Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Let's get this Round Up underway! All of the news and weird reviews of this week in video games, right here in an easy to digest format. Get those forks ready...

- With a sad face, I'm sorry to type that Lionhead Studios will be officially closing at the end of the day today. It was heavily speculated in early March that the Fable developer would be closing it's doors sometime this year. I don't think we expected it to be so soon, but studio closures tend to move faster then we anticipate. Fable Legends was shortly cancelled after the March announcement, and there's no word about what will happen to the property from here on out. Will there be future Fable titles? Or Black and White? Only Microsoft will know. To the faithful team at Lionhead, best of luck to you and your future careers. Thank you for turning the RPG world on it's axis.

- Who would have thought that YouTube would become grounds for the next battle of free speech and creative expression? A decade ago, we were still trying to figure out how YouTube would fit on the internet. "Why would people want to spend time watching videos online?" Game Critic Jim Sterling, is no stranger to the YouTube Content ID rules. He breaks them. A lot. And in all fairness, the Content ID rules have good intentions but they are royally jacked up. You could create every part of your video, the music, the sound effects, even develop a new lighting rig, and the Content ID filter could still peg your video a violating copyright. It's happened more times then I want to count with my podcast. But Sterling has come up with a masterful work-around and it's so genius, it's really funny. Give it a read. I'm waiting for his follow-up to see how well it's worked!

- Disney Concerts has announced that there will be a Kingdom Hearts concert series touring the world, starting in 2017. Oh. Sure. We can have a musical tour in every country, but we can't have Kingdom Hearts 3 yet? You're 11 years too slow.

- Atari has partnered with mobile game developer Spil Games, and Nolan Bushnell is already pitching ideas that we should see arrive by early 2017. The father of Atari and 73-year old gaming guru is ready to see his content back on the market, in a new way. I wonder what ideas he's been planning - a number of these, he claims, have been on his mind for over a decade. Atari is never out of the fold when it comes to gaming.

- The ESA's annual report on gaming habits of individuals and families was released earlier this morning. The 2016 edition can be viewed here; people on Reddit and Kotaku were able to locate it before the link was made public on the website. Some key takeaways: The average gamer age is 35, and 59% of the audience is male. 48% play games dedicated to social activity and 50% use their gaming consoles for watching movies. There's even a section on eSPorts and VR gaming. The ESA continues to get more progressive with their reports.

- And to keep this blog classy, we know Conan isn't great at video games, but he makes for an entertaining reviewer because of it. So when the 2 male leads for the movie 'Neighbors 2' want to play Mario Kart 8 with him, of course he'll do it. The twist was the loser of the race would have dicks drawn on their face. You can imagine what happens next...all in the name of entertainment, eh Conan?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

That Ratchet & Clank Movie is Coming Soon...As in Tomorrow

I bet you had no idea that the 'Ratchet & Clank' movie was releasing tomorrow in theaters across the U.S. Hell most of us had no inkling of it. Where did they run the advertisements? During weekday morning cartoons on Nickelodeon while most people were at work and/or school?

I am thoroughly perplexed on how this movie slipped through my radar without a single blip about the release date. The only mention I have about Ratchet & Clank was in 2014, when the film was under development. And that's it! I haven't seen a single news story or advertisement regarding the release of the film. Maybe the marketing budget went into post-production instead? I don't know. But the lack of knowledge about the film is going to really hurt their box office numbers.

If you have seen trailers for the movie on TV or your social media, then congrats. For some reason Facebook and Twitter's algorithms didn't feel my video game heavy line-up was worthy of advertising the movie to me. Or the distributor didn't invest in social media adverts. Which would have been dumb.

Even a quick glance at the movie's Facebook page...it's kind of sad. Not even 100k Likes. Ouch. Looks like they went to WonderCon to promote the film and to a Google Kids thing in Mid-April. The release date wasn't announced on their Facebook until early April.

So what's the deal? What's the story? Who's in it? How much does it look like the games?

Images from the trailer are pretty darn nice. The characters look just like Ratchet & Clank from the games, in more fluid animated cut-scene form. The movie is about our two "heroes" who are trying to stop the evil Chairman Drek from destroying every planet in their galaxy. Ratchet & Clank join up with another team called The Galactic Rangers to help stop Drek. The basic "bad guy is bad, good guys must stop him" story that anyone can follow.
 
Voice over guru James Arnold Taylor takes on the roll of Ratchet (at least they kept the game voices involved), and is joined with Sylvester Stallone, Paul Giamatti, and John Goodman. Before you question the reasoning, Stallone did voice over for the movie Antz many years ago, so he is capable of such a task.

Reviews for the movie are very light right now. They are so low that it doesn't have a Rotten Tomato reading up yet (with only 4 reviews in, and typically for a movie on wide release you see anywhere from 40-60 the days before). And the ones that have been posted seem to agree that the content is lacking. The story is too predictable and it's trying to capture the attention of kids at a time when there aren't as many kid-friendly movies out there - at least until Captain America is released next week. The reviews make the movie out that the biggest problem is that it doesn't feel like the video game: the action has been replaced with slap-stick to get a younger audience. Ratchet & Clank has always been an odd game. It reminds me a lot of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Games that are for all ages and have a little bit of everything to interest the minds of kids and adults. Lighthearted, fun, full of action, and challenging.

We'll see what happens with the box office numbers. But I mostly want to know how they marketed this movie, if I'm only finding out about it's release the day before. o_O

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Want to Boycott Target? Then Add These Gaming Companies to Your List

This article on The Daily Beast popped up on my news feed this morning, and it is really funny. It's a list of all the things you would have to boycott if you are anti-transgender and support laws that discriminate against them, like which bathroom they can use. Because the world doesn't have anything more important to focus on, so let's talk about why a transgender man can't use a bathroom that coincides with the gender they identify with.

I'm more concerned about having to rush into a stall and there is no toilet paper, anywhere, then I am about an LGBT person sharing the same restroom as me. Who gives a flying flip? We all have to go, so let us go! Simple as that.

The list is based off the 2016 CEI (Corporate Equality Index) report created by the Human Rights Campaign, which businesses can opt into. It looks at multiple areas of the business to determine if they are on par with providing rights and benefits to everyone that walks through their door. That includes equal employment opportunities, health care, training, employee resources, etc. And there are a lot of companies on this list who hit the 90-100 mark (A's and perfect scores). Such as American Airlines and Sears. There are also gaming companies and social media outlets on the list to. I thought it would be amusing to point out those as well to kind of rub it in the face of the boycotters. Because hey...if you really want to be anti-transgender and not do business with people who support equal right, then you better get ready to dump your consoles and social media. You are going to be really bored.

On the list we have all versions of Sony. SCEA's point value is 80, which is on the low-end of the spectrum compared to the rest, but Sony Pictures, Sony Entertainment, and Sony Corp are earned a 100. They are ethnic, female, handicapped, multi-religion, LGBT friendly. So put away your PS4 and stop going to Sony movies.

That means your XBox 360 and XBoxOne as well. Microsoft has scored 100 for the past 2 years. Your Nintendo is still safe, since the list focuses on US companies. Though they would probably rank high as well.

