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DID YOU READ

“World of Warcraft” offers first chunk of game for free

“World of Warcraft” offers first chunk of game for free  (photo)

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Up until recently, there was a stigma attached to free-to-play games. Most examples of the category live on the web, in browser-based games or on Facebook, where an entertainment experience gets doled out in a slow dripfeed. Those experiences get specially formulated to be just addictive to get you to come back–and they’re free after all—but also dangle purchasable items or features to either speed things along or give you a competitive edge. Microtransactions like buying a new kart in “Free Realms” or calling in the Mighty Eagle to smash through a pesky level in “Angry Birds” get players paying for perks, long after they start playing. You’ve probably got a “Farmville” or “Cityville” addict in your News Feed. What you don’t know is how much real-world cash they’re dumping to keep their little patch of virtual world just the way they want it.

Free-to-play’s a model that mushroomed abroad in countries like South Korea, where the gaming culture’s different. People tend to log into game profile accounts at internet cafes where they spend time going through games like Nexon’s “MapleStory.” Technologically, free-to-play games have to support almost any PC so they’ve tended not to be the most graphically impressive or experientially deep titles. But, even as Nexon’s raised the bar with titles like its visually impressive action RPG “Invictus,” and Supercell’s shoot-em-up RPG “Gunshine” wins over doubters, the mass of gamers have ignored F2P titles.

That ignorance will be very difficult to maintain with recent events. Last week saw two of the biggest online multiplayer juggernauts revise their business models, as Valve’s “Team Fortress 2” and Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” both announced free-to-play reconfiguration. Both titles enjoy robust communities and recurring content refreshes, the latter of which was generally free anyway. But their financial models were wildly different, making the fact that they’ve both gone F2P fairly significant.

Most players got “TF2” by paying a one-time price, getting it either at $60 alongside the first Portal as part of The Orange Box compilation release in 2007 or at $20 as a standalone title. But, as is their wont, Valve’s been delivering free content updates for nearly the entire lifespan of the game. So, really not much is changing other than the price of entry’s being voided. In the new TF2 ecosystem, there’s a line of demarcation between free and premium users but all you need to do to become a premium user is to buy something from the “TF2” in-game store. And, if you bought the game before it went F2P, then you’re automatically a premium user. “TF2” enjoys a loyal user base thanks to its balance, art style and humor but many are unhappy about the free-to-play change, saying that it’s going to sully their community with hackers, cheaters and n00bs. Personal skill level’s a big deal in an online shooter like “Team Fortress 2,” so there’s some basis to these concerns. But the draw of an award-winning game that’s completely free will do more than just expose vulnerabilities.

Valve CEO Gabe Newell talks about the idea of entertainment-as-service, where consumers don’t view entertainment as a one-off but as a place they can regularly return to and interact with others who share their passion. By going free, “TF2” adds to that population. It also helps that Valve’s Steam digital distribution service serves developers both big and small who want to reach PC gaming audiences, so if players come for free “TF2” they stay some other game that catches their fancy. Most significantly, Valve says that they’re not modulating the experience and that all of the game content can be accessed for free. All the stuff that you can pay for–those iconic hats and similarly coveted in-game items–can be gotten through achievements, crafting or drops, meaning that you can make, earn or find them. So, you don’t have to pay to enjoy the game. But, if you’re impatient or lusting after some in-game fashion, you can shell out cash if you want.

The scenario with “World of Warcraft” is slightly different. Blizzard’s powerhouse runs on a subscription model, where its millions of users pay around $15 a month to romp through mythical Azeroth as members of either the heroic Alliance or marauding Horde. Curious first-timers would get the first 14 days free after installing the game onto a PC but, now, Blizzard’s changing structure of that first free taste. New players will be able to play for free until they reach level 20. The level cap–the highest plateau of achievement in an MMO like “WoW–rises with every expansion pack. As of last year’s Cataclysm expansion, the level cap for “WoW” is 85. So, if you’re playing up until level 20 for free, then you’re getting about a quarter of the game for free. It’s excellent bait to hook players onto an experience that’s been already proven addictive by a population of 12 million people. Hell, if you’re going to invest your time to play all the way to level 20, you’re not going to stop, are you?

Now, even as the benefits of growing their player populations are apparent, both “Team Fortress2” and “World of Warcraft” were doing well enough that they didn’t need to go F2P. But, it’s the kind of move that will start other publishers and developers thinking and that might result in a seismic shift in how online gaming looks.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.