Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#SaveNetNeutrality Gamers, We Need You Now More Then Ever

Okay dudes. We need to ramp the noise up to 11 again. The FCC, despite receiving over 22 million comments on Net Neutrality (this was even after the FCC changed the commenting system 3 times) with an overwhelming majority in favor of keeping it, still plans to remove it.

Note: If you don't want to read the full post but would like info on how to save Net Neutrality, scroll to the bottom for the links.

The FCC is disregarding the 10's of millions of US citizens that are actively against this measure. There was a person or a group that created a bot that posted anti-Net Neutrality (which is funny because after Net Neutrality is lifted they might not be able to do that ever again) messages that all contained the same phrasing, but that didn't drown out the millions of comments that were in favor of keeping the rules. (By the way, the FCC refuses to investigate the matter, even though spamming/creating false identities for a government entity is illegal.)

The timing of this is also very astute. Usually announcements of this level are made during less-busy weekdays to ensure the largest audience receives the news. Instead the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who I'm now referring to as douche-Pai after his actions this week, decided that Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to tell everyone to go screw off. He still plans to have the FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality. The hope is that with it being a holiday week, people are less likely to be active in contacting their senators, state representatives, and the FCC because they are too focused on Thanksgiving.

22 million comments are being ignored by the FCC. The comments that they are focusing on are those of Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The telecommunication companies may win and can dismantle the internet that we know today.

For those who don't know, Net Neutrality is the Internet's guiding principle in the U.S. It preserves our right to communicate online, freely. We are not to be hampered by ISP's. We are allowed to search, surf, and seek out any and all information that exists online without any deterrents. Under Net Neutrality ISP's can't block websites. ISP's can't control the flow of information, nor can they control the speed of sites. If you purchased a 10 gigabyte plan, then all of the content needs to be connected to you at 10 gigabytes. Net Neutrality ensures that everyone has equal access to everyone on the internet once you're online.

Pre-Net Neutrality, ISP's were constantly bumping heads with consumers and the FCC. But there has always been an underlying Net Neutrality rule that kept ISP's in check.

Before I go off into a rant on why ending Net Neutrality is bad, let's look at douche-Pai's statement this week on what the roll-back means. Net Neutrality, he believes, will help restore "internet freedom." A new plan will be introduced that would prevent the government from micro-managing the internet. It sounds fine in a speech, but that's not what the plan does. Instead it gives a basic framework for which ISP's should follow. If there are any disputes or concerns, they will now be handled by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and not the FCC. The plan expects ISP's to be transparent with their practices, but does not require them to report in on changes to their policies or pricing plans. I.E. the plan is based on the word of the ISP's. Everything is being done "in good faith" that the ISP's will do the right thing. And to top it off, states can not pass any laws that would override the FCC's plan. So Minnesota, for example, wouldn't be allowed to compose their own Net Neutrality rules. The FCC and ISP's would have legal carte blanche.

I may not be completely business-minded, but that sounds like a really bad plan. Assuming that the ISP's are going to play fair is dumb. We need regulation to ensure that they don't overcharge and limit services to customers. If you need an example, let's say I went to a car dealership to buy a Jaguar but I didn't have the down payment available. The dealership isn't going to let me drive off the lot right then and there if I give them an IOU paper. They want their down payment. Your ISP is trying to get by with the IOU to the FCC with this new "plan."

To assume that the ISP's will keep their word, well you're just silly. AT&T and Verizon were slapped earlier this year by providing better connection to their video streaming services and not others. In 2014, Verizon wanted to charge gamers more money for using the internet. Thankfully, Net Neutrality was put in place in 2015 to stop Verizon. The telecomm industry is there to make money. Given the chance, they will nickle and dime you like the airlines. We know how bad our cable providers are right now. Imagine how much worse it'll be when they have free reign to do whatever they want.

Google, Facebook, Amazon are all in support of Net Neutrality. Thousands of online businesses, software developers, and browsers want to keep Net Neutrality in place. Without an open internet, they wouldn't be the businesses that they are today. The only group that seem to be in favor of ending Net Neutrality are ISP's, as they gain the most from the change.

So what would happen in a post-Net Neutrality world?

AT&T and Comcast could start blocking streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime in favor of their own video on demand content. And they could do it almost immediately after the vote passes. AT&T would push people to use their DirectTV system instead, which would provide "faster" viewing.

AT&T can also decide that your search engine of choice will be Yahoo. Why? Because they own a stake in the company. So if you need to search for something online, they could easily restrict access to Google and Bing, or cause the websites to load so slow that you have to go to Yahoo. This ensures that Yahoo receives more ad revenue by you visiting that site, and ultimately AT&T will make more money from it.

And that whole "Verzion wants to charge gamers more money to play games online" thing? Yeah that could actually happen if Net Neutrality ends. We may see our monthly prices skyrocket for ISP's to "accommodate" our gaming habits. For a number of us already in a daily fight with our ISP's, this could be an exasperating task. Imagine not being able to play Overwatch on any console because your ISP is actively restricting your online use until you pay more money. You already have a 10 gig limit, but the ISP doesn't have to distribute it fairly.

