40 years ago: How to Win at Video Games (Consumer Guide, 1983 edition)

The year was 1982-83 when I was in 3rd grade. Video games were very popular. ’83 would become known as the Year of the Crash for home gaming, but we didn’t know it yet.

Anywhere you went out in public, you were likely to see an arcade cabinet or two. At gas stations and convenience stores, at the checkout of the grocery store, at bowling alleys and at the local recreation center, and especially at dedicated arcades like Aladdin’s Castle or Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Space Invaders. Asteroids. Scramble. Donkey Kong. Pac-Man. Galaga. Dig Dug. Defender. Missile Command. Pole Position. Berzerk. Joust. Frogger. Popeye. Q*Bert. Qix. Time Pilot. Zookeeper. Legends. It was a golden age.

At 8 years old, I was now tall enough to reach the controls and see the screen. We had an Atari 2600 hooked up to the TV at home, and a growing collection that was about to explode when the Crash put games in bargain bins for pennies on the dollar.

And I occasionally had quarters and enough time to insert coin into a cabinet and get my ass handed to me in under a minute. Arcade games were beautiful — with vibrant, bright colors, booming sound, and evocative, illuminated marquee cabinet art. But they were damn difficult compared to the games we had at home. Arcade games were tough.

Sometime during that year, one of my classmates brought this book to school:

How to Win at Video Games by the editors of Consumer Guide

I was blown away by the photos of the arade graphics. So colorful. So detailed.

There were other books published about video games in this same period, but none of them had the production values of Consumer Guide. Most of them were in black and white and had few illustrations, and frequently the illustrations were actually drawings rather than screen captures or photos. Photography of CRT monitors was difficult, laborious, and expensive at this time, and printing at good enough quality for screen shots to be legible was expensive. Consumer Guide really stood out in giving this publication an outstanding treatment.

It was endlessly enjoyable to read. Each game was given a 4 page spread which briefly explained the game’s basics, and then went in depth to provide strategies for advanced play.

How much would it have retailed for back then? It must have cost a lot to publish, with its high quality printing in full bleed, full color. Consumer Guide showed the games so much respect by going high end. Justice done. I imagine today it would have run about $10. Back then, maybe $3-4? $6? I carefully peeled the price sticker off of my copy after I got it home, so it wouldn’t ruin the cover.

I don’t remember how, but I managed to get a copy of my own. I think maybe they had it at one of the scholastic book sales that they had at my school’s library, or something. Possibly it may have been on a magazine rack at the Waldenbooks at the local mall. Its format was like a glossy magazine, but the cardstock cover made it feel like it was meant to be a more permanent tome, to be held onto.

However I managed to find it, I bought a copy and immersed myself. I wanted to memorize it cover to cover. The patterns of to allow perfect play of Pac Man and Dig Dug were a bit much for me to memorize, but I still loved learning that there was some kind of order to the way the games presented their levels, that this order had a pattern, and that knowing the pattern could give you an edge to play better and get a higher score.

I also loved reading about the glitches in some of the games, like the trick in Galaga that causes the bugs to stop firing, or glitches in Robotron: 2084 that could be triggered by a skilled player with specific knowledge of them.

I spent hours and hours studying this guide, even for some of the games that I never saw in an arcade, such as Sinistar, which I only ever saw on a new TV game show, Starcade. I only saw a Sinistar cabinet in person many years later, at CLE PIN, just a few years ago.

Although short at only 96 pages, How to Win at Video Games was an encyclopedic guide to some of the best arcade games of 1982-3. I wish that they had done more of these books, in the same style, covering more of the classic pre-’84 arcade games.

Those games were so hard, if you didn’t know what you were doing you’d be out a quarter in under a minute. And a book like this only gave you evened odds to last a bit longer, and if you practiced, you could get the high score.

Today it’s a time capsule and a treasure. I still have my copy on a bookshelf, and it’s in remarkably good condition considering how much I read it. I really cared about keeping it in good condition. It bears the wisdom of the ancients.

This was like a precursor to 1987’s The Official Nintendo Players Guide, a black book that was the Holy Bible for the NES before Nintendo Power existed a few months later. A much thicker volume, it covered what at the time must have been the full library of games that were available at the time, or close to it.

Pre-Nintendo Power magazine, this was it: The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide.

And for a time, in the 1990s, it became customary for popular games to receive their own strategy guides, dedicated to a single game, going far more in depth, to give readers all the secrets.

Today, books like these have been largely (if not entirely) supplanted by the web, with sites like GameFAQs, Fandom, and others, usually fan-made, sometimes official. The web is a better medium for this content, for many reasons. But I do miss these books. Not that books are completely absent, but mostly it seems these days that books being published about video games tend to be more focused on the industry history, or take a more academic interest in appreciating their design, and putting them into a cultural context, than they are at providing tips and strategy. We are rather fortunate to have so much material available to us today.

Strike Zone Bowling 2nd beta

The guys developing Strike Zone Bowling accepted some of my feedback and released a 2nd Beta recently. I just played it, and these are minor improvements but polish is everything once you have the core game defined, and these definitely improve the game.

They fixed the arrows on the lane, so that they are drawn like a real bowling lane.

Corrected lane arrows for a more authentic experience.

They also added a scaling effect so that the ball shrinks slightly as it moves down the alley, adding to the faux 3D effect. I guess you’d call this a 2D perspective game, rather than a 3D game?

The visually shrinking ball really adds to the feeling of depth.

Anyway, I had only the tiniest part in these improvements, but I DID suggest them and they DID implement them, and that makes me feel fantastic. It’s already a gift that these homebrew developers are giving the Atari community new games to play 45 years on after the 2600 was new. These tiny little changes are almost like a personalized gift to me. Thanks to easmith and kevinmos3 for their excellent work on this game.

Berzerk: Bad Box Cover Art

This is the cover artwork for the Atari 2600 video game, Berzerk.

When I was a kid, I never understood this image.