Okay so half of your consoles are gone. You can still shop online, right? eBay is in the 100 range, and Amazon is at 85. And if Amazon is on the list at 85, you know Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram are on there too, all scoring 100.

But wait...almost every major cable and internet provider in the country scored above 80, so you can't even use the internet! If you have Time Warner, Verizon, or AT&T then kiss the internet good bye. That includes mobile too with Sprint and T-Mobile. Which rules out some phones too. If you can't use the carrier, there's a good chance you can't use the phone either. Apple Inc. has scored 100 for the past 2 years as well.If you use Charter Communications? Well you are in luck. They scored a pitiful 10.

In fact, just get rid of your computer entirely. Cysco, Nvidia, AMD - every major computer manufacturer in the US ranks above 90. So goodbye to your computer!

So what's left for entertainment. Books! I mean...book stores can't be LGBT friendly, right? Barnes & Noble, one of the largest and last remaining book sellers available, scored 100 as well.

Moral of the story: progress is going to happen. If you want to be that jerk who feels they need to boycott everything because they don't agree with diversity and human rights/equality, go right ahead. Enjoy your un-fun life of no video games, cell phones, internet, movies, or books. The rest of us are perfectly happy supporting businesses that promote equality.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

State of Gaming Reviews?

The hot-topic for this blog over the past few years has been the ever-changing world of video game reviews. And pre-orders. Because pre-orders suck. With #GamerGate the journalism/game developer relationship was placed under a microscope and scrutinized. Are reviewers getting perks for giving a game a good score? Are they being told to favor one developer over another for a bigger kickback?

While #GamerGate has transformed into a misogynistic trend to hate on anyone who isn't a straight, white male in the game industry, it has brought more attention to gaming journalism. While there's no indication that #GamerGate has actually changed anything, sites like Kotaku have altered how they review their content to be more in-line with how games are released today, no longer favoring a point system. Points are arbitrary in reviews. Though in Kotaku's defense, this was a long time coming - long before #GamerGate. No influence there.

Everyone has their own methods for looking at a product and there is no authority on monitoring the numbers so they are the same across the board. You may think the latest Call of Duty is an 8 but the next reviewer in their number system would only score it a 4. It leads to a lot of disparity between the reviewer, the developer, and the readers.

But do the developers have a right to fight back if their product gets a bad score?

The recently released Ashes of the Singularity is gaining buzz for the wrong reasons. Ashes is getting fair reviews, roughly a 6 on Metacritic. A number of other media outlets have similar opinions that the game is a good template, but the content is not there.

Brad Wardell, CEO of developer Stardock, called out one reviewer in particular: GameSpot's Daniel Starkey. He's a freelance critic that gave the game a 4 out of 10. Wardell feels that the game is being targeted because Starkey and him have a past with #GamerGate. Starkey didn't agree with Wardell's opinions, and blocked him on Twitter. Wardell thinks that GameSpot knowingly set up Starkey with this game to review in order to give him a bad name. He's gone as far as to send a letter to GameSpot to have the review pulled, and that his game deserves higher then a 4.

This isn't a question of whether or not the game is good. Does a developer have the right to make such a request and boast about their game, invalidating the opinions of reviewers?

If this were a #GamerGate backlash between these two, I'd think that Starkey's review would have been more demeaning to Stardock. More venom. More disdain, less gaming talk. Because the review is on par with what everyone else has been saying about the game. A 4 might seem a bit low, but that's Starkey's choice. He even praised the game's graphics in the review. If you were really trying to take out a developer, you wouldn't say anything nice about their product.

Now I will admit that GameSpot putting Starkey on this assignment was a bad call. And doubly bad that Wardell wasn't more aware of who would be reviewing the game at GameSpot, given the issues in the past. But is Wardell in the right here? Is this a #GamerGate backlash? Or is it a CEO trying to use his power to pull a review that mimics what other reviewers are saying - this one just happened to be the lowest score coming from a critic that he has butted heads with in the past?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sega Mega Drive Update!

Last week, Sega announced that they would be releasing content on Steam as part of their "classic game" pack. They sweetened the deal with more details about the launch of the updates new SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis Classics Hub, out on April 28.

"The new-look system is based on a bedroom of an early nineties SEGA fan with dynamic time-of-day conditions, retro SEGA paraphernalia, a shelf full of MEGA Drive games (including the ones you own) and of course a CRT TV! That’s not all, every single MEGA Drive game will now feature Steam Workshop support allowing you to share modified versions of your [favorite] retro SEGA titles!"

The new feature will also allow for saving at any point in the games, local co-op (where featured in the original game), full controller and keyboard support, and graphic enhancement filters.

How do you get it? Well if you own anything that's part of the Sega Mega Drive, starting from 2011, you get this update for free. From Sonic to Ecco the Dolphin, starting Thursday you can download the update on Steam and play with the new content. And that means more classic Sega games! They have been surveying customers for months trying to figure out which games would be included in the new collection, so expect player reaction to be swift this weekend on the results.

The modding part is what caught my attention. Typically with classic games, modding is a no-no, outside of porting it to a ROM so people can play it the game on PC. Other then, it's unheard of. But Sega is giving everyone full license to mod away on their retro games? I'm curious to see what people come up with for Sonic. You know that is going to be a giant mess of amazing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Amazon U.K. Restricting Some Game Sales to Prime Only

Amazon is doing something screwy with their services in the U.K. Earlier this morning, select games were blocked from purchase and prompted the user to buy Prime instead in order to obtain said products. There may be more games on the list, but the ones that caught the most attention and still sell well are Grand Theft Auto V, Rainbow Six: Siege, and AssCreed: Syndicate. These games are exclusive to Prime members only.

What's the deal Amazon? Explain yourselves!

"One of the many benefits of Amazon Prime is access to exclusive selection on a number of great products. Customers who are not Prime members can sign-up for a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, or they can purchase those items from a Marketplace seller."

Well that's not much of an explanation. Prime members with "exclusive" items have focused on free digital products: you can download books, movies, and tv shows for free, instead of paying for them. On occasion a mobile app is included. They have yet to expand the "exclusive" items to physical products. This may be their testing phase to see how well it works. But it does suck and would easily turn people away from Amazon purchases if they have to buy a membership in order to get GTA5. May as well go to your local gaming store and save the £79 Prime fee.

I don't imagine this is going to go over well, though. Item restrictions that require you to buy a membership is not a "perk," Amazon. It's just being greedy.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

It's been a long week, hasn't it? And it's only Thursday! Best get a round up in the works before it hits the weekend and time slips away.

It's the Weekly Link Round Up! What's been cooking in the video game crock-pot this time?

- Microsoft announced yesterday that it is stopping production of new XBox 360 units. They will continue to sell remaining inventory of the system, which is currently bundled with Forza: Horizon 2, for $199. Silver Lining: All 360 support will remain in tact. Gold Subscriptions, free games, hardware troubleshooting, you name it. There is no end date on this support, yet.

- Ever heard of Rambo: The Video Game? With the poor reception it received in early 2014, probably not. But silently behind the scenes, the developers were working hard on an expansion pack that no one expected to see! Over the years Reef, the developer, had went dark. No activity on their social media accounts until out of nowhere on Monday, they sprang back to life with news about Rambo. Maybe this was a marketing tactic? Or maybe the error of a young company? Now the internet is talking about it and people are going to buy the game again. Success, I guess?

