Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
One of my favorite games of the last several years is Facepalm Games’ The Swapper. I like it for a lot of reasons: it’s got this beautiful stop-motion clay art style, an immediately compelling hook in the titular Swapper, a gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness between those clones, and a disconcerting story.
But the primary reason The Swapper has long been a favorite is the Recreation area. In The Swapper, you’re mostly alone in an empty research lab and the desert planet it is built on after an unexplained disaster. . You spend the game trying to figure out what has gone wrong, and contemplating the existential dread that comes with using your weird gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness around. It’s an eerie, quiet game. And then you get to the Recreation area, and you hear this music:
It’s immediately arresting. You hear this elegiac, bittersweet piano piece when you’re not expecting it, in a space meant for people to enjoy themselves and be at ease, now abandoned. When I first reached the Recreation area, I stayed there, doing nothing, for 10 minutes, letting the music loop. I’ve never forgotten this game, and I think about it all the time. And a big part of that is thanks to composer Carlo Castellano’s beautiful, tender composition.
Stopping and listening to the music is one of gaming’s quieter pleasures. Sitting around and taking in the score was the unquestionable highlight of Destiny’s early days, and it has consistently been one of the best things about Final Fantasy XIV, a game that is just dripping with music that makes you want to stop and listen.
The bigness of many games is sometimes intimidating, but more often I’ve found it to be a source of delight. Delight at the sheer possibility of what may be waiting for you in the next village, in the next room, and what sounds may greet you when you get there. I love the way they linger, letting my mind stay in this world even after I leave it to do something else.
In order to create what it calls “the world’s lightest gaming mouse,” the engineers at peripheral maker Glorious PC Gaming Race took a mouse and put holes all in it. The result is the Model O, a very good gaming mouse that weighs only 67 grams and may trigger trypophobia.
“You’ll barely feel the holes,” reads the copy on the Model O’s product page, answering the question I imagine most people have when looking at the honeycombed plastic shell. I’ve used the ultra-light accessory for a couple weeks now, and the product page is correct. It feels slightly bumpy under the palm.
Only when I look directly at the Model O do I feel mildly disturbed by the pattern of holes covering the top and its underside. The effect is less jarring when the RGB lighting is cycling. While I’m actively using the mouse, my giant hands cover it completely. Glorious PC Gaming Race says the holes allow for better airflow, keeping hands cool, but my massive paws negate that benefit. I worry about dirt getting in the holes, but that’s nothing I can’t avoid by not being a total slob. Perhaps it’s time.
The Model O slides over my mouse pad effortlessly thanks to its ridiculously low weight and the rounded plastic feet, which Glorious PC Gaming Race calls “G-Skates.” I particularly enjoy the mouse’s cable, a proprietary braided affair that feels like a normal thin wire wrapped in a shoelace. It doesn’t tangle, which is an issue with many mice and one of the main reasons I prefer a stationary trackball.
Beneath the unique design and proprietary bits, the Model O is a very nice six-button gaming mouse. It’s got a Pixart sensor that can be adjusted as sensitive as 12,000 DPI (dots per inch), with more sensible presets of 400, 800, 1,600, and 3,200 cyclable via a button on the bottom of the unit (software is required to go higher). It’s fast and responsive.
Glorious PC Gaming Race Model O Specs
Sensor: Pixart PMW-3360 Sensor
Switch Type (Main): Omron Mechanical Rated For 20 Million Clicks
Number of Buttons: 6
Max Tracking Speed: 250+ IPS
Weight: 67grams (Matte) and 68 grams (Glossy)
Max DPI: 12,000
Polling Rate: 1000hz (1ms)
Lift off Distance: ~0.7mm
Price: $50 Matte, $60 Glossy.
Note that the Model O comes in four styles: black or white matte finish and black or white glossy. The glossy versions cost $10 more than the $50 matte versions and weigh 68 grams instead of 67. In other words, the glossy versions are not the “world’s lightest gaming mouse” and should be exiled.
The Glorious PC Gaming Race Model O is the lightest gaming mouse I’ve used. I’m not sure I’m the type of hardcore mouse user that would benefit from the reduced weight. In fact, many of the gaming mice I’ve evaluated over the past several years have come packaged with weights to make them heavier. If you prefer a more lightweight pointing device and don’t mind all the holes, the Model O could be for you. And if not, you can probably fill it with clay or something to weigh it down.
God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs… and then this LEGO set. Welcome to Jurassic Park. It has been 26 years since the iconic film was released in theaters and now there is finally a LEGO set worthy of it.
