Monday, April 30, 2018

"Freemium" Harry Potter Mobile Game is No Better Than Pervasive Loot Boxes

The new Harry Potter: Hogworts Mysteries game is out on mobile is like any other F2P mobile game that tries to convince you to pay for the "privilege" of moving forward in the game at a steady rate instead of waiting for days. But as Eurogamer found out, the consequences of waiting are disturbing.

I've gotten to the point with mobile games that I no longer download the ones labeled "free." If the games aren't full of advertisements, they do what they can to remind you to buy in-game currency or power-ups so you can play. The bottom line will always be about money. So Harry Potter should be no different. And yet, it feels different. I did not download this game, but I did watch a streamer play it over the weekend. For a game with a demographic aimed towards children, it doesn't hold back on pushing the paywall.

In order to progress in the game you need to use energy for actions. With each action you use up energy. Fairly straight forward. If you want to replenish energy, you need to spend gems which you can purchase with real world money. Upwards of over $100 for 3,125 gems. That's an oddly specific number. And like the Eurogamer article points out, the streamer found themselves in a similar situation where your character's energy depletes in the first action scene in the Devil's Snare. Players are expected to build energy by completing certain tasks. However at this point in the game you do not have enough to complete the first action sequence. What happens then? Well your avatar is left in a precarious position of being strangled while you decided if you want to drop $$$ on gems to replenish your energy - or you wait it out IRL time for your energy to return and try again. (Parents beware. Don't download this game without monitoring it with your children as the in-app purchases are relentless.)

Regardless of your age, this is unsettling to see your avatar put in such a position. If you want them to be saved quickly, you have to drop money on gems. And if you don't, are you a monster for waiting it out so you can continue to play? To make the game more of a mind-screw, this happens within 30 minutes of starting the game and you have an 8 hour limit to complete the task. Even if you are not playing the game, the in-game clock continues. There's a good chance that you'll have to replenish your energy multiple times before you succeed. Thus spending that full 8 hours to complete this one task.

The "freemium" aspect of Harry Potter: Hogworts Mysteries is not worth it if the first prompt to buy gems is when your avatar is being strangled after 25-30 minutes of gameplay. It's no surprise that people are uninstalling the app. Come on mobile games. You are better than this.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's that time again where we forget about the insanity of the world for a few moments and slap down some fun with the Weekly Link Round Up. A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest news on the internet this week. Here's what we've dug up:

- 5G will be coming to the landscape sooner than we thought...maybe. Several analysts are predicting that more gaming will be off-console and utilize streaming services as early as 2019/2020. While a number of companies have been working on providing a form of streaming for gamers, it hasn't always been the most effective. Latency, lag times, high monthly fees have made it a less than desirable service - playing a game directly from a PC or console with the disc is still the fastest way. That's where companies hope 5G will help eliminate most of the issues. We'll see next year if there are any changes.

- Bill Nye, THE science guy, is working with Nintendo to promote their new cardboard product: Labo. He spoke with The Hollywood Reporter regarding the team-up and gave some insight into how Labo works. The engineering and coding aspects are a big draw for him, and it's another way to teach kids about science while keeping it practical/fun.

- Variety has this "winning" article: 'Westworld' shows how one should not run a gaming studio. I'll take Obvious for $500, Alex.

- In another "no duh" post for the week from VG247: Why licensed video games use to be so bad. If you're initial response was "studios wanted to make quick cash on something that was popular at the time," you would be correct. Next article!

- If you live in the Denver, Colorado region, check out this art exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens titled Pixilated. Various art pieces are scattered throughout the garden to ask visitors to question our digital relationship with nature. The art may look simple, but they are cleverly distressed and colorful with the intent to draw your attention to the space.

- Polygon has an interesting piece on how 'Ready Player One' digital world (Oasis) would make for a crap video game. In many ways, Oasis is kind of punishing if you die in that world. Everything you've learned, gained, or stowed away in your inventory would vanish and you start again at level 1. There are no checkpoints. There is no way to re-load a past save. Harsh. It sounds like Metal Gear: Survive. Though it's even more of a mind-screw since it's players punishing other players, not the game punishing the user. Oasis is a multi-player environment. If you're a fan of the movie, or not at all, this is still worth a fun read.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Belgium Commission Cites Games with Loot Boxes Break Law

The Belgium Gaming Commission has determined that loot boxes in some games are considered gambling, and as such those gamers are subjected to the laws regarding gambling in the country. In a statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens, the games identified were Fifa 18, Overwatch, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II (which kicked off reviewing loot boxes) but determined that it did not apply due to EA scrapping the "pay to win" system.

