Why Must They Keep Making New Video Games?

I swear I must have OCD. I’ve never actually been diagnosed with it, but I’d be very surprised if I didn’t have it. For example, I have a burning and illogical desire to own every moderately good video game ever made. Yet, at the same time, I also have a burning desire to sell off all but like 10 of my most favorite games, and just play those games for the rest of my life. So maybe I’m bipolar. Whatever. I’m not trying to diagnose my psychological disorders here. I’m just trying to obliquely point out a very serious problem.

The problem is that there are too damn many video games. I’m serious here. I currently own 127 video games, and that’s after recently selling off more than 30 games. (Yes I know exactly how many games I own. I have an Excel spreadsheet where I keep track of what games I have, what system they’re for, when they came out, whether they’re in physical or digital form, and whether I’ve beaten them or not. OCD. I has it.) Even so, I have yet to finish at least half of the games I own. I don’t know if I will ever have time to finish all the games I own, and yet new games just keep coming out! It’s madness, I tell you! How is a father of two small children supposed to cope?

The real problem is I don’t know where the happy medium is between buying really good games and having time to actually play really good games. I want to own every good game ever made, so I go on buying sprees and load up on good games, and then I get overwhelmed by all of the games I own that I will probably never have time to pay, and so I end up getting rid of a bunch of games so that I can keep myself sane. It’s a vicious spiral, it is.

One thing that is contributing to this problem is the rise of cheap downloadable games. It used to be that if you wanted a video game, you’d have to go down to Toys R Us or Electronics Boutique or Wal-Mart or whatever, and actually buy a slab of plastic that cost 40 to 60 bucks. Of course, you can still do that (except now you have to go to Gamestop instead of Electronics Boutique. R.I.P. Electronics Boutique), but you no longer HAVE to. It’s now possible to get great quality games directly over the internet for 15 dollars or less.

Of course, the availability of cheap games that I can obtain without leaving the house or even putting on pants means I buy way too many of these things. Of the 100+ games I own, only about a third of them are on a physical medium of some kind. Plus, downloadable games can’t be resold. Which means that if I buy some game on a whim, and then later decide I don’t want it, there’s no way for me to recoup any of my investment. At least with a physical game, I can get some of that money back if I decide I have too many games and need to get rid of a bunch.

On the other hand, downloadable games don’t sit on my shelf and glare at me accusingly because I haven’t played them in months/years. They just sit silently on various hard drives and I don’t have to worry about them until I actually go to play them. OCD FTW.

So the real question here is, what do I do about this problem? I clearly can’t just not buy any more video games. Trust me, I’ve thought about this and it’s really not possible. So I have two viable options. I could change my attitude. Or, I could change my behavior.

What do I mean by this? Well, when I say I could change my attitude, I mean I could just get over the fact that I have more games than I can possibly play. After all, if I die with unfinished games sitting on my shelf, that’s really not that big of a deal. I could just keep going on the way I’ve been going on and realize that it doesn’t matter if I beat every game I own or not.

Or I could change my behavior. Up until recently, I just bought games whenever I could afford them. I’m not a wealthy man by any means, but I certainly can afford more video games than I can possibly play. So I could just buy fewer video games. For the most part, this is what I have been doing recently. My goal is to basically not buy any more games until I’ve finished all of the games I currently own, except for a few downloadable games that I have no interest in ever finishing. This basically means I won’t be getting any new games this year, although I do intend to make exceptions for my birthday and Christmas.

Once I have finished all of the games that I want to finish, then I will start buying games again. My rule will be that once I buy a game, I have to finish it before I can buy another game. That way I will be less likely to get overwhelmed by too many games. It will also mean that I’ll be less likely to get a game that I don’t really want, because I’ll have to be much more picky about what games I get. It generally takes me several weeks to get through a game, so I’ll really only be able to get a handful of games every year.

Maybe someday, when the kids are all grown up or whatever, I’ll have tons of time to play video games again. But by then I’ll have bad eyesight and terrible reflexes, so I won’t be able to play video games anymore anyway. Ain’t life grand?

Smartphones Are Dumb

I don’t want a smartphone anymore. I used to want one. I used to want one really, really badly. But now I don’t. In fact, I’m not even sure why I ever wanted one. I guess I just jumped on the bandwagon because smartphones are the cool thing that everybody talks about these days. And I’m sure they’re perfectly useful for a great number of people. But I have come to the conclusion that I, personally, have no use for a smartphone.

