Monthly Archives: November 2017

Net Neutrality’s Impact on American Anime Streamers, 2017 Edition

Reading softcore political propaganda in the morning is a good chuckle I suppose. I think with a lot of internet stuff, either the FCC recent moves or even the copyright issues detailed here are really difficult, nuanced policy discussions that have no good or right answers, and whatever decision that becomes law have ramifications that can be hard to fathom down the road, if we even assume the future play by the same rules we play by today. But as they say on Capitol Hill, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. It’s also pretty hard to work that internet mob mentality if you want to be careful and nuanced. It’s not like the issues of punching a Nazi, let’s just say.

The reality of the situation is, with a privatization of the internet, net neutrality is more a practical reality than an ideal that needs to be enshrined. Ultimately packets will go from A to B to C, because someone requested it and someone else made it available. The question is more of, what is a fair allocation of packets and bandwidth. In my mind, too often, the net neutrality debate is wrapped up by “free beer” kind of things than “free speech” as a result, to co-op a common analogy when it comes to these things. People’s desires conflate with what is actually fair, creating incentives to promote certain results that are actually not “net neutral.” FCC’s deregulation, as a result, may not be as bad as the worst case scenario as some people paint it as, and we might end up going there anyway with or without regulation.

The best example I can give is zero-rating. This is the now-popular practice where an ISP can provide a pay-per-bucket plan to an end user, but discount certain types of traffic from the bucket. This is technically not net-neutral; certain traffic are privileged because of business or whatever reasons–namely just so the consumer get a better value from the ISP since often these privileged services are very popular or are incumbent market leaders. In some cases this is a way to beat their path into a new market, the most ambitious example is Facebook serving free internet to India, which was blocked by the country because it would destroy net neutrality in that country. But isn’t free internet (and free smartphones to go with) good for consumers? Especially for a developing country like India, where people just don’t have money for that kind of thing. Anyways, that’s not important for American anime viewers, who are generally not poor by global standards.

The real way to look at this is to understand what internet is for. If you spend all day consuming media using your internet, well, you are definitely not alone. But this is not the real cause or case for Net Neutrality. The scare tactics about graphics of paying for each service from your network to have them enabled is already something adult Americans have to deal with in the past decades: that’s how cable and cable packages are sold. So what is cable/satellite TV anyway? It’s basically data pipes with services on top, where the services can be phone, television (on demand, linear, PPV, porn, whatever), or internet service. When someone “cuts the cord” you’re basically getting television services from 3rd parties that are not your cable or satellite provider, and it uses your internet instead of the dedicated pipe between your cable box and the cable company hosting and serving the content.

Which is just to say, the $10 or whatever one pays Netflix is just another way of paying the $30 or so one pays to, say, Comcast or whatever Time Warner is called today. It’s decoupling the platform and the services that lives on it. It’s stuff anime fans already have to do if the shows they want to watch is on Hi-Dive, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and CR. You’re gonna have to pay for all 4 to get all the available streaming anime this season (ok maybe not Netflix but you know what I mean).

What net neutrality’s worse case scenario is that some ISP X, for example, will offer you free Netflix and pay for its annual subscription fees, over all the other ISPs. If that sounds good to you, it’s already happening. It’s actually a net good for anime industry in this case. An anime fan might now be able to afford to pay for an additional streaming service she couldn’t before, or watch some anime on Netflix because it wasn’t streaming the season before KEK. Anyways, this is a good outcome at the expense of net neutrality. And in some ways, this is not what the fight against Pai and the FCC is about, that’s about Title II regulation of internet service providers.

The real problem with American internet service providers is outlined here. Cable companies are how most Americans get internet today, and they are regional monopolies. There is no effective competition, and if there are, it’s very token and often it’s shut down by law (RIP municipal internets). These ISPs often are money grabbing POS with bad customer service and terrible pricing. They have survived as some of the most hated entities in America because of the monopolies they have over us. We have no real choice for broadband internet that is affordable.

The break away for cord cutters is one way to cut into regional cable providers’ gravy train. Instead of $100 or whatever a month one pays for CATV, we can get a suitable alternative via Amazon or Netflix or a new crop of service providers, with only half as much of the money (or less) going to the CATV companies. There’s even internet-based linear TV via DirecTV (which, while terrible on its own, has been an eternal competitor to CATV) and a growing list of services. Even Google is in this game. This is the real posture between cord cutters and their cable TV overlords. It’s a fight to regulate a terrible situation made worse by unstoppable incumbents, and millions of lobby bucks and rotating door policies for people getting plush jobs once they exit from politics.

