Thursday, November 30, 2017

More Trouble at EA as Stock Values Continues to Decline


Electronic Arts is having a rough go of it.

7 months ago, CFO Blake Jorgensen claimed that Star Wars: Battlefront II would ship around 14 million copies within the first 5 months of release. However the game launched with 60% fewer physical sales compared to it's predecessor, Battlefront. It didn't break the Top 10 on the sales chart in the U.K. On Amazon right now, the game is nowhere to be found in the top 100 most-purchased. We have to wait a few weeks to get the full sales results from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, but it's not looking good for the publisher.

The backlash against Battlefront II has been big. It's been featured in Forbes and CNBC with almost daily updates. It's kind of impressive at how important news organizations are placing this situation, even if they don't quite understand why gamers are unhappy.

But for EA, this misstep with microtransactions will have long term consequences. The companies' stocks has taken an 8.5% loss over the past few days. That may seem small, but when you're dealing with millions of dollars, it adds up quickly. Investors are even more concerned since Battlefront II was released with microtransactions turned off - which cuts into their bottom line. This may cause some to sell their shares now while they are still able to make a profit. EA is still holding fast to their believe that the game will sell, they will recoup from the losses, and microtransactions will be in the game at a future date.

Speaking with investors on Tuesday, Jorgensen commented that the uproar was a "great learning experience." There is no date on when microtransactions will return to the game, but EA is looking to find a balance while current players rack up crystals and credits.

EA, however, is still making a mess of the situation. Jorgensen also spoke on Tuesday at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. When someone asked why the loot boxes didn't focus on cosmetic items only, instead of making them full of weapons, gear, and star cards that could significantly improve a person's stats, Jorgensen blamed it on Disney. "The one thing we're very focused on and they're extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars. It's an amazing brand that's been built over many, many years. So if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon. Darth Vader in white probably doesn't make sense, versus in black. Not to mention you probably don't want Darth Vader in pink. No offense to pink, but I don't think that's right in the canon."

We put Wookies in bikinis in Star Wars: Galaxies. There are pink, white, orange, yellow, and aqua dyes in Star Wars: The Old Republic to apply to all of your gear. Cosmetic options for characters in Star Wars is feasible. So don't act like it's not, EA.

The EA/Battlefront saga continues and we'll keep updating as the story evolves.

Also, a special thank you to the gamers who cancelled their pre-orders and boycotted the game. Remember: money, not words, is the biggest motivator for companies. By not buying the game, you sent a strong message to EA that their pay-to-win microtransactions on a $60 game will not be tolerated. I'd like to think my review helped in the endeavor, but it's unlikely.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

U.S. Representative Wants to Ban Children from Buying Games with Loot Boxes

A U.S. State Legislature is looking to ban children from buying video games that contain Loot Boxes. Hawaiian State Representative Chris Lee has been following the loot box craze for years, and states he's an avid gamer. With the blow-up over Star Wars: Battlefront II, the situation has captured his interest in a big way. He sees how games like this could be used to prey on kids and convince them to spend their parents money en-masse to "beat" the game.

Last week Lee caught the attention of many gamers when he held a press conference to talk about the predatory practices of publishers like EA. From then on, he's been diving into the realm of microtransactions with his political career in hopes of creating legislation that will curb the practice.

In theory, this doesn't sound like a bad idea. I'm still against the idea of forbidding children from buying a game. As long as they are purchasing a game within their age group, there shouldn't be restrictions. The ESRB does a fine job regulating itself. But the extremism of loot boxes and microtransactions has hit a new fervor. Something needs to be done to let publishers know that pay to win models are not going to be tolerated. Legislating the extremes of loot boxes is a viable step in the right direction. Providing additional warnings before purchases, requiring publishers to note what exactly is in each loot box, things like that. But preventing someone from making a purchase of a game is not going to fly in the U.S. That hits on first amendment rights.

But Lee is going to persist. He's offered invitations to several gaming publishers for their perspective on the issue but has not received a response. The ESA is still standing behind loot boxes not being gambling. Lee however sees families and children as victims here. The urge to be the best in a game, the temptation to buy loot boxes to gain an advantage can sometimes be too much. Whether you are 8, 18, 28, or 58, it can be difficult to ignore the need for loot boxes if you haven't instilled discipline in yourself to resist.

There is some give and take with this situation. Kids and parents need to be taught self control. Parents need to set limits for their kids on what is acceptable gaming practices, including if they are allowed to buy loot boxes or not. Parents also need to be involved in their children's gaming habits. Just like with school and sports, parents need to participate in the games their child plays. It'll help prevent a major blow-out when you get your next cell phone bill.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Attempting Chinese Immersion

If you're a fan of Twitch, you've probably seen a number of streamers hitting up PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG). It's easily one of the most played and viewed games of the year. Tencent Holdings has announced a partnership with the game's developer to bring a mobile version to China after winning the contract to maintain all rights for the country's distribution.

Announced yesterday, the firm will be pushing to have the game available in China by next year. Which sounds easy, until you remember this is China and PUBG is a survival shooter. With China's strict laws about content in video games, PUBG will have to undergo a number of changes to fill the country's requirements. The game will be a very stripped down version of it's original self, and probably have more chat reporting features (something the current game is in desperate need of). A number of media watchdogs in China are already concerned about the deal and it's possible that PUBG will not get the licensing it needs in the country due to it's violent content.

It'll be interesting to see how Tencent handles the game changes, in their attempt to market the mobile version to a "casual" gaming audience. While the mobile game is not slated for a US release, you can bet that we'll find a way to get our hands on it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

New Coalition Formed for Video Game Regulation

The fury of Loot Boxes is hitting it's peak. Just released to GamesPress is the announcement of a new coalition called the National Committee of Games Policy (NCGP). They already have a website up too!

The committee currently consists of 8 members with various backgrounds in the gaming industry. Including a woman, so yea for that. Some of the members have started gaming studios, others are project managers and accountants. All with diverse knowledge of video games and what it takes to make them.

According to the press release, the coalition was formed due to "increase external pressure" on reforming and regulating the game industry. The current focus is on Loot Boxes, in game economies, and online gambling. The gaming industry is also not actively, nor accurately, represented in U.S. politics. To have a coalition that can act on behalf of gamers is a necessary step forward.

The NCGP is currently not affiliated with any other group (IGDC, ESRB, etc.) though it's mission is a bit fuzzy right now. They want to represent the industry without taking sides, and want to help regulate it. It's kind of a mix of trying to be both the IGDC and ESRB. They also plan to sue companies that are not acting in the interest of the industry. What that means, we'll have to wait and see. They are establishing themselves as an SRO to act as a consumer protection agency, and will issue citations, fines, and potentially sue businesses that break the law or screw over customers. They have also taken it a step further and created a whistle-blowing center for gaming employees to have a safe place to talk about ethic and illegal activity that may be occurring in their offices.

Hopefully the NCGP can better flesh out what their goals are as it seems a bit scatterbrained (too many hands in too many pots), but to have a group focused on representing gaming in the government is necessary.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Good morning gamers! It's been a long week with a lot of heavy posts, so I felt giving everyone Thanksgiving off would be helpful. We're picking it back up again with another Weekly Link Round Up. Some of the best, worst, and wirdest gaming news on the internet; all right here! Here's what we have in store today:

- More Star Wars: Battlefront II articles are flooding the internet. This one by the BBC is not only a condescending title, it once again misses the mark on why Loot Boxes are bad in Battlefront. At least it's not as bad as CNBC's.

