Wow, it's been a long time since we did one of these!
If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.
Let's get it started again in 2014! The rules this week are pretty simple.
1. Guess how much money Captain America: The Winter Soldier will make in its opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money it makes between Thursday night and Sunday night. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $55.5 million (we'll count tens of a million, but be as specific as you like.)
2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 4/2 at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. I'm going to take screenshots of the replies at that point, so don't bother editing your post or deleting a post and trying again later.
3. The winners will be determined next Monday or Tuesday, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.
4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win a copy of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PS3. The closest non-Premium member will get a year of Premium access. This is a brand-new copy of Ni No Kuni, mind you: it hasn't even been opened!
That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)
I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when it came time to translate the title of Ni No Kuni for the American market, or, rather, not do so at all. I don’t disagree with the choice to leave the title untranslated; I’m just really curious about it. It’d be one thing if it was a character’s name, but it seems like the phrase has a number of serviceable options for an English translation, whether you believe it’s Second Country or Another World or what have you. I gather that perhaps a bunch of people sat down at a conference table, fought over the precise way to get all the nuance out of the phrase, had to be separated after duking it out, and then they all just decided to leave it alone. And then they were all paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their services.
Whatever the case may be, Ni No Kuni’s a pretty good game. It definitely comes across as a Level 5 game, which I was a bit dubious about, having never been terrifically huge fans of their RPGs in the past. It was never as sloggy as, say, Dragon Quest VIII was (but then I recall few RPGs more interminable than DQVIII), even if there was a bit of grinding here and there to get me past the tougher bosses. But in the end it was Pretty Alright.
The combat system might’ve been the game’s weakest aspect, but even so, it rarely reached a level of true frustration. Most of the fights were passable simply by bringing out my Mitey familiar and tapping the X button incessantly, and that’s without even getting any of the familiars that I had to maximum friendliness. So it’s difficult to really say there was a lot of strategy involved, but then that’s probably always the case when you’re talking about a team of AI party members. I would’ve loved to see some kind of deeper AI settings like you had in Final Fantasy XII, where you could control what actions your teammates do based on the context of what’s happening in battle, but those options are pretty slim here.
Even so, your teammates are smart enough to not feel like they got in the way, even though I barely ever actively controlled them. Part of that is just functional AI algorithms (if char A is <75% health, cast a heal, etc.) that worked even without a lot of massaging; part of that is an avoidance of the enemy attacks that make AI teammates often so frustrating to deal with. Only one boss drops down fire that you have to move out of, for instance (which of course wound up killing my teammates multiple times); most of the rest of the enemies have attacks that are either big damage to one party member or manageable damage to all of them, both of which are pretty easy to adjust to so long as you have good healing options in your familiars. For a lot of the last section of the game, I just used Oliver, running away from bad guys and spamming Evenstar or Astra to wipe out entire groups of enemies or using heals while my teammates plinked away at bosses. Not thrilling, but fun enough.
I guess that would sum up the storyline as well. It’s not as well-told as most of Miyazaki’s best films which, even when dealing with children, are often startlingly mature and subtle in the way they deal with the interior emotions of their characters. Things are a bit more overt here, which is fine in its own way, but it did get a little tiring to see every Ultimate Bad Guy go through a lengthy exposition to explain that they were Really Not That Bad At All, to the point where the end boss, who’s killed probably millions of people during her reign, simply becomes good again after you fight her, says “now it’s time for me to help people,” and is turned loose to the world. An odd idea of justice, that.
I dunno! Ni No Kuni’s good, but it seems a bit inconsequential, too; I wouldn’t have cried if someone had made me stop playing after five hours, or anything. Finishing it made me realize that it’s been a very long time since I actually completed a JRPG (unless you count stuff like Dark Souls or Dragon’s Dogma; I personally don’t); I got pretty close to finishing Tales of Vesperia a couple of years ago, but not much has really caught my eye in the interim. I gave up on FFXIII-2 after a couple of hours, and barely made it through Lightning Returns’ demo before deciding not to buy it. I guess the FFX Remaster stuff is a week away or so, so there’s that to look forward to, at least. Let’s all buy a couple copies so they do the same thing to FFXII.
Hey, I have a couple extra copies of Ni No Kuni to give away! I'll give one away in the comments here and one sometime later. Just leave a comment and I'll select someone at random in a few days.
