Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Internet: You're Doing WB's Marketing For Them

Taking a break from the video game talk to jump into movies. Specifically 'Wonder Woman.' I can hear the cries of the internet, oh so faintly. It's as if, thousands of trolls screamed in agony at the mere mention of 'Wonder Woman.'

This past week has been kind of a train-wreck in the most glorious of ways. It's bringing out the best and worst in humanity. Topping off a tumultuous month of backlash from fans and critics of Warner Bros. about the lack of marketing for the movie, the recent uprising over Alamo Drafthouse's women-only screening of the film, is capping off May quite nicely. Early critical reviews are giving it one of the highest ratings of a DC movie, ever.

The whole situation is kind of amusing to watch, and possibly a smart marketing move for WB. As much as I'd like to join in on the uproar for the lack of marketing behind 'Wonder Woman,' it's had more push then 'Suicide Squad'. Still trailing behind the other WB superhero films, but it's a start. There are commercials (though I haven't seen any yet), trailer announcements, a Dr. Pepper cans, and a feature at this year's WonderCon.

But this is part of the brilliance in WB's marketing plan. Have you all noticed just how much we're talking about 'Wonder Woman' lately and the WB hasn't had to do much to make that happen?

Call me cynical, but my film and business degrees, and marketing know-how are telling me that this was all planned. Though 'Batman vs. Superman' and 'Suicide Squad' were not well-received by critics, they did net a profit. The studio has seen the online backlash (everyone did) and sought out an alternative to presenting the next project that wouldn't bite them in the ass. What we saw for 'Batman vs. Superman' was not the movie that we received. The same could be said for 'Suicide Squad.' The trailers and promos gave us fantastical versions of the films that didn't materialize. The internet rallied and pleaded with the WB to make 'Wonder Woman' a better film. Many fans and critics felt that this was the DC Universe's last chance to have a good movie, if they expect 'Justice League' to go off without a hitch.

With this mindset now in play, pulling back on the reins and not bombarding people with 'Wonder Woman' advertising, seems like a smart move.

Think about it. Your core DC fan-base of comic book readers and animated fans, are going to make sure Wonder Woman succeeds. They have made that online commitment. Yes, I understand that might not mean they follow-through, but even if you capture 50% of that audience to buy a ticket opening weekend, that's still a pretty high rate of conversion. And we know comic fans. They are rabid and will go after the goals they have set out.

So, since DC can guarantee that their fans are going to promote the hell out of the movie for them, they only need to attract the audience of those who may not know about the Wonder Woman movie. Their tactics are focusing more on brand name recognition across a broad spectrum. Trailers, the occasional commercial, and Dr Pepper cans seem like an appropriate route to take. It's not screaming in the face of the average movie-goer, but can capture their attention. Even those who have never read a comic, or seen the TV show, know the name 'Wonder Woman.' Combined with the grocery-store advertisements, you're likely to capture the attention of the non-fans to take interest.

While this may be enough for some movies, this wasn't for 'Wonder Woman.' Fans started to cause an uproar over the insufficient marketing of the film compared to 'Batman vs. Superman.' A load of articles appeared online, scrutinizing WB's policies. People were taking up arms to help support the movie, and "getting the word out" that others should do the same. We can't let 'Wonder Woman' fail!

This is marketing gold. The WB didn't have to push much to get such a strong result. And now that movie reviewers seem to be embracing the film, the studio doesn't have to put much effort into throwing out more marketing. Even the approval, and minor backlash from Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas over their female-only screening of the movie is raking in more free publicity. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at those meetings.

And this isn't the first time where the internet took a prominent stance on a movie to help boost it's sales. 'The Interview' was broiled in controversy after threats were made to Sony if the film was released to theaters. Even I joined in on this. So instead of showing it in theaters, Sony agreed with the internet and made the movie available to purchase online. It's not the best movie, and has some laughs, but it produced a flurry of sales that no one expected. Everyone wanted to know what was so darn controversial that made North Korea worry. And really, they didn't have a damn thing to worry about. 'Team America: World Police' was probably a worse portrayal of the country and it's leadership, and those were puppets! It was also, a lot funnier, but that's not the point.

Internet. You have a lot of power. And you're using it to help make big businesses profit. Um...maybe we should re-evaluate how we use that power in the future. How about we end world hunger? Can we start there?

Whatever your position is on the film, if you want to see it, if you think trolls need to stop being dicks (which they do), if you think fans are helping boost the movie's potential, I can't help but wonder if this was WB's plan all along.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

PS3 Glory Days Are Gone

The PlayStation 3 is officially no more.

The last remaining system, the PS3 500 Gigabyte, was expected to end it's final run in the upcoming year. On March 23rd, Sony announced that the PS3 was no longer going to be produced with a final date on the way. We didn't expect that "soon" to be today. The official product page for the system has been listed for a while that manufacturing would end soon, but did not have a listed ETA. Shipments of the system in Japan have ceased as of today, and will end for North America in October of this year. All future models will stop production and focus will turn to the PS4.

Given Sony's stance on their systems, the PS3 had a good run. Releasing to the world in 2006, the PS3 has survived a hard-lived battle against the XBox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. It even boosted better power then the XBox One, when that system was initially announced.

Arguably one of the system's initial downfalls were the weird spin-offs of the system itself. You had a 20 gig, a 40 gig, a 60 gig, an 80 gig, a 500 gig. Some were backwards compatible and others were not. Some required hardware add-ons for space, while others could take a memory card. When I worked in game retail at that time, the PS3 was one of the more difficult consoles to explain to customers. "Yes it's 40 gig and backwards compatible, but the 20 gig is not." It was a really strange time for the system, and somehow it was still popular. The load of exclusive games and Triple A content help solidify the system as a power-house for the upcoming decade.

PS3, we salute you for your 11 years of service.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Video Game Science: Study Shows Games Improve Memory

If for some reason you need more proof that video games are good for you, and won't rot your brain, the University of California at Irvine published a study in 2015 that may peek your interests. If anything, it comes with a sweet Infograph.

The study focused on if video games helped improve areas of the brain that affected memory - spatial as well as short/long-term memory. Using several test subjects and three different testing groups, the overall results look positive. Additional testing and more subjects are, of course, always needed to ensure the outcome is sound. But for what the researches had to work with, the content is good.

The first test had 3 groups: gamers, non-gamers, and competitive professional gamers. They were each given a questionnaire to fill out to gauge their gaming habits, followed by a series of enumeration and mnemonic similarity tests. When comparing the results, they found that gamers, both standard and pros, showed better mnemonic discrimination then non-gamers. Test 2 did a comparison of 2D and 3D games and found similar results, and improved memory among those who focused on 3D games.

Now if more science could be summed up in an infograph for people to easily digest, we might be able to combat global warming!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Who's ready for the weekend? I know I am. Wow; this month has flown by with impressive speed. I think everyone deserves a nice, long, relaxing weekend of playing video games. Let's jump right on in to the Weekly Link Round Up. Some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet.

- Have you played Fallout 4 yet? No? Well apparently it's free this weekend on Steam. Starting today at 10am PST and ending Sunday at 1pm PST. On Monday there will be a sale for the item so if you like the game enough, you can buy it. No news yet on what the price will be at checkout. But that's a good way to celebrate a long a post-nuclear wasteland.

- Kotaku dives into a very important topic that is on gamer's minds: Why Video Games Are Delayed.

