Category: Uncategorized

Selling on ebay sucks

It has for a while, now. This isn’t news.

Ebay doesn’t have resources to properly research Buyer Protection claims. They used to try to make the process fair, and required the buyer to provide evidence, including appraisals from allegedly neutral third parties. Proper arbitration is too costly in most cases, so they did away with all that, streamlined it, and now people can abuse the system by making a claim on the barest of pretenses, or even outright fraudulent pretenses, and there’s very little the seller can do about it to keep their money. You’re well protected as a buyer, but as a seller, you’re at the mercy of the buyer’s honesty.

That’s one thing.

Another thing is the outrageous fees that ebay is charging. Some years ago, the final value fee that ebay applied to your sale was 10%. 99% of the time the buyer would pay for the item using PayPal or a credit card, and there would be transaction fees in addition to the ebay Final Value fee. Typically this would be about 3.5% of the item, so your total cost of doing business on ebay would be about 13.5%. And it could be more if you paid for “value added” listing features, such as a reserve price, or additional photos, etc.

Ebay also included the cost of shipping as part of the “final value fee” even though the expense of shipping is yet another cost. So you’d pay for packaging, postage, maybe insurance, and whatever you charged the buyer for this, ebay took a slice of that for their final value fee as well.

If it weren’t for this, sellers could have listed a $10 item for $0.01 + (actual cost of shipping) + $9.99 shipping, and if ebay didn’t include the shipping costs in the final value fee calculation, the seller would have gotten that $9.99 overage on the shipping charge, fee-free.

It made selling small items cost prohibitive, which was a shame.

Ebay bought PayPal in order to collect the transaction fee side of the costs as well as their final value fee. So they were really getting about 13.5% on every transaction.

A few years ago, ebay sold off PayPal, and gradually phased out accepting PayPal for payments. Existing PayPal payment methods are grandfathered in, but it’s no longer possible to use PayPal as a payment method, otherwise.

A few years ago, the government finally stepped in and forced ebay to collect sales tax on all transactions, except for tax-exempt merchants such as charities, who had to file special paperwork proving they were tax exempt. You even have to pay sales tax on secondhand goods, even though sales tax would have been paid on the original purchase of the item, and thus shouldn’t be owed again.

Of course, ebay includes the sales tax that they collect on your behalf and send straight on to the government, and you never see, as part of the “final value” when they calculate their final value fee.

Oh, and they’ve raised the final value fee to $14.5%. So that’s why I call them Greedbay.

Ebay’s “greedbay” fees in action

Take this item I sold recently for $50 + tax + shipping. The postage was $9.13, so I’m getting a total of $59.13, of which I immediately have to pay out $9.13 for the shipping, meaning a net of $50 to me.

Sales tax added another $4.29 to the cost, and ebay considers that part of the final value, so they charge me 14.5% of 63.42, which is $9.48 — and not 14.5% of $59.93, in which case the feel would been only $8.96.

And if they didn’t include the cost of shipping in the final value, their fee would have been $7.25.

And if they had kept to the old final value fee of 10%, it would have been only $5.00, or ($5.91 with shipping included in the calculation)!

So if you look at it, over time ebay has gradually almost doubled the cost of their services.

I can accept the rationale behind charging final value fees that include the cost of shipping, but it’s outrageous to me that ebay thinks it’s right to include the cost of sales tax in their final value fee calculation.

As a seller, I hate this, but there’s very little I can do about it. There’s a few competitors to ebay, but none of them have the volume of customers that ebay has, meaning that sales are slower and fewer. And their fees aren’t much less — in part because if ebay is the standard they are competing against, then they think they only need to undercut them by a slight amount.

As a buyer, it’s outrageous to me that I have to pay sales tax on ebay for secondhand goods that have already been taxed once, at their original sale when they were new. Sales tax should never apply to secondhand items. This would encourage people to buy secondhand, rather than waste resources producing new items, which would be good for the environment.

Atari’s Mr. Run and Jump previewed

I’ve been watching the live stream of Zero Page Homebrew’s preview gameplay of Mr. Run-and-Jump on the Atari 2600.

Mr. Run and Jump exists in two editions: a modern game (available on Steam, the modern Atari VCS, XBox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch) and an de-make version programmed for the Atari 2600, and sold on physical EEPROM cartridge.

