The Network Effect: MP3 versus OGG

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jul 12, 2015

Filed under: Random 122 comments

A few weeks ago Peter H. Coffin asked how many people downloaded the podcast as MP3 compared to the number of people who chose OGG. Normally these numbers are greatly distorted by the fact that Google Chrome (and possibly other browsers) will auto-load the MP3 whenever the page is viewed, even if the user doesn’t explicitly try to download or play the file.

But the following week I used a quick work-around. The embeded player used a different file name, so we can have a proper apples-to-apples comparison. We can compare people who downloaded each file by clicking on the link, and filter out everyone who used the embedded player. Of people who deliberately clicked on the download links to save Diecast #109, 9,244 chose the MP3, and only 240 chose OGG.

If you’re curious, OGG files use an open-source file formatMP3 is licensed or proprietary in some way that I’ve never bothered to investigate. and it usually has a much smaller file size for the same audio. In this case, the MP3 version of Diecast #109 was 57MB while the OGG was just 31MB. That’s a pretty huge savings for what audiophiles assure me is “the same quality”.

This is a great example of how powerful the network effect is. OGG files are faster to download, equal in audio quality, and the software to encode and decode them is free to all. It’s a superior system in every way, but it’s not widely supported because people are in the habit of using MP3. Their collections are already in MP3. MP3 is widely available. It’s simply more convenient for people to keep doing what they’re already doing, even if the alternative is objectively better.

This should terrify the folks running Uplay, Origin, and even the awesome folks at Good Old Games. Being “just as good” as Steam isn’t good enough. Being “slightly better” than Steam isn’t good enough. You need a product that is irresistibly better if you want to lure people away from their comfort zone. EA should be driving prices down in an attempt to lure people to their platform. They should be giving away free games. They should be making their client lighter, faster, and more responsive.

EDIT: Actually, EA IS giving away free games. I downloaded one just two days ago. Okay, it was a Zuma game, which is probably why it slipped my mind. Still, credit where it’s due: This is the kind of tactic they need to be using.

And they should definitely not be doing stupid stuff like this:

The people running Origin seem to think they’re entitled to a chunk of the market share just because they’re EA. But if the superior OGG file format can barely maintain a foothold against deeply-entrenched MP3, then what hope does the appallingly inferior Origin have against Steam?

Then there’s GoG Galaxy. It’s got a lot of the convenience benefits of Steam, but without the suicide pact problem of, “If our servers die, we’re taking your games with us!” However, I’m having problems buying DLC from them as well. I wanted to buy the artwork, soundtrack, comics, and alternate character outfits for the Witcher 3, but I can’t because they give it all away as a free download. It’s almost like they’re trying to entice me to favor their platform. Huh.



[1] MP3 is licensed or proprietary in some way that I’ve never bothered to investigate.

From The Archives:

122 thoughts on “The Network Effect: MP3 versus OGG

  1. Thomas says:

    The one feature GoG lacks though that people have been asking for for years is email notifications when wishlist games go on sale. With the network effect I’m not checking the GoG storefront anything like the frequency I check the Steam storefront, but Steam is the one that will tell me when my games go on sale without having to check it :(

    I’m still crossing my fingers for it though, I’d love to buy games on GoG rather than steam.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But doesnt gog inform you of any sale via email?Im pretty sure they got me into two sales already with their “SALE!Come and get it!” emails.

      1. Retsam says:

        Right, but it’s a difference between “checking out every sale that have, just in case one of the games on your wishlist happens to be on sale”, and just knowing that the thing you want is on sale.

        Sure, I guess they list the games on sale in the email but, 1) I’m lazy and that sounds like work, and 2) they don’t always list all the games on sale, just the first 20 or so, and they tend to put a lot of games on sale at once. (Or at least, they tend to send out those emails when they put a lot of games on sale at once; I wouldn’t know if they have smaller sales they don’t email me about.

        1. Angelo says:

          Notifying users about individual items from their wishlist being on sale is a luxury you can afford when thousands of people check your storefront and buy from your store regularly anyway.

          It might seem like an effortless convenience, but it actually has repercussions they can’t ignore. They just need more customers, and they’re already being extremely customer-friendly.

    2. Tektotherriggen says:

      I’ve found the Steam sale notifications pretty flaky – I’m sure they miss out a lot of sales. This might be Steam trying to be polite, though, and not spamming me with lots of emails. I can’t tell.

      1. DrMcCoy says:

        Yeah, ditto; very flakey.

        There’s, though, which lets you add games to your wishlist there (with an import option for your Steam wishlist), and then it sends you mails about sales on various websites. Extensively configurable, too.

        1. Icedrake says:

          On the one hand, thank you for the site. On the other hand, whose bright idea is it to put information at the bottom of the page right below the infinite scroll?

        2. Thomas says:

          Thank you, that looks amazing!

      2. Eruanno says:

        Yeah, Steam is a bit… weird that way. Sometimes it will alert me of my #15 wishlist game being on sale but not my #2. Huhwhat.

      3. Bubble181 says:

        Apparently this has to do with packs and DLC content and such either being on sale at the same time or not, but I’ve never managed to figure it out.

    3. Bryan says:

      Actually, the one thing GOG lacks is the ability to not use credit cards. I don’t have a credit card. I buy things entirely with “gift” cards.

      1. Tizzy says:

        I don’t do credit card either, but…

        I’m sure people’s milage will depend based on where they live and their age, but, in case it helps, I was able to buy on GOG through a Paypal card which is reloaded using cash and in no way connected to any bank account.

      2. tmtvl says:

        I have no credit card and buy stuff on GOG with Paypal.
        EDIT: Ninja’d

    4. Von Loghausen says:

      Personally, I use Is There Any Deal for this.
      It will keep track of game prices throughout multiple (all of them?) vendors, and warn you if there’s a sale (or when it’s below a certain price or percentage). You can even import your existing steam wishlist.
      Pretty sweet if you ask me.