Okay so that's not a big issue right now. Most gamers are understanding when a product is delayed. Developers come up with new ideas, new technology comes up that enhances the game's experience, stories change, bugs happen, there are a myriad of reasons on why a game is delayed. In the wake of the controversy behind Assassin's Creed: Unity and No Man's Sky, developers are trying to play it safe. Gamers have been fighting back against incomplete releases and Day 1 patches. Promising games like South Park: The Fractured Butt Whole has been delayed since September of 2016, with a pending March 2017 release that has been moved again to later this year. The game looked great at PAX Prime. But if Ubisoft has their reasons to delay it, I can't fault them. I'd rather the game be as complete and bug free as possible before it's on store shelves, so it's worth the wait.

- XBox Game Pass, the new game streaming service, will begin it's roll out to all users starting June 1st. The Netflix/GameFly-like service will be given to Gold Members for a 14-day trial run, before you have to pay the $9.99 monthly fee. The goal is to have the gaming library update every month so new content is always available to consumers. Customers with the new feature will also receive a 20% discount if they opt to buy games that are featured.

- The Netflix Castlevania show got it's first trailer, and it's out! There really isn't much to talk about though. The animation looks nice, and it's better then I expected given that the main studio behind the designs tends to focus on children-friendly programs, like 'Adventure Time' and 'The Fairly Odd Parents.' The opening is cute, even though that person shoved the NES game a little too roughly into the system. You don't need to force it, dude. You can gently slide and push down, and it'll work. I'm curious, but I'd like to see more from a trailer before I make a verdict on if I will watch it.

- The U.S. Navy and the Office of Naval Research is pouring funding into a video game project that allows sailors to use magical spells. The "goal is to isolate the factors in first-person-shooters such as ‘Halo’ and ‘Call of Duty’ that improve cognitive functions like reaction time, multitasking, and attention span. The ONR plans to develop the game that best trains people for jobs requiring large amounts of screen time, such as sonar and radar technicians and pilots." I didn't know of a better way to word it, so that's direct from the press release! But why have sailors using magic? Well the hope is that the game becomes popular enough internally that they can make a "kids version" one day, and are trying to reduce the amount of violent content. Instead of guns, they use magic. Throw in a few digital monsters, and you've got something the kids will love! (Please note the sarcasm.)

- Finally, if you're looking for your fill of "good" gaming articles this week, head over to IGN where they talk about "trash games." As the name implies, trash games are the left-overs. They're not the big titles we think of when we talk about video games. They are the random piles of stuff that tend to get thrown aside. Sometimes they are glitchy, or look like 32-bit disaster zones. But some of those trash games are genius and push the boundaries of what's expected in video games. They provided inspiration to some of today's biggest indie hits, such as Five Nights at Freddy's and Papers Please. It's worth a read!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Progress With Voice Actors Strike

For those waiting, I am working on the next installment of the "How To Be a Streamer" series. Part 3 focuses on the video stream aspect and the editing of your content. It's easily turning into the longest post with the amount of commentary I have put into it, but the payoff will be worth it. Thank you for sticking with me! I hope to have it published in the upcoming days.

Back to today's topic: SAG-AFTRA's strike is producing some results!

Announced in the guild's Spring newsletter, some game companies are agreeing to SAG's terms in order to sign some of the high/A-List voice actors to their upcoming projects. SAG did not announce which companies are involved, but some of them have agreed to residual payments to voice actors if a game sells well. A full day's wage will be offered if a game sells 2 million units, with up to 4 payment periods if a game sells more then 8 million units. In all, 30 games from 20-25 companies have agreed to SAG-AFTRA's new terms. It was announced in April, but confirmed in the guild's newsletter.

Phil LaMarr, who is in so many voice acting projects that I can't even begin to start naming them, commented in the magazine that "These deals show that other companies see that what we're asking for is reasonable." It's hinting that the larger, triple-A developers may not be rushing to agree to the contracts, but other gaming companies get it.

Seven months in and the strike continues. At stake is live-able compensation for voice actors during and after their work sessions, more breaks during recordings (screaming for 5 hours straight doesn't sound like a fun time), and better transparency between the developers and the actors.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Speedrun Curse To Save Time

Did you know that it's really easy to cheat when you're speedrunning video games? I'm an avid fan of speedruns. I think they are a unique, fun way to play some of our favorite games by providing new challenges. Speedruns are not for the faint of heart. They require more concentration, level knowledge that surpasses the average player, and all the tricks to get to the end as fast as possible. Some speedruns focus on completing the game as fast as possible. Others, it's all about collecting every star/gold/banana in the shortest amount of time. It's quite an accomplishment when you are able to rush through a game and meet those goals.

TheNo1RetroGamer, one of the top speedrunning gamers, recently released a video showing how little effort it takes to trick viewers into thinking that they are watching a legitimate speedrun. A string of runners who have set records for Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007 have been exposed for cheating their way through the game. Cuts in the video or time code, slowing down the timer (most speedrun videos will have a timer so viewers can track the gamer's progress), even splicing in older speedrun footage to shed seconds off a new time - this stuff happens a lot!

It's an old tale of "never trust anything you see on the internet." Photos and videos can easily be altered to fit the story that the gamer wants to tell.

So how do you know if what you're watching is a real speedrun?

Stick to live streams. Most of the cheats happen in the editing room for the nice, neatly packaged video that gets uploaded to YouTube later. But it's difficult to cheat in a live speedrun when people are watching. Viewers, gamers in particular, are not shy to call out inconsistencies they see. If the timer is slow, or if they see the player force a glitch in the game to shed off a few seconds, you can bet people will speak up. It keeps the streamer honest, and the speedrun accurate. The community helps keep the "sport" alive and true to it's roots, even to those who try to cheat their way through it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The King of Kong: The Musical!

You did not read that headline incorrectly. Someone is taking the documentary 'The King of Kong' and adapting it into a musical.

Let that sink in for a moment. Revel in the strangeness of that feeling.

Objectively speaking, on paper this doesn't seem like a bad idea. 'The King of Kong' is about arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell and upstart Steve Wiebe. Mitchell has held the record for highest score on the Donkey Kong arcade game for decades. Wiebe wanted to beat it. The documentary is an insightful look at the art of competition, what it takes to win, and the lengths people will go to so as not to accept defeat. The film began with the intent of looking at game contests in general, before it focused in on Mitchell and Wiebe. If you're ever curious about the world of competitive arcade games, watching 'King of Kong' is a good place to start.

The documentary features everything you want out of a great story. The action of the gameplay and the gamers working up a sweat as they focus on their end goal. The drama of watching Donkey Kong score a hit on the player. The suspense of Wiebe beating the record, only to be trounced days later by Mitchell in a taped recording of himself besting the new score (which was very controversial at the time). You don't get this much content in a 'Transformers' film! Adapting the story into a musical isn't terrible - in theory. It has the makings of something engaging.

Seth Gordon, the director for the original film and the 'Baywatch' reboot, addressed questions at a press junket about the potential project. Scripts are in the works, as well as a line-up of songs to be included. The project is well under-way by all accounts. But, is this the right thing to do for 'The King of Kong'?

Something in my gut is saying this feels weird. The documentary is great. There's nothing that needs to be improved upon. Transforming it into a different medium detracts from the original content and could potentially dull the original message of the film. If the documentary didn't exist, and this musical was the first appearance of 'The King of Kong', I think there would be more critics willing to accept the premise. But when you have something so good already in place, why change it up?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! About time! This has been an extra long week for some unknown reason, and I think we all deserve a nice, long, relaxing weekend or playing video games. I know I'll be making time to partake in a few. With that, let's start off the weekend right with a Weekly Link Round Up. Some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet.