LEGO released a massive 3,000+ piece set themed all around the original Jurassic Park. Hold onto your butts and get yourself a LEGO Jurassic Park: T. rex Rampage. Fans of the series will enjoy how nostalgia-packed the set is. It includes the adults from the film (sorry, Tim and Lex). And of all the versions of Jeff Goldblum they could have gone with from the Jurassic Park franchise, they obviously chose open-shirt Ian Malcolm. In Jurassic Park, we don’t need any women shedding their clothing, we need Jeff Goldblum shirtless. Along with the sexy Ian Malcolm, the set also includes minifigures for Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, Ray Arnold, Dennis Nedry, and John Hammond, with his mosquito-in-amber walking stick.
Enjoy an advanced building experience and relive classic movie moments with LEGO® Jurassic World 75936 Jurassic Park: T. rex Rampage. This collectible construction toy includes 3,120 building bricks and features the original Jurassic Park’s iconic gate and a large, fully posable, brick-built T. rex dinosaur toy which is ideal for display. The trigger-activated gate is framed by a wall incorporating 7 detailed, brick-built scenes inspired by the movie, such as John Hammond’s dining room, Ray Arnold’s control room and a bunker for Ian Malcolm. A must-have for Jurassic World fans, this toy construction set includes 6 minifigures and baby dinosaur figure, plus a minifigure display stand with T. rex facts plate.
In the lead-up to Hearthstone’s upcoming “Saviors of Uldum”expansion, Blizzard Entertainment released a patch yesterday that ran a couple housekeeping alterations to make way for the new content. The update removed some older cards from the game’s Standard mode, added some new cards to the game’s Classic set, and in a move that’s stirred up tons of controversy, changed the art of eight old cards.
At first glance, all of the card art changes seem to make the cards either less sexy or less violent. The card Eviscerate, which has always been one of the most popular spells in the game, was changed so that there’s no longer any blood in the art. The card Succubus, which used to depict a whip-wielding demon of lust, is now called the Felstalker, and it looks like a run-of-the-mill four-legged demon with massive jaws.
For the past 24 hours, Reddit has been flooded with posts mocking these art changes. One replaced the word “blood” in every card that uses it with the word “ketchup,” for instance. Up until now, there had been no official statement from Blizzard regarding the reasons for the updates, and so speculations as to why this happened were common. One guess was that Blizzard was trying to tone down its game for folks who might get offended by the sight of scantily clothed women. Another common hypothesis was that the company was catering to China’s censorship laws and changing its card art for that reason.
I reached out to the company for comment, and a spokesperson provided me with the following response:
The recent changes were applied to make those cards more visually cohesive and consistent with the art style of Hearthstone today. When Hearthstone first launched, we brought in a lot of artwork from the physical World of Warcraft trading card game. In the years since, Hearthstone has developed a look, feel, and personality of its own that distinguishes it from that of Warcraft—though we still love being a part of that universe. We’ll always be looking for ways to deliver on the game’s unique style, charm, and personality.
It’s not an uncommon reason for corporate rebranding, and this sort of art tweak in a digital card game aimed primarily at teens and youngsters isn’t terribly surprising. There are hundreds of creative variables involved in creating the look, feel, and tone of a product like Hearthstone, and as the game has now been around for five (!) years, it’s all but expected for these kinds of creative changes to occur at one point or another.
I’m definitely not saying that people shouldn’t criticize some of these art changes on the grounds that some of them feel a bit uninspired. But do I get why a multi-billion dollar corporation would want to scrap the art of a five year-old card that looks like something you’d see airbrushed on the side of glam-rock revival band’s tour bus? Absolutely.
Amazon was founded on July 5, 1994, and launched its online store in 1995, letting people buy books from the comfort of their homes. Twenty-five years after its inception, Amazon now sells everything from taco holders shaped like dinosaurs to tongue brushes that humans can use to lick their cats. And you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about Amazon.
But what did people think of Amazon in its early days—the days before the tongue brushes? Today we’ve got a sample from the mid-90s before founder Jeff Bezos was a billionaire.
In November of 1995, Knight-Ridder distributed an article that was published in newspapers around the country explaining that you can find almost any book at this “Internet store” called Amazon.
There’s a big, new bookstore in town, and there’s a catch—you won’t find it on any Seattle street map. So if you want to wander down its aisles and peruse the selection, you’ll have to hook up to the Internet.
Of course, hooking up to the internet was a much more novel experience in 1995. But if you had a connection, and millions of Americans were getting online in the mid-90s, you had access to over 1 million titles.
