Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In-Game Purchases Label Now In Effect at ESRB

After months of debate among gamers, the ESRB has finally stepped up to do something about loot boxes and microtransactions. On Tuesday they announced that they will begin adding an "in-game purchases" label to physical/boxed video games. If it's a digital only game, it may be devoid of the label for a while until the ESRB determines how to proceed from here.

ESRB President Patricia Vance commented in the press release that this move is to help notify consumers and parents the full extent of the meaning of purchasing a game - the the price point can go beyond the game store. “With the new In-Game Purchases interactive element coming to physical games, parents will know when a game contains offers for players to purchase additional content. Moreover, we will be expanding our efforts to educate parents about the controls currently at their disposal to manage in-game spending before their kids press ‘Start’.”

It's a nice enough sentiment that push-back has been felt at the ESRB enough for them to see that yes, they do need to address the microtransaction issue. And that they want to take it a step further and provide educational material so people can learn more - their website is full of good resources.

But as a number of news outlets have pointed out, the "in-game purchases" label can be applied to nearly every game currently on the market. Microtransactions, loot boxes, DLC - these are all paid additions to a video game and fall under the same label of "in-game purchases." Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has DLC, therefore it would receive this new label. MMO's such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV would get the label, though their purchases are purely cosmetic and have no effect on how you play the game. Unlike Assassin's Creed: Unity which did require you to pony up money to get past "secret" areas of the game. Unfortunately the blanket term doesn't properly distinguish between games that have microtransactions as a cosmetic feature, and the microtransactions that are needed to play the game.

On top of this, the ESRB's stance on loot boxes remains. They don't see it as gambling and are not pushing to have publishers/developers reveal the lottery chances on receiving X,Y,Z items. The research done by the ESRB regarding this new label, according to Vance, focused on parents. "What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is." " So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

While that's a nice sentiment, it's making an assumption that this is 1992 and only kids play video games. They don't. The average age of a gamer is now 35, and that number is steadily increasing every year. While some parents may not care about loot boxes, the vast majority of those buying video games do.

It's an okay attempt for the ESRB to appease gamers. However, if they want to be proactive before the government steps in, they need to provide a comprehensive system that appeases all parties. You can find a balance to inform parents about microtransactions, while providing details to adult gamers about loot box win rates. It's not difficult. China's "loot box law" has been in effect for nearly a year and provides information and education to consumers in an efficient manner.

Step it up ESRB.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Once Again Russian News Uses Game Footage for War Story

One of the trendy things to do these days in the U.S. is to question the media constantly and call everything "false" news. (I refuse to use the wording that's been uttered by a certain someone.) But if we need to call out anyone for not having their facts straight, it's Russia. Once again Russian State TV, Channel One, has used video games to act as war footage during a news segment.

Yep. Again. And in a documentary by Oliver Stone (really? Come on Mr. Stone. You are better then that.) It's a fairly common occurrence at this point that you have to wonder why they keep showing video game footage instead of the real stuff?

The latest news story in question was to highlight the brutality of the ongoing war in Syria. Instead they showed footage from the game ARMA 3. The BBC was the first to spot the error. Channel One has issued an apology stating that the footage was in their archive from a story related to video games, and it was used in error. Whether or not that's true remains to be seen. For certain the video looks like it came from a game, and not reality. If they had even a half-way decent labeling system, they would have known that footage was inappropriate for the segment. And let's not forget, this isn't the first time this has happened. Russian television has a bad habit of doing this.

Come on Russia. At least put some effort into faking your war footage and go with 'Apocalypse Now.'

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ubisoft Testing Research with Blockchain

Ubisoft's Strategic Innovation Lab has been using it's resources to look beyond video games for new products. They now want to dabble in blockchain. If you're hearing the term for the first time, you might be surprised to find that more triple-A developers are looking to blockchain as the future of gaming. Blockchain is a continuous growing of digital records that are linked via cryptography. It allows for each item, or game, to be unique and not one of a million reproductions. Bitcoin currently uses it.

So what would the affect be for gamers? The game you purchased, let's see the next Assassin's Creed, would be 100% owned by you. It would make it a unique game and not like any others. It would also make it much more difficult for people to steal games because these are no longer copies of a handful of products - each one is individually coded that they can't be replicated. Another advantage of this would allow developers to create specialized DLC that can be tailored to your game experience. In theory, of course. The chances of this happening are slim until Ubisoft manages to hire a ton more people to customize DLC for every gamer.

But on the other end of the spectrum, blockchain would also make it difficult for people to break into the game to mod it. Modding is a big deal to a number of those in the PC community. So much so that when Fallout 4 was first announced, Bethesda made a promise to it's fans that it would bring that modding environment to the console versions. It's difficult to imagine Bethesda games or The Sims without the modding community backing them up. By going to a blockchain system, modding could be wiped out unless developers make a conscious effort to keep the assets open - which defeats the purpose of blockchain.