It’s really cool that Atari did a de-make, a nod to the still-living 2600 console, which will turn 50 years old in 2027.

I’ve played the Steam game, and it’s pretty challenging. I did not get very far into it, using keyboard input for controls makes it especially challenging. The gameplay and graphics seem to be done well, and I’m going to have to plug in a gamepad and give it another try soon. It’s basically just another 2D side-scrolling platformer, and doesn’t really break any new ground, at least so far as I’ve seen so far, but it is a solid, competently made game.

The 2600 version is a bit less solid, less competently made, but still has some appeal. It has issues with sprite flicker, which could have been addressed and arguably should have been. And there are a few places where I’ve seen level design issues that can result in soft-locking the game (you can get trapped in a pit too deep to jump out of, with no way to die and the only way out is to reset the game).

It’s a decent looking game otherwise. The classic run of the Atari didn’t really have anything quite like this game, the closest thing to it perhaps being Pitfall!, but Pitfall really feels less advanced and Mr. Run and Jump feels more polished and modern due to the jump physics and overall play mechanics. Some of the challenges are a little too difficult to be fun, but that’s a matter of taste/opinion.

There’s some homebrew games that have come out in recent years which provide similar gameplay but are even better, such as: Game of the Bear, Xanthium, Ninjish Guy, and Knight Guy in Low Res World. Based on what I can see, I would put Mr. Run and Jump in the middle of the pack among these. It’s really difficult to rank them because rankings like this are incredibly subjective, but I think that Mr. Run and Jump is maybe a little better than Xanthium, and Ninjish Guy, but Game of the Bear and Knight Guy are all a bit better executed.

I will reserve the right to revise this rating when I receive my copy and get to play it for myself, but it looks like this game is probably a solid B.

TOTK Diary 34

I’m in the hidden cave beneath the whirlpool of Lake Hylia, and there seems to be no way out apart from fast-travel. So I teleport back to Lookout Landing, cash in some Light of Blessings for a heat container, and try to figure out where to go next.

I’ve been a bit frustrated that there seems to be no way to activate the Skyview Tower in the area to the south, which I’ve now probably explored more fully than any zone in the ground level map. I gather that whatever it is I must do, there must be some other subquest linked to it in some other region that I haven’t done yet.

In all of my travels, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Rito Village, and the next most commonly referred to place I haven’t yet visited is Lurelin Village, perhaps followed by Hateno Village.

I still haven’t made any headway in the Ring Ruins subplot in Kakariko Village, either.

I mostly waste the next few hours trying to explore the unmapped region to the South, with the only thing to show for it being a bunch more koroks found. I now have somewhere short of 60 korok seeds, and have not encountered Hestu even once yet. He seems to be missing from the game, but there were times in BOTW when I couldn’t figure out where to find him, either. So who knows, Hestu might be sitting this one out, or he might be somewhere I haven’t been to yet, which is most of the map at this point.

Random observation: I could be wrong, but I think it feels like Blood Moon happens less frequently in TOTK than it does in BOTW. If so, I think it’s probably a good idea. As I played BOTW longer and longer, it seemed to me like the lunar cycle was too rapid, resulting in a Blood Moon annoyingly too soon after the previous one.

But I also wonder why we still have blood moons. If the blood moon resurrection of defeated monsters was due to the Calamity Ganon, and I defeated Calamity Ganon in the previous game, then why are they still happening?

I guess it makes sense to have an in-game explanation for why monsters respawn in the world. But to me, it feels wrong that the explanation is the same as the cause in the previous game, which I had seemingly put an end to when I defeated Ganon.

Like, they could have just said that after a while nearby monsters wandering about nomadic ally simply repopulate an area that you have cleared previously, since you can’t be everywhere, it always happens when you’re not there to see it or do anything about it.

I decide to head into the northern lands, and hope that the conditions will not be too harsh. I have my cold weather pants, which will protect me from milder cold, and a few meals prepared that will give me some additional cold resistance; hopefully it will be enough to last me a while, enough to explore a bit and discover something.

I fast-travel to the closest point I can get to, which happens to be the underground temple hidden deep inside of the Forgotten Temple, which I had visited while working on Impa’s quest.

I have to walk around a bit in order to find a low enough ceiling to Ascend through the roof to exit the Temple efficiently, and while I’m doing that, I find a treasure chest with a weapon in it, and a korok, and a couple of forage plants and mushrooms.