Hey, we recently put a bunch of Nighthawks posters on the store. We originally printed 1,000 of them thinking that they'd take a while to sell out, but you guys are crazy, and we actually sold out of them within a matter of maybe eight hours of them being on sale? They sold so fast that we actually had a bit of a snafu on the store and we sold around 1,120 of them, which is obviously more than we printed. Unfortunately that means that we're going to have to cancel 120 orders.
Ha, ha, no: we're not dicks. Well, we are, but not in this particular instance. Instead of canceling orders, we went ahead and ordered another 500 copies of the poster to account for the excess orders that we received. So, everyone who got an order in will get a poster. Plus, we'll be able to sell another 300 of the posters or so at some point in the future. (Gonna save the rest to bring to PAX and for site giveaways and the like.) Many of our UK/Europe friends were not happy that the posters were only for sale in California's afternoon time, so when I'm sure we're OK to sell the rest of these posters, I'll very likely throw them on the store at something like 2 AM Pacific time, which is...what, like 8 PM in the UK? Or noon? I don't know what the math is on that, sorry. I'm not Godel or anything. I will announce this sale a few days ahead of time, so keep an eye on the general forum, where I'll probably sticky the announcement.
We won't be restricting these sales to European addresses or anything, so if you're an American, you can still get an order in; you'll just have to stay up late to do so. To prevent any more inventory problems, we'll probably only offer these posters with signatures; attempting to track both non-signature and signed versions of the poster is what got us in the inventory mess in the first place, and the number of people who explicitly don't want signatures on their posters is pretty small.
Also, if you ordered a Bombduders shirt, I believe they're coming into stock now and trickling out of the warehouse, so enjoy that!
If you have any questions about an order (or shipping costs, etc.), please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If they don't get back to you within a couple of business days, re-send the email and cc me in at email@example.com so I can escalate it if need be.
Dead Space 3 was nominated on our "most disappointing games of the year" list, so I thought I might take a moment to think back on a game that I actually found shockingly solid, despite my initial trepidation about it. I personally would venture that DS3 was one of my favorite surprises of the year, especially coming after my largely negative experience with Dead Space 2 (which threw game-breakingly powerful items at you at the start of the game, for free, if you got the game of the year edition on Steam) and the fairly worrying announcements that were made about Dead Space 3 leading up to its release.
The biggest, reddest flag for me about Dead Space 3 was the announcement that the whole game could be played in both co-op or singleplayer modes. I was very prepared to simply write off the game entirely at that point, as most games that feature combined co-op and single-player campaigns do so very poorly, with the possible exception of action RPGs like the Diablo games. I've never particularly been all that interested in playing co-op games, so my experiences with stuff like Borderlands have largely come via playing their single-player campaigns.
Action games like Borderlands or Diablo can scale themselves up for multiple players fairly easily, of course, so creating something that works in both modes has never been particularly tough for them. Dead Space has never leant itself well to that style of run-and-gun gameplay. It's a horror game, set in tight corridors, focusing on slow exploration, picking up audio logs, reading journals, and occasional bursts of intense action rather than running and gunning. I didn't see how they could make it work as a co-op game.
EA made a lot of promises to skeptics like me before the game came out, claiming that the co-op integration was going to be seamless and that its development wouldn't affect the single-player campaign, and so on. I loved Resident Evil 4 more than anything else on the GameCube, and got only a couple of hours into Resident Evil 5 before my AI teammate frustrated me so much that I simply gave up, so naturally I was less than ready to believe everything they said. There was plenty of forum chatter going around about their open desire to appeal to new players, the inclusion of an action-roll button that was straight out of Gears of War, having more characters appear, having Isaac speak more than he ever had before, and so on.
When I'm skeptical about something, usually this industry does its best to realize my worst fears, so kudos to EA: virtually none of my worries were actually borne out in the game.
The biggest of these was, as mentioned, the influence of co-op play on the single-player game. I played through the entire game in single-player mode, and was almost never struck with the idea that it was intended or even designed for co-op play. There were some small exceptions, of course; some of the door-unlocking puzzles seemed likely to have been designed for two players, and near the end of the game you start running across the co-op character more often, but it largely felt unchanged from the series' roots in a "one dude exploring creepy places" kind of vibe.
