Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's A Numbers Game

I have been reading more articles about the ESRB's 2014 version of their annual review regarding gaming stats and who is playing. While many people are focusing on the fact that women do make up the majority of the gamers, and we should start demanding more changes to reflect this, a part of me feels that people are rushing to conclusions without absorbing all of the information being presented. It's easy to take up a position when you have the basic facts. "Not enough women in gaming? Outrageous!" I want to take this time to dive deeper into one particular comment that I see over and over again:

- "They keep marketing to only 17% of their demographic!" This comes courtesy of writer May, on Autostraddle. This is where numbers can play tricks with your brain. 52% of the game playing market is male, with 71% (32% and 39% respectively) over the age of 18 as gamers for both men and women. This isn't all people in the United States. Only 59% of the population within the U.S. will state that they play video games. This is all an estimation. Not every single citizen was surveyed, and some people may not view cell phone games as a "video game" which can skew the results. The 17% that Autostraddle's article refers to is this statement in the results: "Women after 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (36%) than boys age 18 or younger (17%)." It is true that women are playing more games then boys under 18. But, so are men over 18. They still make up the majority of gamers (somewhere in the realm in 45-50% when you start breaking down the numbers). How did I come up with that? Math. If you take that 71% I mentioned earlier and get rid of the 36% for women, you end up with 35%. Well that's not right then, now is it? Not if men are still the majority according to the pie chart on page 5 of the results. The 36% comes from all gamers within that particular age range, in this case 18-35, and splits the gender between men and women and then divides the percentage by the Age ratio originally quoted. That means 36% women, 64% men in that coveted 18-35 grouping of the 32% who do game. I didn't tweak any of the numbers. I'm simply presenting them in another way to show how easily numbers can trick our brains. It's of no fault to the ESRB. The information they have is accurate. But it doesn't provide the complete picture.

As we continue to talk about target marketing, the coveted group is 18-35 year old single males. These tend to be the group with the most disposable income, that's why. And when 64% of gamers are male in that age range, what are you going to do? Focus your marketing and development tactics to ensure they are your key demographic. And why is that? Well kids, game companies are businesses. They want to make money just like everyone else. So of course they are going to adjust their position to ensure that they are marketing to audiences that will buy their products. Not to sound like I'm repeating myself, but I have to-it's logical to think that they want to make money too. So of course they are going to target to that male audience.

Kids marketing for games has changed over the years, from what I have seen. They no longer make up the majority, and as such, game makers have tailored the experience. You'll find more advertisements featuring girls playing games, female avatars to select, and broader appeal to families. Thank you Nintendo for being the forefront of this. So while we may not see a female lead in Assassin's Creed (again Ubisoft, Kojima is giving us real time horse poop), kids games have been receiving facelifts to target the new generation of gamers: boys AND girls playing together.

There is a show on National Geographic titled Brain Games, that has an episode focused on numbers and how they can easily be misconstrued to provide different answers to the same question. Give it a watch if you want to know more about the stats above.  Or you can watch Pen & Teller's Bullsh*t episode titled Numbers. Both are equally informative. The latter has swearing. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Women As Background Decor - Part 2 Feminist Frequency

The newest Women vs. Tropes is out, and much sooner then I had anticipated.

Unlike the others in the series, this is the first time where I don't have any comments for the piece. It made me uncomfortable and question my gaming choices. I know there is a big to-do with a lot of people not supporting this project because it makes video games look bad. But in order to really appreciate anything, art, music, film, theater, you need to be able to look at it with a critical eye. You can enjoy the medium while still asking questions. That's part of how we grow as a society.

Please watch this episode. It may start your brain into a whole new realm of thinking. This is part 2 of the "Women as Background Decoration." You don't need to watch the first part to understand the points Sarkeesian is trying to bring across. But it doesn't hurt either.

A quick warning. This particular episode does include strong violence and nudity in the games presented. You can skip to about 22 minutes in to get a summary of the message. AKA, this is not work safe.