These particular games were singled out because they meet the commissions "game of chance" definition. "[t]here is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission was concerned that these games draw an emotional profit and don't provide the odds on what you may potentially receive in a loot box.

What does this mean for the developers? Right now Geens wants to start a dialogue with them to determine how to best resolve this. If they can't come to an agreement and the games remain in Belgium, the developers can face a fine of up to €800,000 (there is a potential prison sentence, but those apply only to individuals and not businesses). The fine can be doubled if minors are involved. The alternative is to remove the loot boxes entirely from the region.

Of the games listed, I'm surprised Overwatch is on the list as this is usually the game cited as an example of how loot boxes can work. With Fifa 18 that is a clear cash grab to give bonuses to players, Overwatch's system is purely cosmetic. They're fun cosmetics, but only visual - no game boosts to improve your characters. Of the games listed, Overwatch is the least abusive of loot boxes. Though it is safe to say that all developers/publishers should consider providing some stats on the potential for winning "loot" to give buyers an idea of what they are purchasing. Having the random ambiguity is dishonest and very much akin to gambling.

We'll continue to watch this story as it develops. The game creators have yet to comment.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A New College Football Game That's Not From EA?


iMackulate Vision Gaming (IMV Gaming) is making headlines this morning, announcing that they will be releasing a U.S. college football game in 2020. Gridiron Champions would be the first collegiate game on the market since 2014. After the lawsuit against EA and the NCAA for using the likeness of players within the games to help sell the products, the market has been dry for any college-related gaming content (which use to be a big area that EA held as the go-to leader). The result of the lawsuit was in favor of Ed O’Bannon (college athlete) and other players with EA opting to resolve the issue outside of the court - that EA and the NCAA knowingly used the images of current student athletes along with their heights, weights, stats, teams, and jersey numbers in the game without directly spelling out their name. It should be noted in court proceedings that EA wanted to use athlete's names and were willing to pay for it to the players directly, but the NCAA has a longstanding tradition of being less-than-willing to give athletes any type of monetary compensation.

The result of the lawsuit has kept the market free of college-related games - not by law but by happenstance. No one wants to try and bring up the issue with the NCAA again, and they seem equally as reluctant to start anew.

Which is where IMV Gaming comes in. Legally speaking, IMV does not to get the NCAA's permission to make a U.S. college football game as long as they use default avatars for players that are not meant to resemble any current student athlete. If IMV wants to incorporate a real college or university, they need to get the school's permission and pay a licensing fee. As long as they keep the content fairly generic, no harm. What is capturing people's attentions is that Gridiron Champions is promoting itself with having a robust player creation. Legally speaking, there is nothing wrong with this. If a gamer decides he wants to recreate the 1996 Dallas Cowboys team in the game, they could. As long as the base game doesn't ship with the Cowboys (assuming IMV doesn't get permission to use their likeness and names), all is well. What a player does with the game is not on the developer's hands.

Why isn't EA doing this since they don't have any court order barring them from making college-related sports games? EA has held the top spot in the market because they offered the most realistic experience for gamers, including having athletes that looked just like the current stars. Taking away that aspect is against the EA mantra for their sports titles. We need a new developer to step in and pick up the reigns.

Or we need the NCAA to stop thinking that it's still 1920 and realize that it's okay to pay student athletes to use their likeness in games - a fee that EA would pay, not the NCAA, that would amount to a few thousand dollars. Money that could be used for their education, or for food, or for the dozens of other things that humans need to live.

We'll see if IMV makes the game happen soon enough!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Quantic Dream Suing French Press for "Negative Stories"

As reported by Kotaku, Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain) is suing French media outlets Le Monde and Mediapart and journalist William Audureau for stories that were published in January regarding the developers work environment. Quantic is suing for the negative press the company received. Not long after the stories were published, Quantic denied the content in a public announcement. A month later they retracted the statement and said they would pursue legal action. Canard PC, the third media outlet that published a story on the developer is currently not being sued, but they have received threatening letters.

