Thursday, August 31, 2017

How Important are Female Protagonists in Video Games?

Quantic Foundry, a consulting practices that focuses on analyzing games and gamers, created a survey to find out the not-so-direct answer.

Over the past few years, there has been a significant push-back from gamers to create more dynamic protagonists that are beyond the "single white male" trope that we've become accustomed to. We now have an annual review of E3 presentations, and their lack of inclusion of multiple character types in their "hero" wheel. The demographic for gamers has always been diverse. The average age for a gamer is around 35, not 18. But it's also been stuck with the notion that only young-adults, white men make up the majority of the audience. As such, games tend to skew their content to that demographic.

With more diverse individuals getting into gaming, how important is the protagonist when it comes to shaping the experience of the content? Do gamers respond differently to who is the hero based on their gender?

Quantic Foundry used survey data from 1,266 gamers ranging from casual to hardcore, and found that most men still don't care about female leading ladies. Across the board for women, casual, core, and hardcore all found that a female protagonist is extremely important. And as a hardcore female gamer, I agree. It's difficult to project ones-self into the world of the game when your only option is male. It also becomes a challenge to feel involved in the environment and the game discussions when your gender is not represented to some degree. Much like race or religion, when you see it absent or grossly misinterpreted in a game, you feel less compelled to be active in the narrative.

It also makes the story kind of dull when it's the same ol "hero" over and over again. The white middle-aged, single man with a scruff beard of 5 o'clock shadow, has been done. We've seen it so many times we don't find that story unique in any way. Because it's been done!

The games that have stood out this year have been because of their leading heroes and anti-heroes. Nier: Automata, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Gravity Rush 2, Little Nightmares are some of the leading games of 2017, for a banner year of stellar content. And none feature a white straight middle-aged male protagonist. They are women, people of color, and non-gendered creatures. This isn't to say that the stories in these games are more interesting due to gender and skin-tone. Rather, it opens up a wealth of opportunities to tell NEW stories.

Sadly, the survey also shows that the men who participated, in large, don't think that a female protagonist option is important at all. Casual gamers rank it at a 38% on the non-importance, which is the highest for that category. Hardcore gamers rank it at 32%, which ties with the "somewhat important" category - which is an interesting twist that I wasn't expecting. Core gamers also rank "somewhat important" as their highest at 28%. While the survey doesn't state race, I wonder if that plays a role in how some of these stats work out. I was expecting to see more hardcore male gamers rank "female protagonist options" in the not important at all. Instead it's an even split between not important and somewhat important.

Without the extra data, it's all speculation. But it'd be interesting to dive into and see if there's correlation between POC males and inclusion of more female characters in games.

I'm still arguing that we need more diversity in video games. Not as a woman, but as someone who gives a crap about the future of games. It's getting dull seeing the same stories told again and again. Let's add something new to the mix!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What Video Games Would Make It To The Olympics?

No shock here: The Olympic Committee will most likely not allow violent video games to be part of the games in the near future. This includes Overwatch and League of Legends where the actual blood violence is minimum to non-existant, but does show people and creatures attacking one another. Announced a few months ago, eSports will make it's debut in the 2022 Asian Games, and possibly the 2024 main games. The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has already made it clear that any video games that showcase violence will not be included.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Bach commented that he would prefer the games be centered on existing sports such as football (soccer for us U.S. peeps) and hockey. Because there's no friendly competition then seeing men and women knock the hell out of their opponents on the football field.

"We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn't match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing,” said Bach. “And there were have to draw a clear line."

Now understandably, the landscape of the Olympics does promote non-violence. Counter-Strike would be instantly off the table and that should be expected. The problem is so many of today's video games contain some form of violence, cartoonish or other. And that includes the video games devoted to real world sports. The only exception I can think of is MLB. Knocking into people is a rare site and I don't think I've seen it happen in one of those games. Even basketball you have checking and can knock into opponents - which some may view as violent.

So where is the line to be drawn? What video games would be acceptable outside of the Mario and Sonic Olympic tie-in?

What games would you like to see at the Olympics that could fit the committee's vision?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

New Twist in Retracted "Violent Video Game" Study

Kids and future academics. Remember to always verify your work and don't fudge your papers to tweak them in your favor. That's not how it works.

In January I posted on a study about violent video games that was retracted from Ohio State University, after 2 outside researches verified that the paper was flawed. "Boom: Headshot" claimed that one's marksmanship with a gun could improve by playing a video game. It concluded that video games promote real world violence because of this. The study utilized 151 college-aged students and asked them about their thoughts on guns as well as their knowledge of them. They were then given three games to play (Resident Evil 4, Wii Play, and Super Mario Galaxy) where some controllers were swapped out for guns. Because you use a gun in Super Mario Galaxy at one point...sure.

After playing the games, the students were handed an airsoft and asked to fire 16 bullets at a target. The subjects were given proper instruction on how to use the firearm. The "study" concluded that those who used the gun controller were more likely to have better headshots with the airsoft. However the reviews done outside of the paper have showed that the "improved" measure of headshots was almost negligible. There was no difference in accuracy between the standard controller players, and the gun controller players.

Since the retraction, it appears that Ohio State has taken the issue one step further. They have revoked the doctoral degree of Jodi Whitaker, a co-author of the paper. The other co-author and lead of the paper, Brad Bushman, was initially cleared of any wrong-doing. The original study notes and results are no longer available, so Bushman's theory is currently under review and being replicated to determine if additional action should be taken in light of recent events.

TLDR: Be sure to always check your work. Don't let your inherit bias take over the study. And read the results as they are. You're less likely to lose your career that way.

Monday, August 28, 2017

QuakeCon 2017 - Mini Review

This weekend I finally attended QuakeCon. In the umpteen years that I've lived in Texas, I've never been. The timing wasn't quite right. But this year I had an eager brother who wanted to check it out. Plus, it's free admission. You can't beat that for a convention. So we made the trek to Grapevine, the new location for QuakeCon this year, and set out on our exploration.

QuakeCon was first held in 1996, and has become one of the largest LAN events in the country. It originally began as a "finals" location for tournaments with id Software products: Doom, Quake, etc. It has grown to become a gaming mecha for a weekend, where people bring in their custom-built PC's and game it out 24/4.

To bring in your PC and game you do have to pay a fee, but it offers you access to the event and a chance to enter tournaments for an assortment of prizes. BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) is half of the focus of QuakeCon these days. Attendees are allowed to roam this area and check out the units. And we saw some stellar set-ups and custom cases. We found one gent with the bat signal. The freekin' bat signal! Another created Bastion from Overwatch. There was also the Citadel from Half-Life. It was a lot of fun seeing these cases and talking to the owners about their modding process.

The other half is all about the finals. Quake Champions, the newest game, was the primary focus. The stage set-up was probably one of the nicest I've seen for an open seating of that style. Much fancier then anything Twitch has thrown down for a gaming event.

