Thursday, February 28, 2013

EA Hosting LGBT Conference - Contradiction Ensues

A stereotype most would like to break, but I don't
think this is on EA's conference agenda.

And who doesn't love Big Gay Al anyway?

During a meeting yesterday, a friend brought up this wonderful gem: EA is hosting a one day conference in New York, NY March 7th for LGBT Issues in Gaming. The conference will focus on homophobia in the gaming culture and promoting an inclusive environment for gamers and colleagues.

It’s not a secret that EA is proud to include LGBT in their community. They push it a little too hard sometimes, but their heart is sort of, kind of, maybe not really in the right place (Profit!).  But the inclusion of multiple sexual preferences has been pretty normal for their products. I appreciated the fact, albeit brief, that they didn’t flaunt that they included multiple races, cultures, and what-not into their products. It’s only recently within the past few years that as people have brought this concerns to light, EA has been pushing it back into people’s faces. They hire lots of women and gays! More than anyone else in the industry! They even made good on their promise to include same-sex relationships in The Old Republic by having a gay planet.  

“You’re going to talk about this in your blog tomorrow aren’t you?”

Yes. Yes I am.

EA and BioWare held the position for quite a while to not make a deal out of it. BW in particular has posted on their company blog before that they think of it as a non-issue. They were trying to replicate real-world relationships in an alternate setting to draw gamers into the characters and feel some connection to them.

What I have an issue with is EA is trying incredibly hard lately to make them out to be the end-all, be-all; we love LGBT, women, and minorities company! “We’re better than everyone else because we care!”

Why is there such a big push all of a sudden? And now with a planet specifically made for same-sex relationships in TOR, you’re isolating and ostracizing those who want that type of setting. You’ve no longer made them inclusive – but now excluding gamers from the rest of the TOR population. Which, isn’t that going against one of your topics at your mini-conference next week? Whoops. I hope someone brings that to light. I’m sure it was a challenge to let Lucas give up some control over his empire, but limiting the interactions of same-sex relationships to a planet is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve to improve social awareness. Good job EA. Put that up there next to your binders of women.

“Wouldn’t that be binders full of lesbians?” Probably.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Surveys Can Be Flawed - Don't Freak Out

I'm working on my hand/eye coordination. Honest!
A January 2013 Harris Poll has been making its internet rounds this week, stating that 58% of American’s believe that violent video games do affect children.

Things to keep in mind: This was an online poll conducted through Harris Interactive, that has a limited reached versus, say People Magazine.  The poll was taken by 2,278 people believed to be over the age of 18. The age cannot be verified because this is an online poll. The press release issued by Harris Interactive mainly focuses on what I’ve stated in the first sentence. It kind of overlooks the other, positive things, which were found out: 

69% believe that video games can be good for children in helping develop hand/eye coordination and other skills.

73% strongly agree and 90% somewhat to strongly agree that Parents should be the chief regulators of what games their kids play.

56% believe there should be no government regulation on games and content ala the First Amendment.

But we really don’t see that on Fox News or other stations when the title from Harris Interactive says ‘Majority of Americans See Connection Between Video Games and Violent Behavior in Teens.’ Well gee. Thanks for being objective there guys. The rest of your findings are moot when you have a headline like that.

This isn’t just an opinion from someone who sides with video games, but as a scholar who recognizes the flaws in doing such surveys and studies. The pool of those who answered the survey was limited not just in number, but in ethnicity, religion, gender, and various cultural differences. And because it was done online, there is no sure-fire way to ensure that the people completing said survey are who they say they are. That 18 year old young white man who hates video games might actually be a 48 year old black female trying to skew the results.

There is also an inherit bias in surveys. No matter how hard you try to make it as open as possible, there is going to be an underlying current, even if you’re completely unaware of it. You want to know what people’s opinions are about a new product you’ve made, but you don’t want it to be a failure right out of the gate. So you tweak your questions to make your product sound awesome. Unintentionally, perhaps. But it’s a bias that dates all the way back to the Bobo Doll experiment regarding television violence.  It’s something that I’ve brought up several times. An inherit bias was placed the moment the research began and it tainted the results.

So take the survey findings with a grain of salt. The scholar in me knows that this study is not fact, but many others may not understand why. Until we can produce a survey that every US American can answer that has unbiased questions, we’ll never have true results.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gamer Stereotypes...Yep. Still There.

Do these people exist? Yes. But they make up such
a small fraction of the gamer population - they are not
"the norm."

While researching for today’s blog, the title caught my eye. “Why Video Games Prove Obamacare is a Farce.” Hmm…must be a Republican site. But I’ll bite. Let’s see where the argument goes.

First image is the South Park “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode of the overweight man who is running around WoW killing all of the characters. “Every legislator who treats gamers as rageaholic psychopaths just waiting to explode has literally no idea what video games are like today.”

So far I’ll agree that yes, a number of politicians today have no clue what video games are really like, let alone have played one to understand.

If anything, games make young men fat and docile, because the vast majority of them now are designed to be virtually endless.“

So, it’s a ‘fit or fat’ debate huh? Games might not make you mentally unstable, but they will make you fat according to Ezra Dulis. Not that there are any facts to back up this claim (oh look, Fox News is an affiliate, so we can already see where this is going.) He goes on to talk about how gamers are back lashing against developers because of prices. In turn developers creating the “grinding system” for repetitive tasks to achieve miniscule rewards. (Problem 1: Mr. Dulis, this isn’t a new phenom. “Grinding” has been around since the days of Dungeons and Dragons, running around, powering up and getting items to boost your stats. We see this in early role playing video games from the 1980’s. Who here didn’t do this with Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy in the early days?)