- WhatCulture has given us a list of 9 critcally-panned games that players love! Okay. I'll bite. WhatCulture has been pushing out bad lists this week. Let's see if they turn it around. On the list it's Mad Max (based off the 2015 movie), DC Universe Online, and Alpha Protocol. While I don't think most of these games were panned by critics - a 64 score on Metacritic is not bad. It's a passing grade. A 10 would be BAD. I also think their top choice of Nier was a poor call. A number of gaming journalists enjoy the game, even with it's weird control scheme and having to farm every boar on the screen. But for the most part, the list is okay. I know a number of people who stick up for Max though it was universally considered meh at best. Lots of people clamor over how great DC Universe Online was, possibly as a replacement for City of Heroes. While the list isn't perfect, it is better then what WhatCulture has been putting out lately!

- Do you like eSports? Do you like beer? Good! A number of beer companies are looking to eSports as an opportunity to sell their wares to China as the market continues to grow. The Forbes article is an interesting look inside the other industries affected by eSports, and how they continue to profit from our gaming habits.

- Curious about PAX Unplugged? ArsTechnica has a great compilation of the standout board/card games that you should get your hands on.

- Because today is a big shopping day, here are a few lists of the deals you can find this year for games:

Amazon Friday
Amazon Monday

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#SaveNetNeutrality Gamers, We Need You Now More Then Ever

Okay dudes. We need to ramp the noise up to 11 again. The FCC, despite receiving over 22 million comments on Net Neutrality (this was even after the FCC changed the commenting system 3 times) with an overwhelming majority in favor of keeping it, still plans to remove it.

Note: If you don't want to read the full post but would like info on how to save Net Neutrality, scroll to the bottom for the links.

The FCC is disregarding the 10's of millions of US citizens that are actively against this measure. There was a person or a group that created a bot that posted anti-Net Neutrality (which is funny because after Net Neutrality is lifted they might not be able to do that ever again) messages that all contained the same phrasing, but that didn't drown out the millions of comments that were in favor of keeping the rules. (By the way, the FCC refuses to investigate the matter, even though spamming/creating false identities for a government entity is illegal.)

The timing of this is also very astute. Usually announcements of this level are made during less-busy weekdays to ensure the largest audience receives the news. Instead the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who I'm now referring to as douche-Pai after his actions this week, decided that Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to tell everyone to go screw off. He still plans to have the FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality. The hope is that with it being a holiday week, people are less likely to be active in contacting their senators, state representatives, and the FCC because they are too focused on Thanksgiving.

22 million comments are being ignored by the FCC. The comments that they are focusing on are those of Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The telecommunication companies may win and can dismantle the internet that we know today.

For those who don't know, Net Neutrality is the Internet's guiding principle in the U.S. It preserves our right to communicate online, freely. We are not to be hampered by ISP's. We are allowed to search, surf, and seek out any and all information that exists online without any deterrents. Under Net Neutrality ISP's can't block websites. ISP's can't control the flow of information, nor can they control the speed of sites. If you purchased a 10 gigabyte plan, then all of the content needs to be connected to you at 10 gigabytes. Net Neutrality ensures that everyone has equal access to everyone on the internet once you're online.

Pre-Net Neutrality, ISP's were constantly bumping heads with consumers and the FCC. But there has always been an underlying Net Neutrality rule that kept ISP's in check.

Before I go off into a rant on why ending Net Neutrality is bad, let's look at douche-Pai's statement this week on what the roll-back means. Net Neutrality, he believes, will help restore "internet freedom." A new plan will be introduced that would prevent the government from micro-managing the internet. It sounds fine in a speech, but that's not what the plan does. Instead it gives a basic framework for which ISP's should follow. If there are any disputes or concerns, they will now be handled by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and not the FCC. The plan expects ISP's to be transparent with their practices, but does not require them to report in on changes to their policies or pricing plans. I.E. the plan is based on the word of the ISP's. Everything is being done "in good faith" that the ISP's will do the right thing. And to top it off, states can not pass any laws that would override the FCC's plan. So Minnesota, for example, wouldn't be allowed to compose their own Net Neutrality rules. The FCC and ISP's would have legal carte blanche.

I may not be completely business-minded, but that sounds like a really bad plan. Assuming that the ISP's are going to play fair is dumb. We need regulation to ensure that they don't overcharge and limit services to customers. If you need an example, let's say I went to a car dealership to buy a Jaguar but I didn't have the down payment available. The dealership isn't going to let me drive off the lot right then and there if I give them an IOU paper. They want their down payment. Your ISP is trying to get by with the IOU to the FCC with this new "plan."

To assume that the ISP's will keep their word, well you're just silly. AT&T and Verizon were slapped earlier this year by providing better connection to their video streaming services and not others. In 2014, Verizon wanted to charge gamers more money for using the internet. Thankfully, Net Neutrality was put in place in 2015 to stop Verizon. The telecomm industry is there to make money. Given the chance, they will nickle and dime you like the airlines. We know how bad our cable providers are right now. Imagine how much worse it'll be when they have free reign to do whatever they want.

Google, Facebook, Amazon are all in support of Net Neutrality. Thousands of online businesses, software developers, and browsers want to keep Net Neutrality in place. Without an open internet, they wouldn't be the businesses that they are today. The only group that seem to be in favor of ending Net Neutrality are ISP's, as they gain the most from the change.

So what would happen in a post-Net Neutrality world?

AT&T and Comcast could start blocking streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime in favor of their own video on demand content. And they could do it almost immediately after the vote passes. AT&T would push people to use their DirectTV system instead, which would provide "faster" viewing.

AT&T can also decide that your search engine of choice will be Yahoo. Why? Because they own a stake in the company. So if you need to search for something online, they could easily restrict access to Google and Bing, or cause the websites to load so slow that you have to go to Yahoo. This ensures that Yahoo receives more ad revenue by you visiting that site, and ultimately AT&T will make more money from it.

And that whole "Verzion wants to charge gamers more money to play games online" thing? Yeah that could actually happen if Net Neutrality ends. We may see our monthly prices skyrocket for ISP's to "accommodate" our gaming habits. For a number of us already in a daily fight with our ISP's, this could be an exasperating task. Imagine not being able to play Overwatch on any console because your ISP is actively restricting your online use until you pay more money. You already have a 10 gig limit, but the ISP doesn't have to distribute it fairly.

Got an online business? Cool! If you want people to be able to visit your website you may have to pay the ISP's to ensure they don't block you. Yep. ISP's could start charging premiums to businesses like Google, Amazon, Etsy, ThinkGeek, even your favorite online t-shirt shop - all so they can be "allowed" access on their network. Verizon may charge thousands a year for that t-shirt shop to be visible on their services. While Google can foot their bill, the smaller shops can't. I'm a big fan of online shopping, particularly with fabric and crafting stores because they offer a lot of niche items I won't find at traditional retailers. With Net Neutrality ending, those shops can and will lose business unless they pay the ISP's for visibility. If you have Comcast and try to visit, Comcast could block the site for not paying their "service" fee. No more cool geeky shirts for you. Your ISP has blocked them.

