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Gaming notes

Over the last year I’ve been researching the growth of casual gaming in China. Last month I was able to spend time in Yunnan in the rural southwest. But the gaming I found wasn’t the gaming I had been reading about, likely because it’s hard for a guy like me to shoulder-surf a bunch of small screens. Hope these observations are still of interest though….

Most prevalent type of gaming I saw? Realworld social gaming. Streetside Mahjong, Rummy games using western cards or narrow domino cards, crowds kibitzing a Xiangqi chess game in the park. You can see this throughout China, but it seemed particularly striking this trip, perhaps because Yunnan is less economically developed than the coast. People getting together, enjoying each others’ company over a game. Massive, a part of daily life.

This was a big contrast with Internet Bars. I had seen these parlors in other cities, but got more of a chance to peer inside on this trip to Yunnan (still don’t have deep personal experience, though). These aren’t really “Internet” bars… seem more like gaming bars, with a side-course of personal video viewing. For every twenty active screens I saw, sixteen had fullscreen games, three had video, and perhaps one had text.

Dark, cocoon-like rooms… dozens or even scores of stations… frequently in neighborhoods of similar venues. I wandered to the top of a shopping mall in Kunming and saw half a dozen Internet Bars clustered together, holding hundreds of screens. Practically empty during the day, yet full at night. Each person at their own station. Isolated.

The contrast was profound. There’s a big social-gaming tradition already, and yet the new technology goes off into another direction, towards isolated experiences. I know I’m only seeing one small part of the picture, and that superficially, but it was one of the most striking impressions of this trip for me. People over 40 playing non-electronic games together in the sun, and people under 30 playing electronic games in the dark, in a crowd, but alone.

Something else unusual I saw this trip… arcades in transition. Some gaming parlors in Yunnan had 70s-style gaming consoles, big plywood affairs dedicated game to a single game. Amusement parks also held dusty older devices, mechanical games where you’d twist knobs and push levers to get something to happen. Small convenience stores still often have little Pachinko-like games. Some of the Internet Bars seemed to have particular computer games as their home screen, but this was the first time I saw the connection to the older mechanical games which preceded them. I don’t know if the same evolution appeared in urban coastal areas after the economy was opened up, but seeing the evidence of growth on the southwest frontier added new context for me.

Kids? Another surprise: yo-yos and hula-hoops. In other parts of China I’ve often seen the Diabolo, the “Chinese Yo-Yo”, a large set of twin hemispheres which could be disengaged from the string. But here it was straight Duncan sleeper work, with schoolboys doing Rock-The-Cradle and other standard tricks. Although Hula Hoops are sold in other cities, there were more in Yunnan storefronts, and I actually saw them in use too. I saw much less Tai Chi and Rope Dart and Staff, Spear or Sword, maybe because I didn’t hit the parks early-morning. But schoolkids in Yunnan were real big with Yo-Yo and Hula Hoop, very different from elsewhere. Maybe a legacy from The Fighting Tigers of World War II?

But the biggest gaming shock for me was a day-trip to Macau, a ferry ride away from Hong Kong. I last visited here five years ago, and since then it has surpassed Las Vegas as a gambling destination, opening the world’s largest casino, among dozens others. I knew all that, but wasn’t prepared for the collateral growth, the related buildings which have grown up among them. It’s like a whole new town suddenly popped up alongside the old one.

Easiest way to compare is to look at the former biggest gambling spot, the Casino Lisboa, next to its new big sister, the Grand Lisboa… that second Wikipedia link shows the two side-by-side. Directly across the street is the large Wynn Macau from 2006, while the even larger casinos are on reclaimed land in Cotai. Among these giant casinos has sprung up a whole network of smaller gambling houses and related businesses, running all the way out to the ferry landing, and then there’s the new Fisherman’s Wharf theme park to the south.

Growth hasn’t taken over the city… the backstreets of Macau are still as atmospheric as before. But this new landfill area… it just wasn’t there before. Macau has a long history of gambling, and is the easiest place to gamble from mainland China, but to see the massive changes in just five years… I was left, bug-eyed and slack-jawed, staring on the sidewalk in disbelief. Amazing.

So that’s what I’ve got. No insight into the private world of people using new computer games on handheld personal devices, but more insight into the tradition of people playing games, some concern about the Internet Bar scene and its lack of Vitamin D, and raw astonishment at the scale of the “house take” in organized gambling. No conclusions, just better context….

Smokescreen, formats, runtimes

SWF file format has had a public specification, like HTML, for over a decade. As browsers’ script-execution improves it becomes possible to read SWF files and render parts of them. As a coding effort, impressive work. As a publishing solution, look at its efficiency.

Folks on Techmeme picked up on Chris Smoak’s Smokescreen a SWF-consuming JavaScript application in similar vein to Tobias Schneider’s Gordon project.

My close to that January essay on Gordon still stands: “There are differences between HTML and SWF, but even a JavaScript engine can understand simple SWF files… nothing mysterious or alien about it.”