Dulis claims that video games are instead turning us into “couch zombies.” Shooting up a school is the least of our concerns when we need to reach level 60 in WoW. Which leads to his connection with Obamacare and the “sin tax.” In the bill, there is a “sin tax” on things such as tanning beds and the like – things linked and proven to cause you harm can be taxed with the funds going to universal healthcare. Dulis believes that video games and soda should apply because while no one died in a tanning bed, people have died from playing video games. Note: A lot of those people are outside of the U.S. and a number of skin cancer cases have been linked to tanning beds. Just because you won’t die in the bed, doesn’t mean you can’t develop skin cancer down the line from it.

The rest of the article delineates on left vs. right, and young people expecting everyone to take care of them and pay for their things while games stay cheap. Big government is coming in to control your life! Rawr!

I’m surprised at how silly the “video games make you fat” argument is still a concern. If we even took a slice of the gaming population, we’d find that a majority of us are pretty normal or fit into the healthy spectrum. Are there overweight people that play video games? Absolutely. Just as they wear shirts, pants, and shoes every day. But not everyone that plays video games is obese, lazy couch potatoes. I can’t even begin to list the number of people that I know who are the pictures of health and are gamers, it would be too vast.

Just as the president has requested a mandate to look into violence and video games, we could do the same thing with health and fitness with games. To simply label them as “fat makers” is unfair. And the Republicans are all about fairness, right? We want to help out the little people while still making the rich people richer. Well anyway, if you’re going to jump on the “I hate universal healthcare” bandwagon, at least put some reasoning behind it. Dulis provides no proof or evidence to back up his claims. They’re stereotypes that have been stuck in our society for the past few decades. “All gamers are male, fat, couch surfing, slobs who live in their parents basement.” Well no. Even the average UK gamer from 2005 shows that quite a variety play games.  Even the ESA shows that 47% of gamers are women, most of them living normal, healthy lives. Fitness and health video games have been a challenge to keep on the store shelves. GameStop has to restock on a bi-weekly basis (based off of recent sales figures). So where are the stats about gamers being fat and lazy Mr. Dulis?

Next time, back up your assumptions with some data. Real data.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Good Ol’ Days

I know I’m a Hardcore gamer. I hate Call of Duty (except the first 2) and I long for the old days when games were games. They weren’t a focus on graphics or how shiny everything could be. Or in the case of FPS, BLOOM of DOOM

I admit that I am biased to an extent. As much as I try my best to remove this when I look at new products, part of the reason why I write and why people continue to read is for my opinion. It’s going to be influenced by my history, my likes and dislikes, and personal preferences. And that is why people continue to come back and keep reading. 10,000 hits a month for an average is still pretty good. It may not be Gamasutra or Kotaku numbers, but for someone who’s doing this as a hobby, pouring my own money into buying games and time into researching stories, I think those are some nice numbers. So thank you to all of you that keep reading. You’re crazy, but that is a universal opinion. I know I’m a crazy gamer, but not certifiable.

Anyway, I wanted to spout off a personal opinion piece about what I miss about the old days of gaming. I am very much an old school gamer. I don’t deny this nor do I try to cover it up. I want to like the newer games being put out on the market. And yet they can never hold my attention. There is this great disconnect between what I want from a video game and what is being produced. I want a game with a story, memorable characters, dialogue that is intoxicating, game play that is enchanting that I can’t put down the controller.

The problem that I constantly run into is that I don’t see this in today’s games. If they are not a gimmick for using 3D technology, it’s a sequel/rehash of the same formulas over and over again. I tend to praise Final Fantasy a lot, not just as a fan-girl, but they are one of the few franchises that actually changes things up! Yes you might get some of the same tropes, but the developer is not afraid to try a new battle system, twist the characters, manipulate the story, and create new experiences with each game. And that’s what I’m not getting in today’s games.

Before people get up in arms that I don’t play new releases, I do borrow them from friends. After getting burned with my last few purchases (seriously God of War 3 was not worth the full retail price), I haven’t been inclined to buy things without trying them out first. Unless they are at a reasonable or super cheap price. See Mass Effect

Because yes, I have stated in previous posts that the last time I bought a game at a full retail price was a while ago. That doesn’t mean that I don’t play newer releases. Do I get bored of them? Yep. Pretty fast. I tried the last Hitman, Ninja Gaiden 3 for Wii-U (ugh, never thought I’d dislike a Gaiden), the latest Fifa, and Epic Mickey 2. They all came out within the least 2-3 months, so I’m not that far behind on the times. But the draw of the games to commit to a purchase just isn’t there. Stories are the same. Actions are not varied. I know the characters, the conflict, and the outcome before I press ‘Start.’

What happened to that pure innocence of the old days? Where you didn’t know what you were getting into until you got there. Even Mario and Legend of Zelda still hold onto those ideals. We know what to expect, but they can still manage to flip us on our heads and go “woah, I didn’t expect that.” And they still maintain their charm. That’s what I want in a game. A touch of the old mixed with the new. I think there is a lot of exploration and naiveté with early game development that we need to bring back into the sphere to reinvigorate creativity. As there is a beauty with simplicity, having that innocence of early video games brought out some amazing ideas. Today’s games could use more of that.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ban the Light Guns?

