Editorials

Various editorials and opinion pieces.

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.

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Are Gamers Ready To Embrace Episodic Gaming?

It is no secret that life would be much easier for the gaming industry if we all just handed over our bank details and downloaded games directly from the game publishers. They can dictate the prices whilst also destroying their arch enemies: The evil rental and used games market.

Many £40 games now feature a story that you can play through in less than ten hours, with no online content, so it makes sense for people to trade in to fund another gaming purchase, in an age where recycling is king.

Although broadband speeds are improving, we are not quite ready for downloading games that are 30GB plus in size just yet, but maybe developers and marketing companies have come up with their own silver bullet, with the words “episodic gaming” written on the side to destroy their enemies once and for all.

The underrated Alan Wake dabbled with this, but a fickle gaming public didn’t quite get on board with the whole concept. Maybe Remedy were right when they said the industry isn’t ready for episodic games and actually it was simply ahead of its time. The big question now is, are gamers ready in 2012 to consume games like television?

Step forward Telltale games, who have had considerable success with the likes of Back to the Future, Tales of Monkey Island, Sam and Max, so it is of no surprise to see them dip their toes in the waters of episodic games again with the Walking Dead game.

Based on the comic book universe created by Robert Kirkman, the game adaptation is a five-part episodic series that concentrates on characterization and emotion, rather than action like games such as Left 4 Dead. To download all five episodes, it will end up costing you anything between £15 and £20, depending on where you purchase your PS3 or Xbox Live points. Is this so bad?

Call me old-fashioned, but all stories should contain a beginning, a middle and an end. The idea of only purchasing a beginning feels kind of wrong. Maybe I’m being a purist, but to buy a film, book or TV series in segments just doesn’t seem right, but you could also argue that you would have purchased the original Walking Dead comics in exactly the same way.

The most cynical would also tell you that every gamer is already playing an episodic style anyway by playing for a few hours, getting to the end of a mission and saving your progress. So, what’s all the fuss about?

After all, many people are reading this with a pile of games by their side that they will never complete. All thanks to growing responsibilities, and the ability to find a spare four hours gaming is nothing more than a distant memory.

Despite all the positives, the harsh truth is no matter how many people download the first episode of a game, the sales will inevitably decrease for each subsequent instalment. Anyone that has invested 22 hours of a TV show only to see it get cancelled, will be very cautious about allowing this format into gaming too.

There is something quite sad about a world of unfinished stories, but rather than dwell on the negatives, I have to say that it’s refreshing to find that Episode 1 of the Walking Dead is a fantastically intense opener. It’s grabbed my attention quicker than many top titles this year, and has also impressed the hard to please critics.

All too often, the biggest problem with digital downloads are the inflated prices, but I feel they have marketed the Walking Dead at just the right price. Even a frugal gamer like myself will find it hard not to be tempted by a game of this calibre for only 400 MS Points.

If the idea of episodic gaming makes you shuffle in your seat uncomfortably, or even if you agree that the world isn’t wholly ready for it just yet, I suspect that this, along with many other experiments, will be thrust upon gamers over the next 12 months. This will be to establish just what works and what doesn’t with digital distribution, before decisions are finalised with next generation consoles on the horizon.

Sure, ultimately it’s about how they can make us all part with our hard-earned cash, but it’s great to see innovation and creativity leading the way with the very cool Walking Dead opener. The game, arguably, has better characterisation than the TV show, and that can only be a good thing.

Has Gaming Become Too Expensive?

Despite what certain aspects of media will tell you, the average age of a gamer is now more likely to be in his thirties with a disposable income. A far cry from a teenager who sits in his room all day playing games with an 18 certification. Maybe the powers that be have realised this, as it would go along way to explain why our beloved pastime is now more expensive than ever.

Last November, eager gamers found themselves having to shell out vast amounts of money on a glut of big titles such as Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Saints Row: The Third, Assassin’s Creed, Batman and the annual instalment from Call of Duty.

Even if you were fortunate enough to afford £250 on games, you could also be expected to pay a hell of a lot more on DLC too, which begs the question: Has gaming become too expensive?