  2. Alex says:

    The experiment might be somewhat spoiled now, but you should try simply listing the OGG and MP3 downloads in the opposite order this coming week, and see if that makes a difference.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      Actually, I’m more curious to see what mainstream audio players won’t support open formats. I know iTunes probably won’t support it, because they have their own stuff like AAC, but I haven’t investigated the rest.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        Just tried it in my Windows Media Player (possibly an old version) – doesn’t seem to support OGG. I can’t tell if Microsoft are being lazy or corrupt…

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Lazy and not wanting to invest in a dead program?

          VLC is my go-to on-computer player for .. well.. everything. iTunes is pretty much just a glorified window into the music library and occasionally “play stuff through the AirPlay enabled AV receiver”.

      2. Dt3r says:

        Hardware as well. People know they own an “mp3 player” so the natural inclination is to download the .mp3 format. Does your specific version of an ipod/zune/etc. play ogg? Most people have no idea.

        1. Domochevsky says:

          I know that mine doesn’t, which is why I go for mp3. Otherwise i’d grab the ogg version. :S

        2. I used the .ogg version of the podcast on my Android phone for a while and it played fine, but the displayed track length never matched the actual track length. (It would play a minute or more past the “end” of the track every time.) Now I use the rss feed in a podcast app, and only have the option to download the .mp3’s.

        3. Lisa says:

          The player in my car knows MP3, and that’s it. The one I used in my old car would deal with MP3, WMA and OGG.

          Moving to the new car caused not a bit of hassle given that all my CDs are in storage, so I can’t just rip the ones in OGG to MP3 – I can only transcode *shudder*.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    In this case, the MP3 version of Diecast #109 was 57MB while the OGG was just 31MB

    Why didnt you say this sooner?I usually download the diecast to my phone in order to listen to it in transit,and 20 megs will save me quite some time(cumulatively)when doing so.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      Yeah, I found this out way back when I was out in the middle of nowhere with barely a cell-phone signal. Having a format that takes 10 minutes to download, instead of one that takes 25 minutes (or crashes) is a huge benefit. Maybe @Shamus could list the file sizes beside them?

    2. Eruanno says:

      Yeah, for some reason I thought the OGG version was higher quality (= bigger file size?) or something and I always figured I usually can’t hear a difference anyway so I always picked MP3 because it would maybe possibly take less time to download.

      1. Rich says:

        My understanding is that OGG is better than MP3 at lower bitrates. OGG also supports up to 256 channels as opposed to MP3s 2.

    3. Nimas says:

      I do this occasionally too. To be honest though, I have a collection of both ogg and mp3s of the diecast, as for some reason my phone doesn’t always want to download one or the other (download just hangs).

      However, now that I know *what* Ogg is (I like open source mostly, and data on phones costs waaay too much ><)I'm actually going to go for that one first now.

      Thanks Shamus! :D

    4. Ben Deutsch says:

      How about putting the file sizes directly in the link description?

      Direct download (MP3, 57 MB)
      Direct download (ogg Vorbis, 31 MB)

      If you’ve got it, flaunt it :-P

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        That would be great,indeed.

    5. Volfram says:

      I actually downloaded both versions several months ago to compare and have been downloading the .ogg version exclusively when I do download it.

      Also ripped my first CD album in .ogg instead of .mp3 early this year, the audio for my YouTube series has always been stored in either .ogg format or as an Audacity project, and I’m pretty much switching to .ogg for all of my audio needs. 30% smaller file size and no licensing concerns for software integration? Yes, please!

  4. Rack says:

    I’m assuming EA and Ubisoft aren’t really trying to compete with Steam. What they want is not to have to give Valve 30% of the profit of all their own games. I had a look at the Origin store but didn’t see any non-EA games on there. People’s inertia is less important when Manshoots 43 is only on Origin and Open World Collectamania 21 is only on Uplay.

    But for what it’s worth EA give out free games somewhat regularly and have had a couple of humble bundles. It was enough to finally sneak Origin on my system and if they release a new game I actually want then at some point I’ll grit my teeth and pay for it.

    1. wswordsmen says:

      That is stupid, because if they can get 3rd parties on then they will get 30% of the revenue that is currently going to Steam. It might be enough for them to maintain the service just to save 30% on the sale of their own games, but not trying to beat Steam is stupid.

      That said maybe they know that it would be really difficult and decided they can’t beat Steam so they shouldn’t try.

    2. Greg says:

      Origin isn’t just first party games, I bought Far Cry 4 and AssCreed Unity (oh the regret) from Origin. I imagine they’re mostly EA games, but they do have some third party titles.

  5. Da Mage says:

    Only Shamus could start an article talking about about audio formats, and turn it into a discussion about how shitty Uplay and Origin are.

    And I love every word of it.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oh please,origin and uplay are easy segues.Watch:

      So it was a pretty hot weather today.It reminded me of how much of a steaming pile of shit uplay is.

      1. Nimas says:

        Ooh, let me in on this!

        I was hugging a puppy the other day, which for a whole second made me forget how much Uplay is a blight upon this fair earth.

  6. Artur CalDazar says:

    Mass Effect 2 came out 5 years ago when EA was more interested in xbox live then their, at that time non-existent, storefront.

    You seem to be talking as if this is some new or updated system, when this has more to do with them not supporting their games at all in the years past their prime sales. Not that I’m suggesting it isn’t messed up, I just wonder if you think this is supposed to work this way, rather than the 3 DRM system hacked together mess from the edge of the grave that it is.

    1. Eruanno says:

      Still, why wouldn’t they update their storefront so people could actually buy it for reasonable money these days? Mass Effect is still a very popular game and there’d be a fair chunk of money for EA from people like Shamus if they bothered to fix it.

