Free-to-Play Games: Three Key Trade-Offs

Most free-to-play games, especially mobile free-to-play games, use similar models to extract revenue and keep players coming back. These models work by creating toxic trade-offs that are central to their functioning. This post highlights the main three, and will act as reference for future gaming posts. Note that some games that can be played for free, such as the excellent Path of Exile, mostly do not do these things and are not fundamentally ‘free-to-play’ games, rather they are games that are free. But they are the exception, the extreme end of a continuum from ‘so friendly we just give you this great experience in the hopes you’ll want to throw us money’ to ‘made a pact with the Canadian devil.’

For an analysis of Magic: The Gathering Arena in particular, this remains the central point of my analysis, centered on what I here call the third trade-off. Arena counts as free-to-play in bad ways, but is on the less toxic end of the spectrum, especially with regard to the second trade-off, which I am seeing over time as more central. However, while Arena remains relatively friendly, it is moving towards being more toxic, with things like the second wildcard for historic card creation and with the mastery track.

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Who To Root For: 2019 College Football Edition

Epistemic Status: Unquestionably Accurate

Football, like all sports, is better with someone to root for, and someone to root against. It’s us versus them. Ideally, it’s our house, because no one beats us in our house. That gives us a baseline heuristic – root, root root for the home team – if we can’t do any better. Luckily, we can do better. Not only are some teams objectively superior to others in their worthiness of our quest to be adjacently vicariously victorious, consistently rooting for the same teams is much more fun than choosing independently each time.

With so many teams out there, it’s tough to untangle the right rank order of who to root for. Luckily, that’s where this post comes in. We will rank all the teams you might encounter, complete with explanations, so that not only will you know who you’ll be supporting, you’ll know why you’re supporting them.

Before we start naming names, let’s go over some basic points.

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Dual Wielding

Previously: More Dakka

Epistemic Status: The Dakka Files

Smartphones are wonderful things.

Get a second one. And get a lot of chargers.

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Mistake Versus Conflict Theory of Against Billionaire Philanthropy

Response To (SlateStarCodex): Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy

I agree with all the central points in Scott Alexander’s Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy. I find his statements accurate and his arguments convincing. I have quibbles with specific details and criticisms of particular actions.

He and I disagree on much regarding the right ways to be effective, whether or not it is as an altruist. None of that has any bearing on his central points.

We violently agree that it is highly praiseworthy and net good for the world to use one’s resources in attempts to improve the world. And that if we criticize rather than praise such actions, we will get less of them.

We also violently agree that one should direct those resources towards where one believes they would do the most good, to the best one of one’s ability. One should not first giving those resources to an outside organization one does not control and which mostly does not use resources wisely or aim to make the world better, in the hopes that it can be convinced to use those resources wisely and aim to make the world better.

We again violently agree that privately directed efforts of wealthy individuals often do massive amounts of obvious good, on average are much more effective, and have some of the most epic wins of history to their names. Scott cites only the altruistic wins and effectiveness here, which I’d normally object to, but which in context I’ll allow.

And so on.

Where we disagree is why anyone is opposing billionaire philanthropy. 

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Everybody Knows

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.

Everybody knows the war is over.

Everybody knows the good guys lost.”

– Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

“It is known.” – Dothraki saying

It is not known. Everybody doesn’t know.

When someone claims that everyone knows something, either they are short-cutting and specifically mean ‘everyone in this well-defined small group where complex common knowledge of this particular thing is something we have invested in,’ they are very wrong about how the world works, or much more commonly, they are flat out lying. 

Saying that everybody knows is almost never a mistake. The statement isn’t sloppy reasoning. It’s a strategy that aims to cut off discussion or objection, to justify fraud and deception, and to establish truth without evidence.

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Magic Arena Bot Drafting

Epistemic Status: Attempting to be useful and to learn via exploration. Real proposals. Content assumes familiarity with Magic: The Gathering booster drafting, but does not much depend on a knowledge of deep Magic strategy, so it holds potential interest for those interested in game narrow AI and machine learning.

Reflections Partially Brought on By (Eric Moyer @ Channel-Fireball): Drafting Like a Computer Part 1Part 2

Part 1 – The Problem is Hard

I appreciated Eric Moyer’s articles because they show that building a good bot is hard. They do so by failing to design good bots. Eric’s proposed bots are overly formulaic and predictable, with obvious holes in their systems. If you are feeding one of these bots and know their rankings, you can narrow down their whole path based on possible first pick colors and strengths in highly exploitable ways. The proposed bots will reliably fail to take into account holistic information, they won’t draft playable decks or try to shore up their weaknesses or strengths, and so on, and so on.

That’s not because Eric isn’t making a reasonable first attempt here. It’s because the problem is hard! Programming a bot to draft reasonably is hard.

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Press Your Luck

Epistemic Status: Oh, we’re doing this.

Press Your Luck is back! Press Your Luck is back! Wednesday Nights on ABC! Woo-hoo!

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