Even if could afford all the big-name games, the chances are you wouldn’t have the time or money to purchase the lesser known games. These, very often, are more rewarding experiences but gamers are quick to look for solutions, maybe in renting games or even trading in some older titles to buy a few new ones.

This is how it has always worked. I have fond memories of going around to a friend’s house who had a double tape-to-tape deck on his stereo, which meant I could illegally copy games such as Boulderdash, Chuckie Egg, Commando, Spy Hunter, Bruce Lee and Pitstop 2 onto a blank cassette.

Did this stop us buying games? Of course it didn’t. There was nothing better than visiting an independent store that had a few games you had never heard of, but ending up buying because you liked the cover, much like a music lover would do the same with vinyl. This was where my love affair with gaming began, but all this could disappear forever as publishers look at destroying their Achilles heal; the infamous second-hand market once and for all.

There are rumours that new consoles from Microsoft and Sony are on the horizon, and the wise money is on the fact that they will either not play pre-owned games or even consist of digital downloads only. Either of these can only be bad for the average gaming punter.

It currently feels that we are gently being ushered into a place where we all play just a handful of games, and then subscribe to that franchise for regular updates to keep you playing these same games and nothing else. So if you are a FIFA, Call of Duty or Gear of War fan, you simply pay a little extra for a season pass and you will have a great time playing your favourite game for 12 months before doing it all over again. Could this leave us all in some kind of gaming Groundhog Day, where everyday is the same?

One concern is that innovation will suffer and the days of discovering hidden gems will be lost forever, but the more immediate threat would be the increasing misuse of the now infamous DLC. Step forward Capcom, who had the arrogance to release Street Fighter vs. Tekken only to announce they would be selling twelve additional characters at a later date, but were already included on the disc.

How many people do you know that would happily pay £40 for a game only to be stung a few weeks later for content that was on the disc all along?

As more and people begin to invest in tablets and smartphones, where good games can be found at a fraction of console prices, I wonder if this is where many gamers will migrate to if they feel they are being priced out of gaming. Take a game like Football Manager, for example, which feels just as good on the iPad for £6.99 as it does on PC for £20, not to mention the countless games available for just a few pounds.

With most releases now launching at £39.99, which is then followed by additional DLC costing another £15 on top of the base game, and the majority of XBL/PSN titles costing at least ten pounds, maybe gaming is getting too expensive for people. If the industry insists on removing the second-hand market and renting of games, I fear it could blow up in their faces.

Live Zombie Hunt: Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City

The scariest thing that you are likely to see on an average day in Shoreditch usually consists of obscure leather furniture, or super cool hipsters armed with NHS glasses and skinny jeans, listening to tunes from bands that don’t even exist yet.

However, as email warnings spread that Britain was experiencing a zombie outbreak spread over the internet, a gaggle of game journos and Resident Evil fans were instructed to download the Zombie Hunt app. They were now tasked with cleaning the streets of zombies, not hipsters (maybe that comes later?).

Outside the Bells of Shoreditch, a wounded female Umbrella trooper guarded the entrance, blood oozing from a gash in her neck. The trooper ushered groups into a dark smoky room with flashing warning lights and sirens. Military soldiers shout, asking the group if they had downloaded the app and if they were prepared to face zombies. Umbrella Special Forces badges were issued and the team were told to rest before their mission.

Whilst watching a video briefing from Umbrella HQ, a scientist explained how we can kill the zombies, a U.S.S. officer runs into the room, bleeding from the face, screaming that the infected had overrun their positions and the team must start their mission now!

The team hit the streets, following the GPS map and radar function on the app. The first swarm of zombies were under the Shoreditch railway bridge. Once in the infected area, the app flashes ‘ENGAGE’ and augmented reality zombies spawn from the ground 360 degrees around each person. As Ross Kemp might say, “It looked like it was going to kick off, so I got out of there…”

An injured U.S.S. officer is found lying in the road, shouting that he is ‘friendly’ and that he has important information, handing the team a code. This was key to destroying vital evidence. It wasn’t all about killing augmented reality zombies with a mobile app though; the team encountered a real zombie in a church yard.

