Saturday, 15 June 2013

On user choice...

While considering how to format my log lines (mainly, whether to use JSON for the entire log line or only for the context), and how to implement a request/context ID (main problem: How to propagate the ID through the call stack while keeping interface pollution to a minimum for classes/functions that don't need to know what is a request/context ID; so far, I've got no solution), I noticed Boost 1.54 beta is out, and one of its new libraries is a logging library. I'm currently taking a look at it, to check how wrapper-friendly it is and whether using a wrapper will negate any of its advantages. E.g., if it uses any sort of lazy-evaluation on the logged expressions, wrapping it may not be such a good idea. I'm still looking at it.

In the meantime...

As I've said before, I believe in user choice, i.e., that software should be customizable. Most software is, these days; Games? Not so much. And when I read stuff like this, I fear it may not get any better, anytime soon.

Maybe I'm suffering from a huge amount of bias, but the main point I got out of this was: The game designer knows best. The [gamer/player/user/(dare I say it?) paying customer]'s view on the subject is actually quite irrelevant, and apparently the less he can tinker with the final product, the better, lest he disturbs the delicate and near-perfect balance that was created for him; for all of us, actually; for all the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands... well, you get the picture.

I'm at a loss on how to describe this belief that any one team (or person, for that matter) can routinely design an experience that is going to be completely satisfactory for this sizable a universe. Arrogant comes to mind, but it seems weak; I find it beyond arrogance to believe that what I have produced is so close to perfection that I should then attempt to intentionally limit the user's ability to rebalance it to its taste.

There's a difference between games and other forms of entertainment: Interaction. The player is not a passive receptor, as in literature, music, or cinema, which are one-way activities.

No so, with a game. While I'm experiencing whatever the game designer created, my input is part of what drives the experience forward. In Witcher 2, I can spend all my time in the forest around Flotsam killing monsters, and not advance the main quest. Which means I'll remain there indefinitely. That's not what the game designer envisioned, but it's what I'm considering fun at the moment. The game exists to satisfy me, the player. That's why I buy it.

It's a matter of control. I accept I can't control a song, a book, or a movie; but, with a game, I want to have as much control in tailoring my game experience as possible. Because I'm supposed to have an active role in that experience (i.e., playing the game), and the more I can customize it, the better I can match it to my idea of fun (which may be vastly different from the game designer's).

But there's another factor in this equation; let me illustrate with an example - I'm replaying the Witcher 2 on Hard. I expect there will be parts of the game where I can't progress on Hard, and I'll just change the difficulty to Normal (or even Easy) when I reach the limit of time I'm willing to spend on that part of the game. Note what I wrote in bold. I'm spending my time to play the game you created. Time is a finite resource, and if I don't consider my time as well spent, I'll stop playing. And I'll probably think twice before buying anything from you again.

Because Witcher 2 gives me a level of control I'm comfortable with, when Witcher 3 comes out, I'll buy it at full price on day 1, instead of waiting until it goes on sale (or ignoring it entirely). Allowing me to tailor my experience as I see fit means a higher chance of you getting my money.

We can take this one step further. Still in the gaming realm, I'll give my money to way more easily than to any other company (yes, I'll choose over Steam, it's a no-brainer for me). Because they're the ones that have given me greater freedom. I'm not going to buy a console, but if I were, I'd definitely skip the XB1, based on MS's announcements; if you want me to "license" (basically, rent) software, you need to significantly lower the its price. If I'm paying full price, I'm buying it, and I expect to be able to treat it like everything else I buy - it's mine.

Moving away from the gaming world, let's consider smartphones and tablets. I can't see myself buying an iAnything. For that exact same reason I've been talking about - I'm not supporting a business model where I'm expected to cede control over something I bought.

You make the rules, so obviously you decide how much control I'll have. Me, I get to vote with my wallet.

A final note on the comparison with books - in high school, we had to read several mandatory books, classic Portuguese literature (similar to how I had to read The Great Gatsby in 12th grade English). An "industry" of sorts quickly developed for - much smaller - books with a "compact analysis" of the book we should be reading. I remember some of us didn't have the actual book, but we all had the analysis book. Just because the media doesn't support customization, it doesn't mean your customers won't seek to customize the experience; sometimes, at your expense.

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