Kotaku reached out to Canard PC for more details, and the publisher explained that the outlets will now have to verify to a judge that they handled the story in "good fairness." They need to show that they reached out to all parties involved in the story and provided appropriate caution in their reporting. The first hearing is scheduled for June.

This comes at a tenuous time for the developer, with their newest game Detroit: Become Human releasing soon. Given that 3 media outlets confirmed the harassment and over 15 employees came out against the developer, it's difficult to see how Quantic Dream will come out as the "good guy" in all of this. Since the media outlets will be asked to present all of their information, more negative content could be released and further corroboration of the stories from the employees that were harassed. It doesn't matter if the journalists didn't, or couldn't, present Quantic's side in the articles. Even if Quantic "wins" in court, the ramifications will last.

The developers should consider taking a different approach instead of pulling a Channel Awesome. Such as addressing the concerns of their current and former employees, and taking steps to provide a safe work environment. Slamming your fists on the table and shouting "no, we didn't do this" isn't going to solve the problem. When you have so many employees and sources speaking out against your business, there's clearly something wrong. You have to look internally before you can speak externally.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Small Font Size is a Problem in Today's Games

I enjoy the Monster Hunter series. But I have difficulty being able to play the recent release (Monster Hunter: World) due to a reason that shouldn't be an issue to begin with: the text is too small to read. While the gaming industry has made great strides in creating content that accommodates gamers with disabilities, the text size has been an ongoing problem - particularly with the latest generation of games. And we all know it's not as simple as moving up the font size slider in a program. Adjusting the font size comes with it's own host of technical issues and altering the UI to accommodate the space used.

But today's games have a real problem with font sizes, and they are all too small for the average gamer to read. If I have to sit within a few inches of my 22 inch television screen to be able to read a menu, your font is too small. Not all of us can afford a 4K 50 inch - nor do we have the space for it.

For those who think this is a silly point to be concerned about, you're allowed to have that opinion. But for those who are hearing impaired and rely on subtitles to play a game, having the tiny text makes it extra difficult. And for big games like The Elder Scrolls that are chock full of lore, those instances are rarely to never voiced out. You have to read the lore. Imagine having to open a book in a game where the font is a size 6-8 in Alegreya Sans SC. Try reading that from your chair or couch while playing on your 50 inch TV. You'd have to stand up, walk as close to the screen as possible, and then read. And then repeat this 100 more times as you find more lore.

This is messing up our already jacked up eyes.

Thankfully last week a near 2 gig patch was released for Monster Hunter: World that includes increasing the font size on the busy interface of a screen. Hopefully it will help me so I can play the game as intended; not with my face pressed against the screen to read.

The new God of War game has the same problem, and their patch doesn't resolve the issue as Kotaku points out. While yes, you can use the zoom in feature on the PS4 but do you really want to do that every few minutes in every game you play when upping the font size can fix the whole situation?

This isn't about being picky. This is about accessibility. We can't continue to play games with tiny fonts and expect people to adapt. We're missing out on huge chunks of the worlds being built, and people with disabilities are being excluded from the experience, because of improper font sizing. If we can make games that focus on accessibility for sound and game play, than readable font sizes need to be part of the conversation.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's F, to the R, to the I, to the DAY! Friday! Yeah!

Who's ready for the weekend? I know I am. It's been a long week, which will mean a super short weekend. But hey! It's still a weekend. Let's get into the Weekly Link Round Up. A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week. Here's what we've got:

- What are some of the flaws with today's modern video games? This question was tackled on Quora by





Thursday, April 19, 2018

NBA eSports League Starting May 1st on Twitch

It's no surprise that with the success of the Overwatch League, other games are jumping on board. The NBA has created their own eSports league and has signed a multi-year broadcast with Twitch and Amazon directly to exclusive streaming rights. The venture is tied in with NBA 2K, a longstanding staple in gaming tournaments. The league will be launching May 1st and access to viewing the content is 100% free (with ads of course unless you're a Twitch Prime member).