Maybe that meant the co-op felt tacked-on; I played about an hour of it and it felt acceptable. Either way, I'd much prefer to have co-op feel bad than have single-player suck, and most of my experiences in the past have either come with the latter experiences or strictly separate co-op/SP experiences (e.g. Portal 2) than with games that have tried to convert themselves from a single-player franchise to one that includes a bolted-on co-op option. Dead Space 3 threaded the needle in a way that was basically undetectable to me as a primarily single-player person, and Visceral deserves a lot of credit for that.
A lot of the other complaints wound up being relatively minor. I don't remember ever using the combat roll thing, so that wasn't a big deal. I was never harassed by any kind of microtransaction or DLC prompt that I can recall, so those never bothered me at all, either. (Nothing seemed unbalanced about the game without spending extra cash on it, in other words.) The pacing and progression of the gun creation stuff felt fine, and the crafting system wound up leading to some interesting (if overpowered) gun possibilities.
Even the notion of Isaac Clarke and his Merry Gang wound up not affecting the ebb and flow of the creepiness too much. Yes, it was a little weird seeing Isaac interact with real humans in the flesh as often as he did, especially for someone who began the series as a silent protagonist, but you still spent the vast bulk of your time crawling through corridors alone, and it allowed for some great setpieces like the shuttle crash. And they avoided throwing in any escort missions, which alone forces me to give the developers some kudos.
I can't speak as to anyone else's experience with the game; maybe it was a massive letdown for people who care enough about the series to have read the novels and watched the anime, etc. Speaking as someone who liked Dead Space 1 and was let down by the GOTY edition of Dead Space 2 just because of balance issues, though, DS3 was a fine capper to the series and a heck of a good time even as an isolated experience. Having not read any reviews of it (and having not listened to the podcast discussion about it), I don't know why it would be in the running for our most disappointing game of the year, but hey: for what it's worth I really enjoyed it. It'd be a shame if there won't be any more of them.
I haven't written much here lately! Mostly I've been busy being sick over the last six weeks or so. I've never been sick for this long before! Probably the wasting disease or consumption or maybe just a general sense of malaise. Getting better now, but still coughing more than I should be. We'll see how things go.
Anyway, I've been meaning to write more in this blog, but I generally tend to set out to write something short, and then it balloons to some crazy-long thing that I have to have saved in Google Drive because I'm afraid of losing it all. I somehow have 1,500 words on GTA V's sense of humor that hasn't cohered into anything worth reading, for example. But maybe if I just type stuff directly into the field I can post more often with less stress. We'll see.
A lot of my gaming time lately has been spent in Dragon's Dogma, which I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to play by various people. I got it for "free" from PS+, and that's my kind of price when it comes to buying a game! I had tried it a while back on the Xbox, but was playing Dark Souls at the time and had a hard time shifting back and forth between the control schemes - the lack of a lock-on feature made it a bit difficult to shift between games, although that was mitigated somewhat when I found out about Blink Strike. I mostly played through the game as either a fighter, mystic knight, or assassin, which was fine, since Blink Strike and Tusk Toss were by far my most-used abilities.
Once I got the hang of it, the combat quickly became second nature, and refreshingly enough your AI teammates aren't complete idiots. They're not great, of course, and you spend a lot of time reviving them in tougher boss fights, but hey: at least the game lets you revive them for free. One thing that I noticed, though, is that a significant number of players have no idea what to do with their pawns. Browsing the online lists, there are more than a few people that never assign their pawns any skills (like, at all), have starter-level equipment on them, or otherwise just seem unable to grasp the idea of there being a party member you should be paying attention to. It's not an uncomplicated system, to be fair, but it's still odd to see people unable to grasp such a core concept in a game. They probably should've offered some kind of auto-pawn system that would assign your main pawn a selection of skills to complement your own, or even giving you a one-button solution to make your party a healer/mage/bow/warrior setup. Like everyone else who's ever played a D&D PC game, I wouldn't touch such a system, but these days it probably would've made it a bit more accessible to a more general audience (like, e.g., the people who randomly downloaded it because it was free).