But I’m not here to spend a lot of time, and as soon as I can, I Ascend through the roof of the Temple, and emerge topside. It’s a cold area, a wide, snowy field. The light is dim, and a slight snowfall starts a few moments after my emergence.

I scout around with my telescope trying to see what points of interest are nearby; I spot a Skyview Tower in the far distance, and two Shrines, and what looks like another Fairy Flower. The Fairy Flower seems to be the closest, and in order to be more effective in a fight, I’m going to need to find one that will open for me so I can begin to augment my clothing, so I hope that this will be a more easy one to get open, since that will most directly help me in all my journeys, and head in the direction of the fountain.

As I approach the mountain it sits atop, I notice a cave entrance, and decide to explore it, knowing that there will be lots of good forage in there, protection from the elements, and a quick route to the top of the mountain that is my current destination anyway.

I’m right on all three counts. I find some new items, cold-themed plants and mushrooms, some mineral deposits, and a bubbul frog deep in the cavern in a large chamber. Once I have harvested everything I can, I Ascend to the surface, and pop up directly next to the Fairy Fountain.

Unfortunately, the Fairy won’t come out. It tells me that it, too, is disgusted with the world’s state, and will not come out again unless it hears a musician’s horn playing.

I don’t have that, and wonder what I’ll need to do to get it to happen, and continue to the north, where one of the Shrines I had spotted is marked on the map with a pin.

I arrive at the shrine without incident, and enter. This one is pretty easy. It’s a couple of tests to hit a large bull’s eye target with your ultrahand abilities. I fuse a Log to a Wheel, attach a Rocket, and activate it; the rocket causes the wheel to spin, and strike the target with the log.

I emerge from the shrine, and there’s a korok who needs help getting to his friend; it’s a bit of a walk, but not too bad, so I take him there. I’m ambushed by skeletons but they’re easily dealt with, and I pick up a couple of arrows, which I’ve sorely needed.

Having dropped off the korok with his friend, I head back toward the shrine I had just cleared; from atop the snowy mesa it sits upon, I could see a geoglyph in the snowy field nearby, and I want to find the Tear to unlock the cutscene and complete another part of Impa’s quest.

I trudge around, and it’s slow going because of the snow, but eventually I find what I’m looking for in the right-hand wing of the geoglyph.

The story sequence is of Zelda, with Queen Sophia, who has just been struck down by Ganondorf. Ganondorf has taken the comma-shaped object and pressed it into his forehead, and this greatly amplifies his powers. Now he seems unstoppable. King Rauru bursts in, sees his stricken Queen, and becomes enraged. Ganondorf tells Rauru that it’s too late now, that he has taken the power from him, which he had taken for granted an squandered. Ganondorf summons a horde of bokoblins and other monsters, including some Lynels, a few of whom look like they have antlers instead of a leonine appearance. Ganondorf launches an energy attack at the three, but Rauru protects them with an energy shield that resembles the Daruk’s Protection ability from BOTW. This shields them long enough for Zelda to use the Purah Pad to quick-travel them away to safety.

My next nearest goal for this region is to reach the Skyview Tower and scan the map data into my Purah Pad. To make this journey take less time, I find a falling piece of Sky Island, which has fallen nearby at the edge of the Geoglyph, and I ride it up into the sky using Recall, and then glide in the direction of the tower. This gets me all the way there, I touch down just at the base of the tower as my stamina meter runs out.

I find that this Skyview Tower is in perfect working order, and is unguarded, seemingly abandoned. There’s no one at all nearby that I can find. I activate the tower and ride up in the the air, and obtain the map data.

Once among the clouds, I spot a large chain of sky islands extending eastward, toward a larger chunk of Sky Island that I think I should check out. I glide in the direction, and find myself in the territory of some aerocudas, who spot me and swoop up at me from below, trying to knock me out of the sky. It seems that as long as I keep gliding in a forward direction that all they can do is buzz me, but their near misses are alarming. I don’t have many arrows to shoot them down with, and doing so would use up a lot of my bullet-time stamina, which would shorten my glide distance by a lot. So rather than do that, I glide toward the nearest Sky Island, which is far below me, and rather than hover and descend slowly, I dive. I drop so quickly that the Aerocudas can’t keep up with me, and I lose them. The ground is rushing up to meet me, and I re-deploy my glider, and come in for a soft landing.