Run Bambi's Mom! That kid is gonna get you!
Toni Nathaniel Harp, a senator from Connecticut, has proposed a bill that would prevent minors (anyone under 18) from using a light gun in arcades. And to create a special task force to study the effects of violent video games on youth. The text of the bill can be found online.

The focus on the bill is mostly on the former aspect, to not have children and teenagers using a light gun in public. The burden would be placed on the owner of the establishments with arcades to facilitate on how to monitor them. The bill states that there will be an infraction, but it doesn’t go into details or specifics on what will happen to the business if they are found “guilty.” That might be an issue in getting the bill passed.

Two things came to mind when I read this article. First, when was the last time anyone saw a light gun in an arcade setting? Very few arcades exist in my area. The ones that do are in bowling alleys and movie theaters. Or it’s a Dave & Busters. The games involved are typically racing, ski-ball, mini-basketball, and the occasional classic such as PacMan or Donkey Kong. So the law would really only impact such a minority that it’s even a wonder why it must be discussed.

Second, and this is in conjunction to one of the comments in the original article, is does this apply to all games that use a light gun or only a few that are deemed “violent?”

Let’s take the hunting games, such as Buck’s Big Hunter. Those sell pretty well and are one of the few that still take advantage of a light gun with gaming systems and in arcades. (Seriously at GameStop one Christmas, we couldn't keep these stocked anywhere for the Wii. They would constantly sell out.) But they have yet to be attacked by the media or the government for being violent. Interesting considering that out of all of the games on the market, it is probably the most realistic. The game takes you through a real-life hunting simulation. It teaches you the art of stealth, how to properly aim a gun, and how to take out your target (in this case deer and various animals). It’s still an odd looking orange toy gun, but the reality in Big Hunter is much more prevalent and relatable to society compared to anything that Grand Theft Auto could dream up.

Driving through red lights, running over pedestrians, beating up on police vehicles, shooting pigeons at random would guarantee you life behind bars and an instant capture by authorities. There is nothing real about Grand Theft Auto other then the graphics. Big Hunter is a reality that a number of people are involved with on a daily basis. Lots of people hunt, and hunt legally. They legally own a weapon. They legally know how to take down wild animals. Big Hunter is about as real as a “violent” game will ever get because it’s something that can and really does happen.

So why aren’t we up in arms about these hunting games? They could be more corruptible to a child’s mind than anything else. Because it’s not consider unusual to be a hunter, spending your weekends out in the woods shooting at deer. Whereas driving over hookers isn’t normal. It’s never normal.

Moral of the story? Killing people is bad. Killing animals is ok.

But seriously, it’s another aspect to think about in our continuing debate about violent video games.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I’m Not Talking about the PS4

Oh who am I kidding? Of course I am. It’s THE NEWS of the week for gamers.

Unfortunately I was stuck in a meeting so I couldn’t watch any of the live blogs or the video streaming content, so I’m picking up everything after the fact. Which also means I’m not as easily swayed by shinies and can provide a more objective opinion.

...who put that thing in the middle?
First thought: what the hell did they do to the controller? I appreciate the fact that Sony understands and respects gamers in that we like the PlayStation controller. Why jack up something that works so well? And then they gave us a touchpad in a really weird ass location, where the PlayStation logo usually is. Huh? It looks weird and I don’t know how that’s going to work for gamers. Maybe for the unassuming, it’ll be a nice little toy to play with. But for us, um, wha?

Next is bundling the system with a Kinct/Wii-like sensor so interactive gameplay will be open to everyone, not just a select few that can afford the expensive accessories. And really the sensor bar looks like the offspring of Kinct and Wii. But monochrome, because that’s how Sony rolls. They had a demo available with Media Molecule (Little Big Planet) and it seemed pretty intuitive. A lot of the Move hardware probably went into the device, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always thought the Move was better developed, but not really marketed as well as it could have been. And pricy.

Speaking of which, price and release date: this winter and for less then what the original PS3 sold for. No exact details yet, of course, but it’s estimated that it’ll be between $300-400. And with it being included with motion sensor controls, which would be a bargain for most consumers. Cloud gaming, near instant connection online with a press of a button, linking and syncing with your phone and other devices (shit…I have a Sony phone – I don’t want it to talk to my PS4), BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY, and even taking new trends such as streaming live game play to heart and integrating that into the system.

Downside: We didn’t see the system. Oops. Bit of a fax-paus there Sony. People are going to start pre-ordering it, like, now. You probably lost a few sales. We also don’t technically know what “type” of discs the system will play. The assumption is blu-ray since that really is the best of the best of the best at this moment, but it’s hard to say for sure. Sony has partnered with a few companies to create new chipsets, save on some space, and got the backwards compatibility thing to happen (as far as we know, please let it be true). But they didn’t divulge too much information.

What they did show was a new controller that still mostly resembled the previous ones, a new PlayStation Eye, some third-party and first-party exclusives and it’ll be out this winter. It sounds promising and I’m sure E3 will be one to watch this year.

I just don’t want the PS4 to talk to my Sony phone. That’s creepy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2/20/13 PlayStation Meeting

It’s been assumed that Sony is going to announce “officially” that PS4’s are coming soon. Joystiq and EnGadget will be broadcasting live outside of the location in New York City, NY starting at 4pm Eastern tonight.  The actual event will start at 6pm Eastern. Several sources will be liveblogging as well. 

What is this event and who is it open to and why is it not in Japan? The event is for stock and shareholders who are invested in the company. There may be sprinkles of a few game developers in the crowd. Typically Sony has these on a yearly basis around February to March so it’s not uncommon. Why is it not in Japan? No idea. If the announcement is the PS4, it is odd to hold it in the U.S. and not at E3.

