Money & Games blog note, #moneygames

A quick note about the Money & Games seminar, based on the first day: I was expecting the relationships between money and games to be diverse and rather complex field, and I was not disappointed by the seminar. The idea that game could be seen as a straightforward product that someone just builds, and then sells to someone else for a fixed sum of money is not how things play out – and, as the historical reviews of the seminar pointed out, is not that typical about how things have been in the past, either. For example, the entire era of game arcades was based on coin-operated games, where the economic incentive was to design for short, micropayment style transactions: every time the player failed, the was room for another coin to be spend (something that Sebastian Deterding’s ambitious “Toward Economic Platform Studies” paper and presentation was particularly emphasising). Value of games and monetary and time-based investments are intricately intertwined, and it is clear that e.g. putting a higher price tag on something can mean that pleyers are more likely to expect it to be of higher quality, or value, than a cheap game. Thus, setting the right price involves theorycrafting practice of game business economics of its own – or “valuecrafting”, like the paper presented by Mia Consalvo suggested about indie developers. Free-to-play business model and the associated monetization strategies were particularly discussed in the seminar, with several interesting case studies focusing on that, plus the more philosophically oriented paper by Olli Heimo et al. used it, plus industry advertising practices as a target of (Aristotelian) virtue ethics based criticism. There were comments expressed in the seminar that the political economy angle of the entire free-to-play sector would be something that would be valuable at this point. On the other hand, while Janne Paavilainen presented the first results from a detailed micro-ethnography in Armoured Warfare game, pointing out the multiple “dark design patterns” or manipulative tricks that tempt the free-riding player to become a paying player, Markus Montola was quick to point out that many of the analysed design choices actually sounded just like good, regular game design that is balanced and appropriately both challenges and rewards the player – and Janne agreed that Armoured Warfare is an example of good game design; free-to-play payments are just used to make an already good game to play even better. Great papers, presentations, and discussions, thanks everyone! Also, our invited commentators, Pauliina Raento and Juho Hamari, did excellent job in providing commentary and guidance, Pauliina also giving a keynote talk of her own about doing gambling studies, about the lessons she personally has learned from her history in this field, and that made the valuable point about importance of bridge building between isolated academic communities. – Link to the seminar program page: https://gamemoneyseminar.wordpress.com/program/

Luggage update

A travel gear note. As airlines and airports regularly lose or even destroy cargo luggage, I try to travel light, and having only hand luggage means also going faster. My old Samsonite must be now over 10 years of age, and even while it is still ok (it has a durable build), I wanted to check what kind of bags are these days.

There are interesting Bluetooth enabled, smart bags developed these days, but I decided to go for something cheaper and light, and then combine the bag with a Tile, a smart tracker that I can locate with my smartphone apps.

My choice was a new generation Samsonite bag, called Short-Lite Upright 55 cm model (quite a calling name). In the below pics you can see the changes that have happened in the manufacture and design, as well as in weight of these things. As there is often 8 kg (sometimes even 7, or 6 kg) limit to the weight of cabin baggage, every gram or pound matters. The size of this model is 40 x 20 x 55 cm, which falls within the regulated limits. It can hold 41.5 liter, and comes with 5 year warranty. Samsonite had a campaign with 30 % discount in price (€125, down from €179 – there are cheaper alternatives, of course).

Compared to my old bag, the weight difference is pretty amazing. Old bag is much smaller, yet it has weight of 3.2 kg, which is twice the 1.6 kg of the new, larger cabin bag. The structure is not build to withstand cargo treatment, but feels solid enough and this is after all a soft bag, that you take to the cabin with you. “Edistys edistyy”, as they say in Finnish: Progress Progresses.
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New Touran: The Era of AI-Human Hybrids Is Here?

2016-04-01 14.58.26Due to some practical reasons, we had to update our personal car this spring. Our previous car was a VW Touran that we got in 2011 (when it was necessary for us to fit three kids or baby seats into the back row – Touran is among those very few cars that are sold in Finland that can handle this). Volkswagen’s reputation got really badly tarnished in the pollution cheating scandal in 2015, and it took us some time to consider our options. Finally we nevertheless ended up with a Touran again – there are just too few car models that get right most of the essential specs that our family needs, in the price range we still can afford. There has been some interesting changes in how cars – or at least this particular, German car model – have evolved during the five years that have passed between spring 2011 and 2016, so here are some quick notes.

