Friday, July 20, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Time for them there Weekly Link Round Up thing. Yea.

Gamers, can I be real for a moment? It's been a long week. I'm tired. I'm sure some of you are tired. So let's get to the Round Up and go back to sleep, shall we?

- Nathan Fillion still wants to be Drake for the Uncharted movie that has been in development hell. So he and a very talented team created a 15 minute fan film that is about as Uncharted as one can get. Even Sully feels like the real deal. I'd watch a 2 hour movie of this.

- NPR's 'All Things Considered' takes a segment to focus on video games, and how they can help us explore our ideas about race. Kat Chow of NPR's Code Switch spoke with several developers to talk about race and ethnicity when building a game. It's about 3 minutes and 30 seconds long and worth the listen. The transcripts are still strange to read without the audio or visuals to accompany it.

- Engadget says that the Tour de France deserves a better video game. I completely forgot that there was a game. But it's not published by EA or 2K Games, so that might be why it's relatively unknown. A niche topic among a busy field of sports games. Part of what makes the Tour de France interesting to watch is the vivacity of the crowd, the changing weather, one misplaced or mistimed water break could cause bikers to fall. It's a tame version of a car race. Which the video game does not capture and thus making it a run of the mill biking simulator. I'm still in awe that someone made this into a video game.

- Amazon has been busted for selling pirated copies of Surviving Mars and Frostpunk. The retailer had the games for as low as $4 while other businesses were selling the products at full price. It appears that the games were repackaged with a different developer name on the front and did not include the ability to uninstall. While Amazon has not commented on the matter, they have removed the products from their store and the full-price versions are available.

- Speaking of copy/pasting, a Kickstarter for board game Overturn: Rising Sands was cancelled amid several concerns, including plagiarism. The game has been a hot topic on the website for the past month, and blew past it's crowdfunding goal. What attracted a lot of people to this game were the overwhelming number of miniatures, props, and backgrounds for very cheap prices. As backers began to dig deeper into the company's history, they were finding inconsistencies with Foxtales Studios. First, the company listed their business in Canada - it's actually Pakistan (which is not a country that Kickstarter supports for launching funds due to regional laws). Second, the company's logo is a fox tail that is a copy of Mozilla Firefox's logo, but zoomed in. Third, the campaign was running off of 3D renders of the miniatures and not final products. The few images of the minis were poor quality. The developer blames that an English translator is to blame, but Kickstarter doesn't see it that way and has suspended the campaign. This is your friendly reminder to always do your research before you donate.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

'The Culling 2' Developer Response & Refunds for Poor Game

What happens to a developer when a game fails so hard on Steam that they are offering refunds?

That's going to be the story worth following over the coming months. Developer Xaviant Games created a sequel to their moderately successful game The Culling. An early version of battle royale combat with a game show twist. The emphasis on that game was melee combat over the flashy weapons of PUBG and Fortnite.

The release of The Culling 2 came with a myriad of technical problems that made the game unplayable. Others commented that this game does very little to distinguish itself from PUBG. Only 14% of reviews gave the product a positive score, with moderators warning people to stay away.

What's interesting about this story is that instead of pulling an EA and continuing to force-feed a game to customers with the promise of making it better over time, Xaviant Games is dumping The Culling 2 entirely. Director of operations Josh Van Veld explained in a video that they are going to do what they can to win back fans and revive the original game with a free-to-play model. The Culling last build is dated October 2017 and will be live soon on test servers.

The Culling has a confusing history. The game was originally released on Steam's Early Access program. It originally started with a decently-sized online population of 12,000 players concurrently. But as the game progressed in development, that number dwindled to 100. Too many changes were happening too quickly and it wasn't impressing gamers. Out of nowhere, a sequel was announced in December 2017; a month shy of the game stepping out of Early Access. Van Veld stated that the developer is going to roll back the game to a time when it worked for the fans. The path forward is to go back in time. We'll be updating this story as it unfolds.

On the plus, Xaviant Games understood that they put out an inferior product. They're refunding customers and addressing the issues of the original game to bring something back that players want. It's a bold strategy that will take a lot of time to resolve. Let's hope the team is up to the task.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blue Whale Challenge Causes Ban of 47 Games in Saudi Arabia

According to the Associated Press, via Gulf News, Saudi Arabia is responding to the death of two children by issuing a massive ban on a number of video games.

The two children, aged 12 and 13, reportedly committed suicide after doing a Blue Whale challenge. If you know anything about Blue Whale, then you know it's a method of cyber bullying. A 50-day "challenge" where users are instructed to do innocuous tasks at first that become more dangerous over time. Ultimately asking the victim to kill themselves on the final day.

What does this have to do with video games? Supposedly the children were asked to complete challenges in certain games in order to move forward to the next stage. You can find the list of 47 games here, but they include some obvious titles such as Grand Theft Auto V and the God of War series. But also Yo-Kai Watch and Okami. Very surprising given how incredibly non-violent those games are.

The Saudi General Commission for Audio-Visual Media banned the games for unspecified violations of rules and regulations. The response doesn't provide what the connection of the Blue Whale challenge is to the games, other than the children were playing the games as part of the challenge. They weren't influenced by the games. They weren't told by the games to commit suicide. That is at the hands of the perpetrator. It's a knee-jerk reaction to a horrible situation that will again punish games for existing.

Monday, July 16, 2018

News Reporting Moves to Twitch

Starting this week, you'll find a new and unexpected channel on Twitch from The Washington Post. It's a new way for news to reach out and provide content to that 18-49 demographic that everyone hungers for (they are ratings gold after all).

Amazon, which owns The Washington Post, started the channel today via Twitch with general news coverage from reporter Libby Casey. The second show “Playing Games with Politicians” will begin on July 19. And it's exactly what you think it is. Politicians. Playing games. With news reporters. While being interviewed. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Sen. Corey Booker, and Rep. Suzan DelBene are confirmed to appear in the first season of this series.

Where did this idea come from?

After seeing the boost of views from broadcasting Mark Zuckerberg's hearing on Capital Hill (roughly 380k viewers on average, topping out to over 1.6 million at it's peak), The Post decided this was a good time to get in and set up shop. Having access to Amazon and Twitch made it an easy move. But it's also a chance to get more millennials involved in news and politics. We've become the dominant population in voting age. Being well-informed can help shape the future of our country. And even if you don't agree with the viewpoints of The Washington Post, out of all of the newspapers in the country it is continually one of the more neutral voices - providing facts over fluff most of the time.

For The Washington Post to succeed, the reporters need to provide compelling content and connect to the audience. They can't do throw-away questions like "boxers or briefs?" They need to engage with their interview subjects on a real world level, while being professional. It's easy to cave in and go for the "quick" views/likes/subscriptions. But I have hope that they will do their best to keep it up to their standards.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Are you ready for the Weekly Link Round Up? I know I am. It's been a very, very, very, very, very, very long week. Did I mention it's been very long? Because it has been. And the Weekly Link Round Up is a signal that it's almost done! Huzzah! So let's take a peek at some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet for this week:

- held a survey with over 2,000 results stating that more than half of parents let their children play 18+ games. Before you all freak out about any of the results, remember that this is not an official scientific study, and the sample size is a fraction of our 6.7 billion world population. This does not represent the whole. However, those parents really need to rethink about how they control the media their kids consume. The children ages ranged from 5 to 16 years, and 86% of those surveyed stated that they don't look at any of the age restrictions on games. Going back to my GameStop days, these would be the people that would yell at us for selling Grand Theft Auto. But it wasn't to their kids - it was too them. *sigh*

- Some dedicated fans are doing their best to keep the NCAA Football video games alive through modding and staying up to date with current college stats. It's been nearly 5 years since the last NCAA game was released, and the fight to bring it back continues. Fans dedicate hours every week to push out new rosters and stat changes as they occur. It's quite interesting to read about these gamers who had no interest in programming are now the next wave of modders.