First of all, and probably most importantly, they’re way too freaking expensive. I’ll use a specific example here. Let’s say I decide to load up the AT&T website to pick up a Motorola Atrix 4G. I chose this one because it is arguably one of the best smartphones available right now, although that seems to change on a weekly basis. First of all, the phone itself costs $200. Now, this isn’t a small amount of money, by any means, but it’s not unreasonable either, considering that the Atrix is essentially a rather powerful handheld computer. Unfortunately, this is hardly the only cost involved here.

After deciding on the Atrix and going to check out, I have two choices. If I take the reasonable $200 option, I also have to sign up for a 2-year contract, where I pledge to give AT&T a MINIMUM of $55 a month, every month, for the next 2 years. Just for the privilege of using this phone and getting it for the reasonable rate of $200. What if I decide, after a year, that the Atrix really isn’t for me after all, and I don’t want to use it anymore? Well, I could spend another year paying $55 a month for a device I’m not using. Or I could pay an early termination fee and get out of my contract. Of course, that early termination fee is quite hefty – $325 minus $10 for every month of the contract that is completed. So in this particular scenario, the early termination fee would be a mere $205. Which I suppose is less than continuing to pay for the service for the next 12 months.

But let’s say you don’t want the AT&T service, you just want an Atrix. (More about why you would do this later.) Well, then you don’t get to buy it for a mere $200 anymore. Oh no. Now you have to pay a whopping $550. Now, we’re getting into full PC territory. (As a frame of reference, I paid $600 for the laptop I just bought.) Oh, and by the way, you can’t pay full price for a phone online. Nope, you’ve got to go into a physical store for that. Nothing like making it harder for your customers to spend money.

But even if I was a wealthier person and could actually afford a smartphone, I still wouldn’t want one. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, I live in a poor rural area that barely gets cell coverage. There isn’t much of a reason to spend $55 or more a month when I would barely be able to take advantage of the service I was paying for. Of course, I’m definitely in the minority, at least in this country. The vast majority of people in the U.S. live in a place where they can get decent service from at least one of the major carriers.

That said, even if I lived in place like that, it still wouldn’t be worth it for me to pay such an exorbitant price for smartphone service, because I almost never leave my house. This is the main reason why I will likely never get a smartphone. Smartphones are designed for staying connected while on the go, and if I’m never on the go, then what use do I have for a smartphone? I’m almost always in the range of a Wi-Fi network, and on the rare occasions when I’m not (like when I’m at church, or when I’m grocery shopping, for example) I’m not really in a position where I can or should be checking things on the internet anyway.

So why did I ever want one in the first place? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One is that smartphones are the cool, neat thing in the world of technology, and have been for some time. There is definitely part of me that wants to be involved with whatever is cool and popular. I suspect this is the case for most people. But of course, that’s a dumb reason to spend $200 up front plus $55 or more a month.

On a less superficial but related level, I’ve always been fascinated with technology, and I like to be able to try out new technology and keep up with the latest trends in technology. Since smartphones are one of the most interesting and exciting areas in technology these days, it makes sense that I would want to have a smartphone so I could have more insight into this field. But, this still doesn’t seem to justify the high cost of entry.

Ultimately, the main reason I wanted a smartphone is that I thought I could figure out how to pay less for a smartphone than I would have to for a laptop. What I really wanted was something portable that had Wi-Fi so I could sit on the couch and do stuff online. Since smartphones are smaller and less capable than laptops, it makes sense (at least in my mind) that smartphones would be cheaper than laptops. This is why I once considered getting a smartphone without a contract. But it really isn’t much more expensive to get a laptop, and laptops are much more versatile anyway.

In the end, I compromised and got an iPod Touch. It’s basically an iPhone without the phone parts and, most importantly, without the hefty monthly fee. And by doing this, I discovered something important. A handheld device, no matter how beautiful or powerful it is, is no replacement for a real computer.

Now I need to figure out how to convince myself that tablets are dumb, too.

The Linux Dilemma

So, I discovered Linux this week. Well, maybe “discovered” is too strong a word. Obviously, I’d heard of Linux before this week. Anybody who knows anything about computers has at least heard of Linux. If you don’t know, Linux is an open-source operating system that is found everywhere from cell phones to supercomputers. It’s a very well-known name in the computer world, but I really didn’t know much about it until recently.