So Sony fanboys, start your drooling!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BlizzCon Is Coming Back!

The weekend extravaganza for all things Blizzard is making a return. After stepping away in 2012 for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about, they are bringing it back November 8-9 at the Anaheim California Convention Center. 

Information has barely been up for 2 hours, so if you want a ticket and hotel, it’s best to snag it now while things are still quiet. The announcement came under the radar, so there’s a great chance to get a spot now. Right now information is limited as to what the heck is going on. Assumption is that they will have panels about their new upcoming MMO Titan as well as the usual digs, WoW tournies, StarCraft, and what-not. Unsure if Jay Mohr will return as MC. His presence was always appreciated. He seems like one of the few celebrities that can have fun with it, but really enjoys hanging out with the attendees.

I’m sure the amount of feedback and response from the fans have prompted them to bring it back, so let’s make it a good one this year!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Destiny - Bungie's Not Halo Game (Finally!)

So if you have been hiding from the internet this weekend, you probably missed the announcement that Bungie (Halo homestead) is releasing a new game: Destiny. It’ll be released on PS3 and 360 probably sometime in 2014.

It looks pretty. And futury. And first person-like.

The idea is to have it as an FPS with some RPG elements, leveling, distributing points, money, etc. And like EA, they are going to require an always Online connection, even in single-player campaign. I don’t believe that it’s for DRM/anti-hacking concerns. Bungie never seemed concerned about it. Just look at their sale numbers. The concept is to have a “shared world first person shooter” according to Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg. If you’re a non-Gold Xbox Live member, aka Silver, you are screwed. Get the PS3. Free internet for all!

Bungie wants the single player experience to be just as rewarding as multi-player. There are no restrictions and solo-ers don’t miss out by not playing with a group. Same story, same rewards. Think of it like Journey with a FPS. You can choose who you interact with and are not required to play with others.  The story involves you, a Guardian of the last safe city on Earth. Your task is to defend the city, reclaim lost lands, and explore. And kick some ass too. It’s all very vague and mythical-like.

It’s also a very expansive game, with the ability to travel to multiple planets on your own ship. Customization would be nice here Bungie. Just saying. 100,000+ of the same ship gets boring really fast! It’s also doing the Guild Wars model of pricing. As in once you buy the base game, it will always update. You don’t have to pay for a subscription. Minus the “always online” aspect, this sounds promising. Though less-we-forget non-MMORPG’s haven’t fared as well in the past, so we’ll see.

Friday, February 15, 2013

GDC Topic: Sex and Sexuality

You try to Google "Sex in Video Games" and come up with
a non-NSFW image.

The Game Developer’s Conference schedule is up. You have the usual “model this,” “shade this,” “how to keep your company running.” And then you have the thought provoking topics such as Contextualizing Violence Through Narrative, hosted by Walt Williams of 2K Games, which runs through how violence can help create emotionally complex characters. Ok that I’d like to see. Or When It’s Only Sound, creating a video game solely focused on sound.  My sound design professor would love that. Part of my Master’s thesis was on a similar concept to create a narrative (creating sounds and music, and allow them to articulate the development of the story).

This is the one that caught my eye the most: Sex in Video Games, headed by David Gaider, senior writer at BioWare. Ah yes. The meat and potatoes. From the description it looks promising.

Games have reached the point where realistic portrayals of sex and adult relationships are possible, but what does this mean to us as developers? How much responsibility do we have in addressing issues of sexism and sexuality, and are we inadvertently making statements about what is acceptable, even when we don't mean to say anything at all? Our industry is struggling with a conflict between the desire to be taken seriously as an art form, and the desire to avoid addressing social issues because what we make are "just games." These things have implications on our sales, and while they can be addressed, it can only happen if we are willing to acknowledge that greater discussion of the topic within the industry is merited.

I’m not surprised that a BioWare writer would be involved in the topic. They have produced a number of products that push the limits on character development, sex, and sexuality. They have also defended the position that they do this to give validity and a reality to the characters that allows us, the gamer, to better identify with them.  It’s not with the intent to be controversial or to make a statement, but to give credence to their product by making it feel real. 

And based on Gaider’s past comments via Twitter and the BW forums, he also has a strong following for female characters not being overly-sexualized in games. I would love to see a recording of this on YouTube, or somewhere after the conference, to see what he has to say and the discussion that follows. It’s good that developers are seriously looking into these issues. It’s not just a female sex discussion, but something for both genders and all sexualities to be involved in. Topics like this are important to help elevate the medium and move it forward. Thanks BW and GDC!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Guardian, Where Art Thou?

Yeah. We're tired of waiting too.

Do people still care about The Last Guardian? They keep pushing back the release for a game that started back in 2007, with actual development in 2009.  We’re at the point now where a lot of us have forgotten about the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus wonder-power.

Since Fumito Uedo left Sony in 2011, the game’s future has been hanging in the air. He is still a consultant on the project and in this recent interview with the Latinos Post, it’s still at the top of his mind on a game he wishes to complete. 

Cool. Awesome. We’re not going to see it for another 5 years aren’t we? Look I’m all for creative and innovative gaming, but we’re at the point where The Last Guardian is beyond its “last” legs. A lot of us have stopped paying attention. 4 years since its announcement. We’ve seen the same footage at E3 for it. Lots of leadership changes and the product being passed around. If it’s going to release, it needs to happen now or never. Creativity does not take this long to process when the story, the design, the mechanics, everything is set. And I don’t think Sony would be sitting on this product for so long when they know it’s a winner. After the boost from Shadow of the Colossus, they wanted the next one to be out, making them more money.

