Friday, June 22, 2012

Death, Taxes, and Diablo III

As I have spent the majority of my 30 years in the Philadelphia area, it’s only appropriate that I start with some words from the greatest Philadelphian in history, Benjamin Franklin.  He did a lot of great things, mainly illustrating his well-versedness in badassery, but it was something he said that was relevant to today’s topic.  While speaking of the Constitution in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (not of Jenkins lineage), he said: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  It became a commonly used phrase over the next 200+ years, as the validity of the statement really has withstood the test of time.  And now, in 2012, it can also be applied in our digital age. Surprisingly not even Blizzard’s Diablo universe can escape.

Anyone who plays Diablo III, or actually any player that has played any game in the Diablo series can attest to the first half of ol’ Ben’s epithet.  Death is certain.  That’s become more true with every iteration of the game.  With always-on single player mode, even more so.  In Hardcore mode, even more.  But what they may not realize is that the other half of the saying also holds in the realm of Sanctuary.  Yes that’s right, taxes.

Let me jump back to World of Warcraft for a second before I continue for those of you that aren’t familiar.  In that game, Blizzard had implemented an auction house system to buy and sell items in game between users on the same server.  Someone selling an item could do so by holding an auction or setting an outright buyout price.  This concept spilled over into the world of Diablo III, where the same kind of auction house has been put in place.  The difference is that in WoW all of the transactions (well, legal ones) were strictly based on gold, the in-game currency.  Diablo 3 has a somewhat evolved version of that concept with two auction houses – one for in-game gold transactions, and one for real money.  Yes that’s right, you can buy and sell in-game items with other players for real cash monies – cold hard American greenbacks.   And it’s really changed how the game works.

So this may be a method to cut illegal real money trade for digital goods, but let’s be real, there’s plenty of money to be made in making illegal trade both legal and regulated.  It works as a continuous revenue stream for Blizzard too, since Diablo III’s not subscription based like WoW. Oh yes, they get their cut.

The real money auction house wasn’t available to players until June 12th, but when it did launch it kind of got my gears turning.  The cost structure is pretty basic – the seller sells, the buyer buys, and Blizzard gets up to 15% of the transaction fee for brokering the deal.  So if one was so inclined, they could turn the game into a personal revenue stream to make a little extra money on the side, after Blizzard takes their fee.  Doing it enough and doing it well could in theory fetch a player some good dough, as players with disposable income clamor for shortcuts to legendary loots.  So once you get to that place, where you’re making some profit from the game, you might have to start thinking about taxes.  No, not the 15% Blizzard cut or the 6% most of you paid when you purchased the game.  I’m talking about income tax that you could owe to the IRS off of your Diablo III profits.

Taxes are a tricky thing, especially in the digital age.  What you owe doesn’t just come from a W-2 or a 1099 anymore.  A lot of stuff people buy is online, untaxed, meaning in most places you have to declare those purchases on your tax returns and pay what’s called a “use tax.”  And sometimes people make money off of other things like hobbies and side businesses.  There have been a lot of arguments on the and Blizzard forums about this exact topic with respect to the real money auction house – so  yes or no, are your real money auction house earnings taxable?

Tushar’s short answer: YES.

Tushar’s long answer: Anecdotally, yes.  I’m not a tax professional and for any concerns you should contact one should you be living real money auction house fabulous.  Then again I don’t think I really need to be a tax pro for this, because as it turns out, I can read English.

You see unfortunately, reading the terms of use and other end-user agreements isn’t something the average user feels it’s necessary to do, even when there’s money concerned.  So first some advice – if you are one of those people, start reading these things.  Second, it’s laid out plain as day in section 10 of the Diablo III Auction House Terms of Use (that all of you have already agreed to if you’re using it):

10. TAXES. You are responsible for taxes incurred when you use the Auction Houses. All auctions are deemed to occur in the United States of America and are subject to all applicable state and federal tax laws and regulations. Proceeds from auction sales may be considered income for tax purposes. You should consult with a tax specialist to determine your tax liability for these transactions.

