Friday, August 01, 2014

EA Access Is A Semi "NetFlix For Games"

Unsurprisingly, EA is taking the next jump forward into a NetFlix like subscription service by announcing EA Access. Beta testing will begin with the XBox One and potentially grow from there. Users can subscribe for $5 a month, or $30 for a full year. Disc versions of the games will still be produced and sold; that model is not going away. But this version will help capitalize on the digital model that many publishers want to pursue to reduce costs and increase profits.

And just like NetFlix, these games are not rent to own. You rent to rent, and return them when you sub expires. So what are the restrictions? Well for that $30 a year or $5 a month, you get access to 4 EA games. 4. You can't change them, rotate, or pick and choose at random. You get those 4 games for your payment, and have to return them if you don't renew. You'll also receive a 10% discount on any add-on content you purchase for those games. Though really, you don't own the game, so why make those purchases? You have to maintain the subscription for longer then the game's shelf life in order to retain any value off those purchases.

Now if you're one of those gamers who picks up a game, plays it through to the end, and you're done with it, then 4 games at $30 for the year isn't a bad deal. Particularly if you don't purchase any bonus content. You return them and you don't see them ever again. But something like, oh I don't know, Madden, which gets an ad-nauseum amount of replays year after year, even as newer versions come out, there is no savings to benefit from. 5 years in, you've spent $120 for a $59.99 game that you don't own.

Some blogs and reports believe that this new tactic with EA and Microsoft is a chance for the XBox One to reclaim it's original vision: a digital gaming entertainment system. It's eliminating the need for physical discs with EA Access. You won't have games to sell back either to a store or an online bidding site. It's "digital authenticate" that you have legit copies of a product that you are renting without additional hassle. At least, that's how they're trying to sell it.

I'm not buying what EA is selling. The limitations to 4 games, no exchanges, and a measly discount for add-ons that become completely useless when your subscription's all moot. I'd rather see a more NetFlix streaming service - unlimited gaming downloads for $9.99 a month. Only one game can be "rented" at a time. Gamers would be more willing to purchase that service versus the 4 game restrictions. Oh! And and any multiplayer online content for those games still require you to have an XBox Gold subscription. You can't bypass that. Silver (which is free) can still access the retail game, but not any of the online gaming modes.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Promo Codes Suck

(Here is one of a thousand reasons why I hate EA. The following is a summary of an email conversation with a customer – the email was escalated to me after the ‘bonus code’ team was unable to assist further.)

Original Message from Customer: I preorder Warhammer Online and didn’t get my beta code. I want my code.

(The follow-up messages were between customer service and the customer, getting his pre-order information and supplying him with a code. The turnaround was less than 24 hours, but the customer insisted on more “free stuff” because he wasn’t given the code instantly.)

Me: Dear [Customer]. We appreciate your patience in this matter. Due to the unexpected popularity of this pre-order, stores were not supplied with enough beta codes to go around, thus the need for customers to contact us instead. The process can take some time, as we need to verify that you did indeed pre-order the game through us and not a competitor. We only have so many beta codes to go around, and it would be unfair to all of our customers if we handed them out on a whim. I do show that you did receive your beta code, which I will attach to this message for you as well. (The rest of the message went over the code details, when the beta is active, etc.)

Customer Response: F*** you! I should have gotten a code immediately. I should get this game for free for your stupidity!

Me: Sir, while I apologize for the inconvenience, I’ll have to ask that you please do not use vulgar language in this conversation. Please keep in mind that this beta code is completely free, and in limited supply as mentioned in all of the advertisements, and even on your reservation receipt. There is no guarantee that you will receive a code. And because it is a free item, we cannot provide you with a free game as compensation for the delay. But as you can see in the previous emails, you did indeed receive your beta code, and you have not missed out on the beta at all. The beta will not begin until (XX Date-2 weeks later).

Customer Response: I don’t see a code. You owe me a code and a free game.

Me: Sir, here is your beta code: XXX     (And again I copy/paste the beta info after that).

Customer Response: It says it’s not valid. You gave me a bad code. This is the worse service ever! You all are morons!