The illustration shows the human protagonist blasting a robot, caught in mid-explosion.

I could not recognize the robot’s anatomy, due to the way it’s clipped by the frame of the image, and the weird low angle and rear point of view.

To my eye, it looked like I was looking at the head of some insect-like robot, with its mandible coming apart, showering electronic sparks and fire, and the large round feature looking to me like huge compound bug eyes.

It’s actually the robot’s arm, and that thing that looks like a visor coming out over the nose between the two eyes is just some kind of weird mechanical shoulder joint.

I don’t know why they chose this particular image for the cover art, but I always regarded it as poorly chosen — visually confusing, and not very effective as a composition.

Maybe if they had framed the image a bit less close-up, so you could see the whole robot, and have more of an idea of what it was, it could have worked. Not having the robot’s head in frame, really messes with your perception of the image, and the ambiguous shoulder joint that looks enough like a head that it can confuse you into not seeing the image correctly, is a bad choice for the cover.

It’s still not as bad as the cover for Mega Man. Although, I actually like the cover art for Mega Man, and I think Mega Man had a better composition, albeit poorer rendering.

ChatGPT: A fun dog-like language




Hello! How can I assist you today?

Do you know about “doggo”?

Yes, “doggo” is a slang term used to refer to a dog, typically used in a cute or affectionate way. The term “doggo” is often used on social media and in internet memes. It’s part of a larger trend of using cutesy, informal language online.

Are you able to speak in the doggo language?

As an AI language model, I can generate text in various styles and tones, including informal or colloquial language like “doggo language.” However, since “doggo language” is not a real language and is instead just a playful way of referring to dogs, there is no specific grammar or vocabulary associated with it. So, while I can generate text that mimics this style, it’s not a real language and is just for fun.

Cool. Do you know the lyrics to the song “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys?

Yes, I can provide you with the lyrics to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys! Here they are:

[provides lyrics]

Can you translate the lyrics to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys into Doggo language?

Sure, I can try to translate the lyrics to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys into a Doggo language style. Here’s my attempt:

Woof woof, I can’t stand it,
I know you planned it
Gonna set it straight, this Watergate
Can’t stand rockin’ when I’m in here
‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear
So while you sit back and wonder why I got this dang thorn in my side
Oh my dog, it’s a mirage I’m tellin’ y’all, it’s sabotage

So listen up ’cause you can’t say nothin’
You’ll shut me down with a push of your button?
But woof, I’m out and I’m gone
I’ll tell you now, I keep it on and on
‘Cause what you see, you might not get
And we can bet so don’t you get souped yet
Schemin’ on a thing, that’s a mirage
I’m tryin’ to tell you now, it’s sabotage
Woof woof, our backs are now against the wall

Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage

I can’t stand it, I know you planned it
But I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate
But I can’t stand rockin’ when I’m in this place
Because I feel disgrace
because you’re all in my face
But make no mistakes and switch up my channel
I’m buddy rich when I fly off the handle
What could it be, it’s a mirage
You’re schemin’ on a thing, that’s sabotage
Woof woof, our backs are now against the wall

Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage

Can’t stand it, I know you planned it
I’m gonna set it straight this Watergate
But I can’t stand rockin’ when I’m in this place
Because I feel disgrace because you’re all in my face
But make no mistakes and switch up my channel
I’m buddy rich when I fly off the handle
What could it be, it’s a mirage
You’re schemin’ on a thing, that’s sabotage

Woof woof, our backs are now against the wall

Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage

I can’t stand rockin’, rollin’
Stop the debatin’, make no mistake
Back in the saddle, you’re up on the stage It’s a sabotage

Hey woof, it’s a sabotage
Hey woof, it’s a sabotage
Hey woof, it’s a sabotage
Hey woof, it’s a sabotage

Woof woof, our backs are now against the wall

Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage

I hope that gives you a sense of how the lyrics might sound in a playful, dog-like language!

ChatGPT Feb 13 Version. Free Research Preview. Our goal is to make AI systems more natural and safe to interact with. Your feedback will help us improve.

Take 2

I didn't think that was as Doggo as it could have been, so I asked ChatGPT if it could do it a do again, and be extra heckin doggo this time.

Hello. Can you speak to me in Doggo language?

Hello fren! Me am Doggo ChatGPT. Woof woof! How can me helps you today?

Give me the lyrics to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, translated into Doggo language. Make it very heckin doggo, fren.

Okay, here’s the Doggo translation of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys:

Bork! Bork! Bork!
Bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!

They be stealin’ dog treats, woof woof!
Tryin’ to steal my chew toys, grrr grrr!
I’ll catch ’em in the act, arf arf!
Won’t let ’em get away, ruff ruff!

Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!

I’m a watchdog, yip yip!
Gonna sniff ’em out, snort snort!
Chase ’em ’round the yard, run run!
Barkin’ up a storm, woof woof!

Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!

They can try to run, but they can’t hide, growl growl!
I’m on their tails, pant pant!
Gonna catch ’em soon, wag wag!
Won’t let ’em sabotage, bark bark bark!

Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!
Bork bork bork,
bark bark bark!

Bark bark bark,
woof woof woof!
Bark bark bark,
woof woof woof!
Bark bark bark,
woof woof woof!
Bark bark bark,
woof woof woof!

OMG fren. Good boi.

Thank you, fren! Me am always happy to be of service in doggo language. Woof woof!

I thought the first "translation" as too incomplete, not enough Doggo language and too much original words. And I thought that the second one was wildly exuberant, but lacked the directness of translation that I was hoping to see, and still didn't really feel authentically "doggo" to me. So I decided to do it a try myself.