- I'm kind of surprised that Curt Schilling continues to pop up in the news, but he seems to have trouble with keeping his mouth shut. Unless it's the subject of his gaming studio that went under, and is now under fraud investigation with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Schilling is a former baseball pitcher, turned business owner with a gaming studio called Green Monster Games, later named 38 Studios. He's been charged with abusing Massachusetts' tax credits to fund the studio and not paying employees. He recently had a gig on ESPN as an analyst, but foot in mouth syndrome seems to be a problem for this man. Given the recent stir on his social media now making national media news, you'll probably hear his name pop up more often. Get a brief history on his gaming debacle here.

- WhatCulture got a facelift! It looks crisper. Not exactly streamlined, but it's a new look. But that's not why we're posting this list of 14 Video Game Franchises That Will Never Die. We're posting because it's part of the Weekly Link Round Up tradition! You are sure to see the standard line-up on here, such as Sonic, Tomb Raider, and Grand Theft Auto. Even Pac-Man. Yes, the yellow dot continues to produce games exclusively for Nintendo. But his games are more of rehashing the same content in a different format. He's more of an iconic image, less of a game hog.

- In a surprise WTF moment, mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a rampage and blamed it on video games, an Oslo court ruled in favor of Breivik, who was suing the government and claiming that his human rights had been violated in prison. Though he has a television and a gaming system, as all of the newspapers enjoy pointing out, he has been in isolation since being incarcerated in 2011. He is strip searched multiple times throughout the year, handcuffed often during the first few months in prison, and claims he received poor quality food and only plastic utensils. Somehow eating with a plastic fork is inhumane, but it's totally cool for kids to use them in school. With the ruling, some of the restrictions regarding his isolation will be lifted and he will be allowed to interact with other prisoners. I don't anticipate the plastic fork one to go away.

-  Let's bounce back to something fun again: here's a list of 13 Hilarious Anti-Piracy Traps in Video Games, courtesy of Inverse. The one for Game Dev Tycoon, a simulator where you create your own game company, is very meta. A number of these are legit and in game. I'm questioning the Pokemon: Red one since that's clearly a ROM of the game being used in this instance, and Nintendo rarely does something so cheeky, nor with their pre-N64 games. But The Sims 4 one is awesome. If you pirate that game and attempt to play it, the pixel nudity saved for the Sims when they get nude will start to grow and take over the entire game screen. I'd like to see someone try to play the game through that mess.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Video Game's Life After Java

Runescape, the free to play MMORPG that has hit the 15 year mark, is finally getting a graphics upgrade by moving away from Java and into NXT. No, not the Wrestling group. NXT is the client used to run Runescape, that was programed with C++ and was originally based off of HTML 5 coding. I could go into the details about what the new features are, such as increased draw distance, zooming out of the mini map, fog, water mapping, shading, full screen mode, but I think the image used in today's post speaks for itself.

It looks like Runescape got a really fantastic face lift.

The update was initially teased at Runefest 2014, with plans to work on a new client to bring the game into this decade. It looks like a brand new game. It's not, but it looks like it. Why am I talking about Runescape? A game I don't play or have affiliation with?

The upgrades to the game came to be after years of working with the player base and determining their needs, along with the needs of the game world, to improve the product. The developers understand the value of their players and want to provide them with a game that would last. Instead of sticking to what they know and letting Runescape die out over time, they looked to the future and how to enhance it now to ensure players will continue to experience the game for years to come.

And that's kind of awesome. I look back at the loads of MMO's I have played over the years and find so many of them lacked communication between the development group and the community. City of Heroes, APB, Conan - these games faltered by not providing flexibility to work outside of their box and listen to their players. Star Wars: The Old Republic is not far behind on the death list, though it has made a valiant attempt at being active with their community. Finally.

World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 11and 14, and Runescape have lasted for so long because they work with their players to make a game fun for them, and fun for the developers. They found a balance to give players things they want that work with the game world, but not everything they think they need (otherwise AssCreed would have dragons). The games still provide fun, challenge, and fresh content. MMO developers, take note. Your audience matters. Listen to them! You don't have to add in dragons, but make note of your players' concerns.

Slight tangent there, but look! Runescape! It's pretty!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Game Developer Promoting "Crunch Time"

A few weeks ago I posted some news from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) looking to review the negative effects of "crunch time" and implement changes to the industry to try and break this habit.

"Crunch Time" is typically referred to as a part of a game's development cycle where employees are expected to put excessive hours at work to ensure the product is released on time. This includes final renders of the game, removing bugs, and the like. It's so well known, the term is  in the dictionary.

Loads of people in the industry, who do not work in top-tier positions, feel "crunch time" is counter productive. A number of studies over the years have proven that any industry (not just gaming) where this type of attitude is promoted can deter production. Instead of making a better game, it can cause employees to falter at their responsibilities. Numbers range in productivity rate, but most studies seem to concur that an 8 hour work day shows a 16-20% increase in ability over a 9 hour day. As the work-day gets longer, the productive drops dramatically. The take-away from that is 8 hours is the max a person should work in a day. Any more and their productivity rate will fall.

The interview with Kate Edwards, the executive director of IGDA, showcased just how important the issue of "crunch time" was to the community. Not necessarily in punishments, but it is a start.

Alex St. John, who co-created Direct X at Microsoft and founded the game company WildTangent (which has produced advergames for Nike, Coke, and Ford), wrote a counter-article on VentureBeat.

Brace yourself. You're not going to like it.

I'll have to agree with Kotaku's initial reaction to the piece, that it reads more like someone is trying to be sarcastic, until you keep reading and realize that St. John actually believes the dribble he has written. He not only approves of "crunch time" but that it's required to make art - and video games are art. Therefore, "crunch time" is a necessary component of the development process. That's almost like saying "making clothes is art - so the use of child labor in third world countries to produce the items is required."

It doesn't help that the initial article, and his follow-up response on his website, calls out gaming employees as lazy Millennials who expect a living wage to work. That they don't earn it with hard work, like everyone else.

If you hear the pitchforks rising up, you would be right. Even as he tries to backtrack to clarify his statements, a number of industry employees and gamers themselves are not happy at St. John's comments. And the man is sticking by them!

It's one thing to have an opinion. I understand that this is a free country and people are allowed to believe in, or in this case be incredibly wrong, whatever they like. But in this instance, a man in a position of power thinks it's perfectly normal to tell underpaid, overworked employees to work even more hours, ignore their health, their family, their friends, their LIFE all for the sake of getting a game out on an artificial deadline. Why?

People who create video games are doing more then "moving a mouse." The concept art, the hundreds of thousands of hours spent coding, building models and wire-frames, rending the content; working in the game industry is not a George Jetson job where you click a button, and you make a sprocket appear out of a machine. In game design, the computers do not do all of the work. You have to tell the machine what to do, how to do it, and then code it all to make it happen. That takes an immense amount of resources, mentally and physically. And when you push your workforce beyond their 40 hour limit, it's asking for trouble.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an employee asking for a living wage - i.e. they want the ability to feed, cloth, and house themselves just like everyone else in the world. They chose to work in video games because they have a passion for it. They shouldn't be treated less-then human, made to work half their life in an office for a wage below their worth.

