Editorials

Various editorials and opinion pieces.

legends

Why FIFA Ultimate Team’s Legends aren’t quite legendary

As a kid, I was suckered into collecting Panini football stickers, and it fuelled my passion for the beautiful game. As soon as I received my pocket money, off I went to the local newsagents to pick up 10 packets of stickers only to rip them open vigorously, hoping that this would be the moment that I finally get that much-needed rare sticker. The reality actually consisted of going home with a handful of swaps. Fast-forward 25 years and it seems that the clever people at EA have found a way of tapping into my youth and memories of nostalgia that I look back on through rose-tinted glasses.

I am referring, of course, to the incredibly addictive Ultimate Team in FIFA 14.

(more…)

Xbox One: After The Honeymoon…

As an early adopter of a next-generation console, I am sure there are more than a few other gamers out there who have also completed a four-hour single-player campaign of BattlefieldCall of Duty and Ryse and were left thinking, ‘did I really pay £60 per game for this?’. The funny thing is that once shine of the new features have worn off, even the most optimistic of people are left learning a few lessons from the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The old Xbox 360 days are now a distant memory, but I often reminisce through rose-tinted shades about a time where I could be in a party chat with friends without ruining anyone else’s gaming experience with our childish banter. These were simple times where the push of one button gave access to your own friend’s list, achievements and chat party feature without having to think about the obsession of the 21st century known as “the app”.

Next-gen gaming replaces all this with fools who forget to turn off Kinect in-game chat, and seem blissfully unaware that they are seriously pissing off their fellow gamers with the the most annoying of sounds, including -but not limited to – babies crying, friends talking nonsense and awful music playing at the same time.

Sometimes it feels like these people are in your living room.

Sometimes it feels like these people are in your living room.Karma seems to bitten me firmly on the ass after years of mocking my PS3 friends for waiting for lengthy game updates while my humble Xbox 360 never made me wait longer than a few minutes. In quarter four of 2013, Xbox games now take thirty minutes to an hour to install, leaving me shaking my fist like a Moto GP rider and cursing under my breath.

Any Xbox One early adopter will happily tell you of their frustration of a controller running out of juice mid-way through a game and I’m no different, which makes it baffling that the simple battery indicator that was always a button-press away was removed.

In the old days it might have annoyed me that some of my friends seemed to sign-in every 30 seconds according to the notifications, but now it feels like tumble-weed is blowing on Xbox One as I have no idea when any of my friends come online any more.

To be honest, saying “Xbox on” to impress friends and family is starting to wear off, and saying “Xbox record that” at 1am gave me an epiphany which resulted in me thinking “have a word with yourself mate”. I have since resulted in operating the console from my controller, which rapidly makes you realise that the forced Metro user interface must have been designed by a small child.

As physical media begins to fade into obscurity it’s slightly annoying to see that last week Microsoft increased its UK digital pricing for the Xbox One launch games Ryse: Son of Rome, Forza Motorsport 5, and Dead Rising 3 by £5 to £49.99. The cynical gamer inside of me thinks this has simply been put into place to allow a price cut in a January sale, but the fact remains that a downloadable file costs significantly more than a disc that has to be produced and shipped into stores, yet is widely available to buy for £39.99.

£49.99 for 5 hours?

Even if you are happy paying the inflated digital download price, the ability to see the remaining hard drive space has disappeared from the Xbox One, making it cumbersome to effectively manage your disk space.

I am quite conscious that my words may come across like a grumpy old man, but rest assured I still love my new console and am happy that I upgraded. I just feel somewhat baffled that Microsoft neglected to include so many basic and regularly used features on release, which suggests a complete lack of understanding of their consumer base. Sure, these and many other features will be restored in future updates, but how much was much missing on launch leaves me wanting to ask a whole heap of questions.

On a positive note, there are a growing number of interesting games on the horizon and this console will continue to evolve into something special, so I will refrain from speaking too harshly of the Xbox One. Despite a few niggles, this early adopter has no regrets.

Should An Xbox Live Subscription Mean No Adverts?

Xbox Live has recently celebrated its 10th birthday, and there is no doubt that the service has come a long way since it was unleashed on the gaming masses in more primitive times. The ground-breaking service offered console owners an opportunity to live the worldwide multiplayer dream, but at the cost of the infamous annual subscription that seemed like a fair trade-off at the time.

