As we wind down and relax from the E3 madness, in this week’s TPoI, Mojang reveals cross-console play for Minecraft, Xbox One X’s price tag is debated, and Anthony Padilla of Smosh leaves the channel to move onto his own solo project.
Minecraft to Feature Cross Platform Online Play
During E3, developer Mojang and Microsoft revealed that gamers will be able to play Minecraft with friends on almost every platform due to a new server update titled “Better Together.” TechCrunch disclosed that Windows 10, iOS, Android, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch will be the supported devices allowing for unified gameplay. Mashable states that Minecraft will be moved over to Bedrock Engine, making the cross-platform play possible. As for why PS4 is not listed as a supported console, IGN reports that Sony’s Global Sales and Marketing Head Jim Ryan stated, “While Sony has no philosophical stance against cross-play at all, it’s concerned with its players’ safety on non-PlayStation platforms.” The Verge doesn’t find Sony’s reasoning to be valid, and feels it’s simply an excuse to force consumers to choose between Microsoft and Sony. GameSpot reveals that Microsoft is hoping to put differences aside with Sony and come to an agreement in the future.
Is Xbox One X Price Worth It?
Microsoft announced that Project Scorpio’s official name is Xbox One X, available on November 7, 2017 for $499. In an interview with Business Insider, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer stated that Microsoft wouldn’t be making any money from Xbox One X sales, and did not go into further details for the reasoning. GameSpot reports that Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities commented, “I think that the price point is too high. Consoles have historically failed at this price point, and consumers seem unwilling to accept anything over $399.” Forbes points out that the Xbox One X is $100 more expensive than the PlayStation 4 Pro and twice as expensive as a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One S, predicting that sales won’t be successful. Washington Post critiques that despite the impressive 4K resolution, it’s definitely a steep price to pay for consumers. PCMag presumes that Microsoft will be taking a loss for Xbox One X hardware sales, is hopeful that the manufacturing price will go down so that a profit margin appears soon.
Anthony Padilla Moves on From Comedy YouTube Channel Smosh
Smosh co-founder Anthony Padilla revealed that he is leaving the channel to pursue and focus on his self-titled channel, which currently has 1.3M subscribers. Variety interviewed Padilla, and he explained that he had been contemplating the change for several months and felt a lack of creativity as Smosh is managed by Defy Media, who approves all of the creative decisions. Vulture disclosed that Padilla and fellow co-founder Ian Hecox remain close friends and that Padilla’s departure is not tied to any personal conflicts. This move has Recode questioning how long a content creator can remain popular and lucrative and at what point would their career potentially come to an end. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s definitely something for influencers to keep in mind. Whatever Padilla decides to work on moving forward, we wish him the best of luck!
For this week’s TPoI, we dive into YouTube’s latest partner program update, PETA’s dispute with Nintendo, Atlus’ debatable decision to enact a strict streaming ban, and the launch of Twitch’s very own gaming store.
YouTube Enacts Stricter Creator Monetisation
In an effort to catch suspicious channels, YouTube has changed its partner program by enacting stricter guidelines for channel monetization. The Verge reports that going forward, YouTube won’t allow monetization until a creator has reached 10,000 lifetime views on their channel. MCV speculates that the true reasoning behind the move is to lessen the chances of brands finding themselves aligned with hate speech or racist content, an issue that YouTube has been battling. Aspiring creators will undoubtedly have a harder time earning money with this new policy in place, but ArsTechnica advises that using GoogleAdSense is an option to obtain ad revenue without relying on the total view count. Furthermore, Fortune revealed that YouTube plans to add a new review process for the partner program that will monitor a video publisher’s activity to ensure the creator is adhering to the rules and regulations.
PETA Shames Nintendo For 1-2 Switch Milking Game
Milk, one of 28 mini games on Nintendo’s multiplayer party game 1-2 Switch has been deemed unrealistic according to PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk. The milking simulator portrays no cows on-screen and the farmers appear to be happy-go-lucky during the entire process. Polygon reports that Newkirk personally wrote a letter to Nintendo to address her concerns stating, “We have more than 35 years of experience investigating dairy farms where cows are exploited for their milk, and it is NEVER that pleasant for these animals. Can we have some realism here, please?” Uproxx adds that Newkirk suggests either Nintendo depicts the cruel reality of animal abuse or consider simulating a game where no animals suffer. Nintendo has yet to respond but we anticipate a thought-out and respectful rebuttal.