To argue otherwise shows how out of touch St. John is with the rest of the industry.

If you take the time to read the articles, the irony is so mind numbing you have to wonder if St. John is playing a practical joke on everyone. In the development of Direct X, St. John burned himself out for months during "crunch time."

'He would pass out at his keyboard and straggle into morning meetings with key marks on his face. Worked sucked everything out of him; his marriage disintegrated. In 1997, he succeeded in getting himself fired, as he tells it, “and walked out of Microsoft feeling 100 lbs. lighter." '

And this happened again and again when he was in programming positions until he founded his own company...and then proceeded to ask his staff to undergo the "crunch time" ritual. You'd think he would be against "crunch time" but you'd be wrong. It's also amusing that St. John mentions that if people don't like how "crunch time" works, up and quit Microsoft and go start your own company, like Zynga (btw, none of the founders worked for Microsoft.) News Flash: Not everyone wants to run their own company. Some people want to focus on the line art, or want to code. They would rather work as part of the team environment, not the head of the team. And that's okay!

It's a sad look into the ethos of the gaming development industry. "It's art!" and "You should be grateful you can be in game design" are the type of scare tactics that keep employees working longer hours with little pay (sometimes no overtime pay if the stats from the IGDA are any indication).

The bottom line is that "crunch time" is worker exploitation for something that can easily be avoided. Release dates can be changed. Moderating schedules to ensure an optimized workforce can be built. Blaming employees for being lazy and not invested in the product is a cop-out. Asking people to work a lifestyle that doesn't compensate them is corruption and profiteering on an inhumane level.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Latency is Harming the Future of Online Gaming

Today is my birthday. And it seems fitting that today we talk about latency and how it's killing online gaming. Because as one gets older, we get slower. Like our internet connections seem to be. Get it?

VentureBeat wrote up an in-depth article on how latency is turning gamers away. But it's not just gamers that are experiencing latency and lag. If you ever watch a video on YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu, download a file for work, or send an e-mail you have probably experienced some form of lag. In gaming terms, lag is the delay between the reactions of the player and what they see on screen with the server. It is typically caused by high latency, but can also be due to the processing power of the computer or the servers that are not able to keep up with the high work load. Latency is the time interval between the action and the response. The higher the latency, the longer it takes to respond.

All of this leads to a really bad time if you're on the internet and it's taking, what feels like forever, for a webpage to load. One of the easiest fixes is to upgrade your hardware. But we all know that's not a permanent solution. You can have a top of the line PC and still run into latency and lag. From the developers end, the cause can be lack of servers to keep up with the player demand, high player load on a server, players with slower PC's causing more energy to be used to process the game, low peering, or not distributing server load to multiple servers/vendors. It could also be the fault of your internet provider: some are notorious for throttling speeds even when you're paying top dollar for the best package available. Combined it spells trouble for online games that require user interaction to stay afloat. Even load times that take 2 seconds longer then their atypical set-up can cause an 87% abandon rate among users. You don't want users to abandon your game!

So the question is, how do we solve this problem? A lot of it is out of our hands, and we have to beg and plead with our ISP's to give us the speeds we are paying for. In the U.S. the highest speed available is 12.6. Which is pretty pitiful given how many other countries in Europe and Asia (including the Middle East) kick our butts on the speed, and price (in South Korea for 20mb/s you only pay an average of $30 a month). Until Google Fiber is everywhere (they seem to be the only ones to offer good speeds at a fair price), we're stuck. So it's up to the devs to save us! More servers, lower server caps; simple fixes that could mean the world to reducing latency for gamers. They cost extra money, but could retain tens of thousands of users who don't abandon the game due to low speed. The initial costs are worth it to retain an active player base.

Spend your lunch break reading the VentureBeat article. It doesn't provide all of the solutions, but it is a start and something devs need to be aware of as more game content moves online.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Ah yes. The Weekly Link Round Up. A time for us to review the best, worst, and sometimes the "wtf's" of the internet for gaming news. It's been a long week, so let's hope we get some good choices here!

- For those who may care about basketball or anything Kobe Bryant related, the NBA star played his last game this week. While he isn't going out with a bang, he did have a pretty stellar career. Kotaku takes a look back at 20 years of Kobe Bryant in the form of video games. Kobe has been around long enough to be in the early NBA Live games that appeared on the Genesis and the SNES. He had his own solo game, along with sequels, and became a staple in NBA2K. Lakers fans will miss him, and hope for a better season next round.

- Phys.org wants to talk about how playing video games can change your retirement plan. The article focuses on how video games need to age with their audience and break some of the tricky routes of getting into the game, so that older adults can easily pick them up and play. How that affects your retirement? I have no idea. But the premise of the article is sound. Not so much the title.

- Not to be outdone, the Huffington Post looks at how video games are going to change architecture! It covers a little bit about the UN/Minecraft project and how it's influencing the planning aspect for countries in need, but there hasn't been a physical brick by brick, wood by wood, replica of game content working in the real world. Yet.

- ArcadeSushi has a list of the 10 worst spin-off games ever made. Narrowing it down to 10 is a challenge unto it's own, so let's see how they do. There's Crash Bang Boom, a weird Mario Party hybrid but with Crash Bandicoot characters. And yes, that is a bad game. Just don't even waste your time on it. Twisted Metal: Small Brawl is also a good choice. I remember my brother and I playing that one from a demo and thinking how terrible it was and nothing like the original. Very clunky controls and no humor. There's also The 3rd Birthday which tried to make an action-adventure out of Parasite Eve and threw in some FF13 costume changes for some odd reason. This list isn't half bad. Good job ArcadeSushi.

- WhatCulture has a list of video games that are so great, they ruined the series. If you're scratching your head at that statement, you're not alone. The writer's argument is that these games are so phenomenal, so powerful, so breathtakingly perfect that any sequel thereafter will never be as awesome. Like Mass Effect 2. I've seen a number of fans argue that the second game is the best of the series, and the 3rd isn't worth your time. On the list there's Silent Hill 2, Dark Souls, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I'm not fully convinced on MGS3. Great game. One of my favorites from the franchise. But MGS4 is pretty bad ass. But as a whole, this is a pretty good list. WhatCulture must have heard my calls and stepped up the quality.

- Video Clip! ABS News interviews a team that has found a way to utilize brain waves to allow someone to play video games without the use of their body. Nifty.

- Get ready for the inevitable hate train. Activision announced that it will be releasing a Ghostbusters video game this July, before the rebooted film hits theaters. The 4 player co-op allows you to play scenes from the film. Here's the kicker: you can choose between male and female characters. So maybe that'll soften the blow for gamers who don't want to see an all female cast of ghost busting.

- Finally, the New York Times has a giant article on The Minecraft Generation. Read this during a lunch break or in the evening off the clock, because it's a doozy but so worth the time investment. It looks at the impact the game has had on the younger generation, it's involvement in STEM courses, and what the future of Minecraft holds for the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Lack of Empathy in Sexist Video Games

Headline for today: sexist video games result in lower empathy towards female violence victims.

Before you clamor at me that this is feminist propaganda, the study was conducted by a team of men, with at least one woman from the University of Milano Bicocca Psychology Department. The lead author, Alessandro Gabbiadini has written several papers in the past on video games.

