For me, baseball will always be #1

Today is Opening Day. Last night doesn’t count, and the somewhat ridiculous charade of the games in Australia don’t count either. Today is Opening Day.

I love Opening Day. I’m not going to say that it’s a symbol of spring,  of new beginnings or any of that. It’s the start of baseball season. And I love baseball season.

Major League Baseball is no longer considered America’s Favorite Pastime anymore; in fact, depending on who you ask, it may not even be ahead of the NBA in terms of overall popularity (I’d point you to MLB’s strong attendance numbers vs. the NBA’s, however).It’s probably not always the most engaging to watch on TV or in person; fantasy baseball is extremely arduous, and the seats at certain ballparks may have been built for people a couple inches shorter than the folks around today. In the end, I don’t really care about any of that.

Here are a few reasons why baseball is so great.

1. The long, long season. The season — 162 games — may seem too long to many people. And maybe it is a bit too long. But the MLB’s long season is great for the exact reason the NFL’s short season (in terms of number of games) is so great. What I love about the NFL is that when my team is on, I watch that game. I sit and intently watch. I am happy when they win and I am annoyed and angry when they lose. It’s a roller coaster, and it’s great. Every game counts and one game can turn a season.  The MLB is not this. I’m the first to admit it.  But the great thing about the long season is that, for the most part, the teams that make the postseason are the best teams. There is very little hiding behind a schedule and injuries, barring catastrophic, season-ending ones(which a little depth in the system ought to mitigate). Which brings me to #2…

2. An actual, functioning, useful trade deadlineMajor league Baseball and the National Hockey League separate themselves from the NFL and NBA in that they each have trade deadlines that make sense, move big-name stars, and help rebuilding teams get some pieces in return. The NFL’s trade deadline, which was moved back to Week 8 in 2012, is still too early in the season to encourage teams to make significant trades. The NBA’s deadline sees significant action, but we rarely see stars moved.  Instead, we see role players get moved to contenders while expiring contracts get shipped back to the selling team.

But in the MLB and NHL, we routinely see big names moved around and highly touted prospects shipped back in return as teams mortgage their future for the chance to make a run immediately.  This is exciting for all parties, as fans of the “buying” team get a big name star to root for, while fans of the “selling” team get the hope that comes along with a new young prospect. The MLB deadline also has the distinct advantage of occurring on the same day every year, July 31, a date I circle on my calendar every year.

Here is a crappy video discussing one of the most memorable MLB trade deadlines in my lifetime:

3. The PostseasonEvery one of the major four American sports (and heck, I’ll throw in the MLS too) has a great postseason.  It’s hard to rank them. I love the do-or-die of the NFL playoffs. I love the parity of the NHL playoffs and how a series escalates as it goes on. I don’t even mind the NBA’s playoffs (aside from the first round, which has only amounted in a handful of “upsets” since the league expanded it from best-of-5 to best-of-7. The MLB Postseason stacks up to any of the other sports'; in fact, structurally, I think it’s the best of all of them (though I’m very excited to see the new NHL playoff structure).

MLB made a bold move to expand playoffs to 10 teams last year. Given the long MLB season, it makes sense that the lowest percentage of teams make the playoffs in the MLB (33% of teams); even lower than the NFL (37.5% of teams).  [I add parenthetically here that it's quite dumb that >50% of the NBA's and NHL's teams make the playoffs]. That MLB allows 10 teams is quite misleading, however, since a wild-card berth gets you nothing more than a 1-game playoff nowadays. I’m not a huge fan of the idea that one baseball game should determine who is a better team, but I do love the idea that you’ll be lucky to even make the playoffs unless you’re the best team in your own division. The threat of having to play a one-game playoff forces every team to try and win the division, and not settle for a wild card spot. Once you weed out the teams that lose the one-game playoff, only 8 of the 30 teams (26.67%) remain. After three rounds (every other sport has 4) and one month of games (every other sport has between 1.5-2 months), it’s done. The MLB postseason accepts only the best teams and stays engaging and exciting through a relatively quick month before the champion is decided.

The only bad thing about the MLB Postseason? Dane Cook once did a commercial for it (and by once, I mean we had to watch it 39 bajillion times).