There's definitely a weird difficulty curve, though; wandering off the main roads into a pack of bandits early in the game feels like a real challenge, but since there's no enemy scaling, by the time you hit level 40 or so, you mostly wander around steamrolling everything you come across. Come to think of it, I died fairly rarely; I didn't realize that I didn't have to fight the ogre in Lure of the Abyss, who stomped me a couple of times, and an archer in the Bluemoon Tower managed to hit me with a knockback arrow that sent me down a big flight of stairs. And there was a room full of Hellhounds in the Everfall that was complete bullshit.
I suppose there's a sense of satisfaction to murdering ogres and gryphons that were almost impossible earlier in the game, but I can't help but feel that just a leeeetle bit of scaling, even if only on the huge enemies, would've made the combat later in the game more threatening. (Please hold your death threats.) Perhaps I should've just bumped it up to hard difficulty, assuming that's even possible. But for the most part combat's really fun and probably worth the price of admission alone.
That story...well, it feels like the kind of thing where a team was given a mandate to make a game about killing a big old dragon, then smoked a bunch of pot and decided to write a super-weird epilogue about the nature of existence and tack it on. It's weird, and not entirely satisfying as a conclusion to the story, but I give these guys a lot of credit for boldness, at least. I would've liked to see more Dark Souls-ish implied backstory, but it didn't feel like there was much of that, leading to some weird unanswered questions. What's the deal with pawns? What was up with the Duke's wife? What exactly is the Everfall? Etc. Maybe the unanswered questions are meant to reflect your status as a woefully underinformed Arisen, but still.
I haven't felt all that compelled to delve into the DLC all that much, although it's nice to know that there are some challenges waiting for me if I choose to do so. I got thoroughly rolled by Death on my first visit, and then I later ran into a room with a Gorechimera and a Chimera, so that...was fun. Maybe I'll try to tackle it a bit over the holidays.
A few caveats: the crafting and item system seems a bit...overdesigned. I picked up pretty much everything I came across, but outside of pure curative items, you mostly seem capable of making a bunch of random, weird junk that you don't really need. (And having random quests suddenly deliver 60 skulls or seven-pound armor sets into your inventory and weigh you down was also a bit silly.) Is there really a point to carrying around blindness or sleep cures when you can simply have a healer with high-priority Halidom in the party?
The stat growth system also seems pretty silly, in that different classes get different skill allotments at level-up, requiring min-maxers to plan far ahead to get the best skill levels at max level. Granted, that's a bit of a silly goal, considering that I really doubt there's much in the game that can even scratch you when you hit level 200, but at the same time, level-up systems that require you to jump through hoops to obtain maximum efficiency are a bit of a bête noire for me (FFXIII-2 had a similar issue). An incredibly minor thing, to be sure.
All in all, I like this game. It's good and fun to play. More than anything, though, it makes me really excited to see what's going to be happening with the next generation of open-world games. Graphics aren't the only thing to worry about, but I'm hoping that a game like this is going to be truly jaw-dropping when the sequel rolls out for the PS4 and XBONE.
I guess more generally I was thinking yesterday about the hoopla surrounding the server troubles that accompanied the launch of GTAO and how uninterested I was in their ramifications. I've been through numerous poor launches of online titles, including but not limited to World of Warcraft (all but unplayable for the first week of its release), Half-Life 2 (the first major test for Steam; it hung up on authentication for a large proportion of people trying to unlock it at midnight), and more recent launch day (or week) failures of Diablo III, SimCity, and FFXIV. As I've gotten older, though, these things just seem to be less and less worthy of comment from my end. My inability to play WoW when it came out was a matter of genuine distress; nowadays I just kind of shrug and assume that I'll be able to get into the game a week later.
It's difficult to say whether this sangfroid is a good thing or a bad thing. Generally speaking I don't find myself getting all that upset at anything anymore; if I find something annoying or frustrating I usually just ignore it or remove it from my life rather than give it more time than it's due or write angry forum posts about it, and I don't really buy anything unless I'm pretty sure I'm going to like it. Specifically, though, I generally assume that highly-anticipated games with an online requirement are going to be kinda busted for the first few days of their release. That doesn't reflect well on the competence of major publishers, who really should've learned from any of the dozens of teachable moments that have come down the pipe over the last decade, and maybe I should exercise my right as a consumer to loudly berate companies that fail at seemingly simple tasks, but I just have a hard time getting up in arms about things like launch-day server issues nowadays. It's easier to sit back and unwindulax than fret about this kind of stuff, or play some other game that's currently functioning rather than worry about the one that isn't. These things tend to work themselves out with time.