The Knight-Ridder article noted a few things that might be weird to people in the year 2019. First, you could pay by credit card or you could call a toll-free number and give your credit card number over the phone. You could even fax the credit card info if that was your thing. Secondly, shipping was $3 per order plus $0.95 per book. Today, Amazon has free shipping for all orders over $25 and for anyone who subscribes to the company’s Prime membership.
But what did people think of this new service on the so-called Information Superhighway? The first thing almost everyone mentioned was the impressively wide selection of books.
From the October 22, 1995 issue of the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:
In a test of the company’s abilities, a search was made for a little-known John Steinbeck book, “The Sea of Cortez.” Within seconds, the Amazon.com search capabilities popped up the title as available.
It may seem ridiculously mundane these days, but being able to find a rare book took quite a bit more effort in the era before Amazon’s arrival. The best you could do was ask your local bookstore to order it for you, but if it was out of print, you might be out of luck. One of the truly revolutionary things about Amazon, at least from this nerd’s perspective, was the ability to find used books on the site.
The Wall Street Journal published an article about Amazon on May 16, 1996, describing “Jeffrey Bezos” as a “whiz-kid programmer on Wall Street” before opening up the online retailer. The people quoted in the article described the convenience of being able to order from anywhere and customers were incredibly loyal.
From the WSJ:
Mr. Bezos says 60% of his orders come from repeat customers. “It’s not in my nature to be hip, but Amazon is the finest bookstore I’ve ever been to,” says Don K. Pierstorff, a 60-year-old college professor in Costa Mesa, Calif., who says he has placed 12 orders during the past several months.
In the early days of Amazon Bezos was also constantly noting that he wasn’t going to put traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business.
“We are not really competing with physical bookstores,” Bezos told the Christian Science Monitor in September of 1996. “The key is that people like to get out of their houses. I still go to physical bookstores, and I’m not going to stop. I even buy books there. I like the tactile experience.”
People like to get out of their homes? Speak for yourself, Jeff. Sorry, speak for yourself Jeffrey.
By 1997, there were plenty of skeptics who thought that Amazon wouldn’t be able to stick around. The company went public on May 15, 1997, and the naysayers were quick to point out any perceived weakness in the company. George Colony from Forrester Research referred to the company as “Amazon.toast.” The Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Amazon.bomb” in 1999 after the company’s stock tanked.
And Slate went with the headline “Amazon.Con” for an article on January 5, 1997 that was meant to ridicule how difficult Amazon was compared with your neighborhood bookstore. The byline for that Slate piece was shared by two writers, Jonathan Chait and Stephen Glass. Yes, the same Jonathan Chait who supported the “liberal case” for invading Iraq, and Stephen Glass, one of the most famous journalist hoaxers of all time—so famous, in fact, they even made a movie about him in 2003 called Shattered Glass.
What did these two great minds produce? Some zingers that would be considered lame by even elementary schoolyard standards:
In fact, Amazon’s “megawarehouse” in downtown Seattle contains just 200 or so titles. Any other book must be obtained from a wholesale distributor or the publisher. This is exactly what any traditional bookstore does when it doesn’t have a book in stock. The difference is that traditional bookstores start out with a lot more than 200 titles in stock. “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”? More like “Earth’s Smallest.”
Another complaint from Chait and Glass was that ordering a book from Amazon took way too many steps:
After clicking your purchases into a “shopping cart,” you are directed to a “secure Netscape server” that will encrypt your credit-card information. After this is done, you are told: “Finalizing Your Order Is Easy.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Lower down in the verbiage, Amazon concedes, “Though we have tried hard to make this form easy to use, we know that it can be quite confusing the first time.” Amazon users have to page through screen after screen of details about shipping charges, refund rules, and disclaimers about availability and pricing. Then you are told to allow between three and seven days for delivery after your book leaves Amazon’s warehouse. “Upgrading to Next Day Air does NOT [their emphasis] mean you’ll get your order the next day.”
Total online time from when we accessed Amazon’s home page to when we completed the book order: 37 minutes and 12 seconds. It would be shorter once you got the hang of it.
You can’t please everyone, I suppose.
But Bezos has had the last laugh, it would seem. Not only is Bezos the wealthiest person in the world at over $155 billion, Amazon currently controls 42 percent of the dead-tree book market, 88.9 percent of the ebook market, and half of all online sales in the U.S. Amazon controls 7.7 percent of all retail, online and off, in the U.S. according to the latest numbers. And with its purchase of Whole Foods in 2017, it’s now the fifth largest seller of groceries in the country. And, as of last year, Amazon Web Services controlled 40 percent of the cloud market.