Even better, if the websites do pay the ISP's premium fees, the ISP can still block off access to those until you, the consumer, pay more. AT&T may decide to set up a "social media" add-on to your internet services. To gain access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter you would have to pay a monthly fee. Don't believe me? Portugal has no Net Neutrality and customers continually see packages like this one from their ISP's. Wanna access your e-mail? That'll be 4.99 Euro a month.

Yeah. You can't even access GMail in Portugal without paying extra. E-mail is a basic necessity in today's world. To revoke access is akin to removing all contact from the world.

It sounds crazy, but given the history of these ISP's this is a very plausible future. While the FCC has always had some form of Net Neutrality to prevent ISP's from abusing their power, douche-Pai wants to end it entirely. Including the underlying rules.

For those who argue that removing Net Neutrality would help the free market - the telecommunication industry is far from a free market. Most areas of the country you are fortunate if you have a choice in cable/internet providers. If you live in an apartment or a condo, you probably have 1 option and that's your only option. Telecomm companies work hard to ensure that no other businesses encroach on their territory and sometimes work out special deals with apartments, blocks, even cities to be the only vendor of digital services. By not playing ball with the ISP's, one can lose their lifeline to the outside world. Given how prevalent the internet is in our day to day life, that's not an option.

Bottom line: If you enjoy cat videos, buying from Amazon, and checking your e-mail, then we need to save Net Neutrality. This isn't a political issue. This isn't a Republican vs. Democrat situation. This is about a basic necessity of life that everyone should have fair and equal access to.

The internet was developed with the intent to provide open communication to all without any disruptions. It allows ideas to be shared freely. It allows those who don't have access to expensive schools to gain knowledge where money use to be a barrier. Without the internet as it is now, we wouldn't have Twitch! Net Neutrality made the internet what it is today; a weird and wonderful place. We need to save it.

Gamers, we can do some amazing things when we work as a team. With all the crap that went down with EA and Star Wars: Battlefront II these past weeks, it wouldn't have happened if we didn't band together. We can save Net Neutrality if we become the dream team once more.

Voting day for the FCC is December 14th. Call, write, fax, and act every day to ensure your politicians are listening. We need to keep pushing. Enough of us yell to keep it, they can't ignore it. Congress can still stop it, but you have to be active in contacting your state reps to ensure it happens. Here are a few places to get started:

- Resist Bot - A texting and now FB Messaging service that will find your state representatives and will fax/e-mail/mail them with your message. Government officials are all required to maintain an open box for mailing and faxing and must respond to each one. Resist Bot takes out most of the leg work. Very easy to use, and can issue you a daily reminder to contact your reps!

- Battle For The Net - A good multi-resource site that also provides you with direct numbers for congress and your state reps.

- Free Press - Add your name to the growing list of the letter being sent by the Free Press directly to all senators, state reps, and the FCC.

- Mozilla Advocacy - Similar to Free Press, but the Mozilla version.

- Electronic Frontier Foundation - An easy way to e-mail your congress rep. Note that this doesn't work in all states. Texas, for example, doesn't require an e-mail to be active nor for reps to use/respond to them. But it is much faster then other methods if your state rep has one.

Keep fighting to save the internet before we lose it for good.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Worst Battlefront II Article is Hillarious

By far one of the worst news pieces you will read about the Star Wars: Battlefront II issue will be this lovely gem from CNBC. Not only does it get a number of the facts wrong regarding why gamers were upset at EA & DICE's decisions with the product; CNBC also got a note from an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets (to investors) basically saying that they shouldn't worry. Gamers are overreacting and are still getting a better deal with the game. It is the most condescending, worthless article of the bunch.

And we're going to talk about this, because it's so bad that it HAS to be discussed! I can not rest tonight knowing that I didn't give this article the analysis it deserves. Yes, this is a throw-away post but I do not care. This is hilarious at how badly researched the piece is!

When people look to news sites that don't properly vet out their content, this is one of those moments. While it's still factually correct in some areas, it misses the mark entirely on others. This article should be used in future journalism classes as an example of what not to do. It's half-hearted, sloppy, and missing the key details that other stories have captured.

By now we all know that the reason for the uproar against EA and Battlefront II has to do with microtransactions. The game's progression system in mutliplayer turned it into a "pay to win" model, where gamers who were willing to plop down the money could easily best those who didn't want to, or couldn't afford to spend additional cash on items. The loot boxes contained items ranging from weapon and armor upgrades, star cards, crafting pieces - all to be used to make a player's character more powerful. While one could earn loot boxes by fulfilling daily objectives or reaching in-game benchmarks, it does take a lot of time. Reddit user TheHotterPotato calculated that it would take up to 40 hours to unlock one of the top tier characters; Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. While EA has tweaked this to a more reasonable time frame of 15-20 hours, it's still a lot of time to invest in the game's multiplayer. The bottom line is gamers who want to be the best now could pay for the privilege; buying up crystals with real world money, use the crystals for loot boxes, and beef up their character. Even in the system was updated after feedback from the beta, it was clear that "pay to win" was the model EA wanted.

Tae Kim, the writer of the CNBC article did get one thing correct: that some people were upset that you could pay to speed up the unlock time of characters like Darth Vader. Unfortunately that's what the article centers on. It ignores the issue of microtransaction entirely. When it is brought up, it's through the eyes of market analyst Evan Wingren. "Gamers aren't overcharged, they're undercharged (and we're gamers). … This saga has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit, and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike MTX [microtransactions]." Talk about a dick answer.

Wingren also breaks down the "value" of the game compared to other forms of entertainment. If a gamer spends $60 for the base game, spends $20 a month on loot boxes, and plays 2.5 hours a day for a year, the gamer is only spending 40 cents for every hour of gameplay. Compared to 60-65 cents an hour for television or 80 cents to $3 an hour for a movie, that's a deal.

But what gamer spends 2.5 hours a day, every day, on the same game? No one does that. Not even an MMO player like myself. Not unless you're a Major League Gamer and this is your job, gamers change up their games. One can only play Super Mario: Odyssey for so long before they need a break. Not only is Wingren's assessment condescending, it's inaccurate to most gamer's lifestyle. We work. We go to school. We have social lives. We don't play games every day for 2.5 hours.

Note: Battlefront is not and will never be an MLG game because the product relies on you bolstering your character with better gear. It is not a game solely focused on skill.

It also overlooks the fact that people are already spending $60 on a game. A game that should be complete and ready for them to play. They shouldn't have to spend MORE money to get additional content that could vastly affect their gameplay. It'd be like going to the movies, spending $30 on a ticket, but being told halfway through the film that you need to spend more money to get the best possible ending, or to have additional gear given to Thor so he can win. It's a crude comparison, but you better believe movie-goers would be furious if this happened.

To Wingren's credit, he is correct from a monetary standpoint that video games do provide more value in entertainment compared to other mediums. But then he has to follow it up with this remark: "Quantitative analysis shows that video game publishers are actually charging gamers at a relatively inexpensive rate, and should probably raise prices." The man is actually suggesting that publishers raise the prices up to $78, $134, and $144 respectively! We can rarely get a complete game for $59.99, what makes Wingren think that someone would be willing to pay $78 for an unfinished game?

Wingren may say he's a gamer, but he has completely missed the point of the uproar. And he's also out to make money, because he's an analyst for a large firm. That's what they do.