The annual Microsoft Xbox Live subscription has remained with a £40 price tag for some time now. In 2012, however, this fee is rapidly feeling incredibly outdated and a tad expensive, like a TV license. Though it’s not the price that I have a problem with, but what you get for your money that troubles this frugal gamer.

For example, take a quick look over at the PlayStation Plus deal. For around the same price, you will find that subscribers are rewarded with free games, 1-hour free access to full games and 50% discounts.

If I moved to America, then my Xbox Live Gold subscription would entitle me to view ESPN and Netflix, but over here in the UK, everything offered to you requires further subscription payments to third parties. So let me get this straight, I pay £40 a year for the opportunity to buy more stuff and be bombarded with adverts at every opportunity?

The Xbox Live Metro dashboard has turned into one massive advertising billboard, where you are bombarded with constant streams of advertising. Anything that may be of use has now been buried and replaced by boxes containing more adverts.

Although you can pin your favourite apps, the option to pin the System Media Player is suspiciously absent and ironically the most used app of all for many gamers. So why am I now paying so much money to have so much advertising rammed down my throat?

The world has rapidly moved on and changed since 2002, and customers are a much more sophisticated/savvy bunch where they are used to paying a fee to avoid advertising. To charge people a fee for a premium service only to then offer nothing but advertisement is considered bad form for even the most laid-back gamer.

Possibly one of the biggest reasons we all have such fond memories of the Blade system is down to the fact it was a time of minimal advertising. Gamers switched on their Xbox and were offered episodes of Sent U a Message or Inside Xbox, which gave the service a community vibe that now appears to have been killed for good.

What followed as we all know was a poorly designed dashboard , which caused the Inside Xbox videos to be buried behind a user-unfriendly menu system which were soon to be cancelled and replaced by, you guessed it, more of those pesky advert boxes.

Although it is true that the humble Xbox 360 is no longer just a games console as it also has the new role of media entertainment hub to live up to, sometimes you are left thinking it doesn’t know what it wants to be, which just leaves one big mess on the dashboard.

Looking for new XBLA or indie games has become one big chore. Imagine for a moment that you have just created your very own indie game and it is has just been published on Xbox Live. Could you honestly direct them to the download of you proud creation in a few words? More than likely the conversation would go something like: ‘Go to Home… Social… Games… Browse Games… Go past Featured… Arcade… On Demand and finally Indie’. Should it be this hard to find a game you are being told about, never mind one you don’t know even exists?

Sure there is Bing voice search, but there is always the risk of looking like a mad man repeating yourself loudly at your Xbox as it struggles to understand your regional accent, making you feel like Alan Partridge using voice recognition.

Dare I say this, but maybe Microsoft should take a few pointers from Apple. They’ve built their success by not having the best hardware, but by having the easiest, most user-friendly interface that anyone can use and find what they are looking for.

Whatever your thoughts on the subject, we all use our console differently. So maybe we should be able to fully customise our dashboard to make the Xbox experience better suited to our individual needs, to create a unique experience. This is now what customers across the board expect from any service, and Microsoft have missed a quick win here.

Competition is always the consumer’s biggest friend as it allows punters to be more demanding and get the best deal or service possible. With this in mind, Microsoft seriously need to rethink their strategy. If they think that they can continue charging their users £40 for very little in return except aggressive advertising, they will be heading for very tough times, and this is something none of us want to see.

Minecraft: Putting Imagination Back Into Gaming

The games industry now rivals Hollywood, with millions being invested in triple-A titles that have budgets similar to a summer blockbuster movie. The media circus is constantly warning how big games such as Assassins Creed, Far Cry, Call of Duty and Hitman are corrupting our nation’s youth whilst blurring the line between fact and fiction.

Daily Mail-type newspapers will be quick to tell you that our kids are being manipulated into thinking killing and stealing is acceptable, but of course we all know that this is sensationalist nonsense. What you don’t read in the media is how the school playgrounds are no longer talking about the latest Call of Duty maps or kill streaks. Young gamers in droves are turning their back on expensive, violent games that show a complete lack of imagination, and their familiarity with the rehashed sequels every year breeds nothing but contempt for them.

Studio executives have a complete lack of understanding of their audience, mainly because a middle-aged man in a suit has long lost something that cannot be recaptured, something which young gamers have in abundance. What I am talking about here is imagination. This one word encapsulates what video-games were built on, and have returned to, in a somewhat poetic circle.