SoundmodoIn this Gizmodo series, we find out what things sound, sounded, and would sound like.
If you’ve ever watched a science-fiction movie, you might think you know what lasers sound like: some variation of a noise you could write as “pew.” But, you’ve used a laser pointer, right? Did it go “pew”?
Powerful lasers do make sounds—but they’re not “pew” and they don’t come from the light itself. Instead, the noise comes from the equipment that generates the laser light or the interaction between a laser beam and an object.
First, let’s discuss what a laser really is. Matter is made of many atoms, around which there are electrons. Electrons can only exist in certain locations around those atoms, called energy levels. If you excite an electron with energy, it will jump to a higher energy level. Some time later, it might spontaneously jump to a lower energy level, causing the atom to emit a particle of light, called a photon. But rather than wait, you can also stimulate the emission yourself by hitting the laser with more properly tuned photons. The result is a tight beam of photons with synced-up electromagnetic fields. Lasers are devices that produce light based on this principle.
Modern lasers typically consist of some electrical source providing energy to a crystal placed between a mirror and another mirror that allows some light through. Light bounces back and forth between the mirrors and through the crystal, stimulating the emission of the crystal’s photons, which exit through the partial mirror. Other optics, power sources, and more crystals further tune the shape, duration, and power of the laser pulse.
But sound is produced by vibrations through air, not by light. A beam of laser light itself does not make any noise.
Producing laser beams can still be a noisy operation, though. The high-voltage power supply to laser pulses can make clicking noises, as shown in this video of scientists producing pulses using the powerful BELLA laser in Berkeley, California. The European XFEL laser, the brightest source of x-rays in the world, is extremely loud—but visitors are actually hearing the whirring of machinery and the flow of water through the setup, which cools the equipment.
Additionally, European XFEL is driven by a particle accelerator, which is further cooled by liquid helium. That requires compressors in order to reach cold temperatures, generating a loud machine sound.
The beam interacting with various mediums can also create noises. In the first half of the video above from the BELLA laser team, you can hear a static clicking sound. In this case, a laser is traveling left-to-right across the screen and is focused into a 20-micrometer-wide beam, generating an electric field strong enough that it forces electrons off of atoms in the intervening space. This generates a plasma that expands with a faster velocity than the speed of sound in air, creating a shockwave and the accompanying sound. It also changes the optical properties of the air, creating the colored ring and flashes projected onto the far wall.
A high-energy laser pulse striking material can also produce a loud noise. At the Biomedical Laser and Optics Group of the University of Basel in Switzerland, researcher Ferda Canbaz shines a powerful laser against bone, generating vibrational energy and noise as it chips away material. And in the video of the BELLA laser from Wim Leemans, you hear a loud boom—this is a shockwave produced by blasting energy into an unexposed black polaroid.
So, no, today’s lasers typically don’t make “pew” sounds. But perhaps the deafening shock wave is a more realistic way to represent today’s lasers’ incredible power.
One of the world’s most famous corporate mascots has a slightly different name in Japan, where Ronald McDonald is known as Donald McDonald.
In Japanese, the character’s name is written as ドナルド・マクドナルド (Donarudo Makudonarudo). Similarly, the McDonald’s backed charity is locally known as the Donald McDonald House.
The burger chain first came to Japan in 1971, so generations have grown up with McDonald’s and its smiling clown Donarudo. Japanese people are often surprised to learn that outside the country the character is known as “Ronald McDonald.” No wonder the character’s non-Japanese name is even a trivia question!
But why the discrepancy? Website Gaku-sha asked McDonald’s Japan, and in short, the name was changed because saying “Ronald McDonald” is difficult in Japanese. Online, I’ve seen people say this is because it’s hard for Japanese speakers to pronounce the letter “r.” That’s an oversimplification. When the character’s name is written in Japanese, people are not confronted with English “r” sounds or “l” sounds, but native Japanese sounds and how those sounds flow together or clash.
When written in Japanese, Ronald McDonald is ロナルド・マクドナルド (Ronarudo Makudonarudo), and having a “ro” (ロ) sound so close to a “ru” (ル) makes “Ronarudo” difficult to say in Japanese. That’s probably why soccer stars like Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom have done commercials in Japan, write “Ronaldo” as ロナウド (Ronaudo) with ウ (u) and not ロナルド (Ronarudo) with “ru” (ル).
