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Spending a lot of time online, I occasionally see various brands in the midst of a social media meltdown. Originally, I would just grab the proverbial popcorn and watch them burn the situation to the ground, but since I became responsible for five Twitter accounts with a combined reach of about two hundred thousand people, I stopped with the snack foods and started trying to learn from other peoples’ mistakes.

I was with friends today when I heard about the latest blow-up. A few of the women were talking about Black Milk, a brand of nerdy leggings that many of my friends either own, or want to own. I’ve even sent them business before, they’re that ubiquitous within my circle of friends. They’re known for being accepting and empowering toward anyone who wants to wear their leggings, unlike, say, some other brands.

One of Black Milk’s social media people had posted the following image:

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Seems harmless, right? Some thought it was funny, but some thought, “Wait, this meme is usually: Desired outcome, actual crappy outcome, hilarity ensues.” You might post a picture of a neat cake you saw on Pinterest, and then a hilarious failure at attempting to reproduce the cake. At the very least, at the most innocent, the image that was posted says, “I want to look like this hottie, but all that ends up happening is I look like Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik)”.

Now, if you want to get into just how offensive this could be to women, I suggest you check out Jacqui Collins’ blog, who can address it more from that perspective. While I feel like I understand and sympathize with the issue, I’m not a woman, don’t wear Black Milk, and am really here to discuss what happened after the picture was posted.

What happened next was that a number of women posted some pretty level-headed posts about how they were offended by the image, and a discussion ensued. I’ll admit, there may have been inappropriate or offensive content that I couldn’t see, because for the day that this was up, the Black Milk team heavily moderated much of the content that posted about how they were offended.

It led to Jacqui, one of their huge supporters, being banned from their page. It led to me, someone who chimed in on the situation (a much abbreviated version of this blog post), being banned from their page. With as calm and rational as my post was (sadly, I didn’t screenshot it, I didn’t think it was going to matter), I can’t imagine how many other people were banned. And then, after banning people, they posted time after time about how they were in the right, and if you didn’t like it, you could just un-like the page.

Here’s the core of the position that I’m trying to bring to you today: Sometimes, you say something that hurts someone, and you didn’t mean it that way. In fact, you have no idea how the hell they took it that way, and whether you’re on social media, or you’re having a discussion in person, the polite (and correct, for a brand that sells things to customers) response is usually, “I’m sorry that what I said hurt or offended you. I didn’t mean it that way.” In fact, you can even go on to say what it was that you were thinking, and maybe the other person(s) will understand where you were coming from. But you shouldn’t tell customers (or, people in general) over and over that you’re right, that they’re wrong, and if you don’t like it, leave.

Here’s a collection of their posts, and my comments on each:

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For someone who’s not familiar with the, “I’m sorry I upset you, I didn’t mean to” method, this is the classic opening: “You’re wrong”. Man, did it take me a long time to wrap my head around this, and this happened constantly in my own relationship. I’m still trying not to do this! Telling the person they’re wrong usually only aggravates the situation, and to top it off, they escalated the situation right to the usual, “Well if you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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They started to ban people and delete comments from the page. I can understand this from a moderator’s standpoint, but the things that started to disappear weren’t limited to nasty comments, but productive conversation. Just, a conversation that Black Milk didn’t want to have. Of course, you can email them at any time if you want to call them out privately…

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Now they’ve dug their trenches, and they aren’t going anywhere. At this point, they could have just stopped posting and cut their losses, but they kept it up in full force. Again, if you don’t like it, shop elsewhere!

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"Please keep in mind that there are less whiners than non-whiners, so it’s not a huge deal. And the needs of the many Facebook fans outweigh the needs of the few." -James T. Kirk

Wait, Kirk didn’t say that.

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"There are some people who support us, and we’re looking to those people for encouragement while the rest of you hate on us."

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Here’s where they wind things down. At this point, it’s been almost 24 hours of back and forth posting, the picture/topic has almost 3,000 likes, and who knows how many people actually viewed the fiasco. Here’s what this final post conveys:

  1. We’re tired of dealing with this, so we’re deleting everything about it.
  2. It was just a joke, and you’re still wrong if you were offended.
  3. The people who were banned, and saying that they were respectfully sharing their opinion, were not respectfully sharing their opinion, and we were justified in banning them all.
  4. If you don’t like it, shop elsewhere.
  5. We’re jerks.

