Gaming

YouTube Gaming Aims Sights At Twitch

Last year Amazon raised more than a few eyebrows in beating Google to purchase Twitch for a cool $1 billion. As the gaming community continues its phenomenal growth, we shouldn’t be too surprised at the recent announcement of the unimaginatively titled ‘YouTube Gaming.’

A post on YouTube’s blog yesterday revealed that YouTube Gaming is built to be all about your favorite games and gamers, with more videos than anywhere else. From “Asteroids” to “Zelda,” more than 25,000 games will each have their page, a single place for all the best videos and live streams about that title. You’ll also find channels from a wide array of game publishers and YouTube creators.

And when you want something specific, you can search with confidence, knowing that typing “call” will show you “Call of Duty” and not “Call Me Maybe.”

More details will be revealed at E3 next week in Los Angeles where the world’s press will be soaking up a plethora of announcements. We can be sure that there will be a wealth of information that will dominate our newsfeeds along with tales of million dollar game releases and virtual reality with Oculus Rift.   (more…)

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Facebook Buys Oculus Rift For $2 Billion and The Internet is Not Happy

Facebook has just announced that it’s buying Oculus Rift for $2 billion, no you are not reading some clever political satire here, the Zuckerberg behemoth has struck again!

Initial thoughts of a nightmarish future that feature the worlds population plugged into games like Farmville and Candy Crush Saga as targeted adverts are sent directly to your brain in rapid succession spring to mind but Facebook isn’t that creepy is it? I cannot help but feel a little suspicious of their motives, when they say that they want to promote a device for social purposes, anyone who has ever seen a photo of it Oculus Rift in action can see that you cannot get much more anti social than strapping a computer to your face.

The full statement from Mark Zuckerberg states the following.

“I’m excited to announce that we’ve agreed to acquire Oculus VR, the leader in virtual reality technology.

Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.

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GAME GROUP SLUMP AND THE FUTURE OF BUYING GAMES FROM THE HIGH STREET

As many of you already know, historically my experience with GAME is not very positive. This is mainly due to me being a thrifty gamer and GAME prices are just too high in these uncertain times, not to mention that their sales tactics can be too aggressive for my liking and in general, their customer assistance is more than a little over bearing.

Despite all this, I was a little saddened to hear to all too familiar headlines of the GAME Group announcing that they are expecting to have average, year-end net debt of up to £70 million and could even end up missing its EBITDA (‘earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization’) covenants set by lenders, when they are tested on February 27th. The big newspaper headlines will send shockwaves throughout the industry because the lenders could take action against the group for breaching the terms of its loans. In reality, this probably won’t happen, but it was still enough for their shares to take a massive dive after the revenue warning.

Although it was a very poor Christmas for the chain, with sales down 17.6% in the eight weeks to January 7th, Online sales over the holiday period actually increased 3.9%, with annual takings climbing and half a million new customers also signed up to the GAME loyalty programme.

Gamers rushed to buy latest releases such as Skyrim, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12, but consumers cut expenditure on other games that didn’t sell as well as expected, along with peripherals and hardware.

Can PS Vita save the Game Group?

GAME is being squeezed by online competitors and supermarkets who can offer top titles at more affordable prices. However, retail analysts note that next-generation console launches expected in 2013 will provide a much-needed future boost. All eyes will be on the highly anticipated PlayStation Vita, which launches on 22nd of February, and the Nintendo Wii U later in the year.

Although the future of other stores on the high street, such as HMV, also look very uncertain, I think that GAME and Gamestation will be fine for the immediate future. However, in order to survive they need to follow Clint Eastwood’s advice in the film Heartbreak Ridge, which is simply “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” as the gaming industry starts to move into the digital distribution era.

If the future consists of no HMV, GAME or Gamestation you could be left with the unsavoury feeling of CEX and the infamous Grainger Games to choose from, so even critics such as myself, should be very careful what you wish for.

The current economic climate is starting to bite and these kind of stories become the norm as people look at ways of cutting the costs. This usually starts with a quick look on the internet rather than costly trip to yet another faceless shopping centre.