This is in the early stages as no developers have completely committed to using blockchain. Though it wouldn't be a surprise if companies like EA start considering it.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's that time again! News has been slow this week, but that doesn't mean we will shirk our duty to provide a Weekly Link Round Up! A listing of the best, worst, and wierdest gaming news on the internet...this week! Here's what we've got:

- Let's get this out of the way. The "video game violence" debate is back on again. But this time we seem to have quite a growing number of comrades in journalism. Here's one from the Washington Post about how video game violence is not a thing - other countries buy games and people own guns, and their gun death rates are low. The Guardian is telling politicians to not be dumb about it; there's no connection. Psychologists and university professors are saying that video game violence equates to real world violence is nuts. Polygon reminds us that it's 2018 and yes, politicians are still trying to blame our problems on the video games instead of being adults. And here's a reminder that former conservative supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, supported video games right to free speech and that violent games didn't have an impact. Okay. There's your wrap-up of the biggest topic of the week. Moving on!

- Loot Box law is starting to catch fire in the U.S. as another state looks to creating their own terms and conditions on video game monitization. Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire is now on board, and has sent a letter to the ESRB asking them to address their rating system to include loot boxes. If the ESRB doesn't take a hard look at loot boxes soon, they're going to have their ratings board quickly taken over by the government - something none of us want a repeat of.

- The D.I.C.E. award winners have been announced, and yeah, you know how this goes. Unless you're a member, your game won't be nominated. So a lot of good contenders for 2017 will have never made it onto the ballet. But if this is your kind of thing and you're interested in seeing the results, the award show will be made available on YouTube.

- If you're in that 25-35 age range, you probably remember reading Scholastic in school while growing up. The kid-friendly learning magazine is still around and has launched a new brand called AFK. The name will tie in all of the gaming-related products that Scholastic currently licenses, including Five Nights at Freddy's and World of Warcraft. They will be taking the content they current have stories for and re-branding them to entice kids to read when they are offline. Who knew that the magazine that once gave us animal facts now writes WoW books?

- No Round Up is complete without a list from WhatCulture. This time it's 10 video games that should have ended differently. If you think that this list will revolve mostly around the stories of the games, you'd be wrong. It's mostly about end-mission mechanics. Such as Grand Theft Auto III being a pain in the ass gun fight, and not an extreme car chase (one of the highlights of the game). Or changing how the boss fight worked for Assassin's Creed. The tweaks would be nice, but the game's outcomes are still the same. The story didn't change. The characters wouldn't be affected by the combat swaps. Once again, good effort, but not quite right.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

No Hanky Panky Allowed in Metal Gear Survive

Metal Gear Survive is starting to trickle in to the hands of gamers. The first Metal Gear without Hideo Kojima, Konami is still looking to capitalize on the franchise. Though the initial launch of the first person multiplayer has been frustrating, particularly for reviewers. A recent patch killed access for a number of players, making the game difficult to review before it's release. Especially since that game requires online access to play, including the main story. Reviewers did not have any content ready for the release date, as servers were closed until the game was out. That's one way to hit writers with a review embargo. Those who can play right now, have found it to be a frustrating experience. Hey! At least the microtransactions work! So...there's that.

But there's more weirdness on the horizon with this wanna be Metal Gear game. According to the EULA that you must agree to before playing, you can not "seek a relationship" in Metal Gear Survive. Nor can you do any actions with the intent of starting a relationship. That's right. If you find the love of your life while playing this Metal Gear concoction, you are breaking Konami's Terms of Service, and can be banned from the game. It is 100% as crazy as it sounds. Also "starting a relationship" could have a multitude of meanings. What if that relationship is a friendship and not a romantic one? People can't make friends in Metal Gear Survive? What's the point of playing the game if we are expected to rely on teammates to achieve objectives? It helps to make friends to ensure a stronger team.

Being an online game, there is understanding of the intent behind this EULA (currently the webpage is down, and may be undergoing review/updates). But to spell it out directly is kind of funny. The vast majority of us don't play a game with the intent on starting a romantic relationship. If it happens, it happens, but it's not the reason why we game. Shooting digital zombies in a Metal Gear world is not how I would find love. But if that is your "thing," well you can't do it in Survive.

You also can't campaign for elections or pre-elections in the game. While it won't 100% stop political issues from arising, at least it's...something?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Updates from The Geek Spot

Unfortunately I've been having a difficult time sourcing a story for today's post. So much of the content about video games over the last 24 hours has circled around "violent games are destroying the youth" and news that we've already discussed. I'll make the response to the video game violence inquiries really simple: violent games are not the reason for the rise in mass shootings in the U.S. These same games are available in virtually all first world, and a good number of second and third world, countries and they don't have the same problems we do. It's not the games fault. It's not movies. Or television. Or books. Or theater. It's us. We're the problem. Not games.