Last week, Minecraft became the first game to dethrone the Call of Duty franchise that has dominated the top position of the Xbox Live activity chart for several years now. A fantastic David vs. Goliath story, where an indie developer can destabilise the establishment.

Last week the Golden Joystick awards saw Minecraft win the XBLA best downloadable game, and a new category was born in the form of ‘YouTube Gamer Award’. Sponsored by YouTube, this saw the triumph of Yogscast, arguably one of the reasons for the success of Minecraft with their semi-improvised comedy drama known as “Shadow of Israphel”.

Minecraft is a world where you build to survive the dangers of the night, and where the only limit is your imagination. Yet for some reason, most people over 30 cannot grasp this simple concept, which is something that is nothing short of fascinating.

On many occasions, I have found myself in a room full of adults that simply cannot comprehend why their kids are captivated by this game and its retro visuals that look 20 years past their sell-by-date. It doesn’t take long until someone says something like: “Why would you play something like this, on a powerful games console when there are so many games with amazing graphics to play?” The kids give a knowing look to each other and sigh at these adults that do not understand their world.

Who are the stupid ones here? Young gamers who are working together using their collective imagination to build something unique? Or the mature gamers, who play the same Call of Duty maps every single night so they can prestige for the 10th time, like a deranged lab rat looking for a reward in the form of a shiny new symbol next to their gamertag?

We are now living in a world where buzzwords such as ‘innovation’ and ‘engagement’ are paramount to the long-term success of anything, and this is what the makers of Minecraft have tapped into. Change is the only thing in life that is constant, and there is something quite beautiful about our children shunning what has been repeated and repackaged to them. In contrast, they are thinking for themselves, and the fact that imagination and creating something unique is an alien concept to the powers that be is quite a sad state of affairs.

Studios have become lazy, and mistakenly thought gamers were lazy too. They thought if they packaged stunning graphics and a few spectacular explosions, they would have a winning formula on their hands. Yet big budget games are rapidly becoming a shallow and empty experience. Quick Time Events mean the gamer just sits there and has to quickly press a button that pops up during a cut-scene, before being bombarded with adverts, more cut-scenes and nubile women characters; because we are all dumb shits, right?

Hell no. Gamers of all ages are much more sophisticated than that, and the winds of change in the air is proof of just that. Gamers voted for games such as Minecraft and Skyrim to win Golden Joystick awards last week rather than Call of Duty. There must be a more than a few worried people out there, as the rehashed sequel business model just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Mainstream media very often prefers to demonise the youth of today, as well as our beloved pastime. The fact that young gamers have reminded us that the concentration on graphics alone is the reason games have been going downhill lately is refreshing, inspirational and heart-warming, in my opinion.

Maybe we can all learn a lesson from this and concentrate on the games themselves rather than the graphics, and realise the power of our imagination that many of us have left dormant after many years of neglect.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II – The Hype Has Returned, But At What Cost?

In my cynical mind, I have a vivid scenario of the big sales pitch for Call of Duty: Black Ops II and it involves a dark war room similar to the movie Dr Strangelove. Everyone shuffles uncomfortably as they announce the next instalment will feature futuristic action set in 2025, and also announces that they will  throw in more zombies, because gamers can’t get enough of zombies right?

A man wearing black gloves starts a slow clap, and all of the other lackeys then follow suit. There you have this year’s updated franchise, which is rapidly becoming an annual £70 subscription service packaged as a new game.

Love it or hate it, this series will once again split the gaming community into two camps. One will defend their favourite game to the end, whilst the other will attack both the publishers and developers for stifling creativity and innovation, by essentially releasing a rehashed version of the same game each year.

Many of even the game’s biggest fans will happily say something along the lines of “single player is not worth bothering with; it’s all about multiplayer”. This is more than a little concerning for anyone who has a genuine love of gaming or the art of storytelling, with characterisation over shiny explosions.

If explosions and zombies don’t convince you to buy the latest instalment, there was one final trick up their PR’s sleeve: a big release party full of celebrities enjoying a game of COD, whilst also posing happily for PR photos.

The last few weeks have already caused many gamers to be suspicious of big gaming websites or magazines, and their relationships with game publishers and PR. So I’d like to think that the average punter is above little tricks like this now.