I’m trying to be respectful to the developer and allow them the time to really craft the piece that they want to show to the world. At the same time, we’re bored. We don’t want to wait any longer. Consumers and fans can only wait for so long before they give up and move on. That’s why we have so much crap in the gaming world. All of the good stuff takes too long to develop or gets shelved because it takes too long to develop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Horror Games Just Don't Exist, Cliffy.

I think Cliffy B. just enjoys hearing himself talk, because he really didn’t need to give an opinion about the horror genre, something he has no interest in with his personal work. But people will listen, and write an articles about it. Damn, even I’m doing it.

It boils down to this: people don’t play horror games anymore because they don’t want to play them. Dead Space 3 has morphed into an FPS because of this. The “horror” genre is solitary, confined, where as so many of today’s games is about a group experience.

Maybe the answer is much simpler than that: people don’t play horror games because so few of them exist. How about that for an epiphany?

The problem with the horror genre is that it’s no longer about scaring people. It’s about swarm and gore.  Left4Dead has capitalized on this, along with the humor of possibly being in a live-action zombie movie. Resident Evil has diverged from its original calling and focused more on this in the recent games. Even Silent Hill and Fatal Frame are losing their touch. More gore, less scare.

You could easily compare this to the horror film genre. Think back to the last time that a movie really scared you. Maybe Paranormal Activity. The first one. What are we at now, 5? Too much. But why was that scary? Because the focus wasn’t on cutting off limbs via-Saw, or making you laugh at the ludicrous death sequences ala-Final Destination. Horror movies are no longer about psychologically scaring the crap out of you. They want to make you leave the theater feeling queasy, but relatively unscathed.

That’s the way the trend has moved. Scary is no longer the cool thing. Why? Well it’s hard to really say. A part of me believes that the task of creating a movie that truly scares people is quite daunting. You have to push yourself into the minds of the audience and figure out “what really would frighten these people?” To achieve that goal is incredible. But it also leaves open a lot of room to fail. Horror movies are a hit or miss. What might scare one person may not faze another. And in entertainment, sometimes you only get that one shot. So you don’t want to screw up and you go with the obvious: gross people out. Because everyone thinks cutting off a limb is nasty, even the non-squeamish ones.

People don’t play horror games because they’re not around. The few that are, are not really “horror.” Slenderman is probably the scariest game people have played in years, which is a solitary experience. Simple game play, graphics, design, and movement. But it will freak you out. If we had more games like that available, then more of us would play. It’s just simple logic Cliffy B.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Tumultuous History with EA

5 seconds of reading this blog and you will be fully aware that I am not a fan of EA Games. They are a horrible company with shoddy service that have 0 qualms with placing blame on retailers and not on their own incompetence.

That was harsh, but I speak from experience as a consumer and a retail employee. EA sucks.

Now I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, but it would take a gold plated PS4 shoved inside a life-sized C-3PO to make up for the years of dissatisfaction and headaches. One of the big moments that brought me to ire (I’m word-smithing it up!) was The Sims 3. I’m a Sims fan and have been since the first game. I even played The Sims Online. Will Wright brought me into the series, but it was EA that kept me there. So when The Sims 3 was announced, of course I had to get it. The Limited Edition at that. Why? Because it’s so awesome. I get all of these cool in-game items and a plumbob USB key? Sold!

My computer exceeded the minimum specs and hit the target for the recommended. And yet, I could never get it to play for more than 5 minutes without it freezing or crashing my machine. It made no sense and used a ludicrous amount of processing power. After contacting their customer service over a period of 4 months, trying patches, and reading about the same issue online with multiple customers, their appeasement to me was a free $19.99 download from their store. I chose the Spore add-on which was a bad idea that I still regret to this day, but really the options were limited. We’re talking about 2009 people. Origin really wasn’t up and running and digital downloads were still a new thing. So I basically spent $79.99 plus tax for a USB storage drive that may have cost $5 to make and a non-working game. Yippie.

Over the past few years a number of dissatisfied customers still attempted to get these issues resolved. Temporarily it did with a patch, which EA broke about a week later. Clearly it’s not our computers but you’re not willing to fix the problem. Ignoring it does not make it go away. So a lot of pissed off customers later, it’s still an issue. 3+ years and going and I still can’t play a game that I paid for.

This error...makes no sense. Not the error I was having but,
I’m not a total asshole. I gave customer service and tech support plenty of opportunity to help me out, and I was polite throughout the entire exchange. In fact, I saved a copy of everything I said, or typed rather, for my records. It was electronic QA support. I know that yelling and swearing does not resolve a problem: being calm and rational does. So when EA support kept blaming my machine for being unable to run it, I was polite, provided a few links to discussions within their forums to thousands of their customers experiencing the exact same issue, and asked them to research it. If it were just a fluke and I was the only one, ok yes. I would completely agree that it’s me or my machine. But when tens of thousands (now collectively near hundreds of thousands) have the same issue, it’s more than a coincidence. But they still berated me and claimed it was my fault.

Fine. I’ll just remember that the next time I want to purchase an EA game. Sims 3 still uses a ridiculous amount of processing power.