There you go kids.  “Proceeds from auction sales may be considered income for tax purposes.”  But now here’s the fun part – you’re the one that has to report it, as folks that make money off of services like eBay do.  Blizzard's not your employer in this scenario.  You made money selling your digital wares to another player, and they were just the agent.  I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be getting a W-2 in the mail from them before tax time.  Chances are if you’re not the type of person that reports online purchases for use tax, you’re not going to be reporting this either, and you’ll probably be ok because you don’t make a lot of money from it.  If you are in fact making a few grand on it, kudos to you and your keen understanding of game economics.

But it gets even more interesting.  Let's consider for a second the stock market.  I buy a $100 issue and tomorrow it increases in value to $110.  Technically I made $10, but I never realized the profit.  It's not real cash in my pocket.  So I don't pay tax on that $10 I made until I sell the stock to realize the profit, and it becomes real cash in my pocket.  Blizzard has a digital wallet system that seems to kind of work the same way and in my opinion a parallel could be drawn.  Technically what's in your Blizzard wallet isn't "real" cash, and may be exempt from taxation.  If you're working through PayPal on the other hand, I believe they're now required by the IRS to report your PayPal income as a third party settlement organization. 

Bottom Line?  If you make income - any income, it's reportable to the IRS.  Not always taxable, but reportable.  There's no explicitly listed  minimum value that makes income reportable.  In this particular case, in my opinion, I would say anything below the cost of the game wouldn't be considered income.  So if you made a few bucks on the real money auction house, just report it.  It'll make your head hurt far less, minimize your tax risk, however little it may be, and you still come out in the black.

Just keep your receipts, kids.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cosplay and Reality - A Day at Comic Con vs A Day at the Golf Course

Would you ever guess that there would be anything similar between going to comic con and going out to play a round of golf?  On one hand you have a citywide celebration of geekery, with comic and sci-fi icons signing pictures and a flood of citizens of geekdom overtaking a convention center.  On the other hand, you have an outdoor sport traditionally played in a country club environment - calm, quiet and finishing with a drink and a cigar at the clubhouse. Go ahead, try to come up with some similarities.  I'll wait.

So what did you come up with?  Nothing?  I suppose that's fair.  You may find it easier to build a fire with two sticks and pure rage than to succeed in this ridiculous exercise.  But after witnessing what I did at my last round of 18 at the local golf course, I sat down on my couch and drew one parallel.

And I'll get to it in a second.  First let me address what I know what some of you may be thinking.  Those who know me personally know I'm a pretty massive geek.  Massive of course both in the sense that I am not only a large man, but also can sit through a Marvel movie marathon for over 15 hours and thoroughly enjoy myself, regardless of the risk of potential muscle atrophy or heart attack from the sheer volume of popcorn consumed.  So golf?  Really?  Well kids, it can't be all pure geekery 24/7 (don't panic!).  I mean we all have to have to do other things.  Having a day job for one, even if it exists for the sole purpose of supporting our geeky habits.  Granted mine is one where I'm paid to run computer nerd operations for my company, but still, while it may not be directly obvious to some, a well-rounded geek serves him or herself way more than one who doesn't know anything other than geek culture.  I try to play golf whenever I can.  I handle business like a damn professional.  And I roll a barbarian in Diablo III.  The majority of my world is based in reality.  How else could I go by my tagline of tech boss by day and nerd hero by night?  Ethics, man.  Come on.

But business? Sports? What the hell is this?  I thought you were a nerd hero!  Well deal with it.  In D&D they call it multi-classing.

And as it has been pointed out to me, that reference is why my nerd hero status is never called into question.