"But Marc, you’ve analyzed this from a rational perspective thus far and now you’re calling them names!", said the imaginary voice of a potential reader. Well, yeah. Take a look at number five. They were almost there, they had heard peoples’ complaints, they maybe understood the issue and… they have integrity? Surely, they must have meant the secondary definition of integrity, as in, "the state of being whole and undivided", because they doubled-down on "you’re all wrong" and signed it as all of them. Yes, all of them. So if you were concerned that this was one rogue social media manager, it’s not, they’re saying that all they’ve said represents the entire company. They have removed the benefit of the doubt that this was one person’s screw-up, and have gone out of their way to let you know it was everyone’s screw-up.

From a certain perspective, the error wasn’t so much in the picture, but the way they handled it. They alienated numerous fans and customers by sticking to their guns, and continued to do so for the next 24 hours when they could have apologized, or at the very least, let it go (just like they were suggesting that everyone else do!). Not backing down when this happens in person may lose you a single relationship. Not backing down when this happens online, with your fans, loses you the goodwill of some of those fans, and untold future sales. 

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Hey Tumblr, I didn’t see you there. Oh wait, I DID.

Today I said a thing on Twitter, and lots of people talked with me about it.

Upon review, the directness of the statement is a bit cringe-worthy. It’s my fourth most popular tweet, and I’d really rather those top slots be more positive things. I still stand by the sentiment, though, and I wanted to say where the feelings came from.

A brief aside: I realize that in my position, my opinions are often taken as official policy. It’s frustrating that I can’t turn it on and off, and with a single Twitter account go from talking about official support business, to talking about Minecraft as a player, and the realization that I can’t turn it off has greatly impacted what kinds of topics I’ll discuss publicly. I joined Mojang as a hardcore player, and I’ve been playing regularly since 2010. I’ve admin’d several servers, and today’s sentiments came from the position of a server admin who attempted to foster a collaborative community, and weeded out the malicious players. But yes, I get that I no longer get to pick and choose when I’m on or off.

So why did I think that charging for an un-ban made someone a bad server admin? Let’s say that you have a local community dodgeball league. Most people get along, but one player exhibits malicious behavior: they throw the ball at their teammates, they scream obscenities while playing, they cheat and break the rules, and for some reason, they won’t quit building dicks out of the outfield dirt.

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In most places, this would warrant some sort of an infraction, based on the established rules system. There might be a warning, or a suspension, or some kind of appeals process. Consider though, if each time the player was suspended, they handed over $5 and continued playing. The disincentive for playing is financial, but if banned permanently, the disincentive is social: you don’t get to play with other people. (I’m sure some will point out that this is true in professional sports, but the fine is usually some astronomical sum of money)

With this player paying per infraction, they get to modify their behavior based on how much money they have available to spend. Meanwhile, the player’s misconduct is impacting their teammates and how much they want to play in the same league with the player. At a certain point, if coaching the player proves ineffective, I believe that it’s better for the team and the league to be rid of that person, and to carry on in a less toxic environment.

That analogy holds up fairly well, though there are other elements to consider, such as the fact that a Minecraft player could buy another username, or in the case of a malicious player, be using compromised accounts to continue playing.

Anyway, if we’re talking in general terms (and completely ignoring the potential implications of charging players to use a feature of the game; I don’t even want to try another EULA conversation), I still maintain that it’s bad for a server community’s well-being to allow a player to buy their way back into the system. To me, it feels cheap and it feels greedy. Not all servers that offer to let you buy your way back do this indefinitely; some have a cap on it, and some apparently even donate that money to charity. However, I think it puts a price on their misbehavior, and cheapens the server.

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At the time of writing, almost 200 people have retweeted, so clearly many feel similarly. It’d be easy to stop right here, having had many people on the internet agree with me, but we already live in an environment where we can all pull up a Huffington Post or a Fox News article that “proves” just about any point (for the non-Americans, this is very liberal and very conservative media, respectively), and it’s lazy.

So here’s the other point of view.

I had a conversation with one of the owners of a large server that allows paying for un-bans (just twice). I asked, server admin to server admin, if he might be able to let me know the reasoning behind this kind of policy. Here’s the points I was given:

  • If you ban someone forever, and they want to keep using your server, they’ll come back under a compromised or newly-purchased account.
  • It allows you to monitor malicious players, instead of having them use a new name and you start from scratch.
  • It takes a ton of support resources to manually process ban appeals (assuming your server isn’t hardcore and bans you once, forever).
  • Over time, people who were given a second chance could turn into valuable members of the community.