I have a fascination with operating systems in general, and so I wanted to see if it was at all feasible to try out a version of Linux on my laptop. One of the most popular versions is called Ubuntu, so that was the version I decided to investigate. Much to my delight/trepidation, I quickly discovered that Ubuntu can be installed using something called Wubi, which installs Ubuntu as a program within Windows. The advantage of this is that it’s much less likely to cause problems, since you’re not messing with the underlying architecture of your system. You’re just installing a new program, which is a pretty common thing to do.

I was still nervous, because I felt like installing a second operating system on my computer was a pretty major thing to do, regardless of how it was done, and I worried about something going wrong. I don’t have an “official” backup for this laptop, although that’s not really a big deal because all of the stuff on my laptop is also on my desktop or in the cloud somewhere. My biggest worry was that something would go horribly wrong and my laptop would be toasted beyond repair. That would be 600 dollars down the drain, and I really didn’t want that to happen.

But I did some more research, and I gradually became persuaded that using Wubi to install Ubuntu was, in fact, perfectly safe. So I went ahead and did it. The install process was quick and thoroughly painless, which was nice. It worked exactly as promised, that is, it was just like installing a new program.

When I boot up my laptop now, a screen pops up that asks me if I want to use Windows 7 or Ubuntu. If I don’t do anything, after a few seconds it will automatically boot into Windows. One problem with this set-up is that in order to switch between the two, I have to restart my laptop. This pretty much means that if I’m in the middle of something on one OS, I can’t quickly switch to the other one just to check something. I wouldn’t be surprised if there actually is a way to run Ubuntu within Windows or vice versa. But if there is, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

After playing with Ubuntu for a few days, I’ve decided that I definitely like it. That said, there’s virtually no possibility that I will switch to using it full time. For one, I’m not convinced that I can do everything I need to do with Ubuntu. Even if I could, I’m not sure there would be enough of a benefit to justify putting in the work necessary to make that transition happen. But more importantly, I love Windows 7. I think it’s a wonderful operating system that is a joy to use. (No, I am not being paid by Microsoft.) I haven’t used Ubuntu very much yet, but I’ve seen nothing so far that would justify making a permanent switch.

Still, when I consider the fact that it’s free, I have to say that it is really, really good. Good enough that I’m surprised that more people don’t use it. I suppose that computers already come with an OS pre-installed, so there’s not much reason to use a different OS. I do wonder why more PC manufacturers don’t use Ubuntu instead of Windows, considering that Ubuntu is free and Windows is fairly expensive. I suppose they figure that the name recognition of Windows is worth the extra expense.

Even so, it would be interesting to see what happened if more PC makers did offer lower cost options running Ubuntu or a different version of Linux. After all, most people who buy PCs just want to use the internet, check email, and maybe watch some videos. I would think you could sell a pretty cheap Linux-based PC that would be perfect for people like that. I know they tried this a few years ago with netbooks and they all ended up running Windows XP. But I imagine that there would be a market for something like this if it was handled properly.

After all, does the average user really care about Windows? Does the average user even LIKE Windows? Most people probably don’t have any opinion about what OS their computer is running. They just want it to work. Of course, Windows is by far the most dominant OS when it comes to PCs, so there’s likely a great many applications that don’t work with Ubuntu or other forms of Linux. So that would be a problem. But for basic use, I think that Linux would be perfect for most people.

Interestingly, it certainly seems as if Google has a plan like this in the works. Their Chrome OS is set to be officially released sometime this year, and the goal/purpose of Chrome OS is similar if not identical to what I just described. Chrome OS is supposed to provide a lightweight and free operating system that will allow the creation and sale of really cheap laptops that provide basic functionality. There’s a lot of questions among technology enthusiasts about how successful Chrome OS will be once it finally launches. Understandably so, as Chrome OS is basically just Google’s Chrome web browser. I doubt anybody would pay more than $200 or so for a laptop that’s just running a web browser.

Still, the fact that Google is attempting this at all is fascinating to me. It will be very interesting to see what Chrome OS laptops are like, how much they cost, and how they do in the market. Perhaps we will find that there is a place for low-cost laptops running an open-source OS after all. Or perhaps not.

To the Cloud!

Last week, Amazon launched two rather remarkable new products. The first of these is the Amazon Appstore for Android. The second is two separate but related products: Amazon Cloud Drive and Amazon Cloud Player. I want to talk about both of these products this week, partially because they’re interesting products in and of themselves, but also because I find the implications of these products utterly fascinating.