Not a literal “nail in the coffin” but that ended my run with EA purchases. Prior to that it was Warhmammer Online, developed by Mythic Entertainment which was purchased by EA during production. This was not a game that I played.  This was a game that I had to deal with at work, GameStop Customer Service. It gave me true insight into how EA handles their problems; which is to pace the blame on retailers and not do anything until the last possible moment.

Warhammer Online was a pretty big deal back in 2008. A lot of people were interested in it. Multiple gaming magazines were already giving it rave reviews a year before its release. So when EA announced a pre-order bonus (this was also still pretty new at the time, now everyone does it) of an in-game item and beta access, people went nuts. Pre-orders were selling out in stores. We never experienced anything of that level. The codes GameStop and all retailers were provided with were not active until the beta began. We were given codes in advance to hand out to customers so they would have it for when the beta arrived. And yes, EA said it was ok to hand them out during reservations.

Day 0 of the beta and guess what? None of the codes worked. Not a single damn code. It was…I remember having a consistent migraine for at least 3 weeks. People stormed the phones, the stores, and left horrible posts on gaming forums that the codes didn’t work. Our customer service managers were constantly prompting the marketing department to get in touch with EA and fix the issue. EA’s response? Not their fault. They gave us the codes and it was no longer their concern. And it wasn’t as though we could give out new codes to customers if they were all “defective.” BestBuy, Walmart, Target, everyone was under the same pressure. You would think EA would have gotten a clue when they realized that next to no one was on the beta servers.

Three weeks later, EA finally resolved the problem. Here’s the summary of their response: Whoops. We forgot to activate the codes. But it’s still your fault for giving them out to customers early. You should have waited, even though we told you that you can start handing them out immediately upon pre-order reservation. Hmmm...I seem to recall that happening at another point in time. We all felt the brunt of that blow during the Warhammer debacle.

That’s why I told my boyfriend “go f yourself, no” whenever he asked me to join Warhammer.

As the bonuses continued so did the migraines: Mirror’s Edge, Dragon Age, and Dante’s Inferno just to name a few. Army of Two was pretty close to Warhammer’s level of insanity, but instead of providing inactive codes, all of the codes were invalid. EA forgot to add a digit to the emails they issued to retailers. Oops.

This made me all kinds of depressed to see!
You build up a level of dislike for the company that exceeds expectations when you get constantly screwed over by their promises, both as a retail employee and a consumer of their products. We had a running joke amongst a few in the office for the longest time, that the day EA announced a pre-order that didn’t have any hiccups would be the day that God descended from the heavens and granted eternal life to all of humanity.

And then the massive amounts of complaints that have built up from Origin, how can you not be jaded? Their goal is profit and stomping out smaller companies they see as potential competition by buying them out. They were voted with over 65% of the margin as the worse company of 2012 according to The Consumerist. Not to mention banning users from playing any of their games if they’re banned on the forums?  Last checked, this really hasn’t improved over the years. It’s still the same mess. The same ol’ EA.
I'd hate on BioWare for being bought out
in the first place. Sorry guys!

It’s a company so driven towards profit and not satisfying the customer. Whatever morality it had in the beginning is now long gone. Other than being hounded by my friends and family to play Mass Effect, I haven’t purchased an EA game since 2009. You know what tipped it over for me to actually purchase the games? They were all on sale at ridiculously cheap prices. EA doesn’t deserve my money. Not until I get my gold-plated PS4 inside a life-sized C-3PO.

See, I dislike and despise for a reason. And I can easily be swayed back. EA just has a lot to prove to get to that point. And I didn’t mention all of the issues. The Sims 3 and Warhammer are just the most prominent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More People In U.S. Politics Are Getting It!

Recently the Democrats of the House have begun pushing for Federal money to be used to research the correlation, if any, between popular culture and violence in our country. Fox News being Fox News is pushing against it and calling out Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, via Chris Wallace. Because, you know, he’s credible. “Go to your Hollywood friends and tell them to knock it off!”

Her response: "I understand what you are saying," Pelosi said. "I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother. But, they -- not Hollywood, but the evidence -- says that, in Japan, for example, they have the most violent games and the lowest death -- mortality -- from guns. I don't know what the explanation is for that except they may have good gun laws."

Someone is using logic and reasoning in Washington D.C. Stop everything! The world is going sane!

But seriously, it’s good to see that there are a few people on our side and taking a logical step in understanding that video games are not the source of violence. Neither is Hollywood or music. In countries and cultures with more violent and sexually graphic content, they experience some of the lowest crimes rates. There is something in their culture or their laws that curbs violence. That is what we should examine and attempt to replicate.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Always Online - No Used Games - Speculation!

I bring you this piece with a word of warning that nothing is 100% confirmed until it comes out of the mouth of Microsoft.

The new Xbox system may have an “always online” requirement, Xbox live verification at each sign-in, register every game you purchase, oh and Blu-Ray (so 6 years ago). So um, 1 out of 4. Yea.

Ok here’s the deal. Take this as a rumor as best as you can. The article was originally posted by Edge Magazine and they state the sources are from those inside Microsoft working on the new system. Of course they can’t, and don’t, name names. The official Xbox 360 magazine has already counter-argued on their website that fans shouldn’t take this all to heart.

From where we're sitting, walling-out pre-owned and insisting on a broadband connection would be madness - broadband penetration isn't nearly comprehensive enough to justify such a move, and 'requiring' consumers to do anything is a fine way to ensure they take their custom[er] elsewhere.

And it’s true. By forcing such high demanding restrictions on the market is silly. Even when you consider the fact that the internet isn’t available everywhere. Yeah I know guys, that seems weird, but there are pockets of the world without internet access, let alone broadband. A number of people in the U.S. are limited to dial-up connections.

