General blogging Internet and technology Videogames

On Adam Orth, EA and the angry Internet mobs


Dear people of the Internet,

What an exciting week it has been! Look at all that you have accomplished in such a short amount of time.

First, the big, evil games conglomerate EA has been voted the worst company in the US for the second year in a row. That will teach them not to mess with our games by adding stupid DRM systems, trying to force their online PC games store Origin on us and crushing the dreams of so many people who wanted a proper ending for Mass Effect 3.

And you also managed to get the arrogant Adam Orth out of his position as Creative Director at Microsoft. Hah! How could a person defending so fervently the always-on policy of that “next generation console” have a position like that at Microsoft? Well, now he’s out of the company thanks to the fair people of the Internet!

That’s two wins in a row for you this week! Right?


Or is this a major display of what the angry mobs of the Internet can achieve when they get annoyed at something? Because to me this is the closest thing I can imagine to a father buying his little kid a bag full of candy because he kept screaming and yelling and crying in the middle of the store until he got what he wanted.

But while related, there’s much deeper issues within each case I’ve just mentioned.

First, the case of EA being voted worst company in the US.

Let’s take a moment to look at what makes a company “the worst”. Is it their impact on the world economy? Is it the impact on the environment? The way they treat their customers? The illnesses or deaths it has caused? All those are very valid reasons to rate a company the worst, and I’m not just making them up. These are real issues that companies have been linked to, from banks to electricity companies that have gone from causing instability in the world economy to contaminating the water of an entire area, causing cancer to its population.

But here the Internet got to vote on an open website what they thought was the worst company. And EA came up as the winner. The reasons? Well, there’s many valid arguments for attacking EA. The most recent one being that the new SimCity’s launch was plagued with server connection problems because they had slapped an always-on DRM on the game without any real need to. That means those who bought the game at launch had trouble playing what they had paid for… until the servers got fixed. So those who bought the game can now play it. Sure, it’s still a draconian decision to have this type of online requirement on a single-player game, but this is hardly the kind of issue that causes everyone to hate a company forever.

There’s many other things such as how they push their Origin store on customers, which is definitely not as good as the competition ( but has everyone forgotten how much hate Steam got when it first came out and how it took it a couple of years to start being good?). And there’s the Mass Effect 3 ending which annoyed thousands of gamers worldwide with its ignorance on the player’s actions throughout the series (something that got partially fixed –for free I should add- through free DLC). There’s all the issues with micro-transactions, their constant disregard for what “gamers really want”, and much more.

None of those are crimes noteworthy enough to cause such a huge reaction on an award that pit EA against so many other non-gaming related companies. Because the truth is anyone who is not deeply invested in the games industry does not care about those things. Heck, my parents don’t even know what EA is! The percentage of people truly affected by EA’s decisions is so small that it is baffling to see those problems upscaled that much.

But the gaming community is a very vocal one. When they are angry about something it takes the internet by storm. They know how to work through the web’s social networks and spread the word all over the net. And with the creativity that so many people have to create memes and have them become staples quickly it makes it look as if those are issues that “everyone” in the world knows about.

That’s not truly the case though.

I won’t go much further into this topic, but I’ll close it off with a quote from Forbes about what exactly is this “Worst Company Award”: “It’s a measure of how annoyed the internet is with a certain brand at the moment.”

Oh, and this (fake) letter from Dorkly standing as Peter Moore from EA:


So that’s all of it on the EA case. It’s something that EA will probably react upon but still take lightly as they most probably believe that the poll has little validity.

But then we have the other controversial topic: Adam Orth.

This one is way more worrying than any Internet vote. This is the case of someone losing his job because he made a couple of comments on Twitter.

I have to admit that when I first saw these tweets I was extremely annoyed at Adam Orth.


But there’s a small problem with Twitter. If you jump into someone else’s conversation (because tweets are public after all) there is usually very little context to grab from those short 140-characters long messages.

