The tax implications of Diablo III
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The tax implications of Diablo III

One interesting and controversial aspect of Diablo III from Blizzard is an auction house where players can sell items they find in the game for real money. Players can put items up for sale and Blizzard will take a cut. Jamais Cascio notes that game prizes that have cash value must be counted as income, whether or not you sell them:

When you win a prize in a game that has cash value, that prize is taxable at the fair market value, even if you do not sell it. This is true in the United States, and (from my cursory Googling) appears to be true in the UK and India (and likely many other locations). So when you stumble across that Massive Staff of Infection or Red-White-Blue Shield of Copyright Infringement, items that could be sold in the Diablo III Market for $20, $50, or even $100, you’re legally supposed to declare those winnings on your taxes. While that might seem like common sense if you sell them and end up with a few hundred dollars in your PayPal account every year, it will likely come as a surprise if you’re just playing and avoiding the auction house entirely.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this shakes out.

What introverts get out of social games
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What introverts get out of social games

Game researcher Jane McGonigal explains how introverts benefit from playing social games:

With introverts, their dopamine systems tend to work more with internal thought than with external, social stimulation. Whereas with extroverts, they have the dopamine receptors going off when someone smiles at them; for them, it’s like a hit of candy or crack cocaine, you know? And for introverts, that’s not happening.

But when we’re in game world, we do get motivated. We do get these dopamine hits from the game itself. When we’re getting them around other people, it can kind of shift our neurochemistry.

The whole interview is really interesting.

The economics of raid lockouts in World of Warcraft
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The economics of raid lockouts in World of Warcraft

Interesting post from Greg Street, the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, explaining why they are changing the game so that you can’t do the same raid more than once a week.

Some of you guys are coming from the angle that players should take responsibility for not playing more than they want to. I agree with that of course, but I also think the game design should not be something that puts that kind of pressure on you. We don’t want to make a game full of traps or temptations that you should have to resist. It’s more fun, I think, if what the game asks of you is reasonable. Killing the same boss twice or four times (as in ToC) or an unlimited number of times (as in the “no loot” model) doesn’t seem reasonable. Neither does having to play Alterac Valley hundreds of times in a weekend to get a prestigious PvP rank. Neither does having to grind for consumables for hours every week before raid night. All of those things are theoretically “features” that players could have shown some common sense and opted out of, but realistically they were just boneheaded design decisions that we needed to fix.

It’s this sort of real systemic thinking about how games work that make Blizzard’s games the best.

Abusing foursquare
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Abusing foursquare

Jim Bumgardner explains how he used the command line tool curl and a bit of clever thinking to cheat at foursquare on a massive scale:

At some point last week, I devolved into a 12 year old hacker, and I spent many spare hours (and my computer’s spare cycles) abusing the system with a set of scripts operating fake accounts. Not only did I add new venues like the North Pole, but I started persistently checking into coveted landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty.

What can I say? It was fun, and foursquare’s incentives (badges and mayorships) spurred me on. Incentives invite abuse, even from mild-mannered folks like me.

I wonder if anyone has ever tried to calculate a percentage of the engineering budget that should be allocated in advance to fighting fraud and abuse? The folks at Glitch probably need to figure out what that number is.

Update: Speaking of the incentives to game systems, what happens when you create a system where teacher performance is evaluated based on how students do on standardized tests? Some teachers cheat on the tests on behalf of their students. Testing companies have developed a system that can detect this kind of cheating by evaluating erased answers.

How video games train football players
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How video games train football players

Chris Suellentrop has a fun article in Wired about how playing video games is creating a superior generation of football players. I think football players can learn more from simulations than most other athletes because football players have to think so much, and because they play fewer games. A lot of playing football is looking at how the other team has lined up and figuring out what they’re going to do. You can learn a lot about that by playing a realistic simulation. Sports like basketball and baseball are more about physical reactions, less about planning on the fly, so I’d expect that players of those sports benefit less.