But, while Ronaudo Makudonarudo would be easier for Japanese to say, visually, ロナウド・マクドナルド (Ronaudo Makudonarudo) doesn’t look as good as ドナルド・マクドナルド (Donarudo Makudonarudo), nor does it roll off the tongue in the same way. In Japan, McDonald’s is Makudonarudo (マクドナルド), so Donarudo Makudonarudo has a pleasant ring to it, just like Ronald McDonald sounds nice in English. Plus, “Donarudo” (ドナルド) is a famous character name in Japan thanks to Donald Duck, making the name familiar and easy to say.
Interestingly, most of the other McDonald’s characters have similar monikers to their American counterparts. For example, Grimace is Gurimasu (グリマス), the Hamburglar is Hanbaaguraa (ハンバーグラー), and Big Mac Police is Biggu Makku Porisu (ビッグマックポリス). Mayor McCheese, however, has been changed for Japan, where the character is Meiyaa Cheezu Makku (メイヤーチーズマック).
This article was originally published on April 13, 2018.
The Yakuza games and their spin-offs have long starred some of Japan’s biggest celebrities. Now that some of those celebs have ended up in trouble, there are rumblings of a Yakuza curse. Dun dun dun.
Earlier this year, actor and musician Pierre Taki, who appeared in the Yakuza spin-off Judgment, was picked up on drug charges. The arrest resulted in Sega removing him from the game and Sony Music terminating his band’s contract. Taki isn’t the only celebrity in a Yakuza game (or its spin-offs) ending up in trouble. He isn’t even the only one this year! Perhaps there is a reason why it’s now being said that the Yakuza games are cursed.
According to website Re:Geinou, there are rumblings of a Ryu ga Gotoku no noroi (龍が如くの呪い) or “Yakuza curse”, with Ryu Ga Gotoku being the Japanese name for the Yakuza games.
Last year, actor Hiroki Narimiya was replaced in the Yakuza 4 remaster. In late 2016, he was photographed allegedly using cocaine, causing the actor to announce he was leaving the entertainment industry. But the most recent celebrity to fall victim to the Yakuza’s nefarious power is comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako, who lent his voice fo Tsuyoshi Kanda in Yakuza 3 and played Tsuyoshi Nagumo in Yakuza 6 (above).
Miyasako came under fire for appearing at a party held by a rather unsavory group of people. In Japanese, this sort of group is known as a hanshakaiteki seiryoku (反社会的勢力), which is typically translated as an “anti-social organization.” These groups are fraudsters, attempting to swindle folks out of money. They can be members of organized crime groups known as bouryokudan (暴力団), literally meaning “violent group” but colloquially referred to as yakuza. They can also be connected to those criminal organizations or be their own independent group. In short, they’re the kind of thing you’d see in Sega’s popular crime games.
Miyasako was one of over ten comedians who appeared at an event hosted by an anti-social organization. Also included in those comedians wrapped up in the scandal is Yoshinari Fukushima, who was Mr. Moneybags in Yakuza 0.
At first, Miyasako said he didn’t know that such a group was hosting the event and that he was not paid for attending. However, it was later revealed that he had been paid. The fee he received would, thus, be considered dirty money. His talent agency, the powerful Yoshimoto Kogyo, has temporarily banned Miyasako from appearing on any TV shows. The future of Ame Talk, the long-running variety show he co-hosts, seems uncertain as sponsors no doubt have concerns about Miyasako’s accepting payment from a criminal enterprise.
Considering how many celebrities are in the Yakuza games and considering the historical connection between the entertainment business and illegal activities, Yakuza’s track record isn’t too bad. As with Madden, I don’t really believe there is a curse. However, I will not be surprised when more of its stars run into trouble. You shouldn’t be, either.
Video games rarely look as beautifully composed as promotional screenshots, but the Switch version of Trials Rising does not look anything like the screenshots on its Nintendo store page. In fact, it seems like those screens are from another version of the game entirely.
Trials Risingcame out today on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch. Many of the screenshots used to advertise the games on each of those platforms’ digital stores are identical, even the ones for the Nintendo Switch—despite the fact that its version of Trials Rising is clearly not as visually detailed as from the others.
Here’s the screenshot for the Egypt level that appears in the Switch’s eShop and the Nintendo website:
The Switch version doesn’t look bad per se, but it’s missing a great deal of environmental features like rocks, stages, trees, shadows, and an entire Jumbotron setup.