The focus of the study was on empathy, and how people would react to female victims after experiencing violent and sexist video games. Empathy is noted as one of the primary factors for how we respond to people, according to the study and the sources cited within. People can feel empathy for other humans, animals, and objects. But in a video game, that can change because the digital figure is not real. The study used Grand Theft Auto as a prime example on the negative implications gaming can have on our morality, thus affecting our empathy towards others (digitally and in the real world).

Time has a good summary of the study, and you can read the full article online. They even published their data spreadsheet so you can see exactly how people responded to each game and follow-up questions.

This is another one of those studies where you should take it under advisement, but try not to think too hard about it. The article gets a bonus cookie in my book for pointing out that their methods of research and testing are not perfect. Their sample size is too small, that there may already be bias against the games (as GTA is well known, even if a person hasn't played it before), and the game time was limited to 25 minutes of play. There are a number of ways they can improve upon it, and they are aware of their restrictions. Because we know how flawed these experiments can be... The authors encourage future study in this sector in hopes of creating more valid results.

As a whole though, it should not be a surprise that games who use female avatars as accessories or victims, could cause players to showcase less empathy towards them. The avatars become a virtual toy that can be thrown away on a whim. While I love my GTA, there are a number of instances where violence and exploitation against female avatars occurs and it gets to be too much. Having sexism on both sides isn't the answer (though I do support having male prostitutes and strip clubs, as it could completely alter the dynamic of the way you play the game). Game designers shouldn't be degenerating men or women virtual characters to sex objects.

So let this be a study that you simmer on. Don't take it as the hard, end all, be all, of facts. The authors took the time to make note that their study is flawed, and more research is needed. But given the content nature against female victims in day to day life, video games like GTA are not helping curb the issue.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What Is Canon?

The Atlantic is trying really hard to alienate all of it's nerdy readers, the few that it has, by arguing that fans need to stop focusing on what is, or isn't, canon when their favorite franchise hits the big screen. Their ire is more directly aimed towards Marvel, DC, and Star Wars fans.

Cue the grimace of the fan base at large.

What The Atlantic is trying to promote is that canon doesn't really exist. It never did. It's the heart of the fans that tries to keep the source-code, the history of that fictional universe in check via the canon system. Fans trying to "out-fan" each other, and prove their nerdyness. While showing everyone else that they are not as cool, because they don't know the canon.

"What’s been largely lost over the past decade is the crucial point that these stories are imaginary—they were dreamed up by people, and can be changed, distilled, or subverted by anybody at the drop of a hat. There is no true canonical version of Batman, Superman, Princess Leia, James Kirk, or any other shared characters—only infinite interpretations by an array of creators. Treating them as if they’re carved in stone only reduces them to a flat series of issue numbers, paragraph citations, or official tables. It takes away the joy of personally deciding which version of a character you like, which version of a story you prefer. The truth is that nobody—not the company, not the fans, not even the creator—can dictate the nature of a story to you. Batman v Superman is not canon. Neither is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, or the current Batman run, or the Star Wars novels, or even the films. The only true canon is personal, and it lives inside your head."

I can see the pitchforks being readied. But before you start clamoring for the writer's head, let's take a look at the topic of "canon."

I've seen a number of people refer to canon in the same way as they would with canon law with the Catholic Church. Canon is best referred to as a set of rules that dictate the teachings of that group/corporation/universe. There is typically someone or a set of people that maintain the canon and ensure it's being enforced. In the case of sci-fi and fantasy, typically it's the fans that do this on behalf of the corporation. Why? Because most businesses don't care. Lucasfilm initially didn't and it resulted in a lot of bad content being produced in the early 1980's. When they pulled everything back into their possession, they were able to manage the canon and expanded universe. This is the one part where I feel that The Atlantic's argument falters. Because Lucas had a hand in what was and was not approved, until Disney purchased the company, he had a direct link to saying yes on the canon. And he did! Multiple times throughout the years. A number of us grew up knowing that the Expanded Universe was canon and we're having a hard time letting it go with the changes Disney has made. And they are doing the same thing that Lucas did - by giving a nod of approval on what is and is not canon. So let's let the Star Wars fans be on this one. Some of us are still grieving that Mara Jade is no longer in the fold.

With Marvel and DC, there are so many recreations, spin-offs, and alternate universes of their characters that there is no one canon. It's all canon. One day Superman kills people, the next he could give up superheroing and go work at an animal shelter for the rest of his life. There's so much diversity in the story lines that arguing canon is incredibly difficult. So I get it. Saying that "this is the only Superman that exists" is a big pill to swallow when multiple stories of the caped alien exist that contradict each other.

What do you think of the canon claim? Worth it's weight in salt or just salty?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gender Locked Avatars Leading to 'Rust' Backlash

Rust, a Steam game where the only rule is to survive in the wilderness, is getting a lot of flack for a recent update: users can no longer choose their gender when they start the game. The salty-ness of the forums and Reddit threads are showing how much people are disliking the change, and claiming that Rust is going to end at the height of its popularity.

The game, created by Facepunch Studios, was initially released in December of 2013 for early access and has been a work in progress since. Most reviews for the title are positive. The open world feel where you have to utilize your environment to make tools, create shelter, hunt - it's a digital version of the Hunger Games. You play online with others, and you better make friends fast before you are their next target. And you start out stark naked with all your bits hanging out. That seems to be the first thing people notice about the game.

This change to the game is meant to be an eye-opening moment for a lot of people. The developer wanted to throw people into the wilderness on an equal playing field, just like we do in life. We don't have the luxury of choosing our gender, skin tone, facial, and body features when we are brought into this world. It's not like we pop out of our mother's wombs and get to go through a character selection screen. And the game wants to replicate that. Your character's gender and pre-rendered looks are solely based on the digits of your Steam ID. Men are now playing female avatars, and vice-versa. And you can't change it. At all. You are stuck with that avatar's gender through life, death, and life again.

From the developer's patch notes: "We understand this is a sore subject for a lot of people. We understand that you may now be a gender that you don’t identify with in real-life. We understand this causes you distress and makes you not want to play the game anymore. Technically nothing has changed, since half the population was already living with those feelings. The only difference is that whether you feel like this is now decided by your SteamID instead of your real life gender."

So. Damn. True.

And it's going to introduce a whole new perspective of game play that others may not have been aware of. How do you play as a female avatar in this world? A male Reddit user commented about the change to a female avatar saying "the only thing bothering me is all the creepy rape comments I get."

That's the type of sh*t I deal with when I play online.

My feminist self is smirking. Now you all get to see and experience the crap that female gamers get to deal with on a daily basis. Maybe that will allow you to understand how horrible it all is, the verbal threats of violence and how that affects us mentally as well as physically, and start changing behaviors.

And then I see the forum threads and get depressed again.

This is one hell of a social experiment that I hope Facepunch Studios does not back down from. I want this to play out. Maybe it'll change a few minds in seeing how race and gender are heavily scrutinized, not only in gaming but in the real world as well. Maybe it'll cause a few people to realize that their verbal abuse and actions in game towards female and non-white avatars is wrong and change their habits. Maybe it'll allow gamers and developers to finally have a sane, open dialogue about the hypocrisy of the "straight white male" avatar being the lead in games.