Using the code acquired earlier, the zombie slayers followed a soldier through an apartment building, complete with smoke billowing out from underneath. Inside amongst the smoke and laser beams, a scientist shouts out for help, holding his guts and intestines. The team is asked to enter the code into the laptop and delete the files on the computer before the scientist ‘turns’. Anyone that has played a Resident Evil game knows when that happens, you need to get the hell out of dodge.

Back at HQ, the guard informs the team that the infected have taken over and that there are zombies inside. A liver hangs from the gate. The team is issued with guns and forced into a courtyard where the group shoot at zombies, infected U.S.S. troops and Special Forces before being ushered inside.

Inside is pitch black, until strobe lights fill the room and a towering Tyrant runs towards the group. A door opens and the team dive through it to get back into the briefing room. A computer screen shows an Umbrella official,who reveals that the team has been double crossed and a nuclear strike was heading their way!

That signalled the end of the zombie mission, but on the way out, the teams are invited to play Operation Raccoon city on several rows of consoles. Umbrella officials prowled around supervising play.

Gaming events that offer journos or fans a sneak peek of new releases are seldom as glamorous or as exciting as many people think, but the time and effort put in by the guys at Capcom offered something completely refreshing and unique and we can only applaud them for that.

As for the game, Operation Raccoon City, you can read our full review here. Rest assured that while the scenesters have now returned to Shoreditch, I can at least recommend that a refreshing Red Stripe at the Three Blind Mice Bar is the perfect way to finish a hard day of zombie killing.

EA Becomes ‘Most Hated Company’, But Stands Up Against Anti-Gay Agenda‎

Over 250,000 consumerist readers have voted EA as the worst company in America. Ultimately they decided that the avarice displayed by the video-game publisher and developer was even worse than Bank of America in these uncertain times, as they notched up 64 percent of the votes to obtain the not-so prestigious “Golden Poo” award.

Other well-known international companies such as PayPal, Google, Apple, Facebook, and UPS all breathed a sigh of relief as Electronic Arts secured the infamous headlines.

So what exactly is so bad about EA in 2012? Most reports suggest that the fact they have been acquiring some of the respected smaller video-game companies to remove their competitors from the marketplace, as a pretty good reason.

A few passionate Mass Effect 3 fans will probably blame the infamous ending of their much-anticipated game enough to secure the award.

EA are also widely known as the industry leaders in micro transactions, DLC and exclusive add-on content to enhance the gamer’s experience. However there is a growing feeling that companies, such as EA, are deliberately holding back game content with the sole intent of charging a fee for it at a later date.

Increasingly, it feels like they are creating a meticulous and cunning plan to milk their own consumers without them even realising. Anyone that has experienced FIFA Ultimate Team will know exactly how that feels.

After years of being ignored and relegated to steerage, game-players have voted to send a message to Electronic Arts and the gaming business as a whole: Stop treating your loyal customers like crap,” the site states.

Despite this heavy criticism, John Reseburg of EA corporate communications bounced back with “We’re sure that bank presidents, oil, tobacco and weapons companies are all relieved they weren’t on the list this year. We’re going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide.”

I suspect this somewhat sarcastic reply was, in part, due to their mailbox being bombarded with thousands of letters this year, in protest of the inclusion of same sex or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) in their recent games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3.

The right-wing homophobic conspiracies suggest that LGBT groups piled massive pressure on EA to include homosexual content in their games. Step forward Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who advises “In a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists!”. The only thing missing was a lynch mob with pitch forks and burning torches in this ludicrous outburst.

These bigoted anti LGBT groups are organising themselves to campaign against many big companies, even the behemoth that is Starbucks have recently found themselves on the end of a “Dump Starbucks campaign” after offering public support for same-sex marriage equality. The good news though is a massive 642,000 people actually signed up to a “Thank Starbucks” campaign. It’s heart-warming to see that actually we are living in a progressive society after all.