Me: Sir, it states in the email that the beta does not begin until (XX Date). Your code will not work until then, just like everyone else. At this point, if you have no new questions, I will be unable to assist you further. Your code is XXX   The date the code will be valid is XXX. Any additional questions regarding the beta, please direct them to EA, the publisher.

Customer Response: But the code is not valid! F*** you guys!

(This went on for 2 weeks. I did stop replying and his messages were deleted. The last response was on the day of the beta where he wrote, “Oh, it works.” No apologies. -_- I hate bonus codes.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Google Twitch

VentureBeat is reporting that Google and Twitch may have reached a deal to have the streaming gaming service become another component of the Empire. I posted about the proposal back in May, and it's unsurprising that it is coming to fruition. Twitch is the NOW of gaming and it has a longevity that many developers are overlooking. Google sees the potential and they will be cashing in on it.

The purchase is rumored to be worth roughly $1 billion USD. Terms and conditions of the sale are still under wraps and we don't know what exactly will happen to Twitch. Well, obviously it's still going to be in business. If anything, the move will make the transition from Twitch to YouTube much easier, and gamers can benefit off of YouTube's higher quality output (720+, woo!). But it can come with a lot of strings. Maybe users will be forced to get a Google account to get onto Twitch. Maybe only certain recording software will be allowed, and it has to be a Google brand. Maybe Microsoft and Sony decide that this new move does not mesh with their company image and pull Twitch from their next-gen consoles. There are a myriad of questions without responses. Both Google and Twitch reps declined to comment on any article regarding the purchase.

I'm keeping a positive outlook on this. A seamless gaming experience is something gamers always want, and this is another step closer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Are Developers Paying For Let's Play Videos?

We are all now accustomed to the barrage of video game, um, videos on YouTube via speed runs and Let's Play. Several aspiring individuals have become internet famous and developed a stable income from such ventures. A few developers have spoken against these videos and that said "one man businesses" making ad revenue from YouTube channels should be paying the dev's for a share of the profits. Why? Well, they're not making enough money from gamers playing their games. Duh.

And while there is growing concern that developers may be paying the bigger internet personalities to play their products, Gamasutra took the time to survey 325 developers to ask them if they pay for YouTube plays. Unsurprisingly most don't. Why? Well they haven't caught on to just how popular Let's Play videos are, and potential revenue it may generate. To note: the concern about dev's paying for a person to play a game is viewed in a similar light to a publisher asking a magazine to give a positive review to their product. While there are strict rules on the magazine/newspaper side, there are none for the internet. Some people may feel cheated by their internet heroes by promoting a game that might be crap.

The charts show just how little dev's are interested in Let's Play. They may not see the potential revenue from it, or some of the products are no longer in print (a number of Let's Play videos focus on retro games that can only be found on emulators or the occasional PSN, XBox Live, Nintendo Store. Few cover current games.) Only 5 developers paid a flat fee for YouTube gamers to play their products, and 2.1% for a revenue ad share. Just a bit over 19% of developers have considered it, but so few follow-through. On the other side, few have receive requests from said YouTuber's to get paid for playing.

I think most devs see paying someone to play their game akin to paying a reviewer to post something positive about their product. They won't do it because of the ethics behind it. At the same time, they don't have a problem with people playing their game. Right now the motto is: the less involvement, the better. But the survey does show that some devs are okay with paying for people to play their games, and promote them in such a manner. The shift may be starting soon where we see the next "GameGuy" being sponsored by Activision.

Monday, July 28, 2014

And Then There Was That Bomb Threat…

(Yep. We got those too. I was privy to 3 of these. One took place over half my shift on a Saturday.)

Supervisor: *speaking to the room* We need everyone to hang up their phones and leave the building as quickly as possible. Apologize to the customer. They’ll have to call back later.

(About 2-3 minutes in when most of us are off the phones and grabbing our immediate personal items…)

Customer Service Rep: [Supervisor], this customer refuses to get off the phone for the emergency.

Supervisor: Tell him you apologize, but that we have to leave the building. If he wants to complain, he can email us.

Customer Service Rep: [Relays the information.] He wants to talk to a supervisor.