Sure we are living in the age of celebrity, but to gush over staged PR shots of Professor Green or Chris bloody Kamara playing Call of Duty is of no help to anyone at all. It further clouds the relationship  between publication and publisher, where everyone gets cosy with the latest round of rent-a-celebs.

Unbelievable Jeff

Call me cynical, but I am always wary when a big release has a review embargo of until after most hardcore fans have already purchased the game. I also question just how long the reviewer in question has actually spent with the game in question, rather than just rush a review out to be one of the first to get the quick hits.

The fact that I awoke to four emails containing photos to show how various celebrities enjoyed themselves at the launch party, but still no reviews of the game are allowed to go live, left a bad taste in the mouth.

Only time will tell if incorporating science fiction into COD game will pay off. I suspect people will get carried away with the hype again this Christmas, only to be left with that horrible empty feeling several months later and the realisation that the bastards have done it to them again.

Believe it or not, I am quite partial to playing COD. It’s my guilty pleasure that I spend an hour or two with when I just want to switch off, so please don’t be fooled into thinking I’m just another hater. However, when I hear Black Ops II’s director Dave Anthony stating that his game will overtake most Hollywood releases financially, whilst also referring to movies as “100 years old”, I am left thinking: “you arrogant prick; I don’t want anything to do with this and the effects it is has on the industry that I am so passionate about.”

Although Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, sometimes it’s what the franchise stands for that I have an issue with. There is a fear amongst gamers that if some publishers have their way, this will be the only type of game you can play and the days of exploring an unquestionably beautiful world for hours at a time like such as Skyrim will rapidly become a forgotten pleasure. Our tiny minds will instead be bombarded with 10 images a second, until we have the attention span of a child flicking through channels on the TV.

So enjoy your COD fix, and I will even join you for a game now and then. That said, why not try something else too this year, and support a developer that has created something brave and unique when making that must-have Christmas list?

Free-To-Play or Pay-To-Win?

Unless you have been living in a dark room being forced to watch banal TV for the last 18 months, you will have probably noticed that the gaming industry is currently at the crossroads of a massive transition.

The mobile and tablet gaming scene is thriving, there are new consoles on the horizon and digital distribution gathers pace. A gaping hole in the middle divides the world of triple-A titles and the cheap and cheerful games available for a few pounds.

This has led to a few experiments of business models and phrases such as ‘episodic’ or ‘free-to-play’ gaming have become common place as they bid for the middle ground, but what does all this mean to the average gamer?Microsoft have finally dipped their toes into the waters known as ‘free-to-play’ with the recent release of “Happy Wars”. Although it doesn’t sound too familiar or exciting, it will go down in the history books as the first free-to-play game to hit the Xbox Live Arcade and will probably be filed next to the day that Skynet became self-aware, if some theories are to be believed.

The concept of free-to-play is often a subject that both gamers and developers will speak passionately about, albeit for very different reasons.

For example, this is a real game-changer from a developer’s point of view, who now have a massive change of focus on their hands. Compulsion psychology is now required to ensure the gamer is completely engaged in the game and immersed into another world enough to incite players to part with their hard-earned cash.

Traditionally, gamers are quite a savvy and cynical bunch that see through this and believe that free-to-play should actually be called ‘pay-to-win’, especially if you keep getting your ass kicked online by a kid using his Dad’s credit card.

He who pays...wins

However, this is not always the case. When done right, many successful F2P games are the ones that only sell cosmetic items or items you could buy with in-game money.

Frustrated and purist gamers are often under the impression that developers are moving to F2P for all the wrong reasons, because they are concentrating on making money rather than creating better games.

In truth, the Western world has been very slow to mimic the infamous and traditionally Asian business model where games built around micro-transactions rule. This has been confined to massively multiplayer online games (MMO) on the whole, but this is also slowly starting to change and may even begin to encroach on the beloved single-player experience.

The incompleteness of most F2P games does not compute with my psyche that demands a beginning, middle and end. If I do arrive in a world where the best features are hidden behind a pay wall, the stubborn gamer insider of me reaches for the delete button after muttering something like “I play the game, the game will never play me…”

Headlines such as ‘F2P is the future’ are of little help to anyone, and only tell a small part of the story, as there is always room for both options. The battle we are witnessing is for the middle ground that sits outside your multi-million-selling big releases and sequels.