It is somewhat interesting to think about why this stuff keeps happening, though. I assume that most publishers have their spreadsheets about anticipated server loads over time and simply do some math like that of the narrator in Fight Club, something along the lines of: the server load on launch day will be twice as big as it ever will be in the future. We can EITHER spend twice as much money to ensure a smooth launch, and buy excess infrastructure that we won't wind up using OR we can launch with the infrastructure that we assume we'll need permanently and absorb whatever damage to our reputation that'll come from a less-than-functional launch. I assume that the math usually winds up going in favor of the latter option.
But maybe I'm completely off about all this stuff and it's simply really difficult to judge how many people are going to be using an online service the day it launches. Who knows?
Alas, my PS3 is officially no more. My attempt at a repair on my Playstation 3 YLOD, courtesy of the iFixit repair kit, was an ignominious failure. I didn’t have too many problems with the actual process of working through the instructions, even though it took almost one and a half episodes of Foyle’s War to get through all the steps. I’m pretty familiar working with the interiors of PCs, but I have to say that the interior of a PS3 is certainly one of the most complicated bits of electronics I’ve ever worked with, at least from a construction standpoint. Everything’s bolted up so tightly that it’s kind of a wonder this thing didn’t overheat years ago.
In the end, getting into the insides of the machine led me to realize that I’ll probably never run a gaming console in a vertical formulation again. Maybe that’s a bit of an overreaction, since the machine was working fine for many years while being vertically oriented, but just looking at all of the heatsinks and thermal pads makes me suspect that the machine would’ve made it to the PS4 launch if it didn’t have the added sideways stress of having the processors and pads effectively hanging in space. Laying horizontally, gravity would seem to naturally keep the thermal pads in better contact with the chips.
But what do I know? I’m the guy who managed to disassemble his PS3, apply new thermal pads, and then reassemble it with only two screws mysteriously left over. Maybe that had something to do with the system’s continued non-functionality. At any rate, I did manage to eke out a minor improvement in that the system stays on for around five seconds now before the fans blow out to their maximum speed and the YLOD repeats itself. Long enough for me to pop my GTAV disc out of the blu-ray player, at any rate.
At least I got a heatgun and screwdriver kit out of all this, though; unfortunately the attempt at self-repair, while noble and manly, probably prevented me from exchanging the system with Sony, since I had to rip off the no-tamper sticker from the side to get to the screw that allows you access to the machine’s guts. That’s a shame, but oh well.
So now I’m looking into my options regarding continued Playstation 3 usage, mostly just because I still have a copy of GTAV for that platform. Common sense would dictate just trying to get a copy of the game for the 360 and playing that, but I’d still like to have a Blu-Ray player to match up with my new television, especially since I don’t know when I’ll be able to pick up a PS4. Borrow one from the office? Borrow my girlfriend’s for a week or two? Buy a new one?
I’ve been tempted to just plunk down for a new one, since I suppose I’ll probably want to play one of the PS3 games that I own at some point in the future, even after the PS4 comes out. What’s curious to me right now is the odd range of Playstation 3 SKUs on the market. Here’s a look at the bundles and the price ranges from Best Buy and Amazon:
500GB Bundle with inFamous 2 and Gran Turismo 5 XL
250GB Bundle with Medal of Honor: Warfighter and God of War Saga
250GB Bundle with Uncharted 3 GOTY Edition + 1 year PS+
It is, as far as I can tell, impossible to just get a regular old Slim PS3 without a game getting packed in, aside from some odd deals from third-party sellers on Amazon and refurbished systems at GameStop, with neither option really appealing to me.
All of these options are interesting, but it’s curious to see the pricing disparity between the new 12GB flash console and the Grand Theft Auto V bundle; you pay effectively an extra ten bucks (discounting the cost of the game) for a 500GB hard drive. I suppose a lot of that is Sony attempting to shift inventory before launching the PS4, but I'm sure they'll be manufacturing PS3s for a while yet. That makes the 12GB option largely pointless unless you're really on the razor's edge of being able to afford a console at all. Anyone who’s attempted to install a game or two to the PS3 should know that a 12GB hard drive is wholly unsuited to the demands of modern gaming. A 12GB PS3 is more a fine Blu-Ray player with occasional opportunities to play games than a gaming console, really.