Aside: Even with the massive flood of internet trolls, I'm glad to see some developers are embracing the Women vs. Tropes series to get people to look at video games from a different view point. Tim Schafer, Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and Psychonauts, is one of many and it sickens me that people would be instantly judgmental towards him reposting a link to this particular video. People...grow up. These type of discussions are GOOD for our community and fandom. It will make our games BETTER. We all want that...right?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Twitch Goes To Amazon

We were almost certain that Twitch would be bought out by Google. Talks have been going on for months. It seemed like a sure-fire deal. Twitch and YouTube. Obvious.

But today Twitch has announced that they have been acquired by Amazon. In a letter sent via email to Twitch users from CEO Emmet Shear they went with Amazon "because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster."

To say I'm surprised is an understatement. I don't know what Amazon will do with Twitch, other then make an app available for it on their Kindle. Other then that...I'm out of ideas. Good luck to you Twitch.

Here is the full letter from the CEO:

Dear Twitch Community
It’s almost unbelievable that slightly more than 3 years ago, Twitch didn’t exist. The moment we launched, we knew we had stumbled across something special. But what followed surprised us as much as anyone else, and the impact it’s had on both the community and us has been truly profound.
Your talent, your passion, your dedication to gaming, your memes, your brilliance - these have made Twitch what it is today. Every day, we strive to live up to the standard set by you, the community. We want to create the very best place to share your gaming and life online, and that mission continues to guide us.
Together with you, we’ve found new ways of connecting developers and publishers with their fans. We’ve created a whole new kind of career that lets people make a living sharing their love of games. We’ve brought billions of hours of entertainment, laughter, joy and the occasional ragequit. I think we can all call that a pretty good start.
I’m pleased to announce we’ve been acquired by Amazon. We chose Amazon because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster. We’re keeping most everything the same: our office, our employees, our brand, and most importantly our independence. But with Amazon’s support we’ll have the resources to bring you an even better Twitch.
I personally want to thank you, each and every member of the Twitch community, for what you’ve created. Thank you for putting your faith in us. Thank you for sticking with us through growing pains and stumbles. Thank you for bringing your very best to us and sharing it with the world. Thank you, from a group of gamers who never dreamed they’d get to help shape the face of the industry that we love so much.
It’s dangerous to go alone. On behalf of myself and everyone else at Twitch, thank you for coming with us.
Emmett Shear, CEO

Hackers Continue To Target Sony & Other Devs

Is it really all that surprising that gaming companies are getting hack attempts all the time? Okay, well maybe it's the large number that is concerning. Research from Dell SecureWorks, a security firm, have found that the numbers are way larger then we ever expected. Hackers in China for years have been breaking into American companies for source code to gamers, to unlock them for free and resell them on the black market at a much cheaper price.

It isn't just one developer in particular, but all of them. Nintendo has reported 15 million attempts. Yeah. Million. Wow.

And breaking in is fairly simple. It is just a matter of patience. Dell SecureWorks' researches have found that in many cases, the hackers will do recon work on the employees working for these companies. Many of them are well known (we all follow Kojima on twitter after all) and have public profiles. From there it's a matter of trying out a multitude of user name and password combinations until one of them is a win. Instead of email scams, hackers are using "brute force" to break into the company's systems.

Right now there is little that can be done, other then the companies being on alert and fighting back where they can. There is no joint coalition to stop them, nor a call to curb the hacking. Dell has released the report with the websites and hacking groups that are the primary sources.

But it doesn't really make us feel better, does it? Hackers over the weekend brought down the PlayStation server once again, along with making a bomb threat on an American Airlines flight that one of SOE's exec John Smedley was traveling on. (Seriously people...I'm traveling out of Dallas THIS WEEK. Did you have to pick the Dallas to Cali flight? The airport is going to be a bear to deal with. Thanks. -_-) and Riot's servers also took a hit from DDoS attacks over the weekend. All potentially to get into the company's systems for game coding. But really, this is just another annoyance to the rest of us that want to game. While I don't agree with hacking as a general rule, Anonymous at least has some moral good behind their efforts. Go over there the rest of you. I just want to play my game without disruption, okay?