The NBA is the first sports coalition that has developed an eSports league that will be housed under their umbrella. Which also means that any gaming pros have to follow the NBA's rules of conduct. Blizzard, you might want to take note of this. The NBA 2K League will mimic the standard NBA game schedule including draft seasons - roughly 199 games in a year. Individual franchises (such as the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors) will host teams of 6 gamers. They will be paid at least $32k for the year as the base salary, along with any prize winnings, plus insurance, retirement plans, and housing will be covered.

Best of luck to the league and the gamers!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How Low Can the Metacritic Score Go?

I'm not interested in talking about Dungeons & Dragons' co-creator's having their works published into video games. There are already a load of online articles covering that story.

Let's talk about games that suck. They are the worst of the worst, according to critics. Business Insider compiled the data from Metacritic, with over 15,000 games in the library, to list the 50 worst video games based on their aggregate data. While Metacritic did most of the work, Business Insider helped remove duplicates. If a game appears on multiple systems, it will show up on the overall stats more than once. The only thing I wish the story did was post reviews from the critics themselves, instead of game overviews. No one cares what the game is about. We want to know why it's so bad!

And before you ask, no. Superman 64 is not on the list, because it's not on the Metatacritic site! I know. I was shocked to find that out too. That easily would have taken the top spot. Instead it's a family game titled Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade for the WiiU. This review from Eurogamer Sweden is my favorite: "I'm really upset that it isn't illegal to sell garbage like this to innocent children, at a very steep price at that. Any kid who gets this as a Christmas present will have his or her holidays ruined, and anyone who bought it should get their money back with personal apologies from the game's developer." The game ranks an 11/100 on the critic score and 1.1/10 for users. Harsh.

I'm also loving that other games like Yaris and Alone in the Dark: Illumination are here. I knew they were bad games, but not Metacritic low score bad. Take a spin at the list today and see if you can spot some well known games. Are some of your least favorites listed?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Why Bullying Back Doesn't Work

You may have seen a few postings about a new network of people calling themselves Bully Hunters. They claimed to be representing those who have been harassed in games, and fight against the bullies by diving into the content, and digitally bullying back. Last week they announced their presences in CS:Go as an elite team of pro female gamers. The idea is to beat back the bullies by winning the games - defeating the opponents. It had the support of a few streamers and the National Organization for Women (note: these people did not provide monetary support to the project). Which is weird that people are okay with combating bullying with more bullying. The thin line that Bully Hunters had to not cross was making sure they didn't harass back. The point of the team is to go in covertly and beat the bullies at the game they are playing. Not to harass or throw down shade.

As of yesterday, the project has ended. A lot of concern has been brought up by the gaming community (and rightly so) coupled with a disastrous first stream spelled an early death for Bully Hunters. Once Bully Hunters went public, people were quick to research the history of the streamers affiliated with them - finding some had a past of using racial and homophobic slurs during live events. Even the way that the stream was to be held was raising red flags. Companies that originally supported the group are now distancing themselves.

Bullying and harassment in the gaming world needs to be addressed and stopped. But it goes beyond fixing what's happening in games. It's also a social issue that affects us in our daily lives: work, home, school, church, etc. If there is anything that I've learned in my years of being bullied, it's that fighting back like a bully only makes things worse. You're more likely to be targeted, picked on, and harassed. There is a literal and figurative moral high ground you need to take. Talk to your parents and teachers or get the police involved if it's serious enough. Don't give any attention to your bullies (seriously, this is one of the biggest reasons why people bully - for the attention). Don't give them the time of day. Keep living your life. Ignore them. And eventually they will get the idea and leave you be. Pro Tip: You should still report them so they don't harass someone else.

If you think this is where the Bully Hunters saga ends, you'd be wrong. Because of course the founder is receiving a wall of hate, violence, and death threats on her social media. It's a woman trying to combat bullying in video games. That's already put a target on her. And it's unfortunate that people are doing this. It's further exemplifying the need to address and stop harassment. The people commenting can hide behind the cloud of "Bully Hunters is wrong" while they issue their threats, but that doesn't remove them from their actions. You can criticize something (as I did in the previous paragraph) without turning it into hate. But if Bully Hunters wanted to show how big the problem was, they certainly did!

Gamers, we have a long way to go. But it's a bigger problem than bullying in games. It's bullying and harassment in society that needs to be addressed for there to be a resolution.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Thank goodness it's Friday! It's been a rough week; mostly due to me having to battle post-convention sickness. But in general, the news week for games has been slow. You'll see why in the Weekly Link Round Up. A gathering of the best (which is questionable this week), worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet.