Is Orth being sarcastic in his last tweet? Is he really looking down on those cities? That’s impossible to tell from just that image, which is the one that got shared all over the Internet through channels such as Reddit. Go a bit further back in their timelines and you will find out that this is not the first time they talk to each other, they’re actually friends to talk to each other in a casual way. That last reply could easily be him joking around.

But of course this is Twitter and it’s public. Even if you have the now-so-typical disclaimer of “opinions are my own” when you have a certain position in a company you have to be careful of what you post and how you say things, because it might involve your company in a bigger way. Some people have argued that he shouldn’t ever post his opinions on Twitter and that he should have sent that to Manveer Heir instead through private messages.

So are we suddenly as users of Twitter censoring what someone can or cannot say publicly online? Check Manveer’s tweets. He’s Senior Gameplay Designer at Bioware, quite a high position to be in the games industry, yet he is one of the most vocal people in the games industry, always expressing his own thoughts and often with a fair amount of personality in them. As he describes himself, he’s a “sarcastic ass”. And nobody has any problem with that! He criticizes lots of games, he criticizes the moves of many companies, and at keynote events he criticizes pretty much every sentence that comes out of the speaker’s mouth.

But guess what? People expect that from him already. His “online persona” has always been like that so if he said something about Bioware with a sarcastic note to it, people would take it happily. Perhaps a few replies with rants, followed by snarky responses from him.

What happened with Adam Orth was not so much a situation of “public personalities should not comment on Twitter their personal views” as it was Orth not having built enough of an online personality to be able to do that. Had he done so before, there would be a lot more context in his tweets for people to understand it. Instead, Orth later on (with Manveer’s help) tried to explain that he was being sarcastic. To which people replied that was a very childish response trying to take away the blame from himself.

The damage is done now though, and Orth is out from Microsoft and with enough media backslash to make finding a new job a real nightmare for him. All because of three tweets in which he is talking to a friend. That escalated quickly! Of course it doesn’t help that the topic of the conversation was the already controversial always-on subject…

In any case it’s really scary to think how fragile our entire careers are now that through social media everyone can react so quickly against you.

I don’t want to defend either EA or Adam Orth for their actions because they did not act their best to be honest. But the Internet should really try to be more careful with their actions as well and try not to look like a kid having a fit.

And most definitely they should not consider this a win, but rather a shameful display of the Internet at its worst.

General Internet and technology

Yikes! Temporarily blacklisted by Google!

What you see above is a picture of what Google Chrome showed the visitors of websites that linked to my site for the last couple of days. A similar warning was shown to Firefox users.

First of all, my apologies to all those whose site was affected by this problem.

Apparently my site got hacked somehow, and though everything seemed to be working normally, the truth is that some malicious code had inserted itself into my WordPress installation, resulting in almost every page attempting to redirect users to shady websites.

Google’s frequent security scans detected this and immediately blacklisted as a malware-affected domain, triggering warning messages on all web browsers that use Google’s blacklisting service. And not only that, but every other website that had content coming from mine would receive a similar warning as well. This affected a couple of friend’s websites (such as AloneInTheDark211 as seen in the picture above) and fellow game designer Hugo Bille for whom I’m helping out with the Spanish translation of his upcoming game.

It has taken me much longer than expected, but it seems like I have been able to (manually) take out all the injected malicious code from my web server after several scans, checking many PHP files and asking friends for help.

So, once again, sorry to all the affected people and thanks a lot to Gustav Dahl and Emil Erik Hansen for their advice! Take this as well as a word of warning to everyone out there with a WordPress site! Even if you think your website is not at risk, you’d do well to check your security settings (the WP Security Scan plugin checks for some basic mistakes your installation might have).

And now is back on track!