Got an online business? Cool! If you want people to be able to visit your website you may have to pay the ISP's to ensure they don't block you. Yep. ISP's could start charging premiums to businesses like Google, Amazon, Etsy, ThinkGeek, even your favorite online t-shirt shop - all so they can be "allowed" access on their network. Verizon may charge thousands a year for that t-shirt shop to be visible on their services. While Google can foot their bill, the smaller shops can't. I'm a big fan of online shopping, particularly with fabric and crafting stores because they offer a lot of niche items I won't find at traditional retailers. With Net Neutrality ending, those shops can and will lose business unless they pay the ISP's for visibility. If you have Comcast and try to visit TeeTurtle.com, Comcast could block the site for not paying their "service" fee. No more cool geeky shirts for you. Your ISP has blocked them.

Even better, if the websites do pay the ISP's premium fees, the ISP can still block off access to those until you, the consumer, pay more. AT&T may decide to set up a "social media" add-on to your internet services. To gain access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter you would have to pay a monthly fee. Don't believe me? Portugal has no Net Neutrality and customers continually see packages like this one from their ISP's. Wanna access your e-mail? That'll be 4.99 Euro a month.

Yeah. You can't even access GMail in Portugal without paying extra. E-mail is a basic necessity in today's world. To revoke access is akin to removing all contact from the world.

It sounds crazy, but given the history of these ISP's this is a very plausible future. While the FCC has always had some form of Net Neutrality to prevent ISP's from abusing their power, douche-Pai wants to end it entirely. Including the underlying rules.

For those who argue that removing Net Neutrality would help the free market - the telecommunication industry is far from a free market. Most areas of the country you are fortunate if you have a choice in cable/internet providers. If you live in an apartment or a condo, you probably have 1 option and that's your only option. Telecomm companies work hard to ensure that no other businesses encroach on their territory and sometimes work out special deals with apartments, blocks, even cities to be the only vendor of digital services. By not playing ball with the ISP's, one can lose their lifeline to the outside world. Given how prevalent the internet is in our day to day life, that's not an option.

Bottom line: If you enjoy cat videos, buying from Amazon, and checking your e-mail, then we need to save Net Neutrality. This isn't a political issue. This isn't a Republican vs. Democrat situation. This is about a basic necessity of life that everyone should have fair and equal access to.

The internet was developed with the intent to provide open communication to all without any disruptions. It allows ideas to be shared freely. It allows those who don't have access to expensive schools to gain knowledge where money use to be a barrier. Without the internet as it is now, we wouldn't have Twitch! Net Neutrality made the internet what it is today; a weird and wonderful place. We need to save it.

Gamers, we can do some amazing things when we work as a team. With all the crap that went down with EA and Star Wars: Battlefront II these past weeks, it wouldn't have happened if we didn't band together. We can save Net Neutrality if we become the dream team once more.

Voting day for the FCC is December 14th. Call, write, fax, and act every day to ensure your politicians are listening. We need to keep pushing. Enough of us yell to keep it, they can't ignore it. Congress can still stop it, but you have to be active in contacting your state reps to ensure it happens. Here are a few places to get started:

- Resist Bot - A texting and now FB Messaging service that will find your state representatives and will fax/e-mail/mail them with your message. Government officials are all required to maintain an open box for mailing and faxing and must respond to each one. Resist Bot takes out most of the leg work. Very easy to use, and can issue you a daily reminder to contact your reps!

- Battle For The Net - A good multi-resource site that also provides you with direct numbers for congress and your state reps.

- Free Press - Add your name to the growing list of the letter being sent by the Free Press directly to all senators, state reps, and the FCC.

- Mozilla Advocacy - Similar to Free Press, but the Mozilla version.

- Electronic Frontier Foundation - An easy way to e-mail your congress rep. Note that this doesn't work in all states. Texas, for example, doesn't require an e-mail to be active nor for reps to use/respond to them. But it is much faster then other methods if your state rep has one.

Keep fighting to save the internet before we lose it for good.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Worst Battlefront II Article is Hillarious

By far one of the worst news pieces you will read about the Star Wars: Battlefront II issue will be this lovely gem from CNBC. Not only does it get a number of the facts wrong regarding why gamers were upset at EA & DICE's decisions with the product; CNBC also got a note from an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets (to investors) basically saying that they shouldn't worry. Gamers are overreacting and are still getting a better deal with the game. It is the most condescending, worthless article of the bunch.

And we're going to talk about this, because it's so bad that it HAS to be discussed! I can not rest tonight knowing that I didn't give this article the analysis it deserves. Yes, this is a throw-away post but I do not care. This is hilarious at how badly researched the piece is!

When people look to news sites that don't properly vet out their content, this is one of those moments. While it's still factually correct in some areas, it misses the mark entirely on others. This article should be used in future journalism classes as an example of what not to do. It's half-hearted, sloppy, and missing the key details that other stories have captured.