    2. Adam says:

      Plus, there’s the carnie-style “Bioware Points” thing that even M$ realized was stupid and phased out a year ago. That crap’s inexcusable.

      1. Thomas says:

        I mean Origin realised they were crud and ‘ditched’ them too (I think). They just didn’t update the old systems so it’s only new DLC that you can buy in a reasonable way.

    3. Cilvre says:

      at this point though they should have just made an all in one package for origin, so if you buy the game there you just get all the dlc.

  7. Bropocalypse says:

    This is something I observed with MMORPGs, especially back when the market was flooded with WoW clones. It led to the demise of the incredibly beautiful Warhammer Online. It’s the same as the network effect, but with the added hurdle that most MMOs reward the player with in-game items, experience points, etc. Not only would it feel like moving house, but you wouldn’t be able to take your furniture with you.

  8. Henson says:

    Your problems with the ME2 DLC were exactly why I didn’t play the Dragon Age Origins DLC at first, despite owning the ultimate edition: clicking the ‘get DLC’ button takes me a to a webpage which required a Bioware Social account, which in turn required an EA account. What a mess. Thankfully, Steam has since thrown that whole thing out for DA:O and just given me my content.

    I guess EA figures not enough people are interested in buying DLC for a 5-year-old game to make it worth fixing their old broken system.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      But don’t you want to upload your DLC character builds to a long-dead forum for some reason

    2. Raygereio says:

      I guess EA figures not enough people are interested in buying DLC for a 5-year-old game to make it worth fixing their old broken system.

      To be kinda fair: This is Bioware’s mess, not EA’s. That whole stupid system with Bioware-points, was something Bioware set up for ME1’s Pinnacle Station originally.
      I actually need to stop myself from going of a huge rant here. How Bioware handled their DLC store is just pathetic. The store for the ME1 DLC is just straight up gone. Lost when Bioware deleted their original forums (despite repeated promises to keep it online as an archive). And to buy the DA:O, DA2 & ME2 DLCs, or the download the DLCs for those games you own you have to go to a closed forums, one which can be deleted at any point without warning.

      That said: What EA is at fault for is not putting up the individual DLCs for Bioware’s pre-Origin games on the Origin store.

  9. boota says:

    i’m not sure if my podcast client (pocketcasts) download mp3 or ogg, if i could choose i would pick ogg, but i suspect that it only plays mp3 is there an RSS link for the ogg files to try out?

    when it comes to origin, to be honest, i actually feel that origin today is a better service than steam in many regards.

    the free games i have gotten through this service include: syndicate (the original), theme hospital and wing commander 3 and sim city 2000, which are quite nice freebies.

    secondly they seem to have gotten their dlc purchasing together now, at least for dragon age. (which i quite like)

    but what i like most is that when downloading games i don’t need to limit the clients bandwidth in order to ensure that other software can access the NIC, or find an obscure setting in order to let the client download a game while playing an other game. both these are issues i have recently had to solve on steam. thus i’m currently living in a bizzaro world where EA’s client feels more streamlined and efficient than valve.

    1. Nick-B says:

      Sure, Origin is nice to give us 15+ year old games that we most likely already own a copy (or two) of.

      [Warning, off-tangent rant ahead]
      Instead of, for instance, giving away earlier versions of their multiplayer games like BF3 in order to get people hyped enough to want the latest version. I mean, do they really plan to get a lot of sales of BF1942, BF:V, BF2142, BF2, BF:BC, BF:BC2, and BF3+DLC in order to keep those locked behind (surprisingly still high cost) paywalls?

      1. boota says:

        i’m gonna sound like an EA apologist here.

        free games from way back make it possible for new generations to explore the games that laid the foundation for the games today. also, out of the titles i mentioned above i have owned sc2k and theme hospital. the other ones were games i either got in contact with through friends and thus only played about 30 minutes of them, or read about in magazines. the games EA have given away for free are way more interesting than if they would have given away the entire battlefieldology, which is basically the same game over and over again.(they are fun and i like them a lot, but they are basically the same game)

        (when it comes to releasing the free games, what EA has done is basically put a dosbox wrapper around MS-DOS games. it would be interesting to see if they are ever going to try to give away a win9x or later game, it may be that there is no simple way to make that stuff compatible on later machines.)

        when comparing origin to steam, steam is the inferior service to me because of the technical issues i described above, its non-existent curation (so origin only having EA titles actually becomes a positive, because i know what to look for there… mainly FIFA and bioware stuff), greenlight hell, i feel like i could go on forever…

        i also have gotten no games from valve for free*. not even half-life, which would be a prime candidate for this kind of treatment. it came out ages ago, and a lot of people who i know haven’t played it talk about it as if it’s some holy grail of game design, which it is not. (there is som shitty design in half-life. the final levels are pretty much unplayable, also the final boss is a giant fetus? what the hell is that?)

        all in all, while i’m aware that steam to many people is the default “best pc games service”, i cannot feel that way. it’s not that origin is necessarily good. but if i could opt out of either steam or origin i would ditch steam.

        *f2p games not included but that’s different

        1. Xapi says:

          Left 4 Dead was given away for free on Steam, as well as some other one, I think it was Portal?

  10. cavalier says:

    I tried OGG but I can’t update the metadata (ie, album, genre, artist, etc.) without third-party software. That’s important for me. MP3 can be be changed natively on both computer and phone. So in my case, it’s more that OGG/Origin is missing the features to be worth switching from MP3/Steam.

    1. Disc says:

      “I tried OGG but I can't update the metadata”

      This. It could be just part of the network effect and resulting lack of native support for the format, but it’s the one and only reason I’ll always pick the MP3 over it.