Today's post will be short, but I wanted to talk about some future updates with The Geek Spot.

For starters, I've had to put the comment moderation system back in place. Sorry folks. But some people are abusing the open comments again, and it's not the spam bots. While I'm all for discussion, you need to be an adult about it. Name calling and verbal abuse is not allowed here. Until the comments are cleaned up, moderation will stay.

Next, there will be some minor visual tweaks to the blog. Updated banner, logos, etc. Nothing major that will require you to adjust your eyes, but hopefully these will be welcomed improvements.

Finally, you may see the posting schedule drop off just a bit. The 5-day posts may fall to 3-4 days every few weeks. This is due to my personal and IRL work schedule having taken over the majority of my waking hours that I haven't been able to produce quality posts on a level that I want them to be. For the most part, you will still see posts 5 days a week. But once in a while if you see them drop to 3-4. Don't panic. All is well. I'd rather take my time to craft the posts then to rush out content asap.

Monday, February 19, 2018

CD Projekt Red Won't Load Up Cyberpunk 2077 With Loot Boxes

Cyberpunk 2077 is the long awaited new game from CD Projekt Red (the team behind The Witcher franchise). If there's one thing you can be certain of with these developers, is that when you plop down $59.99 to buy this game, you will be getting a "full" game. No loot boxes. No pay-to-play models. Co-founder Marcin Iwiński spoke with PC Gamer about the loot box issue and why they have been staying away from including such objects in their games.

If you know nothing about CD Projekt Red or have not played their games, the interview may restore a bit of faith in developers. Some of them get it.

As of now, Cyberpunk 2077 will not have any form of loot boxes or microtransactions. There will be online elements to allow gamers to continue playing and extend the life of the game. But if customers are to shell out more money, it'll be reserved to DLC's for more game content that everyone would have equal access too. The developers are known for producing over the top, big chunks of DLC.

Iwiński continued the interview with an emphasis on the need for greater transparency between developers and their customers. Not necessarily with plot points and characters, but letting the customer know what they are buying. Is the game 5 hours or 50 hours of play time? Are there loot boxes? If so, what is the probability for getting "loot"? Etc.

But hey! At least another developer gets why gamers are mad. We need more from our games then microtransactions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Dudes. This year. I don't know what's up but this year is strange. Maybe a dose of the weekly link round up will help out? Here's what we've found for the best, worst, and wierdest gaming news on the internet...this week:

- Kotaku asks that the next time you play a game, think about why you enjoy it. Give their podcast Splitscreen a listen and dive into the psyche on why we play the video games that we do.

- Forbes asks if video game music is art and a business? The answer is yes. Yes it is. Have you seen how much money 343 Industries/Microsoft and SquareEnix take in on album sales? Next topic!

- More layoffs are underway at studios. 2K confirmed that there have been "staff reductions" at Hangar 13, the studio behind Mafia III. According to 2K, this is to help ensure that the studios resources are in the right areas with the 2K's long-term plans. Located in Novato, California, Mafia III was the studio's first game. The developer was young and looking to make a name for itself. It did, and unfortunately this is how they were repaid. Inside sources state that a large number of staff were laid-off, though 2K did not confirm how many were let go.

- Want to start investing in Bitcoins but don't want to pay the outrageous prices? Well, you have the chance to win one if you play MonteCrypto: The Bitcoin Enigma. Releasing on February 20th via Steam, MonteCrypto is offering gamers this rare chance to own the digital currency. You have to buy the game and be the first to beat it. That's it! The player who is the first will get the coin. The game can be purchased for as low as $1.19, with a 40% discount on it's release date. Something to consider if you want to invest.

- Developing a video game is expensive. It's even more so in states like California. Though there are tax incentives, the cost of living makes it a challenge for many. While most revenue for video games is generated and sent back to California, that's starting to shift. Georgia, Texas, and Massachusetts are becoming hubs for indie developers and are offering different tax breaks to lure developers away from California. Those states want to see a chunk of that gaming money. Not to mention, a number of these states offer a more reasonable cost of living compared to California. If Cali wants to keep it's gaming industry, they need to find a way to respond that won't hurt developers.

-  It's not a round up without a WhatCulture article! This time it's 8 failed game consoles that had one incredible game. You've got my attention. Let's see what the site considers a "failed console." On the list there's the Atari Jaguar, Neo-Geo, and Virtua Boy. And the games they referenced, such as Wario Ware (which was remade for the DS and became a hit), are thoughtful. Maybe not the most impacting games for the system in question, but they were good games. Well...congrats WhatCulture! You posted a good list. Revel in it.