Atlus Threatens Gaming Community With Harsh Consequences
The long awaited Japanese RPG series Persona finally launched its fifth entry to the series Persona 5 outside of Japan on April 4. The day after its release, a report from Kotaku revealed that developer Atlus threatened to issue channel strikes and content ID claims on any streamer or YouTuber that showed footage beyond 7/7, a date in the calendar of the game. The purpose of the ban is to prevent spoilers for those who haven’t obtained or played the game, but Forbes argues that users could easily search for a playthrough of the game considering it’s been released in Japan for a whole year. Atlus’ concerns are valid, but ArsTechnica adds that in this day and age, gaming companies should view gameplay videos as a way to boost exposure not hinder it. In recent news, Polygon reports that several streamers and YouTubers are showing content past the 7/7 mark and are well aware of the potential repercussions to follow.
Shop and Stream: The Future of Twitch
Amazon-owned Twitch has released a purchasing system for streamers and audience viewers. The Escapist disclosed that users will now be allowed to buy a game while watching a stream, with over 50 different titles released so far. Games can be downloaded and played through the Twitch launcher or on a publisher’s service, such as Uplay. Not only that, streamers will get a cut of the sales as well, with partnered streamers earning up to 5% of the sales that originate from their channel, according to The Verge. This is a smart move on Twitch’s part, as it offers revenue for both the company and streamers. Although Engadget believes this is a smart move, it worries that content creators may abuse the system and only stream games purely for financial gain. PCWorld agrees, but also argues that it’s a great way to showcase a game and see a streamer’s honest reaction and feedback.
Conventions and the video game industry go hand-in-hand: there’s the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), Germany’s Gamescom, Comic-Cons, and more. Other than QuakeCon (and EA Play this year), it’s rare for publishers to host their own consumer-facing “mega event.” Most companies like Capcom, Ubisoft, and Nintendo share the stage and make special reveals during E3 (which is no longer open to the public) and other general gaming events.
Blizzard Entertainment is not like many companies, though as its 10th annual BlizzCon wrapped on November 4-5 celebrating all of the brand’s biggest franchises. Selling out in roughly 10 minutes, it is safe to say this annual convention is one of the most popular in the industry with no signs of slowing down!
Hosting a convention to promote your own properties and celebrate your fan base can be an extremely effective brand marketing strategy — evidenced by Blizzard. Publisher conventions can make fans feel rewarded, important,and valued. It gives attendees a chance to meet the artists and developers behind their favorite games, creating a personal connection that helps strengthen their brand affinity.
In order to understand why publishers should host conventions of their own, TriplePoint takes a look at what makes BlizzCon an impressive marketing tool, unique from other experiences, and what other companies can do to provide that same value. TriplePoint has taken all of this into account and has established five key BlizzCon 2016 brand marketing takeaways:
Surprising Announcements / Unique Information Distribution Structure
Each year, BlizzCon is home to new reveals and big surprises surrounding its IPs (World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch). Key highlights from this year’s BlizzCon included the eagerly awaited new Overwatch hero, Sombra, the Overwatch League announcement, Diablo 3’s upcoming Necromancer class, and Hearthstone’s new expansion Gadgetzan, and more. Interestingly enough this year Blizzard chose to separate its product news from esports news, with product on the first day and esports on the following day.
Blizzard’s strategy to lead its announcements with product news is because unlike product, which has more timing flexibility, esports stories need time to develop — tournaments need to be played and winners need to be determined. Having designated days for both types of stories ensures a steady flow of information for the press and consumers. Press will have enough time to cover, news will be easier to digest, and information won’t get lost — they can dominate the news cycle.
Watch the Best of the Best Play
Esports are another unique aspect of BlizzCon that is surprisingly not explored by other video game conventions.The best players from around the world gather to BlizzCon to showcase their skills and compete for huge prizes. The convention center is split into several parts where each space is devoted to specific tournaments in Blizzard’s gaming library. Having world championship tournaments during BlizzCon generates tournament results and team interview coverage, fandom, and an overall event spectacle.
Network with Industry Professionals
BlizzCon serves as a mecca, drawing in fans from all over the world and from different backgrounds. Since there is something for everyone, BlizzCon was filled with cosplayers, community managers, artists, press, developers, representatives from other games, tech companies and more. BlizzCon is a dense concentration of video game industry professionals and offers immense opportunity to connect with key industry players.
Get Up Close and Personal with Devs and Artists
One of BlizzCon’s greatest strengths is being able to generate a personal connection with fans through intimate events like Signing Areas and Q&A’s. Often times at conventions developers have little time to talk about their games, only showing cutscenes and trailers of games without being able to provide details on other aspects — not the case at BlizzCon. Not only should developers and artists interact with press, but the community itself is just as crucial. Q&A’s set time aside for the community and helps them understand where developers and artists are coming from when designing a game. Blizzard understands this and does it well.