4. The anticipationWhat’s the most exciting scenario in your favorite sport? In basketball, I’d argue: Down by one, 3.5 seconds on the block, inbounding from half-court. In hockey, I’d probably say: Down by one, 90 seconds left, goalie pulled. Or maybe any regulation penalty shot. In football, it’s: 4th goal, ball on the 5, three seconds remaining, down by four. All very exciting situations. What is it in baseball? As most kids playing wiffleball in their backyard would agree, it’s: Seventh game of the World Series, down by 3, bases loaded, 2 out, bottom of the 9th. Who could argue with that?

The beauty of baseball is that the entire game is filled with little moments like that. From Opening Day to seventh game of the World Series, you have little microcosms of that situation in nearly every single game. Sure, it’s not all exactly the same as the one described above, but maybe you have runners on first and third, one out, tie game, and you really really want that double play ball. Or maybe you have a runner on 2nd in a scoreless tie in the eighth inning against a guy you haven’t been able to hit all game. Baseball is a game chock full of these types of situations.

You can argue that football has these types of situations as well. I’d agree. But the thing baseball has that football doesn’t, at least for me, is that split second where you hold your breath, right before that critical pitch is thrown, knowing that something so good or so bad is about to happen… unless you get that agonizing foul ball and you have to do it all over again. Most people will tell you that there’s too much time where nothing is happening in a baseball game. I say that’s what makes it so damn fun to watch.

5. They let em’ play. I don’t think anyone can really argue that baseball is by far the least referee-dependent sport. While every pitch that hits the catcher’s mitt is subject to an umpire, most of these are clear-cut balls or strikes, and even if the ump misses a call here or there, it’s irrelevant 95% of the time. Calls on the basepaths are typically easy and are typically called correctly (and if not, MLB managers can now challenge calls). Every other sport places the referee in a position to either stop play entirely (especially you, basketball), or changing the course of the game by levying penalties which are not subject to review and can completely change the course of the game. And this is in addition to making routine calls that don’t involve fouls or penalties, such as ball placement in football or offside calls in hockey.

6. Ballparks. Baseball is the only sport where the actual dimensions of the arena differ

There is a HiLL in centerfield in Houston. Imagine if there was a hill on one of the 20 yard lines at Cowboys Stadium.

from location to location. I love this. It’s fantastic. While providing some instance of home-field advantage, it also creates story lines. The Boston Red Sox focused acquiring right-handed power hitters throughout the 80’s and 90’s so they could launch balls over the Monster.  The short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium has claimed many baseballs that would be outs anywhere else.  Pitchers were terrified to play in Colorado because of the altitude difference (not a geometry thing, but still). There is a HILL IN CENTERFIELD at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Who doesn’t love all these quirks?

7. Nothing else. Just baseball. Baseball is unique in that it essentially has the summer to itself. Once the NBA and NHL playoffs wrap up in mid-June, baseball has the scene to itself — aside from the odd Olympics or Grand Slam tennis tourney, for nearly three months. There is no other sport I’d want to have three months to itself other than baseball.

Welcome back, baseball. I missed you. See you next Tuesday for Red Sox-Rangers.

 

What is the worst uniform in sports?

Today, the newly anointed New Orleans Pelicans unveiled their uniforms for their first season with the new name. They certainly aren’t horrible, but they’re extremely boring.  This got me thinking: What’s the worst uniform in sports? Note that I focus on primary jerseys; every team seems to have a hideous alternative jersey.

MLB:

The MLB is tricky because so many teams have run of the mill jerseys, white at home, gray on the road, with a basic script for their team name and basic text for names on the back of the jersey. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be stinkers.

UniWatch.com and ESPN  allowed fans to vote on the best MLB uniform using a bracket-style system, with the Tigers and Cardinals getting a first-round bye. I’ll do no such thing to determine the worst jerseys, but it was an interesting experiment. The biggest first-round drubbing was the Pirates over the Padres, and I must say I agree. The Padres’ unis are boring, but they aren’t the worst in baseball. The worst go to…

The Miami Marlins. They’re ugly, there are too many colors, and none of them are particularly attractive for a baseball uniform. Their previous uniform gave them an identity, a unique set of colors with classy pinstripes. Much better than their current design. Still not a great uniform, but not as hideous as their current ones.

But hey, at least their cool unis helped to attract fans to games, right? Oh, wait.

Dishonorable mention: Padres, Red Sox (away only) (seriously, how do you win two World Series wearing these and then switch to these duds?) 