The rest of the convention, well that's where it's a bit of a hit or miss. There were 2 vendors: The QuakeCon vendor for a small selection of Fallout, Dishonored, and QuakeCon merchandise. And Filthy Casual, which I'm not a fan of. So that was a bust. There were AMD and Alienware "buses" that offered PC experiences but if you've been to any gaming event you know exactly what those are about. There were also 2 indie games to try out, a mini-Twitch booth to pick up buttons, a 1 Up and Extra Life booth to get people signed up, and a free-swag stage sponsored by Ventrilo. All that's left were the id Software/Bethesda booths with another VR set-up (seriously guys it's been 2 years, are you done yet?) and public demos of the upcoming Dishonored 2 DLC and Wolfenstein 2.

Most of the events were pretty boring to be honest. You could show up at noon, walk around for an hour, and see everything. The panels were dull and had little to nothing to do with QuakeCon. If they were developer-centric panels about future content or the making of id Software, that would have been preferable over the cosplay content. And I'm saying this as a cosplayer, I was unsure of why there were so many cosplay panels. QuakeCon isn't a big cosplay event. It's meant for LAN parties and gaming tournaments. Have you ever tried to enter one of those in a costume? You'll overheat fast and it's so uncomfortable that it's not worth the hassle. I did see a cosplayer here and there, including an Overwatch one, but nothing crazy. Most people were in causal clothes with a geeky shirt or pin on. I saw at least 2 people in Fallout jumpsuits that were bought from a costume store, and a Team Fortress cosplayer, but that's the jist of it. If you were in cosplay, there wasn't much to do or many places to walk. The expo hall also had little to no light, relying on computer monitors and the main stage to act as a beacon. So you couldn't take many photos anyway.

There was a cosplay contest...that was occurring at the same time as one of the final matches on the main stage. We didn't stick around long enough to see it. We were done by 4pm after trying to make the time stretch out. But hopefully it was well attended and there were enough Bethesda costumes that entered. Yes, it was a Bethesda only costume contest. Sorry Overwatch fans.

Another big glaring issue was the lack of signs. And I mean everywhere. When you walk into the hotel/resort, unless you came through the convention garage (which was full by Saturday morning) you wouldn't know where to go. You had to look for the convention signs around the hotel and eventually stumble upon it.

There were some Quake logos in lights at one intersection and 1 or 2 signs to the expo hall and panels, but none for tabletop. The third floor for panels and the blooddrive was absent of signs unless you walked all the way down one of the many long halls to turn a corner and boom! There are the panels! All 3 of them empty! Wow!

Yeah it was bad.

Even IN the expo hall there was a distinct lack of signs. The Corsair booth was trying to direct people to the other end of the area for sales, but didn't know that they were part of the QuakeCon merch booth. They were telling people it was a solo stand near the stage. They probably lost potential revenue from that.

It was a lot of walking to see a lot of nothing. Unless you sat for one of the finals, which we didn't, there wasn't anything thrilling to see. You could have watched it all on Twitch and had a better experience - because then you weren't spending $20 on food and parking and you could be in your PJ's. Or your underwear. Whichever floats your boat; I am not here to judge your fashion sense.

The only highlight I came away from the convention with was getting to play Wolfenstein 2. That was super fun. There were some minor glitches that I spotted and the controls were interesting to tackle when your character is in a wheelchair, but the action was great. The puzzles within the scenario were smart without feeling cumbersome. And you get to shoot digital Nazis. What's not to enjoy about that? I want this game.

I've been told by friends that years prior it was better. The BYOC section was much larger, there are more booths, and more panels to sit in on. It also helps if you join in on BYOC and make a weekend of it. This probably wasn't a good year for me to attend as the convention had to move unexpectedly to a new spot and work with what they have. Maybe next year will be better - as long as they keep the passes free, people will show up. But they really need to get on the ball with signage and panels. Offer content related to id Software and Bethesda. Get the devs out there to talk about their work and more people will be willing to stop in.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cosplay Tips - Juding and Prepping for Cosplay Contests

Welcome to another installment of Cosplay Tips, FAQ's, and Q&A's visa-vie, me! With the fan convention season in full-blown panic mode, I've received a number of messages asking about cosplay contests. It's probably in relation to my recent stint at AnimeFest where I was a guest judge for their Saturday events.

Most people see only one side of the contest; and that's the event itself in it's final form. Watching the cosplayers walking and posing across the stage. The skits in their full flurry of activity. It's fun stuff! But so much goes on behind the scenes to make that show happen. From staff, to stage crew, tech, PR, MC, you name it. It's a big production that requires multiple hands with months of preparation - sometimes years depending on the convention.

Few people have judged a contest, and it can be a daunting task. I've addressed general content for cosplay contests before, wanted to go into more detail about the judging process and how to better prep yourself. Hopefully this insight through my experience will help provide some clarity into how difficult it is to be a cosplay contest judge.

**Please note that the information I am sharing is from my experience, and mine alone. I've been a judge at multiple contests over the years that have utilized various rules and formats. I am not giving away any trade secrets; so have no fear, convention admins.**

- What do judges look for in winners? The entire package. They want to see top quality craftsmanship; well executed make-up, wig styling, props, and sewing. Cosplay has evolved dramatically over the last 3-5 years. It's not about being an expert in one field. You need to have multiple aspects incorporated into costume to make it stand out. You need props AND armor AND sewing. Or sewing AND wigs AND armor. All of them must be done well. The quality of work and ease of access to more materials have been a boon to the cosplay landscape. It's also made it much more difficult to judge contests. You have to become a literal jack of all trades, while mastering new abilities - because that's what everyone is doing! You can't rely on only your sewing or your armor to ensure victory.

 Judges also want to see an amazing stage performance. Part of the cosplay experience is the "play" aspect. We want you to transform yourself into the character you are dressed up as. That means walking, posing, and talking (if it's allowed on stage) like the character. You have limited time on that stage to dazzle everyone, and judges respond well to cosplayers that put in the extra effort to be the character. In many cases, the deciding factor between those who get awards and those who don't all rest on the stage performance.

A third aspect that we review is how much you, or you team, push yourself to try something new. There's something to be said for ambition. We like cosplayers that move out of their comfort zone to learn different techniques. That's how you grow as an artist - by perfecting what you know and jumping in to try new things. Boldness in craft can be rewarded if it's done well.

- What shouldn't I do in a judging room? Please don't act like the character you are cosplaying. Leave the performance for the stage. When in the judging room, we are there to check your craftsmanship, and that alone. When you try to act or talk like the character, it can be distracting. It takes away from your work and judges will have less opportunity to learn about how you made your costume.

Don't focus on the negative parts of your costume. Think of pre-judging like an interview. Would you say in an interview "Oh, I'm always late"? Of course not. The same applies to your costume. If parts are unfinished or a piece broke, don't draw the judge's attention to those areas. Protip: The judges can already see if something is not right with your costume. Fit, hem, "battle damage" you name it. We know. Make your presentation about the things you love with your costume. When you are excited about your cosplay, the judges become excited too. We want to learn why and how you made your costume, not about the faults.

Try not to ramble. This one there is leeway on. We know that being in pre-judging can be nerve-wracking and rambling can happen when you have nerves/adrenaline coursing through your body. We get it. But do your best to focus your talk on only your cosplay. While it's great to hear that you love your cat, we don't really need to know about his eating habits.