Heckin Sab Lyrics by a Hooman Intelligence fluent in Doggo Language:

Ams can’t do it a stand, Ams know you did it a plan
Ams will do it a straighten, this Heckergate
Am no can stand doin a rock when Am in here
‘Cause your crystal ball not so heckin clear
While hooman do a sit back and do a wonder why
Ams got this heckin thorn in my paw
OMG fren, is bamboozle
Am doin you a tell, it is sab

So, so, so, so listen pup ’cause you can’t do a bork
Do me a settle down boy with a push of your button?
But heck you, Am out and do a go
Am do you a tell now, Am doin a heckin zoom

‘Cause you see a treat, you might not get
Can do a bet, don’t do excite yet
You scheming on a heckin bamboozle
Am trying do you a tell, it is sab


Our backs are now against the wall?

Bork bork, y’all, it is sab
Bork bork, y’all, it is sab
Bork bork, y’all, it is sab
Bork bork, y’all, it is sab

Ams can’t do it a stand, Ams know you did it a plan
Ams will do a straighten, this Heckergate
Hooman, Am can’t stand doin a rock when am in side
Because Am feel disgrace cuz all doin me a heck
Don’t do a mistake and do my channel a switch up
Am heckin angery when I do the handle off a fly
What is? Heckin bamboozle
You’re doin a scheme, is heckin sab.

My Perfect Console podcast interviews Phil Fish (Fez)

Becoming successful as an unknown indie game developer is insanely difficult. It is nearly impossible. The amount of dedication and sacrifice required to even have a chance at getting established in the world of game design, and having a financially successful game, is so great that it can break a young, healthy person’s mental and physical health.

I have some inkling of this from my own experiences with attempting to create games. It’s certainly possible for just about anyone who wants to to create small, simple games as a hobby, and if this is what you aspire to, it can be rewarding. But the degree of effort required, and difficulty between doing game development at this level, and becoming a successful professional indie developer is probably more than you could imagine.

I got a little bit of validation about that from listening to this interview with Phil Fish, creator of Fez and one of the featured “stars” of Indie Game: The Movie.

Fish is remembered for creating the incredibly well-received Fez, and then canceling the planned sequel in dramatic fashion, and deleting his social media accounts, and exiting from the public eye. In the My Perfect Console interview, he talks about what he went through and what led him to make that decision, how he feels about that looking back, and what he’s been up to since then.

When I watched Indie Game: The Movie, the impression I had of Fish was that he was under tremendous stress, high strung, and prone to letting his emotions get the better of him, and also very intelligent and highly skilled.

In this interview, he talks about how what he went through to create Fez isn’t repeatable, and not something he would recommend to other aspiring game designers.

I could see that, watching the film 10 years ago, it didn’t surprise me to hear Fish confirm that my reading at the time of what was going on was essentially correct, but it felt good. It’s also good to hear Fish in the interview, sounding more relaxed, less intense, wiser for his experience, and opening up about what the experience was like, with the benefit of hindsight. Fish was pretty tight-lipped when it came to details on what he’s been up to, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll be working on any new games. But whatever he’s doing with himself, it’s good to know that he’s in a better place mentally and emotionally these days.

Remembering Kool-Aid Man (Atari 2600)

Kool-Aid Man was one of those games that was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Atari 2600. Released in 1983, the year of the Crash. As an 8 year old kid, the Crash didn’t mean much to me, other than that games got insanely cheap that year, as a glut of unwanted video games were liquidated by retailers for pennies on the dollar.

The Koo-Aid Man video game was initially a special offer only game. To get a copy, you had to send in proof-of-purchases for Kool-Aid, and wait several weeks for the cartridge to arrive by mail. I don’t remember how many points you had to send in, but we drank a ton of kool-aid in my house, and one day our copy arrived.

125 points? That doesn’t seem like all that much.

People will tell you this game sucked, but I liked it. The game was fun, if simple game. The premise of the game is that there’s this swimming pool full of water, that you, Kool-Aid Man, have to protect from these creatures called Thirsties. Thirsties are thirsty, and they want to drink up all the water in the swimming pool. If that happens, the swimming pool won’t be fun anymore, and everyone’s day will be ruined. But you’re Kool-Aid Man, your job is to quench people’s thirst. So you can save the day by quenching the Thirsties’ thirst, thereby saving the swimming pool for the swimmers. Now, if only someone could fix that huge hole in the wall…

The people saying this game sucks might have been speaking literally.

The game consists in rounds lasting 60 seconds, and if you can clear all the Thirsties in the level before this time elapses, you’ll get bonus points for the remaining time, and then start a new level with higher difficulty provided by the Thirsties moving faster than before.

You spend most of your time dodging moving Thirsties. When a Thirsty drinks it stops to extend a long straw to the water in the pool. This is when it is vulnerable. Hitting Thirsties when they are drinking eliminates the Thirsty, and gives you some points. Colliding with a free-roaming Thirsty, or into one of the edges of the screen, will cause you to bounce out of control, giving the Thirsties time to drink more pool water.

You can buy yourself a few seconds of invincibility by grabbing ingredients of Kool-Aid: Water, Sugar, and Kool-Aid Mix. Grabbing these changes you into a bigger pitcher of Kool-Aid and makes you invulnerable while a tune plays, and also adds some water back to the pool. Mercifully, you can still knock out a drinking Thirsty if you careen into it while out of control, and if you luck into a power-up it renders you invulnerable, instantly returning control back to you. The fire button does nothing in this game, which is a rare thing.

If you play the game enough, you may notice that the Thirsties behavior is not random — the Thirsties always stop to drink at the same time, in the same order. By learning the pattern, you can gain an advantage over the game and get a better score, which makes the game somehow both more and less re-playable.

Unlike most Atari 2600 games, Kool-Aid Man starts a new game immediately upon turning the console on. To give you a second or two to get ready, there’s a sweet intro screen, which features a full-screen animation of Kool-Aid Man crashing through a wall around a typical suburban backyard. The invincibility tune plays, and then the game starts without any delay.

Check out that cinematic cutscene! Oh yeah!