NHL:

There are a lot of bad uniforms in the NHL. There are also a lot of uniforms that look exactly the same. In fact, by my count, six of the 30 NHL teams have primary uniforms that feature red and black. Now, I won’t pick any of them for worst uniform, since I’m partial to red and black hockey jerseys. I just find it annoying. Lots of teams have light blue on dark blue alternate jerseys with a circular logo; I find this annoying too.

For background, Uniwatch ranked the Avalanche as the worst jerseys in the NHL. I can’t really argue with that decision. But my choice for worst NHL unis is…

The LA Kings.

Yes, yes, you may say this isn’t that bad, that black and white isn’t offensive, that the logo is kinda cool and blah blah blah. I’ll admit I deducted points because THIS could be their uniform. But it isn’t. They chose a black uniform over a purple one in the HD TV era. You’re the Kings! Wear PURPLE! They could own an identity, but instead they’re just a boring team wearing black and white laundry.

Dishonorable mention: Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes (but only because they suck compared to what they used to wear [these] in Hartford), Minnesota Wild

NBA:

I may be wrong, but I feel like the NBA has the most uniform changes from year to year than any other sport (aside from maybe the NHL). As a confessed non-NBA fan, I’ll admit that I had to look a few of these up before I could hand out a judgement. I’ll also admit that the NBA has the most uniform parity out of all the NBA teams; that is, more teams have a “unique” set of colors in the NBA than in the NHL, MLB or NFL.

I stated earlier that the Pelicans have a boring uniform. It is boring, and it’s probably a bottom-five uniform (I need to watch it in action to decide) but since they have such an awesome nickname I’ll let them slide for now.

I don’t love the Brooklyn Nets‘ jerseys for the same reason that I don’t like the LA Kings’, but I won’t choose them because they don’t have an obvious alternative. The unis I’ll choose are…

The Portland Trail Blazers.

You would think such an artsy town would come up with some better threads, but this design is stuck in the 90’s. It doesn’t stand the test of time like the classic unis do. It’s just not a good jersey. The stripes across the torso do not help things.

Dishonorable Mention:  Phoenix Suns (going throwback for 2013-2014, bad move), Milwaukee Bucks 

NFL:

The NFL has the most jersey sales of all the sports leagues in the US (citation needed), so bad uniforms is possibly the biggest problem for the NFL. Today’s NFL has an odd mix of ageless jerseys that have barely been touched since the beginning of the league (such as the Green Bay Packers or Kansas City Chiefs, while others have changed their uniforms drastically over time (such as the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers.

In general, the uniforms that have been around forever get a free pass; personally I don’t like the 2-tone Oakland Raiders jerseys (with no trim around the numbers); it looks incomplete. But I won’t give them the title of “worst uniform” because I figure I’m in the minority in that opinion. For some reason, the lack of a trim outline looks fine if the jersey or numbers is white.

But the worst jersey? The Cincinnati Bengals. Look, you’re the Bengals, and Bengal tigers are orange and black. Tons of teams have black jerseys, and no one had an orange primary jersey until last season. An orange primary jersey would have at least added some personality, but instead they’re left with a black jersey, just like the Steelers, who they share a division with, only much uglier.

Dishonorable Mention: Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots

So who has the worst jersey in sports? I’m going to have to go with the Miami Marlins. Like signing an all-Latino team last year, and building a stadium (with taxpayer money) in the heart of Little Havana, these monstrosities were just another gimmick that didn’t work.

‘The Fifth Beatle': Brian Epstein gets his moment in new graphic novel — EXCLUSIVE

Originally posted on Shelf Life:

The Fab Four wouldn’t have been the Fab Four without the genius of the man Paul McCartney called the “fifth Beatle” — Brian Epstein. Epstein discovered the Beatles and guided them through their path to fame with a mix of marketing madness, business savvy, and inspiration. He died at age 32, just as the band was seeing the height of their success, but he’s getting his due (finally!) in a graphic novel that will debut at Comic-Con. Titled (fittingly), The Fifth Beatle, the story follows Epstein and the band through their early days in Liverpool, their first record deal, and Epstein’s epic 1961 proclamation that “The Beatles will be bigger than Elvis!” The novel also focuses on Epstein’s life apart from the band and his personal struggle with being gay in a time when homosexuality was still a crime in England.

Check out an exclusive trailer for the graphic…

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What the MBTA Needs Now

America has Boston to thank for implementing the first subway system in the country in 1897, when the Tremont Street subway opened. A lot of things have changed since then, but the MBTA is not as state-of-the-art as it was 116 years ago.  Here are a few things the MBTA can do to become the best city in the world for public transit.