- JSTOR Daily, a scholastic news site that utilizes academic journals, has an article titled 'Why Are Video Games So Great?' I warned you all this was not going to be a good Round Up. Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, discusses the impact of World of Warcraft on gamers and guilds. Not from the game's supposed "realism," but what the player can extract from the game to apply to their own lives. The article is pretty lame, but the paper is worth a read if you sign up with JSTOR for free.

- The BAFTA winners have been announced, with Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice taking home 5 awards, and What Remains of Edith Finch winning the game of the year, beating out Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I think we're all equally surprised by that.

- I don't know how real this article is, but I can't find any sources to disprove it. According to the AFP News Agency, there is possibly a growing backlash against South Korean female developers who are pushing for changes in the industry. While women are 42% of the gaming force in the country, they make up less than 25% of the development community. #MeToo has spread across the globe and South Korea is experiencing their own movement with it. Starting with politics, it's spreading to other industries. It should be no surprise that gaming is one of them, and that those in power are pushing back against changes for equality. Women are afraid to speak up for fear of repercussions. Some are being investigated for simply following feminist-like Twitter accounts. We'll keep this story updated as it unfolds.

- The FTC has recently sent letters to several companies, including gaming hardware makers, about the language with their warranties. Specifically, that a warranty should not be voided if the end users has to open the product to fix it - unless the company provides free parts and services. The companies involved have been asked to resolve their policies within 30 days before legal action is taken. We don't know which companies were called out, since letters were sent to cell phone and car makers. But if it's one of the big console makers like Sony or Nintendo, this could have long-term ramifications that will be a win for consumers!

- Modding is not new to the gaming scene. Modding of GameBoy's is the newest trend, and there are some hella-cool systems out there. I still have a number of these, and while I'm not likely to mod mine, I can see the appeal. Better graphics, different skins and buttons, brighter interfaces. Check out the Kotaku article for the inside look of GameBoy Modding.

- Finally, an article from the Wall Street Journal on why parents are on board with Fortnite. I don't know what makes this game so much more special than Minecraft or any MMO, but there you go.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The King of Kong has Been Dethroned Again!

The King of Kong has been knocked off his perch. Billy Mitchell, the uncontested champion of multiple arcade games for decades, has had his scores removed from the Twin Galaxies library after a dispute arose from one of the members, Jeremey Young (@xelnia). You can read the full statement from the site here.

Twin Galaxies was one of the first authorities on recording game scores in the arcade era - spanning decades of rosters and stats. They are pretty much the go-to for all things "records" when it comes to games. Mitchell has been a mainstay for Twin Galaxies, even acting as a psuedo-celebrity for their events. Young provided evidence that the original Donkey Kong game board could not possibly replicate Mitchell's score without modifications being made. He compared Michell's infamous "King of Kong" video tape (one that Mitchell sent in to throw Steve Wiebe off the podium) to the game's technical specs. Twin Galaxies did their own testing and recruited 2, third party sources, to verify Young's claims.

Twin Galaxies score records require gamers to use the original hardware only. No modifications. No alterations.

With their findings, the group has removed all of Mitchell's records. He is also no longer the first to reach 1 million points in Donkey Kong. That honor will go to Steve Wiebe - who did this in person at a Twin Galaxies event with an official machine.

What's next? Mitchell can attempt to dispute the findings, but it may be difficult to overturn this decision given how thorough Twin Galaxies was with their investigation.

If that musical is still being planned, this is another plot twist to the saga!

Update 1:23pm: I beat Kotaku to a story. Huzzah!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Steam's New Privacy Settings Upset Outside Sites

Steam recently released an update that changed some of the privacy settings for users. Specifically, hiding users game libraries by default. It also removed coding that allowed third party websites to track gaming trends on the service. If you want to know about how well a game is doing, you have to bury yourself into Steam's website and hope you find what you need. Steam Spy, one of the largest aggregators of Steam data, has been dead in the water since this update.

Now to be fair, in the wake of the Facebook privacy issues, Steam updating their policies and adding more options is a good thing. I personally am very protective of my data, even on a gaming site like Steam. I probably would hide my gaming library if given the option. The problem is that Steam did this as a default and didn't notify anyone. Ironic given that Valve praised sites like Steam Spy at GDC for providing in-depth analysis that people could rely on before making a purchase.