Although I will fight against ‘clone town’ Britain, where diversity remains on the endangered list, a ghost town Britain would be so much worse. There is a great risk that the humble high streets across the land have become outdated and neglected. We seldom take the time to think about the real social and economic worth to our communities that are disappearing before our eyes, in this time of constant change.

In my day we used to queue up at a shop at midnight to buy a game…

As for gamers, our world will continue to change too, along with how we purchase our games. Maybe one day, we will look back with great nostalgia of how we used to visit a game store full of like-minded souls, talking about games or even playing them inside the store, before a friendly face tells you about all the games that are due out later in the year. You may even reminisce about how they remembered you every time you visited and the lengthy discussions that ensued.

I hope this is not the case and experiences like these can be passed onto another generation of gamers, but there is a wind of change in the air. Tales such as these will be left for you to bore your children with instead, which in many ways is quite sad.

Who am I to criticise, though, I am more guilty than you all, as I post the cheapest online deals to buy games on a daily basis, but I hope you understand the sentiments behind this particular message and my final word on the matter is that I hope both GAME and Gamestation have a presence on our high streets for a few more years to come.

Assertiveness Against Lazy Game Characters

I am an easy-going, affable guy, but there comes a time in every man’s life, where he has to be more assertive to avoid people taking advantage of his kind nature. Just lately, for these reasons my love of gaming has been put to the test. The aspect of escapism is what has always drawn me in and, of course, we all love to be the hero, but it seems to me, however, that the other characters in games are, to put it bluntly, not carrying their weight. I’m not going to take it anymore!

My love affair with the Marmite zombie adventure game Dead Island was a fairly brief one, when I took offence to several of the characters being more dead and lifeless than the zombies themselves.

For a few moments, try to imagine being trapped on the island of Banoi for real. Every step you take ends up with hundreds of zombies attacking you, but you stumble on a gang of survivors and suddenly you have the feeling that if we all work together, maybe everyone could actually get out of this mess alive.

With this in mind, what would you do in your hour of need when the new friends that are your only hope for survival, suddenly started making you their glorified errand boy?

Hank wants spark plugs, Mike sends you off for gas, Jack sends you off for medical supplies and Jeanine would like you to get her necklace she forgot in her bungalow. All the while, they all sit safe and have a nice chat about the good old days. I can’t speak for you all, but I would be telling Jeanine as politely as possible to piss off as there was more important shit going down on this cursed island than her crappy necklace.

We are going to stay here because its safe, but can you fetch us lots of stuff?

As for the rest of them, they can get off their fat asses and give me a hand fetching supplies rather than sending me on a one way trip to palookaville. I bite my tongue and carry on regardless, because it’s just a game, right?

Enter Mike, an Iraq war veteran pumped up and excitable, which may have been down to taking a little too many steroids like our old friend Brucie Kibbutz in Grand Theft Auto, but he also seems to be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. Why? Because he won’t shut up about the smell of dead bodies and wants to watch them burn, so sends me on a mission to get some gasoline.

I go out there all on my own, fighting off zombie hordes to get the required gasoline, whilst the so-called tough guy stays at base camp. Even the survivors at the petrol station do nothing but hide whilse I risk life and limb to fill up the containers. Against all the odds I make it back alive and Mike says to me “You took your fuckin time!”

At this point I ejected the CD from my console and shouted at the screen. “Took my time, Mr Tough guy Iraq war veteran? You sat there on your steroid ridden cowardly ass and that’s all you got to say?” This is where my vacation on Dead Island ended and I don’t care what happened to any of the slackers on that damn island.

A few weeks have passed and I rediscovered my gaming mojo when picking up RAGE from id Software. I quickly forgave the all-too familiar formula of futuristic adventures which must contain words such as “ark” and “cryogenics”, as I was being rescued by Dan Hagar. Dan, the founder of the Hagar settlement, is voiced by John Goodman, which quickly brought back very fond memories of Walter Sobchak in the film The Big Lebowski.