      1. Nick-B says:

        Isn’t that just the fault of Microsoft not building in OGG metadata support into the OS? I mean, they apparently have to know how MP3s are built in order to allow metadata to be edited for that.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Muahaha, I bask in my Linux superiority.
      “So how’s gaming then?”
      …And now I’m no longer basking in Linux superiority.

  11. kunedog says:

    I deliberately downloaded the OGG for a while until it let me down. I listen to the Diecast on an Android phone over bluetooth in my truck, and something in that technology stack didn’t like OGG.

    Just listening from beginning to end worked fine, but trying to do any seeking (FF or RW) was far more tempermental with OGG than MP3. In the older version of Cyanogenmod (third-party Android build) that I used at the time, there was also a nasty bug that killed the bluetooth playback at random times, which seemed to happen more often with OGG.

    I think I’ll I switch back to OGG now to see if things have changed.

    Yes, entrenched formats have a huge advantage. I commented once on how amazing it was that (for a long time) the animated gif was the de facto standard for video on the internet:

  12. Primogenitor says:

    One solution for this is interoperability – imagine if you could import your Steam games to Origin/Uplay/GoG, or even just your wishlist or friends list.

    But mega-corporations would rather die separately than thrive together.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      Yeah, I would love to live in a world where all the big corps were federated, and all wanted to serve customers. Friends-lists/groups/circles all magically work and sync between Facebook, G+, Steam, Origin, etc. Buy a game on Steam, and be allowed to get the DLC on Origin, Uplay, as well as Steam. Buy your games anywhere, and immediately get access to play them on Steam, Uplay, Xbox, Playstation or any other hardware you own that’s compatible.

    2. Incunabulum says:

      That’s the first step into the cyberpunk dystopian future!

      But seriously – if they did this in the US, the DoJ would be on them in a heartbeat looking for evidence of ‘collusion’.

      they’re already making noise about investigating the airlines because ticket prices have been going up.

    3. Matt Downie says:

      I don’t think there’s much incentive for Steam to co-operate when it’s doing so well on its own.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        I don’t either – I’m just pointing out that there are a lot of ‘incentives’ (like not going to jail) that would make cooperation unlikely even if it otherwise made sense for the companies involved.

    4. Nick-B says:

      Imagine all MMO’s had shared achievements / friends list / player housing / logins. Making going from one mmo to another less painful.

      Hell, while we’re at it, imagine if video game software wasn’t covered by copyright. I’d love a game that took the open world/driving of GTA, the well-made shooting feel of FPSs like BF and/or COD, the free-climb of assassin’s creed, the free-running of mirrors edge, and the third person controls of Mario. But no, every game company has to re-invent the video game wheel because it’s all locked up.

  13. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    You say that .ogg is far superior, but I doubt you’ve tried to play .ogg files on a $200 crappy pre-paid android phone. I used VLC and for mp3 it is absolutely perfect, with minimal stuttering but as soon as I load an ogg file, the music plays, but VLC freezes, my phone starts eating its battery life and it gets real hot. Yeah, ogg is not that great when it destroys your phone.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      My phone eats CPU and battery, and overheats, when I play Hearthstone on it. So mostly I play at lunch at work, because Hearthstone inside of Wine* also sucks.

      * Technically Play On Linux, which handles all the weird settings for Wine, and also runs each game inside a VM with its own copy of Wine, so they can all run exactly the version they were most recently tested on.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      Huh… mine is a crappy 120GBP phone from two years ago, and it plays OGGs without problem, through any of the players I’ve tried: the builtin one, Google player, Just Player, Maple, AntennaPod, Mort, Apollo.

      That said:
      Yes, because OGG is more compressed than MP3, it takes a little more computing power than MP3. When I try to run OSMAnd (navigation) while listening to music, the player sometimes just crashes because OSMAnd uses all of the precious RAM (have only 768MB, 500 of which is eaten by Android).
      If I use Maple to play a file at partial speed or different pitch (music practice), it sometimes stutters.
      I can’t tell if that would be different with MP3 because my entire collection is in OGG, and the only MP3s are podcasts in AntennaPod — and they are just as likely to crash when running OSMAnd.

      1. DrMcCoy says:

        It’s not just that Ogg Vorbis more compressed. It’s also that the reference implementation, libvorbis, uses floating point numbers. Many CPUs found in mobile devices lack a hardware floating point unit, making decoding slow. There is an implementation that uses fixed point numbers, libtremors, but you often have to tell a program to use it on compile-time.

        That said, a reasonable recent (i.e. last few years) of VLC on Android *should* default to using ffmpeg to decode Vorbis, and I *think* they use fixed-point arithmetics.

        1. Bropocalypse says:

          Jeeze. Sounds like OGG is more unwieldy and complex, despite being smaller. I’d rather carry around a bowling ball than a cannonball, if you take my meaning.

          1. DrMcCoy says:

            Well, it’s another iteration in the MDCT-based codecs. Increased complexity comes with the territory. Just like, say, h.265 is more complex than h.264.

            1. Bropocalypse says:

              I’ll take your arcane word for it.

          2. Mephane says:

            Jeeze. Sounds like OGG is more unwieldy and complex, despite being smaller. I'd rather carry around a bowling ball than a cannonball, if you take my meaning.

            In which way is it the fault of OGG that mobile CPUs sometimes come without something as basic as a hardware floating point arithmetic unit?

            I am sorry but this is the 21st century, as a programmer myself I would expect/demand that we should not have to deal with that level of crap.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          Yeah, that’s sort of what I meant to say: A more efficient codec will usually require more computational effort. But I don’t know the details.

          I did read somebody’s angry blog post a while ago complaining about how difficult seeking in .ogg files was, among other things. “ogg needs to die so that vorbis can live” was the line I remember (can’t find the thing now). Bacically, the container format is said to be a bad idea — so while Ogg Vorbis is better than MP3, there is another not-as-good-as-it-should thing to it, so theoretically, everyone should jump on the waggon when a better container for Vorbis comes along.