BlizzCon had many demo stations for Blizzard’s key titles, filled with new content yet to be released to the public. This concept is not new for video game conventions, but BlizzCon has the advantage of knowing virtually all consumers will be interested in all demo stations; therefore can optimize and personalize the content for the trade show attendees (vs. a content free-for-all at an event such as PAX). BlizzCon’s demo stations allow players to take their time, experience the new changes implemented into franchises they are deeply invested in, and provide valuable feedback. Sure, companies can host events for press to test a demo, but it’s equally important for the game’s community to experience it. It brings insight from different skill levels and backgrounds as well as tests what works and doesn’t work with its most important stakeholders — the fans.
BlizzCon is a celebration of not only Blizzard’s video games but also its dedicated community they’ve cultivated for many years. Conventions can serve as an effective marketing tool, providing long-term value and building faith with your audience. In the end, players want games to succeed and to have fun. Personalized trade events such as BlizzCon are a great way to connect and celebrate with the fans.
Idomeneus stabbed Erymas in the mouth with the pitiless bronze. The bronze spear passed right through and up under the brain, smashing the white bones. His teeth were knocked out and both his eyes flooded with blood: wide-mouthed he spurted a well of blood through nostrils and mouth: and the black cloud of death covered him over. [i]
In the 8th century B.C., violent video games were the lyre and voice of a blind man called Homer. His narratives were also widely available for consumption by children.
In my 8th grade classroom, my classics teacher told my classmates and I to prepare for the graphic details of Homer’s The Iliad. We were told that Homer believed depicting violence in media served to cleanse the soul, removing violent intentions, not creating them. He even believed that reciting his epic poetry of the brutality of war would disturb listeners enough to prevent them from wanting to go to war.
Most recently, controversy erupted when players discovered Grand Theft Auto V’s torture scene, where the player is required to input commands to torture an NPC. Was Rockstar’s intention to disturb players with that scene? If so, would players who completed the mission be less likely to want to torture in real life due to the feelings they experienced playing through it?
Regardless, the popularity of billion-dollar franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto has of course led much of the non-video gaming public to believe that widespread consumption of such media is, in fact, making society more violent. On the other hand, an interview between video game journalist Todd Kenreck and psychiatrist Dr. Tyler Black of the British Columbia Children’s Hospital presents another view: that the rise in violence has been skewed by the amount of media coverage it gets, and that violent crime is at a 20-year low.
Thus far, the two warring arguments state that 1) video games make the consumer more inclined to commit violent crime and 2) video games have no effect on real-world violence.
In February 2013, the New York Times’ Benedict Carey presented a third angle: video games can actually reduce real-world violence.
Mr. Carey presents findings from various scientists’ research, including that of Michael R. Ward of the University of Texas, Arlington. Dr. Ward examined week-by-week sales data for violent video games across a wide range of communities in the United States and Europe. Dr. Ward and his colleagues, in fact, discovered a new trend: surges in violent video game sales led to a decrease in crime, especially violent crime.
Coincidence? The findings of Kimberly Wallace of Game Informer suggest Dr. Ward’s results are anything but one. In her article, she explains the infamous “finger-cutting scene” of Heavy Rain, where Ethan Mars, the protagonist, is required to amputate his finger, the method of which is chosen by the player. Failure to complete this task results in one less clue to finding Ethan’s missing son.
Ms. Wallace explains the trauma she experienced upon completing the scene. She states that all she could think about was the pain she’d endure were she to cut off her own finger in real life, coming to the conclusion that, “It shouldn’t be so easy to watch a man slice off his own finger, especially when you’re behind the wheel.”
Ms. Wallace’s experience suggests that exposing a consumer to gore and violent situations instills the undesirable feelings associated with possibly experiencing the violence themselves. Even in situations where the player is required to inflict pain on a character other than the protagonist, notably the airport scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, there is the option to skip the scene in-game. This is due to players decrying its disturbing nature, which is telling that gamers do not enjoy the idea of killing innocent people. Developer Infinity Ward told USA Today that the scene is meant to get players “pretty twisted up.” They go on to say that they hope the scene “makes some people a little upset.”
Infinity Ward’s hope for players’ negative reaction is likely attributed to the fact that they want players to recognize that murdering civilians is a shameful act. If Homer were alive today, would he endorse exposing that scene to people of all ages, including children, to educate them on the immoral nature and damaging consequences of committing violent crimes?
The idea that exposure to violence and undesirable situations reduces the consumer from committing them in real life is hardly exclusive to video games. Scientific American published a 2011 article stating that experts believe consumption of pornography may reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires. This is backed by data from Christopher J. Ferguson, professor of Psychology at Texas A&M International University. Dr. Ferguson states that rape and sexual assault are at their lowest levels since the 1960s, thanks in part to porn being nothing more than “a Google search away.” In 1992, psychiatrist Richard Green at Imperial College London found that patients requesting treatment as sex offenders commonly saw that “pornography keeps their abnormal sexuality within the confines of their imagination.”
If Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Green’s findings on pornography apply to violent video games, then perhaps there is a fourth side to this argument: that violent video games not only reduce the inclination to commit violent crime, but can be a tool for making violent criminals less likely to re-offend.
I am by no means suggesting that Charles Manson should be released from prison if he reaches the top of the leaderboards in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. However, the data presented does suggest we might be asking the wrong question when it comes to violence and video games.
Do video games cause violence? Do video games reduce violence? Or is there no link between the two? Perhaps we cannot find the right answer before we find the right question.
Which do I believe is correct? I believe that being traumatized after the much more traumatic “Trial 4” scene of Heavy Rain made me a better person. I also believe that bettering myself after experiencing that mission was a conscious choice I made.
I believe that video games have the ability to heal and make you a better person. I also believe that video games can only accomplish the above if you let them.
I don’t know if I am right. But I believe that a medium is only as good or bad as you decide. How do video games influence you? I believe only you know the answer to that.
[i]The Iliad: A New Prose Translation by Martin Hammond (Penguin Classics, 1988)
The Wrath of Achilles (1819), by Michel Drolling
Grand Theft Auto V, from Pixel Enemy
Heavy Rain “The Lizard,” from IGN
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 “No Russian,” from PC Gamer
I think it is fair to say one of the biggest fears we all share is that we will be unable to finish what we started; that we will die before our dreams can ever come true. I know that fear is always at the back of my mind. When it was announced that Steve Jobs, age 56, passed away last year, I couldn’t help but wonder: in his final moments, was he satisfied with the state of Apple or at least satisfied with Apple’s current path of development as a company? Did he feel like he completed what he set out to do?
Those same thoughts rushed back in my head when I finished Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. For those not familiar with the series, one of the main protagonists, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, joins the Assassin brotherhood and leads it in the fight against the Templars and, of course, avenges the death of his father and brothers who were killed at the hands of the Templars. In Revelations, the last game in the series to feature him, Ezio Auditore, age 52, [SPOILER] moves on with his life and announces that he has done everything he could to leave his legacy:
“I have lived my life as best I could, not knowing its purpose but drawn forward like a moth to a distant moon.
“And here at last I discover a strange truth, that I am only a conduit for a message that eludes my understanding.
“Who are we? We have been so blessed to share our stories like this, to speak across centuries. Maybe you will answer all the questions I have asked. Maybe you will be the one who will make all this suffering worth something in the end.”
I always had immense respect for people who saw through everything they started through to the end, like people who start their own company and run it until the day they die, and friends of mine who started student groups in college and put all the sweat and blood they could into them until they graduated. But when I put Assassin’s Creed: Revelations down for the last time, I realized I have even more respect for people who can accept that seeing something through to the end is not possible, that our biggest fear—being unable to finish what one started—has indeed come true, and the only way around it is to gather all the strength within us to simply move on.
By their 50s, both Steve Jobs and Ezio Auditore da Firenze have left a legacy, one in technology and the other in the survival of freedom. Both gained some degree of a negative reputation by using questionable means towards their goal, one in his apparent treatment of colleagues and the other in the death of many. And both were only conduits for a message—a dream—that might not have been realized in their lifetime.
I believe that we can only take solace in one fact: when one has a dream so large in scope, perhaps there is no way for one individual to reach such a pinnacle, if it exists at all, in their lifetime. Perhaps the only dream or pinnacle one can hope to reach in a lifetime is the lifelong pursuit of it. If we each are already pursuing a dream then perhaps there is nothing left to be afraid of.
There’s something you’re forgetting… What is it? It’s right there – on the tip of your tongue…are you getting that sinking feeling yet? Yep! It’s Valentine’s Day! We know some of you out there probably waited until the very last second to get your cards and gifts. You might be scrambling around like a crazed lunatic trying to think of the most romantic present possible for your loved ones. Chocolate? Jewelry? Flowers? Dinner at a fancy shmancy restaurant? What about something a bit more original? Perhaps sharing the satisfaction and experience of destroying some zombies or shooting down enemy forces with shotguns and sniper rifles could top the list this year!
We’ve all seen the viral videos of girlfriends taking a hammer to their boyfriends’ beloved PS3s or Xboxes. There’s a stereotype out there that video games are for little kids and people in serious relationships should have outgrown them. While it’s true that a handful of gamers may over-indulge in screen time, it is also true that a healthy and balanced level of gaming between couples can actually strengthen relationships!
In an issue of Women’s Health Magazine, LA-based social psychologist Susan K. Perry, PhD, stated, “Playing video games allows you to bond and learn how to problem-solve as a team.” Whether you’re teaming up against others or battling each other, video games are a great way for couples to spend time together and to develop mutual respect in a new dimension of their relationship.