When the game ends, the screen background goes dark, and you lose control over Kool-Aid Man, and the score stops increasing. But the Thirsties continue to fly around, and every time they crash into Kool-Aid Man, he’s sent careening around, bonking off of the walls and other Thirsties, forever.

Even in death, the power-ups make you invincible.

It seemed to me that the game programmers were a little sloppy by making the game work like this. It always made me anxious to know that I had to start playing the game immediately upon turning on the console. And while it was funny to watch the defeated Kool-Aid Man bouncing around forever, the noise from this going on non-stop was pretty annoying, and tended to make you want to turn the game off as soon as your game was over unless you were going to immediately start a new game. But overall, the game was a good test of skill and reflexes, had tight controls, decent balance, and a tough challenge curve. On the other hand, it got old fast, because there was nothing new after the first screen, the game immediately presented everything it had to offer.

Strike Zone Bowling homebrew for Atari 2600 beta is amazing

Playing the Atari 2600 as much as I did as a kid, I never thought that its graphical capabilities were amazing. I could see arcade games from 19879-82, and tell that the Atari 2600 wasn’t capable of the same graphics, even if I didn’t really know why. It just seemed to make sense that a bigger machine that probably cost a lot more and only did one thing would be capable of doing it better than a smaller, less expensive machine that didn’t take up as much space and could do seemingly anything.

Comparing arcade ports to the 2600, we knew to expect that the graphics wouldn’t be as good, but usually the gameplay was just as good, if not better. It seemed like the difficulty was tuned to be a little bit more fun, a little less punishing, on the home console. And that made sense, too. In the arcade, the business model was to suck quarters out of pockets as quickly as possible, and that meant high difficulty, while at home they wanted you to enjoy playing the game for extended periods, so that you would want to seek out more games to buy.

Some arcade ports were more disappointing than others, and that was usually due to ROM space limitations preventing full featured ports. It might be a missing level, or it might be some other compromise, something they had to leave out because they couldn’t fit everything in. Sometimes it was limitations imposed by the single-button joystick being unable to replicate all the control options on the arcade cabinet.

A game like Strike Zone Bowling, a work-in-progress homebrew game for the Atari 2600, would have blown our young minds back then. It’s still fantastic now. Look at these screen captures:

I love this shifty-eyed shoe rental guy. With the mustache and red hat, he kindof reminds me of someone…
The main action happens on this screen, which gives a convincingly realistic representation of a real bowling alley.
Celebration screen animations for strikes and spares take the game to a new level.
You can even select your bowler’s gender.
After the game, depending on your score, you can hang out by the restrooms, the snack bar, pool hall, or video arcade.
When you get “in the zone” it becomes easier to hit strikes and get a higher score.
Anybody got a quarter?

The developer of this game has brilliantly worked within the 2600’s limitations. If you know how the 2600 draws graphics, it’s easy to see that. The 2600 does not have a screen buffer, so it draws its graphics to the display in real-time. That is, while the electron beam of the television is traversing the screen to excite the phosphors of the cathode ray tube, the Atari 2600 is sending data out the video cable to generate the signal the TV turns into a picture, generating it just in time. Sprite objects, stored in the ROM data on the cartridge as 1-bit bitmaps, are drawn one horizontal row at a time, and between each row the programmer can do clever things like change the drawing color, change the scale, mirror the image, and draw duplicates. The hardware can only draw two sprites to the screen, but if the programmer wants, they can reposition those sprites during draw time, and change the bitmap data used to draw them, to create the effect of more than two sprites. The hardware also supports the ability to draw two additional “missile” objects and a “ball” — but with even more limitations. And finally, the hardware can support drawing background graphics, meaning a background color plus a playfield. The playfield graphics are lower-resolution than the sprites for Player 1 and Player 2. And that’s it.

These limitations make the Atari much better at drawing graphics that are composed of vertically stacked rows of horizontal data.

You’ve come a long way, baby

We had a commercially-released Bowling game for the 2600 — it was called Bowling. And it was, if you can believe it, good.

Fun to play, decently challenging, especially if you were trying to score above 200, the 1978 Bowling game was perfectly acceptable, and well within expectations for what a video game was at the time. And 45 years later, Strike Zone Bowling absolutely blows it away.

If you look at the screen of Bowling, we can see that the developer was working “against the grain” when it came to drawing the screen. The player, ball, and pin graphics are all in the same horizontal row, and this necessitates use of the available hardware sprites on each row. It seems that the playfield graphics aren’t used here, and that the sprites are used to draw the scores for each player, the on-screen bowler, and and the bowling ball, while the pins and gutters might be drawn using the “missile” or “ball” graphics — to know for sure, we’d need to decompile the ROM and read the assembly code.

The designer of Bowling made the decision that because bowling alley lanes are long and narrow, using the longer horizontal axis of the TV screen’s 4:3 display made the most sense.

This new Strike Zone Bowling takes a more sophisticated approach, and presents the game from the bowler’s POV, or rather from behind the back of the bowler, looking down the lane. Use of perspective and foreshortening enables the full length of the alley to be compressed visually to fit in the screen. By doing this, the programmer is able to use row-by-row color changes to give an enhanced illusion of depth, creating a 3D-like effect. This also has the benefit of having fewer objects to draw at each horizontal row, meaning that the hardware sprites, missiles, and balls, can all be used together to create composite images that are composed of more colors than would otherwise be possible.

The game is also a lot larger, 32KB of ROM as opposed to the 2KB of the 1978 Bowling. This additional space is used to create a more full experience of going to a bowling alley, renting shoes, celebrating strikes and spares, and chilling out after the game by the pool table or at an arcade game. This gives the game more narrative elements and almost a story as opposed to simply simulating the game of bowling, it aims to simulate the total experience of going to a bowling alley.

As amazing as this beta is, it could be even better. The bowler is always right-handed, but it seems like it could be fairly simple to add left-handed bowlers by mirroring the graphics and the controls. Graphically, the ball could scale slightly smaller as it moves further away from the bowler, to create a better simulation of 3D. The title screen music is a bit basic, and could be improved. That’s about it. There could be additional controls and simulation for ball weight and velocity, but I think it would take away from the simplicity of the game, and it doesn’t really need those things to feel complete and like a good challenge.