The logical error in Techmeme headlines right now is that because some files work, many files work, and work well enough to be practical, if not preferable. Technologies are only tools… you use each where each works best.

Some people do seem to harvest their news mostly from quick newspaper headlines. They’ll pay the cost. But it would be good if the news writers did a little more digging, a little more original thought, before promoting such headlines to their readers. Please, read around a little more… think things through for yourself.

The Gradual Disappearance Of Flash Bashing

… likely won’t occur until the incentives disappear, unfortunately.

I’m linking to this article mostly because it just popped up on Techmeme unlinked, and I’d like to help out Gabe…. ;-)

If you read the article itself the author takes the title as a given, and then extrapolates upon what a world would be like were this so. But many will read only the headline, and assume that it was substantiated. Whether the writing and its promotion had this as a premeditated goal is difficult to accurately guess.

Even though Brad is a self-described “Flash hater”, I agree with him that “In the end, we’re all just trying to create websites that can be accessed and used, regardless of the tools we use to deliver them.” I also like that he links to HTML-based work he likes, down towards the end… if you can do something good, it’s to everyone’s benefit… no real need for one to fail for another to succeed.

What drives Adobe is removing the barriers to publishing. Just as every manufacturer is releasing a dizzying range of new personal digital screens (almost all of which are being optimized for Flash work) the new Creative Suite aims to become the most practical way to publish to whichever forms and brands of screens you and your audience choose.

There’s a remarkable consistency in that drive…. ;-)

Update: After a few hours there are many comments there, with a very firm sentiment of “use the best tool; don’t trash Flash”. Sounds like many web workers just want to get on with their work, with a lower level of divisive hype…?

Next generation creative tooling

Kevin Lynch highlights some of the big capabilities we’re trying to deliver in this cycle of work on Creative Suite: easier ways for groups of people to work together on creative content… better ways to see how this material actually works for your audiences… being able to design and deliver for any device.

More Monday. Big news with long-term significance… dawn of a new design.

(Delivery to Apple devices is still included, although “it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time.” We’ll do our best to make it easy for you to satisfy your audience, no matter where they may be.)

Religion in China

Fascinating subject. Wikipedia has a good intro…. starts off: “Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history.”

Animism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, even Atheism… China’s history is remarkable for how these various systems of belief tended to just get along. If you ever get the chance to enjoy Journey To The West, I’d highly recommend it… the Waley abridged translation particularly show how belief systems need not be intolerant of another.

There were, however, exceptions….

In the year 845, after a bankrupting war, Emperor Wuzhong launched the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution:

“According to the report prepared by the Board of Worship, there were 4,600 monasteries, 40,000 hermitages, 260,500 monks and nuns. The emperor issued edicts that Buddhist temples and shrines be destroyed, that all monks be defrocked, that the property of the monasteries be confiscated, and that Buddhist paraphernalia be destroyed. An edict providing that foreign monks be defrocked and returned to their homelands resulted in Ennin’s expulsion from China. By the edict of AD 845 all the monasteries were abolished with very few exceptions. When the monasteries were broken up the images of bronze, silver or gold were to be handed over to the government. In 846, the Emperor Wuzong died… Shortly thereafter, his successor proclaimed a general amnesty.”

This repression was only one chapter in the long history of Buddhism in China. Today Buddhism is said to be the largest organized faith in China.

Islam in China… well, again, the intro paragraph at Wikipedia summarizes it:

“Islam in China has a rich heritage. China has some of the oldest Muslim history, dating back to as early as 650, when the uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas, was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Gaozong during Caliph Uthman’s era. Throughout the history of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims have influenced the course of Chinese history.”

Some more on the continuing influence:

“By the time of the Song Dynasty, Muslims had come to play a major role in the import/export industry. The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period… During the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), large numbers of Muslims settled in China. The Mongols, a minority in China, gave Muslim immigrants an elevated status over the native Han Chinese as part of their governing strategy, thus giving Muslims a heavy influence. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims immigrants were recruited and forcibly relocated from Western and Central Asia by the Mongols to help them administer their rapidly expanding empire… During the following Ming Dynasty, Muslims continued to be influential around government circles. Six of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang’s most trusted generals were Muslim….”

And yet, during the fading years of the Qing Dynasty, the Panthay Rebellion was a very sorrowful event. Periods of synergism, punctuated by expedient intolerance.

Judaism in China goes back even further, from Silk Road traders up through pre-war tycoon families of Sassoon, Kadoorie, Hardoon. And during World War II, the Shanghai Ghetto was exceptionally moving, one of the few places in the world where tolerance could be found.

And, of course, all religions were ransacked during the 20th century’s Cultural Revolution, along with many of the nation’s cultural and historical relics… an exceptionally sad time.

Yet today Taoism, Islam, Buddhism and more are flourishing, while the Gang of Four, like Wuzhong and the Qing, quickly became toast.

Intolerance doesn’t seem to have a very good track record.

