Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New "Review" Trend Could Affect How Frequently You Pre-Order Games

So there's a new trend going on recently with game developers that could push you to pre-order more instead of less. Bethesda, Fallout and Dishonored, announced on their website yesterday that they are not sending out games for media reviews until 1 day prior to the product's release. They cite Doom as their test, having sold well and receive great reviews even though people were unsure about the product given how very late the company issued copies out to media. Bethesda plans to continue this for upcoming titles, such as the Skyrim Special Edition.

But Bethesda is not alone. A number of gaming companies, big and small, are doing the same thing. 2K Games for it's fall releases of Mafia III and Civilization VI didn't provide the media with anything until less then 24 hours before the game was on store shelves. EA has been testing it this year with their smaller titles, and so has Ubisoft. Media site Kotaku has been tracking the trend and it could put a new burden on gamers as well as game reviewers.

Though YouTubers and Twitch streamers with huge followings seem to be exempt from this shift. A number of companies are putting their marketing dollars into those outlets over traditional media platforms as more people tune into the Markplier and PewDiePie for their gaming content. YouTuber Grohlvana received a copy of Skyrim's new version a month before launch to make videos and promote the game. The rest of the media was out of the loop until the day before. And it makes sense from the developer/publisher perspective. Why give a game to a media outlet that may pan it when you can give it to a fan who will be thrilled to have it early and will talk it up without any encouragement?

And games being release early to the media will sometimes be at a disadvantage. In a number of cases these days, games offer day one patches and extensive online systems that can't be fairly judged. It doesn't allow the game to get a full, comprehensive play when media outlets try to rush the review before the game's release. This is also why you're seeing more news sits like Polygon and IGN having "pre-reviews" and "provisional reviews" with the intent to add to the content later after the game's release. Does this work for all games? Of course not. It should be a game by game basis, but it's easy to understand why devs/publishers are holding back on releasing games to the media.

Of course there are negatives to attribute to this change as well. Eventually gamers are going to have less resources to count on when it comes to finding information about a game. Review embargoes (where publishers ban media outlets from releasing reviews until a specific date) already make it a little difficult for gamers to determine if a product is worth their money - wherein they either pre-order the game before reviews or wait until after the reviews are released. Because of the pre-order culture around games, more often then not people choose the former option. To have a ban on sending early copies to media outlets now puts the customer in a more precarious position. Do they pre-order? Do they wait? Do they spend extra money to get into betas (See Battlefield 1) so they can test the game before buying it?

It also means that more media outlets are now going to bum rush reviews to get them out on release dates. Overlooked game content, limited multiplayer access, and brief game sessions are going to curtail good, responsible reviewers. All in the sake of having that "day 1" upload to the media site they work for. And maybe that's good for the developer? It means that reviewers are going to gloss over mistakes and create generic reviews that may spur more sales. But it's also a downfall for reviewers that care about the quality of their work. They will not have the time to sit and reflect on a game in order to meet deadlines. Three weeks to review a product compared to three hours is a big difference. Big. Mega. Huge, in fact.

In an age where reviewers and more gamers are working against the pre-order culture, game companies are fighting back with more provisions to entice people to still pre-order. It's going to be a rough few years ahead of us.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How the AT&T/Time Warner Deal Affects Gamers

This blog isn't always just about video games. We have to take some time to talk about other media news that can potentially affect our gaming habits. Such as the AT&T/Time Warner deal that will put AT&T as the largest media company on the planet - arguably. And it's a big deal.

Over the weekend, AT&T threw down an offer to buy up Time Warner at $85.4 billion. First distinction we should make here is that this isn't for Time Warner Cable. That sector spun off a few years back to prevent Time Warner from becoming a monopoly. This would be for Time Warner's creative assets. That means Warner Brother's studios, WB Interactive (which produces video games such as DC Universe, The Lord of the Rings series, and The Witcher), HBO, CNN - all of the content channels would be under the AT&T umbrella. AT&T would be both a content producer and a distributor through their mobile and land-line platforms.

That's a big, freekin' deal.

It could potentially make some of that content exclusive to just AT&T. HBO's more lax system at accessing it's shows, even if you don't have cable, could go away. No more HBO Go and you may have to have AT&T cable or mobile to watch Game of Thrones. Lord help us if AT&T decides to release their own game system. Any future Witcher or Lord of the Rings games would be locked in to their console, and their console alone. This can become a huge problem for competition. If Comcast wants the rights to air HBO shows, they may have to pay additional fees to AT&T above the normal premium. Comcast can then pass the increased price to their customers, or forgo HBO all-together.