          But then there’s the cost of constantly jumping waggons, and the hope that there’ll just be a few libraries to handle the ugly bits so users can just go and use the damn thing.

          Just ran a test with MP3 and ogg on my phone, and none of them seems to cause more ore fewer crashes. Also tried to install VLC on it but that failed, so I won’t be able to test it. Actually, I haven’t yet found an audio player which I’m happy with but my experience with VLC’s placebo for a media library does not fill me with hope.

          1. DrMcCoy says:

            Yes, the Ogg container is unfortunately quite ugly and unwieldy.

          2. I love VLC on my PC (though it’d be nice if it had a native “resume” feature for audiobooks and movies), but on mobile, it’s not that great.

            I have an older phone, so maybe it can’t run a better version of VLC’s mobile client, but it crashes quite a lot no matter the format, and it leads me to the conclusion that what I want in a media player isn’t just format compatibility but functionality.

            My phone is a Samsung S (or Galaxy 1), which comes with an MP3 player. A very badly designed MP3 player. Why? It won’t read playlists that aren’t in some kind of proprietary Samsung format. I can make playlists on my phone with the phone’s player, but since I have to do that 1 file at a time. Also, since some audio book track names are identical except for numbers, and the filenames are longer than the screen can accommodate, I can’t tell which “chapter” I just added.

            So after wrestling with VLC (which also couldn’t seem to read playlist files, either, though it gave every indication that it should be able to), I found a lovely little player called MortPlayer. I like it’s philosophy of “it reads the stupid files and plays them.” I couldn’t care less about format at this juncture so long as whatever I’m using to listen to music/podcasts effing works and doesn’t cause headaches for my device(s).

            1. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

              Mortplayer eh? I might go ahead and check that out, sounds like a good alternative.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Am I the only one that literally laughs at “my MASSIVE COMPUTING MACHINE INSIDE A DEVICE THAT FITS IN THE PALM OF MY HANDphone is crap” sentences?

        1. Matt Downie says:

          Looked from the perspective of thirty years ago, it’s ridiculous to criticize the awesome computing power of a modern phone. But looked at from the perspective of thirty years in the future, our phones are hilariously primitive. The batteries run out all the time, and the software has no emotional sensitivity at all.

          1. Richard says:

            On the bright side, my phone still hasn’t upgraded me to a shiny metal chassis.


        2. Zak McKracken says:

          Yeah … I shouldn’t call my phone “crappy”, and it actually isn’t. But it is hitting its limits, rather often recently, and not in an elegant way.
          Then again, calling your phone that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad phone.

          Also, standards are changing constantly. I remember a friend explaining that you’ll never need anything more than a Pentium II for office work. Pretty sure he upgraded by now.

        3. Alexander The 1st says:

          But can it run Crysis?

          1. Benjamin Hilton says:

            No but it does run Genysis.

  14. AileTheAlien says:

    “You need a product that is irresistibly better if you want to lure people away from their comfort zone.”
    Yup. Small increments usually don’t win. Good example is the dvorak keyboard.

      1. kdansky says:

        When I tried Dvorak, it felt really comfortable though. Still, not worth the hassle of relearning every key and not being able to type on other’s keyboards (or they on mine).

        AFAIK the fastest typist in the world uses dvorak, at ~800 letters per minute. That’s literally four times faster than I am when I try really hard, and probably faster than I can think.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      I think there is some research out there that indicates there may be a very tiny advantage to Dvorak, if any at all, for the average typer (Typist?).

  15. Muspel says:

    A while back, Origin actually gave away Dragon Age: Origins for free.

    For like two days.

    If they had just left that as a standing offer and put the DLC on a deep discount, it might entice people to download Origin and stick their payment info in there– and at that point, you’ve gotten past 90% of the hurdle of getting people to try out your service.

    1. Anonymous says:

      They do things like that quite often it seems. Giving away the entire Sims 2 is what got me to download Origin.

  16. Jnosh says:

    Just thought I’d clarify some points on the technical side of things.

    First off, MP3 seems to have become synonymous with “audio on computers” for many people so they refer to music, etc… files as MP3s no matter what format they are actually in. This in turn leads to name recognition (click on the thing that says MP3 because I ‘know’ what that is) which then becomes self reinforcing and so on…
    A general vicious/virtuous circle depending on where you stand.

    Now as for file size/audio quality, ‘OGG’ (technically Vorbis, OGG is the container format, Vorbis is the actual audio codec) is certainly superior to MP3, then again it is also a few years newer… I think Vorbis had its inception back when there was the possibility that end users might have to pay royalties for using MP3.
    For a fairer comparison you could compare Vorbis to AAC which is more of a contemporary and which in some ways you could call a successor to MP3. However, for the reasons outline above, MP3 still sees pretty wide use despite the availability of technically superior alternatives (and because most people just really don’t care about this stuff ;-)).

    As for comparing filesize, you need to be careful because there are a lot of factors going into the final “quality” and filesize. You have the bitrate itself, variable vs. constant bitrate, # of channels (mono, stereo, …), sampling rate, sampling depth, …
    Generally speaking you can get the same level of quality with a lower bitrate (which results in smaller files) when using a “better” codec.
    I had a quick look at the latest Diecast and the Ogg/Vorbis file is smaller despite using a higher bitrate, probably because it’s using a variable bitrate (which does really well for a podcast where there are a lot of small silent portions) and most MP3s use constant bitrates.

    That said, for podcasts how, where and what you record with is immensely more important for audio quality than the audio codec.