- Finally Atari is thinking of launching it's own cryptocurrency. Okay...okay. Guys. Please don't. We're in a weird place with Bitcoin and no one really knows how to properly manage it. If we start flooding the market with digital currency, we're going to hit a bubble too quickly and bankrupt a lot of people who can't afford. Let's slow down and rethink this. Atari, go back to making games and get that new console out. K?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

You Don't Have to Get Your SO into Video Games

I was prepared to have one of those eye rolling moments when I saw this headline: 'Don't Try to Get Your Girlfriend Into Video Games.' Particularly from GQ Magazine, which lately hasn't been having a good track record on producing quality content. But I forged ahead. Clicked the link. And waited for the inevitable that never appeared.

With yesterday being some "holiday" about love or something, the slew of articles about getting into a relationship were all over the place. Which also included "how to get your girlfriend into games" or "how to pick up a gamer girl." The a-typical dumb posts that seem to get millions of hits, but are rarely insightful. Even when I attempted to write one out of humor, it still ended with the note that it's okay if your significant other isn't into games. If they love you for your hobbies and find they don't like them, but still love you anyway, then cool! You keep gaming. Your SO will do their own thing. You all compromise on activities to do as a couple, and be an adult.

Most of these "how to get a gamer girl" articles do not follow that same logic. It tends to be condescending, straight up sexist click bait.

The GQ Magazine article is not one of those, and it gave me a small glimmer of hope for humanity. It's minuscule, but it's better then nothing.

Joshua Rivera writes some pretty hard truths about these silly "get your girlfriend to game" posts and YouTube videos. Particularly that there's nothing wrong if your girlfriend isn't into games. She's allow to have her own hobbies and interests that are different from yours. That's part of being an adult and working through relationships. You learn about each other, compromise, and grow together as humans. By trying to force your SO into a box that only you are comfortable with makes you a crappy human being, and perpetuates a number of the stereotypes and misogynistic attitudes that our culture is permeating.

Rivera also offers some sound advice on how to approach making games interesting to your SO. Play things that are interesting. Don't focus on the marketing tactics that publishers put out - those are almost always directed towards men. Focus on the fun things you can do in the games. But again, don't force your SO to be interested in it. They are their own person. They can decide whether or not they like games and if they don't, they don't! You two have been able to maintain a relationship for this long without having the same hobbies. If you can be an adult, you can continue that connection and find new hobbies you both like together, while keeping your old ones. You can do different things and remain a couple! It's silly that it needs to be spelled out but few, if any articles, rarely say it.

Here's hoping that with the GQ name behind it some people will take the advice to heart.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Google Removing Mobile Game Reviews Without Cause?

Greenheart Games released Game Dev Tycoon for android and iPhones at the end of January. The 2012 PC game was an indie favorite, and it's still one that I enjoy tinkering with today. Your goal with the game is to develop your own video game company. You choose the projects, hire the team, make the game, and try to determine what consumers want to ensure your company is successful. The straight-forward concept makes this a game that is easy to pick up. And like reality you have to deal with the same issues real devs face: layoffs, economic changes, new consoles, hackers stealing your code, etc. Though unlike other mobile games, Game Dev Tycoon does not have any microtransactions. Straight from their website: "there are no forced wait-times, no virtual coins, no in-app purchases, no ad-breaks, no loot boxes and no overly addictive gameplay mechanics." You pay to get the game and that's it! That's a good deal for $4.99.

However 2 weeks in, Greenheart Games began to notice something was happening to their Google Play reviews. In a blog post by developer Patrick Klug, they saw reviews that looked legitimate were disappearing from the store page. Six days after the game was released, it maintained a 5 star rating. But soon after, 25% of the positive reviews were removed. Just after that, it was 77%. Greenheart Games went to Twitter to ask customers if their review had vanished. And a number of them confirmed that yes, their genuine reviews were removed.

It's common knowledge among app creators that Google and Apple will remove reviews if they feel they are erroneous: left a review but did not download the item, paid review bots, etc. A stray review here and there being removed shouldn't cause such a drastic drop for Greenheart Games. Having 400+ reviews vanish in one day for a new app is a big deal.

Some would put the blame on Google's algorithm that is meant to remove fake reviews. However, as we know with social media, that system is never full proof. Good reviews will get swept in with the fake ones. But in the case of Greenheart Games, this isn't 1-4 reviews deleted a day. This was 400. Said algorithm is kind of back-wash for paid games. It makes sense for the free-to-play where you can trick the system into reviewing without having to download. You can't for paid games on Google Play. You have to spend money in order to review. People who are reviewing the game are customers, not bots.

Google did respond to Greenheart Games, stating that there were review guidelines and people needed to follow those to ensure their reviews are kept. Such as not using excessive capitalization or punctuation, and having a review with both positive and negative points (yes, even for 5 star reviews). But when you see some of the deleted reviews, you'll find that most of them are legit and should not have been removed by Google.