This Sky Island has very little on it, a plant or two, but there’s several batteries, a control stick, and a couple of fans, and a floating platform, which I assemble with Ultrahand to turn into a sky car. I hop on and activate it, and fly in the direction that follows the chain of sky islands.

Along the way, there are some active Zonai constructs, soldiers that are armed with rockets, and when they notice me they try to shoot me down. But again, as long as I keep moving, they seem to be unable to target me, and I manage to get past them unscathed.

The first large chunk of Sky Island I come to has a rotating platform with a mechanical piston that looks like it can be used to aim me toward another nearby large Sky Island. The island is strewn with rusty broadswords and claymores, so I’m thinking there must be a big fight coming up near here, if I continue in the direction I continue exploring. I can turn the piston platform using a turning wheel , and so I do so. I get it lined up, and then stand in front of the piston, which catapults me through the air in the desired direction. I’m at the apex of my ballistic trajectory, and starting to lose velocity, and it seems I’ll come up short if I just rely on the push I received, but I use the paraglider again to slow my fall and give me more flight time, and easily reach the Sky Island. I’m expecting a fight, but there’s nothing really around here. Just another Zonai gumball machine, which I use. It yields a few new toys: Sleds, and I forget what else.

But there doesn’t seem to be anything to fight here, and I’m not sure what else I should be doing here. Looking around, off in the distance I spot the massive cube-shaped Sky Island, and it seems to be floating directly overhead a labyrinth. The corner nearest me on this sky cube is an opening, and immediately inside I spot a Shrine. I decide that’s where I want to go next. But it’s not obvious how I can get there from here. Below the level I’m on, there’s another sky island floating between the island I’m standing on and the cube labyrinth. It looks like the sky island that the painter Pikango has been painting. I’ve encountered Pikango twice in this game, and I knew him well from BOTW, where he seemed to be everywhere in Hyrule, telling me things and giving me side quests. So far, Pikango seems to be very interested in this one particular Sky Island that has a distinctive shape, and I believe I’m now looking at it from above. It seems like I could probably glide out to it, and there must surely be something interesting there if I can do so. It doesn’t look very large, and shouldn’t take long to explore.

I try go glide out there from the near edge of the island I’m on, but I don’t quite have the stamina to make it, running out just short of the edge, and I don’t bother with using an elixir to extend my range, I fall just a few feet short of my goal. Plummeting without any stamina left is very dangerous, so I fast-travel back to the safety of the Skyview Tower that started from, thinking it should be simple to try again, and perhaps using a Zonai sky car would be easier.

It takes me two or three more tries, but I eventually find a path that avoids the Zonai construct soldiers and also takes me in a direction where I can get to the sky island I’m interested in.

When I land there, it looks like a tiny temple, shaped like a five-petaled flower. In the center, I find some Zonai runes, which I am unable to read, but I take a photo of, hoping that this will become useful when I next run into Tauros or maybe Pikango.

From this location, I’m too low in the sky to have a hope of reaching the floating cube, but gliding in its direction will take me to the entrance of the labyrinth on the ground level, provided I manage to survive the dive at the end. As I’m approaching the landing area, a shooting star falling from the sky just barely misses me. When I land, I turn around and it’s not more than 20 feet from me! This is the closest I’ve ever been to a falling star. In the sky, it seemed like it missed me by mere feet. I run over to collect it. Then I turn my attention back to the entrance of the labyrinth. Just outside the entrance, I find a traveler must have been here already, for there is a camp site and a journal notebook for me to read.

It tells me that the person who explored the labyrinth was a Hylian who was trying to explore after Tauros, who began the investigation here, left to check out runes at another site (probably Kakariko?). The anonymous author of the notes went on to explore the labyrinth, leaving a trail of pine cones, and stacks of firewood, and occasionally a new campsite with a new notebook with some more clues.

I try to follow his trail, and for the most part it’s not too difficult, although there are spots where Gloom makes it difficult. There are numerous ice blocks in this labyrinth, which is in the cold upper corner of northeast Hebron, and when I melt some of them, they reveal Zonai arms and shields of exceptional power.

But I’m trying to find the center of the labyrinth, which contains a locked chamber. There are barred windows showing a shrine in the center, and that’s my ultimate goal. But exploring every inch of the labyrinth seems worthwhile if it’s going to turn up these high powered weapons and shields. The best I find is a shield with a defense rating of 50, and another with a defense rating of 25. I also find some powerful Zonai swords, although they are only about half as powerful as the shields. I also find a few forage plants and mushrooms, and pick those when I find them.