- Gaming sites are freaking out over Destiny 2. I guess the distaste of the first game has washed out of their mouths? One of the biggest news pieces to drop is that Activision/Blizzard is taking on the game for the PC port. Seeing how well the company manages their online IP's, that's a good step for Destiny to take. So if you want to know everything and anything about the new game, there's this site, and this one, and this one too. Bungie is going all out in trying to get people onto the Destiny train asap, lest they have another disaster on their hands.

- Business Insider is gracing us with the "worst and dumb" article of the week. The reasoning why PS4 and XBox One gamers can't play together. And that's because business. Yep. Business. That's it. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintedo all like to keep their secrets and keep people playing their content. They don't want to lose a life-time Sony gamer to Microsoft, so they don't allow for cross-connectivity. This isn't news, Business Insider. It's been like this forever. It won't change anytime soon. Final Fantasy XI has been one of the only games to bridge the gap between Sony, Microsoft, and PC. And we all know why. So, thanks for calling out the obvious, Business Insider.

- ScreenRant has a list of the 15 Worst Video Game Remakes that No One Asked For. It's kind of funny what's listed, because some of these are games you probably have never heard of! Did you know that the 2013 Deadpool game was "remastered" and re-released when the movie arrived? The game has no connection to the film and no new content was added. It was a bad port on a newer console. However Resident Evil 6 is on the list. It's not a remake but a sequel. I think this is the author's attempt at inserting his dislike of RE. Otherwise, the list is mildly entertaining.

- GameStop hasn't been doing well. Despite what the company may say to the public, some investors are warning stock holders to jump out while they can. Stock value has dropped by 1/3rd over the past 3 years, sales are sliding, and publishers are trying to sell more of their content direct to consumers to eliminate the middle man. While I don't want to wish failure to a company since jobs are on the line, GameStop needs to re-brand and re-market themselves fast if they expect to keep up with the digital age.

- Kotaku knocks it out of the park with an article about trash talking. There's an art to riling up your opponents, all in a good-nature manner that keeps the game fun. Silly article with some amusing insight.

See you all next week!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Another Netflix Announcement: 'The Witcher' in Production

The Witcher is coming to Netflix!

And I'm not that excited about it. The legacy of video game movies has been abysmal. With the exception of the Ace Attorney movie. It is the one bright beacon, in an otherwise dark and stormy cycle of crappy video game films. Will television fare any better? In the past, our only access to video games on TV has been through Saturday morning cartoons with Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario. They weren't bad shows, but it's clear that they were meant for children. They are not the quality of Steven Universe or Avatar: The Last Airbender in terms of content. Yet they entertained and delighted children for years. That's more then can be said for the majority of game movies.

So does this new move of taking serious games and turning them into TV shows...could this work in the one medium where game adaptations have been semi-successful?

We already know about Castlevania. The animated adaptation of the game will be on Netflix this year. There shouldn't be a surprise that another mature video game will be making it's way to Netflix as well. But why The Witcher?

A few reasons: it's a successful franchise selling over 25 million games since it's creation. The books that the game's are based on, are equally as popular and have been on the New York Times Best Selling list. The premise and setting of The Witcher are easy to manipulate into a traditional movie/TV story-telling model: if you break it down, the story is reminiscent of Van Helsing, but not as goofy. And with Netflix moving more towards gritty, ground-breaking action/drama sagas, The Witcher would fit right in.

Now here's some of the bad news:

Remember that quick blurb I posted in the Weekly Link Round Up a few weeks back about the author, Andrzej Sapkowski? How he wasn't happy with the reputation of The Witcher and felt slighted by the game's developer CD Projekt? He's serving as the creative consultant on the television show. Meaning this isn't an adaptation of the games, but of the books. “I’m thrilled that Netflix will be doing an adaptation of my stories, staying true to the source material and the themes that I have spent over thirty years writing,” said Sapkowski. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

So if you're a fan of the games, you might be disappointed at how much the Netflix series won't replicate that look. But if you like the books, then you're in luck!

The series is also being produced by Sean Daniel and Jason Brown, who produced the 1999 and 2017 Mummy movies, respectively. The new Mummy film looks awful and a quick cash grab. The 1999 Brendan Fraser one...okay I admit I have a soft spot for that movie. It's over the top, campy, and goofy in all the right ways. So imagine that for The Witcher and you'll quickly see why I'm concerned.

Third, it's going to be live action. Not animated. That's going to probably throw a big wrench into the design of the series for a lot of viewers. Part of the draw of The Witcher video games is that the monsters and baddies look every much like they are part of the world as the human characters. It's incredibly difficult to make ogre's look natural next to your male lead. Even with 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Game of Thrones,' it's still easy to tell when you have a digital dragon on the screen. Which is why The Witcher lends itself so well to a video game environment, where everything is animated. Having that mix of animated and live action could be detrimental in making the crazy creates in Sapkowski's come to life.

It'll be interesting to see where Netflix goes with this project, but you can expect some twists, turns, and unhappy gamers in the process when they find out more of the details.

Interesting side-note: The books aren't actually called The Witcher. That title is owned by CD Projekt, and they may not allow Netflix to use it without getting compensation for it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

5 Reasons Why It Sucks to Play a Healer in a Video Game

Full disclosure: 97% of the time I play a healing job. There are a lot of things to love about it. Not only do you have the power over the lives, and deaths, of your teammates, you help control the flow of battle by how well you manage your healing abilities. One of the major components that draws me to healers is that you have to be an effective multi-tasker. Apparently I can't get enough of that in my daily life that it needs to seep into my gaming habits as well. I love it!

Final Fantasy XI Red Mage (RDM) was my ultimate dream job. The RDM was set up to be a balance of melee, white magic, and black magic. A literal jack of all trades having enough power in each category to morph into the role a party needs without being too powerful. In the grand scheme of the game it quickly evolved into White Mage 2.0. The tactical gear provided was limited, and there were already plenty of melee jobs on the market. What the game was lacking were alternate healers to make up for the small number of White Mages (WHM) that were available to level. And RDM acted as a nice stand-in.

This type of activity always invigorated me. I could pour my focus into the game and tune out the world for a few hours while I played RDM. It was a wonderful stress relief, even when I was taxing my brain and fingers. Even now on Final Fantasy XIV or Overwatch, I enjoy the jobs that let me multi-task to my heart's content. So again, healers. I'm an Ana player most of the time, and Astrologian is my lifeblood on FF14...until RDM comes out in 34 days.

As much as I love to be a healer, it sucks Donkey Kong balls whenever you play with people you don't game with on a regular basis. If they are outside of your guild, it's bound to result in you head-desking or face-palming a dozen times, while you ponder if "reporting for stupidity" is an option.

Here are the 5 Reasons Why It Sucks to Play a Healer in a Video Game, and why you should avoid the job/class at all costs:

5 - No one on your team will ever listen to you. That's not a joke. It's a fact. If there's a circle of lava or poison on the floor, other people in your party will stand in it like it's no big deal. They'll just take damage over time and think "eh, the healer can take care of it." Or be completely devoid of thought and not realize they are taking damage. And you can tell them hundreds of times to move, but they won't. They'll just keep on standing there like it's no big deal. Because who cares what the healer wants?