In the ideal world there is room for everyone, but the worrying aspect of recent trends leaves the fear that we will begin to see fewer single-player games, with their strong storylines and characterisation that has always felt like the heart and soul of gaming which we have all grown up with.

Electronic Arts first introduced the free-to-play concept in one of its games when it released FIFA Online in Korea. As a small example of how much money we are talking about here, EA Sports chief Andrew Wilson told Venture Beat back in June that “I think when we had a packaged-goods FIFA based in Korea, I think we were at about a 25 million dollar business down there,” he said. “I think what we’ve talked about publicly is that these days, that’s nearly a 100 million dollar business. That’s a free-to-play experience.“  This is just for the FIFA franchise alone, so how long until EA bring a similar strategy to the West?

Sure, change is the only thing in life that is constant and everything must evolve. However, the old phrases of ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ and ‘if it is too good to be true then it probably is’, feel more appropriate than ever.

I don’t want to become like a lab rat jumping through hoops in search of some kind of virtual cheese award. My love of gaming originates from an appreciation of the art of storytelling and story arcs, which gaming has proved can be just as powerful as any book or movie. To sacrifice all of this for an empty soulless experience is a price that I won’t be paying

FIFA 13 vs. PES 2013 The Debate Continues

To avoid any arguments or confrontation, there are three subjects to avoid in conversation: religion, politics, and the big FIFA vs. PES debate that rages each year and divides gaming football fans whilst raising tensions in a heartbeat.

Before this debate gets underway, I feel compelled briefly explain my history with the biggest football games in Europe before a barrage of abuse is aimed in my general direction.

Way back in 2005 before This Is My Joystick existed in this world, fans of arcade-style football games played FIFA whilst real football fans scoffed and played what many considered to be the best football game ever made, which was Pro Evolution Soccer 5. Rather than beating someone 6-0, gamers had to play tactically like the beautiful game and grind out a 1-0 win.

It was around this time that I became acquainted with our editor Andy Corrigan on a website called Pro Evo Network, where a full league quickly became Nirvana for footy fans and my management of the French side Rennes will stay with me forever (which is not something I should probably admit in the public domain).

PES 6 came along the following year and although the game had a few issues, it was probably my most played football title ever. Yet after this glory period, a wind of change swirled through the traditional football games as PES quite frankly went to shit and was riddled with lag and strange glitches. Meanwhile, back in EA headquarters, FIFA was changing things and ironically becoming a thinking man’s football game, whilst PES started to have an arcade-like feel in a bizarre switch-around. The rest, as they say, is history.

Enough of the past. This is 2012 and we have two brand new games to play, but the age-old argument of ‘which is better: PES or FIFA’ rages on as it always has.

Although I am guilty of switching to FIFA in recent years, I still play with PES controls and zoom the camera out when putting my game head on, so maybe this is where my heart lies.

PES comes to life on the pitch.

With great excitement and a hint of nostalgia I opened my review copy of PES on the 13thSeptember after being genuinely impressed by the demo, but my excitement quickly turned to disappointment to see that the Man Utd squad contained Berbatov but Van Persie was nowhere to be seen. I’m sure this will be corrected in an update, but this is mid September; it can’t be that difficult to have something like this ready.

Enough of my complaining. I’m a sucker for a David vs. Goliath story, so let’s resist being shallow by mocking the fact that FIFA have so much money that they can own the vast majority of licenses, forcing PES to include made-up names of players and team names such as West London Whites. Gaming is not all about names and labels, so let’s take a look at what the game itself has to offer.

PES fans will be familiar with the Become a Legend, Master League and licensed Champions League modes, but the true strength of PES has always been the gameplay which takes time to master but brings great rewards to those that invest a little time.

If you think football games just consist of a sprint, pass, through-ball, cross, tackle and shoot button then this is probably not the game for you. To get the most out of this game you need to master a control system known as ‘PES Full Control’. A quick look at the manual illustrates that this is no arcade game.

PES players have unbelievable tekkers.

Once again this feels like the PES that we all fell in love with so many years ago, despite us drifting away and becoming spoilt by EA with their shiny bells and whistles. The gameplay and controls that PES offers feels like being reunited with an old friend that you could talk with for hours.

Many aspects of the game may look a little too old school on the surface to gain any new adopters, but I can still promise great rewards for those that are willing to give this underdog a chance. This is the best offering from Konami in many years.

