Mass Effect 3

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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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?

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.

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…)