- GameWay, a new company on the block wants to make the airport wait a bit more entertaining. They have opened up 2 video game lounges in DFW International Airport based in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas. For 42 cents per minute or $20 for the full day, you can play a myriad of games in comfy chairs, oversized screens, and XBox One consoles. The selections are limited to games like Fortnite, FIFA 18, and Call of Duty: WWII. Games that require hours of time you probably don't have at the airport, unless you have a long layover or a cancelled flight. If the venture works, expect to see more of these pop up at your local airport.

- Your game teaser of the week comes from Bethesda and tabletop creator Fantasy Flight Games. What is it? Something Fallout related. The tell-tell 'please stand by' logo popped up on the tabeltop's social media with no other details. Let the speculations commence!

- PBS takes a deeper dive into the streaming culture by visiting Dream Hack in Austin, TX. There is a video and a transcript (though the video is much easier to comprehend) and I appreciate that PBS is 1 - taking the time to sit, talk, and learn about the growth of streaming and 2, talking to a wide variety of people. There are women, POC, LGBTQ, along with men that take part in this story. This is worth 9 minutes of your time.

- Here's your list for the week: All 43 video game movies ranked from worst to best by The Wrap. Unfortunately Uwe Boll's mess of "movie making" manages to sneak one up to 21: 'In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.' Double "unfortunately" most of the 'Resident Evil' films fill out the top 10. Including...wait. The Mario Bros. movie is in the top 10? Okay. I'm done with the internet today. Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Overwatch League Hitting Prime Time Television

Overwatch League fans. You now have another place to watch your favorite teams that doesn't involve Blizzard's laggy streaming system or Twitch: ESPN.

The Disney owned company has signed a deal with Activision/Blizzard to nab the television rights to the Overwatch League. The multi-year deal will bring the playoffs and finals to ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2 and Disney XD. Disney XD, as you may remember, aired and censored E3 presentations this year. This will be the first time that ABC will air an eSports event, and the first time for ESPN to broadcast one in prime time.

All of the networks mentioned above began airing the quarter finals that began yesterday, July 11. And will continue to do so through the Grand Finals on July 27 and 28 at Barclays Center in New York. Give the popularity of Overwatch is still strong, and the legaue's business continues to build, it's not surprising that Disney wanted a piece of the profit. What is surprising is how quickly they went in to capitalize on it. Hopefully the ratings go well that Disney might consider airing all of next season.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

FF14 Fan Fest Debacle

After having survived multiple ticket queues for San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), PAX Prime/West, PAX East, BlizzCon, and hotel camping for DragonCon and Anime Expo, the experience with this year's sale of passes to FFXIV Fan Festival was an experience I will never forget. And one I don't want to relive.

Whether it was the over-hype of this year's event, the limited tickets, the ticketing vendor - a lot of issues cropped up resulting in a number of disappointed fans. Much more so than BlizzCon. And BlizzCon has a crappy ticket system. Easily one of the worst I've dealt with. While I haven't been able to attend SDCC, their system is at least fair and, like PAX, once you are on the page to select tickets you are at least guaranteed a pass. BlizzCon is a free-for-all. It's all about getting in and hoping you can enter your information as quickly as possible. The debacle with Fan Festival has topped it.

FFXIV Fan Festival (Fan Fest) takes place in 3 locations around the globe, North America, Europe, and Japan, during 2017 and the early half of 2018. NA is the first stop taking place November 16-17 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fan Fest is a celebration of Final Fantasy XIV, and offers gamers a chance to see new developments in progress, meet fellow fans, play some games, buy merch, etc. The events in 2014 and 2016 drew sizeable numbers but ticket sales were always casual. People had a few days to purchase before they were sold out. I've heard mixed reviews about this event, but local friends were interested in going and I knew we would all have fun together. So I did what I always do. I planned. I camped. And I think I got passes? With all of the issues that occurred, I don't know for certain.

Something was different about this year's sale, and I don't think it had to do with the increased subscriber numbers.

Unlike other fan events, this one was meant to be limited to only FF14 subscribers. You needed have an active sub sometime between January and June of this year to receive a code. This code would allow you to buy a Fan Fest pass through ShowClix. Other large conventions like PAX have used this vendor. The code was a way to verify that you were a subscriber and held deter spammers/bots. Once you receive the code, you were expected to enter it on the day of ticket sales to get access to the queue, and during checkout to ensure you were a subscriber. Those who entered the queue first would get an initial crack at passes, with a maximum of 4 per purchaser. Entry into the payment system is in order of who was in line next.

And then the problems began.

Within minutes there were already posts that people were able to buy more than 4 passes, didn't need to provide a code, and were able to bypass the line entirely if they knew the direct link to checkout. At one point ShowClix temporarily disabled the code system to fix a technical issue. This allowed more people in with unrestricted access. Within 20 minutes, most of the tickets were gone and there were still a lot of people waiting in the queue. At 2:26pm I received the "sold out" message, and Square Enix confirmed just before 3 that all passes were sold.

When word began to spread about the abuse of pass purchases and people ordering without a code, the backlash was fast. A megathread with over 703 comments with people seeking passes started on Reddit and was closed within hours. Community Manager Bayhone eventually released a statement that all passes sold appear to be legitimate sales and no wrong-doing has been seen thus far. They did acknowledge an issue with ShowClix about the code being disables while they fixed a problem, but they did not stop sales when this happened. Right now the response from Square Enix is silence, and it is quite deafening.

With my situation, it was odd. I was in the process of having my payment confirmed when I was kicked back to the main screen. There were no error messages. No denial of payment. No pop ups. The page where you could select the number of tickets now read "sold out." The first thing I did was checked my e-mail, as I have my account sent to notify me of every purchase. There was a pending sale on tickets, and a few moments later I received an e-mail and a text message. But given all the issues surrounding this situation, I'm not 100% sure these passes are mine. I've asked ShowClix to respond with confirmation before I can do a happy dance that I made it through the madness with success. But it may be a while.

At this time it seems neither ShowClix or Square Enix are going to take fault for what happened. It was clear that demand was high. SE promoted the event more than they had in past years, to the point where friends of mine who have no interest in Final Fantasy knew that Fan Fest was coming up. SE did not anticipate the increase in interest.

Is there a solution to this? At this time, not really. SE is not going to cancel purchases. They are getting money whether or not 100 or 10,000 people show up. They also don't want to dismiss the legitimate purchase that were made by subscribers and start a firestorm over that. They can't add more passes without hitting fire code issues with the hotel. They also can't change venues to a larger location without breaking contracts and spending more money. Without knowing with 100% certainty that someone used a bot to buy passes, those tickets will not be cancelled. There will be no second wave of sales. The best SE can do now is apologize for the errors, do better next time, and get a bigger venue.

I for certain will not play this line game next time. It's bad enough with BlizzCon, but at least I know the stakes going into it. I know that are no guarantees and it's every gamer for themselves. Here, the rules continually changed. There was constant fluctuation to contend with. That's not my style.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

ArenaNet Firings May Have Unfortunate Longstanding Consequences

I've wanted to discuss the Guild Wars 2 fiasco since it happened, but after the heat had cooled down a little. Too many hot heads were setting everything on fire and it was difficult to ascertain fact from fiction. Or facts of the situation versus facts of the what people say/do in their private lives.

Last week, Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet Jessica Price and Peter Fries for failing "to uphold our standards of communicating with players," in a short statement posted to the game's site by CEO CEO Mike O’Brien.