By now we all know that the reason for the uproar against EA and Battlefront II has to do with microtransactions. The game's progression system in mutliplayer turned it into a "pay to win" model, where gamers who were willing to plop down the money could easily best those who didn't want to, or couldn't afford to spend additional cash on items. The loot boxes contained items ranging from weapon and armor upgrades, star cards, crafting pieces - all to be used to make a player's character more powerful. While one could earn loot boxes by fulfilling daily objectives or reaching in-game benchmarks, it does take a lot of time. Reddit user TheHotterPotato calculated that it would take up to 40 hours to unlock one of the top tier characters; Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. While EA has tweaked this to a more reasonable time frame of 15-20 hours, it's still a lot of time to invest in the game's multiplayer. The bottom line is gamers who want to be the best now could pay for the privilege; buying up crystals with real world money, use the crystals for loot boxes, and beef up their character. Even in the system was updated after feedback from the beta, it was clear that "pay to win" was the model EA wanted.

Tae Kim, the writer of the CNBC article did get one thing correct: that some people were upset that you could pay to speed up the unlock time of characters like Darth Vader. Unfortunately that's what the article centers on. It ignores the issue of microtransaction entirely. When it is brought up, it's through the eyes of market analyst Evan Wingren. "Gamers aren't overcharged, they're undercharged (and we're gamers). … This saga has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit, and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike MTX [microtransactions]." Talk about a dick answer.

Wingren also breaks down the "value" of the game compared to other forms of entertainment. If a gamer spends $60 for the base game, spends $20 a month on loot boxes, and plays 2.5 hours a day for a year, the gamer is only spending 40 cents for every hour of gameplay. Compared to 60-65 cents an hour for television or 80 cents to $3 an hour for a movie, that's a deal.

But what gamer spends 2.5 hours a day, every day, on the same game? No one does that. Not even an MMO player like myself. Not unless you're a Major League Gamer and this is your job, gamers change up their games. One can only play Super Mario: Odyssey for so long before they need a break. Not only is Wingren's assessment condescending, it's inaccurate to most gamer's lifestyle. We work. We go to school. We have social lives. We don't play games every day for 2.5 hours.

Note: Battlefront is not and will never be an MLG game because the product relies on you bolstering your character with better gear. It is not a game solely focused on skill.

It also overlooks the fact that people are already spending $60 on a game. A game that should be complete and ready for them to play. They shouldn't have to spend MORE money to get additional content that could vastly affect their gameplay. It'd be like going to the movies, spending $30 on a ticket, but being told halfway through the film that you need to spend more money to get the best possible ending, or to have additional gear given to Thor so he can win. It's a crude comparison, but you better believe movie-goers would be furious if this happened.

To Wingren's credit, he is correct from a monetary standpoint that video games do provide more value in entertainment compared to other mediums. But then he has to follow it up with this remark: "Quantitative analysis shows that video game publishers are actually charging gamers at a relatively inexpensive rate, and should probably raise prices." The man is actually suggesting that publishers raise the prices up to $78, $134, and $144 respectively! We can rarely get a complete game for $59.99, what makes Wingren think that someone would be willing to pay $78 for an unfinished game?

Wingren may say he's a gamer, but he has completely missed the point of the uproar. And he's also out to make money, because he's an analyst for a large firm. That's what they do.

And Kim did not properly address the issues surrounding Battlefront II. Instead, the focus is on gamers being mad that we can't unlock Darth Vader until we play for a long time. We angrily took to Reddit to complain that all this content should be in the game at release. This ignores the real reason: It's all about microtransactions and the game being a "pay to win" model. It's about gamers tired of spending $59.99, before tax, on a game that requires you to pay more in order to succeed. It's about loot boxes getting out of control and no longer focusing on cosmetic - instead giving advantages to those who are willing to spend more money.

If Kim and Wingren took half a minute to research the situation, the article would have been a bit more factual.

So here you are ladies and gentlemen. Say congratulations to the worst Star Wars: Battlefront II article ever. As annoying as Wingren comes off in the written word, this article is hysterical. No gamer would ever take the CNBC piece seriously, and neither should any developer. If you ever want to be a journalist, please don't write these kind of pieces. At the very least, do more then a minute of research and dig into the problem before writing our your article. Gamers everywhere would appreciate it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Star Wars: Battlefront II - The Review!

If you guessed that today's blog post would be about Star Wars: Battlefront II, you are correct. Congratulations. I can only offer internet cookies for being correct. Don't be smug about it.

Within hours of the game's release last Friday, EA made the decision to temporarily remove all in-game transactions. The microtransactions will return, after they review and make adjustments to the system. It's been quite the marketing headache for EA these past few weeks. So much so that the physical sales of Battlefront II are down 60% from it's predecessor during initial launch. Ouch. And if that wasn't enough, now some countries are looking to investigate loot boxes and see if they may actually be considered a form of gambling. With it comes additional taxes, tariffs, and warnings that game developers would have to divulge.