So back to comic cons, golf and cosplay.  Cosplayers at a comic con dress up as their favorite characters from nerd culture - be it a game, comic book, tv series or movie.  Strolling the show floor in costumes ranging from shabbily thrown together rags to masterfully crafted costumes that would make you swear that they jumped out of the pages of a comic book or off of a movie screen, it's always fun to see.  Believe it or not, I see the same thing on the golf course.  Folks step up to the first tee in everything from a simple polo and pants to a full on branded PGA tour getup, complete with a Bubba Watson pink driver.

The real surprise to me was which out of these two groups is actually more grounded in reality.  From my experience, contrary to what many may think, it's the comic con cosplayers.  Let's look at an example - I got a picture of a couple at Wizard World Philadelphia dressed like Green Arrow and Black Canary.  Their costumes were pretty good, and in the picture you'll notice the lovely young lady cosplaying Black Canary was posing as though she was hitting us with a canary cry.  But she knew it was just a pose, and that she wasn't about to demolish any of the booths around us or incapacitate any guests.  You see, Black Canary is a comic book character and I'm pretty sure she knew that the costume didn't come with superpowers.

The foursome in front of me last weekend at the golf course were altogether different.  They were playing from the blue tees (see geek translation: "hard mode") and were dressed the part, so it would appear to onlookers that they actually knew what they were doing.  They stood behind the tee staring at their $50-per-box golf ball on the tee for roughly a minute.  Set up their stance for another.  Then they took their backswing, swung it through, and drilled the hell out of the ball... exactly 100 feet straight to the right into the woods.  It's like bringing out your old Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers cartridge, blowing into it with your version of whatever ritual we all had loading the game into the console, starting level 1-1, and running directly into the first pit.

See these guys were in fact cosplaying - instead of dressing like characters from a game or comic, they were dressed up like the pros playing on the PGA Tour, with a stark difference.  Where our Black Canary cosplayer didn't actually think she would knock me out with a canary cry, these guys sincerely thought that they were going to crush it onto the green for an easy birdie, just like they do on TV.  They did the same thing on putts - squatting to read the green for no less than 90 seconds before lining up to try knocking the ball into the cup.  And then miss.  Not by a little either - it wasn't even close sometimes.  And I bet after finishing the 18th hole they kicked back in the clubhouse talking about how awesome they were.

So while the comic con cosplayers were the ones getting odd stares on the train from the suburbs down to the convention center, the ones that have actually lost touch with reality can be found at your local golf course.  Because what's really insane?  Donning a fun costume for a few days of geeky fun?  Or truly believing that buying that set of Razr X Musclebacks is going to let you pitch and chip like Phil Mickelson?

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Short Interlude: Lost Continuity

What's up kids?  Taking a one post break to let you all know about a new side project I'm working on, teaming up with New Age Amazon's Ashly Nagrant on a site called Lost Continuity.  It's the brainchild of the both of us talking comics, sci fi, and pop culture in general, crossing the streams and inadvertently creating mashup universes that may or may not already exist.  Being a firm proponent of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, I like to see it not only as charging headlong into ridiculousness but really creating parallel realms of ridiculousness.

Yeah, my ego rolls that large.

Look, comics, games and sci-fi do it alllll the time - timelines get twisted, realities shifted, and things invariably find themselves in some sort of level of crisis.  Be it final, be it on infinite earths, or be it just being hungry.  You know you've done it too. I mean me and my grad school roommate once had a conversation on the speed of sriracha's delicious flavor and whether or not it's faster than lightning. That's right.  The speed of delicious flavor versus the laws of nature.  And we were stone sober too.  These things just happen on their own.  Does it make sense?  No.  But does it have to? Not at all.  These are the conversations you have that finish with "man we have to write that down," because seriously who's going to remember all that?  At Lost Continuity that's all we're really doing.  Writing it down for posterity and really for the betterment of the world at large.  Making sure those mashups and crossovers survive. So you're welcome.