Supervisor *picks up the handset from the agent*: Hello, sir? I’m the supervisor. Whatever your issue is, it will have to wait. (Waits as the customer continues to rant and drag on the minutes.) Sir. The reason is that we have had a bomb threat. Call back later and you can complain then. (He forced a disconnection of the phone by pulling out the phone cords).

(Here’s one from me after given the all clear to go back into the building.)

Me: [Blank] card support. This is [Blank].

Employee: Yeah this is [Blank] from Store #. You all must be busy today. It took a while to call in.

Me: Actually we had someone call in a bomb threat and we had to evacuate the building.

Employee: What? Really?

Me: Yep. It’s going to keep us busy for the rest of the day.

Employee: Wow. Who the heck would want to blow up the company?

Employee #2 (in background): Someone who didn’t get their damn beta key.

Friday, July 25, 2014

That One Time Where the Fire Alarm Was Not a Drill…

(We had drills maybe once every 2-3 months. But it was constant enough that we generally ignored it, and kept working because it’s customer service. Who cares about us? They tested the alarms on weekends constantly. Luckily, I was out of Customer Service at this point. So the stories I share are from co-workers on that fateful day).

(Fire Alarm Blaring)

Agent #1: Sir, I’m so sorry. But I have to disconnect the call. The fire alarm is going off and it is not a drill.

Customer: What? Alarm? You’re supposed to help me!

Agent #1: I apologize, but I really have to hang up. There is a fire in the building. Please call back later.

Customer: You have to stay and help! I’ll file a complaint against you!

Agent #1: Go ahead then. My safety is more important. *hangs up*

(Fun fact: I heard later that this person did get a verbal warning for what was said to the customer…/sigh)

Agent #2: Ma’am, our fire alarm is going off. I’ll have to end this call.

Customer: Oh. It might be a drill. I can hold.

Agent #2: I don’t think this is a drill. Usually we stay when that happens.

Customer: It’s fine. Just put me on hold. I can wait.

Agent #2: Okay… (Flustered, he placed the woman on hold and left. Over an hour later when we could return, the customer was no longer on hold. The second the agent logged in…) *phone rings*

Customer: I thought it was just a drill! I was on hold forever!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fact Check!

Mark O’Mara, a CNN legal analyst, stated the following on July 16th via CCN Tonight:

"Literally, by the time a child is 18 years of age, they‘ve killed over 100,000 people in video games and other online things."


I'm surprised that other gaming blogs haven't picked up on this. Possibly because it's kind of true, but it's also a gross overselling of an invalid fact. I.E. He has no proof. That's exactly what Pundit Fact wanted to find out. In doing so, they have stated some very obvious things that sadly bear repeating. Not EVERY kid PLAYS violent video games. Not every game is played the same way. Even the ESRB has no idea where O’Mara got his magical statistic. A player can run through Grand Theft Auto and never harm a single person, but still achieve the game's end goal.

O’Mara's spokesperson called it a "napkin calculation," but claims that the numbers should still be valid. Pundit did find gamers willing to confirm the claim, but some games have an even higher kill count then 100k.

Does that make them bad kids or adults? No. All of the comments have stated in some form or another that the players are able to delineate reality and fantasy. So the numbers are just that. Numbers. They mean nothing. Thanks Pundit Fact for posting results that make sense and not twisting this into a terror story that kids are becoming monsters because of video games. I'm looking at you Fox News.

Inclination for Discrimination

(This conversation takes place over the course of several emails. The email system we use does not reveal our full name, but our first name is applied to the bottom of messages.)

Customer: Your stores need better standards. I went into the one in Deluth today and all of the employees were women. I’d rather see a color guy behind the counter then a woman. They don’t know about video games. They should be fired and you all can give jobs to more good, honest, white men. So what are you all going to do about this?

(This normally would be filtered into the trash bin, but since he requested a response, we have to give one.)

Me: [blank] is a company that believes in diversity. We do not discriminate anyone based on age, race, gender, or religion. If someone is of legal age and wants to work for us, they can certainly apply. We appreciate your comments and will forward them to the store’s manager. If there’s anything else we can do to assist, please let us know.