Even with all this, the bad press, the negative user reviews, the constant questioning of their microtransaction system, EA is positive they will meet their financial forecasts for March 2018.

So what's the real deal on Battlefront II? Is the game that bad to be worth a boycott? Do the microtransactions royally mess up the game?

I've been gifted with a copy of the game from a reader/follower. I don't know if it was meant to torture me or to try and get me to see the light side. But I was willing to try the game. See what changes have been made from Battlefront I. What the hubbub with the single player story was about. Maybe the game isn't as bad as the users are making it out to be? Maybe there is some good in the darkness? Here's my mini-review of Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Much like all of the Battlefront games, #2 does its best to faithfully recreate the look and feel of the 'Star Wars' movies. Thanks to technology, the art of the game is impressive. The locations, such as Naboo and Tattoine are beautiful. The sweeping lines of the tall buildings. The dynamic colors of the rooftops and tiled floors. Even while you're being shot at by the enemy, you can't help but get caught up in the sights and sounds around you. I have always felt a strong bond to Star Wars: Galaxies in how much it was a living, breathing version of the 'Star Wars' legacy. Battlefront II comes in a close second. And a kudos to the sound design team for creating a myriad of environmental noises that add to the beauty of the landscapes.

The combat is much improved from Battlefront #1. The controls feel more fluid and they are easier to tap into for newbies and longtime FPS fans. The weapons hold more weight. They don't feel like throw-away pieces like in the last game. Running, ducking, dodging, and melee have been tightened up. The little nuances such as zooming in and the cross-hairs have been tweaked to not be as obtrusive. The meat of the game got the upgrade it desperately needed. If progression weren't locked behind the convoluted system that DICE created, Battlefront II could easily be a multiplayer shooter that people would play for years. Heck, the game would be even better if there were NO progression system. Then we'd have a title that could be considered eSports worthy. Remove the need for upgrading weapons and armor. Have everyone on an even playing field where the focus is on skill, not who spends the most gets the best gear. Leveling is just a statement where people can see how much you've played the game. And if you want Loot Boxes, be like Overwatch and make them 100% cosmetic.

Oh, and the flight combat is good too. Honestly it feels like that could be it's own game. Another Tie Fighter simulator, without content locked behind progression, would be pretty neat if they used DICE's improved system.

Let's get to the story mode, because that was a big selling point for Battlefront II. The downside to #1 is that it lacked a single player campaign. That was one of many reasons I opted to not buy it. #2 tried to redeem itself by including a story mode where you play as Iden Versio, an elite Imperial Commando who's carrying out the Emperor's last orders. Okay, so that's kind of cool that you get to play the other side. Star Wars games typically fail at telling stories about the Empire from their perspective. Except for The Old Republic (which I still attest that the Imperial Agent's story line is one of the best you will ever experience in any game). The story gives you an uninhibited play through that looks and feels great. It's the hard paced action that we see in the movies, without the griefers.

But that's about the only praise that I'll have for the story. Like so many other Star Wars titles, #2 fails at providing any connection between Versio and the player. There is no empathy to be found. I did not care if she succeeds in her orders or if her team died. Even in a brief conversation between Versio and her father, who is leading the mission, there's nothing. No drama. No emotion. No grand design. The whole sequence felt meaningless. In trying to tie in Versio to the Star Wars lexicon, EA and DICE failed to provide an intriguing character worth following. I realize that trying to empathize with the Empire is a difficult task, but that's what one needs to do to tell a good story. If we can't find a way to relate to the main character, whether it's through their actions, emotions, background, etc. then we as the audience/gamer have no reason to be invested in the story. There are ways to provide a connection to main characters that we, as society, don't like (see American History X) without it clouding the waters.

To make matters worse, the story for #2 is very paint by numbers Star Wars. You know exactly what's going to happen without having to think about it. Including the pointless character tie-ins that are there only to give the gamer those happy nostalgia feelings. Look! Here's Chewbacca! Don't you remember him? Amazing right? Okay well he's gone now so let's go back to more shooting. Pew pew! The story makes zero effort in tying in these extra places and characters to Versio's mission. They exist so you can say "oh cool!" and immediately disregard them. The single player campaign is full of non-sequiturs that create a jarring and disjointed story.

Oh, and this story can be completed in 4-5 hours. No joke. I was done in about 4 and a half hours. "What? That's it? That's the single player campaign I received? Lame."

So $59.99, if you buy the regular version, is pretty much going to an improved multi-player shooter, with content locked behind progress and paywalls that prevent you from enjoying the game.

Battlefront II is not a game wrapped in a unique story of an Imperial Commando with an online component to enhance the experience. It's a crappy Battlefront knockoff trying to showcase it's shiny new skin to anyone who will buy. The multiplayer is...passable. The improved comment is nice. But the big ordeal really is all about those microtransactions. With the game in its current state, you can play it, but you certainly won't enjoy it. It takes too long to get the content you need to be "good." And frankly, no one has 40-120 hours to dedicate to playing just this game to get decent gear. The fact that the game locks you behind layers and layers of progressions that require crafting, random loot box luck, and tedious credit farming (which is capped after so many games a day), makes it too much of a chore. I'd rather the multiplayer aspect be more like Counter Strike or Overwatch. Again, an emphasis on skill not on farming for gear. Ultimately, what will doom Battlefront II is the multiplayer. The single player campaign comes in a close second.