The situation unfolded on Twitter on July 3rd on Price's non-work Twitter account during her non-working hours. At that time she was not representing the company. She began talking about what it's like to write player characters' for MMO's. The thread is quite an interesting read, since one has to take into account the need for the player to come up with their own character story while allowing it to seamlessly work into the game world and that narrative. However a YouTuber going by the name Deroir disagreed with some of Price's commentary, stating that he believed that players could better develop their own story if there were more "choice-based" in-game options.

Given the volatility of gaming and the internet these days, Price took the comments to be along the lines of mansplaining. Today in being a female game dev: "Allow me--a person who does not work with you--explain to you how you do your job." her tweet reads. Not long after, people came in defense of Price's response to Deroir, as well as against her on Reddit and in the Guild Wars official forum for not responding appropriately to a customer. Writer Peter Fries came to Price's defense (on his day off too) he too began to receive the ire of "fans."

Unfortunately, the lesson to be learned here is that if you're out of line on your personal social media accounts that have 0 affiliation with the company you work for, you can be fired. Price and Fries had no warning. If there were other incidents leading up to this firing, we do not know, nor should we ask as both employees have a right to privacy.

Now if this all went down on ArenaNet's company social accounts, then the firings might be justified. Still extreme, but more plausible. However that is not what happened. Instead ArenaNet policed their employee's personal social accounts and consider them under their "communications" umbrella. It's appalling, to put it bluntly. How is their fairness in this system? If someone can be fired for holding a discussion on their Twitter feed because customers demand it, then it's asking people to always be "on" the job even during their time off. This isn't the first time that a Guild Wars developer has been flamed and asked to be fired: one of the community moderators was harassed and shamed to work on her personal Twitter to answer ArenaNet questions during her time off. She wasn't going to be paid. She wasn't going to receive any type of compensation. But some gamers wanted answers and she wasn't responding fast enough to their liking.

This is the world that we live in now? Where we can't turn off work and have to be "on" 24/7?

That is not realistic. We all know this. We have to separate ourselves from our working lives in order to maintain some sense of sanity. Particularly when you are not being paid to work (never, ever, ever work for free - you deserve a right to a be paid for your work). And in gaming development having so much focus on burnout and stress, they need to relax and step away from the job during time off.

Another way to look at it: Imagine that you work at a GameStop retail location. You are walking through the grocery store on your day off to buy food because you are a human and you need to eat to survive. You don't have any identifying marks on you that you are a GameStop employee. It's you, your t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a basket of food. You see a man approach you - it turns out to be a customer you recognize. He asks if you know the trade in value of several games that he rattles off. You respond politely that it's your day off and you are not at work/at a register to provide info. You ask the man to call the store since you couldn't help at that moment. The customer gets mad and says you are being a bad employee by not helping. "Sir. It's my day off. I'm not at work. I can't help you from here." The customer leaves in a huff and stops away. You hope that's the last of it.

Next day rolls around - you walk into your store to start your shift, but the manager stops you from entering the back room. "We received a complaint about you," he begins. You wonder what the complaint could have been while your manager continues with "a customer said you wouldn't help him while you were at XYZ grocery store. You have to always help the customer no matter what." And just like that you are fired. You turn in your uniform, your keys, and you'll be mailed your last paycheck. No chances to defend yourself. No time to reason with you manager about how you shouldn't be working off the clock during your personal time. You are fired and walked out the door. Your livelihood now in jeopardy because one customer wanted you to work on your day off when you couldn't help them. (Sadly, I have seen these type of complaints cross my desk at GameStop and sometimes employees were fired. Welcome to corporate culture, where you bend at the whims of customers and you are fired for trying to be human.)

What happened to Price and Fries is no different. Bottom line. Was Price heated in the conversation? Sure. Was it a fire-able offense? No. Actions have consequences, but the results should not have been so severe. Particularly for writing veterans whom have more experience in the industry than a handful of gamers who may not understand the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

The response has been polarizing, and some gamers are cheering ArenaNet's decision to the level of "we can get anyone fired." We should never praise someone losing their job in this type of situation. Instead, we should look at why this happened, why it was allowed to happen, and what we can do to help improve gamer/developer communications. ArenaNet may have started an unfortunate precedence.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's that time again. That time where we cruse through Friday and wrap up some of this week's gaming news:

- Because What Culture is on the pulse of gaming, they have a list of 5 upcoming video games that will change everything! Or what they believe will change everything. Such as Starship Commander and it's full voice recognition, allowing players to interact with NPC's through voice. Now whether or not the voice options will require players to say pre-set dialogue has yet to be seen (and will most likely be the case), but given the meh response to VR and voice commands, this may not be the "wave of the future" WhatCulture is going for. Or how about Crackdown 3 100% destructible environment? I didn't know blowing up everything was ground breaking for video games. Didn't they do this with Just Cause 3? While it's admirable that WhatCulture is trying to break out of their box, they may want to go back and review the games on this one. Some of the suggestions are pure speculation (see Cyberpunk 2077, a game we know next to nothing about, other than some flashy visuals).

- Not to be outdone, IGN has their own weird list: 10 games that are unintentionally terrifying. On the list are Viva Pinata, Ecco the Dolphin, and Super Mario Odyssey. Games that are friendly and wholesome on the surface. And then you have to swim away from sharks before they eat your tail fin and it's a different experience entirely!

- Actor Kristian Nairn, whom you may know as Hodor from 'Game of Thrones' is a gamer. And he went on the road to interview Korn and Alice in Chains about being a gamer. This is the shortest and oddest article, and I want to read more about Korn's World of Warcraft guild: Children of the Korn. Revolver. Give us more details! We are intrigued by this!

- The growth of video games around the world is inspiring people to jump into the business. Meet Pakistani Sadia Bashir. 29 years old and ready to take over the industry. She quit her day job to start the Pixel Art Academy, an institution focused on teaching kids about coding and game development. Pakistan's gaming industry is small but ever-changing. Seeing this type of interest is inspiring.

- More talk about loot boxes. French regulators began looking into the controversy, but have ultimately decided that it is not gambling. They do criticize their addictive nature and could lead one into a gambling lifestyle, their results so far prove inconclusive on the boxes being an act of gambling. The Autorité de regulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) did decide that loot boxes do need some form of regulation, specifically for children. So we might see action taken against game developers to help curb the "gambling-like" nature of the boxes.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Special Olympics USA Embrace Gamers

The Special Olympics USA Games were held this week and wouldn't you know it, video games were included. While the IOC continues to debate the sustainability of video games in their event, the Special Olympics have already acknowledged the power of gaming by introducing it this year.

Partnering with Microsoft, gamers battled it out on Forza Motorsport 7. Eight teams of 2 players competed for first place. Microsoft worked with Forza developer Turn 10 Studios to determine how the event would run - qualifying rounds, tournament format, etc. The game is a single-player activity. Players would run a course and then their partner would run the same map. The two times are combined to form their overall run "score." The lower your time, the better your score.

Hopefully the Special Olympics will continue to keep video games as a segment of their program. And this may be a model that the IOC can utilize in the near future.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Disney Theme Parks Have an App

Disney theme parks are notorious for one thing these days: lines. If you search for "Disney World/Land/Paris/Tokyo Lines" you'll find a myriad of topics and queue sites that give you an estimate of how long you'll have to stand in line for a ride, or to see a character. The days of stumbling across a character randomly in the park are over. You now have to schedule when you want to do a meet and greet for yourself or your child. And even when you over-prepare, you're still guaranteed a line wait. Lines for the Teacups. Lines for fast past. Lines for VIP. Everywhere there is a line.