Customer: I didn’t say I was racist! Keep the color folks. I just want the women gone!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comic Book Fan's Quiet Rant Against Video Games

Normally I gloss over these, unless they are really funny in that sad-desperate attempt to catch page clicks, and deserve equally amusing cometary. But Lucas White is someone who I have followed off-hand throughout the years with Shonen Jump, and now TechnologyTell (focusing on the off-shoot articles for their section called GamerTell). He is honest in his responses, but also keeps an objective point of view, even when the product he's reviewing sucks. So his latest editorial "Dear Video Games: Comics can change, why can’t you?" caused me tilt my head to the side.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, comic books have a century of market absorption compared to video games. Not a 5 year gap, but literally 100+ years. The first published comic book was in 1842. They have had a century plus to grow, change, and find their foothold in the entertainment medium. Video games were first developed in the 1940's, nearly 100 years after comic books, and they weren't popularized for consumer sales until the late 1970's. Video games have quite a bit of growing up to do when you attempt to equate them to comic books.

Second, I think White is intentionally overlooking the controversy and vocal concern from readers over current and past comic book changes that altered characters and story-lines to make them more diverse. Just a quick stroll through, oh, any forum, you'll find people on vehemently opposed to the changes with Thor and Captain America. Marvel has recently announced that Thor will be changing to a woman (which has happened once before!) and Cap will be Black. Even Time Magazine is calling the changes a gimmick on Marvel's part. But this isn't the first time. Remember when SpiderMan had a spin-off series? Peter Parker was replaced by Miles Morales, a black Hispanic teenager. Green Lantern Alan Scott came out gay in 2012. Heck, fans of comics have been upset at comic book movies for decades. It's not a new phenomenon. Is it great that we're getting diversity? Absolutely. But to claim that comic books are more progressive then video games completely ignores the other half of nerd experience: interacting with other fans. Sorry fanboys; you're bringing us down.

Third, while there are more options for comics on the market, it's not as rosey as White makes it out to be. You still have to dig to get to the stories that you want to read. They're not on that front wall that publishers covet. If you're not Marvel or DC, you're in the bins at the back. Video games are no different in this regard, but their perk is accessibility (as White points out). You don't need to have every call of Duty game to understand what the latest version is all about. In a culture of sequels, prequels, and trilogies, it's rare in video games to have games that are in succession. We can thank Mario for that. But the beauty of it is that this ease of jumping into games is allowing more people to play. That's great! We want to see more people game.

It doesn't make for more diversity though. It's the same with films, television, and radio. We see the same stereotypes and tropes over and over again. Comic books are no different. White wants to see a day where a Bat Girl game is on the front shelves of a GameStop store. Well, go to a comic book shop. I bet you won't find more then 1 female super hero comic on that coveted wall space. They'll be in the bins like the others. Is it right or fair? No. But it is the culture that we live in.

I'm not arguing against White wanting to have more diversity in video games. Without the independent and mobile game developers, we wouldn't have products that push our emotional and social standards to include heroes and heroines of all races, religions, and creeds. They're not commonplace, yet (which is why it's considered breaking boundaries that we're seeing these games and comics come out...kind of sad really-it should be NORMAL to have non-white males as heroes, not as eye candy or victims). But we still have a long way to go. We're finally getting a Wonder Woman movie, after 30+ years of comic book films not having a leading female character. Well...maybe. We know that WW will be in the Batman/Superman movie but that's about it. Speculation over a WW movie has been going on since 2008 and no updates or announcements have verified a full picture since announcing the lead actress last year.

Okay that Hailey Barry Catwoman movie technically counts as the first, but I'm more focusing on the Heroine part (villain stories aside). And fans were still not happy with the casting selection. It was also a really bad movie. Gal Gadot, the Israeli born model who was selected for the lead role, has been called everything in the book for "not fitting the Wonder Woman image". Sad. Fans. Grow up. You're seriously holding us back.

I think White is trying too hard to glorify comics. This was probably not intentional. Every entertainment medium has it's faults; yes even theater (do we need to go down the road of Black/White/Yellow face?) But in doing so, he's glossing over the important notes that both comics and video games share: the need to increase diversity. We want games for us. We want comics for us. Comics are just as fault about lacking in change/originality as video games.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Football Players Want NCAA Video Games Back!