Plus, it opens up a new world of gift-giving. Maybe your significant other will get really excited about an upcoming RPG, first-person shooter, or social game – all great gift opportunities! So, this Valentine’s Day, why not start a new tradition?
If you need some ideas for starters, here are a few games I’ve enjoyed playing in a team of two. They don’t exactly scream “hard-core gamer” but they are definitely ways to ease a newbie into gaming! Guitar Hero, Lego Star Wars or Harry Potter, Mario Kart, and Little Big Planet.
The belief that the media we consume affects us negatively is not a new idea. The debate that arose twenty years ago when the Entertainment Software Rating Board (or ESRB) was created to inform consumers of the violent content of video games was far from the beginning. It started with the advent of organized society. Governments have a long history of banning, imprisoning, and even executing any author or journalist for writing articles and books deemed a “bad influence on the public.”
This movement arrives in the middle of the battle that was documented by the Wall Street Journal between Jane McGonigal, game designer and advocate for the benefits of video games on gamers in the real world, and Edward Castronova, Indiana University professor who questions the extent of Ms. McGonigal’s claims. Ms. McGonigal states that putting people in the role of “hero” in a video game makes players aware of their best selves. Professor Castronova claims that though we have already integrated video games into our lives, all media scholars agree that too much use points to the frivolity of games—that all games come to the same conclusion of valor, without showing players that everybody has varied views on what constitutes honor and morality.
I would otherwise jump to Ms. McGonigal’s side, using myself as an example of someone who has been bettered by games, someone who believes that video games can indeed do us good as a society. But that is too easy, and it will never banish the naysayers to the land of believers, no matter how hard Ms. McGonigal fights to prove that games can make us better people.
Instead, I will step out of the warzone, look away from what arguments are on the table, and look inside of myself. Why is my life better because of video games? Why am I confronted with my best self when I assume the role of [insert popular RPG character name here]? Why am I a better person now after I played [insert game here]?
I know my answers to those questions, and I will not explain them in detail here. This is why:
I believe that before we point fingers at video games or certain video game companies for promoting violent behavior, we have to remind ourselves that we are responsible for our own actions. We are responsible for controlling how the media we consume affects us. Parents are responsible for controlling how the media their children consume affects them. Whatever that entails is up to you to decide. You are reading this blog post, and you probably also read the Wall Street Journal articles by Jane McGonigal and Edward Castronova, and you are probably deciding for yourself right now what you think of all of them, which you choose to believe, and which one affected you the most.
You are in control. You are in control of how a video game affects you. Does it raise your moral values? Or does it threaten to lower them? Do you focus on the blood that results from the fight, or do you focus on the story, what your character learns in the game, and in turn, what YOU learn from the game?
You can choose to dismiss video games as an art or as a viable piece of entertainment. You can choose to connect yourself with the experience of a game, BE the character you played on screen, feel his or her emotions and learn what he or she learns. In any case, the good and bad in a video game are found within. How do video games truly affect us? The answer: you decide.
“Elle regarde bien,” said an unnamed character in the French version of Final Fantasy VII. Non-French speakers will input that line into Google Translate and find out it means, “She looks good,” probably referring to the attractiveness of Tifa or Aeris. French speakers, on the other hand, will know immediately that this sentence is embarrassingly–both grammatically and semantically–incorrect.
This laughable mistake, according to Spiders CEO Jehanne Rousseau (developer of Faery: Legends of Avalon to be published by TriplePoint client Focus Home Interactive) is most likely attributed to the fact that the French version of Final Fantasy VII was translated directly from the English version. Knowing Final Fantasy VII was originally written in Japanese, the French version is nothing more than a translation of a translation. This of course resulted in a line that literally means “she LOOKS (with her eyes) well.”
So why would the French translators translate a Japanese game based on anything other than the original Japanese version? Could it be the lack of people fluent in both Japanese and French? Surely that cannot be the case. Having visited the city of Paris myself many times, I look around and am surprised by the high population of Japanese in Paris, and I am NOT talking about the tourists. Or am I? Due to the high number of Japanese tourists who visit France every year, there is a high demand for Japanese speakers in Paris, those who can lead tour groups and work in shops. Surely there must have been SOMEBODY fluent in both French and Japanese who could have gotten the job done without such a linguistic slip-up. Jehanne Rousseau, born and raised in France, certainly does not buy the fact that there is absolutely nobody out there of that description willing to localize a Japanese game for a French audience, noting the growing number of East Asian immigrants in France.