In defence of EA, they must be given massive Kudos for their progressive stance and refusing to buckle under pressure from the powerful, and very often political, homophobic groups and their school yard bullying tactics. Religion and beliefs are very personal to an individual and not something that should ever belong in government or forced on others, in my opinion.

Despite the US-based religious groups attempting to destroy EA, it was great to see people such as Charlie Brooker and Stephen Fry offering support to the Electronic Arts: Keep Fighting the Dark Side online petition.

Brooker was on top form via his Twitter account by tweeting “Good for @EA for telling the homophobes to f*** off..” and “They should make *every* character in their games gay for a year just to wind up the bigots. Starting with the FIFA franchise,” and finally “In the next Modern Warfare, they should have a special ‘gay’ gun that’s better than all the others, thus forcing online players to use it“, before randomly mashing up some smoked mackerel fillet with Greek yoghurt and spreading it on a square of dark chocolate. Hey, that’s the crazy world of twitter.

However the big headlines neglect to inform people how we actually have two very serious separate issues to debate; the first is of course the shocking aspect of homophobia that we must all stand up against, and secondly the poor treatment of customers by companies such as EA.

The suggestion that EA only won the title of ‘Worst Company’ because they are victims of a campaign by bigots, is quite a convenient excuse that prevents them from tackling the reasons why a growing number of gamers are quickly losing patience in the way they are being treated.

Gamers are no longer kids that are locked away in their bedrooms for hours at a time, but a very sophisticated, educated adult community who are also very savvy in the digital world. A world where public-facing social networks can quickly build a united voice for the greater good.

Businesses that continue to patronise their customers will learn the hard way, so I sincerely hope that EA take this latest PR catastrophe and learn the lessons required to improve the strained relationship with their own customers.

Finally, if there really is a God out there, who is teaching us all that the art of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance are paramount, wouldn’t it be ironic if the church-going homophobes are actually the ones that will burn in Hell?

For the last few weeks, I have been feeling quite sorry about GAME. Considering their current predicament and now that they have become the underdog, I even championed their cause.

Rather than buy Microsoft Points online, I thought I would pop in and buy some over the counter to support the struggling high street store.

Upon entering GAME in Birmingham, I was asked several times if I needed any help with anything, which I politely declined and never once said uttered words “Do you know who I am?” That kind of behaviour is generally frowned upon in most circles.

After taking my Microsoft Points card to the counter, I was asked if I have time to browse the excellent games in their special sale. Again, I made my apologies and indicated that I was quite busy at the moment.

The salesman was not going to let something like time put a stop to my exit, and said “Do you like football games? If you do, you can have FIFA 10 for only £3.00”. In my head, I was now shouting at the man “Yes, I do like football games and for this reason, I have FIFA 12, why would I want a two-year old football game?”

As a British male, I did not rant or lose my temper with the man, but simply declined the somewhat poultry offer of FIFA 10 for £3.00 on two occasions. I made a sharp exit, thinking to myself “Damn, that was bloody hard work”.

Now, I fully understand the retail politics where staff are heavily encouraged to upsell to customers. Where staff that don’t will find themselves being pulled to one side for a chat with their boss and maybe even given disciplinary action. Throw the dreaded mystery shopper into the mix, who could visit your store and mark you down if you don’t try to sell more swag to the punters.

Most customers accept this little game, and simply say “no, thank you”, because misguided anger at some poor sales person who is being bullied by an overbearing boss is never a good thing.

GAME going up in flames?

There are two arguments here. You could say if GAME were more proactive with upselling and helping customers, then they wouldn’t be in the mess that they are in, but I cannot help but think that this really isn’t the case.

A quick look on any gaming forum and you will find stories of people fed up of entering a store and being hassled into pre-ordering games, consoles, or additional items. They simply voted with their feet and order online, where you don’t have to play bullshit mind games with staff before you hand over your hard-earned money.

Maybe this is why the generally the majority of all high street stores are struggling in the modern world. Consumer think tanks will tell bosses that they can maximise profits by encouraging staff to upsell to each and every customer. Many of these staff are kids being bullied into such practices, but equally are the customers/shoppers of tomorrow who are getting rapidly bitter about what they see.