Eventually I get tired of trying to find my way through the maze, so I activate Ascend and use it to get up on top of the maze walls, which enables me to “cheat” a bit, and quickly get to parts of the maze that I would have to wander a long time to reach if I was on the ground level.

But due to the 3D verticality of the maze, I can’t simply jump over the walls and get to the center. There’s a barred floor when I try, and so I have to find the right way.

There’s a korok shooting gallery challenge at one corner of the labyrinth, on the top of the wall, but I have but three arrows and not enough to spare to attempt the challenge. I mark the location to return later when I have more ammo, and continue trying to find my way into the shrine chamber.

At one point, I am on the top of the wall, when I look down in a spot I haven’t yet been to from below, and I spot a Gloom enemy, the horrible thing with many arms, which I’ve encountered before only once.

I’m afraid of this thing, especially in the tight confines of a maze where I will really struggle to outrun it, and mostly blunder into walls that will cause my camera to screw up my view, as the rendering engine stops drawing the wall I’m close to, and shifts the camera angle around to show the world through Link’s eyes, without drawing Link so that I can’t see where exactly he is, and then the monster will grab me and kill me with no problem. And probably I’ll start climbing a wall that I don’t mean to climb too. I hate fighting in close quarters in this game, and I think that’s a design flaw more than it is that I suck or that I’m not powered up enough.

I feel like I need to take out this gloom creature if I’m going to solve the maze, and who knows if I can, but I decide to try to soften it up as much as I can by dropping Bomb Flowers from above. I have only about 16 of them left, and I can’t throw them, and I can’t waste arrows on them either. From this height if I throw them they’ll hit the far wall of the maze corridor too high up to do any damage to the hands, so I have to drop them.

This proves surprisingly effective, though, and when I drop a bomb I do damage to most or all of the hands, taking its health meter down an appreciable amount. I seem to wake the thing up, and I’m afraid it will climb the wall and attack me directly, but it doesn’t seem capable of looking up or climbing. All it does is slide around on the floor, moving through the maze, apparently trying to find me, but unable to do so.

This gives me quite an advantage, and I use it to maximum effect, dropping about 10 bombs altogether, which finally destroys the creature.

This triggers a Boss Fight with a Phantom Ganon. The Phantom Ganon’s life bar appears and the music changes, the sky turns blood red and I get even more scared. I am looking frantically all around me for this Phantom Ganon, but don’t see it. Or him. I run around looking down into the labyrinth from atop the walls, hoping to spot him and at least get an idea of what I’m up against, but there is no sign of it, and I am starting to get confused. I keep looking and looking, wandering about on the top of the maze for this missing (invisible?) boss, who I cannot find.

Finally after several minutes, the boss music fades out and the life bar disappears. What happened? Did some timer run out? Or did I walk too far away from the spawn point and trigger a de-spawn? Do I have to fight that hand gloom again? Or will it come back if I jump back down into the maze?

I have little to lose so I give it a try, but the hand monster doesn’t return, and neither does Phantom Ganon.

Eventually I lose my fear and resume looking for the heart of the maze, and eventually I manage to find it.

The final bit of puzzle to this area is that in order to get into the shrine, I have to build a fire to melt some large blocks of ice that are blocking its entrance. This is easy; flint, metal sword, firewood, done.

I receive a blessing from the shrine, just for opening it.

When I emerge, I discover a new Zonai activation spot, at the far end of the chamber from where the shrine is. I examine it, and it tells me that the Spirit of the Owl, who watches over this labyrinth, has unlocked some door in the maze in the sky above.

So these two mazes are linked in at least that way.

I wonder about the Phantom Ganon, and wonder how will I get to fight it, and if I do, what tactics will I employ to survive and prevail?

Oh, and there’s a chasm to the underworld in the shrine chamber of the ground level labyrinth, which is covered by a locked grate that I don’t know how to open. So that’s rather mysterious. I wonder if the underworld is a maze at this location, as well.