Having the conversation gave me some contrasting viewpoints (though it could be argued that all but the third weren’t only an argument for paying to come back, but for an appeals system in general), and I’m glad I had it.

Regardless of which viewpoint you agree with, I hope we can all agree that with advancements in servers and various plugins, we’re faced with an increasingly wide array of tools that will let us deal with malicious players in more creative ways. Some server networks toss all of the cheaters in one server to play with each other. Some force you to slave away in a rock quarry breaking thousands of blocks before you’re allowed to rejoin society. Some mute you and make you invisible for a certain time limit, which increases any time you rack up offenses. These methods change the way that bans work altogether, and provide various social disincentives for misbehaving. Instead of being able to buy “get out of jail free” cards, I’d like to see servers put more thought into it, for the benefit of their community.

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Yesterday, I posted a somewhat cryptic call for builders, for a personal, non-Mojang-related project. In the past, I’ve gotten a few good builders, and they’re now my go-to people: if I need something built, or need an opinion on something, I’ll usually poke them over Skype. A number of them are friends now (hi Tewkesape and Oviraptor!), and we’ve been doing stuff on servers for the last year or two, including Minecraft Marathon, lots of mini-events, and the Magicraft server.

Here’s the tweets:

The purpose of this was to gather a handful of people that wanted to work on a cool creative project. I wanted to see if people could follow directions and work with minimal oversight. I didn’t give it a deadline, because I don’t have a deadline for picking up good builder contacts.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly (it happens each time) the more immediate responses were underwhelming and none followed the instructions. Some advice: take your time. It’s meant to weed out people who want to just jump into something without doing any work. If we see an imgur album with pictures from the five requested builds, and they’re good, that person is probably getting in automatically. I imagine that out of 110,000 followers, I’ll only get 2-3 people who complete the whole process.

I’m not prepared to give more details at the moment, because I don’t want to hype something that’s barely been started, but it will be server-based, intended for a large audience, and should be lots of fun.

Some FAQs:

Q: Can I use mods?
A: Not going to say no, but if your build is full of Silverwood and Sorting Trees, you’re not going to get extra points for it, since we won’t be using those mods.

Q: Can I use superflat/redstone/<block type>/<item>
A: This is the working with minimal oversight part. Impress us.

Q: Can I tweet you the pictures one at a time over the next week?
A: Please don’t. They’ll get lost in the tweet flood. Send an imgur album of several pictures of each build, once you’re done with all five.

Q: I’m stuck on a build. Can you provide some advice?
A: Use Google images?

Q: Do you accept users who are <number> of years old?
A: If you have to ask, no. To be clear, I’m not concerned with what your age is, but if you are, you’re probably too young. I build with people who are aged from 16 to in their 40’s. Part of the neat thing about the internet (and one of the thing that younger kids might do well to know) is that you’re behind an avatar, and most people don’t know, and don’t care, how old you are. What matters is your ability to work well with others.

Have a question not answered here? Find me on Twitter at @Marc_IRL.

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Many people have made lists of the best games to come out in 2013 (try The Swapper, Dead Rising 3, or Gone Home!), but I thought I’d make a list of the worst. Actually, to save time, I’m going to give you my number one worst game of 2013.

That game is… Pocket Mine.

Pocket Mine is a simple game where you mine by tapping on blocks, scoring loot and blowing up rocks all the way down. It’s an iOS app whose flaws don’t stem from buggy or boring gameplay, but whose sin instead is that it could have been a great game, but chose to sell out in a way that ruined the experience in almost every way possible.

First: the good. The music in this game is a series of bright, catchy songs, written by Jimmy Hinson, AKA BigGiantCircles. I found out about his music this year through his wildly successful Kickstarter project, and I had the realization that there was a big, chiptune-y hole in my life that he then filled. I later met him, and he’s as kind and funny in person as his music is catchy.

Let me be clear: don’t play Pocket Mine, but do buy Jimmy’s music.

The other sunny spot in this game is the simplicity and fluidity of the gameplay, which always left me ready to jump into the next level. Or, maybe I couldn’t wait to jump into the next level because I could score more loot, and more loot got me more things, and more things got me more loot, and somewhere in there I could spend tons of money on… Where was I again? The gameplay is pretty good.