- How can I make my cosplay better? Loaded question with a vague answer: lots of ways. It depends on you and your crafting skills. But if you're looking for personal constructive feedback, message me. I'm always happy to help!

As for general tips to improving your cosplay:

1. Avoid glue at all costs on anything fabric related. Hot glue in particular. Glue looks and feels low-key. And it doesn't hold as strong of a bond as sewing...unless it's E6000, in which case why are you doing that to your fabric?!? In some parts of the world, glue can very literally heat up and melt off, leaving you with a sticky mess. Just don't do it. There are plenty of ways to attach armor to your body that don't require glue!

2. Use fabric paint on fabrics. Do not use acrylics or oil-based paints. Fabric paint is designed specifically to work with fabric to keep the material soft. Acrylics make the fabric look and feel heavy, and it's prone to cracking/chipping.

3. Try to keep stitching on hems as straight as possible. If you have to go on the slowest speed setting with your sewing machine. Everything looks better when your hems are even!

4. Prime your thermoplastics. Even if you think you don't need to, do it anyway. Smooth worbla, wonderflex, and thibra always look better then the cookie dough texture. You can always dirty them up later with paints.

- How should I present my costume in pre-judging? There are a lot of ways to do it, but I personally do the head-to-toe method. I start with my wig/headpiece and work my way down. It's easier for me to focus on my speech to the judges when I have a consistent starting point. There isn't one right way to start. You can start with your props, your armor, you light pieces, whatever you wish! I also find that even with big/busy costumes, judges will still look at your face first. Since their attention is already on my face, why not start there?

I would recommend practicing your speech before pre-judging. It's easy to be in the moment and forget important aspects of your costume. So start reciting your speech over, and over, and over again to the point where you hate it. That way if you are anxious/nervous, you'll go into auto-pilot on your speech.

It's always good to practice!

- Do hand-sewn costumes do better in contests? Nope. Hand-sewn doesn't hold the same weight like it use to because there is mass access to good, affordable sewing machines. You can find Brother machines on Amazon right now for $99, that come with 8-12 stitch settings. More then enough for your sewing needs.

Cosplay is like any hobby and requires you to invest in your resources. A sewing machine, dremmel, heat gun, etc.: getting the basic tools can be done for under $150! You don't need to break your budget. Because of this, the notion of hand-sewing being "superior" has fallen to the wayside. Most stuff that can be hand-sewn, can be done today with a cheap sewing machine.

Now there are exceptions to the rule such as beading, embroidery, and intricate lace-work or applique. Those machines are still incredibly expensive and not easily accessible to the general public. Embroidery units are coming down in price, but not as much as one would hope. And if your embroidery includes heavy beading, then no machine for you.

All is not lost! Hand-sewing can be impressive if the stitches are so clean that one can't tell if it's hand-sewn or machine-sewn. That's when you'll get a nod on craftsmanship.

- Do judge's play favorites with friends or anime/game/movies that they like?

Ahhhhh, the big question. This one comes up a lot in contest discussions, but it's very rare to have merit behind it.

I've only been accused of this once in my cosplay judging life, and it was at my very first appointment. Someone claimed that all of the judges at this particular event, were showing favoritism with some of the contestants because we knew them personally. The funny thing is that all 3 of us were from out of town - 2-3 states away! For the other judges, it was their first time attending a convention in that state, let alone that event. I only knew one other person there: my boyfriend who was my handler that day - not in cosplay. I had no clue who any of the contestants were. None of us did! It was about as un-favoritism friendly as possible! It still makes me chuckle.

I'd like to add that in all my years, I've never run into a situation where I felt a judge was being unprofessional. There is a general understanding in the cosplay community that being a judge is an important responsibility. We take up that mantle with honor and want to do our best for cosplayers as well as the convention.

Which means we don't show favoritism. We don't give awards to friends or colleagues unless they earned it. The reality is it's much more difficult to win an award if your friend is a judge. And I know a lot of judges will agree with me on that. Why? Because they know your talent. They know what you are capable of. They know your strengths and weaknesses. When they see you present a costume that isn't up to your typical standards, they will know.

The same applies to costumes that we see from our favorite franchises. I'm always thrilled to see a Final Fantasy cosplayer walk up. However, because I'm such a fan, I'm aware of little details in outfits. I know when a belt is the wrong color or if a cosplay is missing an accessory. Most judges are not easily swayed by their inherit fanboy/fangirl nature. We do our best to be as objective as possible. We are measuring the cosplayers on their ability and craftsmanship. Not on whether or not they picked a costume from our favorite series.

And as a judge, if you find yourself in a situation where a friend is competing and you are unsure if you can be objective, notify staff. The cosplay staff is just as much involved in judging as the judges to ensure everything is fair and balanced as much as possible. They will find a way to help! You may be allowed to step out of the room and not take part in that pre-judging, or your scores may not weigh as heavily.

- Do I need a portfolio? It's not always required, but it is highly encouraged. What I like about portfolios is that it's a great way to quickly flip through your costume progress without it taking up your entire presentation. Judges can see additional details of your work that you may not have time to speak about. Some contests do require a portfolio, but a number do not. Still, it's good to have to hand over to the judges. If you're curious about how to make one, enjoy this tutorial.

- If I follow these guidelines, will I win? Nope! Judges are judging costumes based on the rules that have been provided by the convention. They are also comparing your costume to the overall craft quality of the other contestants. There is no guarantee "win" at any contest. All you can do is your best, act your butt off, and impress the judges with your skill. It's up to them to determine if your work will earn an award.

Additional Resources:

Acting Out! Cosplay Runway by TifaIA Cosplay
How to Cosplay Runway by TifaIA Cosplay
Posing and Walk-ons and Skits, Oh My! by SEC-C Cosplay
Follow Me Through a Cosplay Contest by Atelier Heidi
Tips to Make Your Cosplay Skit Great by Ardella Cosplay

Photo credits:  CosPod: The Cosplay Podcast

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's another week coming to a close...thank goodness. It's been a long one, hasn't it? Thankfully we've had a lot of gaming news to keep us company. Here's a collection of some of the best, worst, and sillies articles online.

- GamesCon, the largest European event for gaming, is taking place right now. And it's finally getting the attention it deserves with a visit from German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, who officially opened the event. The initial open with the Chancellor only included 350 guests and a handful of journalists, but hey. At least someone in the government realizes how big of an impact GamesCon has on the economy.

- You may have heard that Vivendi is steadily trying to take over Ubisoft. And can you blame them? Even with the bad publicity, Ubisoft is still hitting sales records. But CEO Yves Guillemot has made it clear that he doesn't want to be bought out by Vivdendi, whom currently own about 27% of shares in the business. Fortune sat down with Guillemot to discuss strategy and what the future of Ubisoft holds.

- NPR talks about how rough it is to be a YouTube star. There is no sarcasm there. No gimick. This is a serious issue - something a number of artists and actors experience. When you have to "always be on" and expect to product/perform, it can take a toll on one's mental health. Being your own boss, playing games, or creating DIY videos may sound like fun, but you have to think about the long-term as well for your well-being.