Here’s Kotaku’s own video comparison of the starting level, Breaking Bad, as it appears in both the Switch and PS4 versions.
A video comparison between the Switch and PS4 versions of the game.
Other levels are more similar. The Grand Canyon stage, for instance, matches up pretty well with the one that appears on the other platforms and in one of the other promotional screenshots for the Switch version.
When asked for comment about the discrepancy on its website, Nintendo referred Kotaku to Ubisoft, the game’s publisher, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s looking like Switch isn’t the optimal platform for playing Trials Rising. In addition to running at 30 frames per second on Switch compared to 60 on other platforms, the game seems to be hampered by the Switch’s controllers, which don’t have analog triggers. The triggers on the DualShock 4 and Xbox One controller allow variable input, but Switch’s only register on and off, which isn’t ideal for a game like Trials Rising that requires precise inputs.
When the game was originally revealed at E3 last June, its developers told IGN the game played “perfectly” on Switch. While plenty of people on the game’s subreddit have reported having a grand old time with the Switch version of Trials Rising, it’s clearly a downgrade—one that’s currently masked by the screenshots on the Switch’s eShop page.
Increasingly, the majority of people are content to experience the online world through the warm, blue-white glow of Facebook. But beyond the closed ecosystems of giant tech companies, the open web remains populous, anonymous, strange and sometimes, very unpleasant.
Take 4chan, which launched in the mid-2000s describing itself as “a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously.” The site’s sparse moderation and almost-anything-goes policy attracted disaffected teens, video game lovers, internet pranksters, hackers, and a sizable number of virulent racists. Best known as an incubator of memes—think Pepe the Frog or Rickrolling—it came onto the radar of the national media when members of the hacking group Anonymous started gathering there to plan pranks. By 2009 Fox News was (absurdly) referring to 4chan as the home of “the most powerful people on the Internet.”
But a couple of years ago, when 4chan decided to ban Gamergate threads because they were being used to post personal information and plan attacks, some of those “powerful people” started leaving. They moved on to 8chan, a site with even looser moderation policies. It became the new digital home for some of the most offensive people on the internet, people who really believe in white-supremacy and the inferiority of women.
It’s a cesspool that helps make the rest of the internet a scary place. Almost no one posting on 8chan would hand over their credit card and let their identity be known. Posters thrive on anonymity and the things it enables them to say, endorse, and do. Because it doesn’t have paying users, it would have collapsed under its own weight and died out years ago if it wasn’t bankrolled by a man named Jim Watkins, a 52-year old U.S. Army veteran who has a pig farm in the Philippines.
Jim Watkins first heard about 8chan from his 28-year old son, who had watched a short Al Jazeera America documentary about its founder, Fredrick Brennan. Brennan had been a 4chan user for years and says he came up with the idea for 8chan while on mushrooms. The documentary followed Brennan for a few days and focused on how he deals with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition that’s characterized by brittle, deformed bones.
“They showed up at his house in the morning, and he was still in his pajamas, and now he’s famous for his Super Mario Pajamas,” Watkins says of the segment. “[It was] a little bit rude. They made him a little more pathetic than he is.”
Brennan, who uses the moniker ‘hotwheels’ online, started 8chan in October 2013—but it didn’t really take off until Gamergate, an online war over sexism and progressivism in the video game industry.
In September 2014, 4chan founder Christopher Poole (a.k.a. “moot”) banned Gamergate threads on 4chan because users kept doxing prominent women in the video game community, posting their personal information, from addresses to social security numbers, and encouraging people to use it to harass them. Brennan started advertising 8chan as a “Free Speech Friendly 4chan Alternative.” Brennan, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, previously told Ars Technica that the site “went from around 100 posts per hour to over 4,000 posts per hour” that month.
Brennan started working full-time on 8chan, setting up a Patreon site for donations. Nearly 150 patrons signed up, donating over $1000 a month, but it wasn’t enough to cover his time and server costs. And within three months, Patreon kicked 8chan off its service for violating community guidelines.
8chan kept going offline because it exceeded bandwidth limits or, because of its offensive content, got kicked off various ISPs. Brennan needed stable financial support and a reliable hosting service to keep it alive.
That was when Jim Watkins got involved.
Watkins contacted Brennan, who was then living in New York City, to offer assistance. Despite a roughly 30-year age difference, the two hit it off immediately. Watkins describes Brennan as “a good guy [and] a brave man.” At the end of October 2014, Brennan went with Gamergaters to a strip club in Queens to celebrate 8chan’s first birthday as well as his decision to move to the Philippines to work with Watkins.