As gamers, they could limit our access to their library by requiring data plans for WB mobile games. Or if the turn-around profit they expect to receive isn't as fast as they would like, could shut down WB Interactive entirely.

On the other hand, if AT&T doesn't turn into a total dick about it, they could open up more communication channels for people to access content and not limit availability.

But before all this happens, the deal has to be approved by regulators. Anti-trust experts believe that as long as AT&T follows a similar structure as Comcast did when they acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, everything should go through without much trouble. AT&T would have to agree to several conditions and ensure their deal doesn't harm their competition.

It may not mean anything now, but it's something we should all be aware of as media consumers. Whether it's film, television, gaming, or the internet, if AT&T's deal is accepted, we could be changing our media habits to fit with their vision.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Game Voice Actors Want Better Transparency

As contract negotiations continue between SAG-AFTRA and a multitude of gaming companies, more stories are cropping up from voice actors regarding the working conditions. Did you know that some voice actors are not told what they are working on? That's the claim by Keythe Farley, who has been in the voice acting business since the 1990's on Nickelodeon. Gamers, you may know him as Thane from the Mass Effect series and the voice director for all of the God of War games. He's also the voice of the big-bad Kellogg from Fallout 4. Given his years in the industry and the top companies he's worked for, he's got a solid reputation to back up his claim.

How does a developer benefit by leaving a voice actor in the dark? Money and ensuring game content isn't leaked to the public. The former is more true then the latter. You would think that voice actors, talking for a living, would be more apt to gab about their project, but they're not. If you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) you'd be surprised how little people are willing to talk, less they be sued. People can keep a secret if their livelihood is on the line.

What do developers gain by keeping voice actors out of the loop on the project? The actor's agents can negotiate for better pay if they know the game is a sequel to a successful title. If it's a new IP from a known publisher, there is still a chance at higher pay if you are a well known actor, but it's going to be lower then working on the sequel to Call of Duty. CoD is guaranteed sales where as a new IP is not. Actors may take the lower pay for a new IP, knowing that it's a job and the developer may not see a return. But if it's CoD, they are going to ask for more money. The developer can afford the paychecks.

It also works against the actor not knowing the subject matter as it could impede their performance. They have to go off the words of the voice director and make assumptions about the action around them. Some voice actors don't get the luxury of digging into the full script and really connecting to their character. They have to hope for the best and that they gave the director what was needed.

It's more drama to add to the pile that is this strike.

Friday, October 21, 2016

AFTRA is on Strike for Voice Actors

So that voice actors strike that seemed like it would happen last year, quieted down, and then sped up this week has finally come to fruition. As of 12:01AM this morning, Pacific time, SAG-AFTRA has gone on strike against prominent video game companies. The deal proposed yesterday by the legal team for the gaming companies was not accepted by the group.

"On Thursday, the union refused to accept the other side’s proposal, describing the current compensation structure as a 'freeloader model.' "

The compensation was to increase pay by 9% immediately, versus 3% every year for 3 years, and an additional $950 for voice actors that needed to return for additional sessions outside of their contract. They also promised to look into safety concerns for motion capture, but didn't promise anything beyond that. Needless to say, the guild didn't appreciate the lack of care.

In all fairness, the way voice actors and motion capture actors are treated is very much a freeloader system. They are paid minimal for their work and reap none of the benefits if a game is successful. SAG-AFTRA is looking to not only improve working conditions, but ensure their actors are properly paid for the work they do, during and after the game's release. Voice actors are the one weird area where some get residuals and others do not. If you lend your voice to a movie, television show, or a video game, more often then not you don't see any more money after your recording sessions. Which is backwards when you think about it. A number of actors that you see on the screen will see residuals for decades after their show has finished production. Voice actors? Nada. Advertising is the one safety net for voice actors. It's all about the residuals there.

The TLDR version of it all is that voice actors have an outdated contract that needs to be modernized to fit with today's expectations that allow them to work in a safe environment and stay healthy.

Gaming companies claim that they can't maintain the same standards as Hollywood's contract with SAG. They need some more flexibility due to the development time it takes to create a game. The residuals that actors would receive could impact the team and the company.

It's a tricky situation to maneuver through right now. My personal opinion is that yes, actors should be properly compensated for their time. And they should be allowed to take vocal rests since they do a lot more strenuous work that could damage their voice over time. There needs to be a better standard for actors without harming the studio. When that deal will be reached? Only time will tell.