4 - People will constantly harass you for healing, even when at full health or after you have died in game. Sometimes it's trolls being trolls. But there are genuinely a lot of people who ignore the status updates on the bottom left of the screen and have no clue that your character has died. So they'll spam you for heal requests and you're dead on the ground. Can't heal when you're dead! But even when you say "I'm dead. Respawn in 10 seconds" the heal requests don't let up. It seems like a majority of people ignore the reality and hope you'll magically spawn back to life to give them the curing they desperately don't need.

3 - The gear kind of sucks. The end-game fashion looks great, but it takes a while to get to that point. Mage gear is notorious for looking like trimmed potato sacks that sort of fit your character's frame. In FF14, from level 52-54 you can receive multi-colored, pepto-pink and green jester gear for the healing jobs. It is atrocious. Most games at level 15, if you are a tank or a melee, has some respectable looking duds. But healers? Potato sack.

2 - Speaking of gear, it's expensive. For Healers more so then any other job. And a lot of this is based on the game economics. There are so few people who play as a healing job, making and selling gear is counter-productive for crafters. Why wait on one big pay day for a healing staff that may take 2 weeks to sell, when you can pour your resources into crafting blades for Paladin's or Warrior's, make 100 of them, and get the same profit in a fraction of the time? The few bits of gear that do exist for Healer's on markets are overpriced to account for the rarity. It sucks.

1 - Everyone will blame all failures on you. It doesn't matter what did or didn't happen. If the dungeon ran too long, it's your fault. If someone died, it's your fault. If the rare gear didn't drop, it's your fault. Healer's are the ones that get the bad rep, even when they do everything right. Why? We don't know. For being one of the toughest jobs to master with so much responsibility, people are quick to blame and assume you have the easiest role in the game. "You just cast cure and nothing else." Oh...if they only knew just how stressful it can be.

So do yourself a favor. Don't play the healer. If you want people to not care about your job of choice, pick Monk. Hand to Hand specialties seem to get the least amount of flack and all you have to do is punch things. That's a win-win scenario.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mobile Zelda?

With Super Mario Run making waves in the phone game market, and the continued success of Miitomo, Nintendo is most likely already in development of their next product. What would it be, you might wonder? Well some are speculating that it's Legend of Zelda. Which seems like a logical choice in the lineup, and would be a good tie-in to the release of Breath of the Wild.

According to sources affiliated with The Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what Nintendo is working on next for the mobile market. While Nintendo has not issued any comments or statements to confirm it, they're not denying it either. We're back in speculation land again. Yea. It's probably best to wait it out, see what Nintendo says, and hey! Maybe it'll be officially announced at E3 in a few weeks?

Nintendo is planning on releasing an Animal Crossing mobile game later this year. Working with mobile developer DeNA to manage the product and maintain future updates once the app is released. Animal Crossing on mobile sounds like an ideal format for the set-up. You create and manage your own digital home of animal cuteness. By going mobile, you are able to check on your home throughout the day without having to wait until you are near a gaming console. Nintendo hopes to have this app link up to possible Wii/Wii-U versions of the game to make it more interactive - we'll see where that goes. As long as there aren't extreme paywalls to build and grow your homestead, this could be a fun app to have on the go!

Zelda seems like a possible game but let's not hold our breaths. Wait on Nintendo to give the official announcement and then we can all do the happy dance. As long as it's not like Mario Run. Good in theory, but that paywall...ugh.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Be a Video Game Streamer Part 2: Setting Up Your Channel

Back into the thick of things! Let's move on to Part 2 of How to be a Video Game Streamer. If you've read through Part 1, hopefully you have had enough time to think about what your content is going to focus on. What you decide from here on out while shape how your channel with grow over the it's lifespan.

With your content and gaming persona in mind, you're ready to start Setting Up Your Channel. This task can be both simple and daunting.

First things to do is claim your Channel name based on the persona that you have created from Part 1. This will be the easy part. Head over to YouTube, Twitch, SmashCast, and UStream, signing up for accounts, and doing your darnedest to make sure that all of your gamer tags match. Why? Because this will make it easier for people to find you. As a fan, there is nothing worse then then going to Twitch, looking for your gamer tag 'Death2Smoochie', and not finding you. If your YouTube, SmashCast, and UStream name matches, but your Twitch ID is 'IPlayGamz', your fans will never be able to locate your stream. Part of branding yourself as a streamer is ensuring that your content is consistent among all platforms. That includes your gamer tag. If you find that your ID is already taken, then use variations of your tag. Add in dashes or underscores. Example: 'Death-2-Smoochie.' This will allow your name to come up in searches so people will have a greater chance of locating you.

Now that you have your ID claimed on these platforms, consider linking them up so that content can be shared. Throw in your social media profiles to, like Twitter and Facebook, that allow for cross-posting. This makes it easier to reach your friends and followers with any updates you have on your channels without the need for you to make multiple individual posts. It's one and done. Thank goodness for the internet!

But before you start posting, we need to get your Channels looking fancy. This means graphics, layout, rules, buttons, and plugins. This is where you are going to start hating life, especially if you don't have a background in graphic design. I'm going to use my Twitch Channel as an example of a simplified layout to give you all a better idea of what I'm talking about.

As you can see I have a banner, an avatar, and a video feed banner to inform people of my streaming schedule. I also have a Twitter-like chat bar to give viewers updates, and a series of boxes to the right of that, laying out my channel rules, and creative buttons that people can click so they can follow me on social media. Everything on that page is all tied to the same look with a 8/16-bit, old school gamer style. I even pixilated the social media icons to better match my design. If you check my YouTube Channel, it replicates the look. It may not be exact because YouTube and Twitch are different platforms, but you can tell between the two streaming systems that it's me. It's still TifaIA Cosplay.

Whether you have 1 or 1 million viewers, the look of your Channel needs to be represented in all forms of media that you are utilizing. If you need other examples, Google your favorite streamers and check our their pages. You'll find that all of the top game streamers have content that matches on every platform.

Before you jump in and start uploading images to pretty up your page, think about the overall look you want your Channel to have. If your focus is going to be on Minecraft, you may want to design your icons to center around that topic. Your avatar could be your in-game character skin. Channel buttons could be different animals in the game. You want people to know what your Channel is about in the first few moments of opening the page. People will know within seconds whether or not they want to stick around. And if you have nothing on your Channel that indicates visually that you are a Minecraft gamer, then don't expect people to stay.

So if you're a horror gamer, don't use bright colors or retro graphics as part of your design scheme. Go with a darker pallet (grey, black, rich browns). If you're a Nintendo gamer, use Mario and Legend of Zelda colors (but not their logos or characters, because Nintendo loves to issue CAD's) and Metroid-like backgrounds to act as your banner and buttons. The more you can connect your imagery to your branding, the more in-tune your audience will be to your work.

If you're ready to dive in, Twitch has a great overview on how to upload and edit the info panels on your page. YouTube's is more straight-forward with their Channel layout content, so there isn't as much to edit. But you can still mimic the style on Twitch to better replicate your brand.