We humans have been around a long time, seen a lot of sorrow. The trend is pretty clear towards cooperation, tolerance. It’s quite miraculous we have ownership of a piece of consciousness during this moment. How are you willing to spend it?

Follow the money

Jeremy Allaire, at TechCrunch:

Gaining broad adoption for their runtime platforms translates into their ability to create massive derivative value through downstream products and services. For Apple, this is hardware and paid media (content and apps) sales. For Google, this is about creating massive reach for their advertising platforms and products. For Adobe, this about creating major new applications businesses based on their platform. For Microsoft, it is about driving unit sales of their core OS and business applications.

A silo… an eyeball tracker… a tool shop… a business office. Each with its own culture, each with its own goals. A company can reinvent itself, but if you want to guess what they’ll do next, it’s a good bet to just follow the money.

De-supporting the majority?

A little long for a tweet, so I’ll post it here… word on Techmeme is that changes in Snow Leopard broke Google’s “Gears” plugin, so Google Apps will be “dropping Gears” and moving to “HTML5″ instead.

Instead of adding an invisible capability to whatever the user’s choice of configuration, would you present a “Looks Best in Browser X!” type of barrier…?

Maybe the story isn’t accurate — I haven’t found any source link in the first few retellings I’ve read [!!], so it could be just another blogospheric falsehood. But if the story is accurate, then that translates to “We’ll be dropping support for the majority of the world — people who use Microsoft browsers or older browsers — in order to reduce our development costs for the people who buy Apple’s hardware.” Sounds strange!

Corrections welcome… I’m not sure if the story is inclusively correct, or if I understood it correctly, and I’m not really interested enough at the moment to research it more deeply. But from the above LA Times piece, doesn’t it sound like going from a plugin to requiring a browser change would make the final work pragmatically inaccessible to more people?

Afterword: After re-reading the current webpages, I’m not sold… the original LA Times story purported to be a product announcement, but then only said they had an email from some unnamed person at Google. Sources which don’t cite their data tend to be bogus.

Green card lawyers, my naked wife, and the too-open web

Remember Usenet? I was very excited by it… people were talking directly together, without barriers or intermediaries… incredibly democratizing, open to all. But, suddenly, that same uncritical openness was used to sell citizenship lotteries and atomic plans.

We were all quite shocked. But Usenet’s architecture naively trusted all inputs. Bound to happen.

Email surprised us with the same problem. It was very useful, particularly after Usenet started to get noisy. But then Email clients tried to compete with the colored fonts of HTML, and let anybody send a file to you, then executed JavaScript when an email was opened, and there were plenty of marketers urging them along on this road to perdition. The first big Flash security problem was My Naked Wife, a file-deleting .EXE which called itself a SWF… not all that much different than the latest issue, in wanting to trust any odd file which came along.

Email’s architecture also believed anything any stranger said, and so had an initial boom, before becoming parasitized. Like Usenet.

The World Wide Web is also very lauded, very useful. But we’ve got that same Usenet dynamic of wanting to listen to any speech or visit any site, while following the email-client dynamic of adding all types of extraneous features in hopes of becoming the universal client. The result is that more people are now asking “Can we trust the Web?”, not even knowing whose content they’re serving up.

“Green Card Lawyers” and “My Naked Wife” arose because they could, once Usenet or Email became attractive enough. Both Usenet and email were successful among early adopters, but neither system could really adapt to their eventual parasites. The Web has become popular too, and also has issues with accepting candy from strangers.

Fortunately, The Internet — the network of all networks — is bigger than The World Wide Web and its hyperlinks. Our connectivity is expanding from the desktop to the pocket and the wall. It’s time to change again.

Usenet may be moribund, and 90% of email may be spam, and the web’s search engines may be full of plagiarized or infected sites, but our networking strength has only increased. I suspect the next architectural design should offer more control over how strangers might gain our attention.

Blog downtime

On vacation… I’ll be travelling in China this month, and will not be able to approve comments on this blog. Back online first week of November.

Internet access in China is still uncertain… sites with user-generated content (Twitter, Facebook etc) have been blocked leading up to the 60th anniversary week for the PRC, and then for a media conference in Beijing (yes, that sounds ironic to me too ;-). I’m hoping things will open up this week… if so, I’ll be on Twitter, Typepad, and perhaps I’ll even be able to revive my moribund Flickr account.

(If you’re into walking or urban orienteering, take a look at Chongqing, near Sichuan, and zoom around a bit… with its mountains, rivers, stairs and curved streets, it’s said to be one of the easiest cities in the world in which to get lost, before finding yourself again. Fun challenge! :)

Oversensitive porcupine, good for the gander?

Not sure I quite believe this… Techmeme is discussing how a file-download service is apparently complaining to Mozilla about a Firefox extension which removes their advertising.

Meanwhile Google Websearch shows that this site is distributing files claiming to be software that Adobe develops.

I hope I’m misunderstanding it. They can’t really be complaining that someone else is infringing on their infringements of others…!?

(btw, thanks to Bing Websearch, which does not list these sites which promise to install Adobe CS4 onto your computer….)