And Kim did not properly address the issues surrounding Battlefront II. Instead, the focus is on gamers being mad that we can't unlock Darth Vader until we play for a long time. We angrily took to Reddit to complain that all this content should be in the game at release. This ignores the real reason: It's all about microtransactions and the game being a "pay to win" model. It's about gamers tired of spending $59.99, before tax, on a game that requires you to pay more in order to succeed. It's about loot boxes getting out of control and no longer focusing on cosmetic - instead giving advantages to those who are willing to spend more money.

If Kim and Wingren took half a minute to research the situation, the article would have been a bit more factual.

So here you are ladies and gentlemen. Say congratulations to the worst Star Wars: Battlefront II article ever. As annoying as Wingren comes off in the written word, this article is hysterical. No gamer would ever take the CNBC piece seriously, and neither should any developer. If you ever want to be a journalist, please don't write these kind of pieces. At the very least, do more then a minute of research and dig into the problem before writing our your article. Gamers everywhere would appreciate it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Star Wars: Battlefront II - The Review!

If you guessed that today's blog post would be about Star Wars: Battlefront II, you are correct. Congratulations. I can only offer internet cookies for being right. Don't be smug about it.

Within hours of the game's release last Friday, EA made the decision to temporarily remove all in-game transactions. The microtransactions will return, after they review and make adjustments to the system. It's been quite the marketing headache for EA these past few weeks. So much so that the physical sales of Battlefront II are down 60% from it's predecessor during initial launch. Ouch. And if that wasn't enough, now some countries are looking to investigate loot boxes and see if they could be considered a form of gambling. With it comes additional taxes, tariffs, and warnings that game developers would have to divulge.

Even with all this, the bad press, the negative user reviews, the constant questioning of their microtransaction system, EA is positive they will meet their financial forecasts for March 2018.

So what's the real deal on Battlefront II? Is the game that bad to be worth a boycott? Do the microtransactions royally mess up the game?

I've been gifted with a copy of the game from a reader/follower. I don't know if it was meant to torture me or to try and get me to see the light side. But I was willing to try the game. See what changes have been made from Battlefront I. What the hubbub with the single player story was about. Maybe the game isn't as bad as the users are making it out to be? Maybe there is some good in the darkness? Here's my mini-review of Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Much like all of the Battlefront games, #2 does its best to faithfully recreate the look and feel of the 'Star Wars' movies. Thanks to technology, the art of the game is impressive. The locations, such as Naboo and Tattoine are beautiful. The sweeping lines of the tall buildings. The dynamic colors of the rooftops and tiled floors. Even while you're being shot at by the enemy, you can't help but get caught up in the sights and sounds around you. I have always felt a strong bond to Star Wars: Galaxies in how much it was a living, breathing version of the 'Star Wars' legacy. Battlefront II comes in a close second. And kudos to the sound design team for creating a myriad of environmental noises that add to the beauty of the landscapes.

The combat is much improved from Battlefront #1. The controls feel more fluid and they are easier to tap into for newbies as well as longtime FPS fans. The weapons hold more weight. They don't feel like throw-away pieces as they were in the last game. Running, ducking, dodging, and melee have been tightened up. The little nuances such as zooming in and the cross-hairs have been tweaked to not be as obtrusive. The meat of the game got the upgrade it desperately needed. If progression weren't locked behind the convoluted system that DICE created, Battlefront II could easily be a multiplayer shooter that people would play for years. Heck, the game would be even better if there were NO progression system. Then we'd have a title that could be considered eSports worthy. Remove the need for upgrading weapons and armor. Have everyone on an even playing field where the focus is on skill, not who spends the most gets the best gear. Leveling is just a statement where people can see how much you've played the game. And if you want Loot Boxes, be like Overwatch and make them 100% cosmetic.

Oh, and the flight combat is good too. Honestly it feels like that could be it's own game. Another Tie Fighter simulator, without content locked behind progression, would be pretty neat if they used DICE's improved system.

Let's get to the story mode, because that was a big selling point for Battlefront II. The downside to #1 is that it lacked a single player campaign. It was one of many reasons I opted to not buy it. #2 tried to redeem itself by including a story mode where you play as Iden Versio, an elite Imperial Commando who's carrying out the Emperor's last orders. Okay, so that's kind of cool that you get to play the other side. Star Wars games typically fail at telling stories about the Empire from their perspective. Except for The Old Republic (which I still attest that the Imperial Agent's story line is one of the best you will ever experience in any game). The story gives you an uninhibited play through that looks and feels great. It's the hard paced action that we see in the movies, without the griefers.

But that's about the only praise that I have for the story. Like so many other Star Wars titles, #2 fails at providing any connection between Versio and the player. There is no empathy to be found. I did not care if she succeeded in her mission or if her team died. Even in a brief conversation between Versio and her father, who is leading the mission, there's nothing. No drama. No emotion. No grand design. The whole sequence felt meaningless. In trying to tie in Versio to the Star Wars lexicon, EA and DICE failed to provide an intriguing character worth following. I realize that trying to empathize with the Empire is a difficult task, but that's what one needs to do to tell a good story. If we can't find a way to relate to the main character, whether it's through their actions, emotions, background, etc. then we as the audience/gamer have no reason to be invested in the story. There are ways to provide a connection to main characters that we, as society, don't like (see American History X) without it clouding the waters.

To make matters worse, the story for #2 is very paint by numbers Star Wars. You know exactly what's going to happen without having to think about it. There are no surprises. You can even guess when the pointless character tie-ins will appear. You know the ones. They only exist to give the gamer those happy nostalgia feelings.

Look! Here's Chewbacca! Don't you remember him? Amazing right? Okay well he's gone now so let's go back to more shooting. Pew pew!

The story makes zero effort in tying in these extra places and characters to Versio's mission. They exist so you can say "oh cool!" and immediately disregard them. The single player campaign is full of non-sequiturs that create a jarring and disjointed story.

Oh, and this story can be completed in 4-5 hours. No joke. I was done in about 4 and a half hours. "What? That's it? That's the single player campaign I received? Lame."

So $59.99, if you buy the regular version, is pretty much going to an improved multi-player shooter, with content locked behind progress and paywalls that prevent you from enjoying the game.

Battlefront II is not a game wrapped in a unique story of an Imperial Commando with an online component to enhance the experience. It's a crappy Battlefront knockoff trying to showcase it's shiny new skin to anyone who will buy. The multiplayer is passable. The improved combat is nice. But the big ordeal really is all about those microtransactions. With the game in its current state, you can play it, but you certainly won't enjoy it. It takes too long to get the content you need to be "good." And frankly, no one has 40-120 hours to dedicate to playing just this game to get decent gear. The fact that the game locks you behind layers and layers of progressions that require crafting, random loot box luck, and tedious credit farming (which is capped after so many games a day), makes it too much of a chore. I'd rather the multiplayer aspect be more like Counter Strike or Overwatch. Again, an emphasis on skill not on farming for gear. Ultimately, what will doom Battlefront II is the multiplayer. The single player campaign comes in a close second.

What sucks is that the people who worked on this game: the programmers, designers, artists, musicians - the people who don't make the big decisions, they did an amazing job. They lovingly created a very beautiful game to look at and to play through. But the story, the lack of content, and the screwed up progression system has made this game unworthy of investing time in.