Pocket Mine reminds me of another game that came out in 2013: Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing. It too had gameplay where you tried to go as far down as possible, beating your previous record, while keeping you sucked in with a loot progression system. Only, Ridiculous Fishing chose to sell their game for $2.99, and they did so without including a consumable currency, which you could purchase for more money. It was ripe for monetization, and I remember remarking after its release that I was pleasantly surprised that they chose to go that route. It was also an terrific game, and you should buy it.

The similarities to Ridiculous Fishing stop at the addictive gameplay and loot progression, though. Ridiculous Fishing never tried to sell me hooks, lures, boats or characters. Pocket Mine sells off pieces of itself until there’s nothing left, and the game becomes less about gameplay, and more about buying your way to more points. The sad thing is, you’re not even competing against other players; it’s you vs. your wallet. Here’s some of the ways that you can spend money:

  • You can upgrade your pick with in-game cash, but once you run out, you buy their other currency, rubies, with real-world money (you can earn a meager amount of rubies in the game, but never on the levels that real dollars will get you).
  • You can unlock chests that you find while digging by using keys that you get from completing challenges. Want more keys? Buy with rubies.
  • You earn cards throughout the game that serve as powerups, but you can buy packs of cards… with rubies.
  • If you’re at the end of your pick’s durability, and the game is about to end, you can just pay in rubies to keep it going.

Rubies are the way that you really start to go places with the game. At my level, to upgrade my pick’s durability a few more points, I need 129 rubies. A VIP booster pack of cards is 150 rubies. The last two characters that I stumbled across during my digs, that have to be unlocked, cost 100 and 150 rubies. How much is that? 115 rubies is $9.99, or I could just spring for the big package of 500, and pour $39.99 into this mostly pointless game.

The thing that makes all of this worse is that, sometime this fall, an update was released which not only added a small amount of new content, but more ways to buy both new and old content alike. When I start the game now, a fullscreen ad asks me to get another game. Stumbling across new characters was also added in that update, but instead of it being an occasion for celebration, you get the privilege of buying that character. If you choose not to, they’ll be around on a future dig, waiting to be freed from their rocky prison by your money.

The game is constantly asking you to do things: spend money at every turn, watch an ad for another app, or annoy your Facebook friends. But much like a friend who stays over at your house for too long, using your facilities and emptying your fridge, Pocket Mine never really gives you anything back for your time. It’s the crazy ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who, admittedly, is pretty good-looking, but added nothing worthwhile to your life.

This game could have been good. Instead, it’s joined a legion of free-to-play shovelware that constantly fishes for the “whales”, the players who get suckered into the game, and who will spend $39.99 on a bundle of rubies. It’s offensive and arguably immoral to treat your players as cash cows, sacrificing gameplay for gamepay. It represents just one of many such apps and games, whose profitability relies on our desire for more, and whose shady microtransactions have even seeped into full-priced PC and console games. Pocket Mine may not be the most disgusting of the bunch, but as a game that could have been great, but deliberately chose not to be, its failure to the player feels inexcusable.

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I came away from PAX with a bunch of codes for things. Normally, I’d hoard these and give them out while streaming, or use them for a charity event, but some of them are time-specific. I’ve redeemed my copies, now go use these!

Borderlands 2: Upgrade Pack 2

This is for the upcoming Digistruct Peak Challenge pack. Enter the code at borderlands2.com/ultimateupgrade2redeemUS

brd2ul-27072-12210
brd2ul-42781-71454
brd2ul-78939-26221
brd2ul-01967-00946
brd2ul-70306-33776

Gearbox Community Day Code

I’m actually not sure what this one does. It says to celebrate the Anniversary of Borderlands 2 on September 14th. Redeem the code at gearboxsoftware.com/PAXPRIME2013

RBMS-DTB6-P6XF-KM3S

Dawngate closed beta

This code can be redeemed up to five times. Go to dawngate.com and click Redeem Code.

H76S-V5CQ-3NYY-PHVX

Fairway Solitaire

This game is already listed as free, so I’m not really sure what this code gets you… Enter it on your iPad’s or in iTunes.

FMKAWXPA6LNJ

League of Legends

This seems to be what most people usually want. Enter the code in the LoL client under Store -> Codes.