Now that's all well and good if you have knowledge in graphic design. But what if you don't and you only have access to MSPaint? How can you make cool looking Channel graphics? You've got a few options available to you:

- Hire a graphic designer to create your content. And by hire, I mean pay them actual money. Do not cheap out and try the "well if you give me free graphics, I'll promote you and you'll get free advertising." That's not how it works. Graphic designers and artists are human. They need to eat and pay bills like everyone else, and they can't do that on "free advertising." How much would it cost? Depends on the designer. Check out websites like Freelancer and Guru. These are websites where people can offer their services for payment. Everything from copywriting to website coding. You can also check out art sites like DeviantArt and see if someone's work strikes your interest. Contact the person, set up payment, and give them a very detailed description of what you want your final Channel design will look like. Some artists will charge $15-$30 an hour for work, or give you a bulk rate of $150-$500 for everything. It depends on the person.

- Teach yourself! This will be the most time-consuming method, but if you are interested in learning, there are a load of tools for free that will help you out. And some of the best graphic programs out there don't require you to drop $1 grand to use them. GIMP is a fantastic image manipulation program that is completely free. It's Photoshop Lite, as I like to call it. But as I said, time. You need a lot of it. Graphic design isn't something you can learn overnight. It takes weeks of practice to focus on the craft until you get to a level where you feel that it's passable. Heck, I've been doing this for 10+ years and I still feel subpar at times. But for Channel graphics? A few lessons and some time to design is all you need.

- Buy pre-made Channel graphics. Websites like Tactical Lion Designs and Visuals by Impulse offer icons and images, bundled together to help those starting out their streaming Channels. The downside to this is that because these are easily accessible to anyone who's willing to buy, your visuals may already be in use by another streamer. Not that it's a bad thing, but it can be an issue with distinguishing your identity if you become popular. After a few months, if you see your viewership increase, you should update your graphics to better fit with your branding and create your own look. But for those starting out, looking for a quick way to get nice graphics at a reasonable rate, this is a good way to go!

Here's the legal section of the program so you don't wind up in trouble with your Channel graphics:

1 - DO NOT USE COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. What is copyrighted? Most things are these days. Basically, if you didn't come up with the idea and draw it yourself, it's not safe to use. So no Mario. No Capcom characters. No taking an image from Google and using it. Even if you're not making money off the Channel (as in, you don't have a Donate button or anywhere for someone to give you funds), just don't do it. If you're wondering why I have a Moogle in my graphics, you'll find that I've tweaked the images so they are not a100% copy of the Final Fantasy characters. Loopholes ftw! But if I do add a Donation button, I'll have to change out the icons; to be safe in case of legalities.

2 -  If you hire someone to make your graphics, make sure to have a signed contract with you and the artist to ensure that you maintain full ownership of the final images.

3 - If you use pre-made Channel graphics, you are required to credit the creators/website where you purchased them from. You can do this in the info boxes on Twitch, or add them to your videos with a text title. Whatever you wish to do. Part of the contract you agree to when you purchase the icons is to credit their site. Don't skip this step.

Whew. We covered a lot in this post! But you now have the basic run-down of what to expect when you start making your Channel. And we haven't even begun to create video content yet. Join The Geek Spot in Part 3, where we dive into the streaming process.

Be sure to read up on Part 1: Channel Focus and Persona to start your streaming adventure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Q&A with TifaIA Cosplay - Why Don't You Guest More Often?

I get quite a few questions sent to my inbox, daily. Sometimes it's about crafting details, and others are a bit more insightful. Every now and then I'll receive a question that I feel needs to be discussed more openly. If enough people ask the question, why not address it head on? Maybe I need to make this into a weekly/bi-weekly occurrence? I'll chew on that for a bit.

So the question I received was this: "Why don't I see you as a guest or judge at more conventions?"

Lots of reasons!

Today's cosplay market is saturated with tens of thousands of wonderful people who are the full package that conventions look for. They are personable, they have great presence, they can craft, they know how to market themselves, they have products to sell, and can teach basic panels. Trying to stand out as a unique cosplay persona is very difficult. As a convention organizer or cosplay director, you can't easily search on Google or Facebook and expect to get a handful of results. You're now faced with 29 million results (according to Google). How does one narrow it down?

So instead of waiting around for a convention to find them, some cosplayers now take it upon themselves to market their work and contact the con to ask to be a guest. The days of hoping that a con will stumble upon you are over. With so many cosplayers out there, conventions don't have the time to surf the internet and find you. You have to make yourself known among the con team.

If you have an outgoing personality, this might come naturally to you. I don't, and I still find it weird writing in to a convention and asking if I can be a guest. It feels like begging...I know it's not. It's become the norm. But it puts me in an awkward position mentally, that I'm not great at handling. I'm not an aggressive person. I tend to be passive and like to take time to think before I act. Which makes it difficult for me to promote myself to a convention. I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of asking a con to make me a guest/judge. It's like a job interview for a weekend of work that I may or may not get paid for. I really dislike job interviews. So having to do that for multiple conventions is a scary concept!

At this point, if you want to be a cosplay guest, you have to ask for it and prove to the con that you're worth the invitation. Until you reach cosplay celebrity status like Yaya Han or Jessica Nigri where everyone knows your name, that's the route we all have to take.

I think that's the big reason why I'm not a guest as often - I don't market myself to conventions. That's a personal hurdle that I have to overcome if I want to be more involved on the convention circuit. In my life right now, that's not a priority. I'm just getting back into sewing after taking some time off to get myself mentally back on track. Not to say that if the opportunity presents itself from a convention, that I'd immediately turn it down. As long as everything fits the schedule and I'm able to make it work, then heck yeah! Sign me up as your guest/judge!

But the other reason I think is due to my podcast. We've been running CosPod for over 5 years and in that time we've only been asked to be a guest at one convention. There have been times where we've hosted panels as a team for CosPod, but we weren't guests of the con. We were attendees offering panel content. Part of the reason is because of the self-marking thing. The other part is that we're a podcast. How many podcasts have you seen at anime conventions or cons focusing on cosplay? Yeah. That's what I thought. Podcasts are an odd niché. People enjoy them and their popularity continues to blossom every day. But when it comes to bringing them in as guests, not many conventions do this. No one really knows how to pitch us. Most podcasters don't know how to host panels, or have merchandise to sell. They may only appeal to a specific audience and not provide the content the contention needs. Beyond a "how to start a podcast" panel, podcasters are on the low end of the interest spectrum for conventions.

CosPod is pigeonholed right now. Conventions don't know what to do with us, so we're not offered guesting positions. Though we have a huge library of panels that we have offered and taught over the years, along with dozens of cosplay awards and prior guesting/juding experience, we're still a podcast. We're still stereotyped under that label.

That's not to say that all podcasters fall into this pit. Jedi Cole has a plethora of nerdy podcasts and he's done well at touring smaller conventions to bring his brand of comedy and game shows to audiences. But he's one of the few that has been able to break away from the stigma. For now, CosPod has cemented itself as press. It's not a bad place to be, and does offer us access to content that general attendees typically wouldn't see. As a podcast, that's where we'll be.

We've also morphed the CosPod brand to act as the organization behind ALL-CON Dallas and Infinicon's Cosplay Contests. This was a big leap for us. Our focus has been on these events for the past 3 years and it's been amazing. This may have turned other local cons off from having us as guests. Some conventions have interesting cosplay guest policies where if you are staff at another con, you're not to be invited. For reasons I have yet to understand. But it's their con, their rules. And I'm okay with that. I'd much rather pour our efforts into having fun contests at ALL-CON and Infinicon.

On the rare occasion that I have been a guest judge or a guest, um, guest, it's been great!

