How not to surprise your wife

Kat and I are going to be married for 14 years next week. I like getting her flowers sometimes. I got a spam in the mail from ProFlowers.com this morning with a good deal on roses. Score! I’ll order it now while I think about it.

Kat and I have our computers in the same room but she can’t see my screen and I can’t see hers. No problem — I can quietly order flowers five feet away from her, and she’ll never know. I ask what her freelance work schedule is next week; she suspects nothing. I enter all the data quietly and it’s set up. Click here to confirm your order. Order confirmed!

Suddenly, after a completely silent ordering process, the speakers erupt. “THANK YOU FOR YOUR ORDER!” announces a cheery pop-up ad. A pop-up ad? A TALKING pop-up ad? Did I order flowers from 2005? And it won’t stop. “BE SURE TO SIGN UP FOR 15% OFF YOUR NEXT ORDER…”

Happy Sales Lady is in the middle of a sentence and I think I know where she’s going. I’m frantically trying to close this pop-up window. Naturally, it starts to MOVE. Yeah — it just scrolls its way down the screen, as I try to hit its “close” button. Which means I’m ordering flowers from 2001 instead. If they are stupid enough to do this, they’re stupid enough to announce the name of the site before the end of this. If I can just close it before Happy Sales Lady completes her sentence…

“…FROM PROFLOWERS DOT COM!”

“You don’t have to get me flowers,” says Kat. Maybe not, but they don’t have to TELL YOU I’m getting you flowers, either.

A little bit more about the WoW job

I’m at BlizzCon (for the first time — was never able to get tickets before but WHO IS LAUGHING NOW) and we’ve just gotten through the first day. At first I thought “How can two days be enough?” Now I’m thinking “Thank god it’s just two days.” It’s crazy, in that nerd-love way — but it’s still exhausting. If you are here, try to find me at the mag booth in pavilion B. Also I’m trying to Twitter from @WoWTheMagazine when the convention center’s AT&T coverage allows it.

The reaction to the magazine has been much larger and louder than I expected. For one, we got picked up by something like 70 legit news outlets, and then lots of fan blogs and forums beyond that. For two, I thought there would be a lot more haters than we got — I expected an overwhelming amount of “print is dead, why would I want a print version of what’s already online, blah blah blah,” and there was some of that, particularly by blog commenters out there. I think it’s pretty clear, if you read that press release, that this product is not intended for everyone — it’s for the dedicated WoW player — so I expect some of the people we’re not making this magazine for are going to loudly conclude the obvious: This is not for them. (They then take that to its illogical extreme: “This is worthless and should not exist because it is not made for me.”) But about half the people said “Hey, that sounds like something that could be interesting” and many people noted the business model being a good thing. So that gives me hope. I only want to make this magazine for the people who want it anyway, so I’m quite open to their feedback and I want to hear their expectations. But if you’re not going to buy it anyway, save yer breath.

But the magazine is unlike anything I’ve worked on in the past, and I kind of want to brain dump about that.
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My new job is…

Future partners with Blizzard Entertainment for
World of Warcraft®: The Magazine

International print launch for subscription-only title devoted to
the industry-leading MMORPG debuts this fall

Global editions in English, French, German, and Spanish languages
to launch simultaneously
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The blog puzzle heats up

So a few people have taken the bait on the blog puzzle in earnest, and I realized that it might be less fun to solve than I had intended. (I do like stumping people, but I really like it when people come up with the right answers — impossible stuff is simply no fun, because there’s no sense of accomplishment from failing forever.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that the puzzle was designed for people who know me fairly well in real life. I really only intended this blog to be of interest to old friends from high school and college and other long-lost contacts on the east coast. This was before Facebook made staying in touch annoyingly easy, but the puzzle was written in 2006 and did assume personal familiarity in its context.

I have therefore added a little more information to the page, which will hopefully help. Or perhaps it will simply confuse you more.

The previous hint stands: Consider the source.

Les Paul

Les Paul died today, at the age of 94. Gibson’s announcement is as nice a retrospective as any. I actually had him in a death pool, and he’s the only guy on the list I was not looking forward to getting points for.

As morbidly cruel as I often am, I’m actually pretty broken up about it. And namechecking him in the last blog post was honestly coincidence — I was trying to think of something from the previous generation that I would have never been exposed to if someone hadn’t shown me the value. Les Paul is still a good example of that.

I’ve already seen a ton of people saying “OMG RIP guitar dude” on Twitter, and the media will provide plenty of retrospectives, but if you are curious at all to know more about the man behind the famous guitar, there’s really only two things you need to do.