What sucks is that the people who worked on this game: the programmers, designers, artists, musicians - the people who don't make the big decisions, they did an amazing job. They lovingly created a very beautiful game to look at and to play through. But the story, the lack of content, and the screwed up progression system has made this game unworthy of investing time in.

Bottom line: Do not buy this game. Wait until it's in the bargain bin for $29.99 or less and see what EA/DICE have decided on for the microtransactions. This game is not worth it's full retail price. Not by a long shot.

Also, thanks to the reader/follower for the game! I'm sorry you spent money on this. I think it's still within the refund window...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday and goodness it's been one crazy week, hasn't it? Between EA's shenanigans with Star Wars: Battlefront II and all of the gaming Black Friday ads leaked early, gamers have been busy staying up to date with the news. Here is a snippet of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news this week:

 - NPR decided to tackle the EA/Battlefront II story. You all know about the details, but I wanted to share this for the headline: Gamers See a Dark Side to New 'Star Wars' Video Game. You are free to groan at that.

- According to research recently published in Great Brittan, some video games are as good as IQ tests and can be used to measure one's intellect. The findings are a bit wishy-washy. They are using chess as a comparison, stating that those who play chess typically have a higher IQ. That's not necessarily the situation with a number of chess players - some people play because they like chess. It doesn't mean they have a high IQ. They could be really good at chess and nothing else. While I agree that some video games are brain teasers and may measure IQ differently, I don't think this study is foolproof.

- You probably haven't heard of the game Laws of War, but it will make you rethink about actual combat training. The ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, wanted to develop a game where users have to abide by the rules of war. You have to learn who is a threat, and who is a civilian. You train to help your teammates and follow orders instead of rushing into combat. The development of the game is interesting and the article is worth a read-through.

- Belgium and the Netherlands are taking Loot Boxes seriously by opening an investigation to see if the microtransactions in some games should be considered gambling. In Belgium, a permit is needed to sell an item that involves "a game of chance" and if Loot Boxes fall under that category, a lot of gaming developers will be fined. The outcome is one everyone in the industry will be watching closely.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 9 video games that let you hilariously troll other players. Let's start with the understanding that it is not funny to troll people. It's dumb. It's harassment. And you can get banned for doing it. With that said, this is easily one of the worst lists WhatCulture has ever created. You're going with a VR Werewolf game as your top pick? Really? Not GTA5 Online? WhatCulture, you have lost your groove and we are so very disappointed in you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men, We're Tired of Your Sh*t - Harassment in Video Games




Today's post is not going to be your typical fare. We need to talk about the #MeToo campaign and the fallout of the sexual harassment/assault charges against a number of powerful figures (business, entertainment, politics, etc).

Since #MeToo became a trending tag on Twitter, more of the world has seen just how much harassment women (and men, but it's mostly women) experience on a daily basis. It's not a 1 out of 3 number any longer. It's a everyone, single, woman. From an unwanted hug or cat call to full assault, every woman has been attacked sexually in some form or another. When you read stories of girls as young as 4 being sexually harassed, it's disgusting.

And we are tired of it.

I have found myself being more active in mutliplayer gaming lately and trying to utilize chat functions. And because of it, I've been reporting way more people for harassment. But there is a change that is happening. More men are speaking up and telling others to stop harassing, and reporting the behavior as well. A friend of mine saw a player in Final Fantasy XIV who was groping and talking about sexually explicit things to every female character that crossed his path. He was reported, blocked by everyone that crossed his path, and within a few days his account was banned. Instead of letting this activity continue, people took action. This is the start.

Because of #MeToo, a number of women and men have been given the courage to say something about their harassment/assault experiences. With the behavior so pervasive, we know that people will have our backs - that is one of the reason why so many stay quiet. When you're harassed or assaulted you feel helpless. You feel like there is no one there to support you. You feel like no one will believe you. Not without proof or evidence; even if the assault took place 30 years ago when cell phones and personal cameras were not available. You feel like you have no choice but to stay quiet. It's worse when the perpetrator is your boss, supervisor, government official, a police officer, the CEO of a company - someone who is in a position of power to destroy your life. And in many cases, this is how they work. They pick a victim who is easy to manipulate and string along, knowing that the victim can't do anything to retaliate because they have everything to lose.

By the Tweets above, you see what happens when someone comes forward with their story about sexual harassment or assault.

We're immediately questioned. We're called liars, cheaters, whores, sluts, and a myriad of other vulgar words. We become the target of hate and ire - which is even worse in these times with Drumpf holding a political position. Those who are supporters of Roy Moore's campaign (by the way he was removed from office twice for breaking the law), are attacking the victim's with hate, violence, threats of death, and doxxing.