Internet and technology Microsoft

Some quick thoughts on the new Microsoft Surface

I was really skeptical of this when I first heard the rumors of a possible Microsoft tablet. First because I didn’t think they would risk their relationship with all the OEMs like HP, Dell and Sony. Second because a Microsoft-built tablet would probably be too business-oriented and just lack the whole “cool” factor that many tablet users are looking for.

Then I saw the live presentation of the new Surface by Microsoft (they are calling it like that) and it totally blew my mind.

I hadn’t been this excited for a Microsoft product for a long time. Sure, it’s yet another tablet, but they seem to have learned a few tricks from the Apple book of “how to make products look exciting during keynotes” (read: they are all magical). It’s sleek, it screams amazing build quality, it has innovative touches like its colorful touch-covers (which also happen to change the background color of the Windows 8 start screen automatically) and it is the only tablet that comes with a fully functional office suite (Microsoft Office 2013). All of a sudden it makes Windows 8 look a lot more interesting too! This is definitely one bold new direction for Microsoft. Say goodbye to the old “play-it-safe” dinosaur of the last decade.

Now, some would say this is too late, but I don’t think Microsoft is late to the game at all. Look at the current state of the tablet market. Some people have completely replaced their daily computer use for a daily tablet use. I know some friends who just leave their laptops at work and only bring home their iPad so they can still read the email, check Facebook and watch the occasional movie or TV show. But that’s not everyone yet. Many people still need proper document editing and higher quality games that do more than just touch and gyro.

Microsoft is now offering a solution for this with a tablet that not only has all the hardware necessary to make it a possible notebook replacement (or just complementary), but they also have an OS that is custom-made to work great on both tablets and PCs, unlike iOS and Android.

Also it’s interesting to see how during the presentation Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer kept mentioning that this is the perfect integration of hardware and software, making it as good as it can be. Interesting because this is exactly the same mantra that Apple has been pushing for the last 10 years…

And think about the possibilities in gaming: we’re talking about Windows here, so it’s going to accept any gamepad you connect to it. Play a game on the go… and then plug the tablet to the TV when at home and play a game like Portal 2 (which, on the Intel version of the tablet, it might run moderately well).

Right now I have a very unexciting Android tablet (Sony Tablet S). I think I just found its future replacement. But I’ll want to see prices first…

For now all I can say is good move, Microsoft.


Internet and technology Mobile Videogames

Are gaming handhelds really doomed? What keeps them alive?

Earlier today someone on Facebook asked about the growing discussion that handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita are slowly fading away, getting lost in the incredibly successful market of smartphones and tablets like the iPhone and iPad. I replied with a very long comment for a Facebook post and I thought that I could re-purpose my text for a new post here.

The thing here is that there’s no doubt now that smartphones and tablets are affecting the sales of handheld consoles. They are still not killing the market, but the incredibly slow start the Nintendo 3DS had until known franchises came to it and the big struggle the PS Vita is currently having on the market are signs that things have changed.

Taking that into account, what is the current audience of handhelds? What are the reasons one might buy a dedicated gaming console instead of a smartphone or tablet?

Let’s begin with the one age group that smartphones and tablets are still a long way from breaking into, and that is the younger audience under 14 years old. You wouldn’t buy a 10 year old kid an iPhone, a highly expensive device that is easy to break and get stolen, but you might buy him a Nintendo DS with a Super Mario game or the latest movie tie-in like a Spiderman game or a Disney character in it.

In fact, when you look at the age demographics of the iPhone and iPod Touch you can see that the age group of users from 13 to 17 years old is tiny (6%) when compared to that same age group in the iPod Touch demographics (46%) (Source from 2009). You could consider the iPod Touch as a game handheld if you will. After all it has access to apps and games, which is the main reason these users choose the iPod Touch over the more traditional iPods which are almost exclusively used to play music. Same goes for the Nintendo DS/3DS and (in a smaller way since it goes for a more mature audience) the PS Vita. They offer cheaper, contract-free devices with gaming as their main purpose and, in the mindsets of buyers, a better value proposition for a kid than an iPhone. You could add Android phones here if you want, but currently there are no low-end Android devices that could cover this space, since the cheap devices that do exist are simply too low-powered for modern phone games.