    Technical superiority alone is nice but what is often the deciding factor is software and hardware support. Generally speaking there hasn’t been much mainstream software that supports Ogg/Vorbis which makes it a no-go for many people. While computer software generally used to decode audio/video in software, this was never really a possibility for “mobile”. It is simply far too inefficient (if possible at all) to decode that stuff on the CPU so everything from your old ‘MP3’-player to your modern smartphone uses separate hardware to do this. So obviously you are limited to what the hardware supports. In the early 2000s this was mostly limited to MP3 (for compressed audio) on the low end with AAC being added on the high end (with Apple being one of the main early users, AAC being their codec of choice for music sold through the iTunes store).

    Ogg/Vorbis never saw much hardware support at all and MP3 just kinda “won out” because it was what most people were using and because their device probably just didn’t support anything else.

    Nowadays, pretty much everything you can buy will support AAC but there are still devices out there that will only really play MP3s and hence most podcasts still keep using it.

    With Google’s push for VP8/VP9 (video codecs) with Vorbis for audio the hardware support might be increasing but I don’t really know. Most modern phones can probably decode it in software easily enough at the cost of performance & battery life.

    The comparison between Steam/Origin/GoG is interesting but there is an important difference. Steam/… use DRM whereas GoG does not. Most people still don’t care or even know but as Shamus has pointed out repeatedly, DRM often ends up punishing the end users for buying things legally. Buying your games on GoG and without DRM can be a big enough factor for some people.

    In comparison, the number of people that actually care about open source, non-propriatary, not patent encumbered software is probably pretty small. There just isn’t any tangible benefit to ordinary people…
    Using Ogg/Vorbis instead of MP3/AAC/… is much more like playing Battle for Wesnoth instead of Starcraft because it’s “open”. I’m not trying to discourage that but it’s pretty obvious that most people don’t really mind using things created by corporations.

    DRM has been used for Music as well but that is generally implemented on top of the underlying audio codec (Fairplay, plays for sure, etc…). Interestingly, the Music sector moved to being DRM free many years back (as compared to video, games and software in general) so that isn’t really an issue when *buying* music these days.
    However it’s making a resurgence with streaming music services (so that you loose access once you stop paying). Unsurprisingly, people don’t tend to care about DRM either as long as they don’t notice it.

    1. Gnashmer says:

      This is a really good comment. Great job.

      1. Jnosh says:

        Thank you, kind stranger.

    2. Eric says:

      Agreed! MP3 wins out because people know what the name is first and foremost. They don’t care about the technical details. I’m sure there are tons of users whom, if you gave them an AAC, Vorbis, heck, even an Opus file, but called it MP3, they’d likely not bat an eyelash when that podcast.ogg file showed up.

      The rise of ubiquitous computing and breakdown of barriers in hardware and software means that computers, file formats, etc. are all extremely accessible and that the average user does not need to know what a specific file format is, how information is stored, or what the differences are. It’s just “audio” now. And while a lot of people (mostly geeks) will lament this, it’s probably a lot better when the average user just doesn’t need to think about this kind of thing.

      The benefits just aren’t there, and if it’s not absolutely necessary to know, people don’t care to know. Most people just do not care about shaving off a few megabytes. Unless audio quality is really noticeably worse, most people won’t care or notice the difference between codecs (and that assumes they’re *not* listening on cheap headphones or a phone speaker… which they probably are).

      This is the kind of thing that content creators and distributors need to deal with, because for them there are real cost concerns (file size, bandwidth and so on). But most people don’t really want to how the sausage is made.

      1. Eric says:

        And just to go on a mini-tangent – I’m not saying that people are *dumb* for not knowing or caring about this stuff. I think sometimes there is a tendency among the technically inclined to look down a bit on people who don’t understand or care to understand hardware and software.

        But doing so, I think, is pretty silly. We all live with dozens if not hundreds of systems, concepts and things in our lives we don’t understand. I can fly on a jet airliner without understanding physics or how a plane is built. I can live in a capitalist economy without really understanding more than the absolute fundamentals of economics. I can go to a hospital and receive care from experts and not need to know how, why and what they’re doing to treat me. These are set up specifically so we don’t *need* to understand them.

        1. Jnosh says:

          Absolutely. It’s very easy to get obsessed with minor differences and be dismayed by what most people tend to base their decisions on but ultimately the onus is on the tech people to create new solutions that are subjectively or objectively better for the actual users. When they see a “real” benefit, they usually come easily enough but, for example, usability improvements trump most technical improvements every time…

          It’s when you get to combine the user-visible and technical improvements that you get the really nice win-win situations :-)

    3. mwchase says:

      There just isn't any tangible benefit to ordinary people…

      Except for those of us who, for whatever reason, have the mp3 cut off a few minutes in when we play it in our browsers (at least, when we started out). I’ve mentioned it in other comment threads here, but I’ve always used the ogg file because for the first few weeks, the mp3 just didn’t work out for me, and that happened to a few other people, as well.

      1. Jnosh says:

        Oh absolutely. Use whatever works best for you.

        This is/was probably a browser issue more than anything related to MP3 directly but in the end if that happens to make the alternative more usable, that’s the way it goes :-)

      2. Soylent Dave says:

        That issue seems to have fixed itself now (or at least, it’s an issue I used to have and now I don’t).

  17. Peter H. Coffin says:

    w00t! Thanks for the follow-up! I was expecting a lot lower, but sub-1% suprised me a little. Too many friends chiding me about “Oh, I’d never buy an iPod. No OGG support!” (Not that I put the podcast on a portable. I’m usually right there at the keyboard when listening, but I’m prone to forgetting that I’m streaming and navigating away from the page in the interest of clicking on one of the related links.)

    1. Jnosh says:

      Hmm, I wonder what the breakdown is between website listeners and people that listen through a dedicated podcast app?
      I tend to assume people use podcast apps just because I find them personally to be more convenient but the comments here always seem skewed towards listening on the page.

      @Shamus: Do you have any statistics about access from the webpage vs through the RSS feed?