- Can a gamer and a non-football fan learn to love Madden? The AV Club tested this by taking one of their own, who has little to no football knowledge, and seeing what happens. This is a pretty cool article and showcases the power of video games. It also allows us to ask questions about Madden. Why is this game so popular? Is it because of the football or the mechanics of the game play? Is is the hidden puzzle/strategy element? 

- Polygon got some flack for an op-ed regarding the "video game crunch." The piece was in relation to a book titled Significant Zero, written by Walt Williams. In the excerpt posted, Williams talks about how the "crunch" is a sort of metaphorical high for him. He chases it. He thrives on it. While many people are against this method of production, Williams is for it. But he does clarify that the crunch has it's negative side and he does think it's his confession as an addict. Within hours after the piece was posted, Williams clarified his stance on his Twitter account, and it still reflects the original Polygon message. However, some feel that Polygon was trying to glorify the "crunch" cycle. The article is still up for viewing, and it's a good read. It's all about the context - read for yourself.

- Amazon's gaming studio is finally starting to drum up some designs and they are working on a new game titled Breakaway. The concept of the game is centered around the Twitch generation. They want the game to be accessible, easy to stream, and open for people to interact with. While not the first game to go after the streaming crowd, it is one that is hoping to harness that energy to make the game more compelling. It also helps that Amazon owns Twitch, so they can provide a better experience through the direct connection.

- Finally, MGM Grand in Las Vegas is starting a new VR experience where you can fight zombies. Where is the gambling in that? None. But hey, it's VR. It's New! It's Hip! For 30 minutes and $50 you and 7 other people can shoot at zombies. Instead of doing that now, on Steam, for a fraction of the price and any time you want to. But VR! It's Neat!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

YouTube's Ad Rules Hitting Gaming Channels

YouTube is making it a challenge to monitize these days. If you're a video game content creator, or you watch videos on YouTube, you've probably noticed that some channels are not showing as many advertisements as they use to. With YouTube's new policies, which we reported in June, it's been a struggle for gaming channels. YouTube has always had some questionable policies for video games, but it has been a struggle to understand their logic in 2017. Anything with "violence" is subject to monitization removal. This could be "kill streak" videos from Call of Duty or general gameplay from Counter Strike. Doesn't matter. And YouTube still hasn't provided clarity on what their algorithms will, or won't, tag.

But a number of content creators have been vocal about seeing their revenue drop by the removal of advertisements. Because yes, while your video may have been okayed by YouTube before, new rules do allow them to go back, review your content, and determine if it can be monitized. Gamers such as TotalBiscuit have been trying to figure out the loophole to ensure their content can maintain advertising. They have been utilizing their fanbase to upload videos of atypical game violence, but change out thumbnails, tags, and titles to see if the algorithms will overlook it.

Here are the guidelines for advertising and violence on YouTube:

“Violence: Video content where the focal point is on blood, violence, or injury, when presented without additional context, is not eligible for advertising. Violence in the normal course of video gameplay is generally acceptable for advertising, but montages where gratuitous violence is the focal point is not. If you're showing violent content in a news, educational, artistic, or documentary context, that additional context is important.”

The focus is curtailing real world violence from earning ad revenue. It is acceptable for video games given the market and that it's fake/artistic - but montages are not allowed. So why is YouTube's system still flagging these videos and channels? It could be the algorithms need more information to safely determine what is reality and what is a video game. It could be YouTube's way of trying to get channels to pay for their 'Google Preferred' service; a sort of white-list that ensures some of your content will be ad approved.

The thing is we shouldn't be jumping through hoops to showcase our creative content. People play for fun and play for a paycheck. When a system is actively pushing back against you to hit your bottom line (aka prevents you from paying your bills), you start looking around for alternatives. This is why we're seeing the rise of Twitch and UStream - sites that are now offering content storage and video uploads as an alternative to YouTube. And for less restrictions! Sure there is nudity clauses but beyond that, most streaming services are pretty open for creative license.

What's to stop the video game YouTube population from transferring over to another video service? If TotalBiscuit were to quit right now and head to Twitch, he'd be taking not only himself and his creative work, but his entire fanbase too. That's loss ad revenue for YouTube, and another notch in the belt for Twitch.

YouTube. Time to wake up and see that your policies are hurting your core audience. Last year, video games were the 4th most watched type of video on the platform (behind vlogs, how-to's, and product reviews.) Gaming and cat videos helped create YouTube. Are you willing to turn your back on them for policies that hurt your revenue?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nestle Sued for 'Breakout' Clone & Advertisement

More courtroom drama! Atari is suing mega-brand Nestle for copyright infringement on Breakout. The game where you bounce a ball at bricks to break them, in order to clear the screen and escape. It's been around since the early days of gaming and you've probably seen some variation of it over the years. You can play a variation of it right now on Google, done in homage to the original game. But these games are given the green-light by Atari and come with a copyright fee, or something of the sort.

In the U.K., Nestle used Breakout for a Kit-Kat commercial. Instead of blocks of random colors, they turned into Kit-Kat bars.

Nestle's commercial "leverage Breakout and the special place it holds among nostalgic Baby Boomers, Generation X, and even today's Millennial and post-Millennial 'gamers' in order to maximize the advertisement's reach," states the legal team for Atari. The commercial, which is no longer online, features 4 people of different ages, all playing this Nestle version of Breakout, asking people to join in and "Breakout" with a Kit-Kat.

Atari today is more of a corporate entity then what it use to be; taking it's trademarks and copyrights to heart and turning them into legal cases. They once tried to sue for the use of the term 'Haunted House' in video games, claiming they owned the right to be the only company to produce such content.

Nestle has not commented on the legal matter. But Atari does have a solid case if Nestle used the Breakout name and game, with tweaks, without seeking Atari's approval - or not paying for use of the copyright.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Gaming Room

Nerd conventions, we need to have a talk.

As the culture of geeky-ness expands, fan-themed conventions are doing their best to grow with the times. What once was a comic book only venue may now host content for anime, gaming, cosplay, tabletop, LARP, and other nerdy content. All to attract more people to their event. And that's a good thing! The nerd cultures should mingle and expand their horizons by communicating with those on the other end of the fray. It brings people together and allows us to enjoy our fandoms without fear of retaliation from the outside world.

But one of the areas that I see fall flat year after year is the gaming room. You know them by now. Loads of conventions carry them. They're usually tucked away in a small corner, or lingering around on the tallest floor that a hotel has available, in the tiniest of spots. The amount of gaming content for consoles is always thread-bear. There might be 12-20 games available and 10 consoles in the room. There is always Smash Bros and Street Fighter. The rest is a concoction of dance games and, if you are lucky, Rock Band or Guitar Hero. There are few stations. More often then not there are more tables then there are consoles and chairs. This has been happening for years, decades even since I began attending conventions (anime, comic, etc.). Even gaming-centric conventions that offer free-play areas for consoles, or open arcades and tabletop, they tend to shuffle them to the smallest areas and rarely promote the content. When they do promote, it's always over-the-top compared to the products that are showcased.