FIFA is quite the opposite of PES and is all about more bang for your buck in an unashamed Jerry Bruckheimer movie kind of way; some might say that it is shallow with no heart and soul, but it will entertain the hell out of you whether you like it or not.

EA continue their strong partnership with Sky Sports and footy fans will giggle with delight when a player pulls up limping only to hear the commentator say “Now we go down to our sideline reporter, Geoff Shreeves”.

There is no escape from this attempt at authenticity. If you head over to Career mode, you get Sky’s Alan McInally announcing other goals from games around you with boundless amounts of enthusiasm and lines such as “Michael Owen with a long-range screamer”, not to mention talking you through penalties as they happen. This genuinely gives you the feeling you are actually being featured on Sky Sports.

There are negatives to FIFA though. Ultimate Team is probably in need of an overhaul and appears to be little more than a Vegas Casino. The only purpose is to empty your wallet as quickly as possible before you get bored of the game and look back thinking: “did I really spend £50 on virtual items?”

With so many game modes at your disposal (over 50 tournaments for starters), the menu system can be darn right confusing sometimes and has been neglected by EA; it desperately needs some attention.

Separating the online pro and offline pro can only be a good move which will hopefully stop offline boosters and mods ruining the online aspect of the game. The shoehorned Kinect aspect is fun, but only resulted in my wife laughing at me sat in my pants with a controller frantically shouting “Substitution” several times, only for nothing to happen.

FIFA has evolved into much more than just a football game. When starting up your console it can be quite difficult choosing exactly what to play. For example, do you continue with your offline or online career?  Simply play a season’s match? Or settle down and tweak your Ultimate Team? These are just a few of the many options available to you which will guarantee you won’t be getting bored anytime soon.

In truth, no matter what I or anyone else will tell you, your mind as to which football title you will purchase this year and which camp you belong to is a decision that has probably been made before the demos even came out. Make no mistake, though; this one particular argument will be the subject of many a heated debate in the pub and terraces over the next few weeks.

If you are a real football fan, it would be unforgivable to not give PES 2013 a try this autumn for just how far the game has improved. Sure there is the cheesy Euro pop soundtrack, dated-looking menus, lack of licensed teams, strips and players, but this has never been Konami’s strong point. You could argue that these things are just gift wrapping anyway, and their true success lies in concentrating on the most important aspect of any sports title: the gameplay itself. This season, PES fans will not be disappointed.

As for FIFA, with maybe a hint of arrogance, EA must realise they are on top of their game. Although they have tweaked rather than revolutionised their franchise, football fans have something that can only be described as “everything under one roof”. There are so many authentic football experiences to play through, even the hardcore fan will be kept very busy until the end of the season. In that respect, it represents better value for money.

Konami have improved PES immensely this year and edge a step closer to regaining their former glory. Yet rather than sit back on their throne, EA have raised the bar yet again with FIFA 13, which is proof that competition is good for consumers and presents gamers with a pleasant dilemma of what good football game to buy.

So although this year’s PES vs. FIFA fixture is a very tight match, I think FIFA just snatches a 1-0 win deep into injury time. Just don’t ever underestimate the underdog, because as Jimmy Greaves once said, football is a funny old game.

The Diablo III Auction House Gold Rush

The shady gangsters at Blizzard have now ensured Diablo III’s infamous real-money transactions are available in Europe, offering gamers (or maybe the odd hacker too) the ability to trade-in virtual items for real money. This is something that has amazed me for sometime, the fact that items that don’t actually exist are now a billion dollar industry.

Despite my reservations, the hawking of virtual gear for real money has been around for sometime now and is not going away any time soon, so maybe it should be of no surprise that rather than tackle this problem head on, Blizzard themselves could get a nice slice of the pie too.

This is where the line of best practice and knowing right from wrong becomes a little blurry, as Blizzard can potentially act as a pimp of sorts, by taking a cool 15% of each trade and looking the other way. If they were then to clamp down hard on suspicious activity, then they are also cutting into their own profit.

To give you an idea about the kind of money we are talking about here, a friend of mine entered a pub recently with the biggest smile I have ever seen. “You won the lottery?” I asked.

Close, I have just sold a virtual one-handed mace, shiny ring, wizard hat and a shield for £800!” he replied.