Essentially, it would appear in 2012, what the customer wants and what the store wants are two very different things. The stores that realise this and change with the times will have a fighting chance but the ones that don’t will sadly perish, in my opinion.

The GAME Group has now officially filed for administration, the news follows the announcement on Wednesday that the business had “no equity value” when its shares were suspended from the stock exchange. Attempts to negotiate a rescue deal were quickly blocked by their lenders Royal Bank of Scotland.

So if you are tempted to go on a scavenger hunt at your local, out of luck store, be prepared to say the word “No” many times. However, before you think about getting angry at the poor person behind the till, try and remember that they will probably be getting hassle to ask you questions to avoid getting a bollocking. Even if they do everything asked of them, they will probably be losing their job soon.

These unsung heroes putting up with nastiness from both bosses and customers have my deepest sympathies. As for the bosses who have run the business into the ground with over-priced games and aggressive sales tactics, I think the modern high street just might be a better place without them.

Finally, remember the GAME store credit that you currently have may soon become worthless, so if you were saving some for a rainy day, I would strongly advise you treat yourself now before it’s too late.

The GAME Fiasco And The Future Of Buying Games Is In The UK

Since “that” big announcement from GAME last week, internet forums across the land have been full of gamers saying “I told you so”. The general opinion appeared to be that the struggling group and its chain of stores were ultimately responsible for their own demise.

For years publishers have watched on helplessly as high street stores sold second-hand games for £30 without seeing a penny, and maybe the final straw was when cunning GAME bosses allegedly ordered their own staff to buy the Nintendo 3DS on launch for £175 to sell in their own store for £219.99.

However MCV pointed out that GAME and Gamestation accounted for nearly 50% of the Vita’s launch-week sales and warned their readers not to write them off just yet. This proves to some degree how important the high street chain still is to gaming.

Ironically, though, on the GAME website they proudly show a tag cloud containing the most searched games on their website, but several of the titles near the top of the list, which include the now infamous Mass Effect 3, will not be available for punters to buy at any of their stores.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Capcom announced the following:

“Unfortunately Capcom must confirm that Street Fighter x Tekken for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and Asura’s Wrath, both scheduled for release on Friday March 9, will not be stocked by GAME or Gamestation either in their retail outlets or on their online stores operating in the UK and Ireland.”

The harsh reality of all this, is that the biggest gaming stores on the high street will be unable to stock future titles from Ubisoft, EA, Nintendo, and now Capcom. This is simply not sustainable for any company, never mind one that is £200 million in debt and have lost their credit insurance, so it would be fair to assume a very messy breakup of the GAME Group will be imminent.

The only question that needs answering is who will actually announce game over? The bosses or the banks? I would imagine that anyone with a sensible head on their shoulders would be foolish to even contemplate buying the brand that is GAME; I fear that the business, banks, employees and gamers will all be losers.

EA have eventually replied with a brief statement on the saga saying:

“It’s unfortunate that GAME is having challenges with its suppliers, however consumers have many alternatives both in-store and online. Our first priority is to inform our consumers of the many other retailers carrying our games. We don’t anticipate any delay in getting our titles to market.”

This was followed by links to many stores that are selling the game, but they neglected to say that the majority of stores listed were already sold out, turning this whole episode into one big fiasco.

I am a long-standing critic of GAME, but I don’t see why publishers should be sitting pretty, looking holy than thou in these difficult times either. Before Activision were everyone’s favourite villains of the gaming world, EA held the title successfully for some time with their greedy ways, with regular situations where there were three FIFA games in twelve months that were essentially the same game. Somehow, they managed to redeem themselves over the years, but I can’t help but wonder if they too are drifting back to their old ways.

If you are lucky enough to pick up Mass Effect 3 on release day for £40, you will also be able to purchase premium DLC. This DLC has managed to piss off the entire gaming community, as they quickly realised that maybe they are buying an incomplete game. Visions arises that somewhere, there is a man stroking a cat laughing in a disturbing way but at their expense.