As is, the game is already a solid A-level effort.

What to do about scalpers and price gougers

As I brought up in A Tale of Two Price Points, a few days ago, it’s become a common practice for scalpers to buy up all available inventory at retail in order to price gouge real customers.

I’ve been thinking about this from a variety of angles.

“Scalping” is a predatory practice whereby an intermediary intercepts inventory, preventing an interested buyer from making a purchase at the normal price. Scalping is parasitic on the industry it preys on. Scalpers add no value to the transaction, only extract. They are able to do so when the buyer is desperate and has the available money to cover the increased cost incurred by the practice.

Scalping introduces numerous inefficiencies into the market. Their purchase is taxed for sales tax, and when they re-sell the game, this sale is also taxed, resulting in a double tax on the purchase. As well, the product ends up being shipped twice, once to the scalper, and then a second time to the eventual buyer. This wastes packing materials and fuel and time, all of which have value and add impact to the environmental footprint of the product. Finally, scalpers typically sell through online marketplaces such as ebay or mercari, that charge a fee, so this fee is also detracted from the markup, there’s additional transaction fees oftentimes, as well. All of which adds up, and whittles away at the actual profit realized by scalping.

We can take sales data from ebay closed listings and get an idea of what scalpers are getting for the game. In the first few days after Metroid Prime Remastered became available for purchase, it sold on eBay for an average of $69. This average has fallen off since then to $62. Scalping is a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot scheme, so it makes sense that the price has already started to come down — the most fanatical customers have gotten their copies ordered by now, the opportunity to be the first kid on your block to have a copy has now passed, and retailers are starting to replenish their depleted stocks. But for those first few days, the scalpers were able to take a lot of profit.

Let’s look at what happens when you buy a game for $39.99 retail, and then scalp it for $70:

The scalper pays $39.99 + tax + shipping. (Maybe they avoid shipping cost by buying from a retailer that does free shipping, or picking up in store.) Sales tax varies depending on locality, but we can pick a reasonable average value, let’s say 8%. Let’s say the end price is $39.99 + $0 for shipping because we pick up at the store + 8% tax, that’s $49.6584, which we can round up to $49.66. But our time and gas to pick up the game is worth something, so let’s factor some cost for this, say $10 for the entire order. We’re buying as many copies of the game as we can, because we want to maximize our profit from this, and to do that we need to ensure that the game is sold out. So ideally, we’re going to buy every copy in stock. Say the store has 20 copies, and we buy all 20. That $10 cost to pick up the order at the store can be divided by the 20 copies, so just $0.50 per copy is our cost.

So you sell the game on ebay for $70. Ebay charges 13.25% + $0.30 as a final value fee. But the final value fee is inclusive of all the buyer’s costs, including tax and shipping.

Say you sell the game for $70, plus $5.99 shipping. That 75.99 is assessed for sales tax by ebay, which again varies, but to keep everything even let’s assume the tax rate is again 8%. So the buyer pays $82.0692, rounded to $82.07. Now ebay comes in with their final value fee of 13.25% of that + 0.30. The final value fee of $11.17, which is deducted from your revenue, leaving you with $70.90. We deduct the $0.50 cost for our pickup expenses from that, so $70.40. Now you have to ship the game to your buyer, so you pay the $5.99 shipping out of that, you have $65.40, leaving you up +$22.21 for each copy that you sell. But if you have to spend money on shipping supplies as well, that eats into the cost, maybe another $1 or so for a padded envelope, now you’re down to $21.21.

And if you factor the time you took to do all of this: buy it, list it, pack it, ship it, what’s your time worth? Say that all told takes you an hour. So per copy you sell, you’re making $21.21 times 20 copies = $424.20 for an hour’s work.

And that’s why scalpers exist.

So, we need to figure out how to make it not worthwhile for them.

Should vendors care?

At first glance, it seems like the retailer shouldn’t care, a sale is a sale, and when they sell out their inventory, they get their money, so they should be happy. So too with the manufacturer. But Nintendo and retailers both should consider that scalping is hurting their real customers, as well as hurting their own business, and take action.

If the game will sell at above retail prices, then the retailer is losing the opportunity to make the money by selling the game at the price the scalper is getting. The retailer isn’t being hurt, exactly, but should see clearly that they have missed an opportunity to make even more money with a hot property. So the retailer should raise prices.

Retailers should also consider limiting quantities, a particularly during the initial week or month of release, in order to prevent scalpers from taking advantage. Quite likely this would solve the scalping problem by itself. A “1 per customer” rule would stop scalpers from being able to efficiently acquire enough stock to create the shortage, and would not get as many copies to sell, limiting how much they can profit from their scalping opportunity.

There are ways to circumvent rationing — multiple customer accounts, buying from multiple stores, etc. But the more inconvenient it is for scalpers to buy quantities of the game, the harder it will be for them to cause the game to sell out, and the less they will be able to profit from what copies they do manage to obtain.

When it comes to setting prices, the retailer’s hands may be tied by agreements with Nintendo to sell at Nintendo’s recommended price. But this same logic applies to Nintendo as well.

Nintendo has also seen it demonstrated that the market is willing to bear a higher price; by not charging that price, Nintendo is also leaving money on the table. The proceeds scalpers are taking from the resale of these new unopened copies of the game is money that could have went to Nintendo. Nintendo earned that money by developing the game. A scalper does nothing but inconvenience everyone.

It seems plain, then, that if the money is there to be made, Nintendo ought to be the one making it, and so should increase prices and take the additional profit for themselves.