But I understand the reality of it all. A lot of it is due to me not marking myself directly to conventions. Eventually I'll get over that speed bump and adapt. Having typed that, if there is a convention you'd like for me to guest at, let me know! I'll put in the effort and try to overcome my social norms and contact the convention.

Hopefully that helps answer the question! And if you have your own with anything about cosplay, video games, or unexpected life lessons, drop me a line!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Salute to Leeroy Jenkins

Guess what gamers?

The legend of Leeroy Jenkins was born 12 years ago.

The World of Warcraft superstar is so infamous that he's been included in the Wracraft trading cards, miniatures, as in-game items and quests in WoW and other MMO's, and Hearthstone. Who would have known that in 2005, such an astounding video would take the internet by storm and turn this man into a demi-God. Ben Schulz, the man behind Leeroy, sure didn't.

On this special occasion, let's take a look back at the history of Leeroy and why his legacy is infamous.

It all started with a raid that went wrong. One evening, Leeroy and his guild PALS FOR LIFE, were setting up for an event. The team was gathering in the chat channels, checking gear, making sure they had enough in-game food, and casting buffs. Leeroy was getting tired of waiting. Seconds turned to minutes, which turned into several minutes. And then nearly an hour. It's enough to drive a person batty, even for the most hard-core of MMO players. He stepped away from his computer to breathe. Returned, and thought everyone was ready. So he charged in to start the fight! Lungs blazing with his battle cry "Leeeeeroooooyyy Jeeennnnkkkiiinnnns!" Sword swinging. Arms flailing. His team running behind to catch up. It was sure to be a glorious fight.

It ultimately led to a complete wipe of the raid party because no one was ready. But at least Leeroy had his chicken.

The guild thought the event and aftermath was funny. They weren't totally mad at Leeroy; just mildly annoyed. He was still chill throughout the experience, and it got a laugh out of the guild-mates. Why not recreate it and record it? So that's what they did, and the Leeroy video was born.

YouTube was still in it's infancy at that time. We knew about it. We knew it had funny cat videos. And it was the perfect place to start loading game content. But PALS FOR LIFE probably had no idea just how popular the video would be. It has everything one needs in less then 3 minutes of viewing time: action, drama, strategy, humor, sorrow, and ridiculousness. It capitalizes on the popularity of WoW, shows how insanely crazy we gamers can be with our battle plans, and just how funny it is when one person messes it up.

Leeroy became an internet session seemingly overnight, though it probably took several months for the video to become a household name among gamers. I remember it being shared in our Final Fantasy XI linkshell group before a Sky run (at the time it was the most difficult area for end-game content). We were all laughing and cringing, knowing that guild's pain all to well. Reaction to the video was nearly immediate. PC Gamer UK ran a special story on Leeroy later that year. Blizzard flew in Schulz to Blizzcon and he became a special guest. Fans love him. To this day, it is one of the most talked about and viewed gaming videos on the internet. Everyone knows Leeroy, and no one wants to be Leeroy in a raid.

And now the internet phenomenon is 12. We've been graced with over a decade of Leeroy, and his legacy will never end. Even after WoW long departs from this world and other MMO's take it's place, there will always be The Ballad of Leeroy Jenkins.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

EA and SquareEnix's Business Decisions Are Freaking Gamers Out

Two big news stories have broken over the last 24 hours. So the "how to be a streamer" guide will need to take a temporary backseat. But the news isn't all doom and gloom. One of the stores had headline misappropriation that was blown out of proportion.

- BioWare's Montreal studio has been scaled down and the team rearranged to focus on other EA projects. The Montreal location has helped build some of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Some have been moved to EA Motive in the same province to work on Battlefront II, while others are starting work on project Dylan, a new property that has yet to be officially announced.

However, most headlines have said that BioWare was "downsizing" which means people were laid off. The assumption being that Andromeda didn't sell as well as expected. This is not the case. No one has been fired, and both EA and BioWare have re-emphasized their commitment to Mass Effect. In an earnings report earlier this week, EA's CEO said that he and investors are happy with the success of Andromeda and expect to see more from the series in the future.

What does it mean for Mass Effect? Nothing. This situation of shuffling around employees at larger gaming developers happens all the time. A game ends. Instead of piling on more resources to work on the next installment right away, teams will move around to help work on other projects that are underway. RockStar, Activision, and Ubisoft do this all the time. When you have multiple studios under your umbrella, it's easy to share the workload and move people to accommodate project needs. There will still be updates to Andromeda, and a patch was released as recently as yesterday, so expect that to be a continuing trend.

Be careful with reading those headlines and dig into the meat of the article instead. Sometimes they are false flags.

- However, this headline is true: SquareEnix and IO Interactive have ended their partnership. If IO Interactive doesn't sound familiar, you might not be aware that the company is the creator of Hitman, Kayne & Lynch, and Mini Ninjas. Square initially assumed ownership of IO in 2009 after buying Edios Interactive. But SE feels that, in order to more forward with future investments and marketing, they need to end the relationship and pursue other interests. Which is crazy given how popular the reboot of Hitman has been. Even I've enjoyed it, and I was completely against the episodic release concept (I still am, to be honest). SE has had record annual sales, and Hitman has been one of the key components to rounding out the developer's catalog of games.

So what's the real situation here? Why give up ownership for a property of games that has proven to sell? SE dropping IO Interactive will result in a $42 million loss for the financial year to end projects currently underway with the smaller developer.

We don't know the specifics, and both SE and IO haven't made any additional announcements on what this parting will mean. IO Interactive is still open for business. They're still pushing out updates to the game and adding more illusive targets. Hopefully we find out more soon, and IO is given a chance to live on with another company to continue the Hitman legacy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Be a Video Game Streamer Part 1: Channel Focus and Persona

Is anyone else getting annoyed at the "make money by playing games!" how-to guides cropping up all over the place? As if it's so simple. A number of these 'walkthroughs' fail to mention the time, energy, and start-up capital it takes to get into playing games for a living. Your favorite Twitch streamers and YouTubers didn't get famous overnight. From Markiplier to RoosterTeeth, people spent years, decades even, to reach the level of internet fame that they currently hold. With it comes more money through viewer donations/ad revenue, and more responsibility to maintain quality work. You have to keep up with a tight work schedule to ensure that your videos are produced, edited, and uploaded when your viewers expect them. If you set yourself up to have a Monday/Wednesday/Friday new video release, you better be sure that you stick to it or you will lose your audience. Fast.

I've touched on this subject before, but I think it's time we have a real run down on what it takes to play video games for a living if you plan to go the Twitch/YouTube streaming method. And I'm going to give you the truth. No fancy "this is so easy, here's how!" taglines. I'm going to break this apart and do a multi-post series on how you can start your own gaming channel. No fluff.

Disclaimer: I'm not going to guarantee that you'll gain viewers or make money off this venture. There will never be a assurance (and if a website promises you that you'll make money, close the tab immediately). It is all dependent on you; how much time and work you're willing to put into it. You might see results. You might not. For some streamers, their popularity was through luck. Even then, they had to work at it to get noticed by a game developer, celebrity, or another big-time streamer. If you want to turn your hobby into a career, you'll have to work for it. There's your bottom line. So, no guarantees and no suing me if you don't make money, got it?