My patience was about to be tested once again because Dan was simply going to send me on several suicide missions on my lonesome, while he relaxes with a glass of whiskey in a dirty glass. “Here we go again” I thought, as more people started asking me to find buggy parts. I had to take a break at this point, and although I will return to the Wasteland, I will need to recharge my patience again first.

The growing trend in games seems to involve a gang of redundant characters sitting down and telling you to jump through hoops fetching them stuff. I don’t mind doing my bit, but the very least they can do, is accompany me on the journey and watch my back along the way. Traditionally gaming characters have not been much use and have opted to stand by your side shooting at nothing, but at least they are trying, god bless them.

If this kind of lazy behaviour was to occur in real-life and people were to ask you to fight fifty bad guys on your own just to collect trivial items for them, while they sit down with their feet up, what would you say? You would obviously ask “what exactly are you going to be doing whilst I risk my ass?”, so why do it in a game?

Am I over reacting or does anyone else get frustrated at lazy gaming characters?

GAMEFEST 2011 BIRMINGHAM NEC

Most of you reading this will already have the much-anticipated Eurogamer Expo firmly stamped in your calendar, but this year, high street store GAME has decided to get in on the act by putting on a show of their own: GAMEfest 2011 at the NEC in Birmingham. The event was exclusive for GAME Reward Card holders and is conveniently tagged on to their annual conference, allowing them to dip their toes into the event market.

The timing of the event has caused criticism from some publishers who feel torn between a new event from the UK’s biggest games retailer, and an established consumer show.

One affected publisher anonymously told MCV recently that “with just three days to move from one site to the other, many are unimpressed by the expected costs”. Eurogamer chief, Rupert Loman, told MCV he was “disappointed GAME is attempting to split the market”.

The reality is, there is room for both events and publishers should cease complaining about their overwhelming success, and realise that gamers exist outside of London town. The figures speak for themselves as last year, over 20,000 people attended the Eurogamer Expo in London and it was so successful they have doubled in size this year. The GAMEfest event has been attended by over 30,000 GAME customers and there are already plans to expand on this next year, after being taken by surprise at its success.

To put things into perspective in 2011, where the exhibition and event market has been struggling, over 70,000 people will have attended a gaming event in the UK in ten days. Gaming is now a mainstream entertainment medium and games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 will have opening weekends to rival the majority of Hollywood blockbuster movies. The world is slowly waking up to this.

GAMEfest had something special up its sleeve in the form of an exclusive showing from Activision; this was the first time UK Gamers were able to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 before its release in November. Considering the only other people to have played MW3 were at the CoD XP event in L.A along with Kanye West a few weeks ago, this is quite a coup for GAMEfest.

Upon entering the gaming hub for a presentation of MW3 by Activision, I sat down and was tweeting during a truly cringe-worthy Turtle Beach advert, I was tapped on the shoulder and told to turn my phone off. This seemed a bit of overkill, considering the majority of people have already seen this footage from E3 online anyway.

No phones allowed in the hub…

However, you cannot deny that the footage, showing you surfacing from the depths of the ocean and climbing on to a Russian submarine to witness the New York skyline ablaze (complete with the Freedom Tower in the distance), is nothing short of epic. If that doesn’t grab you, then a battle on the London Underground will make you admit that this shit actually looks good. Hey, the Daily Mail would probably be outraged but that is a foregone conclusion.

With my own fingers and thumbs I was able to play the Survival Spec Ops mode, which, I am sure you are aware, involves fending off assaults from increasingly difficult waves of enemies. I was paired with a member of the Activision team, who I must admit performed better than I did, as my accuracy rating could use a little work. The levels France and Dome were typical Modern Warfare but, with the TurtleBeach cans turned right up to eleven, it was very hard not to be won over.

Before playing Battlefield, you have to get past these guys.

When originally arriving at GAMEfest, I was expecting Battlefield to blow CoD out of the water, but after playing through the Battlefield 3 single-player mission, Operation Guillotine, which is a somewhat generic, night-based mission set on the outskirts of Tehran, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. (more…)

IS CALL OF DUTY ELITE PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION A FAIR DEAL?