Bottom line: Do not buy this game. Wait until it's in the bargain bin for $29.99 or less and see what EA/DICE have decided on for the microtransactions. This game is not worth it's full retail price. Not by a long shot.

Also, thanks to the reader/follower for the game! I'm sorry you spent money on this. I think it's still within the refund window...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday and goodness it's been one crazy week, hasn't it? Between EA's shenanigans with Star Wars: Battlefront II and all of the gaming Black Friday ads leaked early, gamers have been busy staying up to date with the news. Here is a snippet of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news this week:

 - NPR decided to tackle the EA/Battlefront II story. You all know about the details, but I wanted to share this for the headline: Gamers See a Dark Side to New 'Star Wars' Video Game. You are free to groan at that.

- According to research recently published in Great Brittan, some video games are as good as IQ tests and can be used to measure one's intellect. The findings are a bit wishy-washy. They are using chess as a comparison, stating that those who play chess typically have a higher IQ. That's not necessarily the situation with a number of chess players - some people play because they like chess. It doesn't mean they have a high IQ. They could be really good at chess and nothing else. While I agree that some video games are brain teasers and may measure IQ differently, I don't think this study is foolproof.

- You probably haven't heard of the game Laws of War, but it will make you rethink about actual combat training. The ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, wanted to develop a game where users have to abide by the rules of war. You have to learn who is a threat, and who is a civilian. You train to help your teammates and follow orders instead of rushing into combat. The development of the game is interesting and the article is worth a read-through.

- Belgium and the Netherlands are taking Loot Boxes seriously by opening an investigation to see if the microtransactions in some games should be considered gambling. In Belgium, a permit is needed to sell an item that involves "a game of chance" and if Loot Boxes fall under that category, a lot of gaming developers will be fined. The outcome is one everyone in the industry will be watching closely.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 9 video games that let you hilariously troll other players. Let's start with the understanding that it is not funny to troll people. It's dumb. It's harassment. And you can get banned for doing it. With that said, this is easily one of the worst lists WhatCulture has ever created. You're going with a VR Werewolf game as your top pick? Really? Not GTA5 Online? WhatCulture, you have lost your groove and we are so very disappointed in you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men, We're Tired of Your Sh*t - Harassment in Video Games

Today's post is not going to be your typical fare. We need to talk about the #MeToo campaign and the fallout of the sexual harassment/assault charges against a number of powerful figures (business, entertainment, politics, etc).

Since #MeToo became a trending tag on Twitter, more of the world has seen just how much harassment women (and men, but it's mostly women) experience on a daily basis. It's not a 1 out of 3 number any longer. It's a everyone, single, woman. From an unwanted hug or cat call to full assault, every woman has been attacked sexually in some form or another. When you read stories of girls as young as 4 being sexually harassed, it's disgusting.

And we are tired of it.

I have found myself being more active in mutliplayer gaming lately and trying to utilize chat functions. And because of it, I've been reporting way more people for harassment. But there is a change that is happening. More men are speaking up and telling others to stop harassing, and reporting the behavior as well. A friend of mine saw a player in Final Fantasy XIV who was groping and talking about sexually explicit things to every female character that crossed his path. He was reported, blocked by everyone that crossed his path, and within a few days his account was banned. Instead of letting this activity continue, people took action. This is the start.

Because of #MeToo, a number of women and men have been given the courage to say something about their harassment/assault experiences. With the behavior so pervasive, we know that people will have our backs - that is one of the reason why so many stay quiet. When you're harassed or assaulted you feel helpless. You feel like there is no one there to support you. You feel like no one will believe you. Not without proof or evidence; even if the assault took place 30 years ago when cell phones and personal cameras were not available. You feel like you have no choice but to stay quiet. It's worse when the perpetrator is your boss, supervisor, government official, a police officer, the CEO of a company - someone who is in a position of power to destroy your life. And in many cases, this is how they work. They pick a victim who is easy to manipulate and string along, knowing that the victim can't do anything to retaliate because they have everything to lose.

By the Tweets above, you see what happens when someone comes forward with their story about sexual harassment or assault.

We're immediately questioned. We're called liars, cheaters, whores, sluts, and a myriad of other vulgar words. We become the target of hate and ire - which is even worse in these times with Drumpf holding a political position. Those who are supporters of Roy Moore's campaign (by the way he was removed from office twice for breaking the law), are attacking the victim's with hate, violence, threats of death, and doxxing.

And this is fairly common whenever someone steps forward with a sexual assault story against a known figure. The victims become outcasts.

This is why we don't talk about our history with assault. This is why we feel like all hope is lost. Why bother speaking up if you're going to be inundated with more harassment? Why bother stopping a man/woman from invoking more horrors onto another unsuspecting victim if no one will believe us?

This type of mindset needs to end. We need to STOP victimizing the victim. They have already lived through the assault. They are reliving it again when they speak of it in public. They don't owe anything to anyone. They are TRYING to do the right thing and get a molester, assaulter, predator off the streets. We need to support them - not blame them. And as the weight of the allegations continue to rise, we are all feeling it.

We need to do better, not only for our daughters. We need to do better for humanity.

I don't think I will ever feel safe enough to come forward with some of my stories of assault and harassment. Most I've already spoken about, but there are a few that will stay with me. Why? Because of that retaliation. I don't have the mental fortitude or the financial security to withstand it. I need my job. I need to pay the bills. I need to feel secure in going home every day, knowing that my residence, my dogs, and my family are okay. And the moment I speak out about abuse, harassment, and assault that I've seen from powerful men, that safety will go away. And these are men who have been accused before. Multiple times! By women and men who are much stronger then I will ever be. But you know what? Nothing has happened to the perpetrators. They are still in power. They still run companies, rule Hollywood, and have political positions.

There is nothing for me to gain by coming forward with my stories. It won't garner a movie deal. I won't become a movie star. I won't win millions of dollars from a lawsuit. But I have everything to lose, if I do. This is what it feels like to be a victim. Hopeless. Scared. Alone.

Gamers. If you love video games, if you care about our community, we need to make changes now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not over the next decade. Start today. We need to call out harassment, bigotry, racism, sexism, when it happens. We need to report grievances as they occur. We need to have thoughtful discussions with developers on ways to improve responses to harassment. This isn't about "white knighting." This is about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do! No one should have to worry about playing a video game and being harassed. Their only concern should be to have fun.

And EVERYONE can help in teaching men and women (because some women are attackers as well) to stop sexual harassment/assault. No means NO. Do not touch people without asking first - even hugs. Do not cat call. Do not make sexual remarks. If someone tells you to stop and to step away, respect their choice as a human and STEP AWAY. This isn't rocket science. And we can teach children early on to respect the space of others. Don't force your child to hug someone if they don't want to. Don't say "boys will be boys" because girls will be girls and I will tell a girl to kick and push that boy away. Everyone has a right to their own autonomy.

Women are tired of dealing with your sh*t, men. The age of equality among humanity has been delayed for too long. We are ready for a change. Start today and report harassment when it happens. Take the next step in helping the gaming community become the shining beacon of greatness that it should be. I too will try to do better. I will move out of my comfort and talk on a headset. I will call out harassment when it happens to anyone. I will report harassment when it happens. I will talk about why it's "not cool" to harass anyone.