Disney released an app on June 30th in the hopes of making the wait a little more bearable. Play Disney Parks is the first product straight from the Imagineers and it relies on GPS technology to make it only usable within the parks. The Imagineers are Disney's term for those who work behind the scenes to merge technology with innovation to add more life to Disney's parks.

The app allows you to play games and interact with the environment around you while you're waiting in line. There will be a game for Toy Story Land (opening soon, so you know the lines will be 3-5 hours long), Hollywood Studios, and at Space Mountain. Each game allows you to do different things, like tap on sounds to hear a playlist made for the attraction. There are also trivia games that you can tie in to your Disney account and earn points. Points that have no value, but points! The app will continually be updated to add new games and features as it's lifetime expands, with features to be added when the Star Wars section opens up in 2019.

Will this app help speed up wait times in lines? No. Only a lot of money will, and even then there are still waits. But maybe it'll help make the standing around a little more tolerable.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! Another week is in the books. Time for a Weekly Link Round Up, pulling together some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet for this week. What will make the Round Up this time?

- With all of the news stories focusing on WHO's classification of gaming disorder, it's nice to see some opinion pieces from professionals who understand that this is being blown out of proportion. Ryan M. Earl is one such person, a staff therapist and faculty member at Northwestern University with a PhD. He's also a gamer. It's proof that while some may be in a moral panic over WHO's decision, those in the field know it should be taken at face value. Let the pro's diagnose your kids.

- Are video game cartridges making a comeback? With the popularity of the NES and SNES Minis, gamers have been asking for new products on the old systems. Which means cartridges. And independent teams are stepping up to take on this challenge. Cartridges have their own flaws compared to today's CD's and digital games. For one, lack of space. Content needs to be immediate and accessible from the start. The other is making the cartridges, which opens up a new line of manufacturing that today's developers haven't had a need to consider. Who knew that the Mini systems would cause growth in an old sector of gaming?

- Despite all the weirdness going on with Elon Musk right now, his company OpenAI is doing some amazing work. Specifically, beating human opponents in Dota 2. The team's goal is to get the AI into the official tournament later this year and defeat professional players. Technology at it's finest, ladies and gentlemen.

- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be hosting a forum next week to further explore the inclusion of eSports into the Olympics. In the most corporate statement I have ever read, the IOC explains that "[t]he aim of the Forum is to explore synergies, build joint understanding and set a platform for future engagement between the esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement." Synergies? Really? Didn't we dump that word in 2009? Anyway, the IOC wants to understand how eSports work and if it's feasible to bring them into the Olympics. 2020 will probably be too soon for the it's inclusion, but 2024 is on the table.

- Our WhatCulture list of the week is the top 14 most disappointing games of 2018 so far. Fair warning: you are not going to like this list. Monster Hunter: World is on there and A Way Out. The former, the lists claims, has poor matchmaking, a clunky UI, and the hunting is too repetitive. The argument for the latter is "overly linear cinematic gameplay, a number of laborious and repetitive tandem sequences, numerous jarring tonal shifts, and relatively wonky shooting and driving mechanics." The list is sad. There are much more disappointing games out there!

- This week the Australian Senate passed a motion to investigate loot boxes and if they are a form of gambling; adding to the list of countries who are openly reviewing or penalizing games with loot boxes. Knowing Australia's strict laws regarding violence in media, and with it being a big market, developers will cater to their needs. Which gives us even more hope that loot boxes might be tailored to not be so gambly!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Breaking: New Overwatch Hero Announced!

Breaking news!

Overwatch has teased us with their latest hero: a hamster in a metal ball.

While it's raising a few eyebrows, this is very much in line with Blizzard and their brand of off-the-wall concepts. Hammond, aka Wrecking Ball, is a hamster that rolls around in a mech. Outfitted with Gatling guns, the "resourceful tinkerer" could be another in the support class or tanks (which the game has needed new additions to for a while).

Welcome to 2018 in gaming, folks. Hamtaro will steal our hearts, and our kills.

FF14 'The Moogle Post' Founder Accused of Harassment & Blackmail

What happens to a gaming community when the founder of a well-known MMO fan site is accused of sexual harassment and blackmailing? That's going to be the test as fans, followers, and staff of The Moogle Post try to grapple with the recent allegations against Oldbear Stormblood. In a detailed exposé by PC Gamer, over a dozen women have come forward with their stories (and screenshots) of harassment by The Moogle Post creator.

Much of the harassment took place through Discord and Skype; mostly online. Rarely with staff members. His targets were women who were lonely, vulnerable, and looking for some form of companionship. The tactics employed are known as 'love-bombing.' One person showers another with an overabundance of affection, making them feel safe and comfortable. And then the affection turns into something devious: Name-calling. Trashing-talking. Mental and physical abuse when the recipient acts in a way that the first party does not approve of. This type of behavior can lead into coercion, where the recipient is asked to do or perform things they are not comfortable with. The backlash for not following instructions is severe.

This type of behavior happens a lot. More than we realize. And it's easy to capitulate in an online space where you feel closer to your MMO friends list than your real life. You want to appease them in order to stay involved in their group. Any dissent and you feel a part of you has been ripped away.

PC Gamer did an amazing job with verifying the stories of the women that came forward. Many instances shared similarities to how Oldbear ensnared his victims.

Initially Oldbear resigned from his position at The Moogle Post and handed it off to 2 lead staff members. The team quickly announced on Discord that they did not condone Oldbear's actions and will work to rebuild the communities trust. However what's been happening next has been odd.

Oldbear apparently still maintains The Moogle Post's social media accounts, Patreon, and PayPal. The original announcement on Discord has been removed. The Twitter feed updated and reflecting conflicting information. Oldbear is supposedly no longer involved with the online magazine, and yet he is. In a statement, he said that he never resigned but stepped away form the Discord server. Nothing more. But that a misunderstanding took place and others announced his leaving. (But the internet never forgets!) He has handed over social accounts to two people at The Moogle Post who side with Oldbear. And as of right now, those people are going to be taken over the project while the rest of the staff will be leaving to focus on a new venture. This is according to a reddit post from someone at The Moogle Post (confirmed by moderators).

Whatever happens to The Moogle Post, it is never going to be what it was. The accusations against Oldbear are too strong; the remaining staff too loyal to him. Those who have left will be under the thumb of the fallout. Any new project they start may not last due to their former affiliation with Oldbear.

Another fan site will crumble and players will have to look elsewhere for their FF14 content. Most of them may not care. They see the drama. They want to be away from it. Doesn't matter what it's about. As long as they get their gaming content from somewhere, they will be appeased.

Situations like this remind us that these scenarios still happen. There are people, male and female, who are duped into relationships and become victims of coercion, sex, and blackmail.  While the community may not forgive Oldbear (while he maintains his innocence), there's nothing to stop him from scrubbing his accounts and starting over. Unless the women file a lawsuit against him for blackmail (sexual harassment laws are still an issue with U.S. courts that most accusers are not prosecuted), or SE steps in and decides to ban him from the game, this could happen again.

We need to continue telling the story of The Moogle Post and make people aware that this happened. We need to keep it on their minds to help prevent it from occurring again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

PUBG Drops Lawsuit Against Epic Games

Earlier this morning Bloomberg has reported that PUBG Corp. is dropping it's lawsuit against Epic Games for copyright infringement.

PUBG Corp., the creator of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, was suing Epic Games South Korean branch, claiming that Fortnite had copied assets from PUBG's Battle Royale mode.

PUBG Corp. sent a letter of withdraw to Epic Games on Monday and the court's website no longer has the case pending. Bloomberg reached out to PUBG's legal team to confirm that the case has been dropped, but did not provide any additional updates or if a settlement was reached. Representatives for South Korea's Epic Games have not responded for comment.

