Driving Blind: Product Placement and Fashionable Suicides


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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70 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    You should watch Logan’s Run, its a really interesting movie. Its one of the rare times when the adaptation is better than the source material. The original novel was a pretty reactionary science fiction book that was making fun of the hippies as much as possible. The movie took an interesting concept from the book, a society where people have to die at a certain age and took away the reactionary parts to make a fun movie.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The movie is indeed ripe for a remake. I hope they keep the libertine aesthetic of the society, though, complete with the sexual decadence. And in Levine, they’ve found a writer who seems to really be able to convey aesthetics.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Wasn’t this just remade a few years ago with Scarlet Johanson and called the Island?Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    These are problems not just for the engineer, but for his constant companions, the bond salesman and the insurer. Each of these has to assure himself that new projects are within some new margin of safety so that their investments and estimates of risk make economic sense; if they don’t, the cost of building bridges will reach the level where we go straight back to ferries.

    If the engineering goals of the past were to build longer bridges and higher skyscrapers and cheaper, more graceful structures generally, are those still sensible goals? Or in a more difficult world, might we choose a different set of targets, and in the process change many professions, engineering included

    In his segue to climate change, McKibben implies some mythic past where engineering wasn’t coupled with economics and politics.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Engineering used to be coupled strongly with religion and the entertainment industries.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      Yes, I guess the fact that the University of Michigan offered classes in economics and finance in the engineering college much have been a fantasy on my part.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Cost-benefit analysis has always been part of the engineering curriculum, and not always as measured in dollars.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I’m not a gamer, nor do I really follow the industry, but what little I understand about the whole used-game issue, I find efforts to curb the market really, really bothersome.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Only wealthy people should be able to buy games.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Some people want to play new games. Some people don’t want to pony up for a new game so buy cheap resold copies, an exchange which doesn’t contribute to the making of new games.

        I don’t know that class issues need to enter into that argument.Report

        • Avatar Cletus says:

          Except that many people buy a new game expecting to get some $$$ back when they trade it in, extending their purchase power and purchasing new games at prices they wouldn’t have, subsidized by those people who buy the used copies who wouldn’t have bought anything at all otherwise.

          Used games are one of the markets where things have been working, and the gatekeepers are now trying to use ill-gotten monopolies to screw it up. I wonder what the Libertarians have to say about that. Seems to me that it’s a textbook example of zero government involvement and yet a “free market” screwing the pooch anyways, showing that libertarian theology doesn’t always match reality.Report

          • Avatar Fnord says:

            A friendly reminder that copyright itself is an example of significant government involvement, something people on both sides of libertarian divide often seem eager to forget.Report

          • Avatar Barry says:

            “Used games are one of the markets where things have been working, and the gatekeepers are now trying to use ill-gotten monopolies to screw it up. I wonder what the Libertarians have to say about that. Seems to me that it’s a textbook example of zero government involvement and yet a “free market” screwing the pooch anyways, showing that libertarian theology doesn’t always match reality.”

            For some, the promise of the digital age is to be able to exert unending control over their works, no matter how sold. They probably grind their teeth when they think about how ‘pirates’ just ‘swap’ books to each other, in the veritable Somalian print pirate paradise that the pre-digital age was.Report

            • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. says:

              For some, the promise of the digital age is to be able to exert unending control over their works, no matter how sold.

              While for others the promise of the digital age is to wholly eliminate the concept of intellectual property.

              Those are some pretty incompatible visions, aren’t they? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          When new games cost $50 to 60 a piece when they hit the market (and with no used market, they won’t depreciate as fast or as much), few people can afford more than a few a year (fewer if they can’t get some money back by selling them to stores that sells used games), a used games only market definitely excludes a lot of consumers from the market. Maybe that brings the prices down a bit, but how much?

          I imagine this could actually hurt the game market more than helping it. No used games means fewer people buying games, but also fewer people buying consoles.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            This is a market-based argument and not a class based argument, yes?Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              The class issue is that the people it excludes from the market will be the people with less money. The market argument is that doing so probably hurts the market as much as or more than getting rid of used games might help.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            It seems to me that the ability to sell games on the secondhand market is much more significant than the ability to buy games on the secondhand market. Unless there’s something wrong with it, buying a used game saves you $5-10, tops. I just randomly checked the prices on several games at Amazon, and the new and used prices consistently differed by less than $5. It’s the law of one price: Except for collectors, no one has any real reason to pay significantly more for shrink-wrap.