But of course that’s not the only audience of handheld consoles. When you go to ages 14+ both the DS/3DS and PSP/Vita offer a nice choice of games aimed squarely at this audience. You have Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, God of War, Final Fantasy… However, and this is where the sales have been going down, those handhelds now have to compete with smartphones and, to a lesser extent (simply because not everyone sees value in having a device that some feel is a bigger smartphone), tablets.

But here is the thing, and it’s a point most media outlets seem to be missing. Let me explain a little bit first: smartphones have absolutely nothing blocking them from running blockbuster titles of the same quality as those mentioned above (touch controls aside). You just have to take a look at what French company Gameloft has been doing in the past few years, taking popular gaming franchises and creating equivalents of them for phones (N.O.V.A is a Halo clone, Modern Combat 3 is Modern Warfare 3, Hero of Sparta is God of War, StarFront is StarCraft…) or taking Ubisoft staples into bite-sized chunks (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Brothers in Arms).


Those games coexist in a marketplace full of extremely cheap offers of $0.99, the new standard for game prices (something neither Nintendo or Microsoft are very keen on, claiming it devaluates videogames as a whole). This means that if a company wanted to make a full size game with the same length, depth and quality as a console or handheld game they would need to price it higher to cover the production costs. And that simply doesn’t sell very well in a flood of $0.99 titles. Gameloft and EA are able to pull that off thanks to their use of big franchise names, but even then the prices don’t usually go higher than $6.99, and they quickly drop after the hardcore fans of the series have already bought it so as to attract the rest of the market.

The top 10 paid games on the US AppStore as of May 2012

The other company that is managing to pull off higher prices for its games is Square-Enix. $15.99 for a port of a DS Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy III), which was already a remake of an old NES game. But Final Fantasy games have the advantage of being really deep and lengthy adventures (thus the price) that don’t require very precise control input: just tap and wait for the battle animation to finish.

That’s where handhelds come in for those who want a more serious gaming experience. You get the more precise controls for action games   and the higher production values, with almost console-quality graphics, story and gameplay depth in a smaller package that you can take anywhere you go.

For those who want an all-around device that does everything an iPhone will be the only device to carry around at all times. But those who want a deeper experience on the go (and I’m not talking about just something to play on the train, but also when visiting their parents for a week, going on a trip and so on) will also carry with them a handheld.

Plus, now these gaming handhelds get the added experience of buying smaller games at cheaper prices, smartphone style. The 3DS will allow you to buy old Gameboy and NES games as well as new, modern titles for under $5. The PS Vita lets you download casual games like Angry Birds or get an old PS One game like Crash Bandicoot at the same price level. And at the same time you get the full range of top-tier new releases (which tend to be more on the $40 range), some as physical copies, some as downloadable games too (specially now that Nintendo is going to make their 3DS and Wii U games available online as well).

And then finally you have the more mature audiences that as far as I know only Nintendo has been able to attract so well thanks to their Brain Training series. But that’s usually the group that buys only one game or two and leaves it there.

Anyway, those are my 2 cents on the topic. It’s mostly based on my own thoughts and experience, but I believe I’m not too far off the reality. Of course I’m basing myself on articles, opinions, comparisons and a few stats, but you could hardly call every single one of those hard facts, so all this could be wrong.

But the fact is that the landscape of gaming on the go has severely changed and both Nintendo and Sony will have to step their game up if they want to survive in a market full of $0.99 games that, in the mind of many casual consumers, offers as much value as any $40 game.

Internet and technology Mobile Stupid things

A quick thought on the Samsung Galaxy SIII

So today Samsung announced the next phone in the line of its successful Galaxy S series of Android smartphones.

Usually I applaud Samsung for their impressive smartphones, which tend to be among the best out there in the market.