Net neutrality comes into play because the media market has been consolidating between content providers and service providers. With Comcast-NBC in the rear view mirror and ATT-TW in the distance, I’m not sure what there is to do for poor sods in America who will be paying more than ever for internet services and content services. The principles of net neutrality can help the people fight this fight, by pushing internet services companies into legal utilities. That said, the FCC, even before Pai and the Trump administration, is weak and ineffective at doing this. I think deregulation from the FCC is not going to make a huge difference in the long run, although it does deprive us one set of tools in fighting these terrible monopolies.

On the flip side, a strong FCC with enough legislative backing can really help us in this fight. I just don’t think it’s going to happen under this administration.

Let me continue the same topic with a very different take: Bottom line bucks. This is the slate at the start of 2017 from PC Mag, which I kind of agree with. We’re looking at one service and the boradband to use it, so that’ll run anywhere between $7-16 with Anime Strike in the mix. It’s on top of the average broadband price in the US, which is something like $80 according to this article. If you can live with Netflix and forego the rest, that’s a sizable saving, so you can see how zero rating can make a huge difference, even if it’s for a different kind of network service.

With the Net Neutrality scare scenario, the ISP overlords of America wants to provide a similar level of service at a lower price, with the caveat that some services are not available unless we pay extra, that is essentially “cable-fying” the internet. But if the services can compete with each other, that is generally going to be a good deal for anime fans because we would have the option to have more extreme a al carte options and shed additional costs mainstream customers can’t. Of course, that will depend on your own preferences. But we at least have competition of a perverse sort between the various streaming services, which is more competition than the old days.

It’s easy to see why Amazon decided to make Anime Strike an addon subscription–it’s like old on-demand anime for CATV customers, where you can pay a monthly added fee and get some anime on your one-stop-shop that is Amazon Prime. Too bad it alienates everybody else not in their ecosystem, albeit that is a shrinking number by the minute. If the scare scenario is that we have to pay extra for content we care about because it’s niche or an upstart, it’s already happening with Amazon video, or any other addons in which they want to extract that extra tax, may it be from the platform or service level.

So, then, we need to ask: what does net neutrality add to this? Is there any guarantee that we will get better services at a lower price if we regulate the ISPs like utilities? I actually don’t know. But I do know zero rating as a competitive means can lower prices, as pioneered from bucketed cellular service (which, compared to cable/broadband, is quite competitive in the US). I know that nerfing net neutrality brings the platforms and service providers together, giving ISPs more leverage to extract that tax. This is generally not a good thing for today’s service providers, because it opens the door for more hijinks with the dumb pipes trying to extract some value from the transaction stream. However, it’s far from clear how that will play out, and who would be the losers (well, all of us probably, unless you own the right stocks) in that game.

To sum, the irony is that net neutrality is not the best deal for anime fans. For people who use the internet for things most people don’t use the internet for, net neutrality is definitely way more important…and even so, something 99%+ of us can live without. Because the moment it stops working, well, it stops working. Until then, it’s a matter of how much money we are paying and what services we are getting out of our monopolistic dumb pipes. Just look at what Netflix did in their 180. It’s not even a matter of money making for incumbent services, it’s a matter of regulating an industry sector in a way that is fair to the public and cost effective to the consumers.

Anime NYC 2017: Wrap

Anime NYC came and went. This is the closest hometown con to me even though I live like, 20+ miles away and it takes over an hour for me to get there on any given day. It’s closest because I work about 20 minutes away by foot, so I was able to duck out of work and go to the con on Friday, and manage to go home Saturday to spend time with family who was visiting, and still come back to the con late in the day. It’s definitely a different perspective for me, to judge Anime NYC as a personal experience versus other cons I visit. Even with AnimeNext in AC, it’s a little too far to be “convenient.”

As a con, it’s basically the resurrection or reincarnation of New York Anime Fest. The venue is the same, and that alone will draw all the comparisons. The con runners overlap a lot, but what else are you going to do running a big con in the same geographic area? The pricing and VIP perks and all that stuff overlaps, for more or less the same aforementioned reasons. What’s interesting is that a non-trivial number of people I talked to this weekend didn’t even know or went to NYAF, so this is kind of a constant reminder of how young the con eventer scene is in North America.