Do the right thing. Don't harass. Don't assault. Don't make threats. Report those who do harass. Report those who do threaten. Support the victim. Gamers, we can do better and we should.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

GameStop PowerPass Program On Hold

This is the week that keeps on giving!

GameStop's new 'PowerPass' program has come to a full stop, 5 days before it officially launched. Customers could sign up early during a soft launch at select locations. But during this trial run, GameStop stores ran into technical problems. In a statement to Polygon, GameStop wrote:

We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service.

Those guests who have already purchased the service, we are allowing them to bring the pass and video game they have checked out, back to receive a full refund. In addition, we are allowing them to pick out any Pre-Owned video game for free.

So for those customers who have already signed up, you can get a refund and a free Used game - make sure you have your receipt because something tells me that this system issue may have lost reservations in the process.

While GameStop hasn't given details on what the "program limitations" were, but as a former employee my bet is on the archaic technology not being able to keep up with the reservation system. While some retailers have been staying up to date with the evolution of technology, GameStop was never one of those. My stint there ended in 2010, but even then I was working off of DOS. It was pathetic that a multi-billion dollar company used programs that were developed in the late 1980's to manage everything. My follow-up job wasn't much better, but at least we used programs built in 2004. Given the history of the company, I would not be surprised if GameStop hasn't kept up with the technology needed to help their stores. They are probably still using the same system I was!

GameStop stores have been asked to pull and toss all promotions pertaining to 'PowerPass' and swap out weekly advertisements to remove any mention of the program. The company hasn't killed the 'PowerPass,' yet. It's on hold until they work out the "program limitations."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More Microtransaction Troubles with EA and Battlefront II

So...a lot has happened in the last 24 hours, hasn't it? I think this is one for the history books. EA has been getting a lot of flack for the handling of their microtransaction and loot box system for Star Wars: Battlefront II. Whatever else is going on in the game, it's being dwarfed by the concern of gamers.

In the Battlefront subreddit, user TheHotterPotato calculated out how long it would take to achieve one of the hidden characters that is locked behind an in-game currency pay wall. This was some serious math work to find out that it would take a person a minimum of 40 hours to unlock the top tier of Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. Which means to obtain both characters requires 80 hours of game play.

80 hours. To unlock 2 characters. In 80 hours I could have played South Park: The Fractured But Whole 5 times, and spend the remaining hour and a half on Final Fantasy XIV working on my end game gear. Image if Street Fighter did this with Ryu or M. Bison and you had to play for 80 hours in online matches to unlock both characters. Fans would be livid.

The response to the data was swift. An EA Community Team member answered the comment.

"Heroes earned through Credits: The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch."

That one post from EA has become the most down-voted in Reddit history. -520k and still growing, and this was only a day ago!

Just shy of 2 weeks ago, EA did announce that it would be tweaking the progression and loot box system. The feedback from the beta did not go over well, with rare cards and items hidden in crates that would easily make the game a pay-to-win model. Cards must now be crafted, and better gear will drop at the end of matches so it can be a more even playing field. But this change did not affect rare characters, still set up behind the game's paywall. It's also very possible to do a pay-to-win scenario. Kotaku broke down the details of the game's changes and how one can easily boost their levels to win if you plunk down the cash for it. There are still some restrictions in place, such as how much in-game currency you can earn a day/week.

But this new uproar is an entirely different beast. As a Star Wars fan, I don't want to wait 40 hours to play as Darth Vader. I don't have the time, the patience, or the care. I can play as Darth Vader right now in dozens of other Star Wars games without jumping through hoops. The comments on Reddit echo many of the same concerns. When you hold down a 40-50 hour job, have kids, and try to maintain a social life of some sort, you only have 2-4 hours a week to play a game. It would take over 2 months to unlock 1 of those characters in Battlefront and we do not have the time for that.

EA has backtracked in response to the Reddit thread, the myriad of news articles, and the unfortunate death threats against their employees (okay dudes, I know you're upset at EA. I am too. But that is no excuse to threaten the employees of EA and DICE with violence. People who have NO POWER in making the decisions regarding loot boxes. The shaders and environmental artists don't get a say. Please stop threatening people with violence.) The top heroes credit purchase will be reduced by 75% so you can play as Luke, Leia, or Darth much sooner (even the game's single player protagonist was behind this pay wall).

While this will temporarily appease fans, Battlefront II is bringing the microtransaction issue to the forefront. Once again, EA is making it difficult to enjoy a game without plopping down additional cash in order to win.

What do you think of the recent change? Is it enough to keep you invested in Battlefront II or are you ready to jump ship?

Monday, November 13, 2017 Least One Dev Gets Why We Hate Paying for Loot Boxes

Randy Pitchford, the divisive leader of Gearbox Software, opened up on Twitter his stance regarding Loot Boxes - specifically the ones that we pay for to get an edge in a game. For those who are not Randy fans, his response may help you feel that there is still some sanity left in the gaming industry.

Here are a few snippets of his Twitter roll:

I am generally very much against predatory monetization schemes in F2P games for consumable goods and even more so against them in premium games. I tend to oppose such techniques both as an artist and creator and also as a customer and a gamer. Evidence of my position is that we never sold Golden Keys (an arguably consumable good) in the Borderlands game. We had non-trivial levels of demand from customers to do so, but we did not relent. We chose to only give Golden Keys away via social media and partner relations. 

Contrarily, I tend to be very supportive of post-launch monetization of durable goods as DLC in *almost* any form.

I do, however, object to some of the arguments and language being used to fight against the predatory monetization schemes I have just derided in the first post in this thread. 

As an artists and creator who very much *loves* the nature of the “loot box” as it appears in our Borderlands games, I’m concerned that the words “loot box” are being used as short hand for a practice I am not in favor of. Can we find another term for what we object to?

First off, yes to a new term for the "pay to unlock" Loot Boxes. When I first think of Loot Box, my brain goes to Borderlands, where it's a giant chest of cool stuff! It's been altered over the years to become a catch-all term for any type of package where you have to pay to unlock the content. This could be real world or in-game currency. It'd be nice to have microtransactions called out for what they are.

Secondly, I've always appreciated how Gearbox has handled the golden keys for Borderlands. Golden keys are in-game currency that you can stock up on and use to unlock rare weapon caches. You can earn the keys in a handful of quests, or utilize codes posted online through Gearbox's social media channels. Though the game was first released in 2009, the keys are still being posted every few weeks. There's an active player base that still redeems enough of them to make them worth the effort. It's almost like a "thank you" to gamers for still supporting the game, so here are extra keys to get those rare weapons.

Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with paying for DLC. The biggest hang-up gamers have is that some games are released intentionally incomplete and requires DLC to finish the content. When you pay $59.99 for a game and only get half the content, then gamers are right to be upset with their purchase. DLC should be additions to the incredibly story, not a requirement to finish the base game. The context against DLC and microtransactions is important. DLC for Star Wars: Battlefront was dumb. DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition helped enhanced the game, but was not required to enjoy the base story.

While I'm still 50/50 on the fad, Overwatch has one of the better managed loot box systems. You can earn them while playing matches and eventually unlock them via daily rewards, or purchase them with coins you receive. Or you can buy them outright with real money. The rewards are all cosmetic: different hero skins, spray paints, dialogue snippets, or more game currency. Overwatch focuses on your skill. You can't pay to win. The loot boxes are ancillary. You could play the game and never once open up a box!