By making such extreme demands they would lock out quite a few potential customers. Not 5 of 10, but millions. Which is why this idea of Sony making a system that would prevent used games from being played is equally as silly. And if it does happen, be prepared for a huge backlash and a run on Nintendo systems.

We all have to keep in mind that while these businesses want to curb the sale of used games, they also understand that consumers are looking to those products for a reason. It helps drive sales of their systems, and then the internet subscriptions, and then the avatar items. Everything works together. It’s in Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo’s best interest to continue allowing consumers to play used games on their systems. It’s simple business logic.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

J.J., BioWare, Juvenile, and Feminisim. Mouthfull!

Today is one of those days where a lot of stuff exploded online that I’m having difficultly picking a topic. So you’re getting a mesh of stuff.

First: J.J. Abrams is going to work with Valve to make a game!

Pro: “We’re not looking to make a movie in the gaming world.”  Good. Glad to hear that J.J. because video games are not movies.

Con: Aren’t you going to be a little busy over the next few years? Disney is really pushing for a Star Wars VII to be released yesterday. You’re heavily promoting the new Star Trek movie and game. You have a ton of other projects on the table that you keep discussing. Are you really sure you want to add in one more? A human can only handle so much before their brain breaks.

Second: Chris Priestly, BioWare forum community manager, was very blunt about calling the next Mass Effect, ME4. Why? It’s causing a disservice to the game that’s still in talks.

Having read his posts during the Star Wars TOR beta, that’s pretty normal for Chris. He lays it out just like it is and makes no apologies. We like Chris. But he also has a point. The new Mass Effect game is not a continuation of the Sheppard story, so tagging it with a 4 is moot. It’ll be an entirely separate entity.  

"That is the only detail you have on the game [no Shep]. I see people saying 'well, they'll have to pick a canon ending'. No, because the game does not have to come after. Or before. Or off to the side. Or with characters you know. Or yaddayaddayadda. Wherever, whenever, whoever, etc will all be revealed years down the road when we actually start talking about it."

(Scroll about a third of the way down to see his post.) There will be speculation and interest, of course. But to tag it as ME4 is presumptuous and does not reflect the stand BioWare wants to take with this game. It makes sense, but you know fans. They’ll keep pushing. BW just doesn’t want it to be stigmatized from the get-go.

Third: David Cage of Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain, gave a presentation at DICE 2013 about why video games need to grow up, and how it can be achieved. In the past 40 years, video games really haven’t changed. With the exception of a select few, you’re expected to run through a level, collect money, shoot/jump on/run over the enemy, and save the day. Different twists on the design have appeared over time, but when you get down the to the basics, it’s the same set up over and over again.

Cage believes in needing to change our paradigms: can the industry make a game without guns, driving, etc.? The importance of meaning, focusing on minds, bringing in new and different talents outside of the gaming industry, and gamers ultimately hold the power to choose where the medium will go.

The last point stuck out to me. It’s something I have been exhaustively stating for years. You buy crap, they will keep making crap. You buy innovative, unique games, they’ll continue to make new content.  There is hope for the industry and a chance for video games to evolve, but everyone needs to be involved in the process to make it happen.

Fourth: I found this article by the Florida Tech Crimson. Unpopular Opinion: Feminism and video games.  Initially it was making sense. This idea that female characters are evolving in games, but not as we perceive it. We are visual creatures, so we see women in latex nun outfits and think “well, that’s not really pushing forward with feminism.” Or we see the new Laura Croft showing pain, bleeding, constantly fighting against her emotions and injuries to survive. But as Angelina Bonilla points out in her piece, that’s not a bad thing. If anything, that makes Laura Croft even more human because she’s showing real emotion.

One part of this debate/issue is that people assume emotions are equated to weakness. If you cry, show sorrow, or anything considered “weepy” you are labeled as feminine. Emotions make a character more compelling. We are more likely to relate to them if we see their vulnerabilities. I wouldn’t want a female character to be a stone wall. I want them to have feelings while being strong protagonists. There’s nothing wrong with having both.

And then it degenerates about the male on male sexual aggressions in Far Cry 3. At that point I stopped reading. It was just getting too washy about the point being made. But yes, emotions shouldn’t deem a character as weak. They are empowering and when we realize that, we’ll be able to move forward in the debate. 

Keeping you busy on The Geek Spot.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Happy 25 Years Final Fantasy - 50% Off On PSN!

To celebrate the 25 years of happy Final Fantasy gaming, Sony is offering 50% off on select Final Fantasy titles through the PSN. All digital, but the selections are pretty wide in range. For the next 2 weeks you'll find these games on sale.

Noticeably absent from the list is Final Fantasy III. -_- This may be due to the fact that it was released just a few months ago, in September of 2012, for digital download. So it's still "new" enough through PSN that it might not justify a price-cut.

Having said that, 1-2, 4 (Complete collection for PSP), 5-9, Dissidia, Duodecim, and Tactics are all on sale. So basically everything in the series released so far except 3. 3 is such the red-headed step-child it's not even funny.

I like FF3. I think it's a unique entry into the series and one of the first times where characters were given more identifying marks to make them stand out from the previous games. They had personalities and names. It may not be on the scale of FF4 or 6, sure, but it was still a fun game.