Firstly: it is a bit disappointing to notice that the fuel economy, climate control or energy consumption elements of Touran have not apparently been at the top priority of VW’s R&D efforts. The excellent TSI motor of VW group has been around for a long time already (I think 1.4 liter TSI was introduced in 2005), and it was ahead of its curve at the time; the emissions were clearly lower than comparable other petrol motors, the power efficiency was so good that VW could make family cars / MPVs (multipurpose vehicles/minivans) that could be moved with 1.4 or 1.2 liter petrol motor. Coupled with the DSG automatic, VW cars have been easy to drive and provide balanced behaviour with well designed interiors that fit need of families with flexible, separate seat arrangements that can fold completely flat when moving cargo of various kinds – all this kind of details help to explain their success. The 2016 Touran model differs from our previous 1.4 TSI model by delivering a bit more power with same cylinders (150 vs. 140 horse powers) and it also has the start/stop system that automatically switches off the motor when the car is stopped in traffic lights, for example.

The key differences that the Touran driver notices are in the assistive, “smart systems” that have taken considerable leaps and entered regular, mainstream cars during the last five years. I am interested enough in futuristic technologies to order this Touran with most (but not all) available “smart” options; these included adaptive cruise control (ACC, utilizing a radar sensor), Front Assist, Park Assist 3.0, Side Assist Plus, Lane Assist, Emergency Assist, and the Traffic Jam Assist. There is also a Traffic Sign Regocnition system that uses camera to keep track of speed limit signs. The Discover Media infotainment system is also from a completely new era, as compared to the basic car radio we had in our 2011 Touran. This one has large capacitive touch screen, Europe-wide navigation system, support for Apple Carplay, Android Auto and MirrorLink standards for getting smartphones with their apps and services linked with the car (though I think Android Auto is not yet working here in Finland?) We also got some extra fuel economy, comfort and security services installed (DEFA WarmUp Link system, with its apps). On the other hand, the “Volkswagen Car-Net” service with its smartphone apps appears to be a work-in-progress; we have not been able to get either iOS or Android versions working at all.

After a couple of test drives, the new car does indeed seem to combine the traditional German stable driving and quality feel with a more informative and “alive” layer of new technologies. (In the mechanical parts side, though, we had a bit too stiff gas spring holding up the hood of our new Touran, so we could not get the hood closed without some expert assistance – there seems to be some holes in VW quality control.) The “operating system” of the new Touran takes considerably more effort than before to really learn and understand. There are both the mechanical controls and switches, the physical buttons in the dashboard that relate to certain key functionalities, and then the touchscreen controls that go deeper into setup of all those multiple smart assisting functions, as well as into controlling the infotainment system. (There is also Voice Control, but that is not supported in Finland/Finnish.) This car also has a multifunction steering wheel, which our old car did not have, and there are loads of more buttons now to learn in there, too. While driving, one can of course ignore most of all this new tech, and just concentrate on the essentials of traffic, but one will notice that the “Assistants” will every now and then engage with the steering, breaks or launch a warning or notice signal of some kind. If one wants to understand and make best use of all assistants, it is necessary to spend some time reading and testing to learn their abilities and also limitations. Driving in the regular country road, one could in principle use now the combination of Lane Assist to steer the car and keep it on the road, and rely on the ACC with its radars to maintain regular speed and safe distance to other road users. However, the systems will flash warning signs if you try to take your hands off the steering wheel for too long, or if you show other signs of losing control – or even consciousness: the Emergency Assist system can show the car and stop it at the side of the road warning lights flashing, if it fails to get proper response from the driver.

I think we are currently at the early stages of hybrid and symbiotic systems in everyday use, and car technology is at the forefront of this evolution. As the learning algorithms, data analytics and artificial intelligence gets better, it is clear that some things really suit better for humans to understand and decide upon, whereas the speed, sensing range and problem-solving capabilities of artificial intelligence systems suit better other kinds of challenges. Learning how to do this basic task division is the key element that a smart car (or smart house, smart environment etc.) user needs to handle first. The new Touran apparently tries to learn the driving habits of its human partner, and adapt to them – but currently I think the human is the one who needs to do more of the adapting. Smart systems are not yet that smart.

(More info, see e.g. VW pages about ACC at: http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/technology/adaptive-cruise-control-acc )

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