When Activision originally announced their new Call of Duty Elite premium subscription package for £34.99 or $49.99 a year (or included in Modern Warfare 3‘s top-end Hardened Edition), I originally responded with “What a bloody rip off” and walked away thinking that once again, Activision were milking their cash cow for all it’s worth. They seem intent on squeezing every last drop from the world’s best selling game, whilst fleecing gamers in the process. Once I had time to calm down and look under the bonnet to see exactly what was on offer, I hate to admit that actually the deal could actually end up saving you money if MW3 is your weapon of choice.

A quick look at the FAQ reveals the following: “The annual subscription to Call of Duty Elite is an all-inclusive membership, and that means you get Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 downloadable content, including all of the MW3 map packs and more as part of your premium membership. No need to buy additional DLC.”

Previous Call of Duty games released, on average, four map packs during their life cycle. If you are the kind of CoD Fan that would buy all of these maps, the Elite Package would actually be considerably better value than buying them separately throughout the year.

There is certainly a bittersweet pill to swallow here, as the Elite members will get their hands a new batch of content every month first, rather than waiting for the usual quarterly release of multiplayer maps, extra spec ops missions and new game modes. This means that non subscribers could end up of the pace and playing catch-up, which in effect could be seen as forcing them to subscribe to get the most out of the game.

Value for money or pointless willy waving?

Personally, I am of the belief that Activision are marketing the Elite Premium subscription all wrong. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about gold clan tags, premium theatre, groups, Elite TV and various other willy waving statistic boards. The majority of people are unaware that you actually receive all MW3 DLC, which will be around twenty items and released monthly so you will always have something new in the game. If you don’t like the game, then this will never appeal to you, but for a Call of Duty regular; this is genuinely a good deal.

Although Elite Premium and EA Sports Season tickets are receiving growing criticism by offering their own services, they are arguably better value than paying Microsoft £40 Xbox Live for a marketplace to buy more things. Especially considering that if you were only ever playing FIFA online on your Xbox, which uses EA’s own servers, you have to ask: “What am I paying Microsoft for?”

The world is caught in the middle of a financial crisis and everyone, more than ever before, is having to watch what they spend. If you are one of the gamers out there who have paid  £40 to Microsoft for Xbox Live, £40 for a game and then £35 for an exclusive club, then you have just blown £115 to play one game on a console. How many people can actually afford to do this? As people begin to get more thrifty, you can see on many gaming forums that there is a growing voice of people calling Activision greedy, as they are tired of playing the same game each year.

Franchise down… Repeat, we have a franchise down.

Even hardcore CoD fans seem to be getting more excited about the release of Battlefield 3, and maybe it’s not about CoD refusing to change or even the fact Battlefield 3 has Jet Fighters; but people are simply getting tired of Activision’s greed and are starting to make a stand.

So as the haters begin to defect from CoD, the irony is that they could quite easily end up spending more anyway, as they will have to pay for individual map packs for Battlefield over a year. Gamers will never win, and maybe that’s what attracts us all; the constant challenge and thrill of the chase.

That said, if your life is not complete without CoD MW3 and all of the map packs for the next 12 months, then the Elite premium subscription package is officially a good deal, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

THE UK EMERGENCE OF GAMESTOP!

Over the last few years, supermarkets have received criticism for selling big title games like Call of Duty and FIFA at a loss, knowing that they will end up recouping the money quickly. They did this with the thinking that the average customer will probably spend more in store anyway, so on paper it’s a cunning yet shrewd move.

However, maybe gamers were too frugal and simply brought the game and nothing else, because supermarkets don’t seem to be offering the same tempting deals any more.

There is a new sheriff is in town, though, and he answers to the name GameStop. This tough hombre seems to be adopting a very familiar tactic (I’ll stop this western thing now, shall I?).

Although not hugely popular here in the UK at the moment, GameStop have been around since 1984 and are the world’s largest video-game and entertainment software retailer with 6,500 retail stores worldwide. They seem to be aggressively moving into the UK online market, which can only further affect troubled stores like GAME, who have been closing stores at an alarming rate.

For those of you that have missed out on the recent deals, last week the retailer hit the headlines when it reduced current UK No.1, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to just £20.97 for a limited period. They followed up with Driver: San Francisco for just £21.97, after tweeting the deal and advising that it would last for one hour.