So why didn’t Square Enix, then Squaresoft, find somebody like that? Were French/Japanese bilinguals so rare back in 1997? Does localization of all games still come across this problem of the inability to translate from a game’s original language?
At GDC Online 2010, I attended a seminar by Samson Mow of Ubisoft Chengdu about how to reinvent Western games for East Asian audiences. Mow spoke not only of the language translation aspect of localization but also about the infrastructure and features translation of a game, concluding that audiences from different countries want a game not only to be in a language they understand, but also in a format they understand and prefer. This means they not only want their MMORPGs to be in Chinese/Japanese/Korean but they also want them to be microtransaction-based, not subscription-based. This only means one thing. Even if game developers and publishers find the proper way to translate a game into another language, they will have only won part of the battle for a foreign audience’s approval.
Luckily, it has been over 20 years since we have seen anything as bad as Zero Wing‘s “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” but as technology breaks down the borders between countries, it is no surprise that the localization of a game requires more than just a passable language translation. Almost any game made today will be played by gamers from every continent, and any game developer or publisher that is not well-versed in the game of total localization may find their fans saying their latest creation definitely does not “regarde bien.”
LEGO Universe launched last Friday for a special fans-only release period, and boy has the PR team been busy! Over the summer and into fall, we’ve been across the country and back again with the LEGO Universe developers – and that’s not even counting pre-E3 and international happenings. From E3 in Los Angeles, Comic-Con in San Diego and PAX in Seattle, to press meetings in New York and family media day in Colorado, LEGO Universe has amazed and inspired everyone who sees it.
The LEGO Group (creative brick-building toy icon) teamed up with NetDevil (supernaturally talented development team), and collaborated with some of the most imaginative and passionate fans in the world (LEGO Universe Partners, or LUPS for short)… It’s taken 5 years to get here, and the real works just begun, but together this LEGO trifecta has created one helluva MMOG.
The Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) is one of those rare trade shows where with a little bit of effort, the stars can align to produce something spectacular. With nearly every major company in the gaming industry vying for attention at the show, breaking through the clutter and noise of the West and South Halls is no small feat. It requires thoughtful planning, timely execution and well, a CEO who is willing to shave his head to fulfill a bet.
Prepare for trouble and make it double! March 14, 2010 was the launch date of the new Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver games on Nintendo DS, remakes of the 1999 original Gold and Silver games on Game Boy Color. For those who thought ahead of time and had a Reservation Card, Target was giving away gift cards per game, as well as Lugia and Ho-oh collectible figurines. For once daylight-saving time was actually welcomed in my home, as it meant I would get to play the new games one hour earlier. After several hours of anticipation and strategic decision making (“I’ll buy Gold if you let me play your Silver later…”), I finally had a copy in my very own hands. Pokémon HeartGold was my game choice and I am happy to say that it combines old-school Pokémon antics with some updated adventures.
As a new trainer, your journey in HeartGold and SoulSilver is pretty identical to the one back in 1999. Not too much has changed since the original Gold and Silver story—granted you don’t mess with the best. The new format is up to date and now any Pokémon can follow you, but the underlying basis still involves traveling to gyms and inevitably trying to halt the evil plans of Team Rocket (They’re blasting off again!). Pokémasters can now travel to the elusive Safari Zone and use the new Pokéathlon game feature. Pick your three favorite Pokémon to play in a set of mini-games on the Nintendo DS touch screen utilizing the wireless feature to play against friends.
With yet two more versions of Pokémon game play, Nintendo had to do something to capture our interest—introducing the Pokéwalker. Basically a glorified pedometer, the Pokéwalker allows you to upload a Pokémon and then bring it around with you as you walk. Walking earns watts, which let you level up your existing Pokémon and catch new ones. Game enthusiasts can train Pokémon while getting their daily amount of exercise—or if you are like me, you can simply attach the Pokéwalker to your dog. Believe me, it works exactly the same.
The Pokéwalker peripheral is the fundamental piece of the HeartGold and SoulSilver launch. If you happened to be in New York City yesterday, perhaps you even saw giant Pikachu footprints around Broadway Plaza, celebrating the release of the game. Festivities were in full swing as Pokéfans followed Pika’s trail (pedometer in hand) around Times Square, ending up at the Toys ‘R’ Us. Such an anticipated launch couldn’t have come at a better time for gaming giant Nintendo and the Pokémon craze. Ten years since the original Gold/Silver has left fans craving more, and the timing of such a combination invites both new fans and old Pokémaniacs. Pokémon truly cross generational gaps—after all who doesn’t love a cute Pikachu or a cuddly Jigglypuff?
In terms of respect in the gaming industry, sports videogames sometimes get, for lack of a better term, “the shaft.” Despite the massive annual sales and worldwide appeal of perennial juggernauts such as EA Sports’ Madden and FIFA series, sports videogames arguably do not receive the proper attention in terms of critical analysis and recognition that they deserve from the gaming community.