So the next time you and your friends start talking about "who would win in a fight between a watcher from Fringe and Gambit at Aperture Labs?" or "what if Tony Stark was arrested for public drunkenness and hired Harvey Birdman as his attorney?" or even "what if the Doctor was brown?" you let us know.  Because in addition to our combined vast ridiculous pop culture knowledge, we'll always take suggestions.  feel free to fire one out to us at or and we'll do what we can.  In the meantime, check out Lost Continuity and see what you can expect.

Because it might be something crazy enough for you to enjoy, like a Green Lantern cake.  And for those of you who don't recognize the image, that's Superboy Prime punching reality. I feel like there's some meaning there.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Philly Geekend - Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2012 for a Casual Attendee

This weekend I was able to make it out to the Wizard World Comic Con Philadelphia - a weekend every year when nerds from the area descend upon the city of brotherly love to celebrate comic nerdery in all its forms.  Now before I go on about it let me say three things.  (1) I'm pretty sure no one considers me "press." I'm not sponsored by anyone nor was I going to the convention on behalf of any organization.  It was just me going for fun.  So despite the number awesome guests that were attending the show, I didn't shell out for any VIP sessions, panels or photo-ops.  After admission and the stuff I bought, I wasn't about to spend a few hundred dollars more.  (2) I really should have broken this down into Saturday and Sunday and posted each day, but I didn’t, so I apologize for how long this is going to be.  And finally (3) My day job requires me to, well you know, be there, so I was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday, not the whole 4-day stretch (which I do regret to some degree).  But even attending for only two days, I got to meet some cool people, have some interesting discussions with artists and exhibitors, spotted a few celebrities, and of course saw some decent cosplayers, as one comes to expect from a comic con, of course.  After waiting about 40 minutes to pick up “advance tickets” I thought would save me said 40 minutes, I was finally wristbanded and on my way in.

I got to have some good conversations with some comic people about art, comics, and the industry in general.  The first one was with Greg Horn, artist extraordinaire responsible for a long list of outstanding covers for a number of publishers including Marvel and DC, most recently for DC's Blackest Night series and Wonder Woman #600.  He's done work for Top Cow and Image as well, and is currently doing some cool stuff for Zenescope (that's him on the right channeling his best Galactus).  I bought a couple of prints that were for sale – a sweet Arkham City rendition of Joker and Harley Quinn and another featuring Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire from Blackest Night.  Picked up his art books too.  But what made the encounter cool was that he actually talked to me at length on the side of the booth while he was signing stuff for other people (which he did for no charge by the way).  On top of comics in general I was surprised to find that he was very up on his Indian legends, namely the Mahabharata, and told me the story about the publishing and abrupt halt to the comic book that was going to be made from that legend.  It's a shame it was stopped too, because his knowledge and sketches for it were fantastic, even to someone like me who's well versed in Mahabharata legend.  So on top of doing some of my favorite covers in all comic-dom, it was nice to see that he's a super cool guy too.  In fact, you should check out some of his art.

Jeff Kaufman from Big City Comics was the next long conversation I had.  I went to the booth to find out more about Big City's graphic novel Terminal ALICE, and it spun into talking about not only comics, but movies too - mostly the art of the head fake and the twist.  Apparently there were a lot of people that finished Terminal ALICE and didn't "get it," ultimately prompting Kaufman to change his nameplate from "Writer" to "Writer/Douche" as the title on his nametag.  What was interesting about this discussion was him recounting his experience visiting Normandy in France and drawing inspiration for one of his comics - because apparently according to the locals Steven Spielberg did the same thing to get inspiration for Saving Private Ryan.  He then showed it to me, and after looking at it for a while I came to the same conclusion he did, that the Normandy beach scene from X-Men Origins: Wolverine could have been a shot for shot copy and paste.  I'm looking forward to getting through Terminal ALICE to see for myself, because according to Kaufman, he gives the reader everything they need to figure it out, and I don’t intend to lose.