When gaming tournaments are involved, unless it's a top-tier gaming convention, it's usually volunteer staff members handling the events. And in many cases, they don't know what they are doing. That's not a slight on them as volunteers. The gaming world can be tricky to maneuver when you have to handle tournaments. You need people who understand how the process works, from set-up to the rules to what happens if there's a disqualification. Few do. Those that know the process are being paid to handle tournaments - they don't offer their services to conventions for badge compensation (which doesn't cover food, hotel stay, or travel; let alone a check to cover the bills).

Fan conventions don't give the proper care to their gaming content. This was very apparent to me over the weekend when I saw the "arcade" room at an event I attended. It was kind of sad. I only remember seeing 8-10 console stations and a load of empty tables. It was a lot of Smash and one Rock Band. That's it. The games available were Smash, Smash, and Smash. I understand that Smash Bros. is a popular game for multiplayer but there are other games. The room was bare. The staff seemed less then impressed. Some of the consoles were dusty and worn. There was a thick layer of dust on a PS4 - it was disgusting. One system was running updates, making it unusable.

And yet we accept these adequate conditions. They have become part of the norm, and it's made the gaming sector at cons feel so lifeless. We're seeing fewer people sign up for tournaments, prize pools are dwindling, and donations are dropping.

Fan conventions. If you want the gaming crowd to return, you have to step up your game - pun intended.

Listen to the community. Ask them what THEY want and try to provide it. Get gamers on the gaming room staff so they can help the area grow. Don't cheap out and only accept donations. Invest in the gaming room. Buy systems and controllers that work. Keep them clean and up to date. Engage gamers by getting them involved in the process. Gamers are a big part of the fan community now, and giving them sub-par content will only push them further away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Prime Discount New Game Releases Gone!

Bad news Amazon Prime Members: Our 20% discount on new game releases (physical copies) has been removed.

Most game pre-orders will still hold their 20% off savings, but for new games that have just released? It looks like that's been removed. Take a look at some of the games released in the last 2 weeks and you'll see that their discount has vanished. Sonic Mania, Agents of Mayhem, Sudden Strike 4: our 2 week grace period for the 20% off is no more. It does appear that Amazon has updated their website and FAQ to reflect the very recent change. A message has been sent to Amazon for details, and awaiting a response.

But as a gamer, this nice perk is no more. One of the things I appreciated about having that 2 week extension for the discount is that it gave me time to read game reviews on a product before jumping in to make a purchase. As more developers hammer in the "do not talk" rule on new games until their release, it's been difficult to make well-meaning purchases. Reviews generally guide us in determining whether or not we buy a game. I know it's not all of the time, but for most of us, we look to game reviews as a means to verify if a game is worth our money. We don't want to drop down, $59, $69, $79 dollars on something that ends up being a poor product. Returning it for a refund isn't an option with a majority of retailers - trade in is your best bet and you're out money.

There are also a few games, such as Destiny 2, that are exempt from the pre-order 20% off discount. It could be a developer-specific reason, but it still sucks. Best Buy still has their $10 reward associated with Destiny 2 if you are a member of their program. So, what's up Amazon? That perk of yours that I really appreciated has vanished, and it'd be nice to have some answers.

If Amazon responds for clarification, I will update this post.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pokémon Go Fest Aftermath

Did you attend Pokémon Go Fest this year? The inaugural festival to celebrate the one year release of the game ended up being a technical minefield, about as bad as the game's initial launch. Which is oddly appropriate, all things considered. For $20, attendees would receive day -1 access to the newest legendary Pokémon and the new battle system that required people to form teams to catch them. As well as unique PokéStops, increased Pokémon spawns, an in-app medal, and some various things one would expect at a festival: lounges, photo ops, and overpriced food.

The new battle was a flop and users spent the entire day trying to log in, only to be disconnected. While Niantic staff tried to contain the situation, the long, hot day ended with a lot of disappointed fans. Few were able to catch monsters before the game crashed, and many people were not able to get past the loading screen. The event was all about catching Pokémon, so there weren't other activities available to attendees. Niantic has paused future events as a result of the Chicago festival failure. In an update to players, they are refunding tickets (if you bought them directly from Niantic for the $20 price - if you got them from a scalper then no refund for you), $100 in Pokécoins, and auto-delivery of the first legendary Pokémon Articuno. It doesn't make up for the travel costs many endured to get there, but it's a start.

A lawsuit with 20 attendees has been filed against Niantic. They are not satisfied with the response from the game developer and are seeking further damages to recoup the loss from travel expenses. Chicago-based attorney Thomas Zimmerman is representing the group: “The issue is, what was promised, what was the incentive that people relied on and the representations that people relied on to buy a ticket and make travel plans and fly to Chicago to participate in this festival, would they have done that had they known that that was not going to be lived up to and they weren’t going to get the experience that was represented?” They are only seeking compensation for the money spent on travel and hotels, and nothing more. At least they are not trying to milk the situation for more then it's worth.

Needless to say, Niantic will be reeling from this event for a while and continue work on server stability before trying again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Houston, We Have a Healer Problem

MMO Examiner recently posed an important question: Is there a shortage of healers in Final Fantasy XIV? I'd argue that this question not only applies to FF14 but to all MMO's as the games begin to age and change to accommodate new audiences.

Since the release of the latest expansion Stormblood, FF14 has been hit with a decrease in healers - at least visually. Strolling around cities and out in the world, I have noticed that there aren't as many White Mages, Scholars, or Astrologians as usual. It doesn't mean that they aren't there. I'm still able to queue in duty finder as a damage dealer and get a party in 20 minutes or less - which is about average for my server. PVP is easily 5 minutes. But other servers have reported 40+ minute waits for a healer; an unusual length of time when you have cross-server population pools to utilize. What happened with this expansion to cause the healer population to drop? (Note: I've been playing FF14 for 2 and a half years, mostly as a healing job. The following are my personal observations and experiences may vary from server to server-game to game.)

First off, the battle mechanics completely changed. Stormblood brought in a whirlwind of new changes to better balance out the combat so as not to overpower the newer jobs that would be introduced. White Mage (WHM) took a major hit and was stripped of 15 abilities - now no longer able to offer some healing alternatives, it's main priorities are Cure 2 and Stone. Whoopie. Scholars (SCH) and Astrologians (AST) also had some abilities removed, but not as severe. They also gained new abilities that involved different healing tactics. SCH and AST are now the go-to for raid healers, offering better party balance compared to WHM. Many people who were WHM's are giving up the job to move to another healer. But as I've found out with WHM, to go from a simple job to one that's incredibly complex like AST is enough to turn some people away.

Adding on to that, one of the favorite abilities for healers was 'Cleric Stance.' This allowed you to flip your Mind and Intelligence stats around so that your few attack spells could do actual damage. This was an ongoing ability and allowed you to swap back and forth between healing and damage with a short cool-down. Now, it only gives you a minor spell "boost" for damage and healing for a few seconds and a 120 second cool-down. In the game right now, it sucks to try and dps on a healer when you have to solo content.

Next, Stormblood introduced two very long awaited job classes: Red Mage (RDM) and Samurai (SAM). The population flocked to them. Samurai is now the DPS darling with a lot of damage output in a short time. It looks really flashy. Red Mage is a good balance of DPS magic to take down enemies quickly, while being able to manage themselves to not need a tank/healer to support their efforts. It also looks really flashy. I personally like how RDM was designed. It's got sprinkles of FF11 involved, but it's a job that requires tenacity and ingenuity to play. I still enjoy AST, but if given a choice, I'd go RDM first. It's a more fulfilling role then AST.