But seriously… I think this time they are going a little bit too far. How big does a phone need to get to be called “better” these days? Does the size of the screen really matter that much? And how long is this trend going to continue?

I decided to make this stupid little joke on the increasingly huge size of the screens on Samsung’s phones, but this could easily apply to other makers too. Please mind that I put all this together really fast, though the phone sizes are proportionally correct between one another.

The funny thing is that, as I mention in the picture, Samsung already has a tablet/phone hybrid called the Galaxy Note (which as a tablet I think is quite nice, but as a phone I think it is simply too big for anyone to carry around in their pockets), and then they also offer the Galaxy Tab in several sizes.

So what will they do next? Will the tablets increase in size to make space for even bigger phones? Or will this nonsense of “bigger is better” stop someday?

As a disclaimer, I used to have a phone with a 4″ display (the Samsung Omnia 7) and I recently switched to a phone with a smaller screen: the Nokia Lumia 800 which has a 3,7″ display, and I’m quite happy with it, not needing more than that as it is a very comfortable size to work with.

Internet and technology

When high schools look THIS amazing

I’ve been living in Ørestad, one of the areas in Copenhagen, Denmark, for year and a half now. And every single time I walk back home there is one building that keeps pulling me in, wanting to have a closer look at it.

At first I thought it was a gym. After all the walls clearly state “Ørestad Gymnasium”, and for about a month I really thought that was the case.

Then I learned that Gymnasium is the Danish word for the institution that teaches the two years prior to university, separated from traditional high schools.

Wait, what did you say? That beautiful building is a high school?!

Yes. And not only does it look amazing from the outside, it’s also an impressive design on the inside! This is definitely not your traditional education institution. There’s no such a thing as boring square classrooms with a blackboard where the teacher just stands up in the front and gives a boring lecture. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal defines it in an article they wrote about this school, the entire 5-stories building is one large room, with only a few glass walls separating the space.

But it’s not just the building that is innovative and different from the rest: the education system is also something new.

In fact, according to the WSJ article teachers are forced by the building’s own distinct design to be creative when preparing their lessons. Group work and even one-on-one lessons are the norm, and because of the open space nature of the school, students learn quickly to be quiet so as not to bother the rest of the groups.

Technology is also a big part of the education at Ørestad. So much in fact that since 2012 students do not use books, with computer-based learning becoming a big component of the system. Teachers can also mix up the lessons by combining classrooms together when needed and encouraging students to do their homework in new ways, like for example, by creating a podcast in which they solve math problems or having foreign-language conversations online.

With such an exciting curriculum it’s no wonder Danish students feel more encouraged to keep studying, as opposed to other countries where the student drop-rate is exceedingly rising. Of course the fact that education in Denmark is 100% free, even at university levels, helps a lot.

So although the architecture of the building is incredibly beautiful, it is also the Danish education system that amazes me. In the past three years I have been loudly complaining about the awful education system in Spain (and, to a lesser extent, in the US). Spanish high schools and universities force students to learn the class material by heart, being able to recite it word after word without looking at the textbook and taking points out of written finals for every minor detail that the student forgot to mention.

What do students get out of that? Definitely not knowledge or experience. When all the courses force you to do that all you get is a short-term memorization of what you were supposed to learn, something that fades away in just a couple of days, with only the most important aspects sticking there.

Compare that to exercise-based teaching in which you learn by practicing and actively working on something vs passively sitting down and memorizing, and you’ve got a clear winner. And it’s not the Spanish system in which it is quite common to see over 50% of a class fail a university exam on their first try or students who are taking the final exam for the fourth or fifth try.

Did I just get a little bit off-topic here? Yeah, I did. I guess seeing how well Denmark is doing in this aspect compared to Spain makes my blood boil.

So just to relax a little bit more, here are a few pictures of the awesome Ørestad Gymnasium. (And don’t forget that you can click on them to expand!)