Links for August 24
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Links for August 24

Trying yet another format for daily links. Here we go:

  • This is accountability.
  • Footnotes for last night’s Mad Men. If you like those, there’s a whole blog of Mad Men footnotes by the same author.
  • I wanted to second this notion from Matthew Yglesias that it’s stupid to blame Obama’s mistakes for the trials and tribulations of passing health care reform. This is an incredibly complex, emotionally charged issue, and trillions of dollars are at stake. Plus the opposition party is willing to lie constantly to scuttle reform for political reasons. There is no simple road map to reform.
  • The next World of Warcraft expansion (due sometime in 2010) will feature an in game launch event. The theme of the expansion is that an evil dragon unleashes an event that rips the original game world apart, so it’ll probably be worth renewing your game account just for that event when the time comes.
  • How rich are the super rich? Richer than ever.
  • Security researchers are looking at ways that botnets can be controlled through Google or Twitter. As far as I know, right now the most common approach is via IRC. Honestly, it strikes me that the simplest approach would be to set up a blog on BlogSpot and have all of the zombie PCs subscribe to the RSS feed.
Links from June 8th
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Links from June 8th

The day WowMatrix died
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The day WowMatrix died

Of all of the good decisions Blizzard made when they created World of Warcraft, one of the best was providing a robust API for third party developers to write addons for the game. Installing addons is easy, you just download the addon, unzip it, and put it in the Interface/Addons directory.

The problem is keeping track of addons. The last time I looked, I had over 70 addons installed, and that’s not atypical. A number of addon distribution sites sprung up to give developers a place to list their software and a place for players to keep track of updates to their favorites. Curse.com is one popular example, and WoWInterface is another.

Some other approaches became popular as well. A number of addon collections were created — someone would package a number of useful addons, make sure they all work together, and then distribute them together. Users were then freed from the burden of updating each addon individually, they just had to download updates to the collection when they were released.

The next phase was addon updaters, desktop software packages that keep track of the addons you’ve installed and update the ones that are out of date. The most popular of these is WowMatrix. It’s an ugly piece of adware, but it has a comprehensive directory of addons and makes managing those addons really easy.

Unfortunately, WowMatrix, for all its benefit to players, was leeching from the addon distribution web sites. And yesterday, on the day when World of Warcraft released its huge 3.1 patch, those sites started blocking WowMatrix. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Bugs and hacks
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Bugs and hacks

I always wonder what goes on behind the scenes on the World of Warcraft team at Blizzard. Aside from being impressed by the scope and quality of the game, I wonder how difficult it must be to build this (very) fat client that has to be kept in sync on the OS X and Windows platforms, integrate new content, and keep all of the game’s internal systems in balance so that users enjoy themselves. Then there’s the challenge of maintaining the infrastructure needed to support over 10 million active accounts.

So I relish any little glimpse behind the curtain we can get. This weekend, players found a really interesting bug in the game. Death Knights, a new class in the game, have an ability called “Death Grip”. It allows the player to pull an enemy toward them through the air. (Here’s a short video.) So here’s the bug: if a Death Knight uses Death Grip while standing on a particular ship, the target is pulled through the world (the flight lasts about 8 minutes, apparently) to a hidden ship in the middle of empty space far away. There are several videos of this in the blog post I linked to above.

As long as MMOs have been around, there have been ships to take users from one place to another. You go to a dock, wait for a ship, climb aboard, and wind up somewhere that would otherwise take you forever to get to by running (or swimming). Here’s the thing — ships have been buggy in every game they’ve been implemented in. For some reason, the folks at Blizzard had to create this hidden ship somewhere to get around some bug they obviously couldn’t fix in any other way, and now this Death Grip bug has in some way exposed the inner workings of the game.

I doubt there’s any advantage to players in finding it nor will there be any way to get to it once this bug is fixed, but I would still love to hear the inside story of how that ship got there in the first place. It reminds me of some ships I’ve built in the past to get around what at first looked like relatively straightforward problems.

Links from January 29th
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Links from January 29th

These links are for the past three days.