Aside: Yes, I do realize that the Mario Kart mod is a bit silly, but it is amusing. Pimped out Mario, rolling in a Mecedes. Wrong type of hacking, but funny.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Super Cereal

It's just a game, right?

No need to get mad, bro.

You'll get it next time.

Ahhh, the tired and true words that everyone has heard or read at least once in their gaming lives. Typically when it's a team-oriented game and your side has failed to complete the objective. You didn't capture the blue team's flag in Halo. A comrade couldn't protect the base alone, and was swarmed by the enemy. You forgot to equip your mana potions. We have all been there.

Does being competitive by nature of the product make gaming a serious activity? Most of the YouTube gamer rages will most likely involve multiplayer mode. I'm going to guess Call of Duty and World of Warcraft are going to be the most tagged. And are we really surprised by that? They are two products played consistently that any "anger" moments are likely to occur in those games. Oh! League of Legends. Can't forget about LoL.

While I would agree that competition can help fuel the serious nature of gaming, spending hours, days, weeks, months (WoW) building up your character and to be defeated is quite a blow. But it's not the sole reason.

As the medium has grown, so have the products. "Serious" games make up a chunk of the marketplace for a multitude of reasons: storytelling, character development, player interaction, etc. Think of some of 2013's biggest games, such as The Last of Us. That isn't a game driven by competition, but by the characters. We became so invested in their lives and outcome that it turned into a thoughtful game, even with all of the zombie dismemberment. It's a different level of "serious," one that isn't focused on anger or "rage quitting" but created by the developers to provoke emotional responses in the gamer. It's the type of earnest that we have involved ourselves in for decades, but you're not likely to see a Vine video about a kid crying over Aeris/Aerith getting killed in Final Fantasy 7. These are internalized in other ways.

Just because you are not in a "competition" game does not reduce the serious nature of it.

That may seem obvious to a lot of us, but for the general,  non-gaming public, it's an eye opener. Games can talk about mature topics and express emotion? No way. I thought it was a bunch of teenagers and kids throwing their controllers when they lost a fight?

Well I know a few people who have done the same thing in The Last of Us (damn Clickers). Frustration is part of the issue, but you also feel real guilty letting your rag-tag team of zombie hunters down when the character dies. That is "nerd rage" on an emotional level.

So when you pick up your next game, it's okay to play it seriously. You're investing time and energy into the story and characters, just as if you were reading a book or watching a movie. You can play a game for fun, and have it be austere.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Love for the Mythbusters

Today's blog post is not gaming related, but it is geeky. Since 2003, Mythbusters has been a household staple for my family and I. We would tune in every week to see what myth madness Jamie and Adam would try to bust, with Kari, Tori, and Grant soon joining the crew. They became that weird family we wanted to hang out with for an hour every week, because they blew stuff up and taught us a few things in the process. You know; they're that one weird uncle who has a PhD and teaches high school chemistry. He's a little nutty, but once a week, you stop by, say hi, and make cool stuff happen. The Mythbusters gave us hope that being a geek, nerd, or dweeb was okay. You can love your robots and be a human too.

After last night's season finale, Discovery announced that the M7 trio of Kari, Tori, and Grant will not be returning for 2015. As a fan, I'm sad. As a film/tv/radio degree holder, I'm not surprised. It was going to happen eventually.

Over the past 3 seasons, Discovery has danced Mythbusters around in the scheduling of the program. They bounced from Thursday, to Sunday, to Monday, and everywhere in between. Discovery no longer wanted them in the slot that they had claimed and held for so long, wanting to provide new programming during that frame. Pitting the Mythbusters against Sunday night football was not a good move. And typically when a network does this, it means they are trying to get rid of the show in their own way, without breaking the contracts.

And Mythbusters has been on for 13 seasons. They have 200+ episodes under their belt (if you include the specials and those not released). Eventually, the busting of myths has to end.