Still, tough to justify shelling out $300 for a console that’s about to get obfuscated and a game that I already own, even if I could turn the game into a gift for someone or a site giveaway. My options are apparently limited, though. I wouldn’t be stressing if GTAV hadn’t just come out and the PS4 wasn’t around the corner. Damn you, planned obsolescence!
I don’t get misty-eyed over technology very often, but it’s hard not to lament the passing of my Playstation 3. I’ve had this bad boy for quite a while now, having bought it on the first vacation that I took back home to Virginia after joining GameSpot back in 2004. So, that would place the purchase in the summer of 2007 or so. As I recall, Best Buy was running some kind of crazy $50 or $100-off deal that summer, and, having avoided the rather crazy original purchase price of the console, I decided to lay down my money and finally join the Blu-Ray Revolution.
All good things come to an end, though, and it looks like whatever crazy stuff that running GTAV does to a PS3 was finally the bullet in the head of my little workhorse. My girlfriend’s out of town, so I bought GTAV yesterday in the hopes of having some free time to spend on it this weekend, but unfortunately fate intervened. No more than half an hour after starting the game (I was getting into Franklin’s car after delivering the repossessed cars to the dealership), everything died rather violently, with the red LED on the system flashing over and over. I thought at first that something had just overheated, but nope: attempting to turn the system back on simply resulted in the infamous green light - yellow light of death - flashing red light sequence. My system’s gone on to the next world.
It’s hard for me to guess whether I’ve used my PS3 or my X360 more this generation. Certainly both of them have lagged pretty far behind my PC, but they both still have their uses. I prefer the 360’s controller slightly, but the PS3 had the advantage of being a better media center, especially since it ran so quiet and had a Blu-Ray drive. Honestly, I’ve probably used it more for playing Blu-Ray movies than I have for running exclusive games on it, but it’s still been a great device for checking out the inFamouses and Uncharteds of the last decade.
Unfortunately its death leaves me without a Blu-Ray player for the moment, and since I prefer to get my Netflix discs in that format, I’m suddenly faced with a rather depressing lack of HD disciness in my life for the next couple of months, and possibly longer: I wasn’t exactly intending to nab either of the new consoles at launch.
So, what does an idiot like me? Order an ifixit repair kit, of course! I would’ve just bought a new PS3, but, you know - $50 versus $230. Pretty easy decision to at least try the repair kit first and see if it helps before plunging all the way into purchasing a brand new console that’s only going to get used for a couple of months. I guess I could’ve always just bought a Blu-Ray player, but still, that wouldn’t fix the goddamn copy of GTAV sitting around, taunting me. Like a...like a dirty taunter.
Anyway, apparently these things take something like three hours to open up, apply new thermal paste stuff, and reseal, so that should be an interesting use of my weekend. Will update with pictures later if I don’t wind up throwing the whole damn thing out the window. I probably will, given that I just now looked at one of the guides for repairing one of these things, and it’s 50 goddamn steps long. Should be fun to grow a few more gray hairs this weekend.
Hey, I've seen a lot of people in various threads lately mentioning wiki/forum bugs/features that disappeared with the redesign, often without being as specific as I'd need to have them to file an actual bug for them. Since we have a couple of engineers back on the site working on various stuff, feel to just reply to this thread with stuff that's been bugging you as a forum user or wiki editor and I'll try to double-check and see if we have it filed somewhere. If not, I can file it. Thanks!
People often ask me what I do around here, and it's a valid question, since so much of what I do is not publicly visible. Needless to say, there's a lot of weird stuff that Giant Bomb has going on in the background that other sites in the CBSi family don't have to deal with, largely because many of them don't feature subscription services, nor do they have storefronts through which they sell merchandise. So I figured I'd start writing the occasional blog about what keeps me busy on a day to day basis.
Lately it's been monitoring our store. You may have used the store in the past to get a t-shirt or poster or something, and if you did, then thanks! We don’t make a huge amount of money from the store, since we generally try to offer merchandise of a decent level of quality without making the prices too crazy, which means our costs are pretty close to the list price of most of the items we offer. We make some money on each order, but no one’s taking baths in Cristal or anything.