And this is fairly common whenever someone steps forward with a sexual assault story against a known figure. The victims become outcasts.

This is why we don't talk about our history with assault. This is why we feel like all hope is lost. Why bother speaking up if you're going to be inundated with more harassment? Why bother stopping a man/woman from invoking more horrors onto another unsuspecting victim if no one will believe us?

This type of mindset needs to end. We need to STOP victimizing the victim. They have already lived through the assault. They are reliving it again when they speak of it in public. They don't owe anything to anyone. They are TRYING to do the right thing and get a molester, assaulter, predator off the streets. We need to support them - not blame them. And as the weight of the allegations continue to rise, we are all feeling it.


We need to do better, not only for our daughters. We need to do better for humanity.

I don't think I will ever feel safe enough to come forward with some of my stories of assault and harassment. Most I've already spoken about, but there are a few that will stay with me. Why? Because of that retaliation. I don't have the mental fortitude or the financial security to withstand it. I need my job. I need to pay the bills. I need to feel secure in going home every day, knowing that my residence, my dogs, and my family are okay. And the moment I speak out about abuse, harassment, and assault that I've seen from powerful men, that safety will go away. And these are men who have been accused before. Multiple times! By women and men who are much stronger then I will ever be. But you know what? Nothing has happened to the perpetrators. They are still in power. They still run companies, rule Hollywood, and have political positions.

There is nothing for me to gain by coming forward with my stories. It won't garner a movie deal. I won't become a movie star. I won't win millions of dollars from a lawsuit. But I have everything to lose, if I do. This is what it feels like to be a victim. Hopeless. Scared. Alone.

Gamers. If you love video games, if you care about our community, we need to make changes now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not over the next decade. Start today. We need to call out harassment, bigotry, racism, sexism, when it happens. We need to report grievances as they occur. We need to have thoughtful discussions with developers on ways to improve responses to harassment. This isn't about "white knighting." This is about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do! No one should have to worry about playing a video game and being harassed. Their only concern should be to have fun.

And EVERYONE can help in teaching men and women (because some women are attackers as well) to stop sexual harassment/assault. No means NO. Do not touch people without asking first - even hugs. Do not cat call. Do not make sexual remarks. If someone tells you to stop and to step away, respect their choice as a human and STEP AWAY. This isn't rocket science. And we can teach children early on to respect the space of others. Don't force your child to hug someone if they don't want to. Don't say "boys will be boys" because girls will be girls and I will tell a girl to kick and push that boy away. Everyone has a right to their own autonomy.

Women are tired of dealing with your sh*t, men. The age of equality among humanity has been delayed for too long. We are ready for a change. Start today and report harassment when it happens. Take the next step in helping the gaming community become the shining beacon of greatness that it should be. I too will try to do better. I will move out of my comfort and talk on a headset. I will call out harassment when it happens to anyone. I will report harassment when it happens. I will talk about why it's "not cool" to harass anyone.

Do the right thing. Don't harass. Don't assault. Don't make threats. Report those who do harass. Report those who do threaten. Support the victim. Gamers, we can do better and we should.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

GameStop PowerPass Program On Hold

This is the week that keeps on giving!

GameStop's new 'PowerPass' program has come to a full stop, 5 days before it officially launched. Customers could sign up early during a soft launch at select locations. But during this trial run, GameStop stores ran into technical problems. In a statement to Polygon, GameStop wrote:

We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service.

Those guests who have already purchased the service, we are allowing them to bring the pass and video game they have checked out, back to receive a full refund. In addition, we are allowing them to pick out any Pre-Owned video game for free.

So for those customers who have already signed up, you can get a refund and a free Used game - make sure you have your receipt because something tells me that this system issue may have lost reservations in the process.

While GameStop hasn't given details on what the "program limitations" were, but as a former employee my bet is on the archaic technology not being able to keep up with the reservation system. While some retailers have been staying up to date with the evolution of technology, GameStop was never one of those. My stint there ended in 2010, but even then I was working off of DOS. It was pathetic that a multi-billion dollar company used programs that were developed in the late 1980's to manage everything. My follow-up job wasn't much better, but at least we used programs built in 2004. Given the history of the company, I would not be surprised if GameStop hasn't kept up with the technology needed to help their stores. They are probably still using the same system I was!

GameStop stores have been asked to pull and toss all promotions pertaining to 'PowerPass' and swap out weekly advertisements to remove any mention of the program. The company hasn't killed the 'PowerPass,' yet. It's on hold until they work out the "program limitations."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More Microtransaction Troubles with EA and Battlefront II

So...a lot has happened in the last 24 hours, hasn't it? I think this is one for the history books. EA has been getting a lot of flack for the handling of their microtransaction and loot box system for Star Wars: Battlefront II. Whatever else is going on in the game, it's being dwarfed by the concern of gamers.

In the Battlefront subreddit, user TheHotterPotato calculated out how long it would take to achieve one of the hidden characters that is locked behind an in-game currency pay wall. This was some serious math work to find out that it would take a person a minimum of 40 hours to unlock the top tier of Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. Which means to obtain both characters requires 80 hours of game play.