But of course as a fan, I'm sad by this change of events. Adam had said that 2015 would be a change in the Mythbusters tone to bring it back to it's origins. I don't think any of us felt that it would include nixing the M7 team from the cameras.

While there are sad faces and condolences all around, there is a positive in all of this: Kari, Grant, and Tori are not actors. They have very impressive skill sets that have only grown through their time with the Mythbusters. All three worked in various parts of the movie industry before joining the cast as model builders and robotics. This is one of the few times where I can look at this and say "they're going to be just fine." We'll miss them, but they have resumes of greatness to build off of.

Next weekend I will be at Dragon*Con, where Grant will be attending as a media guest. I hope to see him again, shake his hand, and thank him. I wouldn't have started getting back into engineering or math without him and the rest of the Mythbusting crew.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We Want To Work For Valve

And who wouldn't? Valve has had one of the best work environments for years and with a founder like Gabe Newell who promotes creativity and diversity, everywhere else seems too "corporate" for the video game world. That's according to the annual IGDA (International Game Developers Association) survey of job satisfaction. They call it "developer satisfaction" but it's the same thing. The survey is sent out to all gaming companies listed as an LLC, including mobile phone game producers.

This is the same survey that I discussed back in June regarding the need for "crunch time" with projects, and how the majority of responders said it was a waste of resources. But with the additional information, the stats have been updated to reflect where developers want to work. Because this is my blog and I'm required to do this now, EA was not in the top 10. Unless you count BioWare at #4.

But most devs want to work at Valve, followed by their own company, Activision/Blizzard, BioWare, and Ubisoft. And I have a feeling that a lot of those stats are based on creative freedom. While I weep for the future of Call of Duty, Activision does have a lot of properties they play with and the ever-expanding world for Warcraft is a breeding ground for ideas.

Former employees of Valve may not agree, some even posting their issues to the internet. And you know what? That's fine. No company is perfect, even the ones you manage. There will always be something that you don't like or don't agree with and for those people, the company's point of view doesn't fit with your vision. But as a whole, the industry likes what Valve is doing. I don't anticipate them changing their environment anytime soon. Being a private company makes it easier to have your own rules.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wii U Still Not Targeting Mature Gamers "Properly"

Ubisoft is joining the EA fray and will stop producing some of their products for the WiiU. Well, EA nearly stopped all products, but Ubisoft will be dropping all M rated titles for Nintendo. Why? Because people are not buying them. It's as simple as that.

"What we see is that Nintendo customers don't buy Assassin's Creed. Last year, we sold in very small numbers. What we see is that they are very interested in Just Dance, very interested by other kinds of games." ~ Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot

After Watch Dogs is released later this year on the Wii U, that's it. Ubisoft will focus their efforts back on more casual games for Nintendo, which do sell on the system.

To be frank, Nintendo has never been viewed as an adult system. It has always been about family entertainment. Something that mom, dad, grandma, uncle Jim, brother and sister, can play together - and that does not involve mature titles. While Nintendo continues to push to get that crowd with games like Bayonetta 2, an exclusive, I'm hedging my bets that after a year, Platinum Games is going to have XBox and PlayStation versions available.

No one is buying the Wii U for those games. They want a "family" system. Bayonetta is NOT family friendly.

While I appreciate Nintendo's effort, they have a long way to go before they can find full support from all developers on making the Wii U an "everyone" system.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Should Dev's Stop Spoiling Games?

Erik Kain, a Forbes contributor, wants game makers to stop spoiling their games!

I feel like I've talked about this subject before, but it's been so long that I can't remember which entry. If I find it, I'll link it.

Legendary game icon Hideo Kojima has teamed up with Bethesda for a horror game, The Evil Within. And like Kain, I enjoy a good horror game. Resident Evil is a series I still enjoy, even with how wonky it has gone as of late. But even the likes of Slenderman can cause me to jump in my chair. But it's not the game that Kain is concerned about. On October 14th, Bethesdais going to release an hour of game play and cutscenes that guests of GamesCon had a chance to test out. It's a demo. I don't see anything wrong with that. The content is not at the beginning or the end of the game, but in a random spot that gives the user just enough of a taste to be interested without blabbing out the entire premise.