As he went into more detail, I was quickly made aware that both Blizzard and Paypal (yes, them again) will be taking a hefty cut of the sales, but this still left him with over £500 in his pocket for selling four virtual items. Ultimately, everybody walked away from this deal very happy.

He had spent over 100 hours of gameplay to earn his bounty, which you could argue paid him £5 an hour for playing a game, and there are much worse ways of earning money. However, when this kind of money is at stake, there will always be unscrupulous characters that will always look for the angle or loophole on how they can make quick easy money.

The harsh truth is that hacking is much more widespread than some would have you believe. Just like real life, there will be people who have plundered thousands of accounts, waiting for their day to strike like a cobra to fence their stolen gold for real money, as long as they stay under Blizzard’s radar.

A quick read of how China has used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work, where it is thought that there are 100,000 full-time gold farmers for World of Warcraft, quickly opens your eyes to just how much money is involved here.

Call me old-fashioned, but gaming should be about fun and not about scavenging an online world looking for swag to make a few quid. Shouldn’t Blizzard concentrate on making the best possible game they can, and move away from milking their cash cows until they run dry? Their behaviour is becoming incredibly boring and predictable now.

How many other publishers are watching this very closely and thinking about introducing their own real money auctions, with a tasty 15% cut to maximise their profits? Could this open the floodgates and quickly become common place?

Microsoft hinted only a few days ago that this Autumn, Xbox 360 achievements could soon be used to earn real-life Microsoft Points, when they Tweeted “Coming Fall: a new way to earn Rewards based on your Achievements“, sending the internet rumour mill into overdrive.

If something like this really does take off, we could end up in the situation where to be successful in an online game, you will need to have bloody good hacking skills and an army of bots at your disposal or a bulging bank account. The alternative would be to face a fate of getting your ass kicked night after night by people who prefer to take the shortcut to success.

What are your thoughts of the real money auction house? Is it harmless making a few pounds from your hard-earned gaming hours, or will it simply open Pandora’s Box and ruin gaming as we know it?

The £100 Video-Game Debate

A good friend of mine was telling me how Forza Motorsport 4 has cost him over £100 since last year’s October release date. His enthusiasm for everything Forza related has far from dwindled and after purchasing every DLC pack, the racing title remains in pole position as the most played game in his home.

As a frugal gamer, I often find myself getting frustrated with my friend who would rather pre-order limited editions at the maximum price and end up with an extra character and a few postcards for £60, only to then spend an additional £40 on extra download content because he failed to take advantage of the DLC Season pass. This conversation made me ask if the £100 video-game is going to become more commonplace in 2012.

We all have our favourite game of choice and if you can add to that experience by getting more of it, then it can only be a good thing. That said, the same question I keep hearing is: Are gamers getting more hours out of each release or simply spending a lot more on each release?

A season pass could end up saving you money.

If there are people out there who have spent over £100 on Forza 4, it is of no surprise to hear that Forza Horizon will be released during the Christmas silly season, in yet another attempt to milk a cash cow for every last drop. We have all seen this happen many times over and our favourite franchises become stale very quickly. Maybe it’s also almost impossible to justify a cost-to-value ratio with a £100 game, so what is the answer?

Before you think this is going to be another “Rip-off DLC” article, I think it’s fair to say there are many positive examples. The most recent being Max Payne 3, which already boasted a meaty single player campaign and enough additional features to keep even the most easily-distracted gamer happy, making it worth every penny of the retail price.

Additionally, you can purchase The Rockstar Pass, which grants you access to download all upcoming Max Payne 3 DLC and can be purchased for 2,400 Microsoft Points (Xbox Live), or around £20 in real money which is a 35% discount compared to purchasing the content individually.

A quick look at the DLC release schedule for Max Payne 3 illustrates that for £20 you will be kept pretty busy until October. With a total layout of around £55 with individual prices, there is a strong argument that this represents very good value for money.

June 2012

  • Local Justice Map Pack

Summer 2012

  • Disorganized Crime Map Pack
  • Deathmatch Made In Heaven Mode Pack
  • Hostage Negotiation Map Pack
  • New York Minute Co-Op Pack

Fall 2012

  • Painful Memories Map Pack
  • Trickle Down Economics Map Pack

This also demonstrates a very cunning, shrewd and calculating manoeuvre by Rockstar, because once the DLC for Max Payne 3 finishes its run, you can guarantee that an almost identical package will be announced for their next release: Grand Theft Auto V. There might even be room for a Max Payne Game of the Year Edition to maximise profits even more.