But at least Randy has our back. We may not always agree with Gearbox's decisions, but they are trying to give players what they want.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Welcome to the end of another week! A part of me wishes I was still back at BlizzCon. At least it's above 60 degrees there. We're rounding up this week's best, worst, and weirdest gaming news for you to easily digest in your gut. Here's what we've found:

- Are video games bad for your kids? This LA Times reporter found out from a seminar at UC Irvine that no. It's not. The article is a quick read, but it's good to see that some parents are willing to have an open mind to see the benefits of gaming.

- Tencent, the Chinese investment firm that focuses on digital content, is buying more stakes in Snapchat, hoping to turn the platform into something that gamers may use in the future. The details are fuzzy on the specifics, but when you dump $2 billion into Snap stock, you expect to make an impact. What does that mean for users? Nothing right now. But don't be surprised if you see tweaks in the coming months that were influenced by Tencent.

- Have you seen this new Kickstarter project called Vortex? It's a peripheral that lets you experience video games in 4D. "Vortx is the world’s first 4D simulator that can physically recreate any virtual environment in the comfort of your home or office. It reads and analyzes audio and video data in real-time to create physical effects that you can feel to match what you see and hear; because Vortx processes live data that means it is compatible with ANY PC game title and every digital video platform." At $60 grand, I was expecting something else, but if that's what the creators want to do, go for it. Basically it's a glorified fan that reacts to the content in the game. If a bullet goes past your character on the screen, a burst of air will emit from the Vortex. If there's a gust of wind in the desert while you play Assassin's Creed: Origins, you'll feel it. It's not a bad idea, but not fully convinced it's worth investing in right now while 3D is still trying to find it's foothold in the industry.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 video games that had out attention and then lost it. I'd like to point out that the sub title is "How did EA mess up Medal of Honor so bad?" And the answer to that question is "It's EA, that's why." Easy zingers aside, the list includes Halo, Evolve, and Brutal Legend. Wait, what? While I'm not on board with the myriad of sequels for Halo (it was fine to end it at the third game), how the heck did Evolve and Brutal Legend end up on this list? Brutal was a blast! A fun mixture of action, adventure, and dynamic rock n'roll game play that made it a treat to explore the levels. And while Evolve did lose me on not providing single player, the point of the game is to work as a team to track your pray. It was a challenging game and not meant for casual players. But that is what made the title more engaging. You had to learn, you had to adapt, and you had to communicate with people. This is another WhatCulture list that has already failed.

- Hey guess what? EA bought out another studio. Confirmed in a press release this week, EA has purchased Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Titanfall. Respawn was in talks to be purchased by Korea's Nexon, who currently publishes a Titanfall spinoff for mobile games. EA wanted to keep Respawn in the "family," so to speak, as the studio was working with EA to develop an unnamed Star Wars project. No word on what will happen to Respawn, but so far all of their current projects are still underway. Though I wouldn't blame them if the team was worried after what happened to Visceral Games a few weeks ago.

- AM General, a Humvee manufacturer, is suing Activision Blizzard for a trademark infringement from their Call of Duty game. The lawsuit claims that 8 of the games contain Humvee's and the HMMWV logo without the consent of AM General. They believe the company is not only abusing the trademark, but unlawfully profiting by having the vehicles in the game, in toys, in books, and used in advertising. Details of the lawsuit are still unknown, but with a billion dollar company suing another billion dollar developer, it's guaranteed to be an absurd amount of money in play.

- Finally, The Game Awards will be back on December 7th with nominees announced on November 14th. This year the show will expand to more streaming platforms and internationally, including South Korea and Japan. They even plan to bring in an orchestra, and hopefully it's more then a bunch of random, nameless rappers dancing on the stage with a razor. And maybe this year the "World Premiere" drinking game can return!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Niantic's New AR Game is Harry Pottery

Hold on to your wizarding hats. Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go, are going to produce a Harry Potter AR game. The developers will be teaming up with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and their San Fransisco division to create the game. They even have a name for it: Happy Potter: Wizards Unite. It could use some work, but given that they've already bought the domain it's probably going to stay.

Using the same framework as Niantic's AR game Ingress, players will be able to learn spells and battle legendary beasts from the Harry Potter landscape, while teaming up with others to take them down. The game will also include some of the iconic characters from Harry Potter, though it won't let you be one of them.

The details for the game are limited, but Niantic is poised to discuss more in 2018. But it's safe to assume that this game has the potential to be as successful, if not more, then Pokémon Go. For those naysayers, Go is still pulling in 65 million monthly users. While the initial draw may not be there, people are logging in and catching the pocket monsters. Harry Potter could easily be another AR game that sets off the craze once more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

BlizzCon 2017 Review!

I think my brain has calmed down enough that I can provide a thoughtful review. Two days ago, the post would have been filled with "ZOMG It's Awesome!" over and over again. That's not compelling reading; though it does sum up the experience well.

The 11th running of BlizzCon opened up the doors to over 35,000 fans as they took over every square inch of the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The two-day event was one of the largest that the company has held, as they showcased their collection of games and announced new content for fans to expect in the upcoming year. I was one of those who did not get the first or second round of passes after camping them online, but was lucky enough to snag them on round three. Minus the bizarre flight home, this convention was easily one of the best I have attended.

The Breakdown:

BlizzCon began in 2005, but skipped some years (which is why this was number 11 and not 13). The event focuses on all things Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft and Overwatch. You won't see outside vendors or other games here. Not even Destiny 2, which was recently added to for PC users. This was 100% all about Blizzard games, and that was just fine by me! The content of Blizzard's games filled the halls of the convention center with ease. Other games and vendors would have dissolved some of the magic of the convention.

There were a few PC tech booths on the floor and 2-3 clothing vendors that focused on Blizzard-only items. But they also helped sponsor the event and provide equipment for demos. Their presence felt much more natural then an indie game. So if you're expecting anything outside of Blizzard here, you won't find it.

In The Know:

Repeat BlizzCon attendees definitely had a leg-up on the newbies with how the event runs. We took tips from veterans before planning out our schedule. All BlizzCon pass holders receive a virtual ticket as well to watch panels online. The best thing to do is to pick the panels you really want to see, and camp out an hour early if you want decent seats. You can watch the panels you're missing with the virtual ticket - and since Blizzard streams their own content on their platforms you don't have to worry about lag and delays from Twitch. We did this for while camping seats for Community Night and the Overwatch tournaments.

But also, pin trading is a big deal at BlizzCon. So big it makes PAX look like child's play. If you are a collector, you have to try out BlizzCon just to experience it. The space easily could have doubled in size and there still wouldn't be enough room for the pin traders.

Booze! Another thing in the know is that alcohol is served at the convention. While children are allowed in with a badge purchase, it is nice to have a more adult event where such things are encouraged.

Community Night is indeed the cosplay contest! Unfortunately the program description was missing on several panels so we had to ask around to find out the details. Community Night is more then just cosplay. Blizzard also hosts an art contest, movie contest, and a talent show. All of these culminate into Community Night. It's a lot of fun and worth the 2 hours to sit through, plus the hour to get a good seat.

Go with friends or make new ones to seat camp. Because seat camping is life. There are quite a few friendly people at BlizzCon, some of the friendliest I have met since PAX. But if you really wanted to sit in on that Muse concert to get into the pit, you need friends that will save your spot.