Or maybe Rust will die out due to a drop in players.

I am going to watch this game with rapt interest.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Well, Crap. I Downloaded Miitomo.


Initial impressions from other reviews about the new Nintendo mobile app had me concerned that this was going to be very similar to Final Fantasy Portal app. It's really not that bad. At least for now until Nintendo adds in a content filter system to keep Mii's out of trouble and swearing off the radar. So enjoy putting your Mii in photoshopped-esque precarious situations while spamming your Facebook and Twitter with images of your success.

As it stands right now, Miitomo is a simple and easy way to connect with people who are already in your friend's circle on Facebook and Twitter by using a more visually stimulating interface of a talking bot. There is no goal. No end game. You create a Mii, answer questions about yourself as your Mii talks to you, read through your friend's answers, dress up your Mii, and play a mini game to get more outfits for your Mii.

That's it.

There's nothing fancy or over the top about it. No Nintendo news or product updates. No insight into Nintendo headquarters. Just an app to play dress up with your Mii and talk to your social circles in a different way with silly questions.

You can earn Miitomo coins through daily login bonuses, answering questions, faving and commenting on friends responses, and through various achievements. There are also Miitomo Points, that allow you to purchase exclusive items that rotate every month. The month it's a Mario suit. The Points are earned by doing other daily tasks, receiving favs and comments, linking your social media accounts, and changing your Mii's wardrobe. The Points are only for the rare items and buying tickets to the mini-game Mii Drop. The coins will get you more clothing.

You can buy more Miitomo coins with real world cash. But it's also fairly easy to earn coins on your own. Yesterday I started out the day with 1,300 coins and jumped up to 7k within a few moments just by doing daily tasks and earning achievements with my clothing/friendship levels. You don't need to buy more coins if you don't want to. You can earn them at a decent enough pace that you won't feel yourself scrambling to get more coins for the daily special.

Clothing options are pretty good to start with. There's a decent enough variety that you can come up with your own outfit, with daily unique items that only appear for that time before they are gone and can not be purchased in the regular shopping menu. Thus the dinosaur head I have procured. Quite awesome. You can choose colors at the checkout screen with some pieces. And every time you change your clothes, you'll be prompted by the game to take a photo commemorating the moment.

That's probably where the majority of the fun with Miitomo lies. Putting your Mii and your friend's Mii's in really funny photos. You can add in text boxes, icons, different emotes and poses that the possibilities are only limited to your imagination. You can also import photos that are on your phone and incorporate them into the background.

This is a very powerful and very dangerous tool. Why has Nintendo not placed barriers on this yet?

As you can probably imagine as gamers, we are very immature and have set a number of our Mii's on fire or popped them in locations/situations that are completely inappropriate.

I'm not saying it isn't funny. Because it totally is. I'm just waiting for Nintendo to step in and turn off that feature, or restrict the image use to the pre-generated backgrounds they have provided.

Let's talk about the mini-game. Mii Drop allows you to collect more clothing items and candies to use in your Mii adventures. You have to use a game ticket for each turn. And you will always win something if you play one of these games. So don't worry about losing your ticket. Mii Drop is very much like The Price is Right's Plinko game. You start your Mii (or a friend if you've built up a friendlist) at the top of the arena and drop it wherever you like. The Mii bounces around along the course and wherever it stops, it'll claim the nearest item.

There are currently 9 courses available in groups of 3 - each group is associated with a costume type. Right now there is a Ninja costume, Food costume, and Cat costume up for grabs.

As mentioned, one of the items you can receive is candy. Candy can be used when talking to your Mii's friends at their homes to open up more questions and answer options. I didn't see much of a use for the candy, since eventually you'll see all of the questions if you open the app often enough. The questions will start to repeat.


Hopefully they will be able to convert the candy into coins down the road.

Some other pros to talk about: you can't add people at random. That might seem like a "uh...what?" kind of thinking, but this app is centralized around you and your real world friends in a Mii setting. You can only add friends through linking your Facebook and Twitter accounts, or by doing the Face to Face sync setting (great for those who do not have a social media account, or don't want to friend their boss on Twitter). There is an option to block people, but given that all of these people are in your social media circles, it seems a bit weird.

I've yet to run into any bugs, either. Everything with the app has been running very smoothly. It's an easy interface to jump into and I haven't had any slow-down times, even with the "improved battery life" setting turned on. Though I will say that the app is a major battery sucker. There's a common misnomer that apps will eat up batteries, but that's very rarely the case. Your phone's background light settings, the background itself, and GPS are the biggest culprits because they access more of the phone's functions to be active. It's rare to get an app that will do the same thing...and Miitomo qualifies. I have a feature on my phone that allows me to see exactly where battery life is expended. Typically I'm 6-8% in the screen lighting area. Apps don't typically make it past 1%. Miitomo nearly matches my screen lighting every time I open it. So be aware that if you're on Miitomo, use it sparingly unless you are near an outlet to keep your phone charged at all times.

Otherwise, it's a silly app. Nothing special or grand about it. I think it would be more engaging if the app could utilize a Nintendo news reel, or some connection to the Wii and Wii-U. It's a fun time waster.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Mii that needs to be set on a fire background with hilarious thought-bubbles.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Pack Up Your Bags - Gaming is Going to the Olympics!

Wait for it kids...video games will be at the Olympics in Rio this year!

Sort-of.

The event, announced as part of the London Games Festival, will indeed take place in Rio during the Summer Olympics. And similar to the Olympics, winners will receive a medal and national pride, knowing they represented their country by being the best at video games. No cash (given the cost of travel, you'd think they would be able to comp your flight or something?) The competition is backed by the U.K government and the International eGames Committee (IEGC). So far the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, and Britain are confirmed to attend.

The first full eGames event will take place in 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the Winter Olympics. In Olympic years, the eGames will take place in the host cities. During other years, national qualifiers will be held domestically to produce teams for the next competition. And the teams will be comprised of both sexes. There will be no splitting of genders.

For the Rio games, they will hold a 2-day demonstration of what people can expect to see in 2018.

And that's it for now! There is some resignation regarding the prizes. Pretty much every gaming contest revolves around cash. Even the Olympics offers a cash prize for winners of gold, silver, and bronze medals. The medals on their own are not worth a lot, and the cash can help offset some of the training and traveling costs for that year, if not more. So this "good job, we won't pay for your flight" type of reward isn't sitting well with a number of people.

The website is pretty bare right now, with minimal information. No lists on what games are going to be involved, or how people will be chosen for teams in each country. They are also hoping to get more sponsorships to help offset the costs of the athletes travel, room, and food. But it feels lackluster right now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm really glad to see that a group is taking gaming seriously, so much so that they are working in conjunction with the IOC (International Olympics Committee) to bring video games to the fore-front of the sports arena. But the lack of details is disturbing. They probably should have held off on the announcement until they could outline the games, team sign-ups, division rules, and feasible rewards for competing.

But it's a step forward!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

I think I need to have a talk to the lawyers downstairs. I know they have control over the AC and feel the need to have it on all the time that my office is constantly under 65 degrees. But there's got to be some legal repercussions here. This isn't just affecting my physical health (going from a hot to cold to hot environment multiple times a day, every day is not good for your immune system) but mentally as well. I have to battle with the AC daily and it's not lending to a stable work environment.