80 hours. To unlock 2 characters. In 80 hours I could have played South Park: The Fractured But Whole 5 times, and spend the remaining hour and a half on Final Fantasy XIV working on my end game gear. Image if Street Fighter did this with Ryu or M. Bison and you had to play for 80 hours in online matches to unlock both characters. Fans would be livid.

The response to the data was swift. An EA Community Team member answered the comment.

"Heroes earned through Credits: The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch."

That one post from EA has become the most down-voted in Reddit history. -520k and still growing, and this was only a day ago!

Just shy of 2 weeks ago, EA did announce that it would be tweaking the progression and loot box system. The feedback from the beta did not go over well, with rare cards and items hidden in crates that would easily make the game a pay-to-win model. Cards must now be crafted, and better gear will drop at the end of matches so it can be a more even playing field. But this change did not affect rare characters, still set up behind the game's paywall. It's also very possible to do a pay-to-win scenario. Kotaku broke down the details of the game's changes and how one can easily boost their levels to win if you plunk down the cash for it. There are still some restrictions in place, such as how much in-game currency you can earn a day/week.

But this new uproar is an entirely different beast. As a Star Wars fan, I don't want to wait 40 hours to play as Darth Vader. I don't have the time, the patience, or the care. I can play as Darth Vader right now in dozens of other Star Wars games without jumping through hoops. The comments on Reddit echo many of the same concerns. When you hold down a 40-50 hour job, have kids, and try to maintain a social life of some sort, you only have 2-4 hours a week to play a game. It would take over 2 months to unlock 1 of those characters in Battlefront and we do not have the time for that.

EA has backtracked in response to the Reddit thread, the myriad of news articles, and the unfortunate death threats against their employees (okay dudes, I know you're upset at EA. I am too. But that is no excuse to threaten the employees of EA and DICE with violence. People who have NO POWER in making the decisions regarding loot boxes. The shaders and environmental artists don't get a say. Please stop threatening people with violence.) The top heroes credit purchase will be reduced by 75% so you can play as Luke, Leia, or Darth much sooner (even the game's single player protagonist was behind this pay wall).

While this will temporarily appease fans, Battlefront II is bringing the microtransaction issue to the forefront. Once again, EA is making it difficult to enjoy a game without plopping down additional cash in order to win.

What do you think of the recent change? Is it enough to keep you invested in Battlefront II or are you ready to jump ship?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Well...at Least One Dev Gets Why We Hate Paying for Loot Boxes

Randy Pitchford, the divisive leader of Gearbox Software, opened up on Twitter his stance regarding Loot Boxes - specifically the ones that we pay for to get an edge in a game. For those who are not Randy fans, his response may help you feel that there is still some sanity left in the gaming industry.

Here are a few snippets of his Twitter roll:

I am generally very much against predatory monetization schemes in F2P games for consumable goods and even more so against them in premium games. I tend to oppose such techniques both as an artist and creator and also as a customer and a gamer. Evidence of my position is that we never sold Golden Keys (an arguably consumable good) in the Borderlands game. We had non-trivial levels of demand from customers to do so, but we did not relent. We chose to only give Golden Keys away via social media and partner relations. 

Contrarily, I tend to be very supportive of post-launch monetization of durable goods as DLC in *almost* any form.

I do, however, object to some of the arguments and language being used to fight against the predatory monetization schemes I have just derided in the first post in this thread. 

As an artists and creator who very much *loves* the nature of the “loot box” as it appears in our Borderlands games, I’m concerned that the words “loot box” are being used as short hand for a practice I am not in favor of. Can we find another term for what we object to?

First off, yes to a new term for the "pay to unlock" Loot Boxes. When I first think of Loot Box, my brain goes to Borderlands, where it's a giant chest of cool stuff! It's been altered over the years to become a catch-all term for any type of package where you have to pay to unlock the content. This could be real world or in-game currency. It'd be nice to have microtransactions called out for what they are.

Secondly, I've always appreciated how Gearbox has handled the golden keys for Borderlands. Golden keys are in-game currency that you can stock up on and use to unlock rare weapon caches. You can earn the keys in a handful of quests, or utilize codes posted online through Gearbox's social media channels. Though the game was first released in 2009, the keys are still being posted every few weeks. There's an active player base that still redeems enough of them to make them worth the effort. It's almost like a "thank you" to gamers for still supporting the game, so here are extra keys to get those rare weapons.

Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with paying for DLC. The biggest hang-up gamers have is that some games are released intentionally incomplete and requires DLC to finish the content. When you pay $59.99 for a game and only get half the content, then gamers are right to be upset with their purchase. DLC should be additions to the incredibly story, not a requirement to finish the base game. The context against DLC and microtransactions is important. DLC for Star Wars: Battlefront was dumb. DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition helped enhanced the game, but was not required to enjoy the base story.