You will walk a ton. I'm glad I brought my 3DS with me both days to cull up loads of street passes. Got new countries and finished several puzzles!

The best day for merch is Thursday, or Day 0 as we say at anime conventions. The lines are longer, but we only spent an hour waiting by the time we were able to go through. At one point the line was capped because the systems were down! Yikes. But once everything was working again, it was a quick process. Buying everything on Thursday made it easier to enjoy the rest of the convention without having to lug around pounds of stuff. And we didn't miss out on the content we wanted to see.

Cosplayers and photographers: if you want nice photos stay outside at the fountain. Due to BlizzCon's very archaic photography rules, no DSLR's are allowed inside the venue. I even saw several point and shoots that were turned away at the door for looking "professional." So if you cosplay, stop at the fountain at the main entrance and get a few pics before you sequester yourself inside. Unfortunately we missed out on the cosplay gathering because of this (which also wasn't listed anywhere) but it was a good note to remember for next time.

Needs Improvement:

Their food and drink policy is about on par with most large convention centers, but you can bring in water as long as it's in a clear container. However, in some areas of the convention you can't have any drinks at all. Even if you purchased something IN the convention center, you better drink it fast because it may not be allowed to go to any other halls. This was beyond aggravating to have wasted money on a drink only to have to dump it a few minutes later. The biggest issue of this was at the registration/vendor room. It's listed as a no food or drink zone. However, once you enter there is a concession stand full of food and drinks for you to purchase. So much for that logic! BlizzCon (or the Anaheim Convention Center) needs to review that policy and have some leniency on it. If you're in the con center with a drink, it follows the rules or was purchased on site. Let people roam with it.

Program descriptions. In many situations, such as Community Night and Writer's Panels, the content was blank. It was difficult to know what the topic was covering where there were no panel details. If this was a mistake or an oversight, it's a fix for next year. But if this was intentional, it should be addressed. I, as a first time attendee, would have had no clue what Community Night was without asking around. The info should be on the schedule.

The antiquated photography policy needs to be updated for 2010. Not even 2017! So the rule states that no professional photo or video equipment is allowed inside the convention center unless you are media that has been approved by BlizzCon. No tripods. No monopods. No lighting equipment. The problem is, what the staff deem as "professional" has been standard for most consumers since 2010. No DSLR's. No mirrorless. Not even some point and shoots are allowed in if they seem "professional." This was beyond aggravating. I wanted nice pics to capture memories of the event and had to do it all from my phone with a sub par camera. Sorry phone. Love ya but your camera is only okay. The problem is, most consumers can buy a DSLR for $299 or less, the same price as a nice point and shoot. Walking around Downtown Disney and we saw nearly every couple, family, or group with a DSLR. The basic lens that came with the camera and that's it. They were not professional photographers. They only wanted nice photos of their time at Disney. The same can easily be said for BlizzCon attendees. The convention can keep the no tripods, monopods, and lights rules. But at least make it feasible for your fans to take in their cameras without hassle.

The Cool Stuff:

The arenas for the tournaments were some of the best I have seen. I thought QuakeCon had a good setup. BlizzCon blew it out of the water. Each hall was sectioned by games. World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, etc. The stages were decked out in the style of the games, along with cool artifacts to help make each one distinctive. The Hearthstone stage looked like a tavern straight from the game.

They also made sections of the convention center feel like you were involved in the games themselves. There was a Darkmoon Faire setup with facepainters, tarot card readings, and other fun games you can play in World of Warcraft. The Hearthsone room also had a live tavern that you could walk though, play with the dev's, and order food and drinks.

While the convention staff was less then desirable on their attitudes, the Blizzard team was fantastic. They were attentive and always helpful. When convention staff were trying to block me from going into the cosplay room for assistance (though I was in costume, but it does look a little casual if you were going demon hunting I guess?), one of the Blizzard staff members jumped in and helped me out. Many thanks to the gentleman holding down the room on Saturday mid-day. You made this cosplayer happy. Unfortunately the convention staff were very quick to say no and block people before they could ask their question. At least Blizzard staff made up for that rudeness.

Opening ceremonies was a blast! In all my years of convention-ing, I've never been to an opening where they put effort into making a statement. It's usually pretty dull. Guests are introduced, sometimes. Maybe they'll play a video with the convention rules, or put on some dull anime music while the owners rabble on about policies. BlizzCon turned this into an event giving everyone a preview of what to expect on the show floor. We got all our big announcements from it and we were able to playtest everything right there! It was full of everything fun that an opening should have.

And BlizzCon fans are really freekin' nice. It's easy to find someone to chat with while waiting in line, or see people trading off pins and patches they didn't want without asking for anything in return. Yes there are bad eggs in the bunch (some people had their patches stolen). But as a whole people were nice, helpful, and willing to lend a hand when we had questions.

Final Thoughts:

If you are a Blizzard fan, even if it's only for one or two games, this is an event you need to experience. This rivals PAX East as one of my favorite conventions. Blizzard took their time to craft an event for their fans, and it shows at every demo and every tournament stage. I am so ready to go back for another round. And maybe I can finally make a Warcraft costume!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Single Player is Not Dying - Stop Being Dumb

There's been a push-back lately from writers across the internet about the future of video games. Specifically the single player games. Ever since an op-ed appeared on Forbes that AAA single player titles are dying out, dozens of the biggest gaming news sites jumped on board to either agree, semi-agree, or deny that the game mode is on it's deathbed. Some of the articles are click-baity so I'm only linking the ones that hold a purpose to this piece, or are worth the time to read.

If you've read the title on this post, then you clearly know the position of The Geek Spot. To claim that single player games are on the decline, including AAA backed games, is dumb. Plain and simple.

Here are some of the single player games that were released in October, receiving high praise from reviewers and gamers: South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Super Mario Odyssey (there is a single player and two-player mode), Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Fire Emblem Warriors, The Evil Within 2, and Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. These are just some of the highlights. October was a busy month for game releases. And November is ramping it up even more, with more DLC for Horizon: Zero Dawn, Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, and the highly anticipated Nioh.

And the next year is looking even better. Dragon Quest XI is on my list, and it's a franchise that has produced some of the best single player RPG experiences. Even Hearthstone, the card game based on Blizzard content, will be releasing an expansion pack early next year that is a single player dungeon crawl!

Needless to say, the Forbes op-ed is way off the mark. Single player games are doing just fine and thriving. While yes, there has been a push lately to have more multi-player, online content, there is still a strong need for a single player experience. Remember when the reboot of Star Wars: Battlefront was released? Remember the number of articles that appeared blasting EA for the poor choices they made with the game by removing single player? The original Battlefront was released on a system that didn't have online capabilities. It was a game that thrived on the single player experience and made it one of the most played N64 titles, right up there with GoldenEye. What made Battlefront so great was not the action nor the war between the Rebels and the Empire. It was your journey with the main characters. Removing that mode from the reboot was a disservice not only to fans, but to the original game.

Single player games are part of the gaming experience. The climate for them will never change. There will always be a need for single player content. People crave it. Developers keep delivering powerful content for it (The Last of Us is a fantastic example of an incredible, heart-wrenching single player experience that is vastly superior to the questionable multi-player, online mode). So to those who are announcing the death of single player games, stop being dumb. It is here to stay.