But at least PUBG can go back to suing the more obvious copy-cat games, while Epic's title continues to dominate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

GameStop Still Trying Too Hard by Selling Comic Books!

While the details regarding GameStop's potential sale are still unknown, the company is operating with business as adding comic books to their retail lineup. A few weeks back, GameStop announced that they would be looking to add comic books to their shelves with a test program in 40 stores across the U.S.

Gizmodo spoke with director of consumer products Clint Walker to get more insight into why. And why now?

For GameStop, they see an opportunity to grow their business and enter a new market. They feel that the type of customers they currently attract are "collector's." With the growth of Think Geek stores across the country and ease of access to geeky products, the company feels this is natural next step. Their current plan is to start with a small set-up in stores with 1 spinner rack. Every side of the rack will be dedicated to comics with new weekly shipments. No backroom storage. No pre-orders, yet. The test stores will put all of the comics they receive out on the floor and once they sell out, they sell out. There are no immediate plans to offer older volumes/editions of comics, but that could change depending on how well the test works out.

The interview did not mention if trade-ins on comics would be allowed (most likely not, given that they plan to keep this a straight forward test for now), or if rewards customers would earn points with their purchase. But Walker sounds committed to taking this new venture as far as it will go, with testing for multiple quarters and an eventual release to all locations. They have a deal with Marvel and DC distributor Diamond to be the primary resource.

Regarding questions on how GameStop will change their set-up to accommodate the purchase experience for comic book fans, it does not seem like much thought was placed into this. GameStop is GameStop and it's not like the atypical comic shop that tends to cater to only men. Which is nice and could open up more opportunities for others to get into comics without the stigma attached to the retail side. However, it's also GameStop. While it's a bit more welcoming than comic stores, it's still a dude-bro culture. How the stores are designed to enhance the customer experience is key to sales. If GameStop isn't going to commit to the comic book lifestyle that many are accustomed to, they're not going to see growth.

The lack of details, but the arse-ton of passion is par for GameStop. If only they would stick to video games... The comic test will begin at stores in the coming weeks and most likely be centered around Florida and Texas, based on the interview.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Game Time - June

Here at The Geek Spot, I play a lot of games. My library is continually rotating with new AAA titles and indie one-offs that capture my attention. But I don't talk about what I'm currently playing as often as I would like. So I'm going to rectify this. Today's post is a peak behind the, err, post. A glimpse into my gaming life and what I've been playing. I haven't decided yet if this will join the rotation of scheduled blog posts ala The Weekly Link Round Up. This will be the first of many similar posts for the future. Hopefully.

- Rise of Industry (RoI). I streamed a bit of gameplay this past Thursday and had an active chatter asking a load of questions about it. This game is currently in Early Access on Steam. Meaning it's still in development and will continually be updated in the coming months/years until it's fully release. With Early Access, you are not getting the final game. What you are paying for is the opportunity to assist developers in finalizing their vision, knowing that the game will change multiple times before it's done.

Dapper Penguin Studios is the developer and, full disclosure, my brother works on their team. I did not get a free copy of this to try out. I paid for this game at full price (hindsight: I should have waited for the Steam Summer Sale). Regardless, I would have purchased this game because it scratches my itch for simulation/tycoon games.

RoI allows you to build a business from the ground floor. Utilizing the resources of the land, you can help the local economy by providing goods such as wheat, vegetables, and copper. Or you can develop yourself into a manufacturer for glass, booze, and car parts. The goal of the game is to not go bankrupt. And it is challenging. But it's a challenge I've been waiting for! A number of the recent tycoon/sim games are fairly straight forward: Build this. Research that. Make money. RoI instead wants you to focus on the economics of the world around you. What you sell can impact local businesses and change the market. Sell too much of 1 item, and you could see it's value drop. How well you interact with a local town/city can also affect your businesses - you could see a tax break in your favor, or poor road construction delaying your trucks. It's simple design produces elegant results with the type of active gameplay I've been looking for in tycoon titles. With an impressive roadmap for future updates, I'm curious to see how RoI will develop from here.

- Dragon Age: Inquisition. 185 hours were not enough to keep me away! I have no clue why I picked up this again. Maybe I missed the sordid adventures of my posse? I'm not sure. This is the first round where I'm doing some modding to create the Qunari I've always wanted to. With the release of some cool shaders and lighting effects, I may add those in too. No cheats. No 'Mary Poppins' bag of unlimited holding. Any mods I add will be purely cosmetic.

Curbing my natural instincts, and avoiding the romancing Cullen for the 10th time, I am playing this game very different from my past brushes with Dragon Age. I'll akin it to "renegade" mode on Mass Effect. My Qunari is a duel-hand warrior and will always make the most sardonic and aggressive choices. Pretty much everything I've never done in DA. Ever. Why? I like to test myself and review the results. It's the scholastic side of me that enjoys taking these risks.

- Final Fantasy XIV. I've accomplished a lot and not much in FF14 this past week. The major announcements involve the catfish beast tribe quests and obtaining the ultimate mount of greatness. And hitting level 50 on Dragoon to get that sweet, sweet armor. Aside, Dragoon is an odd job to play after Heavensward. It's best experienced while playing through that story - one of the primary figures in the job quests up to 50 is a huge plot point in the expansion. Now that I know what happens, it feels like the job is an odd time capsule that I'll never be able to fully appreciate after opening it.

My focus in the game is steadily shifting towards crafting jobs to get them to an acceptable level while unlocking master crafting/gathering books to utilize in the field.

Right now most of us are waiting for the next update to be released on July 2nd/3rd, which will finally bring us the new Deep Dive Dungeon, Heaven on High. A giant Jenga tower that has been teasing us since the launch of Stormblood last year. Soon we can visit it for more end-game action.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

With the excessive posting of E3 last week, the round up took a break. But it's back, with a vengeance! Or as close to one as it can muster. The Weekly Link Round Up is a gathering of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet...this week! Here's what we've found:

- Kids. If you didn't know already, you clearly live in a non-digital world. The Steam Summer Sale is up! Running! And taking no prisoners! If you have Steam Link and the controller some games are free, such as episode 1 of Life is Strange. Go forth and spend, geeks! Sale is on until July 5th.

- The Ringer has one of the most click-baity articles of the week. "Video Game Companies Want to Reflect [sic] America—They Just Don’t Want to Talk About It." The glaring issue with the headline and the article is that it's assuming that games released today are focusing on current politics. The problem is the overwhelming majority of these games have been in production for years, even decades. The stories were long drafted, the actors provided the vocals for the characters, the designs created, the concepts finalized well before any of today's politics. It would be impossible for Bethesda to remake Wolfeinstein II and meet their deadline with only a year into the current US regime. That doesn't mean their marketing departments won't take a jab at it. But to assume that all of today's video games turned their stories on a dime to talk about politics is unreasonable. And companies are allowed to choose what they want and not want to talk about. Bethesda has always been pro Nazi punching. A change in politics did not alter their stance.

- PayPal has shut down the account of Acid Software, the "company" behind the game Active Shooter. According to a spokesperson, PayPal has had a longstanding policy that their services can not be used to "pay for activities that promote violence." So, PayPal will disable an account if enough people complain, but they won't help you get a refund if you were conned out of a purchase. Or close your account without 20 forms of identification.

- Eric Lagel, producer and consultant for a number of large gaming companies, wants to know why shooting, violence, and gore is still the dominant focus at E3? "Here are some enemies, have fun killing them," he writes. And I can't disagree with him. So many games focus on maiming and destroying your enemies. Diplomacy, building meaningful relationships - this is rarely done and it's kind of tiring to have games focus solely on eliminating targets. Your food for thought for the week.