The con can be broken into a few tracks. Princess Principal, Gundam Thunderbolt, Sailor Moon, Anisong Divas, and Overwatch. There’s also the usual industry and panel stuff. There was a special screening of the FMA live action movie with even special intro videos. Other than the anisong stuff I didn’t really care much, although on the merits alone, the Gundam Thunderbolt show was definitely top notch. The anime was great (I’m up to date on it), and the live performances is very much reminiscent of what Cowboy Bebop was. The musicians (pianist and drummer) are the star here, and the composer merely play along on the sax. The two singers are great too. The kawaii song is, well, kawaii.

Well, obviously I’m here for the Anisong diva night show. It’s brought to you by the team that produced the two Anisong Matsuri events in the States, and the one in Shanghai. It’s good! I got some songs I always wanted to hear live checked off, namely everything Chihi sang. Yonekura is very veteran, as it goes. Ishida Yoko I had the good fortune to see several times over the course of her career so her part was less novel but nonetheless very enjoyable–finally, Strike Witches opening… True obviously is the centerpiece here I think, partly because she is someone who is still on the upward trajectory and still very new given everything. It’s a little obvious that they were pushing True. I saw her for the third time this year, so I have some familiarity at this point. I like how each artist saved their best for last and it gave the show a kind of climax rather than just ups and downs from one artist to the next. Collab-wise, Cruel Angel Thesis and God Knows are kind of just OK, but Just Communication between the two Gundam anisong singers was good.

I was able to sneak into the Q&A panel just earlier in the day before the live, as I had to ditch work early. Hosted by Danny Choo, it was kind of interesting, I guess, although most of it was just Choo asking kind of basic questions that are common to these kinds of panels. I liked that they sort of winged it and on a certain level it feels like True is on par with the two veterans. It’s kind of reassuring to know, and I’m sure True is kind of playing it safe here too. Well, I have formed kind of an opinion on her at this point, and you can ask me in person if interested.

What else at this con? I guess I can talk about some con-stuff while describing how the autograph sessions went. All the “free” sessions are ticketed, which require you to either line up early to pick up from the autograph giveout that starts at 8am the day of, or via the Premiere/VIP badge perk, which gives you 4 tickets outright (4 different ones). The Gundam Thunderbolt sessions required purchasing a CD I believe, or unless you also have the concert VIP package. (By the way I gave Chihi and Ishida their old CDs which was very “natsukashii” and all. I had True sign my Shinso ongaku ensokai 4 towel.)

The confusion on VIP badge value (priced at $275 + fees) was that the perks, which included front seats and other benefits (like a special lanyard and a messenger bag (which seemed to be well-regarded)), overlapped with the concert-only VIP packages, which also gave additional perks (high-five kai for Diva Night and autograph session + CD for Gundam Thunderbolt). I don’t think I picked the wrong choice by going pleb, since the outlay is at least $100 less than the VIP set, and I got the high-touch kai benefit (VIPs don’t get this perk…but some I know did because there were some confusion and staff did not enforce well). I ended up camping for autograph tickets on Saturday, which kind of did suck, but it was not a bad camp. Like, I only had to wake up at 4:30am, so it was easy mode relatively as temperature remained above freezing.

I might get the VIP badge next year if there are enough good guests to cause some camping conflicts, I guess. As is, everything else at the con seems to run smoothly enough and the size of the con is manageable, so one can probably live without.

Loot-wise, I gave up and bought a LP of the Thunderbolt OST and got that signed by the dude. It was a token thing but in retrospect I was glad that I did, since their show was off the hook. I also got a sign from the Princess Principal director since that anime is pretty okay and the guy has done a bunch of other things.

I wasn’t able to do a lot of hanging around unless you were at the autograph line on Saturday early afternoon or morning, since I had work Friday and familial obligations Saturday and Sunday. It was kind of rough not seeing everyone I wanted to say hello to, so apologies! Also I wasn’t feeling so good Friday and most of Saturday so I had to take it easy in terms of eating, which limited my social options. Oh well.

Overall, despite being a first year con, Anime NYC is basically the second coming of NYAF. It’s got some rough edges as expected of a first year con but I think stuff will smooth out quickly. I’d go again if the guests are right.

Let’s end with some tweets.

You can see Yaz in these, she’s one of the key organizers for con anisong events! If you see her not busy at a con you can say hello I guess.

Here’s Another Manhattan Anime Con

I’m going to Anime NYC this weekend, but I’m not going to be there for most of the con. Such is when real life collides with hobby.