      1. Ardis Meade says:

        You can put me down as neither. I just straight download the file in to my phone music player to listen to later.

        1. krellen says:

          When I travel and listen, this is also what I do.

          1. Jnosh says:

            Interesting. How many podcasts do you listen to regularly? My feeling would be that many people listen to just a few/one podcast and don’t want/need a dedicated solution in that case?

            1. krellen says:

              Just the Diecast.

            2. Ardis Meade says:

              Just 5 right now. Nightvale, Hello Internet, WTFIWWY, Deemable Tech and the Diecast. Plus WTFIWWY is only available as a popcast to Patrons so a podcatcher probably couldn’t pick that one up anyway.

        2. RTBones says:

          This is what I tend to do as well. I will typically download the podcast and listen to it in the car or on the train.

      2. I may do either or both, depending. If I’m planning to listen on my computer, I just download, but if I want to put it on my Zune (yes, a Zune, yes that’s weird, and yes, I’m reasonably happy with it and yes it’s quite old and still perfectly functional) I need to get the Zune software to get it (it uses the RSS).

        1. Henson says:


        2. JRT says:

          Ah, a fellow Zune-ie. That was my first MP3 player, and I used it for about 5 years or so. I hated the lack of software updates and I never used the Zune service, just Amazon for MP3s.

          Then–one day I washed the zune by leaving it in sweatpants pockets after taking a walk. :-(. I’ve since moved to an android phone with a MicroSD card.

      3. Cuthalion says:

        I used to listen to tons of podcasts (~6.5hrs a day) as a janitor, so I learned the podcast (RSS) and sync features of my media player (MediaMonkey) and mp3 player. Now, I listen to far less (~1hr a day), but since there is more than one, it’s still more convenient to have the updates come to me whenever I press a button on my media player rather than checking websites individually.

        I sometimes listen through the webpage if I have the computer, but no mp3 player, or if the podcast updated since the last time I synced up my player. I almost always do this by opening the file itself in a new tab, because Firefox then gives me a much bigger control area to seek back and forth if I need to re-hear something.

      4. Ranneko says:

        Yeah this is the same question I want to ask, though given that for a long time the Diecast was a podcast without a proper feed, I suspect it has a higher manual download count than normal.

  18. (Ogg) Vorbis is sort of deprecated due to (Ogg) Opus now.

    Vorbis is a competitor to MP3 and AAC.

    Opus is a competitor to MP3, Vorbis, AAC, AAC+.

    Vorbis and Opus are not patent encumbered and there are no license fees or patent royalties.

    AAC and AAC+ while patent encumbered does not require a license for encoding/streaming/listening. (Those who develop encoders and decoders need to pay a license though)

    MP3 is not only patent encumbered but also require a license to stream it. But as long as Shamus don’t go above 700000 in profit he doesn’t have to worry about it. (Those who develop encoders and decoders need to pay a license as well.)

    LAME the most popular (and possibly best MP3 encoder out there) is open source and free to use, but encoding anything with it without a MP3 encoder license is not really allowed. But good luck trying to enforce that. Decoder MP3 patents expires in September 2015 and the rest expires in 2017.

    Ogg Vorbis is very popular among game developers, no patent mess, no licenses or royalties, good quality, and open source.
    It is often I see a ogg vorbis decoder dll in game directories, or .ogg sound files in games archive files.

    Sound and Audio libraries like BASS and FMOD have built in Vorbis decoders.

    Shamus, could you put the size in MB in the ( ) next time?

    Also if you want to be on the digital frontier, you could try adding Ogg Opus.

    Most stuff that can handle Ogg Vorbis these days can handle Ogg Opus too (and FLAC).

  19. That’s a weird looking sticky-tape dispenser in your post photo, Shamus. It looks kind of thin, and I think you left it out in the sun too long or something, ’cause it’s kind of discolored.

    1. Veylon says:

      Yeah, I think I’ve seen a few of those laying around here and there. I think collecting them was a fad, like Pogs or something. And it’s not actually sticky tape, just glueless plastic film. I guess that’s why there’s always a bunch on the roll and you never find them empty.

  20. Steve C says:

    I used to always get the .Ogg format. Then I got a mp3 player that won’t play them. It is kind of crappy. Now I get the .mp3 instead. I feel like I’m stuck using Betamax when I shouldn’t be using a VCR at all.

    1. Ahiya says:

      Have you tried Rockboxing your player? It’s an alternate OS for mp3 players, including many obscure ones. Works very well and supports more filetypes.

      1. Steve C says:

        I had not heard of that. Thank you for the suggestion. I just checked and sadly my player is not supported.

  21. silver Harloe says:

    mostly off-topic, but I know some people who know business law read these…
    …so with limited liability could I make a company to do something civil-lawsuit bad, and then duck it by dissolving the company?
    specifically, if wanted to make a company to illegally (has no rights to the property) make NOLF3, and advertise that is was going to do it, then when I get sued, insist the plaintiffs produce documentation that they have grounds for the suit… then lose the suit, but it’s on a company with no assets. So the company dies, but nothing happens to me, right?
    Then we’ll have sorted out who actually has the rights to NOLF so those other dudes can approach the right people about purchase.

  22. MadTinkerer says:

    I know that it’s not easy to make the decision to change a brand name. But naming your download service RememberHowWeMurderedYourFavoriteCompany is just tasteless. Steam has the advantage of not being named after a development studio named Steam Systems which was beloved from the early 80s to the early 90s and pioneered multiple important game genres. And then Valve didn’t buy the studio and many others like it and force those who stayed to make shitty iPhone versions.

    Valve’s download service is not named anything like YouAndWeBothKnowWeWillNeverMakeAGoodUltimaButWeWontGiveUpTheIP, which is an important advantage when trying to attract my custom.