- The NY Times spotlights Amazon and Twitch, and how the online retail giant is king of streaming. Regardless of if you are a Twitch fan or not, this is where streamers live. They have an impact on gaming and advertising. If you need a review to catch up on what makes Twitch the top platform, this is worth a read.

- No Round Up is complete with WhatCulture making an appearance! 12 upcoming games that might be awesome. And if you thought staples like Call of Duty, Mario, and Crackdown would be listed...well you'd be right. There is nothing surprising on this list. It's your atypical, clicky article from WhatCulture. Sad face.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Future Star Wars Movies On Hold?

Collider is reporting that Disney and Lucasfilm are temporarily putting all spin-off Star Wars film projects on hold. The reason? 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' did not perform as well as the company would have liked at the box office. The movie has grossed $343 million world-wide backed by a roughly $275 million budget. However the budget doesn't state if this includes marketing, which usually adds another 50% to the total cost. In which case, Solo is still losing money for Disney. But if the final budget was $275, at least they made a profit! A number of movies would love to see that $300 million mark these days.

While neither company has officially confirmed this, sources within the Disney landscape were the first to break the news to Collider.

Admittedly I did not see 'Solo.' I didn't have an interest in it. I am very much not into Star Wars right now because it is everywhere. It has over-saturated the market on the same level as Frozen, another movie I still haven't seen. The trailers never captured my attention. While I am intrigued by Donald Glover as Lando and directing by Ron Howard, it wasn't enough to gain my interest in seeing the movie.

While I can only speculate why others did not see the movie, I think the general public is starting to experience Star Wars fatigue in various states. Some are still die-hard fans and will watch every movie, TV show, and play every game with the Star Wars label on it. Others are ready to turn off the switch so we can take a break from the space adventures. The rest lie in between of wanting to see a fun movie, but not falling for Disney's marketing tactics. Disney's grand plan of releasing one new Star Wars movie every year through 2020 is looking shaky.

But there is a silver lining to this news. The break could give Disney a chance to re-evaluate their intentions behind Star Wars and determine a better course of action. While sales for the last 2 numbered films did well, after the initial fervor died down, the reception by movie-goers has been mixed. 'Rogue One' seem to do okay at the box office and with audiences, but it still lagged behind the other films. With #9 in production soon, Disney needs to find a way to turn around the franchise and provide a Star Wars experience that will entice fans and the general audience. It wasn't just fans that stayed away from 'Solo', but the public at large. Finding a balance of pleasing fans and non-fans is a challenge - but if The Avengers can do it, so can Star Wars.

Shame. It would have been nice to see an Obi Wan film...but not under Disney.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gaming Disorder Unclearly Classified with WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially added "gaming disorder" to their diagnostic handbook. Originally announced for a change in December of 2017, now that the verbiage is out it is not as helpful as some were anticipating.

Here is how WHO classifies "gaming disorder": gaming is strongly preferred over other activities, the patient does not stop even when there are negative consequences like doing badly at work, compulsive gaming strains the patient’s life or relationships, and all this has been happening for at least a year.

As a number of health experts are pointing out, you could replace the word "gaming" with anything else and it could be considered a disorder based on this language. Gambling. Drinking. Watching football. But now it's there and we're probably going to see a rise in misdiagnosis because of it. Why is the classification and verbiage important? Medically speaking, it helps distinguish what type of help a person needs. By having a broad definition we could have individuals with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or another health concerns, improperly labeled as having a "gaming disorder."

The medical research for gaming is still thread-bare and too full of mistakes. As has been discussed on this blog multiple times, the studies for 'video game violence causing aggression' has been torn asunder for providing invalid research. Too few participants. Too much bias in producing a specific end result. Manipulating of information. Yet these studies are part of the "gaming disorder" discussion that WHO has, unfortunately, relied on.

Is it possible for someone to have a "gaming disorder"? Absolutely. I think if a person hasn't been provided with guidelines in their youth, or has a family with addictive behavior, that can become part of their norm. There are some people with an addiction to gaming; having a classification with WHO can allow those individuals to seek medical help without being dismissed by physicians. That's a good thing. The problem is the classification and text on what this disorder is, is too broad. We need a more narrow, defined context of what is a "gaming disorder." Otherwise we are not helping the people who need it the most.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

GameStop For Sale?

Is GameStop about to be sold? That's the question of the day/week/month as Reuters reports that the corporation is talking to private equity firms to buy up the business.

Right now the deal is in the early stages and a lot of unknowns are in the air. Why the buyout ? What has changed with GameStop to cause this turn of events? Is GameStop falling from "retailer grace" for everything games? What will happen to the stores, with reportedly over 7,000 worldwide (including EBGames)?

The short answer is that GameStop is doing okay. Not as great as it was during the launch of the Wii and XBox 360/PS3 timeline, but it's still turning a profit. The past few quarterly earnings reports have surpassed their goals. Yet their stock prices have been in a steady decline since 2015. In 2016, the company closed over 150 stores in the U.S (no longer present in Puerto Rico). In 2017, the number was 131 globally.

Over the years GameStop has been attempting to become a strange amalgamation. A one-stop-shop for all of your tech and geek needs without being Best Buy. The company purchased Think Geek in 2015 and has steadily added collectables and merchandise to their line-up of products. 22.8% of last quarter's earnings ($260 million USD) can be attributed to these items.

But the company has also made a lot of questionable business decisions that didn't help the brand. They purchased web-based browser game maker Kongregate and did nothing with it. They held majority stake in Jolt Online Gaming (which closed in 2012). They purchased Spawn Labs and Impulse, two tech companies that focused on cloud-based gaming services. Spawn Labs closed in 2014 and Impulse's rebranded GameStop App/PC Services went away. It also purchased over 500 AT&T mobile stores and have tried to get into the phone market (this has been an ongoing project since 2007).

GameStop has tried to diversify it's portfolio by attempting to be everything gaming and technology. The problem is that GameStop never knew how to do it well. Once they began shifting focus away from physical gaming, they got into trouble.

For example: does anyone remember that horrible digital download system on GameStop's website back in 2006-2009/2010? While GameStop was one of the earliest adopters of digital downloads, it was a constant headache. Everything was handled through a third party company who had no customer service center. There were a lot of restrictions on what PC's specs could download games (even the best Alienware systems at the time couldn't run some of the games). No MAC's, because the company didn't want to support them. The third party site was a static 1990's style page with a contact e-mail and maybe a week turn-around time. If you're lucky! And you can see how long they stuck with that vendor before acquiring a new business to manage everything in house.

The website was always good enough to work. But not Amazon quality. It was never clear about shipping and the caveats. It was never timely with pre-orders or release date information. The search system sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. The online gift cards were sometimes okay to use in stores, but not always. The website was never quite right. But it did what it needed to do to sell games, and that was enough for GameStop.

Did you know that GameStop once accepted used MP3 players for their trade-in program? They tried to make a business out of that. The problem was they limited it to only the Microsoft Zune, the lackluster product that tried to be the next Apple iPod but never understood what consumers wanted. When everyone had iPods and were ready to upgrade, you couldn't go to GameStop to get cash for them.

More recently, there was the failed PowerPass Program, which was placed on "hold" 5 days before launch. Why? Because the company's systems could not handle it. I wouldn't be surprised if they were using the same DOS program from when I worked there 10 years ago.

And then there's MovieStop, founded in 2004 that focused on new and used movies. Like their other ventures, confusion in what the company would accept as a "used" product and the pricing forced the business to sell in 2012 to a private company.