Third, people are a-holes to healers.

That is a universal truth. World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Guild Wars, Overwatch, Team Fortress - if it's an online game that includes a healing class, you will be blamed for any and all mistakes if you play a healer. I wish I were joking, but it's sadly true most of the time. It doesn't matter if the team dies because the tank didn't hold hate, or if a DPS didn't follow the boss mechanics, or if the "right" gear didn't drop from a mob - it's always the healer's fault.

That is a horrible situation to be in: instantly blamed for any and all errors that are outside of your control. And when it's just a game that you want to have fun, why put yourself in that position? So instead of healing, people play other jobs where they don't have that burden placed on their shoulders.  It doesn't matter how amazing you are at healing, you will still be blamed. The only exception I have found to this rule is that if you are with a stable group/guild/linkshell. Then they tend to put the blame on the people that caused the problem. Randoms outside of your group? Good luck dealing with them.

Fourth, not all healers are created equal. There's a high expectation when playing a healing job to already know what to do right off the bat. The reality is, you don't know until you go in and start playing! With FF14 in particular, each dungeon has a different approach for healers. It's fun and frustrating. Sometimes you can play DPS and rarely heal. Other times you can only AOE heal and spam it until you run out of MP. It can also vary depending upon your tank and if they decide to take it slow, or try to train the whole dungeon.

When you are a first time healer, it can be intimidating to jump into healing with a group. With virtually all games, your first handful of levels are done alone. You learn the game mechanics, pick up a few quests, and get a feel for the content. With DPS, it's pretty straight forward. You punch/stab/slice mobs until they die. When you are a tank or a healer, you don't get the chance to try our your intended job roles until it's dungeon time.

Good parties will take the time to help healers learn what they should and shouldn't do. Most parties don't care and just want to get the dungeon done 'now.' Even in these instances, I try to help out healer's who seem to lag behind. They may not know how to run the dungeon, it's their first time, or they may not be experienced with this tank's style. But still, it takes time. It's all a learning process. Like #3, people expect healer's to already know what to do. The reality is we don't. Not until we get into a dungeon and start playing with you. Unless it's a group we've worked with before, we don't know how you play. We have to accommodate our style to you so people don't die. While it's a fast way to weed out the good healers from the bad ones, it's also a quick way to discourage people from continuing to play the job.

It's not just FF14 with a "lack of healers" problem. It's all MMO's. Until developers can get on the ball with making the jobs fun, flexible, and able to provide DPS support that's reasonable, the issue will get worse. I wouldn't be surprised to see raid groups start camping out healers on other servers, trying to entice them to swap over to their side for perks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What. The. Heck?

Today's post is not video game related. Sorry folks! There is too much going on in the country right now that I'm having a difficult time focusing on a topic to write about. I've always maintained this blog as an escape from reality. A chance to take a mental break from the weariness of the world and enjoy video games. But sometimes, when sh*t hits the fan, the real world can't be ignored.

I'm not going to play the naive card and say that I thought hatred and racism was gone. It's always been there, but not as pervasive as it once was. Living in the Southern U.S., you hear things. A lot of the actions are verbal, not physical. Words that hold strength, but aren't typically followed up with an action. Is it disheartening? Absolutely. I will never understand why people hate others because of skin pigmentation, religion, etc. The concept of hate is bonkers. The human race is so unique compared to our animal counterparts. We have such a diverse array of culture among us, and it is fascinating to study! Hating someone for being "different" is absurd. WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT!

Yes, I'm a white female gamer, but that doesn't mean I'm an exact copy of all white female gamers. I don't hold the same opinions or religious affiliations as all the others. It's damn near impossible for all of us to be copy/paste models in every aspect of our lives.

After the events this weekend, I had hoped that humanity was better then this. I had hoped that there was some sense of good in all of us. I had hoped that we WERE doing better after the centuries of racism, sexism, and religious persecution.

We have a long way to go.

This isn't meant to be a bashing post, or one asking for political insight.

I just wanted to post how disappointed I am in humanity right now. We are imploding and lashing out on one-another in a fight for supremacy instead of trying to come together and resolve our differences, like rational beings that we should be.

I'll try to have a gaming post up tomorrow.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Google is Building an AI to Kick Your Butt at 'StarCraft'

Google is trying to teach an AI how to beat the world's best StarCraft 2 players.

Because it's Google and they have the power to do that.

In 2014, Google acquired DeepMind, a company focused on artificial intelligence research and application. The company has worked with games before on the Atari to try and surpass human players. But StarCraft is a different beast, focusing on complex problem solving and the random variable of the human mind. You may think I'm going to construct an additional pylon, but what if I decide not to and instead pull a Zerg rush with my Protoss crew (always rolling with team Protoss)?

But that's exactly the type of environment DeepMind and Google want to jump into to further develop AI technology. They need those random variables. The company is partnering with Blizzard and have already released a new set of tools to help advance the project. This includes a release of content of the game for Linux, for the first time ever.

StarCraft has long been used as a test subject for AI and ML research. For a game with a 20 year history and a heavily devoted fan-base, you can bet that some of the best players in the world cultivated from the StarCraft arena. The game requires you to manage multiple functions at once: gathering resources, building up a base, defending your territory, etc. Players have to balance out the primary objective with the ancillary goals - an AI must do the same if they want to win. And unlike an Atari game with 10 actions a player can make at any one time (up, down, left, right, button), StarCraft can have up to 300. That is a lot of content an AI has to review.

Google and Blizzard hope that with the release of the tools and the research paper will drum up interest in the project and participants may be willing to throw themselves into the pool to be act as data/test dummies. It will be interesting to see what results are produced from the project.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Attraction of Video Games

What makes video games so appealing?

Before you click away from this blog post, take a moment and think about why you play video games. Is it for the action? The adventure? Being involved in a different reality? Do you like the fantasy element of games? Do you enjoy the mental break from you day? Or is it the mental stress from puzzles and platformers that keeps you going?

For a seemingly simple question, there are a multitude of reasons on why video games appeal to us. I don't always get personal on this blog, but today I want to take a break from reality and talk about what appeals to me about video games.

I fully admit that I'm a TV and movie junkie. I have 3 degrees in film. I also love to read - novels and short stories, and prefer fiction and sci-fi over autobiographies. Movies like 'Star Wars,' 'Indiana Jones,' and 'Blade Runner' drew me in. Not because of Harrison Ford. I didn't like Han Solo much when I was growing up (I can hear the anguished screams of fangirls). But seeing such fantastical stories told on film - I was hooked from the start.

For me, video games were a natural progression of my curiosity with storytelling. The joke in the family is that my brother and I popped out of the womb with a controller in our hands. We've always had a console in our home, starting with the Atari 2600. We were born in the mid-80's and we grew up in the 90's, when everyone was figuring out how to incorporate technology into our homes. Our Atari was used mostly for Pong and Pitfall. Entertainment was the initial goal with video games, much like film and television were. The Nintendo Entertainment System was our first glimpse at games with stories. They were simple stories, like saving a princess held in a castle...somewhere. But they were stories that took on their own life beyond what a movie could offer. Instead of being a passive viewer, you were now an active participant.

