, not just individually, but as a culture.

Looking around.. it came to me.


In general, we dress cheap.  Most of the people around me, were wearing a T shirt that probably cost half a dollar to make in some overseas sweatshop,  and a pair of shorts that likely cost 15 at walmart.  Little is well made, and no one expect it to last more than a year anyway.  You just buy another cheap shirt when the first one falls apart.

Why is that?

Have we, as a country, become conditioned to our own slide into poverty, mass fed the clothing equivalent of a happy meal?  Have we lost any desire to show a bit of pride?

I am not willing to change out my entire wardrobe for dapper slacks just yet, but I am starting to notice what I am saying in my dress.  Heck, its so unusual to go out wearing your 'sunday best', people treat you remarkably well when you do.. perhaps it is worth it from that point alone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fighting the End of the World with Social Networking and Virtual Capes 

Paragon City, RI

Clouds of dust surround a crumpled, caped form. Cracks in the pavement radiate from where it lies. A dark, ominous figure stands over the fallen champion. “In three months, you, your world, and everything in it will cease to exist. There is nothing you can do to stop me! Mwahaha!”

The caped figure stands slowly, painfully rising back up. “You're right, I can’t….” The dust begins to settle revealing numerous other caped and masked figures behind the rallying hero  “… but I am not alone… and WE will stop you!”

The comic book clichĂ© of heroes preventing the destruction of the world is nothing new, but now fiction has crossed over into reality. On August 31st Korean based gamemaker NCSoft (OTN: NCSCF), in a move widely considered surprising by gaming industry bloggers, announced the immediate end to the 8 year old comic book themed MMORPG: City of Heroes. The announcement, citing only “An a realignment of company focus and publishing support” resulted in the halting of all development and the immediate layoff of its entire staff at Paragon Studios, based in Mountain View, CA.

The move came as a surprise to many, as new content was being released regularly and the game had a steady but growing player population.  City of Heroes was doing well for a game of its age. Development staff were seemingly just as shocked as the players, but Paragon Studios set the tone, publicly focusing on the positive achievements. City of Heroes was an award winning game, widely known for its loyal base and strong internal community.

In a potentially unprecedented move, that player base has taken action. Using the power of social media they have quickly moved to great effect. Within days petitions in protest have reached over 13,000 signatures ( ) and numerous efforts are being made to save the venerable franchise. Blogs and forums are alight with stories, not only of the game, but of the intricate social interactions that have grown in its framework. Stories of marriages being made in game, of people finding the freedom to fly in the city skies while fighting terminal illness, of friends initially meeting on line finally crossing borders to meet in person are common.  Twitter #savecoh has been seen with growing frequency and groups such as The Titan Network ( are spearheading multiple rescue operations.

While the end results of these efforts remain unseen, what is clear, is that the people are rising up to defend not only a game but the friendships and social interactions formed within it, creating the potential for a damaging PR event for NCSoft. This creates a new chapter in business, as closing down a  product suddenly has become much more complicated than before, especially when that product has an active social network attached to it.

It should be of no surprise, that in a game based on being the hero and saving the world, so many players have attempted to do just that. In doing so, it seems another comic book adage applies: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Companies are eager to access the power of the social network, but may be finding that there is a responsibility that comes attached to that access..

Many eyes will be on the ultimate fate of Paragon City, and this clash between the social network and the corporate boardroom will certainly affect the business landscape for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

COH Closure, & Micro Social Networks

I am a gamer. 

It isn’t all that I do.  The fact that I am even writing about this at all is a step out of the norm for me.
I cant say I have been a hard core, min/max type, but I have usually had a hand in some long term MMORG or another for the last 15 years.  Like many people, I gravitate to the community of it, the long standing network of casual to significant friendships that form from repeat players and interactions.  When I sign up, I am probably going to maintain my presence for years.

I have met lovers, been welcomed with open arms by strangers when traveling to new cities, even found work through these interactions.  Its not at all hard to say, these were social networks long before Zuckerberg was feeling rejected and typing the first lines of code for Facebook in his dormroom.   I think that these characters, almost become ‘pets’, or even sub fragments of our own personalities.  We identify with them; we assign them their own traits and want the best for them.  But again, the most important aspect for many of these games, is the social network, the internal community.

Recently, NCSoft decided to pull the plug on City of Heroes.  Abruptly.  Literally, a wake up in the morning to the news, with all the tact of a adolescent PVP griefer:, ‘ All COH staff R fired and COH is DOA in 3 mos. LOLZ!’  Now many long term gamers have gone through a games twilight phase before, but COH wasn’t in it, by any evidence.  The populations were relatively stable, new content was being churned out regularly, the game was continuing to improve.  In fact, another major expansion and content release was being promoted regularly well into final testing on the beta server.  (One has to question the legal position they have put themselves in, soliciting paid subscriptions for VIP content, only to cancel it as they did.. I personally feel like I have been deceived, but that is another matter.)

But I think even more telling, is the shock and outrage across the player community.  Tracking the comments show how widespread and deep this community goes.  Not just the immediate group of friends, a particular server, or even the greater player base.. sincere sympathy is expressed to the development team who seems just as surprised at this as the player are, the greater gaming community recognizes this is sad turn of events.  People who haven’t even played see this as bad. The feeling of betrayal is apparent.  NCSoft is not getting a good reception from this.

For good reason.  Most games, do something for their loyal players.  Everquest still has a server running for Cazic’s sake.  One has to wonder, why NCSoft would turn such a callous hand to its staff and a loyal fan base.  Rumors abound, from their no longer wanting a US market, to corporate deception on the level of a Tom Clancy conspiracy.  Perhaps, it is a issue literally beyond their control, but if not.. it becomes a matter of consumer commoditization.  Profit is maximized regardless of the human cost, and the social network effect is neglected.

I don’t know many corporations that done take the social network effect into consideration.  COH has a strong internal social network that expands beyond the confines of the field enforces walls of Paragon City, and I cannot see disregarding that network to be a successful model for any cooperate venture these days.  I am not sure what NCSoft is planning to do, to help mitigate the image that they have created:  that the social network they created, the playerbase and staff are nothing more than communities to be used and discarded.  I cant imagine that being a viable long term strategy for any company that uses an internal social network.  As it stands, I will avoid any NCSoft game, simply because of their disregard for the community and staff that support them.  I am looking to the news and events that follow in the next few days.  There are already in community groups looking to buy the franchise rights as well as other approaches, such as petitions ( and write in campaigns.

One lesson being learned, however, is I don’t think a corporate entity can foster a social network, and then just expect it to go away without repercussions.  Perhaps, this is a relatively new factor in corporate strategies that many companies are going to have to address, especially in the MORG realm.  Can you imagine the outrage is Facebook suddenly said ‘all done’ or even pictogram?  It would be a scandal, and the company wouldn’t survive.

So, said my piece.  I’m off to put on my cape and try to save the world form an overwhelming, impossible adversary.  After all, its what we do on City of Heroes.  @Vengeance MK2 on Guardian if you want to say hello, at least, while the world lasts.