GameStop started their business focusing on buying and selling games. It was a simple an effective model. Unfortunately the company has strayed too far away from it's origins and continually attempts to capitalize on consumer trends. But they never manage to get it right. They focus on what they, the CEO and board of directors, think is cool without asking the customers what they want. GameStop Corp is still worth billions, but they are a company that's on the verge of free-falling into failure for their short-sighted efforts. The shuffling of CEO's as of late has not helped matters. The change in consumer spending habits to go online has further highlighted the unbearable in-store experience (that Circle of Life policy needs to go away). The niche hold GameStop had on the gaming retail industry is no longer there. We can get better, more cost effective service elsewhere.

It's not surprising that GameStop is looking into selling to a private firm. Not for an infusion of cash, but to overhaul the system. What GameStop needs to focus on is what they do well. Get back to the basics. Go simple. And it might take another company buying them out to realize their mistakes.

Update 6/20/18: GameStop confirmed via press release that the company was exploring options for third party sale.

Friday, June 15, 2018

E3 Games Still Excluding Women as Main Characters

Regardless of how you feel about Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency's yearly Gender Breakdown of E3 games is worth reviewing. For 2018, the numbers are not much better than last year for gender representation with women. However a new category has been placed on the wheel: gender ambiguous. Characters that are designed in a way to not be distinctly "male" or "female" in accordance with society. Their design can be interpreted by the gamer.

Why is this Gender Breakdown necessary to read? Because it highlights where the industry can and should improve to provide representation. As we know very well by now, women make up a significant portion of the gaming population. Current studies have it averaged that around 45% of gamers are female. Yes, I am keeping in mind that this is beyond AAA games. This includes mobile and browser-based games - which are video games. Regardless of what your beliefs may be. A game, is a game, is a game. Platform does not matter. And being able to play a game where my gender is represented beyond the "damsel in distress" is important to me. It allows me to connect to the game's story and characters in a meaningful way. It also makes me feel more included in the community. While straight men shouldn't be the only ones allowed to fulfill their fantasies and wishes through a video game. Women, LGBTQ, PoC - we all want that experience and we shouldn't be pushed aside when we make up a large chunk of the gaming population.

The Breakdown focused on the big showcases that people were most likely to watch: EA, XBox, Bethesda, Nintendo, Sony, SquareEnix, Ubisoft, and PC Gaming. Games where multiple trailers were shown throughout several events were counted only once. Compared to 2017's numbers, the number of female characters who headlined or were a playable option for a game increased by 1%. Woo. 8% Female. 24% Male. 50% Multi. 5% Gender Ambiguous. 13% N/A. While it's better than 2016, the results haven't changed over the years. Games are still dominated by men or with the option to play as a male character. It's not worse, but it hasn't improved. I don't think it's too much to ask for to have PoC, females, and LGBTQ included in the lineup more often. (Pssst. Developers - having variety will encourage new people to spend money and play!) While it was refreshing to see a different angle to The Last of Us 2 in how they displayed their content, that was 1 out of 118 games.

Diversity. It's a thing. (Men, keep your shirts on. Everyone else has had to project their being onto white male characters for decades. You can project yours to a female or a PoC 1 time and you'll be fine. We promise.)

2018's numbers also point out that the presenters were almost always white men. For as much as I like Bethesda, they only had 1 female presenter (who was the butt of a joke for Prey). Come on developers. We know you have other people working in your businesses. Give them a shot! They might do better than most of the people you bring out on the stage.

Finally, the Breakdown includes a segment on combat vs. non-combat gaming. E3 presentations typically focus on action-oriented games. But this year it was refreshing to see more of a shift towards puzzles, platformers, dance, and non-war games. Because gamers want more out of their purchase. We want to be challenged and developers seem to be hearing our calls to make it happen.

Remember: It's okay to enjoy video games and to be critical of them. This is how we grow as a community, as an art form, and as entertainment.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Disney Airs and Censors E3 Presentations

For some reason Disney decided it would be a good idea to play the E3 conferences on the Disney XD channel. And then they censored the crap out of it.

Through a partnership with IGN, Disney XD streamed big presentations vicariously throughout the weekend and will continue until the show ends. However Disney is Disney. And Disney XD is a kids-focused channel. Knowing full well that a lot of T to M rated games are highlighted at these presentations, why would Disney want to tempt fate?

Well they did it anyway, opting to show footage from the event and cutting to an animated title screen of "IGN Live E3 2018" whenever content was censored. A YouTube video uploaded by Richard Crosby showed an instance of this during The Last of Us 2, just after the kissing sequence. The footage cuts to the animated title right after and it could have some questionable implications.

A spokesperson from Disney XD commented that "The Disney XD policy does not allow for gratuitous violence in programming that children may be viewing." Which is fine. But according to viewers some of the cutting was "sloppy" and poorly done - some of the violent content and harsh language still aired. Not to mention they were showing cinematics of T and M rated game content on a kids channel. You can't show that and cut away to a title card without drawing attention. Kids will go online and seek out the full stream/trailers. They are smart and they have the access.

Why Disney decided to air the event is beyond my comprehension. Maybe they're trying to be the next G4? They probably showed off Gears Pop since it didn't have violence in the teaser. This did not send the right message.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

E3 2018 Presentation Overview - Would I Watch Them Again?

The big question of the week that's on every gamer's mind: Who Won E3? Lots of speculation and debate have broken out on which developer or console maker held the best event for E3 2018.

When you get to the core of it, it's a silly question. Every developer is a little different. They produce content their way. They have games that don't compete with other companies. People who are loyal to the brand are already invested in the product. The presentations are about engaging new customers while reminding current buyers that more content is on the way. And trying to compare a Nintendo presentation to EA doesn't work. What Nintendo provides to it's audience will never be the same as EA.

Instead of trying to rank the presentations on "who won" or "who was the best," I'm going to review each event, provide pros and cons, and note if I'd watch the presentation again. If the event was engaging enough to re-watch it, then I think the developers did their job. So! Here is the grand overview of every E3 2018 presentation - a link to my full write-up will be accompanied with each event:

Electronic Arts - EA started the event 3 days early (per the new tradition) and highlighted the games that they felt best represented their brand. While the hardcore gamers may not believe this, EA Sports is a huge division of their gaming empire. So of course a portion of the program was going to focus on Fifa and Madden. But we did get some helping hands from BioWare and EA Originals to pad out the event.

Pros: The event went along at a steady pace and never felt too long, or too rushed. We got a little taste of everything that EA is working on. While we knew a new Battlefield was on the way, the additional content was nice to see. The small breakouts with the smaller studios under the EA Originals umbrella was quite refreshing. For all of EA's ire and ill-will, they are trying to be better with providing a platform for indie developers that may not have been seen by the general gaming public. Even allowing BioWare in was nice. Stage set-up was direct and not over-the-top on the flash and cheese. From a format stand-point, EA did what it always did - it's a tried and true method.

Cons: Awkward host and developer interactions. Some of this is first time jitters. Other times it's developers who have no right to be on a stage introducing content, and allow their nerves to get the best of them. Dudes - Please learn from Ubisoft's mistakes and never go into the crowd to hold breaks/interviews/memes. It ends up bad. The other con is that the event was very predictable. There weren't any new surprises or unexpected news. The choice of streamers to test out the mobile Command & Conquer game were random (people I never heard of), or borderline offensive (the Madden tournament winner is not the bastion of good sportsmanship). It was a flat presentation all around that left the crowd muddled (so little applause throughout).

Would I watch again? Nope. Not even a little bit. I'll wait on the Anthem videos to slowly upload on BioWare's channel and I'm already playing Unravel 2. That's all I needed.

XBox/Microsoft - Breaking with the traditional format that so many developers stick with (play a trailer, get the dev to talk about the game for 4-5 minutes and/or show off a questionable demo), XBox decided to throw a lot of games at viewers. For 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was a lot of content to absorb and more than what most would have expected from the company trying to rebound from slow console sales.