Greenheart Games is working on a follow-up post to also address the piracy concerns - because Google is seemingly okay with game theft, but not reviews. We'll update the article or make a new post if more information comes to light about the missing reviews. If it's affecting Greenheart Games, it's surely hitting other developers.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Problem With "Limited Time" Events in Games

If you play an MMO, you are all too familiar with the seasonal and holiday events that will inevitably appear in your game. The 4th of July for Grand Theft Auto V. Halloween in Final Fantasy XIV. Christmas in every MMO, except Star Wars: The Old Republic, where you get a nice helping of Life Day. More action-adventure and RPG games have been getting in on this, with their persistent worlds providing "limited time" content to keep you invested in replaying the game. More recently there was the Final Fantasy XV and Assassin's Creed: Unity cross-over that allowed you to earn costumes and weapons in the former game, and an ugly chocobo reskin in AssCreed. This particular event lasted around a month, giving gamers enough time to play both titles and earn the rewards.

And then you have games like Monster Hunter: World, with an ongoing promotion tied in with Horizon: Zero Dawn. The first round wrapped up with only 2 weeks of availability, starting when the game released. But this is also a multi-tiered event that will have an additional component later on. It too will likely only have a 2-week availability, and strong requirements to access. With the first portion of the event, you needed to reach rank 6 with your hunter, and complete a series of quest. It's also a PS4 exclusive. Any XBox One or PC players are out of luck. As someone who couldn't get the game until days after release (thanks Amazon) and has a full-time job, I am barely rank 2. Am I playing the game? Yes. Am I completing quests and enjoying the world? Sure. But there was no way I could reach rank 6 in such a short amount of time and expect to reap the benefits of this "limited time" event. A number of gamers couldn't. The restrictions were too high, the time too short, and availability too limited. With the second portion of the event, hopefully Capcom will extend the time-frame to at least make it accessible for longer then 2 weeks.

When you're a developer like SquareEnix or have MMO experience, you know that you have to provide sufficient time and make the content accessible to as many players as possible to ensure a successful campaign. World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 - you'll find that their seasonal events typically last 3-4 weeks, if not longer, and have very low level caps (1, 10, or 15 - all obtainable within 1-3 hours of gameplay).

When a person plays Monster Hunter: World, it can take anywhere from 2-5 hours to reach rank 2. It all depends on how you play with little hand-holding by the game on the fastest way to rank up. Math-ing it out at 5 hours per rank up and you need rank 6 to do the event: 30 hours of game play minimum before the event can be unlocked. I don't know about you, but I barely have 30 hours a week to sleep (assuming one sleeps for 8 hours a night), let alone play a video game. This event was never was going to be on my radar. And there is a concern that the follow-up will be just as short and/or tedious to unlock.

Overwatch can be just as bad about this, and they are unfortunately becoming more popular. Their event cycle for limit time skins is 2-3 weeks. Which doesn't seem bad, until you remember that it can take up to 45 minutes of gaming to achieve 1 loot box, which does not guarantee you any of the event items (icons, skins, sprays, or voice overs). You may get standard items, repeats, or in-game currency. It's all luck and that 45 minutes could end up costing you 45 hours to unlock everything. It's not feasible. Mobile games are equally as notorious for this, even providing count-down clocks to mock you every time you open the app.

The easiest solution is to take the MMO stance and have these events be more accessible. Locking them behind walls of content doesn't help you, the developer, promote your content. Nor does it please the gamer. I'm not against the cross-over events or limited time promotions. But make them available to the masses; not content-blocked to force people to play your game longer. People will be more willing to play when they can enjoy the game without feeling suckered into a grind session.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Loot Box Law Drafted in Hawaii

Hawaiian State Representative Chris Lee has moved forward with his bill in the state to tackle the issue of loot boxes in video games. A few months ago, Lee held a press conference to talk about the "predatory" practices of developers like EA, who use loot boxes to potentially lure children into spending money on the potential for digital rewards. This all stemmed as part of the backlash from Star Wars: Battlefront II. Concerns are mounting that children and adults may be lured in by the effect of loot boxes - spending money for digital boosts that may or may not happen. The ESRB doesn't see loot boxes as gambling, but if you've bought one, the similarities on the "rush" of opening the prizes feels very similar. Lawmakers want to ensure children are safe from these practices, and curb potential addictions to gambling.

But this isn't the only bill! In total, 4 measures have been introduced in the Hawaii House and Senate. Two of them target the sale of video games specifically; those under the age of 21 would not be allowed to buy a game that uses in-game monitization with real world cash to play. The other set of bills would require publishers to display on the game boxes that the game includes loot boxes, and to disclose the probability rate of receiving the rewards. The second set of bills are similar to China's law that went into effect March of 2017. There is no date on when these bills will be brought up in Hawaii's House/Senate, but with 4 on the table, there's a good chance it will be this year.