According to Tom Riedel, the former president and current secretary of Watkin’s company, N.T. Technology, Brennan and Watkins formed a business partnership.
“N.T. Tech provided the domain name and hardware, [Brennan] is responsible for software and growing the community,” said Riedel by email. “Right now it doesn’t make enough to pay for itself, but hopefully someday it will.”
Watkins is an American in his 50s who picked up computer skills while in the military. He described himself in his first email to me as “a very boring person.” He wears glasses and a greying beard, though his hair remains brown. He doesn’t have a large online presence, but does maintain a blog on 8chan, where he sporadically posts photos of his family and his animals.
If photos and video of him online are any indicator, he almost always wears shorts and a graphic tee. He splits his time between Manila and the pig farm he owns outside the city. But his main business is web hosting and advertising.
Watkins told me on the phone that he wanted to protect 8chan because he’s seen “all these other sites that have big potential and then they go away.” As for concern about or responsibility for the actions of his digital tenants, he argues that it’s all just free speech.
“As long as they are not making imminent threats of harm against someone, their speech is protected political speech,” he told me. “No different than Trump or Clinton or Mr. Smith or or anyone else.”
Watkins isn’t the first message board owner to strike this stance. Reddit’s founders famously held a strong free speech position initially as did 4chan’s Poole. But they all backed off over time. Reddit now bans revenge porn and hate speech. Poole eventually told Rolling Stone that 4chan never had free speech “in the absolutely sense.”
The only free speech Watkins rejects concerns copyright violations, which would result in large fines for the site thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA. Over all, Watkins holds a hodgepodge of expediently adopted political ideals in service to one very clear motivation: extracting cash from the internet.
8chan is far from the only online community of bad actors that are underwritten by people like Watkins. Financial backers usually remain insulated from any attention or consequences for owning the sites they do. It’s no secret that Watkins owns 8chan, but much of the reporting on the site has, understandably, focused on its users or Brennan. However, Watkins is the site’s foundation, and has been since late 2014, and I wanted to know why he plays the role he does.
Jim Watkins was raised on a family farm in Mukilteo, Washington, about an hour north of Seattle. His mother worked for Boeing and his father worked for the local phone company.He has one sibling and several half-siblings. Karen Sansaver, his elder sister, has kept the books for N.T. Tech since 2001.
Watkins says that he joined the U.S. Army when he was 18, first serving as a helicopter mechanic and then a recruiter. He emphasized to me, unprompted, that he didn’t work for the CIA though he’s “noticed some people guessing that.”
In 1987, the U.S. Army set Watkins on his path to becoming a financial backer of the web’s underbelly by sending him to computing school in Virginia. After that, in the mid-90s, while still serving in the military, increasingly working with computers, he co-founded a porn site called “The Asian Bikini Bar” and formed a company called N.T. Technology Inc. (He insists that the “N.T.” doesn’t stand for anything.) He says he told the Army he was starting an online business but didn’t tell them it was erotica.
“He really came in on the ground floor of the porn industry,” said Sansaver.
The company made money by selling advertising and eventually expanded to web hosting services. In particular, it helped skirt regulation, hosting Japanese adult sites that couldn’t be hosted in Japan because of the country’s anti-obscenity laws which were quite strict in the late 90s.
“They figured out a loophole in Japanese censorship rules,” Riedel explained in an email. “Adult material in Japan has to be censored, but…Japanese people could access content that resides outside of Japan. Bingo. The work we did in the following years was really just marketing uncensored Japanese content to users in Japan.”
Riedel has been an employee since the early days of N.T. Tech. He met Watkins in 1997 at age 19, while he was an art student living in Pittsburgh.
“One day in the summer of 1997, my roommates ran in and told me they met the ‘king of porn’ in the park, walking his poodle,” said Riedel. Watkins was looking for artists to design banner ads, and gave Riedel and his roommate some freelance work. “After that I started working full time, and the next summer I drove with him and his family across country to Seattle where we set up an office.”
They moved when Watkins left the army in 1998, after 16 years. He was only a few years shy of being eligible for a pension, but he wanted to focus on his web business. The tech world was booming, with dot-coms attracting massive funding and IPOs. “It was an adult website,” said Watkins. “Probably the army was happy to see me go.”
In 2004, after the tech boom turned bust, Watkins moved to the Philippines, a place to which he and his family had vacationed.
Watkins is blasé about those who are concerned about the type of content and behavior that 8chan encourages, but he insists he doesn’t hold the racist views espoused there. He explained this to me by way of a bizarre comparison between the lives of black Americans in the 20th century and his living situation in the Philippines.