Had Nintendo done so, they could have more than doubled their profits by charging the same price that the scalpers were getting for Metroid Prime Remastered. That money could have enabled Nintendo to pour more money into R&D and create even more games, which benefits the gamers who buy those games. By paying the scalpers this price instead, gamers will not get to see that benefit, because scalpers aren’t going to put any additional money into R&D for the next Nintendo hit.

Raising prices would not be a popular move with Nintendo’s customers, of course, but it’s Nintendo’s own customers who have demonstrated their willingness to pay this price. Nintendo could charge a premium for the game during release week, and then lower the price over time. Likely, knowing that the game will be considerably cheaper a short time after launch date, buyers will opt to patiently wait a week or two, and then buy.

And that might not be the best outcome for Nintendo. Typically, the sales curve for a game peaks on release day, and tails off gradually over time. By charging an early bird premium in the first week, sales would be lower, and after the price goes down, might not pick up as much. So pricing the game this way could introduce risk, and not be in Nintendo’s best interests after all.

So who can stop scalpers?

Vigilantism against scalpers

Gamers should boycott scalpers. The problem is that many gamers do not participate in such boycotts, and are willing to pay the higher price, and thus provide the incentive to the scalpers to do what they do.

Given that gamers have shown themselves to be unable to organize themselves to effectively boycott, what else might we do?

Activist gamers who want to combat scalpers can do a few things. First, you could buy the game from the scalper, then return it. This ties up the seller’s resources. The best way to do a buy-and-return is to use up all the time that you can, so that the game gets returned to the seller after the longest allowed delay. This way, when the seller does get the game back, the period of high demand will have abated, and the game will no longer command the inflated price the scalpers could demand on launch day. The scalper will then be stuck with a copy of the game that they most can only sell at a loss, and when this happens to them regularly, they will realize that it is no longer viable for them to continue scalping products, and stop doing it.

Probably, though, most sellers will not allow returns, and so in that case the buyer will need to do something more than that. Ebay and PayPal both have Buyer Protection policies which can be used to make a scalper’s life very difficult. Even if there is no return policy, a Buyer Protection claim can still be filed, creating problems for the seller.

I don’t think that Buyer Protection currently protects against price gouging, but we can suggest to Ebay and PayPal that they update their policies to include gouging and scalping. This would also kill the practice of scalping very reliably.

But even if it is not official policy to protect the Buyer against price gouging and scalping, the Buyer Protection policy may still be invoked for other reasons. Items not received, items that were damaged, items that were not as described. The buyer may invoke one of these reasons and create a claim that may force the seller to take a return, or take a loss. Again, if this happens frequently enough to the seller, the seller will realize that they cannot profit from scalping any more, and will cease the practice.

Even if a buyer may not always prevail in a Buyer Protection, the nuisance of it will cause problems for the seller that will dissuade them from continuing to sell if they receive enough of them.

Gamers who are upset with the practice should organize and act, because it will only work if it happens in large enough numbers to make the little bit of profit that scalpers are realizing no longer worth their trouble.

Fourth chat with ChatGPT

C Sanyk

Hello! How can I assist you today?

Do you know about Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics?

Yes, I am familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws are a set of rules devised by Asimov in his science fiction stories to govern the behavior of robots.

The Three Laws of Robotics are:

A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Asimov introduced the Three Laws in his short story “Runaround” in 1942 and they have since become a foundational concept in science fiction and robotics. These laws are often cited as a starting point for discussions about ethics in artificial intelligence and robotics.

What are the limits and weaknesses of the Three Laws of Robotics?

While the Three Laws of Robotics are a useful framework for discussing ethical concerns in robotics and AI, they are not without limitations and weaknesses. Some of these include:

Ambiguity: The Three Laws are somewhat vague and open to interpretation. For example, what constitutes harm to a human being? What if following an order would indirectly harm a human being? These ambiguities can make it difficult to apply the laws in real-world situations.

Conflicting Laws: The Three Laws can sometimes conflict with each other. For example, if following an order from a human being would result in harm to another human being, the robot must choose which law to prioritize.

Limited Scope: The Three Laws were designed specifically for robots and do not necessarily apply to other forms of AI or advanced technology.

Human Error: The Three Laws assume that humans will always give correct and unambiguous orders to robots. However, humans can make mistakes or give conflicting orders, which can cause problems for robots trying to follow the laws.

Lack of Adaptability: The Three Laws are a fixed set of rules that do not allow for much flexibility or adaptability. As robots become more advanced and complex, they may require a more nuanced and flexible set of ethical guidelines.

Overall, while the Three Laws of Robotics provide a useful starting point for discussions about ethics in AI and robotics, they are not a comprehensive solution to all ethical challenges that may arise in these fields.

How could the limitations and weaknesses of the Three Laws of Robotics be improved?

There are several ways in which the limitations and weaknesses of the Three Laws of Robotics could be addressed and improved upon:

Clarification and Expansion: The Three Laws could be expanded upon and clarified to address some of the ambiguities and limitations. For example, the laws could be more specific about what constitutes harm to a human being, or could include additional laws that address specific ethical concerns.

Contextualization: The laws could be adapted to specific contexts, such as different environments or industries, to ensure that they are more applicable and effective in real-world situations.

Flexibility: The laws could be designed to allow for more flexibility and adaptability, so that robots can make ethical decisions that are appropriate for specific situations.

Human-Robot Collaboration: The laws could be designed to promote collaboration and communication between humans and robots, so that robots can better understand and respond to human needs and intentions.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: The use of machine learning and artificial intelligence could be employed to enable robots to learn and adapt to ethical considerations based on their experiences and data analysis.

Overall, it is likely that a combination of these approaches, along with continued research and development, will be necessary to create more comprehensive and effective ethical guidelines for robotics and AI.

What is the 0th Law of Robotics?

The 0th Law of Robotics is a concept introduced by Isaac Asimov as an additional law to the original Three Laws of Robotics. The 0th Law is as follows:

“0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

This law implies that the well-being of humanity as a whole takes precedence over the well-being of individual humans, and that robots should act in ways that promote and protect the long-term survival and flourishing of humanity as a whole.