Even if we are to believe that the game was locked down, and that the hundreds of people working on the game simply got started on the DLC early, it doesn’t take a genius that this would ultimately cause bad publicity. Would it really have hurt to release it after two-three months and save the negative stories about your product?

Tempers are already running high with the disaster that is EA Origins, which appears to be a desperate attempt to copy the Stream Community. Do you really need yet another gaming account to store your credit card details on? Especially considering that Anonymous is everyone and everywhere.

In EA’s defence, PC gamers are a volatile group at the best of times. They often feel that they are neglected, but equally ready to complain when a company tries to offer something different. In this instance, though, you cannot help but feel it’s all about the money (I fight the urge to start singing). EA have essentially taken their games from Steam so they can sell them on Origin, but without offering anything different from their rivals other than inflated prices.

Although we could be forgiven for thinking that the outlook for gamers is generally quite grim at the moment, for every hard luck story there is a very positive one too. On this occasion I am, of course, talking about the online store ShopTo.

They have been steadily building a reputation over the last few years with new games at very reasonable prices, and tt seems this could be the time that they step up to the challenge of becoming a major player for the UK games market. They’ve begun a massive TV advertising promotion, not to mention a two-month promotional campaign on the London Underground, in what must be perfectly timed from a marketing prospective, considering the imminent demise of the UK’s biggest gaming stores.

Since the dawn of time, there have been good guys and bad guys, winners and losers. The only thing that remains constant is that magic word; change. Fasten your seat belts, because I got a feeling that things are about to get a lot more interesting.

The “Xbox 720 Won’t Play Used Games” Debacle

Sometimes it feels like the internet has become one big game of Chinese whispers, as all the usual suspects try and guess exactly what the iPhone 5 or iPad 3 will look like and the technology behind them. Last week, the internet rumour mill went into overdrive at the report of the next generation of console from Microsoft, dubbed as the ‘Xbox 720’ by journalists desperately trying to stay, quite literally, ahead of the game.

The big headlines informed us that in October 2013, we should expect a new console with graphics processing power six times that of the Xbox 360, a Blu-Ray player, the next generation of Microsoft’s motion-detecting Kinect system and finally, the infamous sting that angered gamers, is that it may not play used games.

I always exercise caution when I read rumours from big sites wanting to grab the quick headline by using words such as ‘may’ and ‘could’. So, at this stage it would be a little pointless to get excited or outraged about anything. Still, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the possibilities that might just be heading our way…

First of all, the prospect of a next generation console arriving towards the end of 2013 but using last century’s technology that involves spinning discs to load games could leave you feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Sure, a Blu-Ray disc can store 25 or 50GB of data compared to the humble DVD’s 9GB, but we are already living in a world dominated by Steam, NetFlix, Apple TV and OnLive. Why would Microsoft be so intent on using Blu-ray discs as we head into the brave new digital world. However, given a little more thought, if Microsoft wants to avoid awkward technical difficulty style headlines, it’s a move that makes perfect sense.

With families soaking up an ever-increasing amount of bandwidth, as people download HD movies, stream TV and keep everything in the cloud, I wonder if the future will involve internet service providers charging for data usage and see the ubiquitous ‘unlimited’ messages removed from your broadband packages, especially if users were to download games at 40gb a pop, rather than using streaming options.

An online only gaming platform could potentially isolate many of Microsoft’s existing users who do not have access to fast broadband speeds so maybe this would be a conscious decision to keep the console working offline as well as online.

The most controversial aspect of this story, though, is that Microsoft were thinking of adding technology that would lock-out games that were originally bought by someone else, effectively killing the pre-owned market that has been a thorn in the side of publishers for sometime now. They  currently look on helplessly at stores making money out of their products without ever seeing a penny.

Although retailers have been creaming high-profit margins from pre-owned games for sometime, there is a strong argument that publishers have already made their money from the game. For hundreds of years, people have traded in the goods that they own for cash or other items and even now in 2012, you wouldn’t dream of having this conversation about selling second-hand Car, Books, DVD’s or clothes would you?