1. Countdown timers at bus stops

Neat, eh?

A bus shelter complete with countdown timers on Chicago’s CTA

In Chicago’s CTA, and presumably in many other cities, the bus stops have countdown timers indicating when the next bus will arrive. These were placed on the bus shelter, which were at the majority of downtown bus stops on the CTA, and which Boston does not have nearly enough of.

Countdown timers are great on the subway, but they’re actually more crucial for buses, where people are almost always waiting outside, compared to the subway, where most stations are at least partially sheltered.  Buses also run less frequently — will I be waiting for 5 minutes, or 30, 45, or even 60 minutes? We all know the schedule posted on the bus stop post are often inaccurate or missing entirely. Smartphone technology can also help us out, but many people, including poorer and/or older passengers, are less likely to have it, and they’re the people who are more likely to be dependent on a bus.

2. Subway art

Every MBTA station has a weird, quirky art theme going on. For example, on the MBTA’s Red Line at Porter Square, there are a lot of bronzed gloves. I’m really not sure what the deal is with these, but they add some character I suppose.

Now let me take you to Stockholm, Sweden, where they take subway art to a whole new

Doesn't it???

An example of a subway station in Stockholm, Sweden. Sure beats bronze gloves, doesn’t it?

level. The first cool thing is that the ceilings look like they were left alone — they look like the  ceiling in a cave. Then, there’s the artwork. Every station is different, and the artwork covers the floors, ceilings, and walls. It’s quite breathtaking. I’m sure various art institutions in Boston, Massachusetts, New England, and beyond would love to “sponsor” a station, free of charge, and materials could be donated by the public; all the T needs is the initiative.

3. A more intuitive streetcar system

The MBTA’s Green Line. Everyone loves to hate it, but it’s actually the most heavily used light rail system in the country, as anyone would attest to if they’re trying to get home on it at 6 p.m. on the night of a Red Sox game. It has a great reach; the four prongs of the Green Line allow you to reach Downtown Boston from Jamaica Plain, Brighton, Newton, Allston, Brookline, or Chestnut Hill. The opposite end gets you to Somerville’s Lechmere Station and, in the future, will get you all the way to Ball Square in Somerville. Without the Green Line, the MBTA would be a shell of itself.

But it’s so imperfect. It’s a chore to ride. I refused to live in a place where my commute would be on the Green Line. There are ways to make it better; some may not be cheap or easy, but it’s worth the investment.

A. Cut down the number of stops

Let’s face it — there are too many stops on the Green Line, particularly along the B branch. The Boston University campus has somewhere between three and nine stops on its “campus”, depending on where you define its boundaries (Google Maps defines it as very close to Kenmore up to the Packard’s Corner area).  The stretch between Boston University West and Packard’s Corner is 0.6 miles long, but includes five stations (inclusive).  For comparison, the stretch between Symphony and Brigham Circle along the E branch is the same 0.6 miles long, but only has three stations (inclusive). I assume that the stops are there because the trolley has to stop for cross-street traffic anyways, but this isn’t always the case. Putting a station at every third cross-street guarantees that the train will need to stop every time, even if the traffic light is green.

So here’s my solution. Identify stations that aren’t necessary along the entire above-ground portion of the Green Line, focusing on the B branch (let’s say, just for fun, the BU East, BU West, and Pleasant Street stations). Eliminate them entirely, but leave the infrastructure in place that would allow passengers to exit the train (pavers, fenced-off boundaries, maybe some signage indicating that there is no entry at that platform, etc.). Prohibit passengers from entering the train from these former stations; however, allow passengers to exit if the train is stopped at a red light anyway. This would reduce maintenance costs and delay while maintaining an acceptable service level for those stations.

B. GPS Tracking

The Green Line is the only branch that does not have tracking information. This seems difficult to believe, since most cell phones have GPS location technology in them at this point.  GPS tracking would allow the implementation of countdown timers to happen at Green Line stations. It’d also allow third parties to develop apps that did the same.  Finally, and perhaps more importantly, it’d allow the MBTA to determine where delays happen and determine strategies to reduce those delays.

C. Loops

The B, C, and D branches of the Green Line come very close together around Cleveland Circle. Why not connect them?