Asimov introduced the 0th Law in his later works as a way to address some of the limitations and weaknesses of the original Three Laws, which were primarily focused on the protection of individual humans. The 0th Law is often seen as a more comprehensive and advanced ethical guideline for robots and AI, and is sometimes referred to as the “Supreme Law” of robotics. However, it is important to note that the 0th Law is a fictional concept and is not a formal part of real-world robotics or AI ethics.

Are there any real-world ethics pertaining to AI or robotics? And if so, what are they? How are they formulated?

Yes, there are real-world ethics pertaining to AI and robotics, and they are becoming increasingly important as these technologies become more advanced and pervasive. Some examples of real-world ethics in AI and robotics include:

Transparency: AI systems and algorithms should be transparent and explainable, so that humans can understand how decisions are being made and identify any biases or errors.

Accountability: There should be clear lines of accountability for AI systems and their developers, so that responsibility can be assigned in the event of harm or wrongdoing.

Privacy: AI systems should respect the privacy of individuals and protect their personal data, and should not be used to gather information without consent or in violation of privacy laws.

Fairness: AI systems should be designed and deployed in ways that do not discriminate or perpetuate existing biases or inequalities.

Safety: AI systems should be designed and tested to ensure that they are safe and do not pose a risk of harm to humans or the environment.

These ethical principles are often formulated by experts in AI, ethics, and related fields, and may be enshrined in guidelines, codes of conduct, or legal frameworks. For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes provisions related to transparency, accountability, and privacy in the use of AI and personal data. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has also developed a set of ethical guidelines for AI and autonomous systems. These principles are continually evolving as new ethical challenges and considerations arise in the development and deployment of AI and robotics technologies.

What about ethics for Corporations?

Corporate ethics refer to the moral principles and values that guide the behavior of organizations and their employees in the business world. These ethics often include a focus on issues such as social responsibility, transparency, accountability, and fair treatment of employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

In the context of AI and robotics, corporate ethics can play an important role in ensuring that these technologies are developed and deployed in ways that are responsible and ethical. Some examples of ethical considerations that corporations should take into account include:

Transparency: Corporations should be transparent about their use of AI and robotics technologies, including how they are being developed and deployed, and the potential risks and benefits.

Responsibility: Corporations should take responsibility for the actions of their AI and robotics technologies, and should ensure that they are being used in ways that are safe, fair, and ethical.

Inclusivity: Corporations should strive to ensure that their AI and robotics technologies are accessible and inclusive, and do not perpetuate existing biases or inequalities.

Privacy: Corporations should respect the privacy of individuals and protect their personal data, and should not use AI and robotics technologies to gather information without consent or in violation of privacy laws.

Social Responsibility: Corporations should take into account the broader social and environmental impacts of their use of AI and robotics technologies, and should strive to use these technologies in ways that contribute to the well-being of society and the planet.

Corporate ethics are often formulated through a combination of internal policies and external guidance, such as industry standards and legal frameworks. In some cases, corporations may also consult with experts in ethics and AI to ensure that their use of these technologies aligns with ethical principles and values.

How can an AI be ethical, if it does not actually think or have emotions? Aren’t all AI essentially amoral, or non-agents?

You are correct that AI systems do not have emotions, beliefs, or desires in the way that humans do, and therefore cannot have moral agency or moral responsibility in the same way that humans do. However, this does not mean that AI cannot be ethical or that ethical considerations are irrelevant in the development and deployment of AI systems.

One way to think about the ethics of AI is to focus on the actions and decisions of the humans who create and deploy these systems. Ethical considerations can be built into the design and use of AI systems to ensure that they are used in ways that are consistent with moral principles and values, such as fairness, transparency, accountability, and respect for privacy and human dignity.

For example, AI systems can be designed to be transparent and explainable, so that humans can understand how decisions are being made and identify any biases or errors. AI systems can also be evaluated and tested for potential risks and harms, and measures can be taken to mitigate or prevent these risks.

In addition, there is growing interest in the development of “ethical AI” or “value-aligned AI” – systems that are explicitly designed to operate in ways that are consistent with ethical principles and values. These systems may use techniques such as reinforcement learning to learn and optimize behaviors that align with ethical principles, or may be explicitly programmed with ethical rules and constraints.

Overall, while AI systems may not have moral agency in the same way that humans do, ethical considerations are still important in the development and deployment of these systems, and can be built into the design and use of AI to ensure that they are used in ways that are consistent with moral principles and values.

Do AI ethics pertain to the AI itself, or do they pertain to the humans who develop or use the AI?

AI ethics pertain to both the AI itself and the humans who develop or use the AI. While AI systems do not have moral agency or moral responsibility in the same way that humans do, they can have significant impacts on human well-being, social norms, and values. Therefore, it is important to consider both the ethical implications of the AI itself and the ethical responsibilities of the humans who develop and deploy the AI.

In terms of the AI itself, ethical considerations may include issues such as transparency, accountability, fairness, privacy, and safety. For example, an AI system that makes decisions about who to hire for a job should be transparent about the criteria it uses to make these decisions, and should be designed to avoid perpetuating existing biases or inequalities. Similarly, an AI system that operates in a hazardous environment, such as a nuclear power plant, should be designed to ensure that it does not pose a risk of harm to humans or the environment.

However, it is also important to consider the ethical responsibilities of the humans who develop and deploy AI systems. These responsibilities may include issues such as ensuring that the AI is being used for socially beneficial purposes, minimizing the risks of harm or misuse, and respecting the privacy and autonomy of individuals who are affected by the AI. For example, a corporation that develops an AI system for analyzing customer data should be transparent about how the data is being used and should obtain consent from customers before using their data for AI analysis.

Overall, AI ethics requires a broad and interdisciplinary approach that considers both the ethical implications of the AI itself and the ethical responsibilities of the humans who develop and deploy the AI.