Some would have us believe that the digital rulebook seems to be different, but this is just a way of companies trying to maximise their profits. Ironically it would ultimately harm the industry it claims to protect, as people simply cannot afford to purchase 15+ games at £39.99 a title, never mind the countless other releases, so we will find ourselves with the same old re-hashed FPS and sports titles while innovation is left out in the cold in favour of the familiar, yet safe, titles.

If these stories have any element of truth it could also allow Sony to market a PS4 with a unique selling point if they decided not to follow suit, which would be disastrous for Microsoft.

For those of you with longer memories, you will recall these same stories being circulated around the time of the PS3′s announcement all those years ago, but nothing came of the controversial plans. We need to remind ourselves that these are just rumours that have got everybody hot under the collar, as even Microsoft themselves have declined to comment.

If this story was leaked to test public opinion, the general consensus seems to be that blu-ray is a very sensible move, nobody is that bothered about Kinect 2 and if they stopped pre-owned games from being played then don’t expect punters to buy your new shiny console.

Probably the wisest thing for us all to do though, is to follow the old adage: Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. That is until, of course, we have information or confirmation from an actual source.

SOPA Blackout And Why The Internet Is Angry

stop-sopa

Unless you’ve been locked in a dark room playing Skyrim shouting “Fus Ro Dah” repeatedly for the last few weeks, you will know that SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is the talk of the internet at the moment. The global online community have gathered together to fight the controversial act that seems intent on following the political trend of criminalising modern society.

The bill, introduced in the United States House of Representatives last autumn by Texas Republican Lamar Smith (who seemingly breaks his own rules), is already is losing the support of many of the game industry companies its supposed to protect as they fear becoming the bad guy, with people joining together on social media websites to make their voices heard loud and clear.

If passed, the bill would allow the American government and individual copyright holders to take legal action against websites that facilitate piracy, and this does not just mean the Pirate Bay’s of the world, but even a site such as This Is My Joystick could find itself being shut down or blocked to US audiences for showing an image, video, trailer or music from a game that a publisher took offence to.

It is astounding to think that in 2012 the grey people in control still have little understanding of how the internet works or how important that an online reputation is, in an age dominated by people power. The first company to learn this valuable lesson the hard way was GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar, who publicly backed SOPA only to see 50,000 domains transferred away from them in a few days (including Destructiod.com) as tech savvy customers showed their feelings on the subject in the most effective way possible over Christmas.

GoDaddy quickly made a dramatic and apologetic u-turn after a massive backlash from their angry user base, but it was too late as the damage was already done and was met with nothing but scepticism from the online community.

The scary aspect of SOPA is suddenly sites that we all like to express ourselves with, such as Tumblr, YouTube, Sound Cloud, Reddit, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ etc could all land you with a five year jail term for uploading a TV, music or movie clip. This is a move that could not only curb creativity but also stifle free speech as governments begin attempts to censor the world to protect the interests of a few people who are not making as much money as they used to.

There is hope though, and yet again inspirational proof that it is the age of people power when less than 24-hours after promising not to yield, the Texas congressman and author of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) Lamar Smith is yielding on the bill’s controversial language that would allow the government to censor the Internet:

“After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision,” Smith, one of SOPA’s chief backers, The lead sponsor of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, a controversial copyright enforcement bill, will remove a much-debated provision that would require Internet service providers to block their subscribers from accessing foreign websites accused of infringing the copyrights of U.S. companies.”

Anger towards the Stop Online Piracy Act is growing rapidly as thousands of people are changing their Twitter and Facebook avatars to include a Blackout SOPA badge across their face in protest. There is even a plug-in for Google chrome that will inform you of every SOPA supporting site that you visit.

A growing number of websites such as Reddit have announced a blackout on January 18th in protest to SOPA by replacing all site content with educational resources about SOPA to create awareness. Wikipedia are considering joining them, but all eyes are on Google, You Tube, Facebook to see if they are brave enough to make a stand too.

A petition from 120,000 gamers has been handed to EA requesting that they publicly stand up to the ESA and oppose SOPA. Even though EA stated that they are not supporting the act, this is simply not enough for members of the gaming community who are demanding action as tempers begin to rise.