    Until EA renames it’s online game service to something more tasteful than WhatsAPaladinMotherFucker, I just can’t stand to install the client on my computer. I actually already have an account, because I had a generic EA account (from Spore I think) and they “upgraded” me. But I’m not going to install a client with that name. Because that is not their name, no matter how much they use it.

    EDIT: I have a GoG account, and accidentally a UPlay account. I just ignore UPlay and hide all UPlay infected games on my steam list. I don’t hate UPlay, and just try to ignore it instead. I save all my hatred for EA’s service, because with that name they clearly want me to.

    I also had an Impulse account before they sold out to GameStop. I don’t hate GameStop for what they did to impulse, but it would have been super nice if they had done something with it, instead of seeming to immediately forget they bought their own digital PC game service. I’m not bitter, just very mildly annoyed, because some rather obscure games that were on Impulse, but not Steam, might have done better if GameStop had bothered to plan to do anything with Impulse.

    I had a Big Fish Games account. They accidentally infected my PC, and many others, with a virus. They learned a very, very hard lesson about network security and for that I pity them. But I’m not going to use their client. (Actually I think they might be gone, I haven’t checked on them in a while.)

    I also had a Desura account. And now I’m sad because I mentioned Desura. :(

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Steam is even better in that not only does it not invoke feelings of sorrow,it reminds you of a cool subgenre of scifi,and they wear it with pride.

      As for me,I have a uplay account because of heroes of might and magic(I really wanted to try out the dynasty equipment,sadly it was broken),but with everything else,I just download a crack as soon as it becomes available and never bother with it.

      1. JRT says:

        I guess you guys never googled Steamworks…having your API use the name of a famous New York Gay Bathhouse was a big deal–of course I think Value ended up getting them to change their domain name…but I remember Wikipedia going to that first when I entered it a few years ago.

  23. ooli says:

    I dont download the Diecast.. I just press Play on the little embed player on the page. Do the embed player use mp3 or ogg?

  24. Trix2000 says:

    All these people talking about mp3s and Oggs and here I am sitting with my wavs wishing people cared about audio quality more. :(

    Okay, to be fair, compressing audio was pretty important when processing and space was limited (and still is in some cases) but it’s oddly unfortunate how prevalent compressed audio (particularly mp3s) are because it skews people’s benchmarks for audio quality. An mp3 will almost never compare favorably to an uncompressed wav (assuming same content that was recorded properly in the first place) – the difference is incredibly noticeable side-by-side, but most people never experience that difference.

    This stems more from my being sad that the majority of people don’t think about audio quality, though (or audio in general, for many). It’s so important, and the difference better sound quality makes can be amazing.

    All that said, mp3s are still plenty serviceable, so I can’t really hate the format for existing.

    1. Happer says:

      Uhh, don’t you mean FLAC?

  25. j7n says:

    Ogg Vorbis and Opus are also superior to MP3 and AAC in the metadata format (Comments) and inherent gapless nature. These work equally well in all players that support Vorbis at all.

    There are multiple standards for saving metadata in MP3 and AAC. Some software only chooses to support their own standard (LAME gapless data used to be ignored by Apple). ID3v2 can have several different encodings. The four character tag field codes have different meanings in different sofware, and must be explicitly coded into them. Nowhere does “TPE4” (text, performer 4) say that it is the REMIXER, or, in case of AAC, data may get lost in translation (Composer -> ®wrt -> Writer – author of both music and words). Encoder delay and padding in AAC is horribly messed up. The superior tagging format APEv2 – which stores data more or less the same way as Vorbis Comments – hasn’t recieved wider acceptance for MP3 (outside of players for enthusiasts like foobar or xmplay).

    Support for Vorbis on Windows has been stable for years. Users familiar with Windows Media Player can use Haali & ffdshow or LAV Filters, or Winamp. Even old versions of Winamp will display all Vorbis tags in Unicode. Microsoft might have made Windows users lazy. Before WMP7 and WMA, it used to be the norm that some kind of audio player had to be installed to listen to music.

    Isn’t Vorbis also directly playable in Opera and Firefox, while MP3/MP4 isn’t?

    I feel that the greater compression efficiency of Vorbis isn’t that important anymore. 192 kbit/s for stereo music has been practical for a long time. This is also what I use (q6.5-q7.0). Modern codecs do reassure that almost all samples shall be transparent at that rate. We don’t really need “multimedia” quality or robotic speech anymore.

  26. BounderTree says:

    My choice for audio format is dependant on my ability to play it,
    When I used windows media player (yea I know, but it was already there and did what I wanted it to) I could not play .flac, so I never got any flac files.
    But since WMP fucked up and asked me to re-install I just went and got winamp, and now I play flacs as well.

    Don’t know if it does OGG though but if it does, less data usage is more better off course.

  27. SG says:

    Nothing ever will be better than Steam, because Steam is the only one that have market and trading. Epic, gog, uplay, origin, windows store seems to missing this obvious thing. I’d more likely to buy steam game that is 30% expensive than gog or epic.

    EA finally realized that and now sell games in steam instead of origin (but may be different reason why they got here)

    About mp3 vs ogg. With relatively fast internet i think i don’t care much about file sizes, especially that mp3 songs are not that big. I didn’t even know ogg is smaller, nobody told me that. I don’t like mixing file formats because I sort by format then name, not just name (same stuff, I get annoyed when have both jpeg and png screenshots in same folder, or zip and rar archives)

    I get what you saying though. I was sometimes disappointed when ppl choose inferior thing out of inertia, only “because everyone doing the same”. mp3 vs ogg is not one of such things for me, but many others are (choice of software, which maps people vote in games, popular vs unpopular hero in dota or lol, bad popular tactic vs good unpopular tactic in mp game, etc).. i was always annoyed for example ppl always vote for ctf-face or cs_mansion by default, even though there are far better maps.

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