If you ignore the bad quotes from the GameStop employees (“If you’re old enough to go to war, you should be able to play a video game where you don’t kill people in real life,” um what? You have to be 18 to sign up for military service in the U.S. M-rated games are for 17 and older. I think you're missing the point here, employee!), the loot box issue is a growing problem that will only get worse if developers don't reign in the practice.

Up until now, the video game industry has done pretty well at regulating itself. Not wanting to fall into the same pits as Hollywood, television, and books, the ESRB was formed to help provide some levity to monitoring content and ratings for video games. The wide-spread effect of loot boxes, both good and bad, is an issue that needs to be addressed. Whether it's additional ratings for the ESRB, or publishers putting loot stats on the game's info. If they don't soon enough, the U.S. government will do it for them.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! Thank goodness. It could not arrive soon enough. Which means it's time for the weekly link round up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've found:

- Google's Deep Mind team taught it's AI how to multitask by using video games. Using a training set built on Id Software's Quake III, along with 57 Atari games, the AI was expected to play every game at the same time, fast. In doing so, it would learn how to play all of them over time to an effective level. It's creepy and cool that we're at this point in our technology that AI's could one day best speedrunners.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 games that will kill you no matter what. I'm going to assume they mean in-game deaths and not IRL. Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking about this! On the list there's Silent Hill, Outlast, and the first Walking Dead game. All aspects that require your main character to die before you can proceed...or you die and the game ends. To it's credit, this is better then last week's WhatCulture list, even if it's bland.

- Project 'Yeti' is underway, according to sources close to Google. The newest video game streaming service! Given the success of Google Fiber, in spite of cable companies trying to block it at every turn (seriously Verizon/Frontier, I want my Google), this will be a new phase for Google's continuing reach. News first broke on 'The Information' but Google has not commented on if this rumor is true. So we don't know the details, other then it could easily rival Microsoft and Sony's services if Google offers streaming at a cheaper rate. Which they will, if Fiber is an example.

- Monster Hunter: World has now hit 6 million units shipped, making it one of the fastest shipped games in Capcom's history. Please remember everyone: shipped does not equal units sold. But given how quickly this game is flying off of store shelves, it's safe to assume that every one of those copies will be purchased. It's a fun game! Though I wish I had more time to play it.

- Jack Thompson. Bet you didn't think you'd see that name again. The disbarred attorney is lending his aid, pro-bono, to the Marshall County High School shooting, which occurred last month. And of course he is suggesting that video games were the cause for the violence. Insert the eye roll here. Thompson is offering to provide a sworn brief detailing his assistance to other families in violent shooting cases that he believes were caused by violent video games. Please keep in mind that Thompson was disbarred twice as an attorney, permanently now, and was found guilty of 27 violations in the practice of law. Don't take his word for anything.

- This week The Sims turns 18. Man I feel like a dinosaur now. In honor of the top-selling franchise (seriously it's up there with Mario), Metro lists 5 reasons why this game series is the best ever. While I don't know if it's as quality as other best seller choices, The Sims has permeated into gaming culture and changed the way we approach immersive content. And it's a really fun building simulator to boot!

- Another player with the Overwatch League is in trouble, and again it's the Dallas Fuel (guys, stop it). This time Hyeon “Effect” Hwang has been suspended from ranked play until Sunday for making a false report against another player. At this point, it's surprising and appalling that the league still hasn't published rules of conduct. Blizzard/Activision need to get their butt on that. Now.

- And while eSports is still trying to make its way into the Olympics, one of the largest Starcraft II competitions was held in South Korea earlier this week. It's only a matter of time before eSports takes over. And congrats to Scarlett for her first international win! You keep doing us proud!

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Remember that GTA5 Court Case? We Do

Hey gamers! Remember that time when Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive for creating a character in Grand Theft Auto V that, she claims, is a direct copy of her? It was 2014 so if that fell off your radar, it's understandable. The original paperwork was filed in December of 2013, with Lohan's legal team stating that the character Lacey Jonas in the game is like Lohan. Not only in looks, but in mannerisms, clothing, and selfies as well. Yep. Lohan was claiming that she started selfies and GTA ripped her off. The original lawsuit was thrown out of lower court in New York.

However Lohan and 'Mob Wives' reality persona Karen Gravano were able to push the case to the appeals court. Oral arguments began yesterday and a decision is expected to be reached later this year. Gravano is claiming that the character Antonia Bottino in the game is based off of her.