So let's begin with Part 1: Channel Focus and Persona

To be honest, I understand why this career route holds a lot of appeal. You don't answer to a big name corporation (most of the time). You answer to your audience and their gaming needs. You work at your own pace. You set your hours. With advertising revenue you can even eliminate certain ad categories that appear on your videos if the content doesn't mesh with your viewpoints. You have control that you wouldn't have in a traditional work environment.

And now you want to jump on board with the trend and make money off of it. First things first is figuring out what your channel is going to focus on.

"I just want to play games."

That's fine. How is that going to make you stand out from the hundreds of thousands of people that now stream on YouTube/Twitch? And among the billions of YouTube videos? How are people going to recognize you, the gamer, as someone more important to watch then Keyboard Cat?

A quick search of the top gamers, you'll find that most of them have a niche channel. Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V are still some of the top choices for streamers - the open-world aspect allows gamers to play and mod in different ways to keep the content fresh. Minecraft can go from building, to an RPG, to an action-adventure with a few button clicks. But you'll also find that these gamers raking in the most dough (consistently) only focus on one or two games within the same genre. They rarely break out. Why? Because they know they will lose money and their audience. People follow them for their Minecraft videos. They don't want to see anything else. And people won't donate if they don't get the videos that they want. Streaming is still a b2c (business to consumer) situation. Your viewers will only pay if you give them the videos they crave.

So that's one avenue: focus on one game to play and produce videos on it. Make sure it's a game that you love. You're going to be sick of it after a few months. The catch is you can't stop playing it. You have to keep making videos for it, even when you hate it. Because that's what your audience wants, and they will stop giving you money if you stop playing. Eventually you'll find the love for the game again. We all do. But those first few months are brutal when you are constantly knee-deep in the same game. Be prepared for that mental battle you will have with yourself.

Another method is to do a review channel, like The Completionist. You play a game and you package together a review for it. There are a number of those channels that exist as well, so you'll have to figure out a way to make your content stand out. Being vulgar or yelling at the screen is not the way to go. Let's Play-like videos are steadily falling behind in views as more of the same content is rehashed with newer gamers. They see JonTron and Markiplier screaming during Five Nights at Freddy's and think that's how all of their videos should be. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the copy and pasting method is becoming tiresome. What makes The Completionist stand out from other YouTube reviews is that he provides insightful, honest, and thoughtful content. It's not about making weird noises and expecting a laugh. That can only get you so far - and when people think you're no longer funny then what?

Like Adam Sandler, if you have a tired shtick, people are going to stop watching. So make sure that the content you produce is worth your time. More importantly, it needs to be content that's worth your audience's time. There are loads of ways to review video games, so read up on them and create a method that works best for you. Do you want to do initial thought reviews after one game session? Or do you want to break apart the game and look at the theory behind the story arc? You've got a load of options for reviewing content so pick what appeals to you.

If you want to have more of an "all gaming" channel like RoosterTeeth, think about how you want to approach it. Are you going to play games at random? Will it be a focus on new titles or classic content? Do you plan to play a game through to completion or give people a taste of each product? What about this method will make YOU stand out? Do you want to do scripted jokes, or just record yourself playing and let the content come naturally?

Have you noticed a theme by now, other then me asking a lot of questions? The big focus is your YouTube/Twitch persona. Ultimately that's what drives people to watch PewDiePie. They are there to watch him. We sit through videos by GameGrumps because we enjoy their perspective on games. We follow Kotaku because we like their editors points of view.

If you are a run-of-the-mill average gamer, no one is going to watch you.

You have to have a personality that stands out. You need to be engaging to the audience. You need to be the person that people want to spend their free time with, instead of searching for cat videos.

What about you makes you worth watching?

This is a big deal, because who you are can make or break your channel! Starting up a gaming stream and hoping people will show, isn't enough. You need to provide content and an experience that viewers can't get elsewhere.

Now I can't tell you what makes you stand out. I don't know you. That's something you have to figure out before you do anything else with your gaming channel. Talk to your family and your friends. Ask them what they think makes you special - look for real answers. Maybe don't ask your parents. They lied to us about the Tooth Fairy after all.

When you decide on your gaming personality (whether it's real or a twist on your reality), the focus of your channel becomes clearer.

For me, I play off of my quirks. I talk to games often. I know they won't respond, but it doesn't deter me. I also spend time analyzing the content I'm playing while I'm gaming. If I'm having to do a fetch quest in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I want to know why. I will take the time to engage in a dialogue with the audience and discuss games in an academic manner. I'm giving the audience humor through my personality as well as in-depth discussions about the games themselves. It's something I do all the time. Is it a ground-breaking concept? Of course not. But through my gaming persona, I have found a loyal streaming audience that visits me each week to engage. And that's what is important. Building up an audience that will return time and again for you.

Once you decide on your channel content and your persona, you'll be able to move to the next step of channel production. But that is enough to chew on for now. See you in Part 2: Setting Up Your Channel. Until then, you've got a lot of homework to do.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Steam Support Stats Filled With Refunds

You may not know this, but Steam's support site has an ongoing graph of commonly submitted issues. At the top of the list is refund requests. Yesterday, users logged over 68 thousand refund inquiries. Just think of that. 68 thousand games were asked to be returned after being purchased on Seam. And that's not the biggest day! With over 3 months of activity reported, March 25th was one of the biggest refund request days at over 106 thousand requests.

While it'd be nice to see what games make up those refunds, and more of the details, this chart does give the user a little more insight to just how much Steam has to handle on a daily basis. Maybe even provide a little bit of perspective to the unruly customer who wonders why Steam customer service can't respond to them immediately. They are not only dealing with 10's of thousands of refund requests, they also handle the nearly 14k account security/recovery questions, 2,000 in billing and another 2,000 in technical support, and so on. Even still, their response rate is pretty nice! Refund requests are answered in under 2 hours, on average, while most questions can be handled in 2-4 hours, if not same-day. Most fortune 500 companies would love to have that type of a response time for their customers.

Now it's important to note that just because 68 thousand people requested a refund, it doesn't mean they were granted. We know from Steam's refund rules that games have to hit the qualification markers:

- The game needs to have been purchased within 14 days or less.
- You can not be logged into the game for more then 2 hours via the Steam Client.
- In-game purchases have a 48 hour refund window.
- DLC with item packs and item boosts to a character can not be refunded (as they alter the base game).
- Movies and gifts to friends are non-refundable.

It's very possible that Steam denied a number of those refund requests that have stacked up. It would be interesting to find out from Steam what the exact total refund numbers are, what the common reason for return is, and how many claims end up being denied. Still, this is an interesting page to look at. Gives you a bit more insight into how busy Steam's team really is at keeping the wheels moving.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Games You Love to Hate

Feel free to read that title as "The Video Games Val can't stand, and yet they still keep making them." I consider myself to be one of the few gamers that is open to testing out virtually anything that crosses my path. It doesn't matter what the genre is, how old the game may be, or the overall quality - if it's something I haven't played before, I'm going to play it. By trying new games, we're able to experience different stories, new content, and develop appreciation for the art. This is how we discover what games we enjoy, and what we're willing to spend money on. While friend recommendations help, they don't decide what I will ultimately enjoy. My love for RPG's came from the early years of Final Fantasy and Legend of Mana; games that my friends didn't know about.