Arcade Hecarim - WWPU4L3P7LGQCE
Riot Blitzcrank - WWNHQ7FJXDM6XW

Harmonix $2 PS3 Codes

I assume that you enter these as any other PS3 code.

9EBA-GDBP-D5E2
EGCA-9DB2-KGFR
63AG-C5B8-F2HC
AGRT-FCBJ-KBRH

 

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Redeem these codes at gog.com/redeem.

JW4LBCT8
JW3XBCPN
JWSYBCXR

 

That’s it! Let me know on Twitter if you got one. If I run into extra codes in the future, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

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PAX is a special time for me. Twice a year, I get to run into tons of game industry friends, Enforcers (show staff), Minecrafters, and tens of thousands of other nerds. Since many of my friends seem to be posting what they’ll be involved in, I thought I’d do the same. Maybe we’ll run into each other! Me being at a panel (other than my own) is always subject to the lines not being awful, and whomever I’m with not being a poopy pants about attending a panel.

Thursday:

Gonna be downtown in the afternoon to grab my shirts and badges. Anything interesting going on while I’m down there?

Friday:

8:30am-1:30pm - Enforcing at Kraken Theater

3pm-4pm - Gamers Give Back: The Child’s Play Panel - In the Serpent theater, and featuring two of my favorite Penny Arcade people, Kristin and Jamie from Child’s Play. I’ve supported them by running Minecraft Marathon, which has raised over $53,000 for Child’s Play in the last two years. It’s a great cause!

5pm-6pm - The Community Management Juggling Act - Many of you know that someday, when I grow up, I’d like to be a community manager. Sounds like a great place to go for some info, and I know some of the folks on the panel! It’ll be in the Unicorn Theater.

9:30pm - Doing a comedy show with my friends! Come see The Improv Initiative in the Unicorn theater. Seriously. Go to this. If no one shows up, I will be sad. My mom says I’m funny.

Saturday:

8:30am-1:30pm - Enforcing at Kraken Theater

4pm-5pm - Crafting Minecraft: The Future of Gaming is Open Source Culture. A Ph.D. student talks about the evolution of Minecraft in an open source culture. Totally going to this! This panel is in Raven theater.

6pm-8pm - Minecraft FFA Competition in PC Tournament. I think I might try to get my name on the list for this…

Sunday:

8:30am-1:30pm - Enforcing at Kraken Theater

Edit: Whoops. I scheduled two things at once…

6:30pm - Watching the Cards Against Humanity show at the Triple Door. I think these tickets are sold out out. But maybe you can mug someone for their tickets as they’re waiting in line? It’s bound to be a horrible show with horrible people.

7pm-10pm - Minecrafter Dinner. Last PAX East, Aureylian and I gathered some friends together, and it was a huge success! She’s planned this one to be even better than before. If you’re one of the people who should be here, you probably know how to get ahold of me.

Monday:

11am-2pm - Magic: the Gathering Blast From the Past Sealed Deck tourney. Players construct a deck from one pack of each set in the last two blocks. Winner gets a Modern Masters foil card sheet. Um, yes!

12pm-1pm - Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’: The Revenge. The cast of Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’ is doing a panel. This webseries is HILARIOUS. Yes, I realize it overlaps with the MTG tourney. Guess I’ll have to pick one or the other. In the Kraken theater.

Tuesday:

6pm - Enforcer afterparty! This year, there’s something like 750 of us. This is where we go to relax, and say goodbye to each other for the next 6 or 12 months.

Whew, that’ll be busy! Hope to see my friends, and make lots of new ones!

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Right now, my Twitter is getting hammered with questions about Minecon. I’m going to stay away from talking about Minecon directly, because I am not organizing it, I don’t want to venture too far into talking about work stuff on my personal blog, and I certainly don’t want some news site to pick it up. What I will address is, in general, how tickets and attendance work. I’ve worked at seven PAXes, two Minecons, and been an attendee at four conventions. I’ve been an expo hall manager, a volunteer coordinator, paid staff and a volunteer. I think that gives me some experience and the ability to speak on this issue; though you can decide what it’s worth to you. 

Successful conventions and/or conventions of which there is sufficient interest sell out quickly. This happens with PAX, Burning Man, Minecon, and any number of other group gatherings, large and small. The solution is never to “just sell more tickets”. This is because:

 

1. Conventions take a very long time to plan, and they are planned for a certain amount of attendees. If you increase available tickets, assuming you have the space to do so, you increase content, staff, cost, exhibitors, and a number of other things. This makes it so that increasing available tickets exponentially increases the complexity and planning time of the event.