One person who has made recent breakthroughs in the way sports videogames are received and covered is Kotaku’s Owen Good. Owen is the voice behind Kotaku’s sports coverage, satiating readers’ appetites for in-depth coverage and discussion of issues within sports gaming through daily updates and his Saturday sports column, “Stick Jockey.” To further explore the latest issues in sports gaming, Owen was able to sit down with us and share some of his thoughts.
TP: How did you find yourself in your current role as the leading voice behind sports coverage at Kotaku?
OG: Somewhat by happenstance, really. Brian Crecente (the site’s editor in chief) and I were both reporters at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, starting within about a week of each other in 2001, come to think of it. We kept in touch after I left in 2004, and in April of last year, he needed a weekend editor and asked somewhat out of the blue if I’d consider it. The role was more part-time then than now. In July of this year Brian expanded my duties to make the job more of a full-time position. Shortly after, both he and the deputy editor, Stephen Totilo, saw that I was writing consistently about sports games, having a great deal of interest in the subject both as a gamer and as a former sports writer. Recognizing that it’s a potential growth topic, we three quickly agreed on creating a Saturday sports column for me. Others at Kotaku will write about sports — Luke Plunkett, especially — but since the column’s debut in August, “Stick Jockey” means I’m the de facto face of sports gaming for Kotaku.
TP: Sports videogames seem to be frowned upon by other gaming journalists. Do you agree that there is a certain bias against sports videogames in the journalism community and if so, why?
OG: I wouldn’t say there’s a demonstrated, overt bias in the specialty press as much as there is a passive, albeit strong neglect. Sports games are a lower priority in general interest games publications and sites, that’s fair to point out. And, speaking for Kotaku, were we to consider only our readers’ reactions, we probably wouldn’t make much of an effort on the subject either. If you were to take these as your only measures, there’s a definite chilling effect seen both in reader comments and the pageviews for sports topics compared to other subjects, and that’s because the typical hardcore gamers who comprise our readership came to gaming for shooters, role-playing games, action/adventure titles — something other than sports. I view this as more of an opportunity; and so does Kotaku’s editorial leadership. We should present sports gaming in a useful and accessible way to all readers, but I think if you’re looking to make a hardcore gaming audience interested in sports games, you’re going to be frustrated. Instead I’m trying to grow our site’s reputation with and exposure among sports gamers, who maybe aren’t as inclined to visit general-purpose gaming blogs. But there’s no question it is an underserved readership. A game like Madden isn’t successful because 10 teenagers buy a million copies each year.
TP: How do you combat such a bias?
OG: I’m happy to write about sports games any day of the week. But as my column shows, there has to be buy-in from the editorial leadership of a magazine or site. They have to see the value or at least the potential in sports game coverage, and then give that copy mainstream play within the rest of their report. Kotaku’s taken a progressive stance on both counts.
TP: In your opinion, what is the single greatest innovation in sports gaming in the last 10 years?
OG: This probably goes back even further than 10 years, but I think it’s 3D gameplay. Seems a little basic but it completely remade our expectations of the genre. The means to create an accurate league, game, or season simulation, in the math anyway, has been around since Microleague Baseball on the PC in the 1980s. Full 3D motion-captured animation finally brought the gameplay up to TV-like realism and created what we now know as the modern sports simulation — which marries statistical accuracy with on-field verisimilitude, both under control of the player. Prior to this, even a title like the beloved NHL ’94 was more arcade than lifelike in its gameplay. Other than 3D animation, the core components of a sports title — single game, season mode, player creation and roster management, full league licensing — have been around for most of the past two decades.
TP: Recently, microtransactions have worked their way into the sports gaming scene. EA Sports introduced the ability to purchase stat upgrades in Madden 10. Furthermore, EA Sports will offer Tiger Woods PGA Tour soon in a free-to-play, browser-based version, encouraging players to purchase in-game objects. Do you see this trend continuing, and will it be healthy for sports gaming?
OG: To directly answer the question: yes, it will continue. While I don’t think they do a whole lot to invigorate sports gaming from a consumer’s perspective, microtransactions certainly don’t harm it. In games like Madden and NCAA Football, we’re not talking about paying to access major features or expectations of a game that should be in the retail code, and the performance boosts are for singleplayer only. I bought all the upgrades for my dynasty in NCAA Football 10, and justified it as a role-playing decision — elite programs make hard-cash investments in attracting and developing their personnel, don’t they? Opening up an extra recruiting pipeline is not even the kind of core game feature where you say, well, if the game was $70 it would be included. At the same time, it’s an extra revenue stream and if that helps keep the price fixed at $60, as a gamer I can tolerate it.