First, see this film, Chasing Sound. It’s a brisk, fascinating, fun look at his life with himself as the narrator. It puts all his accomplishments in proper perspective — inventor, musician, innovator, and all-around no-bullshit guy who was confident in his abilities. You can find it at Netflix.

Second, buy some of his music. There’s a four-disc box set which is overkill for the morbidly curious, and even hitting the greatest hits of Les Paul and Mary Ford doesn’t really show what the guy was about. I strongly recommend Chester and Lester, where he and fellow guitar legend Chet Atkins simply sat down in the studio, hit record, and goofed off while playing inspirationally beautiful versions of old standards. (For reference, Les is generally on the left, and Chet is on the right.) The playing is phenomenal, the spirit is pure, and you’ll never hear a more honest and unprocessed document of Les Paul’s playing — particularly rare for a man who was known for studio experimentation and tricks with tape. They did a second record together, Guitar Monsters, which is harder to find, but I bought the two-on-one disc reissue some years back, so search the used bins and you might find the version I own. Were it in print, I would recommend that edition, because the second record is funnier and has even more studio chatter. But $8 for the first record is still a good investment.

The guy played weekly at a jazz club in NYC until he took ill with pneumonia. He was gigging at 94 years old.

If good music and good ideas are all he leaves behind, that’s plenty.

The Top 3 Stupid Things Print Haters Say

I see a lot of blog posts and forum discussions pointing out what’s wrong with print gaming magazines, and a lot of the same unfair points are raised over and over again. So, fully aware that putting a headline of “Top [Number] [Anything]” on my blog is the currency of online content, I present to you the uninformed, assumptive, and just plain stupid things I see people say when it comes to criticizing print magazines.

“I stopped reading gaming magazines five years ago — they’re horrible.”
This one’s my favorite. If you’re completely unfamiliar with what’s new in magazines, why on earth are you criticizing the current state of magazines today? Five years ago this month, Ask Jeeves was looking to expand globally, John Kerry was running for President, World of Warcraft was in beta. A few things have changed since then, you know? Citing outdated examples makes everything you say afterwards utterly irrelevant. Imagine a game review where the reviewer didn’t actually play the finished game, but reviewed a preview build from nine months before. You wouldn’t listen to their opinion based on that lack of experience — why on earth should I listen to yours? And yet, online, it happens frequently — sometimes with smug self-righteousness, like it’s cool to be so completely out of touch with what they’re judging.

Just because the critics do not (or refuse to) see how magazines have evolved does not mean that magazines have not evolved. If you pick up something current and don’t like it, you have a case. But if you can’t point to an issue of a magazine within the last four to six months and speak intelligently about one of its articles…you shouldn’t be commenting on those articles.

“Well, you know all those magazines are getting bought off.”
I believe in free speech, but at the same time, I do not think that just coming out and saying anything you want whether it’s true or not is not a good thing to do. “Never mind the facts, here’s some allegations!” Generalizations with no examples hurt me way more than they hurt you. Do you have something specific in mind — some sort of proof, some specific example, some smoking gun? Or are you just going to pass around the easy lie and assume the worst?

Here’s what I think is the problem. Do publishers approach print outlets looking for a minimum score in exchange for access? They have in the past; I have been in the room when they come calling. But does that mean that the print outlet takes that deal? No, it does not…but people seem to think it does, despite no proof. They assume the worst because it’s easy (if not downright fun) to do so.

Let’s put it in a more social context: If you walk down the street and a guy asks if you want to buy drugs, should you be arrested for that? If you say yes, sure — but if you were simply the target of someone’s request, no. I’d think the sin here is on the publisher’s side for acting unethically, but I don’t see anybody calling for the boycotting of the publishers; somehow it’s the press’s fault for simply being too tempting a target. “They asked for it, they were wearing glossy paper and colorful ink!”

If press outlets are saying yes to these deals, then you should call them out and call for reform — but you have to call them out specifically. I want those unethical people out of power, too. But to do that, you’d need to know it was happening, and frankly, the average forum poster has no experience with or insight into what they’re criticizing — they only have their own biases to support their fact-free conclusions. As someone who has turned down these kinds of arrangements when faced with this choice, I really don’t like being lumped in with the people who made the opposite ethical choice. (Even some of the “white knights” of the biz are guilty of this — they bring the problem to light, which is good, but won’t name names, so everybody gets hurt…except, conveniently, them.) This ethical issue is an individual thing, and it’s entirely unfair to make a blanket accusation…even if you really, really want an irrational reason to hate something.