Final Fantasy IV is what hooked me for life. The pixeliated characters taught me more about life, friendship, sadness, anger, hate, sorrow, trust, and redemption then anything I learned in my decades of schooling. It was a game that had everything I wanted in a movie or book, but so much more. Because I could be a part of it all. Yes the story was scripted, but I was more invested in the activities of Cecil and his cohorts then I was of Luke, Han, and Leia because I could direct the characters innate actions.

The ability to control the game, as much (Mass Effect) or as little (Super Mario Bros.) as the content allows, is what makes video games appealing to me. That level of immersion is something film has been trying to capture for the past decade as game sales continue to dominate the industry. The fact is, film will never be a video game. It just won't work - not until a movie is able to break it's 4th wall and have people control the story. Those experiments are not something that I see moving past short art-house films or temporary exhibition pieces. Mostly due to the nature of film, but the disconnect between film and the audience is much shorter compared to a game. With a game, we know it's digital. We know it's not real. Even with the most human of actions, we are still able to separate reality and fantasy. Film and television are different. Outside of animation, when one uses living people to portray characters, it takes on a new level of realism. We connect to actors because they are human. We understand their needs because we too are human. They have to eat, sleep, use the bathroom, go to work, etc. With a video game, characters can ignore all laws of logic and physics to do things. Even in a crazy action movie like 'Atomic Blonde,' where the impossible seems feasible, there is a grounding of reality by having human actors. This is why movies can't be games - we are unable to break away from the reality of the actors. Controlling a bandicoot to jump and spin doesn't hold the same weight as telling a soldier in a movie which bunker to explore. The bandicoot is a bandicoot. You have 99 lives and can try again if you fail. The soldier has 1 chance to make the "right" decision, and most of us would not be able to face the reality of the situation if s/he failed because of us.

So there you go. Those are my reasons for video games being appealing to me. I enjoy the fantasy; the ability to be swept away into another realm and ignore this one for a few hours. But I'm also fascinated at how the stories are told. How we can take those plot points and make them our own with a level of immersion that can't be beat.

How about you? What about video games appeals to you?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Casinos Attempt to Woo eSports Gamers

As with anything in life, if something is big enough, casino's will find a way to incorporate it into their field to turn a profit. There are themed slot machines (Dolly Parton has her own series of slot machines), miniature Nascar and horse racing tables, eBay chance games: you name it. So it shouldn't be a shock to anyone that casino's want to capture some of the hype behind eSports. But unlike traditional gambling, where hotels will comp rooms, food, and drinks to keep people sitting at a table, eSports gamers are willing to pay for those amenities to get the best seats at a tournament.

Gamers are a difficult market to capture. We see through the bunk of casinos, so we're less likely to pony up money to spend it at a poker table. But it won't stop them from trying! Some venues, such as Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City, hosted a small tournament in March that drew 900 people. The results were instantaneous. While the gambling side didn't see a bump, the growth in room reservations and the sale of food and drink were worth the investment. And if attending a casino to go to a video game tournament turns them into gamblers, then that's a plus for the hotel.

eSports is a growing industry, expected to hit $1 billion by 2019. Casino's know that their target audience of 20-30 year olds are not their traditional customer. They don't have the disposable income to gamble. But they are willing to travel for tournaments - which means they need lodging and food. It's a fairly straight-forward concept that more casinos could try to embrace. Does it mean changing their marketing tactics to woo these customers? Absolutely. But that's the case with every demographic. What gets a 30-40 year old into a retail location requires a different approach then a 50-60 year old.

Is it underhanded? Yeah. I'm not going to sugar-coat it and say that the casino's alternate motive isn't the best. Getting younger people in to try and start gambling. But it is their business model and that's what they do. As long as addiction doesn't grow from it, and one is responsible with their finances, gambling is fine in small quantities. We'll just leave it at that.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Newest LotR Game Has Microtransactions

Remember when video games didn't have microtransactions and pay-walled content? You could buy the game as it was for $39.99-$49.99, play it right out of the box, and not have to worry about these crazy things called bugs and glitches, or having to buy DLC to get additional content. The game was all right there in front of you. Done.

Dudes, those were good times.

This isn't an older gamer asking for nostalgia. While I appreciate the games of my youth, a selection of today's games are superior to anything I played as a kid. But one thing that I do miss and wish gamers would stop falling for is not having to pay extra after you buy a game.

Microtransactions and DLC's have messed up the gaming market.

WB Games has announced a new "market" system, as they call it, for Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, the latest in a string of 'The Lord of the Rings' video games. Shadow of War allows players to build their own Orc army and obtain NPC's by exploring the world and meeting these warriors in towns, fellowships, etc. The "market" allows you to buy Orcs with cash so you can skip doing all of that video game stuff. You can also buy XP boxes, gear, and xp boosts for your Orc army.

Even better, there are 2 types of currency in the game: Mirian and Gold. Mirian can be found in the game. Gold you have to purchase with real-world cash, which can be used to get "better" loot boxes. While the FAQ states that buying Gold is not required to advance in the game, and that a person playing without buying Gold will see the same results, we know the reality. If a person has a standard army and plays against a person with a Gold army, we know who's going to win - the one that's equipped with the Gold gear. (Note: the game has no online play; this is just an example.)

The "you don't have to pay extra to play" is a buffer statement every developer is using these days to not drive away core gamers who don't want to, or can't, shell out anything extra after buying the product. And yes, the game doesn't block you behind a pay-wall. That much they have made clear. But if you want certain cool Orc to be in your army? You gotta pay up. Whether that's farming for hours to get Mirian or paying for Gold.

This is our gaming reality. Where we can't have single-player content without the looming nuisance of microtansactions.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

First things first, the images should be working again on the blog. Sorry about the delay! Photobucket use to be cool, but then they had to go and get all corporate on us so now image sharing is apparently a bad thing. Go fig. But if you see any other image errors, leave a comment and it'll get fixed.

Now! Onto the Weekly Link Round Up! The list of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week. Here's what we've got in store:

- I'm sure by now you all have seen NASA's new job opening for Planetary Protection Officer. Of course Commander Shepard (bro and fem) should be the top choice, but Forbes has put together a list of 7 video game characters that would fill the roll nicely. Yes that job opening is real. If you think you've got what it takes to protect the planet from inter-stellar forces, go for it!

- For the first time ever, a basketball franchised game will feature players from the WNBA. About. Damn. Time. This Fall's release of NBA Live '18 will use the current roster of WNBA players and contain at least 8 teams. The rest of the game settings will replicate the male players. This isn't the first time EA has added female teams to their sports games; see FIFA 16. But it's nice to see it actually happening. As much as we focus on male sports, women have just as many fans.

- Random video! This is what it looks like to play a video game in 16k resolution with a bunch of monitors. Sharing because it's silly and pretty.