My next point of interest to check out is the other shrine. This one happens to be right near the Tanantha Stable, and it’s one of the more elaborate challenges I’ve faced so far. The name of the challenge is Courage to Fail. There’s a large double door that I have to open using Ultrahand, and then a series of laser beams that trigger a trapdoor in the floor behind the great doors. There’s no way past these beams, it seems at first, and given the name of the challenge I guess I’m meant to be brave and test them out… no, I just fall to my death. Upon respawning, I discover a side path that I can walk around the more obvious way in, and avoid the beams altogether. From here, I Ascend through an overhanging ceiling and climb a ladder, then duck under a low tunnel, and find myself in a room where I have to fight a few Zonai Constructs. They’re little challenge, but I do have to be a bit careful with them, as it’s two on one. Once they’re defeated, there’s another pair further on, and some more laser beam trap doors. I easily evade the beams on the second trapdoor area, and then am puzzled by a locked room with a ball. I’m obviously meant to extract this ball and use it, but I don’t know where the key is. It takes me some time to puzzle through this, but there’s a third trapdoor where it turns out that it’s the way forward, not a pit of death. I have to discover this by testing it by breaking the laser beam trigger with an object I manipulate with Ultrahand. I grab a fallen Construct’s weapon and use it to block the beam, the trap door opens, I look down into the pit and can see solid ground, and that’s the way.

I go through and find a chest with a small key, which unlocks the room above containing the ball. From there, I have to get the ball into two bowls to unlock gates. The first gate contains a Zonai wing with fans attached to it, which I have to put on a rail, and then glue the ball to it, and use it to fly down below to the second area where the bowl unlocks the Light of Blessing.

It’s a satisfying puzzle that isn’t immediately obvious and takes some careful examination to figure out.

I proceed out of the shrine, and in the snow off in the distance away from the Stables I spot a light. Using the telescope, I can see it’s a Korok who needs help finding his friend. I pick him up and take him, taking care to walk around a nasty cold Wizzorobe, my least favorite type. After reuniting the korok buddies, I notice they’re right in front of a cave, which I enter. It turns out this cave is the same one I explored earlier, the one directly beneath the Fairy Flower.

So I return back to the stable, and talk to everyone there. They warn me of the cold and tell me of the troubles at Rito Village, where it has been so cold that everyone there is starving and they need help. I guess that’s where I’m meant to go next.

I talk to a guy sitting by a cooking fire, who mentions a well in back, and yeah I guess it seems that there’s a well at pretty much every stable. So I go to check it out, and it’s frozen over. I stand on the ice and light a fire, and break through into a cave, which has a lot of mineral deposits, but the drops from them are mostly rock salt and flint, only one amber and one sapphire.

I guess this has been a pretty productive session; I’ve accomplishes more than a few things and made progress. So it’s time to take a rest.

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.

Mind-blowing Boulder Dash Atari 2600 prototype by Andrew Davie

Sadly, I only remember hearing about the video game Boulder Dash in the days of its original release, way back when, but I never actually played the game. Never had the opportunity to, never saw it at a friend’s house, never saw it at a store. I only recall seeing it in catalogs and advertisements, mostly I think for Apple ][ computers or Commodore 64.

The game revolves around a cellular automata that simulates a cave-in, triggered by the player as they extract treasure from the earth inside a cavern.

Atari Age has a version of it available on the store currently. And you might want to pick it up, if only to get access to this amazing version currently in prototype that I just watched a longplay video for. Check this game out:

Holy @#%$! this is amazing!

The developer, Andrew Davie, wishes to be respectful to the IP rights of the original developers, and has stated that they will likely require proof of purchase of the original Boulder Dash in order to purchase his version when it becomes available.

This version looks absolutely incredible. The game is powered by an ARM processor, a super-chip in the cartridge that is far more powerful than the actual Atari 2600 console hardware. We’ve seen other Atari 2600 homebrew games powered by ARM-augmented cartridge expansions, such Champ Games’s releases from recent years, such as Galagon, Zookeeper, and the upcoming Elevator Agent. The color palette, sprite scaling, smooth sinewave motion, and audio are almost unbelievable. To me, this is what I want to see when game developers produce “throwback” games. The aesthetic is early 80s, but the other hardware constraints are lifted, allowing for things that wouldn’t have been possible back in the day, but look like they could have, if only.

Even though I have no memories of the original to give me nostalgia for this version, I’m instantly hyped to give this one a try. There’s no telling how long it will take to go from prototype to release, but I hope the wait isn’t terribly long. Hopefully there won’t be any Intellectual Property snags to prevent it from getting a general release.