For those concerned about their games, this is only affecting products that were in production after February of 2015 and to the actors employed who are affiliated with SAG-AFTRA. The last deal ended in late 2014, and actors have been working under the defunct contract since then. Currently only 25% of the voice acting community is a member of SAG.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nintendo Project NX Now "Switch"

Nintendo has announced the name of it's new portable console and showcased a little bit of what we can expect in the near future from the company. It has also, once again, proved that in the new millennium, Nintendo still sucks at naming things.

"Switch"? Really? That's the best you can do? After Wii and Wii-U you all need to consider hiring a product consultant.

The company is sticking to it's guns on making gaming for everyone, family and friends, while being easily accessible. Taking their success and lessons from the Wii-U and 3DS, they have packaged this to be an all-inclusive system that can plug, play, and go wherever you need it to. And with an actual controller that us console gamers like with all of the buttons. Not that weird pad, thing. As you can see in the image, there is a tablet involved that can be removed from the system, and comes with additional controllers so you can play it however you like. Like the Wii-Mote, the controllers can be adjusted to fit both hands, or you can one-hand it.

You can watch the video of the preview direct from their YouTube channel.

Weekly Link Round Up

What a busy week so far, and lots of random gaming tidbits on the net. So let's have the Weekly Link Round Up to sort out this mess:

- If you're an online gamer, MMO or otherwise, several games are hosting Halloween events for rare collectables or in-game items. A lot of people have freaked out over Overwatch and their smattering of costumes, but don't forget about League of Legends (teased in the article and not listed in the details, wtf?) and Final Fantasy XIV.

- Other then having a horrible article title, (The scariest game of 2016 won't come out until 2017? Well that means it's not the scariest game of 2016) this Inverse article is a friendly reminder that everyone should play the Outlast 2 demo. I won't spoil the details, but it's a good mixture of the scares that you see in the first game along with new fantasy, trippy alternate-realm moments that will freak you out. This is on par with Resident Evil 7 demo good.

- The legal team for the gaming companies in the SAG-AFTRA/voice actors affair, have offered a deal of a 9% pay increase to start as soon as the new contract is ratified. This is more then the 3% every year for 3 years that SAG-AFTRA had asked for, since it would start now rather then accrue over time. Both parties still need to hash out details over the working conditions and providing basic needs, such as stunt coordinators during motion capture sessions, but if they agree, the strike will not happen and the new contract can go into effect as early as December 1st.

- If you don't mind the tiny font, there is a nice comprehensive history of computer games on the Escapist, dating way back to the 1940's. Because yes; computers and games are that old.

- WhatCulture has cobbled together a list of the greatest multiplayer games of the decade. Of course the obvious ones will be on there, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops. But The Last of Us? Whatever drug is being passed around that office needs to be stopped, because TLoU is not a good multiplayer game. It's a hodge-podge of CoD being paraded around as a zombie shooter. It's awful. You get TLoU for the single-player story. Their list editors need to start paying attention to what's being posted.

- Here's your friendly reminder that petitions are all pomp and no circumstances. Within hours of the announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games (I said I wasn't going to talk about it until they confirmed a name), someone had already posted a petition to get the game onto PC. Red Dead Redemption was console only and some PC users felt slighted by it. petitions don't do squat. They're a place where people can make their concerns known about a topic, but if no one takes any action, they are moot. And more often then not, it's lip-service to the petition maker as confirmation that other people agree with their views. does not send the signatures to anyone. There are no letters mailed out. It's a website that holds almost no value. EA Games did not change the Sim City always-online requirement because of the petition. Millions of their fan base inundated them with the request daily through their forums and customer service center, that it took well over a year for them to drop the "feature." Even then, if you ask anyone today most will see the new Sim City and think that you have to be online to play. Ultimately it's up to the developers and publishers on what to do with a game. If you want to enact change, make your concerns heard directly to them, not a random petition website. And DON'T BUY THE GAME. Seriously dudes (and dudettes). Your wallet is a powerful tool.

- Sci-Fi Addicts has an amusing article about EA Games and why the company loves to ruin our favorite sci-fi games. Funny. Other then the fact that it's a gaming fan ranting about a large company focused on profits, let's bring some reality into that writer's concerns: In all genuine honesty, I don't think anyone at EA is sitting at a big board room table and going "Hey! Let's make Star Wars: Battlefront and take out all the things fans like, but promote it like they are all in there." The choices they make as a team are what they feel is in the best interest for the product. The developers wanted to change up the style and create an online experience that would emphasize the evolution of gamers today. Yes, the end-goal is profit, but the people that work on those teams want the game to be good. They don't like to hear the negative feedback and putdowns. That can cost them their job. While I may not be the holy bastion of EA, at least give the team some credit. They are trying to do what they think is best.