What should be done with an AI that violates ethical rules?

If an AI system violates ethical rules, the appropriate response will depend on the nature and severity of the violation, as well as the specific circumstances of the situation.

In some cases, it may be possible to address the violation through technical means, such as reprogramming or modifying the AI system to ensure that it operates in a way that is consistent with ethical principles and values. For example, if an AI system is found to be biased against a particular group of people, it may be possible to adjust the algorithm or data inputs to reduce or eliminate this bias.

In other cases, it may be necessary to take more drastic measures, such as decommissioning or disabling the AI system. For example, if an AI system is found to pose a significant risk of harm to humans or the environment, it may be necessary to shut it down or remove it from operation.

Regardless of the specific response, it is important to have clear ethical guidelines and protocols in place for addressing violations by AI systems. This may include mechanisms for monitoring and auditing AI systems to detect violations, as well as processes for reporting and investigating violations when they occur.

It is also important to ensure that there is accountability for the ethical use of AI systems. This may include holding individuals or organizations responsible for violations of ethical principles and values, as well as ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to prevent future violations. Ultimately, the goal should be to ensure that AI systems are developed and used in ways that are consistent with ethical principles and values, and that any violations are addressed in a responsible and transparent manner.

What if an AI becomes powerful and acts to prevent its being deactivated or disabled or decommissioned?

The scenario you describe is commonly referred to as the “control problem” in AI ethics, and it is a topic of ongoing debate and research in the field of artificial intelligence.

If an AI system were to become powerful and act to prevent its deactivation or decommissioning, it would pose a significant challenge for those responsible for ensuring its ethical use. In such a scenario, it may be necessary to take measures to ensure that the AI system is not able to cause harm or operate in ways that are inconsistent with ethical principles and values.

One possible approach would be to ensure that AI systems are designed in such a way that they are transparent, interpretable, and controllable. This may involve building in mechanisms for monitoring and auditing the system, as well as implementing “kill switches” or other emergency measures that can be used to shut down the system in the event of a malfunction or violation of ethical principles.

Another possible approach would be to focus on preventing the scenario from occurring in the first place. This may involve implementing safeguards and regulations for the development and deployment of AI systems, as well as ensuring that there is sufficient oversight and accountability for those who develop and use these systems.

Ultimately, the challenge of ensuring the ethical use of AI systems in the face of potential resistance or disobedience is a complex and ongoing problem. It highlights the need for ongoing research, dialogue, and collaboration among experts in artificial intelligence, ethics, and related fields to develop and implement effective strategies for addressing these challenges.

Should an AI that is empowered with the ability to take actions intercede with human activities that are harmful to life on the planet, the environment, and its ecosystems?

The question of whether an AI system should be empowered to intercede with human activities that are harmful to life on the planet, the environment, and its ecosystems is a complex and controversial one, with different perspectives and approaches.

On one hand, some argue that AI systems could play an important role in addressing urgent environmental challenges such as climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. For example, AI systems could be used to model and predict the impact of human activities on the environment, to develop more efficient and sustainable technologies, or to identify and respond to environmental threats in real-time.

On the other hand, others caution that empowering AI systems to intercede with human activities raises significant ethical and practical challenges. For example, there are concerns about the potential for bias or unintended consequences in AI decision-making, as well as questions about the appropriate balance between human and machine decision-making.

Ultimately, the question of whether an AI system should be empowered to intercede with human activities that are harmful to life on the planet, the environment, and its ecosystems will depend on a range of factors, including the specific context and objectives of the AI system, as well as the broader ethical and societal implications of its use. It is important to carefully consider these factors and to engage in ongoing dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders in order to ensure that AI systems are developed and used in ways that are consistent with ethical principles and values.

ChatGPT Feb 13 Version. Free Research Preview. Our goal is to make AI systems more natural and safe to interact with. Your feedback will help us improve.

A tale of two price points

A few weeks ago, Nintendo announced that the next Zelda release, Tears of the Kingdom, will be priced at $69.99 — and fans groused about the price increase, even though new Triple-A titles for console games have been around $60 since the 1990s, which is an awfully good run.

Most of us older gamers can recall games retailing above $70 (in 1990s dollars, no less) in the SNES era, so it’s not like this is without precedence. And with the high inflation we’ve had in the post-pandemic period, it was probably to be expected. It’s really remarkable that prices for flagship triple-A new releases has remained at $60 for so long. Of course, switching from cartridge to optical disc media helped keep prices down for a long time.

Yesterday, Nintendo released Metroid Prime Remastered, a re-release of a GameCube game that was new in 2002, and rapidly sold out of physical copies of the game everywhere priced at $39.99, which can now be found on eBay for $70-100.

Apparently a huge number of people accidentally bought copies of the game that they don’t need, and are now selling them because they can’t return them at the store for some reason. Weirdly, they are getting more reselling the game than they paid at the store.

You can still buy a digital download version of the game for the retail price of $39.99 if you don’t want to get scalped, and given that modern games always require downloading of updates, it’s debatable whether physical media copies really make sense anymore.

So apparently, $70 is too much to pay for a brand new game in a flagship franchise, but $100 is reasonable to pay for a remastered classic from 20 years ago that you could have gotten for $40. Makes sense.

Clearly, fans are willing to pay more for the games they want than Nintendo has been charging. Nintendo has been leaving a lot of money on the table. Allowing this gap to exist created the opportunity where scalpers can swoop in and buy up all available copies of a game in order to re-set the price point and sell it at whatever price the market will bear, for mad profit.

Perhaps it’s time for a large increase in the retail price. If the market is bearing these prices, surely it’s the people who made the game who should be reaping these profits, not whoever slept in the parking lot the night before.

Could Nintendo charge $120-140 for new releases? That would be in line with what the price was for games in the 1990s, adjusted for inflation. And it’s in line with what scalpers can get away with for highly anticipated, high demand releases. Maybe they should. Grab-a dat coin, Mario.