Atari Age 2022 homebrew picks

The Atari Age Store has finally dropped the new titles that were announced for 2022 release. Some of these titles were available in limited quantities at Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October of last year.

I could have spent a lot more money if I had bought everything I wanted, but with the prices of these games running upwards of $50-60 a piece, they’re no longer the easy buys that they were at $25-30, 5-10 years ago. Although the prices are up, the quality is too. Both in terms of the games themselves and their presentation and packaging.

The games I bought this year are some of the best looking homebrews I’ve seen yet: RubyQ (2600), Qyx (2600), and Popeye (7800). All three are arcade clone/ports: RubyQ = Q*Bert, Qyx = Qix, and Popeye = Popeye. All three look amazing, particularly considering the systems they were developed to run on.

I was tempted to add Galaxian (7800), Pac Man Collection 40th Anniversary Edition (7800), Oozy the Goo: Slime Quest (2600), and Blocks (2600). But I just can’t fit them into my budget this year. Gorf Arcade (2600), Rob’n’Banks (5200) (Lock’n’Chase), 2048 (7800), and Keystone Koppers (7800 (Keystone Kapers) also look well done, but not games that I liked well enough in their original incarnations to buy again on physical cartridge, although they’re certainly worth a play if you can download the ROMs and run them on emulator.

The Atari 2600 homebrew scene is better than ever, it seems, and still going strong 45+ years on from the original launch of the Atari 2600 in 1977, with works being produced today that exceed the best quality games that were available on the platform in its commercial heyday.

Atari publishes new IP: Kombinera

Atari has published a new game, called Kombinera. It looks decent — an action-puzzle game where you need to combine five different colored balls into one. Atari did not develop the game; that work was done by outside developers Graphite Lab and Joystick. My initial impression is that it looks like an indie game, and in fact visually it reminds me a lot of 140. Another reviewer said that the game had a platformer vibe reminiscent of VVVVVV — which certainly sounds like a good thing.

Kombinera is available on Steam. Which, is on the one hand good, because it means you don’t need to go out and buy a VCS console in order to play it, but also puzzling, because why did Atari bother with all the trouble of launching a console when they’re clearly not intending to support it by selling platform-exclusive titles?

As critical of Atari as I’ve been over the past several years, it’s good to see them putting out new IP, even if they’re not developing it internally. So, cautiously, this seems like a step in the right direction for the company.

GameMaker Studio finally coming to Linux?

About 10 years ago, YoYoGames was talking about a Linux IDE for GameMaker Studio on their long-term roadmap. A few years passed, and the roadmap disappeared and all talk about a Linux IDE went silent. It seemed that PlayTech may have been responsible for killing the project when they bought YoYoGames.

I’d given up all hope of a GameMaker IDE on Linux long ago, but a few days ago, this article crossed my newsfeed. It looks like new YoYoGame owners Opera is developing a port, currently in beta. It appears it will be supported on Ubuntu only, but that’s better than zero Linux distros, and Ubuntu is a pretty good choice.

This would have really excited me a decade ago, and would have been the last obstacle to me completely ditching Microsoft. While better late than never, it’s still not really here yet. It sounds like the beta currently has some rather severe issues that make it less than suitable for production at this time. Hopefully this will change quickly. It will be interesting to watch and see how it goes in the coming weeks.

Audacity: spyware?

A couple weeks ago, I saw a news headline somewhere about how the open source software project Audacity had been compromised as spyware, and that users who are concerned about freedom and privacy should not upgrade to version 3.

This article on ArsTechnica (purports to) debunk this scare story, but I think they arrive at a bogus conclusion. The highlighted text in the screen capture of the article below shows why.

Data necessary for law enforcement is most certainly a spyware concern. Hello!

Spyware is concerned with violating users privacy, period. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a good reason for it, or if it is legally mandated. If the software is gathering information for you, not on your behalf, and reporting it to someone else not you, without your express, informed consent, it fits the definition of spyware. Period.

The “data necessary for law enforcement” category might sound good to many people. Laws are nominally good, and law enforcement must therefore also be good, right?

Sure… Except in corrupt regimes. How might they abuse this?

A better question might be: What legitimate use might they have for this?

Audacity is vague as to exactly what data is “necessary” to provide to law enforcement.