Users can also hide their total game play time. They are looking into adding an "invisible" mode in a future update. Again, the problem is not the settings. Rather, Valve did it and didn't tell anyone that they hid their games as the "default" option. Usually the public setting is the standard with the option for you to hide it. Valve has not commented on the matter. Needless to say, a number of Steam-based sites are out of commission until people start un-hiding their library.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

PUBG Developer Suing Copy-Cat Games

With the popularity of PlayUnknown's Battlegrounds, it' should be no surprise that copy-cat games have been released en-mass to capitalize on the craze. PUBG Corp. has filed a suit against NetEase for 2 games that they claim are clones of their product.

The games Rules of Survival and Knives Out, they claim mimic the PUBG look and sounds, including catchphrases. The lawsuit also claims that the games used false advertising by promoting content only available in PUBG, and not in the NetEase products. You can see game play comparisons throughout YouTube that, if given different shading and colors, the products are pretty similar.

Originally PUBG Corp. sent a notice to Apple to have the apps removed from the iPhone store, but NetEase refuted the claim - this sparked the lawsuit. PUBG is asking for damages from the potential loss in sales, and for the games to no longer be available. No court date has been set yet, but there's a good chance NetEase will fight against the lawsuit.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Good morning gamers. It's not Friday, but that doesn't stop us from rolling out the welcome rug for the Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week. Here's what we've got in store:

- If you live in the UK and want to work for a developer, you should probably avoid Rockstar North and King. After a law passed in 2016/2017, companies with 250 or more employees were required to report on salaries to compare the figures between men and women. This was meant to help combat the issue of the gender pay gap. Seeing the numbers for Rockstar are sobering, and utterly depressing. Game Industry.biz crunched the numbers and determined that women at Rockstar are paid 64% less than their male counterparts per an hourly rate. 69% of developers have a larger gender wage gap than most businesses in the UK. This must change if we expect growth in video games.

- Have you all heard of the epic tale of Moirai? A game that found viral fame when it was meant as a pet project that shouldn't see the light of day. The developers other game, Expand, was suppose to help propel the company to make more games. Moirai wasn't meant to work, and it was hacked. This is a bizarre story that could only happen in today's digital age. Check out the CNet article for more details.

- If you "play" the stock markets, you might be wondering if Fortnite is impacting shares with other businesses. In short: maybe. The free to play game is boosting Epic's value to the gaming community, but may be pulling away gamers from pay to play properties. As such, some stocks for EA and Activision have been doing a dance. While they are still ahead in gains, there is the concern that free to play games, as they continue to improve in quality, will start causing a financial mess for other developers. Personally, I think people are worrying too much about the stocks and not on the quality of the games - that's the bottom line in what will sell.

- Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku lists out the 16 types of video games, and it's not by genre. There are "types" based on one's life and how those games work into it. The time wasters, the exploring, the gathering, the "I bought this on sale and will never have time to play it" game. This article was eerily relate-able. I have a catalogue of games that would qualify as 'guilty pleasure' or 'maybe-someday.'

- This is a little too late for anyone to really care, but the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War developers have recently realized that their loot box system is screwed up. In a blog post this week, Monolith has announced that they will be removing gold boxes and the market from the game with a July 17th update that is free to all users. The ability to purchase gold will end on May 8. At this point, people have either played the game or have opted to not touch it given how restrictive the content is without buying loot boxes. But the announcement is better than nothing? It took a while, but the developers finally listened and are making changes to improve the player experience.

- We love WhatCulture lists on this round up. Here is their ranking of 8 video games that were sold on 'stupid' gimmicks. This time it's a video! A nice 7 minutes to kill during your break today. And if your first thought was "That SEGA Seaman game better be on there," well good news. It is. That was one of the best gimmicky games ever released.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Romance Ain't Easy in Games

Romance in video games is difficult.

From determining the hows and whys of romance, to dialogue options, animations, and awkward smexing, bringing a romantic relationship to digital life can be incredibly challenging. While developers like BioWare make it look easy, the complexity behind the scenes helps the romance feel seamless. Yet the process is never quite right.