Normally, that’s all fine and good, except when we start getting people trying to make fraudulent orders, as has been happening with increasing frequency of late. Our store is run through Shopify, which automatically takes a look at each order and pops up various flags based on suspicious activity, such as billing address not matching where the credit card’s registered and CVVs not matching.
EDIT: To be clear, none of the below should be taken as an indicator that Giant Bomb has any kind of security issue with its store. We don't even have access to your credit card numbers; everything we do is through third-party vendors that keep all that stuff locked up good and tight. People are using credit card numbers they've stolen elsewhere; felt like a good idea to make that clear.
Those are both pretty good indicators that someone’s using a stolen credit card to place an order, especially the mismatched CVV. The CVV’s the little three-digit code on the back of the card that you’re usually asked to enter when placing an order online; the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard prevents it from being stored, so when credit card records are breached, hackers usually just get the card number but have to make a guess at the CVV. It’s pretty rare that anyone using a valid card won’t know or be able to access their CVV, since it’s right there on the back of the card, so mismatched CVVs are usually an excellent indicator that an order is fraudulent.
(As an aside, I’m also the guy who has to report on our PCI compliance, which involves wonderful things like payment data flow diagrams and something called a PCI DSS SAQ. It’s pretty thrilling stuff.)
Anyhow, there are enough steps in our ordering chain that sometimes a fraudulent order will slip through, which will generally lead to a chargeback later on down the line. Since we keep records of where we ship, we can supply those to Paypal to prove that an order was shipped and signed for, which usually result in Paypal contesting the chargeback with the credit card company, after which I have no idea what happens. I presume that credit card companies simply eat a certain number of fraudulent charges as part of the cost of doing business.
Recently, though, there’s been a bit of an uptick in fraudulent orders to the store, mostly being placed from Venezuela with shipping addresses in southern Florida. From what I can tell, it looks like there’s some kind of well-organized credit card scamming gang that rip off tons of credit card numbers and convert them into physical goods before the numbers are shut down. That might sound paranoid, but googling some of the shipping addresses have led to things like Yelp listings for the businesses there, which in turn lead to plenty of reports of other merchants reporting the addresses being associated with stolen CC numbers. I guess someone in Venezuela or Miami really likes Giant Bomb, because they’ve been ordering plenty of merchandise over the past few months. Or they just use it to smuggle cocaine, or something. Edit: Someone on Twitter suggested that they might just be trying to place small orders to see which credit card numbers were still active before using them for large purchases elsewhere, which makes sense.
So, I’ve been trying to keep track of all the orders that are coming in and have been manually cancelling anything that looks suspicious. That hasn’t stopped the orders from coming in, of course, even though I make sure to send emails back indicating that the orders were cancelled because they’re suspected to be fraudulent. Not that anyone’s reading them; I’m pretty sure the email addresses are as fake as the orders themselves.
What’s interesting is that the orders from southern Florida have mostly subsided (with a few exceptions) in favor of orders from places like Lithuania, Tunisia, Albania, and other exotic locales. It’s interesting to see the purchasing habits of people who’re playing with other people’s money. One order was for a single t-shirt and a hoodie, but still managed to be $236 thanks to a mammoth $181 shipping charge. (If you’re ordering from eastern Europe, you might want to opt for something cheaper than overnight shipping.) What’s curious is that a lot of these new orders are passing the CVV checks. Presumably this means that these orders are being placed from credit cards that were actually physically stolen, or perhaps issued by legitimate vendors based on fraudulent applications.
I’ve been refreshing the orders page pretty regularly lately, examining all of the orders coming in, and cancelling all the fraudulent ones; at this point I'm pretty sure that I've pissed someone off, because the frequency has increased to the point where over half of all orders coming in are fraudulent, with over $1200 in fraudulent orders in the last couple of days alone. I’m not going to go into the criteria I use to detect suspicious orders, but suffice to say that the “is this order legitimate” game is pretty fun sometimes, especially since I rarely play actual games at work nowadays. Undoubtedly there’ll be a legitimate order that I accidentally cancel at some point, so if you wind up getting an order cancelled mysteriously, let me know and I’ll look into it. I'm looking into some Shopify apps that add a second level of protection against fraudulent orders in the meantime.
And that’s one of the things that I've been up to. So there!