Pros: If there was an award for best stage set-up for the modern era, XBox would probably win it. Big. Bold. Lots of screens. Lots of computers. Shiny. They did good on the presentation of their stage. And provided some seamless transitions between the event stage and the video feeds with little interruptions to those watching the event online. In spite of the number of games, it was nice to see that Microsoft is trying to push to have more content on their system. Though it's not all exclusive, it does give gamers more options. It was nice to see a working version of Forza and that more content is being driven to the XBox Game Pass. We saw a first conformation that Devil May Cry is back, and we're getting some strange games like Gears Pop. was a lot of content. But, I think gamers appreciated the content and not the fluff.

Cons: It was a lot of content. I have a difficult time remembering the number of games that were dropped at this event and I'm continually going back through my notes. The problem with having so many games and little down-time between the trailers for an hour and 45 minutes (I'm not letting this go - there was no reason for the event to have been so long), is that our brains can only absorb so much information. We're going to start forgetting things that we were informed about a moment ago. That's not fair to the games being showcased, nor to the developers who have been working on the product. There needed to be more spacing between the content or a much shorter event. Nintendo and SquareEnix did a similar concept this year, but limited their events to 30 and 45 minutes respectively.

Would I watch again? Not a chance. I felt like I needed to take an Adderall after this conference.

Bethesda: With only recently dropping the news that another Fallout was in the works, a lot of eyes were on Bethesda to deliver the goods. Having been to QuakeCon, I know that their presentations can be quirky. Good, but unique. But it's also Bethesda, with a known history of being super quiet about everything they do until the last moment. So how will they handle an E3 event?

Pros: Being Bethesda, they did not do a traditional stage set-up. Instead they opted for a cat-walk like runway with stadium seating on both sides. Projectors lined the top of the stage for the audience to view content. It made for an interesting streaming experience - thank you to the camera operators for not breaking the 180 degree rule. There was much more talking here than the previous presentations, but the focus was on content. It wasn't fluff. We got more details about Fallout: 76 than I could have imagined. Very clear info about the future of Quake Champions and unexpected teasers for a new IP and The Elder Scrolls 6. It was worth-while content that was directed to the Bethesda fans. Also, Andrew W. K. Thumbs up.

Cons: Bethesda is the king of the awkward presenters. Some of those developers looked downright terrified to be on that stage. While some are fantastic, others looked like they needed to be consoled afterwards. They need to come up with a better vetting system on who should and should not present. I also found that some of the presentations were long-winded. Prey and The Elder Scrolls card games didn't need to be so long. Yes, it was nice to hear about updates, but the bantering and weird in-jokes could have been nixed.

Would I watch again? I think I could sit through the awkwardness for another go. In the end the presentation was fun. I was engaged enough to consider a second viewing.

SquareEnix: After a three year absence, SE came back with the intent to try and prove that they could continue to make a dent in the Western gaming market. Given the continual, and confusing, success of Final Fantasy XV, what does SquareEnix have in store for it's fans?

Pros: It was short and made for the home audience. Instead of wasting time and resources on creating a stage set-up to appease a few hundred people, they knew most of their fans would be watching from home. So the focus was on entertaining the people streaming the event. Which meant 30 minutes of trailers, with a few breaks from developers to provide more details about certain games, and lovely voice narration by Keith David. Good call there, SE. There was more depth provided to the new Tomb Raider title and Just Cause 4. We saw some gameplay and at least 2 new games, though no details on what they are going to be about.

Cons: It was dull. The content they highlighted were games we already knew were coming out or had been announced by Microsoft the day before. The trailers they played were the same ones shown the day before. Most of the updates listed for FF14 and Brave Exodus have been out for nearly a month. We got nothing new from this presentation. Short is fine, but if you're going to bring the goods, then why bother? And this is not about the FF7 remake. Anything else could have made this presentation better. If this is suppose to be the "future" of SE, they did not impress.

Would I watch again? No.

Ubisoft: If you had an Uncle Eddie, he is Ubisoft. This developer is full of crazy ideas that don't always come to fruition. They try so hard to do fun things, and fail at it spectacularly. They are a fun event to watch because they never seem to quite get it right.

I know that's a horrible way to look at a conference, but that's the joy of watching Ubisoft!

Pros: Ubisoft did what it did best and did not listen to the voices of gamers. Instead of opening the show with the latest Assassin's Creed game, they gave us a dancing panda. At least they followed it up with a nearly 4 minute cinematic trailer of Beyond Good and Evil 2.

Cons: The problem with Ubisoft's goofyness is that they are so predictable with their showcase. We knew before the stream began that they would talk about their banner franchises: AssCreed, Rabbids, Tom Clancy. We didn't have to bat an eyelash. And you could tell by the lack of reaction from the audience that they expected the same as well. While the opening was silly, it didn't make up for the rest of the ho-hum presentation.

Would I watch again? Nope. But thanks for giving us something with BGaE.

Sony: Sony would like to remind you that they are still very much in the game, want you to buy a PS4 even as the console nears the end of it's life cycle (already? I know!). But they took a very different approach from past years. One that will have polarizing opinions from gamers. You either liked this set-up or hated it.

Pros: The event began in the "Church of Sony" as I dubbed it. A large barn, wood walls, drop lights hanging along the beams, a simple stage, and one projector in the back. Very simple. This ended up being a replica of a room in The Last of Us 2 - which took us through a new trailer and in-depth gameplay. The idea of the presentation was to provide a "deep dive" look at 4 big titles coming to the PS4. Initially I thought "oh great, we're only talking about 4 games" but it ended up providing new announcements. The event was kept to under an hour and there was an intermission while attendees moved from the church/barn to a planetarium with super wide-screen views. The games highlighted were bold and unique. No two titles were the same and could capture someone's attention. We also got more answers and even more questions for Death Stranding. I'm all in for this.

Cons: While the concept was cool, the journey wasn't fully fleshed out. It ended up only being 2 rooms, not 4. Given the anticipation of Spiderman, I would have loved to have seen the audience in a crowded cityscape that replicated New York. Or in the mountains/vacant beach of Death Stranding. Stopping at 2 rooms gave unnecessary length to the presentation. My other big issue were the vignettes between some trailers. They were random and nonsensical. Created by Media Molecule (Little Big Planet) they purpose was unknown. It was never explained. Even they didn't know how their animations would be used (they spoke about their involvement on the post-show). Combined with the awkward pauses between trailers, it was an odd showcase.

Would I watch again? Maybe. I'm torn on this one because I think the concept of the presentation could have worked if they expanded it. Either go all in on the creativity or don't do it at all.

Nintendo: The last in the show typically goes to Nintendo. They have been tweaking their format over the past few years to shift towards an online audience (which is funny given how anti-online they have been for years until the Switch...even that is limited). Like SquareEnix, instead of creating a presentation for a few hundred people at E3, they tailored the content for the majority of people watching at home.

Pros: 45 minutes and they used every second of it quite well. While the focus was mostly on Smash, the balance between Reggie's segments and the games provided a good flow of content. You didn't feel overwhelmed by the gaming news, nor board by the talking. It helped maintain a modest feeling throughout the presentation.

Cons: The presentation was very predictable. Looking back at my notes, I found that nearly everything I had guessed was shown during this event. New peripheral/accessory? We're getting a GameCube controller for Smash. Pokémon repeats? Yep. Mario Party? Ding. Fortnite on Switch? Bingo. You didn't have to be a mind reader to know what Nintendo was going to focus on. They gave their fans what they wanted, and nothing more.

Would I watch again? Probably for the Smash Bros. content. A lot of details were provided and I think a second viewing is needed to absorb it all.