Friday, March 27, 2009

The Digital Download Divide

I have been a big proponent of digital downloads from the very beginning. Back in the early Newton PDA days it was a novelty to download a trial of a game like Deja Vu's 'Right of Way' (basically Milles Borne) and then purchase a registration code to enter. By the time I bought Call of Duty 2 for the Pocket PC ... it was standard practice.

But things started to change in 2004 with the release of Valve's Steam service along with the game 'Half-Life 2'. You could now download a digital version of a game that would install on your PC so you wouldn't have to run a separate installer or ever use a DVD to play. Get a new PC? No problem, just log in and reinstall!

However, like everything else, there is a dark side ... once you buy a game on Steam register a game with the service, you tie it inexorably to your account - unlike other retail games you cannot sell your used copy of Half-Life 2 on eBay. Or, more recently, trade it on Goozex.

This is a major issue for those who see the second-hand market as a big part of the value-proposition of gaming. For example, if I buy a Nintendo DS game for $30 that I know I'll play but not necessarily keep, I am pretty sure I can trade it on Goozex for enough points to buy another fairly new game. Heck, I just traded away a ten-year old GameBoy Advance game for enough points to pick up a copy of a PC strategy game I missed when it was first released.

All of that breaks down when you buy a game in a store, install it and find out that it *demands* that you also have Steam installed ... even if you just want to play the single player campaign! That happened to me very recently with Empire: Total War, which requires accounts on both Games for Windows Live and Steam to play.

All of this got me thinking ... I cannot remember where I got half the PDA games and apps from a decade ago, so I wonder in five more years how I'll do remembering where I got all the digital games I own now. Here is a estimate of how many games I have from various services.

DRM-limited 'Full-Sized' Games
Steam ~50 games
GamersGate ~8
GameAgent ~6
EA Store ~6
Direct2Drive ~3
Impulse ~4
StarDock ~3
GameTreeOnline ~2
GameStop ~2

DRM-limited 'Add-ons' to Games
Games for Windows Live ~2
Bioware Store ~6

DRM-limited 'Casual' Games
Amazon ~10
Apple ~50
PopCap ~3
PDA games (AtraWare, HandMark, etc) ~100?

Non-DRM 'Full-Sized' Games
Good Old Games ~15

Of these, only Good Old Games doesn't make me nervous - I have backed up the install filed in two places, and since they are DRM-free I don't have to worry about remembering my account details or hoping that the servers are still operating, or that I failed to pay 'download insurance' and therefore can't download the game again.

How about you? How invested are you in digital downloads? How do you feel about the trade-off between convenience and lack of full-ownership? What other thoughts?
Idol Thoughts - Motown Weak

Well, if you are new here ... welcome! If you have been reading these previously at GamingWithChildren, double welcome! Another week has come and gone, and with it another contestant has also departed. More shenanigans occurred, more embarrassing moments, and of course ... more cognitive dissonance. Because this ... is American Idol.

Have you gotten over the loss of Alexis Grace yet? Do you still remember who she is? She is the one who could actually sing but listened to the judges enough that fans got bored with her and bumped in place Megan Joy Corkrey Jingleheimerschmidt ...

Since Motown is full of big-voice R&B songs that allow folks to show off with 'glory-notes' and screams and falsetto ... the catalog is already way overplayed. But that didn't stop the Idol from carting out a nearly 70 year old Smokey Robinson to give a few minutes of so-called advice to the singers. So

We remember the quote of the week from a few weeks ago: "It’s fine being artistic, just not on this show." - Simon. Well, this week Kara said: "It isn't about singing, it's about artistry!"

Let's get right to the show:


Matt Giraud - "Let's Get It On"
Pretty average - nothing special and more than a couple of clunkers ... yet the judges don't call him on it. My wife says he looks like Justin Timberlake meets Mr. Rogers. I see him making it a few more weeks but being someone no one remembers next year. Oh ... and Kara looked like she was about to jump the table and 'get it on'...

Kris Allen - "How Sweet It Is"
I really think of this as a James Taylor song, and that is closer to how Kris does it ... he is very likeable and sings well, and the judges are all over him. He is quite safe.

Scott MacIntyre - "You Can't Hurry Love"
I know it is insensitive, but we all wondered WHO dressed him today? It was like a bad joke. And the singing wasn't much better. And to pile on my insensitivity, I said that the only reason he's here is because he's blind.