2. Conventions have limited space. This could be because a set amount of space was negotiated for, or a set amount of space exists. The events center may be running other events there, or it may have reached fire capacity (PAX Prime cannot sell more tickets each year because the WSTCC simply does not hold more people).

3. The convention organizers may not want the convention to get any larger. If anyone has been to San Diego Comicon or E3, you know what a MASSIVE, confusing and sometimes impersonal event it can be. For SDCC, streets are blocked off for blocks just so people can walk. It’s ridiculous. They have a company that runs year-round to make that convention happen.

The fact is that selling more tickets isn’t feasible on several levels. This brings me to the actual selling of the tickets. For Burning Man, there’s a sort of complex sales/raffle system. It’s weird, and it bothers some people, especially those who go yearly and suddenly can’t go. This was done in an effort to be more “fair”, but most conventions (and in general, ticket sales sites, like Ticketmaster, etc) use a first come first serve system.

In this system, the first people in the system have a virtual reservation for X minutes until they can complete their order. If that time elapses, the ticket is released so that the next person can get to them. These systems usually work well, though can get a little wonky if tens of thousands of people hit it at the same time. If you have a low ratio of available tickets to people that want to purchase them, the tickets sell more quickly. In 2012, PAX Prime sold out in a week. This year, four day passes sold out in minutes. On the other hand, a convention like PlayOnCon (which was fun, but comparatively unknown to the general gaming community), tickets did not sell out.

The only bit that I will directly address about Minecon is that, with roughly 30 million sales across all platforms, that’s a lot of people who want to go to a convention. If you made accommodations for each person to go, your convention would turn into a Katamari.

This brings me to the last thing that I’ll talk about: our feelings about these things. Con-goers have an interest, and often an emotional connection to the things at the convention they’re going to. Maybe you’ve been playing Achaea for a decade and go to IronCon, or you want to hang out with members of the LGBTQ community and you’re at GaymerX. If people can’t go because of prior commitments, travel costs, or as is often the case, tickets sell out, people are disappointed.

The people running the convention know and understand this. Conventions aren’t started to make money, they’re to gather people. Many smaller conventions (or even the large conventions, before they became so huge) struggle to break even, or cost the company money. These events are run because people have a shared interest, and again, the con organizers get that. It makes them sad when people can’t go (read that link, it’s a good one). It makes them really, really sad when people accuse them of not doing it for the fans. When there are comments, and tweets, and petitions, and lynch mobs… things can get out of hand.

I think that many of the people tweeting at me today were young folks, who may have not had the opportunity to go to a convention before. The experience that was had with ticket sales, sadly, is not limited to this instance, it’s what happens at any popular convention. Attendees want to attend, organizers want you there, and if somehow that doesn’t happen, it probably doesn’t mean that the attendees love the thing less, and it certainly does not mean that the organizers appreciate your love and support the rest of the year any less either.

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Charity gaming marathons are near and dear to my heart, having completed one myself last year, with plans to do so again this coming January. Coming up this Saturday, October 20th is Extra Life, a gaming marathon that one or more people can sign up to do, and raise funds for Children’s Hospital. Since a number of my friends and Twitter followers are participating, I wanted to link you all to them. Please visit, watch, and consider donating!

Tara Theoharis (GeekyHostess)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=36497
(I need to get back to Tara on the details, but it sounds like I may pop in for a bit in person to this one; more details forthcoming from my Twitter account)

Eric Neustadter (thevowel)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=32180

David Wyble (Jaxx)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=40267

Erin Bestrom (Nomad)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=31824

Jonathan Updegrove (Jonny Nero)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=34496

Team Labs (inc. Dave Bisceglia and Ralph Shao)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=37990

Miguel Luévano (Lascoweic)
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=41622

Planet Minecraft
http://www.planetminecraft.com/forums/play-games-heal-kids-extra-life-fundraiser-t161380.html

Joseph Coleman
http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=35797

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At one time, I decided that I was going to write a blog. I was unemployed, having been laid off from my previous job doing customer service for an insurance company for all of my adult life (six years). I wanted to document both cool life experiences and neat instances where I found innovative uses of technology. After all, I was going back to school for a programming degree, where I hoped to get a job working in augmented reality, social networking, or some location-based gaming (I still think that my idea [which I’m sure others have thought of too] to have an iPhone app where you physically hunt for Pokemon in the real world is the best idea ever).