In spite of the fact that these figures are meant to be caricatures of an over-the-top nature and not meant to replicate any one person (in fact, they are meant to replicate today's concept of "celebrity" or "mob boss"), the case is going on and the court of appeals has to listen to it. The "right of publicity"is a war that continues to be waged. The original case was thrown out due to lack of defining proof that Rockstar and Take-Two intentionally created a character to be like Lohan. It is unclear what damages Lohan and Gravano are requesting should the new case rule in their favor.

Jarryd Huntley, a developer and lecturer at Lorain Community College, along with a First Amendment attorney, has filed a "friend of the court" paper to request that the case be dismissed. Should the lawsuit be overturned, this could have lasting ramifications for all forms of media: books, television, movies, musicals, you name it. And not everyone is a multi-billion dollar company that can afford to pay out every individual who may look like a character in a game.

From a rational perspective, if I wanted Lindsay Lohan to be in my game, I would call up her agency and hammer out a deal to put her in the game. Rockstar and Take-Two are no different. They wouldn't be sly about it. They know their products are consumed on a massive scale. They do not benefit from trying to sneak around and use "celebrity" likenesses. It would be more beneficial, and cheaper, for them in the long-run to work directly with the celebrity. They've used Samuel L. Jackson in San Andreas as a voice actor. They bought the rights to use Michael Jackson songs in Vice City. They have the funds. There is no reason for them to make a look-alike of Lohan or Gravano without contacting them first and getting their permission.

When I see the characters in question, I do not think of Lohan or Gravano. I see exaggerations of "celebrities." Hopefully the appeals court sees it the same way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Agents of Mayhem Board Game in the Works

Remember Volition’s Saint's Row spin-off game 'Agents of Mayhem?' Yeah. I don't either. When it was released in August of 2017, it didn't make the impact the developers were hoping for. It was trying to be an anti-hero, super hero, super team game with Saint's Row flair. It did not pan out as expected. But the game's name isn't dead yet!

Volition is currently kickstarting a board game version titled 'Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.' With a goal of $30 grand, it has long since crushed it. The game is a team vs. team skirmish set-up from 2 to 4 players. The board is 3D with terrains that you can build and destroy as you play. Characters will come with their own mini-fig and can be customized with their accompanying character sheets. The game is billing itself as fast-paced, fun combat with some salty language - which will surely bring the kids in. Add-on's from the campaign include character sheets and mini-figs of Saint's Row alumni.

Academy Games is producing the final version and spoke with Kotaku about the project. Saint's Row is not the type of content one would expect to see in the board game isle. Being able to match the insanity of 'Agents of Mayhem' while making it accessible to consumers requires a delicate balance. On the surface it does seem like the game has potential. It'll be interesting to see if the series manages to live on in "real life" form.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Micrsoft Adds to Azure Line-Up

Recently Microsoft acquired PlayFab, a deluge of services that help build, launch, and grow cloud-based games. Digital gaming is a growing field, and with the "always on" mentality of gamers, it's necessary that console makers like Microsoft stay at the head of the game to provide that content.

The purchase amount was not disclosed, but the new venture will merge in quite well with their Azure platform."PlayFab’s backend services reduce the barriers to launch for game developers, offering both large and small studios cost-effective development solutions that scale with their games and help them engage, retain and monetize players." As noted on their official blog, PlayFab will give developers of all sizes what they need to produce their game, and keep a core contingent of players ready to try it out.

PlayFab currently hosts 1,200 games with over 70 million players. They process over 1.5 billion transactions a day. That is some serious money that I'm sure Microsoft is all too happy to be a part of now! Given the changing game environment, having a fluid system like PlayFab is a benefit to both developers and gamers. Developers are able to tweak and update games on the fly and gamers can test content out immediately. While the details are not known how this all works, it has been working for the games that are still live on PlayFab today. Hopefully Microsoft makes the entry fees affordable for small developers.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Overwatch League Set To Get Female Player?

Move over eSports. You can't keep female players out for long. It's being reported that a team for the Overwatch League is looking to sign Geguri, one of the top female players in the world. She's best known as a Zarya main (one of the few tank jobs that is rarely seen in league play) and has great stats to back up her roles as D. Va.

When the League first launched, it was exclusively all male, and there were a lot of excuses that the team managers and PR reps made regarding this. Some claimed that it was a language barrier (Geguri only speaks Korean) and that it would be more difficult to assimilate into a team that requires multiple translators. Other teams said there would be an issue with co-ed housing or that other people would think it'd be a PR stunt. Houston, we're looking at you with that comment.