That whole to-do with Electronic Arts and the NCAA about the franchise games? Well according to recent interviews and surveys by current SEC and ACC players say they really don't care about the litigation, nor about potential compensation. They just want NCAA Football '15.

Around this time last year, the NCAA ended their deal with EA for licensing out their brand for sports games due to ongoing lawsuits regarding current and former college player's likenesses being used without consent. Last month, the figures that EA would have to pay back to former NCAA players was released. This has been a "fight" years in the making and only recently came to a conclusion.

To the college football fans and players...this isn't an easy fix. Drafting up a new contract that both EA and the NCAA are content with will take a minimum of a year, and a lot of lawyers will be involved. This is assuming the NCAA hasn't already picked another publisher to go with. NCAA '15 is not going to happen. But I do find it interesting that of the few that argue what EA did was wrong, a number of the athletes that were "supposedly harmed" really don't give a crap. They just want their game back.

'Boston College center Andy Gallik said players sometimes discuss getting paid, "but at the same time we've come to the realization where I'm at a school where I don't have to pay a dime of my $250,000 for tuition. ... I'm a little disappointed the game is gone. Every year all of the college guys would be excited to see our faces in the college game and pretend to be ourselves." '

This is an argument that has been the center of attention over the past year: should college athletes be paid for the schools profiting from them, or are they being paid with a free education? (Well, not all of those athletes are being paid for their school courses. Ask the vollyball and rowing teams how little their scholarships cover.)

I doubt that the NCAA will be willing to go back to EA. They won't without asking for a larger cut of the sales, and blank slate players that look nothing like the young adults that are currently on the teams.

Prescription, Subscription

(Customer Service also helped manage mailing addresses for a gaming magazine that the company collaborates with. Here are a few favorite lines from customers over the years.)

Customer #1: Yeah, hi. I need to update my prescription address.

Customer #2: My prescription expired. How do I get more of the magazine?

Customer #3: Can I prescribe to the book?

Customer #4: I got a prescription expire thing in the mail. What do I do?

Customer #5: It says I have a subscription. But I thought it was a prescription?

Customer #6 (takes the cake): My prescription address needs to change.

Me: Okay. No problem. What is the old address?

Customer #6 *rattles off address*

Me: Hmm. I’m not able to find it. Is it under a different zip code maybe?

Customer #6: No. That’s where you guys send me my games.

Me: Your games? Do you mean from the [store] website?

Customer #6: Yeah. What else did you think I meant?

Me: So you need to update your mailing address for your online account, not for the magazine?

Customer #6: What magazine?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekly Link Roundup.

Link round-up today.

First up, how video games can prepare you for the zombie apocalypse. From fast zombies to the slowbe's.

And here's Blizzard apologizing for 20 years of under-representing everyone but the white male in their games.

And how video games are teaching compassion to it's players.

Have a good one, everybody!

Thou Shalt Not Buy

(A customer called in asking our return policy for a used item. It was a fairly normal conversation until…)

Customer: This game is for heathens!

Me: Ma’am?

Customer: Why would they put so much filth into a game? Games are meant for children.

Me: Well ma’am, it’s up to the developers on what they put in their products. And the parents can make decisions on what is appropriate for their child.

Customer: Heathens and sinners, I tell you. I can ‘not’ believe I was mislead to believe this was a family game!

Me: Ma’am, since it’s a used product, and you have your receipt, and you’re within 7 days, you can get a refund or a replacement of the game to something else. Your local store will take care of you.

Customer: How can I trust them when they can’t protect me from such demonizing games?

Me: Well ma’am, I apologize about that. But if you give them a chance, they’ll make it right. Our stores know the policies and can help you with a refund. Or if you don’t want to visit that location, any [blank] store will assist.

Customer: Killing and violence, it is just a sin what this game is showing. And such a Godly title should not have been used in vain. The Lord would be appalled if he could see this.

Me: May I ask what game this is?

Customer: God of War. Anything with God in the title has to be Christian, and I hope those men who made this game go to hell for their actions. They clearly hate God.

(I bit my tongue for the rest of the conversation, but apparently the muscular, half-naked man with bloody swords on the cover art was enough “good Christian values” to convince the customer to buy it. Wonder if she or her kids ever got to the naked women.)