I enjoy romance in games as much as the next gamer. But in the vast majority of games, whether it's an RPG or a dating simulator, many of the actions the gamer must perform are the same: flirt with the partner of your choice, agree with their dialogue options that reflect their personality, buy them gifts, commit to the relationship. It's sardonically straight forward what you need to do, though the path you take to reach these milestones can change from game to game. The power is in the player's hands, not the NPC's. Your goal is to figure out what the NPC likes and choose the right conversation options to get them to like you back. In most games, the NPC can't back out of a relationship. They can't say no if you've selected the right dialogue. They can't argue with you if you cheat on them - you may see a conversation occur afterwards but more often than not it'll be a choice wheel where you can select if you want to stay together with the NPC or break it off. Again the decision is left to the player, not the NPC.

While it sounds all doom and gloom, it's not meant to be sinister. Romance is never easy. The reality behind producing romance in games is even more complicated than what we experience on a daily basis. Some of the limitations to options and how NPC's interact with your player character are purely technological. AI's haven't advanced to the point that we can acutely replicate human emotions. NPC's are not autonomous. We'll get there. And it will be one heck of a revolution in gaming.


And games like Dream Daddy and Mass Effect: Andromeda allow the player to have multiple romantic relationships with consequences. You still hold the majority of the power as the player, but the NPC's have a say in what happens next. Start a relationship with Vetra, but if you flirt with other people, she could refuse to speak with you until the situation is addressed.

One could also argue that the structure of these games allows us to fulfill our hero fantasies. The woman/man gets the person they have been lusting after. It's not meant to be a deep philosophical conversation about what romance really is. Those are fine too. It's not reality.

Would it be nice to see more dynamic romantic content in video games? Absolutely. But there's no harm in playing the games like dating sims that allow us to fantasize about digital relationships. We can acknowledge that games are not perfect and the actions repetitive, but it is a step forward in exploring new possibilities.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Amazon Game Studio Cancelling Project

Remember in 2014 when Amazon purchased Double Helix Games to start developing it's own content? Since then, the company has been developing 3 games under the Amazon Game Studio umbrella, in hopes of cracking into the industry. In 2016 we got a glimpse of Breakaway, a mythological sports brawler that was meant to integrate into Twitch, which Amazon owns, to provide a more real-time user/viewer experience. The art looked fine and the activity that we saw within the game had potential.

Unfortunately over the weekend, the development team announced that work on the game was ending, and the group will focus on new projects. Breakaway wasn't the breakout that they were hoping for. No reasons for given other than the developers felt they weren't reaching their personal goals for the game. There is no news of if people will be let go or what will happen to the source code for the project. Maybe they will pick it back up again in a few years? The announcement was too quiet, and too subtle that maybe the studio would rather it be forgotten?

It's a quiet end to a game that had the potential to do something different, particularly with Twitch. Hopefully the developers come up with an equally interesting idea to spread to the masses.

Monday, April 02, 2018

How is 'Destiny' Still A Thing?

News flash: Destiny 2 is still a mess.

The Bungie game is trying to find it's footing in the MMO-action/adventure market, 6 months after going on sale to consumers. A recent update meant to address combat and speed issues has caused fans to be even more vocal about the problems. It feels like the game is stuck in it's format with nowhere else to go without breaking down the foundation the content was built on. Maybe that's what Bungie needs to do?

Destiny 2 is still an oddity in the gaming world. You'll find fans either love the franchise or hate what has happened to it. I'm still flabbergasted that so many people were on board with the second game, given the tepid response to the first one. This is a game that keeps pushing out updates and DLC with mixed reactions. More people talk about how Destiny looks cool than plunking down the cash to play it. Bungie seems to have a set plan on where they want to go with the content, but it doesn't mesh well with today's online market that focuses on persistent worlds and fan feedback. Given the cash flow from Bungie, they have the ability to take their time and address concerns throughout the life of the game. But the fixed have been few and fast, choosing DLC over current content problems.

It's difficult to say where exactly Destiny is going. Bungie hasn't released figures on sales, profit, or the number of users that log in. It could be that the game is going just well for them and they don't see a reason to change direction.

Can someone explain how this game is still keeping an active player-base and maintaining enough success to keep pouring money into it? I am constantly surprised at how this game stays afloat!