But, things have changed, and for the better! I last left you at Minecon, where I hauled my poor, unemployed self over to Las Vegas, to help Mojang with their convention. I’d been a volunteer staff member at several PAXes before, so this was right up my alley, albeit with more responsibility, as I was leading all of the volunteers. Things went well, I got to work with one of my favorite game companies, and I made a lot of friends, people that I still see and talk to almost one year later.

At PAX, Minecon, and the month or so after, I brought up the idea of be working for Mojang a number of times. Surely, it was a long shot. This was a company that was absolutely blowing up, and I spent probably the first month of my unemployment playing Minecraft, only to take breaks to shower and eat. But while the game was a massive success, there wasn’t time to do a gradual building up of support systems and staff like most companies have. It needed to get done as soon as possible, to support millions of players, and 10,000 new players each day. While most players bought the game and never had any issues, with several million customers, you’re going to have people who need you, even if it’s just to reset their email or password.

I’d watched new Mojang employees be hired on and added to the team; they each filled a need, and most of them knew someone in the company. It was like adding people to a small family. So I now had worked with the company twice, and I had the skillset to do what they needed. My last job at my previous employer was to help with their online customer service, which was still very new. In January, I got an email saying they’d like to bring me on. I signed my contract a bit later that month (during Minecraft Marathon, actually, but I couldn’t tell our viewers because it hadn’t yet been countersigned!), and have been working for Mojang ever since.

I also did Minecraft Marathon with some friends, in which we played Minecraft for 53 hours and raised $11,000 for Child’s Play Charity. It started off as “let’s do a Minecraft LAN” and turned into this thing where I planned for three months, networked, and got corporate sponsors. We had $4,000 in live donations and a whopping $7,000 in auction items. Thank you so much to everyone who helped, especially ThinkGeek, Jones Soda, J!NX, Junkboy, Wondercraft, M3Sweatt, BungieSteve Dengler and LethalDrive.

With a new job at Mojang, the newest phase of my life began. I have a flexible schedule, which means that both my hours and days can be swapped around (though I try to work 9-5, M-F) as long as I hit my total. This, combined with the fact that I work online, presented some interesting opportunities. I moved out of my place at the end of May, flew to Los Angeles for the weekend to help run the Child’s Play Charity annual golf tournament, spent June in Victoria, BC (Canada), spent July in Los Angeles, and did PAX Prime with Mojang in August, and moved to Seattle in September.

Side note on PAX: being a PAX Enforcer (volunteer) has been a huge part of my life the last few years. I’ve made friends, dated an Enforcer, gone on trips with them, and they’re a big part of my social life. I’ve decided that, finances and time off allowing, that I’m going to continue to be an Enforcer at any event that the company does not have a booth at. This includes the newly announced PAX Australia! This convention and community is amazing, feel free to bug me about it if you ever have questions.

So it’s now October, and I have so much coming up. I started my own Minecraft server, which is a casual place for me to hang out, and have gradually started to add a few outsiders here and there. I started livestreaming recently, and I try to combine games with humor. I just did my first stream on the HermitCraft server, and since all of those players are pretty big YouTubers, this is kind of a big deal, and I’m glad that I can be a part of that. I applied for a passport, and in November, I’m flying out to Disneyland Paris to help run Minecon 2012. Afterwards, I’d love to see the company office in Stockholm. Somewhere in there, planning for Minecraft Marathon 2 needs to happen, because that’s tentatively set for January. Lastly, the last nine months spent at Mojang are about to pay off, as our customer support systems are fully operational, many kinks have been worked out of systems, and we’re about to finish off the last of our email backlog. Completing that project, and moving on to how we can now improve what we have, feels very fulfilling.

Life has gotten strange and wonderful. Each week, I meet new people that I really enjoy. Each month, I get to do something new and exciting. Just like the internet, Seattle is full of amazing nerds, and I feel at home with these people both online and off. I’ll try to post smaller, slightly more regular blogs, but you can always catch me on Twitter. As always, I’m both humbled and encouraged by the overwhelming number of people who seem to find these things interesting. Thanks for reading :-)

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Looking back at Minecon, a blog post, or even a series of blog posts, just seems daunting to write. Have you ever had a time where something amazing happened to you, and so much happened that you can hardly convey your excitement to someone else, in something that resembles actual words? I attempted to write a short version of my experience, but I quickly realized that I was writing a small novel. So, here’s the first bit of that story.