Online shoppers will be more than aware of this interesting sales strategy, which comes through the medium of social networking sites such as Twitter. They can sell the most popular games at a loss, which will guarantee high levels of traffic to their website and new customer sign-ups, which would most likely be much cheaper and more effective than any big advertising and marketing campaigns.

Make no mistake though; no consumer website is actually your friend and will never operate with only your best interests at heart. It is worth remembering that GameStop also recently admitted to removing coupons from the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The coupons would have entitled buyers to sample a free copy of the title on streaming service OnLive, but Gamestop removed them as they are launching their own game streaming service in 2012. It would not be a giant leap of faith to see the importance of gathering customers information to prepare for such an event, and what better way to do this than to offer cheap games?

Deus Ex: HR for £20.97, but what’s the catch?

In under a week they have massively discounted two of the biggest games this year and when asked by Tweeters about the deals, they replied with “There’s more to come!”. I have a feeling that we will be seeing lots more gaming bargains heading our way this year, but at what cost?

As a gamer and a man that appreciates the concept of value, the allure of a gaming bargain often proves too great to resist, but it’s also very important to remember that stores selling games at a loss are doing this to destroy the competition. When your local friendly independent store has gone, you can guarantee that the bargains will no longer exist, so in the long game do you actually save any money?

I am of the belief that gamers are quite a savvy bunch and their favourite pastime prevents them from being played by marketing teams. They play the game well, which is why supermarkets have retreated a little from the price war.

You all know the risks involved. You know that you are being offered games at a steal in the hope of you signing up and becoming a loyal customer, just so they can reap the rewards in the near future. We have all played through enough story arcs to know that misguided loyalty or blind faith will kill you faster than any bullet, but we’re also wise enough to know if you play the game right you can bag yourself a true bargain.

What are your thoughts on this kind of sales strategy? Let us know how you feel about GameStop by commenting below.

Ubisoft and the growing ‘online pass’ trend

Ubisoft have announced that they will be following fellow publishers EA, Codemasters, THQ, Sony and Warner Bros in a vain attempt to tap into the elusive second-hand sales market.

The Ubisoft online pass will be coming our way in the form of the Uplay Passport, which will be a one-time code that will come with new Ubisoft games. Second-hand buyers will be able to purchase codes for £7.99 or 800 Microsoft Points. The first game to require the new pass will be the upcoming Driver: San Francisco and it will go on to be included in other big titles from the publisher, in what is for some an unpopular but unsurprising move. As a business model it is very similar to the online pass offered by EA, but as more companies try to regain some income from second-hand sales, can Microsoft continue to charge for the Xbox Live service?

In the defence of the publishers, they are defending their business from High Street stores such as GAME, who are selling pre-owned games and the publisher receives no income from this. GAME in particular have pushed their luck further by instructing staff to buy products on offer at Tesco and then marking up in their own stores. It could be argued that the Publishers and the High Street are involved in a big fight and you, the gamer, are going to be the one that gets hit hardest.

Typically, you could buy a game on release day for £39.99, which includes your online pass. If, after two months and a few items of DLC purchased for around £8, you then decide to part with the game by selling it on an auction site or by trade-in on the high street, you will get a hugely deflated price due to the slowing demand of pre-owned games; all because of the added online pass required to play it online.

So I need a passport to play a game…

High Street stores already struggling to compete with cheaper online stores will slowly lose their more profitable business of selling pre-owned games at marked up prices, and will slowly disappear. Gamers will be out-of-pocket too as the publishers re-gain control.

Over time people will buy fewer games, meaning we will see less innovation and the norm will become the Call of Duty, Battlefield and FIFA cash cows with little else on offer. For those of you that think I am overacting, a quick look at this year’s game market is already showing how quickly games are losing their value.

I remember being at the Eurogamer Expo last October and there was a huge amount of hype for Brink. There was a queue of over an hour-long wait just to get your hands on this hugely anticipated title, and people were walking away very excited. Fast forward to its release in May and a string of poor reviews ensured that the price had fallen to £14.99 within two months. Homefront was another game heavily marketed for months, but is now under a tenner.