Now when I said before that there were some awesome guests and I spotted some celebrities, I mean that there were some awesome guests.  Stan Lee, one of the godfathers of modern comics was there, indirectly causing me to be immobilized in a crowd of people waiting to stand in line for a picture or autograph.  I did see him but couldn't get close enough to snap a photo, as I didn't shell out the $80 to do so.  A friend of mine got to meet him and have a couple of his comics signed, and said he was a pretty funny guy.  When he asked Stan the Man how he was doing, his response was "Well I'm here, so I THINK I'm doing OK."  To be honest I expected no less after we’ve all seen his usually comical cameo in Marvel movies, not to mention his role in one of the funniest scenes in Mallrats.  This con was kind of a Mecca for Star Trek fans too.  I believe this was the first time that all of the captains from the different Star Trek shows (Shatner, Stewart, Brooks, Mulgrew, Bakula) were together in the same spot at the same time.  I was able to see them all, but wasn’t about to fight the mobs to try and get through.  And on a side note – Patrick Stewart is aging extremely well.  Must be all that time he spent with Q.

Then there was the original Hulk Lou Ferrigno, Thor's Chris Hemsworth, Heroes cheerleader Hayden Panatierre, the original Buffy Kristy Swanson, and a bevy of wrestlers headlined by CM Punk, who commanded the longest lines for anything I’ve ever seen in my life.  And I have to tell you, after seeing a guy like Paul Bearer in character for so many years, seeing him chilling at his booth texting was something that was exceptionally amusing to me.

In contrast to guys like Stan Lee and Greg Horn, there were a lot of artists and publishers that were relatively small scale, and a couple of webcomic artists that I've never heard of before.  I got to talk to the guys from web series Sean and Such, about a guy named Sean (but you probably guessed that) trying to run a pet store with his ridiculous coworkers.  I also spoke with the guys from, who work with a mission I can get on board with – to make comics as ridiculous as possible.  They run a bunch of webcomics at their site, the one capturing my attention most being Casey the Pillowfighter.  Think 300, but he fights with a pillow.  I picked up a print copy of it and the artist, Louie Chin, was cool enough to sign it next to a sketch of me on the inside cover that he did in about a minute unbeknownst to me.

And let’s not forget 30 Rock’s Dot Com talking presidential run in 2016.  Why not 2012?  Because in his words, President Obama is a “black superhero.”  And let’s be real folks, there’s a good chance I may be running mate.  Dot Com / Brown Town 2016 – has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? And I finally met Katrina Hill, the Action Flick Chick herself at the GeekNation booth.

There were some tremendous cosplayers there as well - some of these folks really went all out to get the look of their favorite comic/movie/tv/game character.  From characters ranging from the Dude to Lollipop Chainsaw's Juliet (who by the way gives Jessica Nigri a run for her money) there were characters there dressed to the nines.  

Then there was the GeekNation launch party Saturday night.  They shut down the Field House to the general public for a nerd-only party celebrating the beta launch for GeekNation.  Complete with drink specials named “Thor’s Hammer” and other superhero-themed libations, this might have been the largest collection of nerds I’ve ever seen inside a bar at one time.  The best part about the whole thing was that while people were being turned away at the door, I was told by the bouncer “You’re good sir, go on in” after seeing the Green Lantern logo emblazoned on my chest and wristband.  Actually that’s a lie.  The best part was having a shot with “Super Bikini Girl,” one of the models from the Superhero Photography booth.   All very strange though – a private party where nerds got the VIP treatment and the sports bros got the boot. I met some fun people in there too, including some folks from, who was a big sponsor for the night along with the fine people from Zenescope.

All in all it was a good time for a casual con attendee.  The bulk of all of this was on Saturday, and there weren’t nearly as many people there on Sunday.  Which was true for cosplayers as well. Next year I may actually take part in some of the panels and go for the full four days, because something tells me I’m missing a lot on opening day and day 2.

You can see the rest of my photos and more cosplayers here.  Some Spaceballs in there, The Big Lebowski, and a bunch of comic characters in there.  And if you are any of these people or know who they are, let me know so I can post your name for credit.