For the last two and a half years, I’ve helped to run the bi-annual Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). This last August was my fifth PAX as an Enforcer, and I was again working in the expo hall. I’d asked to be assigned to Mojang, creators of the game Minecraft, since I was such a huge fan. I got DeVry University (a local college whose sole need for the weekend was an extra chair), the PAX 10 (a group of ten selected indie games, who due to demoing all weekend, only asked for more chairs), and Mojang. Mojang did not need any chairs, but I started work for them on Thursday before the show, and my last task was completed Monday morning. I got to work with Lydia Winters, Mojang’s Director of Fun, Vu Bui, a photographer/filmmaker-turned booth manager, and the rest of Mojang.

The booth was a success, PAX was incredible as always, and I went home with a signed dirt block booth panel, a picture with the creator of one of my favorite games, and a lot of memories.

Notch and I are very tired

Fast forward now to November. Minecraft is about to leave beta status behind, and Mojang wants to kick it off in style, in Las Vegas. For the last few months, Lydia, Vu, and Mojang had been planning Minecon, a sort of kickoff party for its already immensely popular game. At the time, they had nearly four million downloads, and fourteen million registered users. A lucky 4,500 people were going to get to go to Las Vegas and see the game and its creators.

Naturally, I wanted to go, but because I’d been struggling with funemployment, it wasn’t really in the cards. Thankfully, Lydia called me and asked if I’d like a ticket, and Erick, a fellow Enforcer, offered to let me stay in his room for free, since he was already attending. I put the airfare on my credit card, and I was good to go!

Minecon logo

In the time leading up to Minecon, I’d sent Lydia an email or two, wanting to see if they would need volunteers to run the show, and if I could fit in anywhere. As much as I tried to be a professional at PAX, I was still really a Minecraft fanboy inside. I wanted to be a part of their own convention! Closer to the event, Lydia emailed me; they would definitely need me, and were excited I was coming. About a week before I was to fly out to Minecon, Vu called and told me that they wanted to offer me the position of Volunteer Coordinator for Minecon.

There was no hesitation.

All of a sudden, I was in PAX mode. I’d want to see some floorplans, know who I was working with, get event specifics, and run that event like a boss. Vu handed off the volunteer coordination to me, and I got a Google Docs spreadsheet and a rapidly-filling inbox. I was tasked with giving out assignments to everyone, and sorting everything out.

Minecon was to run over a Friday and a Saturday, but I had already planned to be there early. I’d never been to Las Vegas, and Erick and I wanted some time to look around. Wednesday morning, I got to Bellingham International Airport. Bellingham’s airport is so small that it has just four gates, so the odds of me running into Minecon attendees was fairly low. Nevertheless, I ran into two kids and their (presumably) mothers. We talked for a moment about Minecraft, and did that thing where excited nerds start speaking in a language that onlookers find difficult to translate.

A view from the airplane

A few hours later, I landed in Las Vegas. It was the first time in my life that I had both flown alone and not met up with anyone else (Erick’s flight got in a few hours later). Even flying out to Boston for PAX East, if there are no Enforcers on my flight, there are usually some hanging around the airport, caching a bus or taxi (after all, it takes about 600 of us to run PAX). I made my way to the street, and paid a funny taxi driver way too much money to get to the Mandalay Bay hotel (I’d been warned against letting a taxi take the long way, too). Apparently, the services he offered were not limited to picking people up at the airport; he was also on-call between 2am and 2pm, and if I wanted, he could have some nice ladies sent up to my room while I was there.

I got ahold of Vu, and after walking to the wrong hotel (why are the Mandalay Bay Hotel and The Hotel at Mandalay Bay right next to each other??), I made my way to his room. I greeted him, met his brother, Lan, and went to work on the volunteer schedule. I worked for the next few hours, minus dinner on the strip with Erick, and finally finished the schedule at 4am. With a long weekend ahead of me, I closed my eyes and immediately fell asleep.

Thanks for reading part 1 of my Minecon experience. I’ll be posting the rest of my trip in the next few days, including stories about crowds, nightclubs, and helicopters. Stay tuned!