Anime cons in the NY area is really a mixed bag. Outside of the city there has been a handful of small events, and a couple big ones. In the early 00s we’ve had the CPM-associated cons, then NYAF, then part of the NYCC, and now not much else. Basically in 3 years of absorbing NYAF, NYCC had become kind of a hollow shell for anime content. I went there more to see bkub and random JP vendors than anything. Anime merch game in general is kind of lame out here, and most things you can buy online anyway, similarly priced without having to deal with a sea of people. I suppose NYCC is still OK for freebies (I’m long out of this game) and exclusives (too niche for me). The last NYCC I attended years ago all I remember was playing janken to get GSC photo posters of their figures.

The difficulty of running an anime con within NYC is multifold. It really comes down to not having a big enough space that’s affordable and have the amenities, and in a good spot. Javits Center is really the only place big enough and central enough, but it’s near a bunch of crummy construction things and tunnels. Things have improved somewhat over the years–now there are more food and open spaces nearby, plus a subway stop–but it’s still one of my least favorite event venues, with the only real benefit being all the things not in Javitz center that’s in the same city. That’s an attendee’s point of view, but the cost of putting a bunch of kids in a same spot in a city like New York is pretty high, high enough to make this kind of a challenge, I suppose.

Maybe an alternate approach for otaku exhibitions in an old and busy city is to break down the events by subcultural tribes, which is what teases New Yorkers more regularly. It’s like, instead of a circus coming into town you just have a clown march on one day, and go to the zoo the other day, and watch some broadway show the next. Yeah, there are some obvious downsides to this approach but so does every other approach that we know.

Anyways, I’m mildly excited to finally see Chihi, True and Ishida Yoko overseas, and going to a live with Chihi performing in it. I’m also kind of interested to get an autograph for Chihi but if it conflicts with my RL plans, maybe I won’t…

I wonder if Agent Hazap will send anyone there. Time to practice their salute? LOL.

Loot Box Situation, Whale Perspective

The Star Wars Battlefront II Loot Box Whine situation is one thing, but I have thought about this a lot over the years, as a transition from someone who only knows about gacha games into someone who whales in gacha games. I have my own take on this, which is microtransactions will invariably be a part of life for a lot of gamers, because that’s where the business is going no matter if you are AAA or the most indie of indie game makers. As business models revolving around various styles of microtransaction matures, we should see more significant and mature design philosophies and best practices emerge.

That is if people who make games get a clue. I think for the most part, the people who cut their teeth on the various app stores with F2P models do today, at least as a business. They wouldn’t be in the business otherwise, since that field is quite competitive. It’s a different ball game with AAA for sure, as the constraints are different.

I guess I can start with some disclosures. One of my dayjob’s department (which I’m not related to or work with) actually publishes F2P games and deals with some microtransaction. They are big on narrative driven games powered by subscriptions, where a customer on the plan can get new content on a regular basis. Subscriptions are really the way to go for certain markets where the mentality is a lot more entrenched against gacha, or due to government regulation on gacha, things are more limited.

The fundamental psychology behind player emotion, satisfaction, and gacha is interesting, but the game design side is also very interesting. Most of the interplay between psychology and design in gacha-style games are no different than any other game. You want mechanics that evoke positive emotions and behavior that drives player interests forward, and you build a content delivery system along that to create positive feedback and further emotional and behavioral reinforcement. On the flip side, you want players to have agency yet gate content reasonably with some metric to reward user attention, play time, skill and spend.

There is actually space for negative reinforcement too, I think, but in very limited cases–I see this the most in Korean and Chinese online games now where player simply just grind for the most part, in a sad way that mimics an outlook of reality that is unpopular in the west. In short, simple and repetitive completion rewards those who can put in the most time playing, and reinforces a sense of fairness and achievement through predictable, simple labor as a form of escapism. The model is attractive because the development is simple and the content is piled on linearly. In a way I feel this is the approach Battlegrounds II is taking.

On the flip side you have a game like Deresute, where gacha is the beginning and the end and it’s really like gambling, in that the stuff you want is gated inside the UFO Catcher machine of bling and glam. It’s great fun to hit a jackpot and this is part of the game’s draw. On the far side of the digital idol-casino-resort is all the rhythm game machine you can play rhythm games, or a game of house, or watch idols dance. Each section of the game is its own draw that are tied together thematically by a cohesive franchise.

Basically, try this thread.