Thanks for segregating it Sony. Appreciate the love! At least the other games are at 50% off, so go buy now!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Turbo Twitch

With the rise of interest in watching gaming events such as MLG, expos, and conventions, Twitch is going to start a subscription service. Turbo Twitch will offer an ad-free experience at $8.99 a month. There are other things too like expanded chat features (different font colors and emoticons), priority customer support (you move to the front if you have a problem), and a Turbo Badge. I don’t know if that’s really worth $8.99 a month, but ok.

Twitch will still offer free streaming services for basic features. So you don’t “have” to get Turbo Twitch, but it is an option. On average 2/3rds of its user-base, all 23 million of them, log in on a daily basis. A person averages about 1.5 hours of viewing on Twitch every day. It has also expanded its services to include console games, most recently Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to let gamers watch real-time game play.

I was surprised at how fast the business was growing when I saw it at RTX (Rooster Teeth Expo) last year. It made a big statement and was providing live coverage of everything going on at the main stage. Millions of people were logging in just to watch us play Halo, and a really bad 30 minute boss battle on SW:TOR. My Imperial Agent would have done a much better job at healing, just saying. I wouldn't be surprised if they were at PAX East this year.

Monday, February 04, 2013

I Play Games On Easy Mode…

…and I’m not ashamed of it.

I do this with a purpose. Not to skirt the system or to feel better about myself for getting an achievement. “Hey look guys! I got the Headshot achievement!” “Yeah. In Easy Mode. *laughs*”

The games that I typically play are story driven. And for me, it’s a distraction to go from story to hoards of disfigured, incredibly difficult to kill zombies coming at me in an endless stream of mayhem, and then back to the story. My heart is racing from the fight. My palms are sweating. I got out with half of a health bar and 2 bullets left. I need to breathe. Getting a detailed look on how this strain of the T-Virus was created is not a break. It’s more mental exhaustion as my brain attempts to compile this new information into the pre-existing story.

And then it’s more zombies!

I wouldn’t say I have ADD or ADHD. I have a pretty sharp memory, can multi-task like nobody’s business, and comprehend multiple things being thrown at me at the same time. However, I do feel that sometimes when you combine heavy action with a heavy story the brain just can’t process it all accordingly. Something is going to give. You might be fine for the first 2-3 hours of a game, but past that you’ll start forgetting key plot details. In turn you find yourself spending the rest of the game trying to remember what the heck the story was about, while fending off the never-ending string of zombies. I guess that’s one way to ensure replay value of your product. You have to replay to figure out the story. I rather replay just to play on the more difficult levels. Enjoy the story first. Shoot the zombies later.

So when I first played Metal Gear Solid 4 I played in the easiest mode made available. MGS is incredibly story heavy. It would have been a disservice to the game if I didn’t take the time to absorb the information. Because, let us be honest here: it’s a lot of information. If you’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game its exposition and very dialogue heavy. The Game of Thrones book series and Lord of the Rings combined are not big enough for the content of MGS. It’s THAT much.

Spending my time stealthily sneaking and gunning down enemies in “Insane” mode is equally as tiring. No mind would be able to comprehend the depth of the story while maintaining focus on your next stealth maneuver. It’s too much to ask for.

And there is nothing wrong with playing it Easy. I don’t feel that it makes me any less of a gamer. It allows me a chance to fully absorb the story, the characters, and the artistry of the game without the constant clash against the action.

I’m this way when it comes to moves as well. There’s a beauty in simplicity; in letting the story flow on its own without the need for additional action/comedy/drama to push it forward. This is why I love some movies over others, and really hate certain titles. Avatar (blue people, not airbender) wins that award. Worse. Movie. Ever. It was just too much of everything. Too many visuals, too much story, too much action, too much exposition, too much ripping off of other movies, too many blue people. Whatever message James Cameron was trying to push onto the audience got buried by over-stimulating all of the physical and mental senses. In comparison a movie like ChinaTown, one of my absolute favorites, is really about letting the story flow and follow its own course. Settings are minimal, but memorable. Characters are unique, but don’t overpower the content. The viewer understands the depth and pain of the message because of the simplicity.

Basically Avatar is Extreme zomg! mode of gameplay (with an unoriginal story and a message that goes against everything James Cameron stood for) and ChinaTown is Easy mode.

Easy does not make you less of a gamer. It gives you the ability to truly appreciate the art in front of you.

Friday, February 01, 2013

PS(4) Announcement Later This Month!

The Wall Street Journal, of all of the publications they get first call?, has postulated that Sony plans to announce the release of the next PlayStation system on February 20th during a live-streaming event. They have reported that people “familiar with the matter” have told their reporters that the next PlayStation system will be showcased at said event. It will also be released later this year just in time for the holidays.

And that’s it. That’s all they have. No sources or links to tie it back to. Just that. Enjoy!

I’m still wary of a new console release. I think a lot of it is that the PS3 still feels like a massively powerful beast and it still hasn’t really taken off here in the U.S. like its predecessor. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 6 years since it was first sold. I still feel like my baby is brand new!

Sony, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL SANITY MAKE THE PS4 BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE. You know where you messed up? Having different systems do different things. At least the 360 allowed you to continue playing Xbox games and models have been consistent. Arcade = No hard drive. Elite = hard drive. That’s what we want. To keep playing the things we paid for. So don’t do this “oh well you have the 40 and 60 that are backwards, and the 80 that isn’t. But we no longer make the 40 or 60, but now we have a 20 and a new 40 that isn’t backwards. And now we no longer make those, so now there’s 80 and 120.” I mean argh! It’s a pain. Keep it simple and straight forward. All backwards compatible and don’t change up the system models every year.