“I am obviously not a white supremacist. I go for days without seeing another white face,” he told me. “I put up with racial problems similar to that of colored people in the 1960s, the black people of the 1970s, the African Americans of the 1980s, the people of color of the 1990s, and I am not sure what the politically correct term in the 21st century is…. I have lived here in the same place longer than anywhere else in my adult life. I love my home. As I am sure those people did in the 1960s. I don’t have a problem with white supremacists talking on 8chan. They have reasons for their beliefs. I don’t need to justify their reasons.”
8chan is not the only anonymous, messaging board owned by N.T. Tech. In 2000, it added a client to its hosting roster that would turn out to be one of its most profitable as well as its most tumultuous: 2channel.
Created in 1999 by Hiroyuki Nishimura, 2channel (also called 2ch) was a text-only web board that became a hub of Japanese web culture by allowing users to express themselves anonymously, candidly and sometimes rudely with little fear of consequence. In 2008, Wired said the “ugly, lo-res site [got] about 500 million pageviews a month.”
It sounds familiar because 2channel is the forebear of all the other “chan” sites. It inspired a similarly-named imageboard called 2chan, that in turn inspired a 15-year old Poole to create 4chan in 2003. And then 4chan gave birth to 8chan. Such is the way of the internet: easily copied ideas and constant, but shallow, innovation.
Nishimura was said to be making a million dollars a year off of 2channel in 2008, both from ads and from members who subscribed to the site’s premium service, which let them browse its archives. “The only person who gets money from 2channel is me,” Nishimura told Wired. “Well, I guess I pay for the servers.”
Those servers were N.T. Tech’s.
Things have since gone sour. In 2013, the site had a data breach that exposed the credit cards of more than 30,000 otherwise anonymous users. In 2014, N.T. Tech, which was already hosting 2channel on its servers, took control of the site and the domain, because, according to Riedel, the 2013 data breach meant that the revenue that paid for 2channel’s hosting was gone. Regardless of the breach, 2channel remains popular: In September of last year Watkins said it received “between 15 and 16 million unique visitors a day.”
Nishimura is now suing Watkins and N.T. Tech, alleging they stole the site from him. He, unsurprisingly, had nothing positive to say about Watkins. “All his businesses have failed,” Nishimura told me by email. “Even his hosting service was not good.”
Nishimura remains in the message board business: when Christopher Poole, who is now at Google, sold 4chan late last year, the buyer was Nishimura.
The world of irreverent, anonymous message boards is an incestuous one.
You might expect some procedural difficulties to result from owning free-wheeling sites like 2channel and 8chan: Law enforcement requests, DMCAs, annoyed posters, and so on. But when I asked Watkins about the major difficulties he’s faced as the owner of 8chan his first complaint was about so-called Social Justice Warriors.
“They call them SJWs… they troll me by email,” he said. “They try to embarrass you into turning off the channel. It’s like ‘oh there’s a horrible post here.’ Well great, report the post and we’ll delete it…Then they send it to ICANN, and the FBI, and all of these people. And it’s like, come on.”
Watkins, of course, is the owner of a site whose members regularly engage in swatting (using false reports to send SWAT teams after victims) and other forms of law enforcement-involved harassment. If the irony of his complaining about fruitless emails to the FBI occurred to him, he didn’t show it.
He also suggested that those who complain to him are creating the posts they’re upset about. There’s no evidence of this sort of sock-puppet account creation, though it is a tactic used by 8chan and 4chan’s right-wing groups.
I asked whether he feels any obligation to victims of harassment campaigns organized in part on 8chan.
“I am not sure what this is,” he responded. “If we have a DMCA request we comply.”
Watkins lives an ocean away from many of 8chan’s users and their targets, and it seems he doesn’t fully understand the effects it has on them. Or, even worse, he’s fully aware of what the hordes on his site are up to, and simply doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t violate the DMCA.
A note on the site admits that 8chan has yet to make a profit, but it’s clear that Watkins hopes it will. That hope and his friendship with Brennan are keeping the site alive.
Watkins is still hopeful and eager that 8chan’s advertising business will take off. As we got off the phone, he half-jokingly tried to sell me on buying ads there, in order to boost Fusion’s profile.
“Buy some advertising on 8chan. It’s only 5 dollars” he said, briefly adopting a mock accent and pronouncing his Ls as Rs: “Five dollar! five dollar!”
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at [email protected]