“Print is dead. Why would anybody want a magazine in the age of online?”
When I was a kid, I didn’t like my parents’ music. Why? Because it was my parents’ music! Les Paul, who wants to listen to him? I also didn’t want to watch anything in black and white. We have color TV, mom! This is 1982, for Christ’s sake! Live in the technicolor now! I think it’s only natural that the current generation rejects what the previous generation deems valuable. It’s outdated. We have something better now — and why would I even go see an old movie in a theater if I can see it on TV? But as you get older and wiser, you realize, hey…It’s a Wonderful Life, 12 Angry Men, these are fantastic movies, and just because it wasn’t shot in color doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

I think we’re at that point with gaming journalism too. Online is new, it’s now, it’s better. And it really is, in a lot of ways, better — or has the potential to be, even if it’s still young and finding its way. But to the readers of online games content, if dad was a subscriber to GamePro, well, it must be ancient and they have no use for it. I understand this logic, because l’ve used it myself…but I was a lot younger and stupider and have since realized that just because it wasn’t created in the last 15 minutes didn’t mean it was worthless. Even in a field like gaming, where innovation is king and new products appear hourly, I believe there is value to covering the new stuff via the old methods. There are so many “outdated” examples throughout art, entertainment, and history that you have probably already thought of three of them. Sometimes, a book or a play or a song is better than a blog or a Flash animation or a video, even if they’re old.

So maybe print isn’t dead; maybe print is simply print. Magazines have accepted their limitations; the key is that the audience also needs to value their strengths. And then, of course, print has to play to those strengths, to do what it does best (presentation, insight, access, tone) even better. As someone who still works in print, that’s how I see what I do, anyway.

I have some theories on why the haters keep harping on these same points and what the source of their hate may be, but I’ll save those for another time.

On the BBC again today (tomorrow?)

As a bit of a followup to The Grand Masquerade radio documentary last month, the local BBC Three Counties station serving Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and Buckinghamshire is working on its own Masquerade segment tomorrow morning, and I’ll be doing a short call-in to talk about Masquerade’s history and impact with Stephen Rhodes. The segment airs live Friday morning between 6 and 6:30am in the UK, which is 10 to 10:30pm Thursday night here in California. You can listen online if you like!

The blind eye of Dan Amrich?

Joystiq’s Justin McElroy wrote a very fair rebuttal to my last post about the two-week black hole in online news reporting about the GH5 Avatar thing. Not to kiss up, but I actually think Joystiq’s attitude and ethic is as good as it gets online (they cite sources and check facts and everything!) and as a reader who has read a lot of their articles, I trust them as an online news source above most others. But I called them out as a negative example in the story because a) it was relevant to the topic and b) there are two high-profile/influential news blogs in my estimation, and Joystiq is one of them. Just because I like ’em doesn’t mean I’m not going to occasionally criticize ’em. (The fact that Justin wrote back says a lot too.)

Also, a side note: on my personal blog, I’m not wearing my fair and balanced press hat, and nobody’s editing my from-the-hip rants. Justin was right to disagree with my spiteful stretch at the end there. But this being my personal domain does not mean I’m intentionally trying to be a flame-baiting irrational jerk either. I’m personally responsible for what I say here and I accept all criticism; I haven’t spiked any disagreeing comments. It would be tough to talk about things like the importance of respect for multiple viewpoints without actually respecting multiple viewpoints.

But Justin’s note made me think about why I wanted to post the GH5 thing in the first place, and that led me to admit that I’m simply biased and sensitive when it comes to the online/print relationship. I think, in broad terms, the former often devalues the latter unfairly. Many of my mini-rants about the media suggest or illustrate this, so this might not be news to you. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like an offhanded hopeful comment about how print is doomed; other times it’s bigger, like improper/incorrect citing, a lack of original research/reporting, or outright willful ignorance. I know the value of both online and print; I only get my knickers in a twist when someone who doesn’t tries to influence the masses one way or the other. That’s when I am more likely to point out flaws in the new system that do not exist in the old. The difference between evolution and extinction is not being explained, so I often come forward to try, and I usually do it with some venom.

So yeah, having worked in both online and print (I am so frequently a defender of print that I think a lot of people forget that I got my start in online, and most recently helped launch GamesRadar in the US), I get bitter when online sites don’t get the basics right. Maybe I should celebrate more positive examples going forward.