For Kain, plopping us down in the middle for a demo spoils the mystery and excitement of trying something new. If it were just a few minutes at the beginning, you could think of it almost like a book. You get a quick blip of interest and what's to come without marring up potential plot lines later on. If you walk into a book store, and yes these still exist, you may see people sitting and reading the first few pages to get a feel for the product and see if the story is worth continuing. Plays, songs, movies, they all do this too. They want to hook you in that first act to keep your butt in the seat. It's also why you'll find those "freebe" previews for eBooks will showcase the first handful of chapters and not slices in the middle.

Video games seem to be the one entertainment medium that does not do this. I can not tell you how many demo's I have played over the years where it was a random spot in the game. Somehow, it seems more acceptable as a game. You have 20+ hours of game play to get you into the story. There are no set time markers required to get you interested. For some games, it may take you through the entire play through for you to figure out if it was worth the time. But unlike movies, video games are developed with the mindset that you can pause and walk away. They don't expect you to sit and play for days on end without breaks. They're meant to give you a story over time, and provide an extended form of entertainment that you will never see with movies and television.

"Maybe I’m just out of tune with the culture at this point."

Possibly. But I think Kain has an undocumented OCD situation. A need to go from start to finish and not jumping in the middle. Whereas our gaming culture has always had this sense of...randomness, if you will, to it. It's never felt odd to play a game from the middle. You may miss out on key plot points, but the development of the products have always allowed the user to ascertain what they skipped over through other plot lines, characters, actions, reactions, etc.

Personally, I can't wait to see the The Evil Within game play. We have a medium that allows us to jump around without destroying the story or context. Let's roll with it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beaing A Convention Lead Ain't Easy

Being the convention hopper that I am, I hear this statement more often then not: "I can make a better convention."

The average attendee doesn't know what goes into creating and building a convention of any type. This applies to geeky stuff like anime and comic books, to crafting conventions, cat conventions (yes those DO exist-there's a Bullsh*t episode about it), pen conventions, and everything in between. If there's a product for it, there's a convention as well. But I don't want to get too far off topic-here. Most people don't see the nuts and bolts of what makes a show run. They pay their ticket/pass, walk around, talk to fans and "celebrities", and shop. They don't see the months, sometimes years, spent getting staff together, planning where to hold the event, raising money, spending the money to reserve event space, raising more money, hiring employees, working on panels, guidebooks, schedules, record labels (if you get a band to come in and play for your shindig), feeding people, I's a lot of stuff to take into account. Most first year conventions start out small. I can't remember a convention that I've been to for a first time where the attendance was larger then a thousand people. This gives the staff a chance to figure out what works, what doesn't, and time to grow and accommodate new rules as they progress. You don't dump all of your funds into your first hooray out into the world - there are too many logistics to handle that you are asking for trouble by going too big, too fast.

Well, someone probably should have told Video Gamers United, or VGU, held in Washington D.C. over the weekend. After a year and a half of planning, they went as big as they could go. A $100k budget spent on marketing, renting out a large space at the Washington Convention Center, even pulling a two-story tall Donkey Kong replica for $8 grand to make the old school gamers smile. They probably should have thought better about where they spent their money.

High ambitions does not necessarily mean high rewards. Their goal was to get 25,000 people for the first year. Lofty. According to Curtis Smith, a corporate sponsorship consultant and co-founder of the event, similar conventions in the area rake in 50,000 people. I had to Google this to verify, because the only conventions I know around the D.C. area with a similar size would be PAX East (which did have an initial attendance of 55k+ people, but it was coming off the heels of PAX Prime in Seattle, who for almost a decade had quality, dedicated awesome gaming time that people could rely on - having that type of following made it easy for East to achieve a high attendance rate). And then there's Otakon in the Baltimore, Maryland area which has about 22 thousand-ish people on a yearly basis, but again is a long-standing convention that started small, and this is a multi-media/geek event: video games, anime, manga, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. It's not solely a gaming convention. Otherwise, I'm not seeing any others in the region that would hit that 50k+ people mark.