My guess is that copyright cops want some way to track Audacity users who use Audacity in violation of copyright. Of course, there’s not really a way to know if the use of a copyrighted audio file might fall under Fair Use, and Big Copyright does not care — they are the enemy of Fair Use, unconditionally. They want to protect their interests, which means, ultimately, totalitarian-level control over all media, whether they own it or not.

But in more fantastical paranoid scenarios, law enforcement could encompass nominally “anti-terrorist” technologies that can be abused to target political enemies, minorities, etc. I don’t know that this is a thing, but depending on how vague Audacity’s project maintainers are, it could conceivably be a thing. If the perceived threat is that terrorist organizations use software to create media messages, embedding tracking data in the files to identify the computers that were used to produce it, geotag via IP address the location where those computers are, etc. is feasible, at least in principle.

Moreover, there’s little to stop evil regimes from requiring that all software must include whatever data gathering they see fit, turning computers into Big Brother boxes. We may not even be all that far from that reality as it is, given what we know about state actors and non-state actors dark influence the web and on mobile device apps.

The “telemetry” data gathering that vendors use to improve their product and see how users use their products are pretty standard by now, and most people aren’t going to be impacted by that, at least not in a negative way. But it’s a door opened a crack that enables a slippery slope of “if you can collect this, we can require you to collect what we want” so in a way telemetry features is a bit of a trojan horse. But as long as developers are transparent about what they gather, and make it opt-in, I don’t really have a problem with it.

The article does mention that these alleged spyware features are only in official builds, so if you don’t want them, you can compile the project from source and they will not be there. While good, only a very small number of people will compile a software project from source for themselves.

A colleague with an interest in IT and legal issues pointed out to me that:

As I understand it a third party like Audacity DOES have to hand over records if subpoenaed by law enforcement but DOESN’T have to *create* those records if it wasn’t going to create them anyway. E.g., if cops demand the WordPress server logs that I have, I do have to hand them over. But I don’t have to have logs at all if I don’t want to.

So no, they’re doing more than they have to to comply with the law. They could just not collect the information.

I would like to know more about this WSM Group — I googled and there’s a lot of three-letter acronym organizations that use this, but the most likely one, I would guess, could be WSM Music Group, Ltd.

According to wikipedia, they’re in Hong Kong. So, China’s oppressive laws are shaping the way “Free” (libre) software used worldwide is being developed? China is a huge IP violator and (obviously) privacy violator for its citizens, and there’s plenty of examples of Chinese electronics companies (such as Lenovo, Huawei, etc.) embedding insecure backdoors and spyware out the wazoo into consumer products.

So, no, I do not feel at all assured by any of this.

“Retro” gaming

I like video games, old and new. But I had more time to play video games when I was younger, and so I like the games that I spent the most time with the best, because they are most familiar to me. So I mostly like old games.

I also like new games that evoke the feeling of playing the old games that I liked.

There’s a lot of talk about “retro gaming” in the gamer communities I follow, and a recurring topic of conversation is to ask what the definition of “retro” is.

Usually people have some guideline, like “anything older than 10 (or 20, or some other arbitrary cutoff age) years old is retro”. Or sometimes they’ll refer to retro as anything that ran on an 8-bit or 16-bit processor. Then there’s a bit of discussion about console generations, about the transition from EEPROM cartridges to optical media, CD-ROM to DVD-ROM, and then the more recent transition away from optical media to solid state and digital download. People attempt to draw circles around the different features in order to define some set of characteristics that define retro.

I believe that these discussions are misguided.

Retro isn’t a thing that something becomes when it gets sufficiently old.

Rather, retro is when someone, in the present, does something in an outdated or obsolete way, creating something in the style of something that is now old.

Atari was state of the art. NES was state of the art. SNES was state of the art. N64 was state of the art. Sony Playstation was state of the art. The Wii was state of the art. Even if it wasn’t using cutting edge technology — Nintendo has a history of using less expensive, less impressive hardware than Sony/Microsoft, but is nonetheless state of the art in its current generation.

A game programmed to run natively on the Switch, but that looks and feels like a NES game, like Shovel Knight, is retro. The original Super Mario Bros. will never be retro — it is old, not retro. Super Mario 35, Nintendo’s 35th anniversary celebration that re-imagines the original SMB, is retro. An indie game written in for PCs that evokes the look and feel of a game that could have been implemented on the hardware of a generation or two ago, is retro.

Retro is something new made to resemble or evoke something old.