- And finally, what week would not be complete without a listing of the 10 worse superhero games? Enjoy the fruits of gaming greatness with some of the best failures.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Candy Crush - The TV Game Show?

In a world where we can have an Angry Birds movie, it only seems fitting that we have a Candy Crush television show. Right? Confirmed earlier this week. Lionsgate TV and the game developer King Ltd. are producing a game show centered around Candy Crush. The game that's kind of like Bejeweled (one of the founding "match" video games) but with candy. According to the press release, the game will pit "teams of two people us[ing] their wits and physical agility to compete on enormous, interactive game boards featuring next generation technology to conquer Candy Crush and be crowned the champion."

Matt Kunitz, the producer behind Wipeout, will head the project. The history of puzzle/trivia games turned TV shows is pretty limited. In 2001 ABC aired 6 episodes of You Don't Know Jack, with Paul Reubens hosting. It was entertaining, but it missed out on some of the charm of the video game. So this is uncharted territority for Lionsgate and the production team. Just how does one make Candy Crush into a game show? It would have to be more then two people playing the game side by side, trying to score the most points. And the "physical" aspect is equal as confusing. Are people going to go through life-sized versions of Candy Crush levels? We'll have to wait and see what insanity comes together for this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Top YouTuber Going to UK Court for Gambling

If there is one thing to take away from this blog post today it should be this. Just because you want to gamble on video games doesn't always make it okay.

Two men are currently on trial in the UK for allegedly promoting an unlawful lottery and gambling ring and operating a website that allowed people to place bets on FIFA 17 games with real currency. Craig Douglas, known as Nepenthez on YouTube with over a million subscribers, and Dylan Rigby are accused of these actions under the country's Gambling Act. It's a messy situation since other websites allow for gambling on video games with in-game currency and items and those are okay (though this may change as in-game items transfer into real money). Douglas and Rigby were doing a lottery and gambling, and have been accused of allowing children under the age of 18 to participate. FIFA gambling is different in-of itself, as the BBC reports. People can use third party websites to take their FIFA coins, the in-game currency, transfer it to the websites to bet, and receive any wins back to their account. The coins can then be sold to other websites for a monetary value. It's like World of Warcraft gold farming, but with a sports game. Except! gambling is involved.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and the trial is set to take place in early February. This is the first time a video game gambling case is being taken up by the UK and the results could set a precedence across Europe. It's estimated that the gaming gambling market is worth over 4 billion pounds. Until then, the in-game content for FIFA will continue on. EA isn't at fault on this one, for once. People are exploiting the system for additional gains.

Monday, October 17, 2016

SAG - Interactive Voice Actors Still Plan to Strike

I know a load of gaming sites today are speculating on RockStar Game's teaser trailer drop and the change of their Twitter logo to red and black - indicating another Red Dead game? Here's the thing: RockStar sucks at telling us what we want to know. When they are good and ready, they will tell us the name of the product and if we're really lucky, we might be given a sentence of the story! Until then, I ignore any and all speculation. It's too much of a gamble to believe in another media's words should RockStar drop the news about a new title and premise entirely.

So no. Today's post will have nothing to do with Rockstar.

Instead, let's cover a story I posted two weeks ago that has managed to be revived seemingly out of nowhere today. SAG-AFTRA hasn't found a resolution with game developers at all, and plans to strike on October 21st if there are no agreements between the parties involved. The voice actor strike from last year is still alive, and could affect games that have been in production after February 17, 2015. Announced yesterday, the voice actors would strike against WB Interactive, Activision, EA, Take 2, Disney, and several others for better working conditions and pay. Voice actors, in general, get kind of a screw job on compensation. Unless you happen to land a national campaign with an advertising firm ("Got Milk?"), pay for a voice actor is typically on an hourly basis and generally less then what most theater performers make.

You could argue that because they are not on a stage performing in front of a live audience, they don't have to make more. But voice actors are performing. They have to in order to get the sounds of the animated characters to come to life. It's sometimes more difficult to act in a booth instead of in front of another person, as you have to imagine and react to the lines as if another person is there. Video games and anime actors can attest to the vocal conditions being more rigorous then traditional film. Yelling, shouting, gurgly death noises are part of the task - repetitive use of the vocal cords to obtain these sounds can cause damage over time.