While I'm still 50/50 on the fad, Overwatch has one of the better managed loot box systems. You can earn them while playing matches and eventually unlock them via daily rewards, or purchase them with coins you receive. Or you can buy them outright with real money. The rewards are all cosmetic: different hero skins, spray paints, dialogue snippets, or more game currency. Overwatch focuses on your skill. You can't pay to win. The loot boxes are ancillary. You could play the game and never once open up a box!

But at least Randy has our back. We may not always agree with Gearbox's decisions, but they are trying to give players what they want.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Welcome to the end of another week! A part of me wishes I was still back at BlizzCon. At least it's above 60 degrees there. We're rounding up this week's best, worst, and weirdest gaming news for you to easily digest in your gut. Here's what we've found:

- Are video games bad for your kids? This LA Times reporter found out from a seminar at UC Irvine that no. It's not. The article is a quick read, but it's good to see that some parents are willing to have an open mind to see the benefits of gaming.

- Tencent, the Chinese investment firm that focuses on digital content, is buying more stakes in Snapchat, hoping to turn the platform into something that gamers may use in the future. The details are fuzzy on the specifics, but when you dump $2 billion into Snap stock, you expect to make an impact. What does that mean for users? Nothing right now. But don't be surprised if you see tweaks in the coming months that were influenced by Tencent.

- Have you seen this new Kickstarter project called Vortex? It's a peripheral that lets you experience video games in 4D. "Vortx is the world’s first 4D simulator that can physically recreate any virtual environment in the comfort of your home or office. It reads and analyzes audio and video data in real-time to create physical effects that you can feel to match what you see and hear; because Vortx processes live data that means it is compatible with ANY PC game title and every digital video platform." At $60 grand, I was expecting something else, but if that's what the creators want to do, go for it. Basically it's a glorified fan that reacts to the content in the game. If a bullet goes past your character on the screen, a burst of air will emit from the Vortex. If there's a gust of wind in the desert while you play Assassin's Creed: Origins, you'll feel it. It's not a bad idea, but not fully convinced it's worth investing in right now while 3D is still trying to find it's foothold in the industry.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 video games that had out attention and then lost it. I'd like to point out that the sub title is "How did EA mess up Medal of Honor so bad?" And the answer to that question is "It's EA, that's why." Easy zingers aside, the list includes Halo, Evolve, and Brutal Legend. Wait, what? While I'm not on board with the myriad of sequels for Halo (it was fine to end it at the third game), how the heck did Evolve and Brutal Legend end up on this list? Brutal was a blast! A fun mixture of action, adventure, and dynamic rock n'roll game play that made it a treat to explore the levels. And while Evolve did lose me on not providing single player, the point of the game is to work as a team to track your pray. It was a challenging game and not meant for casual players. But that is what made the title more engaging. You had to learn, you had to adapt, and you had to communicate with people. This is another WhatCulture list that has already failed.

- Hey guess what? EA bought out another studio. Confirmed in a press release this week, EA has purchased Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Titanfall. Respawn was in talks to be purchased by Korea's Nexon, who currently publishes a Titanfall spinoff for mobile games. EA wanted to keep Respawn in the "family," so to speak, as the studio was working with EA to develop an unnamed Star Wars project. No word on what will happen to Respawn, but so far all of their current projects are still underway. Though I wouldn't blame them if the team was worried after what happened to Visceral Games a few weeks ago.

- AM General, a Humvee manufacturer, is suing Activision Blizzard for a trademark infringement from their Call of Duty game. The lawsuit claims that 8 of the games contain Humvee's and the HMMWV logo without the consent of AM General. They believe the company is not only abusing the trademark, but unlawfully profiting by having the vehicles in the game, in toys, in books, and used in advertising. Details of the lawsuit are still unknown, but with a billion dollar company suing another billion dollar developer, it's guaranteed to be an absurd amount of money in play.

- Finally, The Game Awards will be back on December 7th with nominees announced on November 14th. This year the show will expand to more streaming platforms and internationally, including South Korea and Japan. They even plan to bring in an orchestra, and hopefully it's more then a bunch of random, nameless rappers dancing on the stage with a razor. And maybe this year the "World Premiere" drinking game can return!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Niantic's New AR Game is Harry Pottery

Hold on to your wizarding hats. Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go, are going to produce a Harry Potter AR game. The developers will be teaming up with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and their San Fransisco division to create the game. They even have a name for it: Happy Potter: Wizards Unite. It could use some work, but given that they've already bought the domain it's probably going to stay.

Using the same framework as Niantic's AR game Ingress, players will be able to learn spells and battle legendary beasts from the Harry Potter landscape, while teaming up with others to take them down. The game will also include some of the iconic characters from Harry Potter, though it won't let you be one of them.

The details for the game are limited, but Niantic is poised to discuss more in 2018. But it's safe to assume that this game has the potential to be as successful, if not more, then Pokémon Go. For those naysayers, Go is still pulling in 65 million monthly users. While the initial draw may not be there, people are logging in and catching the pocket monsters. Harry Potter could easily be another AR game that sets off the craze once more.