- Hong Kong's first eSports and music festival is expected to bring in over 50,000 visitors. Created by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, teams from around the globe will be competing in multiple events, including a League of Legends tournament. Gaming is a big deal overall in China, and to have an event dedicated to eSports is a big step forward for China; Hong Kong in particular. Curious to see if there is any backlash from this. Because it is China.

- The power of Grand Theft Auto V continues as stock market shares for Take Two Interactive have continued to climb. The company continues to generate quite a bit of revenue from GTA Online, with a thriving user-base that's not afraid to plunk down real world money for in-game items. In light of this, the company has increased their revenue forecast for the rest of the year. Stock market junkies are going to be watching this one closely.

- J-Gel, a Japanese branded hair product, has a new spokesperson: Guile from Street Fighter. He's been "commissioned" to be part of the team and there is an advertisement out as well as an "interview" with him. To be fair, Guile does have some extreme locks and they always manage to look near perfect in the ring. J-Gel hopes that his influence will bring in a new brand of consumers their way.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

'Unsung Story' Kickstarter Has New Developer

It's a Kickstarter kind of week for video games. With the big announcement on one of the most infamous Kickstarter projects gone wrong, we have to talk about it.

Some of you may remember Unsung Story. Marketed as a "spiritual successor" to Final Fantasy: Tactics, the project set up camp on Kickstarter with a $600k goal, which they reached in February of 2014. Since then, backers have been treated to a whirlwind of woe and disaster with every post from developers, Playdek. That is, when Playdek posted at all. There are many months where the company went silent, and until August 1st of this year, there have only been 56 posts. MST3K launched their 11th season revival in November of 2015 and have posted 59 updates (this doesn't include exclusive e-mails direct to backers, and I think I'm sitting at 89 messages) from the beginning until today; if you need a comparison on just how poorly Playdek has been communicating with their backers.

Unsung Story sounded like everything us turn-based, strategy RPG fans wanted. Yasumi Matsuno was designing the story. Akihiko Yoshida and Hitoshi Sakimoto, whom also worked on Tactics, would provide art and music. Tactics has long been praised as the ideal for this type of game, and to have another one on the way with such amazing talent behind the project, it was a lovely dream!

After receiving it's full funding, that's when Playdek's communications with backers began to break down. If you want the full timeline, Kotaku goes into great detail on everything that happened leading up to Kickstarter, and the fallout after. Mostly, Playdek would start out stating that they would be bringing weekly/monthly updates and provide a timeline on when to expect content, and then go silent for several months. We know that developing a game is lengthy, but the game was originally stated for a July 2015 release.

And then the excuses began along with the delays. Month after month of silence, followed-up with an apology post and more set backs. The few screenshots uploaded from the developer look horrific. The mention of PvP only threw more backers into a frenzy. This was suppose to be a single-player gamer - Tactics was not an online game. What was going on at Playdek?

3 years later and no game has emerged.

Until August 1st! The fate of the game has changed. The rights and all current development properties to Unsung Story have been sold to Little Orbit.

The new developer, which currently creates games for multiple system from licensed products such as 'Barbie' and 'Adventure Time,' has already broke the news to backers that they are starting from scratch. They've read through their comments and want to bring Unsung Story to the original game that was promised. Which means starting over! They are also going to try and honor the backer rewards and will send out confirmation e-mails over the next few weeks to verify shipping addresses.

In all this time, not a single refund has been provided. Why? Because Playdek isn't required to do so. No one is on Kickstarter. If you back a project, it's all done in "good faith" that the creator will follow-through. Most do. Some don't. Any and all issues to resolve are between the backer and the creator. Kickstarter has banned businesses that broke TOS, but it doesn't happen often. As long as Kickstarter is given proof that a creator has been attempting to complete a project, they don't have a reason to ban them.

This could be a new, better chapter for Unsung Story. People may finally get the game they backed. But many are still wondering what happened to that $660,126 that went to Playdek. 4 people spent $2,500 that they will never see again. No one at Playdek has provided an outline of where the funds went. While we hope that Little Orbit will do right by the backers, they too have already stated that it's impossible to refund backers - they (Little Orbit) are not seeing a single penny from the Kickstarter.

The saga of Unsung Story will continue to be updated as events unfold.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

WoW Gold Surpasses Value of Venezuela Currency

When video games get too real: Currency in World of Warcraft is now worth more then the Venezuelan Bolivar.

This is not a joke. Right now a monthly "food bag" is worth about 10,000 Bolivar - you can figure out the math from there. While that seems cheap by our Dollar, in Venezuela, the rate of inflation makes the price moot when minimum wage is $45 USD a month.

Which is why World of Warcraft currency is worth more then the Bolivar. This isn't the first time it's happened. Since President Nicolas Maduro came into power, the economy in Venezuela has been in a constant state of distress. Food shortages have led to increased prices and inflation in the market. Minimum wage has not kept up with the soaring costs. While the government recently passed laws to increase the wage by 60%, Venezuela's inflation is expected to grow up to 720% this year and over 2k% next year. Yikes.  Unfortunately efforts by the government to ease the inflation have been having the opposite effect.

So how much is WoW gold? 10k gold is worth roughly $1.21. 11,185.95 Bolivares is worth $1 on the black market. If you're an effective gold farmer, you could make $14.52 over 12 hours. 7 days a week for 30 days, that's $435.60 - more then the minimum wage in Venezuela. This might be a worth-while venture for those looking for alternate jobs that would provide better pay. While I don't condone the activity of gold farming, when your country is on the brink of famine and you have nothing to lose, at least this would put food on the table.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Kickstarter Video Games on Decline

Unsurprisingly, the boom of utilizing Kickstarter for video game projects has hit it's peak. It seems like every few months I was posting another story about the crowd funding website. Even with a rash of sham game sites, and uproars over unfinished projects, Kickstarter has done well for itself as the market leader for crowd funding. Eventually, the donations were going to hit a peak.

First the first half of 2017, over $9.4 million was pledged to successful video game campaigns. In 2015, it was $19.98 million. That's a big drop. Unless a large title is announced for this second half of the year, the amount of pledges will continue to steadily fall.

But it's not all gloomy for Kickstarter. Video games still remain one of the more popular topics for people to back. "Video Games are keeping the same rhythm as the previous year, with roughly 30 projects per month getting funded," said ICO's Thomas Bidaux. As long as the pattern continues throughout the year, it'll still be a successful run for Kickstarter. Just not as much as it has been. Understandably, 2015 was a big year. Shenmue 3 broke the record for highest funded video game; fans donated $1 million in just the first day. There was a lot of hype behind the Friday the 13th game, which is out now, as well as loads of indie titles include the critical hit That Dragon: Cancer. 2015 was a good year to fund games.

Why the decline? It could be that fewer games are hitting Kickstarter for funding. Or that people are still reeling from the long wait times for projects to be complete that they'd rather see results first before deciding to back a title. Unlike other products, the time-table for games can take years. Donating to a project that may end up unfinished can be a daunting proposition. Or it might be that games are being more reasonable about their budget expectations. Instead of funding the full development cycle, teams may only need enough to add finishing touches to the game. So they crowdfund that instead.

Kickstarter is expecting to see a rise in tabletop games. The sector has been growing for the past decade, and could surpass video games soon.