Brett Greene summed people’s feelings in a report for the Huffington Post by saying:

The bottom line and main question to ask yourself is, “Do I trust the U.S. government to censor the Internet and protect free expression of its people? And if I do, do I trust other governments who will probably follow suit?” The next question to ask yourself is, “Is it worth the potential of creating a censored internet that is less innovative and stable in order to possibly help the RIAA and MPAA sell more music and movies?”

The last 12 months has been revolutionary, 12 months in which the internet has assumed the role of a highly effective, yet uncensored, news agency. One from which every broadcaster and news corporation have been able to source events live from the scene when governments have historically kept tight control on the media and where almost no platform is available for opinions critical of the political elite.

While many may be of the opinion that this is simply an American problem, you have to realise that if this Bill passes, the UK, and others, will likely follow suit. Our government has already showcased their hypocrisy when they condemned countries like Egypt for shutting down the internet. When the UK faced riots on the streets, there was talk of shutting down social media sites, rather than focussing on the fact that there were more good people than bad using such to organise cleanups and inform friends and family of their own personal safety.

Ultimately, the simple idea of democracy, in my eyes, is that citizens are not accountable to the government but the government is accountable to the people. The people elect the politicians to represent them, not criminalise society at every opportunity in favour of businesses who finance their political campaigns.

Whatever your opinion on the controversial SOPA act, the internet is gearing up for a very big fight, and it will be very interesting to see just how many sites and people will stand up and be counted this week, so make sure you put January 18th in your diary as what may or may not happen next will affect each and everyone of us and how we use the internet.

With SOPA being compared to China’s system of national censorship by blocking content for its citizens, maybe we should all repeat the late Bill Hicks quote “You are free to do as we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!”.

GAMIFICATION: ARE GAMERS BEING PLAYED?

There have been many reports over the last few years about Gaming Addiction, and we have written countless articles about it, dismissing the all too familiar headlines as ‘lazy journalism’ in an age where people look to blame everything but their own personal responsibility.

However, as the world of advertising changes and an increasing amount of games roll out subscription based gaming, companies are looking at ways of keeping you all gaming for as long as possible using, what some might describe, as sinister methods.

In the modern world people are no longer listening to advertisers and their traditional methods have ceased to work, as the great general public turn away from TV. Even if they do watch, they will probably fast forward the adverts. Commercial radio is struggling, spam filters stop e-mail ads, junk snail mail goes straight in the bin, a quick sign up to the telephone preference scheme stops cold callers, and the print media that is essentially run on advertising space is dying a slow death.

With all this in mind, maybe it is of no surprise that the marketing buzzword of 2011 was ‘Gamification’ which, according to Wikipedia, is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.

There are many books on the subject appearing, such as Game-Based Marketing, which claims to inspire customer loyalty through rewards, challenges, and contests. Game-Based Marketing unlocks the design secrets of mega-successful games like Zynga’s Farmville, World of Warcraft, Bejeweled and Project Runway to give you the power to create winning game-like experiences on your site/apps.

The most obvious example of gamification would be the mayor status feature in Four Square, where you are rewarded for checking into certain locations by businesses. Nike+ has allowed the company to build a huge and active fan base. For example, over 800,000 runners logged on and signed up when Nike sponsored a 10K race simultaneously across 25 cities.

Marketing companies are quickly learning that by deconstructing how we respond to fun and being rewarded that they might be able to change the potential customer’s behaviour to increase both sales and loyalty. Creepy right?

This is only the beginning, as an article on cracked.com demonstrated how companies are trying to get you addicted to games. The article refers to John Hopson, a game researcher for Microsoft Game Studio, with a doctorate in behavioural and brain sciences. Hopson is quoted as saying “Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from your players”.

His theories are based around the work of BF Skinner, who discovered that you can control behaviour by training subjects with simple stimulus and reward. I like to think that we are all different to the experiments with lab rats and mice many years ago, but the similarities are remarkably similar.

Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage. (more…)