Let’s start with the Appstore. I will keep this fairly short, since it’s not something I’ve actually used. I do not have an Android device of any sort, so there’s not much point in me buying or downloading Android apps. But I still find this to be an interesting product. First of all, it says a lot about the differences between Android and iOS. With iOS, you can only purchase apps from the iTunes App Store, which is owned and controlled by Apple. There is no way to install apps that are not available in the App Store on an iOS device unless you jailbreak it, which can wreck it if you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus, it voids your warranty.

By contrast, Android lets you get apps from anywhere. There is an official Android Market that is run by Google, but it’s not curated the way the iOS App Store is. Anybody can put an app in the Android Market. And an app doesn’t have to be in the Android Market for you to put it on your Android device. The advantage of this approach is that you don’t have to worry about Google blocking an app because it competes with one of their offerings or something like that. The disadvantage is that Android apps are much more likely to be malware than iOS apps are (although iOS is not 100% immune to malware).

The great thing about the Amazon Appstore is that it kind of bridges the gap between the Apple approach and the Google approach. Unlike the Android Market, the Amazon Appstore IS curated, which means that Amazon approves everything that goes in there. This means you’re much less likely to download an app that’s going to steal all your personal information or something. But, since Amazon doesn’t have any control over Android itself, you can still freely download apps from other places if you want. So if Amazon rejects a certain app, you can still get it if you REALLY want. Best of both worlds.

Now, the real question is, what is Amazon’s ultimate goal with this app store? It could just be that Amazon wants to sell apps the same way that they sell just about everything else. Or maybe this is the start of something bigger. Amazon doesn’t currently make any sort of hardware that runs Android, but they do make an e-book reader called the Kindle that is, by all accounts, very nice. Is it possible that Amazon might start selling a new version of the Kindle that runs Android and is more than just an e-book reader? It’s something to think about, anyway.

Well, I spent more time on that than I intended to.

Anyway, the other two things I wanted to talk about are Amazon Cloud Drive and Amazon Cloud Player. The Cloud Drive lets you upload files to Amazon’s servers and store them in the cloud, and the Cloud Player lets you stream music that you’ve uploaded to the Cloud Drive.

You can upload any kind of file to the Cloud Drive, but the emphasis is definitely on music. This music can then be played on any PC or Mac that’s connected to the internet, and it can also be played on Android devices. Currently, there’s no way to stream this music to an iOS device, but there are rumors that an iOS app is coming.

There have been services like this before, but they’ve always been done by small companies that have either been sued into oblivion by the record industry or acquired by larger companies, who then killed the service. This is the first time that a service like this has been offered by a company with the size and resources of Amazon.

This is significant because the record industry does not like or want services like this. Google and Apple have each been rumored to be working on their own cloud storage/streaming services for a couple of years now, but they’ve been held up by negotiations with the record industry for streaming rights. The record industry claims that the licenses that they’ve granted to music retailers like Apple and Amazon do not cover storing music in the cloud or giving customers the ability to download it more than once.

What Amazon did is significant because they launched this service without negotiating streaming rights from the record industry. They claim that the licenses they have cover this sort of activity. The record industry vehemently disagrees. My take on this is that the record industry needs Amazon more than Amazon needs the record industry. What’s the worst case scenario here for Amazon? Probably that they pay a big fine and lose the right to sell MP3s. That obviously would not be good for Amazon, but they’ve got plenty of money, and they’re going to continue to make plenty of money by selling physical objects, regardless of whether they can sell MP3s or not.

If the record industry revokes Amazon’s licenses to sell music, then they would be cutting off the only real competitor that iTunes has. iTunes is the largest music retailer in the world, and the record industry hates the fact that iTunes has such a stranglehold over the selling of their wares, because Apple’s near-monopoly means that they make more money off of music sales than the record labels do. If Amazon MP3 bites the dust because the record labels are so pissed about Cloud Drive, then they’ll just be killing the only viable competition that iTunes has, and that would be bad for them.

Ultimately, I think Amazon is taking a very calculated risk here. I think the record labels will take Amazon to court, and they’ll probably even win (because frankly, Amazon probably doesn’t have the legal right to do what they’re doing), but I think that Amazon will just pay the labels a big fee and then Cloud Drive will continue on. But we will see.