The Green Line is set up like a subway line; that is, one, or in this case, five, long, straight lines along roadways that would get you to a given destination, namely, between downtown Boston and the inner western suburbs.  However, despite their relative proximity, it seems like these neighborhoods are completely isolated from one another. A system such as Boston’s would be more useful if it acted as a constant loop. Aside from the E branch, this could be implemented relatively easily, as the B, C, and D branches all fall within 0.3 miles of one The Chestnut Hill Avenue (B branch), Cleveland Circle (C branch) and Reservoir (D branch) stations all fall within 0.3 miles of one another.another — a 5-minute walk for most people. A trip between the Warren Street (B branch) and Brookline Hills (D branch) stations would require you wait for an outbound train, walk the 5 minutes between Chestnut Hill Ave and Reservoir and wait for an inbound train, for a total trip time of about a half hour (not to mention the additional fare).  What’s worse, people unfamiliar with the area may go all the way into Kenmore to transfer to a D train, a trip that would take over 45 minutes and probably leave any visitor with a sour taste in their mouths.

With stations in such close proximity to one another, it would be feasible to add a short segment along Chestnut Hill Ave that would connect the at-grade B and C branches of the Green Line. It would also be possible, albeit more tricky, to connect to the below-grade D branch at Reservoir. During periods where it would make sense (weekends, Friday evenings), some trains could be designated for a B-C, B-D, or C-D loop, rather than a straight out-and-back route. Combined with some sort of GPS tracking of Green Line trains, this could be quite effective in connecting the B, C, and D branches of the Green Line. Those who live on the B branch would suddenly be able to envision the possibility of working for a company along the D branch without needing to schedule around a bus or go all the way in to downtown Boston. 

This option is purely pie-in-the-sky; I doubt the cost of the project would justify its benefits.

4. More perpendicular links between branches

Boston has a hub-based system, which is probably appropriate based on its nickname. It made the most system in its early years, before the Red Line spread to Somerville and the Green Line went all the way out to Newton. But now, even with considerable knowledge and comfort with the bus system, it’s really hard to get there from here. That is, the fastest way to get from Somerville to Newton is to take the Red Line all the way into Park street, then take the Green Line all the way out to Newton. There is no easy route between the Red Line and the D branch; the route 66 bus provides a connection between Harvard and Brookline Village, but even that takes a long time. And it’s not just Somerville to Newton; connections between the ends of the subway/Green Line branches are often extremely difficult and time-consuming.

In a perfect world, there would be one, or perhaps two, additional subway lines that connected the ends of every existing line. If you look at the MBTA system map, you can see that Braintree, Mattapan, Forest Hills, and Riverside form an almost-perfect straight line. You could draw another straight line between Riverside, Boston College, Alewife, and Oak Grove. Imagine if a trip from Harvard Square to Boston College was just a few stops away? You could also include some commuter rail stops so that someone coming in from Newburyport wouldn’t have to go all the way into North Station just to go to Davis Square.

Of course, this will never, ever, ever happen in a million years. There are “plans” to do something similar to this with bus lines called the Urban Ring, but it’s looking like it’ll never actually happen in any of our lifetimes.

5. Puppies

In Russia, there are stray dogs that actually commute via subway. They know the system

How much better would your day be if you could sit next to HIM on the train in the morning?

better than most people do. And the people are accustomed to them.

This needs to happen here. They’re probably a lot nicer and less smelly than a lot of human commuters. Somebody make this happen!

The Red Wedding Therapy Session

Originally posted on City Lights:

Image

Robb Stark with pregnant wife Talisa.

I still haven’t recovered from Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, commonly referred to the readers of the series as “The Red Wedding.” How appropriate. I haven’t even been able to pick up the book. I’m a vacant shell, a shadow of the person I was before this episode. That’s how emotionally traumatized I am. I imagine there are support groups set up for people who can no longer function in their daily lives after the final fifteen minutes of Sunday’s episode. Well folks, I’m finally ready to talk about it.

Hi, my name is Dina, and Game of Thrones ruined my life.

I suppose I should have seen it coming. I’ve read the first two books and most of the third, and the one thing I can confidently say about the series is that love will ultimately be the death of everyone…

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What do video game manufacturers hope to gain with strict digital rights management?

As I’m writing this, I’m staring at a SimCity launch module. According to the module, five of the nine global servers are available, and four are busy–EA is “patching” the game a few servers at a time.

The game came out Tuesday, and I played for five hours or so. When I got home from work, it took a while to download but otherwise let me in pretty quickly. However, by midnight (presumably when the entire US was home from work and had eaten dinner), the servers failed and I had trouble getting back in. These problems persisted into the morning, and, after an afternoon of being up and running, are down again this evening.