TP: You recently mention NFL 2K5 as an overlooked game of the year possibility in 2005. Through EA’s purchase of the NFL license for use in videogames, this franchise has taken on an entirely different form since. Through eliminating direct competition, do you feel that financial strategies such as EA’s acquisition of the exclusive NFL license inhibit progress and innovation for sports gaming in general?
OG: There are two things at work here. One is that EA’s exclusive deal showed up at the same time as the Xbox 360; Madden was rushed to that console and its underperformance on the current generation correlates to that deal, and so everyone blames the deal. Which, to be honest, has its own shady history, as the retired NFLers’ lawsuit drew out in litigation. Without defending Madden 06 to 08, I think this is mostly a knee-jerk reaction, because the same people who rip EA for being lazy in that franchise turn right around and rip MLB 2K, and pine for MVP Baseball the same way they do for NFL 2K5. It has a lot to do with the hypercritical and anti-overdog sentiments native to a lot of hardcore gamers. But the truth is you can’t reasonably expect to transform a sports video game — with much more rigid gameplay boundaries — on a one-year development cycle the way you can something like BioShock or Grand Theft Auto on a two or three-year cycle. It’s easy to say direct competition assures a better overall product for the general gaming public, but it seems to be an expectation only of sports games, and I’m not sure that its absence means someone’s holding back bona fide game-changing features. I think they’re just harder to execute in this genre once every three years, let alone every year.
TP: Which sports games currently take up most of your time? Do you prefer taking the battle online, or playing locally against friends?
OG: I grew up in North Carolina before we had major sports teams, and I’m a proud alumnus of N.C. State, so the Atlantic Coast Conference is the big league of my youth, and I love both NCAA Football 10 and NCAA Basketball 10. But I’m more of a singleplayer guy. The game you play online is much more mercenary and I don’t have the skills to beat anyone other than a few friends I already know. I also strive to build accurate season simulations — with a few exceptions. In hoops, I love creating myself as a deadeye 99 shooter, automatic even from 25 feet.
TP: What do you see as the next true step/revolution in videogame sports?
OG: I think it’d be easy to say motion controls. But honestly, I think most sports gamers gravitate to these sims because the feats of athleticism are so difficult to replicate in real life. Performing some approximation of hitting, pitching or tossing a touchdown pass, either in Natal or with Sony’s motion control, actually holds little appeal for me as a gamer. That’s not to say sports games won’t or shouldn’t develop for that capability. But I think the next step, and the more achievable one, will be full broadcast integration. I can easily see this happening in other sports titles, and EA Sports just sent out a survey about NCAA Football 11 that indicates it’s at least considering such a thing for that title. We’re midway through the current console generation’s lifespan, roughly, so we aren’t going to get increased processing power or memory and the visuals or content that come with it. But as sports gamers increasingly expect to play the kind of game they see on the television, a way to deliver that immersion will be in the use of actual networks’ graphics and sound packages. NCAA Basketball 10 is not a perfect game but, in using two networks’ presentation assets, it is to me this year’s most visible innovator, and at least one major sports title should emulate its proof of concept in the coming year.
The iTunes App Store is a booming marketplace, full of opportunity for independent developers. At an Apple press conference earlier this month, Steve Jobs said that over 30 million iPhones and 20 million iPod Touch devices have been sold to date. There are over 100 million customers on iTunes, and they’ve been busy – downloading over 1.8 billion apps since the App Store launched in July 2008. But with over 75,000 apps and counting (more than 21,000 in the game category alone), it’s a sink or swim space. The unique iPhone platform is luring talented designers from top names in the traditional video game development industry – ambitious artists, code-monkeys and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes looking to try their hand at a new medium, and take on whatever responsibility necessary – including new shoes they’ll learn to fill along the way.
There are already more than 100,000 third-parties in the iPhone Developer Program, and the App Store marketplace has created a community mindset among many of these smaller independent companies, who are willing to share some of their “secrets” and learn from their competitors to further their cause and to coexist symbiotically, if you will. One such indie developer is Rock Ridge Games. I had a chance to pick the brains of Rock Ridge’s president and VP, Mike Mann and P.J. Snavely, on what it takes to make the transition from licensed, big-budget console game development to the DIY world of iPhone app development – here’s what they had to say…
Can you give us a little background on Rock Ridge Games and your experience in game development?
Rock Ridge Games was started in April of this year with the goal of developing interesting and fun original games for the incredible new smartphones hitting the market. There are only two of us (Mike Mann and PJ Snavely) but we’ve got almost 30 years of combined experience in game development, having come from the console side of development. We’ve worked on everything from multi-million dollar licensed sports games to small independent titles for XBLA. The iPhone is our new frontier.