            On the other hand, selling games after you’re done with them can save you $30 or more per game. So if the secondhand market goes away, the winners are the people who buy games and hold onto them, and the losers are people who take the buy-to-rent approach and sell the game after playing it for a few weeks.Report

            • Avatar Cletus says:

              Given the low quality and short play-time of recent games I have suspicions that this isn’t targeted at the resale market nearly as much as at services like Gamefly.Report

          • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            Have you been following Mr. Kains writings on Used Games over at Forbes?Report

        • Avatar Fnord says:

          Some people want to read new books. Some people don’t want to pony up for a new book so buy cheap resold copies, an exchange which doesn’t contribute to the writing of new books.Report

      • Avatar trumwill says:

        According to this post from Erik, if the used game market disappears, video game prices would need to come down.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      How do the game stores feel about used games? I assume they make a decent profit on them. If that part of their business were removed, what would the effect on them be?Report

      • Avatar trumwill says:

        Stores probably like used games, but I think they are about to be removed from the equation anyway.Report

        • Avatar Fnord says:

          Eventually, sure. But physical disks still make up a majority of the gaming market.

          In 2012, digital sales came to ~$6 billion, physical sales of new games ~$7 billion (also ~$2 billion of used sales, rentals, etc, on the physical side). And that digital figure includes a lot of stuff beyond digital distribution as a replacement for physical disks for conventional games; it includes mobile games, DLC, subscription payments, and in-game purchases. As a share of initial purchases of PC and console games, physical disks would have an even greater lead.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I think it’ll be a relatively rapid change, when it comes. I’m not sure that it’s all that far off into the distance. Especially if Microsoft doesn’t pay a price for what it’s doing.Report

            • Avatar Fnord says:

              I think you’re wrong about that, not only as a prediction but as a read on current events. The change is ALREADY happening. It’s just happening gradually.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                You may be right, Fnord. I just think we’re in the calm before the storm. The point at which ebooks are available, but before they become so ubiquitous.

                My knowledge of the game industry is somewhat limited, though, and so if enough folks tell me I’m off-base here, I’ll defer to their expertise.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          Thanks, Will, this was my question.

          Sale of used games, like used records, CDs, books, etc. would be covered by the first sale doctrine,:

          The first-sale doctrine creates a basic exception to the copyright holder’s distribution right. Once the work is lawfully sold or even transferred gratuitously, the copyright owner’s interest in the material object in which the copyrighted work is embodied is exhausted. The owner of the material object can then dispose of it as he sees fit. Thus, one who buys a copy of a book is entitled to resell it, rent it, give it away, or destroy it. However, the owner of the copy of the book will not be able to make new copies of the book because the first-sale doctrine does not limit copyright owner’s reproduction right. The rationale of the doctrine is to prevent the copyright owner from restraining the free alienability of goods. Without the doctrine, a possessor of a copy of a copyrighted work would have to negotiate with the copyright owner every time he wished to dispose of his copy. After the initial transfer of ownership of a legal copy of a copyrighted work, the first-sale doctrine exhausts copyright holder’s right to control how ownership of that copy can be disposed of. For this reason, this doctrine is also referred to as “exhaustion rule.”

          There is long history of of publishing industries trying to go after second sales. Without avail. One of the interesting things about digital download delivery is how that applies to first sale; because it applies to the physical object, and with download, there is no physical object, and no way to assure the object has been transferred, with no copy left on the devices originally receiving the download.

          But a box is expensive; a download is cheap. Moving music to download was embraced by the recording industry not just because of market access, but because there was nothing to resell. I suspect the box will vanish.

          But another reason that games are expensive is the cost of producing games, and this has more to do with the tools then anything else. When the programming tools advance enough that a couple of people can produce a game, that, too, will change; we’ll see a garage industry develop. (And I suspect that those tools will develop at the hands of open-source programmers, and be free for those game developers.)Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            garage industry already here. look at casual games.

            Problem is: english speakers cost too much.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            First sale is not, alas, what it used to be. And what it should be. It’s hard to know exactly how it should apply to software, though. I think if I buy a disc or cartridge, it ought to apply. But if the game makers respond by denying me the physical product, their claim that they are selling a license rather than a product becomes more substantive, and first sale doesn’t really apply. Greater disclosure on what is being sold, however, would definitely be appropriate.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Tell me about it. I sell PDF files. My husband gives away MP3 files and both sells and gives away apps. From a right-to-distribute, there’s no difference. And first sale doctrine is a big question.