SimCity, like Diablo 3 last year, requires a constant internet connection to play. This was surprising to a lot of people, because, unlike Diablo, which is an action RPG/MMO, SimCity is primarily a single-player game. Multiplayer capability was added, and, after trying it out, it’s a great addition, but the game is still largely single player. Cities (people) can work interactively, to share resources, but it’s one person designing a city. So it doesn’t seem like it’s necessary.

The reason for the constant connection is not for a seamless multiplayer experience, Blizzard, and now EA, are concerned about piracy. Rightly so–I’m sure Diablo II, Starcraft, SimCity 4 and The Sims 2 and 3 were all very high up on the list of most pirated games. Developers look at these piracies as stolen games, that is, every copy of a game that’s pirated is a copy that wasn’t bought, and X dollars not given to the rightful owner.

Digital rights management, or DRM, makes it more difficult to pirate games (or music/movies; iTunes used to require authorization before accessing media purchased by another iTunes account–this is no longer true) by ensuring that the product is legitimate. Both Blizzard and EA have required users to enter in a CD key for over a decade. However, you could usually install multiple copies of a game using the same CD key. In the case of Diablo 2, both copies couldn’t play multiplayer at the same time, but all users of the CD key could play single-player no problem. The Sims and SimCity 4 didn’t have any multiplayer components, so there was no real safeguard.

Last year, Blizzard, rolled out the most strict DRM yet–requiring a user to be online all the time with their highly-anticipated Diablo 3. This enabled them to make sure all copies of the game were authentic–the fact that it was much easier to connect to a multiplayer game was a nice side-effect. However, requiring all users to be online all the time means you need the servers to handle a ton of traffic, all the time, with no hiccups.

This is unrealistic. You’re going to have server issues sometimes, meaning players can’t play a game they paid for. And instead of talking up the great game to all their friends, people are going to instead complain about server issues.

And guess what? On launch day, no one could get in. People (not me) took the day off from work to play, but instead got an error code, or worse, access to the game, only to get booted after a few minutes. It did not go over well amongst the otherwise loyal fan base. Metacritic.com, which compiles the ratings of games from legitimate sites like IGN, Gamespot, etc, has an overall score of 8.8/10, which is solid. However; the fan score is a mere 3.8/10. Abysmal. Why this discrepancy? The DRM was largely to blame.

People didn't like Diablo 3 very much, and the DRM was the main reason.

People didn’t like Diablo 3 very much, and the DRM was the main reason.

Clearly, the DRM is negatively impacting players’ enjoyment of Diablo, even in recent reviews. People who are still playing Diablo 3 (I’m not) get disconnected occasionally, due to server issues or issues with the player’s own internet connection. Regardless of who is at fault, people feel they should be able to play some version (single player) of they game they paid $60-$80 for. And who can blame them?

Fast forward almost year to March 5th. SimCity is released, with the same strict DRM. The fact that SimCity requires users to be connected all the time is baffling. While there are multiplayer elements, it wouldn’t ruin the game if you removed them. The game is, and always has been, an independent, single-player experience.

But if I’m on the fence about buying SimCity, and I read reviews like these (Metacritic user score of 2.0. For context, a game called Hooters Road Trip got a user score of 4.0), why would I buy the game? Why buy a game I’m not sure if I can even play?

And if I already bought the game (which I have), why would I feel encouraged to tell my friends to buy it? Sure, it’d be fun to play and experience with them, but that’s assuming we can all log in to the same server and not get booted after an hour.

Which brings us back to the reason all this is necessary.  EA/Maxis want to eliminate piracy. I get that. The developers don’t want to give away a product which they’ve worked on for the better part of a decade, for free.

However, I would argue that, with a strict DRM, combined with bad server performance, EA cut off its nose to spite its face.

Let’s say the number of players who bought the game, instead of pirating (because the DRM prevents them from doing so) is represented by X. And let’s say Y is the number of players who won’t buy the game because of the DRM, but would have otherwise.

Is X larger than Y? Doubtful. However, if X is larger than Y, EA’s business model is working, since the DRM forced more pirates to buy than it turned away would-be buyers. Right?