I also like to try out multiple games so I can be well-versed on the topic. Having this gaming blog, being involved in the community and writing articles on multiple sites - it's important to have a plethora of knowledge to back up your work. Nothing irks me more then to see someone dismiss a game that they haven't played. We see this happen quite often with educational games and that odd Kindergarten to Middle school age where the games are trying to be fun and colorful. The Imagine series comes to mind as an example. Yes, they are trash. But a number of reviewers assume it is because it's dressed up in a way to not be taken seriously. I doubt that most game theorists or reviewers have ever tried those games. I have. So at least when I say it's trash, I can back it up (the gameplay is dumbed down so much, that it insults the intelligence of any 5 year old).

All of this is a fluffy way of saying that I have played a hell of a lot of games. And with it comes a smattering of genres and titles that sometimes cause me to cringe. I'll stand by my oath to play new games, but there are some topics (Sports) that will result in a wave of groans.

- One of my biggest "I hate this" games, for obvious reasons, is Call of Duty. I post about it a lot on The Geek Spot, and it's usually in a negative way. The franchise suffers from a severe lack of originality. It's repetitive nature and inability to bring new content to the forefront makes it near impossible for me to play these days. Anything Tom Clancy also falls into this category.

Fun fact: I use to really like CoD. No joke. I though the first and second games were fantastic. They came out at a time where the FPS genre needed an upgrade, and CoD provided a glimpse into the future of games that focused on historical combat. But with CoD 3, I felt lost. It's the same game with a new wrapping. CoD 3 didn't provide anything new, other then a graphical upgrade. You can argue that the addition of new weapons was new content, but if that's all we're going to get out of CoD, then why not make that a purchasable DLC and call it a day? Ever since then, CoD has been a constant drum in my ears for annoyance. A franchise with such potential and promise has been more focused on cashing in with the same game over, and over again. I am hoping that CoD: WW2 will finally break this yearly cycle of crappy content. It seems promising, and they are tackling new subjects that most games stay away from, such as the Holocaust. But I stopped buying into the craze years ago. For everyone 1 CoD fan, there's 1 of me raging about how crappy this game series has become.

- Destiny also makes the list as a game with so much promise and potential that fell flat. Every time I look at the game and see people play I think "that's pretty cool." It's the Halo vibe but with more RPG-MMO elements that allow you to be more involved in the atmosphere. The problem is the lack of content. When I pick up the controller to play, I feel like there's nothing to do. If it's not a bounty quest to kill X number of enemies, or a fetch quest, the only thing left to do is joyride and look at bland, repeating backgrounds. But the people that I know who play this game are die-hard fans. They don't care about the lack of story or the diminishing content. They see the game as an evolution in MMO's and they want more of it. For me, I'll stick to Final Fantasy XIV for my MMO fix.

- A game that seems to confuse people when I mention it as my "hates" is Bioshock: Infinite. This always results in a raise of an eyebrow, or two. I really enjoy the first game. I think it has some great design; it's dramatic and suspenseful without being too over the top in gore/horror. And the art is top notch, something that I enjoy reliving to this day. Infinite is a beautiful game to look at, but I take major issue with the character Elizabeth. For how active Little Sister was in the first game, Elizabeth is a glorified door opener that you are trying to rescue. She's not empowering. She doesn't bring interesting mechanics to the game. She's not even that helpful - she's just there to look pretty for you to save. I expected more out of a Bioshock game, so I was disappointed in this title. Again, there are a lot of people who really love this game. Infinite to me is like James Cameron's 'Avatar' film. Pretty to look at but not a lot of substance.

- Killzone is another series I hate, but I want to love it. The most common responses I get from fans is that the combat is high paced and efficient, while the graphics enhance the experience. What I see is a lot of grey and brown scenery and controls that feel flimsy. The lack of story is what turns me away from this game. How can I care about my comrades if there isn't a story to back me up?

- Another series I can't stand? Anything to do with the Rabbids that is outside of the Rayman core games. From a marketing standpoint, the Rabbids seems like a good choice for young gamers. They're quirky bunnies that like to cause mischief. Rayman Raving Rabbids for the Nintendo Wii is a fun party game for kids and adults, as you can contain the Rabbids behavior into small 10-20 minutes chunks that are easier to digest. When you have to spend hours with them, that's when they are aggravating. Like Minions, they don't know when to stop. They become loud, obnoxious, and unfunny. The Rabbids try too hard to get you to laugh all the time. With any good humor, you need to have pauses so the audience can rest. Let the jokes settle in so people can process it before you hit them with another. The Rabbids have too many zany gimmicks and pratfalls that it becomes a nuisance.

What are some games that you love to hate?

Friday, May 05, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Another week has passed. You know that means it's time for another Weekly Link Round Up. The best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet that we have found this week. What made the list today?

- Donkey Kong is finally getting inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. The list was announced yesterday and includes Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokémon Red and Green (Blue in NA was originally Green in Japan), and Street Fighter II. What took them so long on DK? That's a masterpiece of the arcade era and beyond! Glad that it's getting it's recognition, but it should have been in the initial induction 2 years ago.

- Speaking of Call of Duty, CoD:WW2 is going to tackle the Holocaust says senior creative director Bret Robbins. They don't want to shy away from the history and approach it head on, and today's games could do that in a way that's respectful to people. But that's a lot of dark sh*t and I don't know if CoD is the game to do it. Feel free to prove me wrong, guys.

- When it comes to game developers, Africa is probably not high on your list of go-to's. Quartz has an amazing, in-depth article about upcomming gaming gurus who are making a mark on the industry. Games that are available on console and mobile phones and integrating African culture into their works. Really cool stuff and if you pick one article to read from this list, make it this one.

- Curious about the top selling gaming franchises of all time? has you covered with the 7 highest ranked in sales. Some of these should be fairly obvious, such as Super Mario and Call of Duty. But you probably didn't expect Need For Speed and The Sims. Since 1994, Need For Speed has sold over 150 million copies of their games, and the series is still going strong. It's considered one of the most entertaining games in the racing genre. The Sims is not far behind, a game that began as a building simulator that morphed into following the lives of the people that live in your SimCity creations. 175 million units sold is nothing to scoff at.

- Dabbing is still a trend, and of course some video game makers have gotten into the fun of it. has compiled a list of games that show off the fad. Note: Some of these games are pre-dab, so don't look too hard into it.

- Have you ever wondered what Football would be like if a BioWare designer got their hands on it? Well, SBNation asked Manveer Heir to make 3 changes to the game. The results make me want to play, and I don't like Football. Some genre's need a new perspective to capture attention.

See you next week!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

New Network Could Solve Gaming's "Realism" Problem

Neural Network computing could be the answer to solving all of video game's problems when it comes to animating human characters. A research team from the University of Edinburgh and a research engineer at Method Studios has developed an architecture called the Phase-Functioned Neural Network. With it, basic human functions of walking, running, and turning look more fluid then traditional animations.

How does it work? A Neural Network is a way to train a computer with multiple points, all with different weights. Using algorithms, the Network can create new outputs based on the data presented. This feature is currently used in most modern animation techniques, including facial recognition and image processing. What the research team has done is developed a system that allows the Network to learn as a person alters the points, while adjusting the animated character during testing. The focus is more on movement and less on a character standing still, which has allow the weighted points to be decreased, and less processing power is required to render the animation.

30 hours of training the system and 4 million data points helped produce the animation seen in the research team's findings. Based on the findings, once the initial training is done it can be applied to the rest of the character's animations and tweaked along the way.

Pretty cool stuff! We don't know if companies will jump on board with this new system anytime soon, but the future is looking real for video games.