Time for a pep talk with for the Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Let's go!

- Checks are finally in the mail for NCAA athletes from EA. Way back in 2010 a former NCAA Football player sued EA for the use of his image and name for one of their NCAA games, without any compensation. The trial went on for several years, eventually leading to EA discontinuing the NCAA video game franchise in 2013, shortly followed by the NCAA terminating their contract with EA. In 2014, the courts ruled with the players and EA had to pay up. EA is now getting around to doing that. Those who registered and are former male NCAA football and basketball players will receive a check anywhere from $100 to $9,300, who played for a college and appeared in a game between 2003 and 2013. While the amount seems low, and EA can easily pay up, it is a lesson well learned for the gaming giant. Use of a person's name and likeness without paying them for it will not go unnoticed. Even with a group like the NCAA who doesn't pay their athletes, and reaps a lot of rewards from it.

- The LA Times published an exposé of sorts on Anita Sarkeesian, profiling her life and her new venture with Feminist Frequency titled 'Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History.' She started a crowdfunding for this project as well, and has hit her goal of $200k to create 5 episodes of an animated web series focusing on the women history has forgotten, but made a huge impact on the world. Say what you will about Sarkeesian, she clearly has people who respect what she's trying to do (all it is is to get us to talk more openly and have rational discussions about technology, feminism, and gaming) that they support her work. You don't have to agree with her to support her work. I am proof of this. The article also gives insight into Sarkeesian's life and what she has to deal with on a daily basis. I imagine most Hollywood celebrities don't have to deal with a fraction of the bull crap she handles.

- Notch, the man behind Minecraft did more then just make that one game. He's made 10 others! The Mirror wrapped it up in a nice list just for you.

- A hashtag trending on Twitter right now is #DescribeAVideoGameBadly. Not only is it so long that it eats up the precious character limit, it's kind of amusing at how creative, and terri-bad, people can be when given limitations. "Steal some cars, run over pedestrians, steal more cars." That's for GTA by the way. Come on internet. You can do better then that! How about "Hijacking vehicles is not this easy, and comes with a longer prison sentence." I know it's not great, but it's more true to form in what you can expect in GTA - easy, open world, random acts of law breaking coupled with a 5-15 second reload if you get caught by the police.

- I'm sure you all have heard about the Congressman that spent $1,300 on video games, according to an expense report he turned in. Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, blamed it on his son buying one game, and then additional in-game purchases which racked up the bill. But based on the numbers, that seems highly unlikely. A lot of money went to Steam and he's got to pay it back. Hunter says he's not paying until the investigation is complete. Which is dumb. Because even if you argue that it's your son that made the charges, you are still responsible for his actions. You clearly admitted to using the funds for personal use, even if it was a mistake. Pay up!

- Hi WhatCulture. Welcome back to the Round Up. This week they have 18 Video Game Moments That Gave You Memories for Life. Other then a desperate need for a title update, this is about par for the course with a WhatCulture list. Some of the points make sense. The first time you heard the Super Mario theme is something that sticks with you for life. No one will question it. The first time you captured Mew-Two in Pokémon Blue/Red/Gold? Not so much. God of War Hydra battle? Nope. The one in Kingdom Hearts II will always stick with me, because of Danny DeVito yelling "Get on the Hydra's back!" Constantly. So much so that I know of few people who didn't pause the game to mute the television when it got too annoying. Once again, good try WhatCulture. Maybe you'll do better next week?

- I know I said I would not participate in April Fools, and I didn't. But for those who are interested, GameSpot listed some of the gaming jokes that popped up on the internet that day.

- And finally, game hardware maker Analogue is selling 10, 24-karet gold Nintendo Entertainment Systems for $5,000 a pop. It'll come with a free copy of The Legend of Zelda, also covered in gold, to commemorate it's 30th anniversary. Any of the NES accessories will work with the system, and you can purchase a $79 adapter upgrade to boost the analog graphics. It's ostentatious and it's pretty.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Smash Group May Ban Bayonetta

Originally posted on Reddit after a few tweets surfaced from gamers at a Spanish Smash Bros. tournament, it's been confirmed that the organizers of the majority of events in the country, as well as a number of gamers, are considering banning Bayonetta from the roster, even as an alternate character. The ban is not official, the Twitter feed for the group announced, but they will have an update within the next few days.

The call to remove Bayonetta from the list is for a fairly level-headed reason: she's too powerful. Even with the last update, it's common knowledge among the Smash community that Bayonetta is going to kick massive ass if you see her in game. So much so that a number of long-time Smash gamers and tournament groups know that she doesn't keep the game fair. A lot of the top players don't have her in rotation. Not until Nintendo further balances the character.

What I've found at Smash tournaments that I've attended recently is that they do not allow DLC characters to be included. You can only utilize the toons that came pre-packaged with the game. Saves headaches from any in-blances because new characters will always be released imperfect. They'll need tweaks and any bugs worked out before they are safe to use in a tournament setting. What the Spain Smash group is reviewing would be the first of it's kind. No one has outright banned a single character from a fighting game for being too OP.

The counterargument is, of course, there is no reason to ban her. Of the top 400 Smash players in the world, only 3 use Bayonetta as a main. Meta Knight still reigns supreme. Bayonetta does have her weaknesses. While she has a high attack combo, she doesn't move with speed or precision as well as other characters, like Sheik. She can be defeated, and no she is not breaking the game. It's completely possible to go up against her and win. She'll be updated over the coming months to better balance with the rest of the characters.

It'll be interesting to see the final ruling by the Spanish Smash group.

Rock Band 4 Crowdfunding...Wait. RB4 is Being Crowdfunded?

The video game crowdfunding craze is still rolling, but I think we're at a point where fans are starting to sour to the process, ever so slightly. The latest story to cause a ripple is Rock Band 4.

The first question entering your mind right now is 'why does Rock Band 4 need crowdfunding?' The second is most likely 'didn't they release that game last year?' Answering the latter question first: yes. The game did release last year for the PS4 and XBox One. So what's with the crowdfunding? Well Harmonix, the developer, wanted to make a PC version available and to finalize the Rock Band Network, which would allow users to port their own, original music to the game and play them. The music could then be sold on Steam as DLC add-on's for a cut of the profit. There's enough demand and feedback from fans that Harmonix felt that a PC version should be developed. However, profit has not turned enough to make it happen on their own.

The quick history of Harmonix: it was purchased by Viacom and then distributed to EA back when Rock Band and Guitar Hero were the 'it' games to have. A few years ago, Harmonix was able to buy themselves out of Viacom and become independent once more. The drawback is that the once large company is now small again, with a tiny staff and very little cash flow. Getting finances for Rock Band 4 was enough of a challenge that they may have tapped out on their resources. So what's a developer to do? Why they go to the public and ask for their money!