All is not lost though, we can fight back. After all, only a huge fan (or some would say ‘fool’) would spend £40 on a game on a second-hand game, when after only two months later, you could buy the game brand new, complete with online pass for between £14.99 and £17.99.

If this happens neither the publisher nor the high street come out of this well and the savvy gamer will be the champion of champions. I fear that even this victory will be short-lived as the next generation of consoles could surely be digital download only, which would allow them to sell games at inflated prices. A quick look at Microsoft’s Games on Demand takes the smile off your face when you see games such as Crackdown 2 can be purchased for £19.99 but can be found for only £5 at an online store.

Will the future see you paying big money for old games?

The biggest fear among gamers is that we are all being treated as mugs and are rapidly being fleeced. We are wise to the fact that despite paying £39.99 a year to Microsoft for Xbox Live, we then could pay £39.99 for a game that is half-completed because several hours of content is held back, just so it can be released as DLC for £9.99. To announce more charges for online passes and bonus material as well? It takes a very mild-mannered person to not get pissed off.

It appears we are caught in the middle of a war that we cannot win. This is a complex issue that is not going to go away, but who is to blame? Are you angry at the High Street stores for encroaching on the publisher’s income? Are the publishers getting greedy? Do you support the publisher’s move?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this hot potato so please post your comments!

The Team Bondi and Rockstar fallout

As many of you may know, the relationship between Rockstar and the Australian developer Team Bondi now seems to be damaged beyond repair.

It seems, ironically, that life imitated art when it was revealed that the people in charge of creating L.A. Noire (the biggest game development project ever undertaken in Australia) were just as shady as some of the characters in the game.

An investigation by IGN revealed that over a hundred developers were omitted from the official game credits and two former Bondi employees spoke of “disdain” for the Australian developer to Gamesindustry.biz.

With reports of Team Bondi becoming ‘Rockstar Sydney’ being nothing more than a distant memory after tweets were sent to the Australian gaming industry hub Tsumea, with comments such as “I can certainly attest to the appalling working conditions, the angry and abusive boss and the ineffective leads who were completely unwilling to do anything to protect their team members”. “It’s abhorrent that these young kids are being thrown into a 24/7 corpse grinder with perpetual crunch and weekend overtime”, wrote another.

If you believe the reports from ex-employees, they suggest the bittersweet deal for working on the project for Bondi was that if you didn’t see the project through to completion, you would lose your credit. With that in mind, they found themselves caught in shocking working conditions, in which they were expected to work around the clock and be shouted at for the pleasure of Brendan McNamara. A man who sounds like Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie Swimming With Sharks.

“If you want to do a nine-to-five job, you should be in another business”.

One employee described McNamara as “the angriest person” he’d ever met. “It’s one thing for him to be angry behind closed doors, but it was incredibly common for him to scream at whoever was pissing him off in the middle of the office”. (more…)

Virtual products for real money

Imagine for a few moments that you are a budding entrepreneur and you are about to deliver your big sales pitch on a TV show like Dragons Den, in what could be the biggest day of your life. Your product can reach the entire world’s population and be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and three hundred and sixty-five days a year and there are no shipping or delivery issues to worry about. Here comes the clincher your product does not actually exist, because you are selling virtual items.

A few years ago you would have been laughed off the stage with nothing but the words “I’m sorry, but I’m out!” ringing in your ears, but the virtual goods market is expected to break $2.1 billion in America alone this year. Between 2007 and 2010, virtual goods revenue increased 245 percent, according to a study released from market-research firm In-Stat and by 2014 the company also reported that providers will generate more than $14 billion.

Although virtual goods have been common place in South Korea for more than a decade, my first memory of this phenomenon was way back when virtual cards were all the rage, but for me the virtual world of Second Life was where this madness all began. Just how quickly masses of people handed over their hard-earned cash in return for virtual furniture and clothes for their virtual selves in the online world. Whilst many looked on and scoffed at what was happening, canny businesses quickly realised the true potential that was on offer. (more…)