Geguri dropped the info on her Twitch stream over the weekend that she has accepted an offer from a foreign team, but did not provide any additional details. Many are speculating that it's New York, given that the manager has long expressed interest in having her on the team, and the team is fully South Korean. Thus removing the issue of the language barrier. It's likely that Geguri won't play until late in the season, at the earliest, or next year. But it's the step forward the league needs to be legitimate.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! Which means nothing to me, because I'm still working ALL. WEEKEND. LONG. It was necessary to typed that in caps. While I try to reign in my sanity for a 12-day work stint, let's throw down the Weekly Link Round Up! A gathering of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet, this week. Here's what we've got in store:

- Check out Kotaku's podcast for the week, with Jason Schreier and an appearance by Leigh Alexander. They dig into some of the top headlines for the week, but what I was interested in was their segment about writing in video games - the most important part is the tools at your disposal. It's an interesting portion of game development many of us probably never thought about. How do you write a script so that it's playable in 6 months to a year while still feeling fresh? What tools are out there to give a faster turn-around for writers to make tweaks on the fly? This is a podcast you'll want to queue up for today.

- 'Dead Time' is the official term for inactivity in a video game. It's time where the user is doing nothing. No actions. No productivity. This includes loading screens. Can dead time ruin your game? Yes and no. A blog post on Gamasutra helps outline the expectations of dead time, and what you can do to reduce it. But I'd also like to argue that some dead time is good. In MMO's for example, there are a number of players that are actively doing nothing in the game to further the story/content. They are sitting in their digital homes. Chatting with friends. Taking photos of their surroundings. It's dead time, but it's one that these gamers intentionally pursue to become immersed with the game. I.E. some dead time is good. But if you have a 15 second loading screen every 5 minutes, that's bad dead time.

- More video game movie talk, this time with an opinion piece on Shack News about the perils of making these movies a reality. It's been confirmed that there will be another Mario movie in the works, working in conjunction with the studio that developed 'Despicable Me' and Nintendo will be 100% involved in the project. Both production groups will have a lot to overcome to make this a success and not another 'Super Mario Bros.' flop.

- eSports continues to grow! With over $700 million in revenue generated in 2017, experts believe this year that we'll see the $1 billion mark. Watch out traditional sports. We're coming for your views!

- Snackade; a new way to get a snack while you game. In this strange concept, an Australian business wanted to merge gaming and eating in a fun way. Play a retro game and as you earn food-related power-ups, a conveyor belt will cart out the item. Not weird at all.

- If you need a read that hits you in the feels, check out this op-ed on Game Spew about a women and her father. How gaming brought them together, and they became best friends through their digital adventures.

- What Weekly Link Round Up wouldn't be complete without a list from WhatCulture? This time it's 8 heroic characters who didn't affect the plot of the game. At #8 it's Master Chief from Halo...okay so this list already sucks. Master Chief didn't affect the plot of Halo? Really? Even with the 5th installment, his actions may not have affected some of the quests. But his journey through all 5 games have made a huge impact on the plot. To argue otherwise is dumb. Yes, WhatCulture. I'm calling you out. You're dumb. They also list Nathan Drake from Uncharted, and You the gamer for No Man's Sky and Dark Souls. Folks, it looks like we're back to the crappy lists from WhatCulture again. Maybe we should stay away from their website for a bit while they recuperate.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

GDC Pioneer Award to Nolan Bushnell Revoked

The Games Developer Conference is taking a step forward in showing solidarity among game developers, and helping promote a safer work environment for all, by rescinding it's offer to give the 'Pioneer Award' to Nolan Bushnell.

Bushnell co-founded Atari in 1972 and the company became the epicenter of the gaming industry throughout the late 70's and 80's. The company is attempting to make a comeback with a new console set to hit the market. Yesterday, GDC made the announcement that it was give the award, and within hours #MeToo stories were circulating Twitter regarding Bushnell's past. The hashtag #notnolan appeared to help spread the word.

His behavior at Atari has been well known. Antics were documented in books like 'The Ultimate History of Video Games.' Bushnell held meetings in hot tubs and would try to convince women to join in. He would comment on women's figures, even calling one out in Playboy magazine - Darlene (also the code-name for Pong). Quoted from the San Fransisco Chronicle “I find the aura of power and money is very intimidating to an awful number of girls.”

The GDC quickly responded stating that their voting board was not aware of his behavior, as well documented as it was, and their committee met to address the situation. In a statement released yesterday, they have decided to not present the award this year. Instead it was be dedicated to "honor the pioneering and unheard of voices of the past." They want the award to represent the values of today's gaming industry (which is still questionable).

For those who have spoken up against the award recipient, it is important to note that most are not dismissing Bushnell's influence on video games. He did a lot to put games on the map. We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for people like Bushnell at the helm. It doesn't excuse his past behavior, but we're not ignoring his contributions either. We can honor the man, but this is not the year nor the time for it.

Bushnell released a response yesterday that could be best described as "adequate." There's the standard "if my actions offended anyone" comment at the end that we're use to seeing now (and now roll our eyes at because we know it's not really heartfelt/sincere), but the content before that was nicely worded.