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:

- Childcare.co.uk 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.