Megan Joy - "For Once In My Life"
She gained a middle name a few weeks ago, and now drops the last name. She looks like a Hawaiian tour guide, and sings and dances like a drunk on holiday. My wife says she *has* to go, I say she will be bottom three but safe because she's the lone pretty blond girl.

Anoop Dasai - "Ooh, Baby Baby"
Anoop sings pretty well after a somewhat rough start, and is better in the verse than the chorus. Regardless, he'll be safe again, which makes my crew happy!

Michael Sarver - "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"
Just weird - he talks up how he's adding dimension, yet sings it straight like every other of the millions of times we've heard it on the show. And the funky over-smiling while pretending to emote? Not working for me dawg.

Lil Rounds - "Heatwave"
For someone who can supposedly sing very well, this is pretty awful. This causes Kara to break out her quote of the week since she can't praise the singing. Could be in trouble, but the judges heap enough praise that she'll be safe.

Adam Lambert - "Track of My Tears"
Changes up his look, does nearly the whole thing in falsetto, and shows that he is really a talented guy. The boys commented how they hope he doesn't win, like Daughtry, so he can do his own thing. I agree,

Danny Gokey - "Get Ready"
He sang for Smokey, who offered suggestions Danny said he'd take, then within 30 seconds he is doing it the original way, as if to say FU Smokey! This arrogance from being so pimped by the Idol judges is going to blow up in his face if he doesn't watch it.

Allison Irehata "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"
I had predicted she'd go before Jasmine, and I was wrong - fortunately. Now I hope she outlasts the other girls, because SHE is the one who belongs in the final three with Gokey and (g)Lambert. Oh, did I mention she did really well?

My prediction for the bottom three:
- Michael
- Scott
- Megan

And from that, Scott is safe and the other two sit for a while before Sarver is sent home.

On the 'Judge's Save' - if it is Sarver, no way will they save him. Nor will they save Megan ... but they might save Scott. They're trying to hold the save to protect Adam, Danny & Lil.

One final thing - with ten singers doing two minute song snippets ... that is twenty minutes of singing in a two hour show ... that is just excruciating. The pacing was dreadful.

So now we're into the typical cycle - talk about the night, recap the previous night, group song, get into some results, guest singer, more results, another guest, and then the final results. Yeah ... I didn't even have to edit that from last time.

Here is how it went:
- After all the introductions, which took about ten minutes, they finally get into things.
- Group night is a Motown medley, which was not only lip-synced, it looked pretty obviously taped in an empty studio - none of the reflections hinted at life, and they carefully avoided filming off-stage.
- Next we get a Ford commercial with all of the usual phoniness.
- Then Ruben Stoddard comes out and sings nicely a song that has a small but solid niche audience. Everyone else would find it competent but dreadfully boring ... but better than anything else so far.
- Ryan works through the top row, making Alison and Adam safe and then playing games with Kris, Michael and Lil, in the end sending Michael to the first Bottom Three spot.
- Ryan works on the bottom row a bit, making it seem Megan will join the bottom three (she was prepared) but sending Matt instead - and he was NOT prepared!
- Next we get a duet between Smokey and Joss Stone. It is pretty lousy - they are totally not singing together, with him trying to actually do a duet where they build chemistry through eye contact, and her pretending she is on stage alone. It was uncomfortable to watch them edge across the stage - he would get a bit closer and she would edge back ... for about 3 feet over a 3 minute song. As my younger son said "Awkward!"
- Ryan finishes off the bottom row, sending Scott to the bottom three.
- Stevie Wonder is next, singing some classics of his own and a throwaway song of his from a recent CD. He is still amazing even if his voice has lost some edge over the years.
- Finally, Sarver is sent home ... and after singing the judges mess around like they are thinking about the save before Simon says 'no ... you're going home' to helping him out. Sarver is OK - he knew he was about done, and since he makes the tour (and gets the associated money and exposure)he was pretty much happy to get home to the family.

Another three hours I can never get back that consisted of ~20 minutes of singing, 5 minutes of results, and 2 hours and 35 minutes of worthless blather. My kids are only watching for the same reason my wife and I watch - to do it together. Which, I remind myself, isn't the worst reason to do something. Far from it.

I've heard a rumor that next week could be 'iTunes Top 100' week. Who will mentor - Steve Jobs? Perhaps Woz ... he's doing well on Dancing With the Stars in spite of a nearly total inability to dance!