              Selling digital products brings up a lot of copyright issues. Amazon wants the right to let people re-sell digital downloads; presumably with some method of assuring they no longer have access to it after the resale. Ravelry, one of the social media websites where I sell my designs, bans resale as part of their user agreement.Report

          • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

            First sale hangs on two thin threads: One, the fact that it was established in a time when there was no such thing as digital media. First Sale explicitly did *not* allow taping off the radio and redistributing the cassettes, or making your own mixtapes and giving those away. You had to transfer the physical token representing the reproduction rights (that is, the record or book).

            Second, the fact that it would have been impossible to enforce. First Sale is not the result of a specific decision to allow the activity; it’s the result of someone saying “you want me to send the cops to every flea market in America to look for people selling their old Beatles albums? And who’s gonna pay for *that*?”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I only know about used books but they worked like this:

        Books were sold for 50% of cover price.
        You bring in books to sell and you can get 10% cover price in cash or 20% cover price in trade (assuming the book is wanted).

        It’s a pretty decent model, so long as you can stay ahead of the various bubbles that pop up and you need to ask yourself if you’d be better off with a Politics section with one copy of Tip O’Neill’s memoirs or no copies of them.

        Where this breaks down is the fact that games degrade much faster than books do. Madden ’12 is a pretty hot property… until the day that Madden ’13 is announced. (You can probably pick up Madden ’11 for less than 10 bucks.) And that’s without getting into Military-Themed First Person Shooters and not talking about the RPG (action or otherwise) ghetto and we haven’t even touched upon what happens when we move from GameStation to Gamestation II.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Oh, one thing that I bet you that they have 100% in common is HOLY COW STRICT accounting laws. There is some pretty sweet money laundering potential there.

          Buy a book for 2 bucks. Sell it for 10. Iterate 100 times. Congrats, you’ve got 800 dollars. Legal and above board. Do it again tomorrow.

          Crap, you don’t even need a storefront.

          Anyway, when the gummint realized the laundering potential of used books, Legislation Was Enacted that required a lot more documentation (“PROVE that you bought a copy of Stephen King’s IT and then sold it!”) and that created a lot more overhead on the part of the actually honest booksellers.

          And, I presume, used video game dudes.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          See, if I bought a game, I’d be more likely to buy Madden ’11 for $8 than Madden ’13 for $60. I’ll just redraft the teams so they’re at least mixed up in a way I could control.

          Does anyone use SwapTree.com? The website allows you to post media (books, DVDs, CDs, video games) you have and are willing to trade. Other people do the same. When a match is found, you have the opportunity to trade with the other person, for nothing more than the cost of postage. I found it to be a pretty genius idea, though I had some issues with other traders (they do do ratings) and the management of the site overall. But the idea is a good one. They do require that all items be original; no burned CDs and the like.

          Would the game companies seek to make it illegal to trade? Yikes.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Apparently, much of the draw of Madden is online play. If you’re just playing at home, heck yeah! Pick it up and enjoy the awesomeness of a game that cost $60 on day one that you’re now getting for a song.

            If you want to play against others? (Online?)

            You’ve gotta shell out. If not for this year’s game, last year’s. And September is coming.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Oh, yea, I never play online. Most of those guys are 10000x more serious than I would ever be (Hell, the GAME is about 100x more serious than I prefer). Also, I hear 94% of online play is 14-year-old white kids yelling the N-word.Report

    • Avatar Fnord says:

      I was going to make a comment to explain that it’s the game industry’s business model that’s broken, and they’d just rather blame customers than admit that THEY might be the ones with the problem. But I see that the linked article already did that; it mentioned the quote in order to refute it.Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Another acclaimed video game designer says used games need to die before they kill the medium.

    With digital distribution lowering the marginal unit cost to roughly zero, I’m not convinced that secondhand sales do any real good. There are no efficiency gains to be had from reusing the physical media and packaging, since they don’t exist. And game publishers already practice price discrimination by dropping the price over time, so there’s nothing to be gained there, either.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that they cannibalize sales nearly as much as a naive analysis would suggest. I think a lot of people are willing and able to buy more games than they otherwise would knowing that they can resell the games later and recover part of the cost.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Pacific Rim *SOUNDS* like the dumbest movie since… oh… “Battleship” but, lemme tell ya, del Toro is one heck of a visionary. I’ve seen him stumble approximately once (the Hellboy Sequel) but the rest of his stuff was downright awesome.