I think a basic understanding in terms of free play versus paid play tend to come down to being able to get what you want easier. In these idol gacha games for example, the goals tend to be the collection of some or all idols, and/or creating strong teams or specific teams or outfits for the rhythm game part. Free players just gain idols at a slower rate than paid players, and strongest cards are gated more so for free players (needing to roll). The strategy is either you spend your currency in ranking to get fairly strong but effort-based characters or you save more of it to roll. The efficacy comes down to pricing and availability of the ingame currency, as well as how competitive the game is for events (which is tied to how strong or desirable the reward is). This is where you balance player perception of “P2W” by making a big enough of a separation between winning competitively in rhythm games and winning in the casino in your idol-casino-resort. (It isn’t in Battlefront II but western gamers don’t know the difference, partly because the play paths are unusual for a AAA game and it’s obfuscated (intentionally even) by the game design choices.)

This really leads to one thing: explaining the loot in the box. In Japan rates and results of gacha is available by law. There are some loopholes to this (see: building ships in Cancolle or Azur Lane). There are some downsides to publishing your rates, too. But there are upsides, which is people can figure out how to play your game right in terms of how the gacha mechanics play in player progression. This isn’t clear in Battlefront II by design. Furthermore, having the probability and rewards available is just less sketchy and people can take you to your word in terms of rolling the die, and gives developers and publishers more credibility. You want this to not be like actual gambling in reality, in that people are doing it because they don’t know what they’re doing, that it’s done sometimes coercively, that people don’t trust the system (especially when it’s unregulated). You kind of actually want it to be like actual gambling, in that it’s fun for some, and the odds are well known. In other words, microtransaction games can be the best of both worlds–or at least a bit better than each of them separately. Developers can get paid no matter of their games’ scale, and game designers and players can embrace the RNG for mutual benefit.

I think this has to happen first by devs knowing how to extract pleasure for microtransactions in a non-zero-sum kind of way. Which is to say, you have to treat all your customers like customers, because paying customers are only going to have a good time only if nonpaying customers are also having a good time. It’s not like video games have real marginal costs, so this is entirely possible, and is actually what happens in many of the best F2P games. It’s a real pity that this hasn’t been the case in the earlier days of microtransaction, firmly planting the concept in the negatives in public.

Hometown Tax, Buppan Bros

Two more ideas for this blog post. First, ImotoSae’s tax accountant.

I’m all for sadistic Nunu whispering “Oniichan” to my ears. That aside, the Hometown Tax or Furusato Tax or whatever, the idea is piggy-backing on the rural revival ideas partly described via these lines of thoughts, but without the actual tourism. The tax-deductible donation system is originally intended for people who moved to the big cities from the countryside, so that they can financially contribute to their hometown’s municipality. What’s more, the beneficiary can, in return, gift the person who designated part of their income tax to the municipality. This has become a weird scheme in which people are basically buying things via their hometown tax, because you don’t actually have to designate the money to your literal home town. You can donate to just about any Japanese municipality, even an urban one. You can read about the full situation here. I mean, just go and look at the home page of Furusato tax, it’s like a full blown shopping site.

Here are some things that was available for “purchase” with the donation (tax deductible!):

It’s not to say it isn’t already cool to get wagyu beef or snow crab legs from a humble donation (well, some of the gifts are quite expensive in order to get, but they are tax deductible). What’s kind of fearsome is that some of these goods are simply things you can’t buy, however, and are worth a lot if they are fungible. If you ever wonder how the hometown tax ends up relevant in a super otaku anime, now you know.

As for filing income tax as a freelancer or consultant in Japan, yeah it’s more about figuring out the deductions, but also knowing how much you have to pay to cover for insurance and various fees. That stuff is just administrative though.


The BBT of anime, Anime-Gataris, has a moment in this past week’s episode where the Gataris meet Beibei (baby is the pun in the title, right?), a Chinese otaku braving Summer Ket along with our youthful protagonists. This is something kind of endearing to me as an experience, because it’s like a special bond you form with other folks in your same predicament, may it be a hostage situation or braving summer of Japan outdoors from 3am to 1pm, in a line. And you think Comiket lines are bad? LOL.

It’s kind of weird in that, not only I’ve had similar experiences (minus the Japanese speaking part), I’ve seen/been a part of it enough times that I don’t even bother anymore. I mean, usually I want to sleep, you know? Also, too bad Beibei and the Gataris are not Producers, because we would exchange IM@S business cards as part of the ritual. It’s pretty cool how you actually end up keeping in touch with some of these folks over the years because you got their contact info at an offkai or in the goods line. It’s one of those funny fandom quirks that ends up being really useful and a neat part of the fandom. It’s not a unique part of the fandom, I guess, because it’s pretty common for cosplay and art circles to have vanity/business cards, but it’s something to think about.