It's very much in the same vein as Psychonauts 2 and Shenmue. Developer's with a brand name, a recognition, well known to the public are now seeking their help to produce their next projects instead of going through traditional methods. One could argue that it's to help gamers feel more in-touch with the products being produced. You might get a name mention in the credits, but more often then not it's just a promise of a copy of the game at release. Unless you drops oodles of cash to actually be involved in the production (Psychonauts 2 you are looking at $10 grand before you can provide input). With Rock Band 4 that price was $25,000 and that was only to have your song built into the game. That's it! The rest of it is trinkets that are no better then a pre-order bonus. Funny thing here; Tim Schafer (see Psychonauts) was involved in the RB4 crowdfunding experience. Check out the rewards page.

Harmonix tried, but they didn't meet their deadline yesterday, asking $1.5 million from fans to develop a PC version of the latest release. It wasn't for lack of trying. They were hitting up every outlet on news and online to drum up support. (rimshot!) Based on the response of the crowdfunding, the comments seem to sway more towards "why does Harmonix need our support?" And it's a valid question. The company has sold $100 million worth of copies of the game this year so far, and while it wasn't enough to keep a struggling MadCatz afloat (whom created the peripherals for the game), that's still pretty good numbers for a franchise many thought was long gone. So the question now becomes, why does a known game company, with the financial capital at hand, need to borrow money from gamers?

And I don't have an answer for that. Even when you pay back investors and divvy up the remaining funds to fulfill contracts, music licensing agreements, legal fees, etc, there should be more then enough left to distribute $2 million ($1.5 from the crowdfunding and $500k from Hamonix) to cover the cost of making a PC version. Is this another example of corporate greed or a developer getting on the crowdfunding hype train? It worked for Shenmue, which did have studio backing, so why not them?

Whelp! The people have spoken. If Harmonix does want to fund a PC version, they'll have to go about it in a different way. But maybe this is also a sign? Are people starting to tire of crowdfunding games now that larger developers are stepping in to utilize the system?

Probably another crazy theory, but I'm just throwing it out there for you to puzzle over.


On the other end of the spectrum, a fan of Life is Strange attempted to start his own crowdfunding project to develop a squeal to the Dotnod hit game. The fan only asked for $20k and had 2 plans on how to spend the money. Option 1 was to go directly to Dotnod, hand them the cash, and ask them to make a sequel. Option 2 was if Dotnod said no, the fan would seek another publisher to sponsor and buy the rights to Life is Strange from Dotnod and SquareEnix (whom published the game). Pledge $50 and you'd get a copy of the new game. Pledge $1,000 and you could help write a character backstory. Lofty promises for someone with no game development experience, no stake in either company that released the original game, and no rights to the product.

The ending to this story should be fairly obvious: within a day the project was pulled from Kickstarter due to copyright infringement. So remember kids, even if you're a big fan of something the best thing to do is to send your requests via letters and e-mail to the developer directly. Don't jump in and try to start your own copy of the game. Copyright rules don't work that way.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"Video Games" YouTube Channel In Court

The legalities of YouTube are always a touchy subject. Whether it's muting soundtracks for copyright violations (even when no revenue is in place for the channel), or requiring content creators to sign up for YouTube Red, the ever-changing rules can be a minefield.

Which has nothing to do with today's story, but I wanted to post that friendly reminder about how much YouTube can suck at times.

A Dallas jury ruled on April 1st (and no that is not a joke) that two of the creators behind the YouTube channel Video Games were in breach of contract, and ordered to pay $20.3 million dollars. Two investors, David T. Moss and Brandon Keating, initially gave $1500 to help cover the channel's start-up costs, with a promise of 30% of stake in the business and 30% of the profits. The $20 million is almost 6800% of a return on that initial investment, over a 4 year period. Wow.

According to court documents, the prosecution claims that Marko Princip and Brian Martin, the founders of the channel, conspired to commit fraud and not keep their contractual commitments with the two investors. Essentially, they never paid a cent to investors. Nor did they include them on important company decisions that could alter the face of the business. Princip and Martin argued that the investors backed out of the contract and final papers were not signed. Though they kept the $3000. There also seems to be a claim by the YouTube channel creators that they don't make enough money. With 3 million plus subscribers, that's difficult to believe.

I'm making the assumption since the crux of the decision was based on the channel's advertising revenue. The channel has received 813 million clicks over the 4 year period, and the page was paid $3 for every 1,000 clicks in ad revenue (or $2.439 million overall). While the fine is a bit excessive, the figures were based off of potential future earnings for the channel. The plaintiffs will be awarded 60% of the $2.439 ad revenue, $1.5 million in future earnings, and $16 million in punitive damages. Which means a ton of begging to fans to help meet those numbers.

As more entertainment content moves online, cases like these are going to start cropping up. Even with a YouTube channel, if you have investors or have made agreements on what they own or can get in return, you better be faithful to those terms. YouTube is big business. Stick to the law and you should be safe...from the most part. Content and copyright infringement is still a grey, ambiguous area.

But of course this story can't end with bygones being bygones. In a dick move that any gamer is all too familiar with, Martin was a sore loser. On Friday he sent out a Tweet through his account asking people to upload pornographic content to the YouTube channel. Unfortunately the tweet has since been deleted, but clearly enough people caught it that a judge forced Martin and his attorney back into court on Tuesday to clear up the issue. Without knowing the full details, it's hard to say what Martin's plan was. Maybe it was to try and tank the channel, get it pulled from YouTube so that they have no way to pay the money to the investors? Maybe it was to devalue the content of the channel - again so they don't have to pay. Whatever the reason, the judge ruled that "the parties to do nothing to harm the channel or its value." Given Princip and Martin's past transgressions with botting and content violation, somehow this is not surprising.

Monday, April 04, 2016

On This Day...6 Years of The Geek Spot

It was April 4th 2010 when I decided to start up this blog, and begin the seemingly never ending journey into reporting on all things video games, with the occasional alternate geeky topic, with my awkward brand of sarcasm and humor.

In that time I have learned a ton about video games, experienced once in a lifetime events that I never expected, and wrote a lot of articles. Some of them caused a few eyebrows to rise to the heavens. Others probably had fanboys and girls shaking their head. All of them hold a place in this weird blogging legacy I have created.

This entry will mark number 1,573 in The Geek Spot's life cycle. I'm still amazed every time I open up the stats and see 50,000 people visit this blog every month. Like...really? That many? Wow.

The Geek Spot began as a challenge to myself; to last a full year with a blog. In the past my blogs were for school or would die off after a few months when the topic no longer interested me, or life got in the way. TGS was my chance to change that mindset. I picked a topic that I loved and set a timeline for myself. Post once a day, Monday through Friday. And keep them consistent. After the one year mark, when I initially planned to quit, I decided to stick around and keep going.

And I started TGS at an odd time. I was in the middle of working on my PhD. I was with a large gaming retailer and had to be extra cautious about the content I posted. You'll be able to see when I left that job based on the tonal shift of the posts. 2010 in general was an odd year. Conan O'Brian returned to television. A new console, titled The Jungle, was attempting to make a mark in the industry. Freedom of speech and creativity in video games was being challenged in the Supreme Court. Nintendo turned 25. There was so much going on in gaming and in my personal life that the birth of TGS seemed like the right time, now that I look back on it.

It's been a good 6 years of TGS. Here's to 6 more of EA and Ubisoft eye rolling, pre-order bashing, WhatCulture snickering, bountiful Let's Plays, and never ending, but fun, Weekly Link Round Ups.