    If anybody can make Giant Mechs fighting Cthulhu in the middle of a city into something as awesome as it sounds like it’d have to be, it’s him.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      See, I too thought Pacific Rim looks like giant mecha fighting Cthulhu in urban Los Angeles, but I thought “Wow! This looks entirely derivative!” and figured it would just plain suck. I’m amazed at all the good buzz it’s getting.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Who’s Cthulhu?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The first time I saw the trailer, I thought it was Voltron, and got really excited.Report

        • Avatar trumwill says:

          Do yourself a favor and never go back and watch old episodes of Voltron.

          A little piece of your childhood will die, if you do.Report

          • Avatar Patrick says:

            You mean, the show where they brilliantly dick around for 15 minutes before it occurs to them to form Voltron, and then another random 2-6 minutes to actually bust out the blazing sword, which always works, and cut the bad guy in half?

            That show?

            Robotech was a hundred gazillion times better. Starblazers was better.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              I once wrote a story sketch for an alternative for Power Rangers, which tracks with Voltron pretty well in the story’s sequentialism. Good guys fight bad guy individually. Bad guy becomes huge. Good guys band together and defeat bad guy in a way that they would have squashed him early on.

              In my timeline, a former Go Go Ninja Force member from sometime previous in the show has switched over to the dark side. With a little time and distance, he figures out how stupid the whole sequence was and how easily it could be short-circuited. And so in the first issue, he brings out his big guns right away and squashes the Go Go Ninjas out-of-sequence.

              The story of the series being the reign of the former Go Go Ninja and the few GGN’s who struggle to reach outside the boilerplate storyline and figure out a way to defeat the guy who doesn’t play by the rules. They don’t know how to expend any strategic effort, because they never have.

              I eventually abandoned the idea because there’s really only so much you can do with the concept. And the only character I liked was the villain.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Could you send me that story as a movie script?

                I would like to turn it into an artsy French New Wave film.

                There will be only two lines of on-screen dialogue, no music, and absolutely no on-screen action. We will only see the characters looks of anguish and dismay after the fights take place as they survey the destruction wrought by the monsters on the city and themselves (dead children, and what not).

                When the Power Rangers fail after their tried and true tactic fails, the lead Power Ranger will say, in French, “We are adrift and alone in this cold universe now that our strategy has failed.” And when the Power Rangers finally win at the end of the movie, the monster will say, “But now you have lost, because you will be forever, endlessly repeating this new way of being.” And then we will see the Power Ranger’s faces in existential torment, and the credits will roll.

                The movie will be four hours and twenty minutes long and will be rated NC-17, but the cinematography will be gorgeous.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I suspect that Voltron was an attempt to process WWII.

              No politics.Report

          • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            Too true…Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Look. He has GLAADOS’s voice as the operating system on those giant mechs. What could possibly go wrong?
      Also *breaks bottle on the barcounter* What did you say about Hellboy II?!?!?!?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Hellboy II was dull. I could probably recap the Hellboy story for you right now. Hellboy II? Um, there were some robots… and the twins both experienced what the other did (and that’s how the storyline resolved)… and the question asked by Young Hellboy in the first five minutes was answered by Hellboy in the last ten.

        And I remember nothing about the middle. Nothing at all.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Did you see the trailer where the Mech uses an ocean freighter like a Louisville Slugger against the monster?

      My 12 year old self nearly passed out at that level of awesomenessReport

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I worry that it might suffer from Bubba Ho-Tepitis.

        When you hear that the basic gist of the movie is “Bruce Campbell plays Elvis Presley, Ossie Davis plays JFK, and they’re both stuck in an old age home fighting an ancient Egyptian Mummy”, what is your response?

        I dunno about you, but mine was “GET OUT OF MY FREAKIN’ WAY! I AM GOING TO BUY THIS FREAKIN’ MOVIE!!!”

        And then you see it.

        Yeah, the scene you talk about makes me squeeeeeeeee inside.

        But I’ve been hurt before…Report

  6. Avatar Fnord says:

    “A beautiful post on the Brazilian favelas that I can’t read because it’s in French (but there are pictures).”
    It’s discussing a new infrastructure project for the favelas, tied into the cable car mass transit system. It looks like it does more than that, and sort of implies that it does, but it doesn’t really describe what those big buildings do other than act as transit hubs.Report