The current state of voice acting contracts is limited. It shouldn't be a surprise that many game developers take advantage of it and overwork actors. Not to mention if the game sells well, the actors never see a cut of the profit. They are only paid for their time in the booth. Contract standards have not kept up with the times and do need to be reviewed.

Barnes & Thornburg LLP representing the gaming industry in this situation wrote a response late last night stating that the SAG's actions are presumptuous and will only hurt their members. The gaming industry currently employs roughly 25% of those in the union. They believe that the SAG's information is out of date regarding working conditions, and their contract negotiations have been asking for unreasonable requests. There are plans for both parties to meet throughout the week to avoid a strike. The legal team for the gaming industry is assuring gamers that most content will still be in production and released. The strike won't affect as many games as you might think, as a number of voice actors signed their contracts with a "no strike" clause that would override SAG's actions.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Extra Life Streaming Tomorrow!! (Oct 15)

Guess what today is? More Extra Life pimping.

My team, Dynamic Action Squad Team (DAS Team!) will be starting our streaming session tomorrow, October 15! We'll have a game day on November 5th, which is Extra Life day, but we want to spread out the streaming love and showcase our zany antics over the next few weekends. Our team goal was $500, and we're hoping to hit $1,000 again this year, like last time. My goal is $200, and I'm almost at the halfway point and could use your help!

Here's the deal with charities, in general. Yes there are larger groups that will be able to donate, but the bulk of the money doesn't come from them but from the smaller teams and single players that can drum up $1,000. Those little donations add up fast and help contribute to the 8 million raised in 2015. That's amazing. Our team was geared towards Seattle's Children where no large streamer names were attached to, and we raised over $300k for them. That's the power of the smaller groups.

So if you're thinking about donating, consider the little guys. Or if you've got a dollar to spare, donate to DAS Team! Every single dollar helps, and we don't keep a penny of it. It all goes direct to the Children's Miracle Network.

Catch out my stream tomorrow on Twitch with a box opening and subsequent game session of Dragon Quest: Builders. Played the demo at PAX West before it was released on PSN and I knew I wanted it. This is my first non-MMO pre-order in years. Hopefully it won't disappoint! I'll be updating the Extra Life page today for group goals and donation incentives. Want me to go on a Slime killing rampage in Dragon Quest? Find out tomorrow!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Things Devs Learn from Gaming Expos

 Showcasing a game, whether it's video or tabletop, is an overwhelming experience. Designing and creating a booth that highlights the fun of your product. Promoting it before, during, and after the event. And interacting with gamers, journalists, and other developers. It's an experience that can be exhausting as well as enlightening. Vice interviewed several developers at Birmingham's EGX in September to gain a better perspective on what's in this for gaming studios - other then marketing their games.

Having attended dozens of gaming expos and events over the years, the most common thing I hear from staff is that the large scale crowds give them a chance to see how well their games play. Are people able to pick up the controls without needing to read the menus for 10 minutes? Can people complete level objectives without an insane amount of difficulty? Are there any bugs or glitches that would inhibit the gamers? Or do they find new glitches entirely that they QA team didn't run into?

I remember when Capcom brought Street Fighter V to the floor at PAX and used linked systems for people to play together. And it failed. Badly. Techs were at the stations constantly trying to get the connections to work. You'd think that would have been a good sign that they should have been better prepared for the servers at launch. But that's the beauty of gaming expos. Better to have the game crash on the show floor then to bust at launch. It also gives developers a chance to see how gamers play, and if they should make changes. Overcooked, a quirky team-puzzle game by Phil Duncan and
Ghost Town Games, presented them with a challenge of changing the games rules. At their first showing of the game, there was an odd glitch that allowed a person to trash the fire extinguisher which is the only means of stopping a kitchen from burning down. Duncan considered leaving that in, and letting the gamers learn from their mistake.

Or you have games like InnerSpace that look almost complete. Picture-perfect and nearly ready. And then you have a gamer like me come in, ignore all of the stage objectives, and try to break things. Not intentionally, of course! I was so enraptured by how lovely the control mechanics were and the ease of flying around, I was more interested in cruising. In the process, I found some new bugs, crashed into things that shouldn't have been possible, and asked where I live because they could use me on their QA team.

But I think the most valuable thing developers see at gaming expos is the initial impressions of gamers before they touch a controller. Visuals, music, art-style, dialogue - all of these capture our attention first and foremost. Getting that reaction helps steer developers into the right direction for future content.