This will ensure a steady 12 months income from only two releases, showing fantastic business foresight. Something that many other struggling publishers could learn from. By simply following a few simple rules and ensuring that a game represents fantastic value at release, with a wealth of extra content for a reasonable price, most gamers will be very happy.

This is also a much better way of dealing with the thorn in their side, the second-hand or rental market. Rather than piss off your community by making them purchase online pass codes, why not simply produce a game that is packed with features and value that stops you wanting to trade it in for something else?

Although Rockstar Games have never said that a DLC pass is a sales tactic to deal with the used games market, it seems an alternative way of tackling the problem by simply encouraging gamers to keep playing rather than discarding the title after a few weeks.

This is not rocket science that we’re talking about here. If a game consists of a 6-8 hour single-player campaign and with a rushed online component that is tacked on, and then requires an online pass, I can tell you now that we probably won’t be holding onto it for very long. If you make something that is great value and makes gamers want to keep playing at a reasonable price, nobody will be renting or trading in your game.

Unfortunately, not many publishers have this kind of business acumen and seem as out of touch with their customers as the dinosaurs in the recording industry. They will ultimately perish in the same way.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you happily pay £20 for six months worth of DLC rather than an online pass, or is there room in the market for both forms of sales tactics?

Let us know your thoughts on this prickly subject by posting a comment below.

The End Of The Gaming Season

Football, Rugby, Cricket, NFL, NHL and even our beloved pastime of gaming all have something in common. They all have seasons. “What?” I hear you mutter under your breath. Think about it for a moment. From September until December, we are bombarded with triple-A video games that dominate our lives, and we wonder how we can possibly afford all of those must have titles before Christmas.

After Christmas, we get treated to a handful of must-have titles from developers that have decided to take the sensible option, releasing their games well away from the crazy period, ensuring more attention and increased sales. Mass Effect 3 was a cracking example of this and gained many an envious look from other publishers, probably wondering “Why didn’t we think of that?!”

In my mind, there is only one games publisher/developer that knows how to end the gaming season in style. I am of course talking about Rockstar Games. Grand Theft Auto IV (April 2008), Red Dead Redemption (May 2010), L.A. Noire (May 2011) and Max Payne 3 (May 2012) have all traditionally been the final big release before summer, until the gaming season picks up again in September.

This simple tactic shows that releasing your game at a time when people have very little else to choose from will get punters to quickly jump on board, especially with an uber cool reputation like Rockstar’s. If you doubt this observation, have quick look at the release schedule up until the end of August, how many big releases can you see on the horizon?

At the moment, gamers are probably split into two camps. The frustrated Diablo III players, and the gangster-loving, Jack Daniels (sorry, I meant Kong) drinking Max Payne 3 fans. After this, there isn’t a great deal to anticipate in the form of premier game titles.

The reason for this is that when the sun comes out in the summer, the dreaded “Please adjust brightness slide bar until the sign is barely visible” screen becomes incredibly annoying when you have a rhombus of light coming through your window preventing you from seeing anything at all.

The dreaded brightness config screen is not welcome on a Summer’s day.

Despite some portions of the media thinking that most gamers are suffering with Vitamin D deficiency or a bad case of rickets because of playing a few games, the actual truth is that it’s quite difficult to game on a hot summers day. Many of us will migrate to beer gardens across the land, before returning once the leaves fall from the trees and the cold dark nights return.

With this in mind, I think it’s fair to say that the gaming season, in the UK at least, is based from September to May. The summer months contain minimal gaming excitement, due to companies wanting to maximum profits and to avoid the apathy of the fickle gamer that leave their console alone when good weather comes.

As for Rockstar? Well, they have a double whammy up their sleeve this year. Not content with sealing the end of the season with Max Payne 3, they also have the much awaited Grand Theft Auto V appearing later in October. Ensuring big sales at the beginning and the end of the gaming season is a master-stroke.

If the band White Lies can sell a bucket load of albums by releasing them in January when nobody else is brave enough, then maybe fortune does favour the brave. In this uncertain time where both publishers and developers are struggling to stay afloat, maybe a few could learn a valuable lesson from the scheduling of releases by Rockstar games.