Maybe not. If the group of people who bought the game, no matter what–is unsatisfied, they won’t encourage others to buy the game. Worse, they might discourage them from buying. And the fact that pirates are no longer playing means there are a lot fewer people playing the game in general. Less exposure, less chatter about the game. In fact, when you try to shut the pirates out, they backlash, hard. I have a feeling a large majority of the negative reviewers of Diablo 3 and SimCity never seriously played either game. They rate it low because of the DRM and because they weren’t able to play for free.

In a DRM-free game, you have a much larger population playing the game. Not just because of piracy, though that’s a factor, but because of word-of-mouth. You have to figure that the positive word-of-mouth reviews of those who pirate the game may influence others to actually buy the game. By shutting out the pirates, you lose a lot of that word-of-mouth endorsement, and replace it with hostility, as reflected in the user reviews.

This is the kind of word-of-mouth endorsement you get when you have strict DRM.

This is the kind of word-of-mouth endorsement you get when you have strict DRM.

I don’t mean to justify piracy. Developers deserve to be paid for their hard work. I would like to think pirates buy the games they truly like, and use piracy as a means to test a game. I know that’s probably not true except in rare cases. But a strict DRM punishes the people who are huge fans of the game and paid money for the game. Most pirates were never going to pay for the game, and certainly won’t now because they don’t want to support games with strict DRM.

There needs to be a solution that balances anti-piracy measures with a solid gameplay experience with limited interruption. Maybe multiplayer games get constantly checked for authenticity, to ensure illegitimate copies of the game can’t play multiplayer. And maybe all copies must be checked for authenticity at least once every two weeks, meaning you don’t need an internet connection for single-player most of the time, just once in a while. Determined pirates may find a way around this less-strict DRM, but it’d go a long way towards ensuring those who paid for the game are as satisfied as possible while still keeping a large chunk of the pirates out. It’d be less demanding on the game’s servers, since not every active player would be online all the time. And if the servers do go down every so often, at least players can play the game.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a middle-of-the-road solution like this becomes the commonplace within the next 10 years. Always-online DRM clearly doesn’t work, at least without flawless server capacity, which is probably impossible. EA and Blizzard should find a way to patch their games to allow for some use of the game without connection to their servers.

What the new NHL divisions should be named

The NHL is reportedly working on a divisional realignment that would move Detroit into a division with three other Original Six teams (Toronto, Boston, and Montreal), and would generally minimize travel distances, especially between time zones. The realignment would create divisional playoff matchups, reduce travel times for in-division games (especially for Detroit, Columbus, and Winnipeg), and cultivate regional rivalries.

Of course, the names of these divisions are dumb. As it stands now, the Eastern Conference consists of the Central and Atlantic divisions, and the Western Conference consists of the Midwest and Pacific divisions. I actually think the divisions themselves work very well as the NHL proposed. Geographically, it’s odd that the Florida teams have to travel to Canada 3 times a year and vice versa, but I’m guessing they formed the Midwest Division first, because they wanted to maintain or cultivate the rivaries between the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania teams. The rest of the East teams got thrown in with the Central Division.

The NHL is the league that used to have cool division names (the Adams and Patrick divisions in the Prince of Wales conference, and the Norris and Smythe divisions in the Campbell Conference. So much cooler. So I fixed them below:

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Name the divisions after appropriate Hall of Famers.

 

The Orr Division, named after the greatest defenseman, and some would argue, greatest player of all time, would replace the Central Division (what’s central about this division??), consisting of Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Florida, and Tampa. Apologies to Gordie Howe on this one, but Orr gets the nod here. Rocket Richard and about 5 other Canadiens get a nod here too, but did you think I’d give it to a Canadien?

The Lemieux Division replaces the Atlantic Division, which consists of the New York Rangers, the New York (Brooklyn) Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Carolina, and Washington. Honorable mention to Mark Messier, but really, Lemieux gets this hands-down.

The Midwest Division was the trickiest, but I’ll call it the Hull Division, after Bobby Hull, who played most of his career with the Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets. The Hull Division consists of Chicago, Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, and Minnesota.

Finally, the Pacific Division becomes the Gretzky Division. Gretzky played on 4 teams in his career (which hurts his legacy in my mind). The first of those two teams were the Oilers and Kings, who both play in the “Pacific Division”. He also coached the Phoenix Coyotes, which did not go over very well. So Gretzky gets all the softie west-coast teams.

It’s weird to put Hull in the same breath as Orr, Lemieux, and Gretzky, but I wanted to pick players that played on teams in that division.

How did I do? Would you have chosen different Hall-of-Famers? Would you change the divisional makeup in any way?