By now you have probably figured out that VGU did not fare as well as the two organizers would have liked. They estimate that roughly 7,000 people registered - but that does not necessarily mean that they showed up or paid (some pre-reg centers don't have you pay until you arrive). Even at $75 a ticket for 7k people they did not break even once they factor in the gaming prizes (multiple $10,000 cash awards were offered), paying for rental fees, refunding several passes for misinformation, paying the celebrities that attended, food...well when you break it all down they didn't have enough in ticket sales to cover everything. The space was the size of 3 football fields and on a Saturday afternoon, notably the busiest time of any convention, one of the security guards only counted 600 people in the space with 4 in the registration line.

That is what we call an oopsie. They could have done without that Donkey Kong statue. Wonder where they are going to store that thing...or asking the Air Force to bring in a jet for people to look at. That probably cost much more then what their pockets needed to take.

But this story of a convention gone too big right out the gate is a testament to those who think that running a con is easy. It's not. Read the story and you'll see just how simple it can be to screw things up, and how painstakingly long it takes just to create the darn thing in the first place.

It also did not help that the Pokémon World Championship was being held at the same time, in the same convention center for free. Whoops. I don't think the VGU duo thought about the implications. Retro-gaming and Pokémon don't really go hand in hand.

To their credit, they want to try again next year. Hopefully they have learned from their mistakes and tone it down...

I think we can go bigger.” Organizer Cesar Diaz

*head desk*

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is It Okay To Put Your Gaming Skills On Your Resume?

Good question. While it would make sense if you were pieing for a job within the gaming industry, what if you are outside of that bubble, where the majority of us work? Where phrases like "corporate casual" and "synergize" roll off the tongue, would being a gamer be acceptable?

Where I currently work, it's a semi-conservative environment. I don't make it known that I am a gamer because it's not acceptable within the office environment. I do have two Prinny's on my desk, but that's as far as I'm willing to go. And they were gifts from my boyfriend, which makes them extra special and gives me some sense of sanity throughout the day. Prinny's and sanity should not belong in the same sentence. But there is a stigma to video games, even as it grows to become more inclusive. CEO's may be playing Angry Birds on their iPhones more commonly then they would have even 5 years ago, but most people still equate gaming to immaturity and laziness. They don't see Angry Birds as a video game, but as a fun time waster.

If you're applying to a website or a trendy start-up company, your managerial skills in World of Warcraft raids might get you bonus points. But if you're trying to get hired for an HR position in Bausch and Lomb, it won't fly. Which does kind of suck. For a number of us gamers, our first experience in a work-environment is through video games, particularly MMORPG's. Setting up raids, managing guilds, creating task forces, maintaining friendly player relations -- these all can easily transfer over into the workplace. For 4-5 hours a day no less. Many of us are already primed to take a leadership position, such as a supervisor over a customer service team, or a project manager for an architecture firm. Why? Because we're wrangling anywhere from 50 to 500 people at a time in an MMO and keeping them on task. That's a lot of work for digital rewards, that we're more then happy to take into the real world for, well, real rewards.

Maybe in a few decades it'll become normal to discuss your gaming skills in a job interview, when video games have become ingrained into our society. As it stands, I don't even put my film credits on a resume if I'm applying for a normal 8-5 job. People see it as a time waster, even though the skills I have learned can easily transfer to their work-place. The same applies to video games. You can boast that you handle 500 man guilds and raids on a nightly basis, but most companies see it as "a kid playing video games" and move on to the next applicant.

What it comes down to is knowing your audience. If you're expected to wear a suit and tie everyday, leave your MMO experience off the paper. If it's Google, then sure. Why the heck not.