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Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

Last week I lamented the passing of a great iPhone company. No, they didn’t go under, in fact, they are probably rolling in money as I write this, but as much as I want to congratulate ngmoco I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t want to get back into this rant, but its become fairly obvious to me that they are a company that has become more interested in profits than in creating the quality, fun products they use to.

In this same vein, Ian Bogost, has been creating turbulence within the game industry by being rather outspoken on the topic of social games and why he is disturbed by them. Trying to wrap his head around these traits, Bogost has created a satirical Facebook game entitled Cow Clicker which boils down the  social game to its core components, clicking on something every few hours to gain resources. The genesis of the game and more information on what Bogost is learning can be found on his blog.

Of the four ways Bogost cites as the reasons he despises social games the two I agree with the most are his enframing and optimalism arguments. Both of these arguments focus on how these socials games treat their players and the “play” they are participating in. I have often wondered how well a game like FarmVille would do without the social backbone of Facebook to hold it up. Even iPhone copycats like WeRule/Farm use a social network component to “virally” spread about their respective markets. Play is nothing more than clicking on a timer with the goal of the designer to keep the player in the game space for as long as possible. This often results in the starting crop netting the best returns offering no strategy other than trying to guess how long will sleep so they can set their crops accordingly.

This is why I like Echo Bazaar, a a narrative heavy, web-based game by Failbetter Games that utilizes Twitter as it’s social network. The writing alone makes the game worth playing, but amidst all the narrative twists and turns there is actually game play! There are items to collect, stats to raise and numerous ways to get your friends involved instead of just using them as a resource boost.

I’ve heard rumor that companies are starting to try and make social  games like Echo Bazaar; a product with more game in it, but I want to see it before I’ll believe it.

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My apologies for the delays in posting. I had Internet issues the past few days which were finally resolved several hours ago. I will be posting over the weekend to make up for the lack of posts over the past few days.

Starcraft 2 landed on Tuesday leaving much of the gaming world silent for a few days as gamers tear into the long awaited sequel. The game includes access to the multiplayer and provides 30 Terran based missions for players to revel in along with tools to create custom maps. I must admit, I’ve been impressed with what I see and will probably buy the game at some point. The story looks very intriguing and the game itself looks gorgeous. Again, I will buy this game at some point.

I’m intrigued more than anything, however, by Blizzard’s decision to release the campaigns separately instead of combined as they did with the original Starcraft. It gives them more time to tweak and refine both the Zerg and Protos campaigns and it breaks Blizard’s “release when its done” cycle, both of which are good things.

But how much will the other campaigns cost?

At $60 the current release comes with a 30 mission campaign, access to multiplayer and a toolset. The Zerg campaign which could be months (maybe even a year) away will most likely cost an additional $60 (more if you want a collectors edition) that will have 30(ish) campaign missions access to multiplayer and a toolset; the same goes for the Protos campaign. I’m not sure how players are going to react to that. I certainly would not be interested in forking over an additional $120 for 60 new missions and two extras of the multiplayer and tools that I will never use.

Blizzard has an interesting opportunity to do some interesting things by splitting up the campaign. There are a number of things they could do to make the $60 easy to swallow, but will they do them. Their recent merge with Activision makes me hesitant about some of the recent decisions they have been making regarding their business. Admittedly, these are fairly unfounded, but Activision has screwed over many gamers and a few studios before, so I wouldn’t put it past them to have influenced this decision.

Here are a couple of thoughts I have on how Blizzard should offer the future campaigns so they are attractive to their audience.

Sell the campaigns as separate games to new customers and offer the campaigns as downloadable DLC for $20-$30

This would allow players who purchased the Terran campaign to skip paying for the unnecessary multiplayer and tools they already have access to. It would also allow anyone who comes late by buying the Zerg or Protos version of the game to access the other campaigns easily instead of slogging through stores trying to find old copies of the game (or maybe that’s what Blizzard wants).Blizzard has shown that they are not afraid of implementing DLC in World of Warcraft so it makes sense that they might try something like this.

Sell the campaigns as separate games for $60 but allow the multiplayer to be gifted

Steam did this when they released the Orange Box which contained Halflife 2 which many players already had. By allowing players to gift the multiplayer access it could generate interest in the campaigns which might get purchased. Blizzard has the platform already setup to make this work with BattleNet and they even implemented a similar system with the current release of Starcraft 2 which lets you gift seven hours to two other BattleNet accounts. Still, $60 is steep for a new campaign and a free pass for a friend.

Be evil and expect people to pay $60 for a bunch of stuff they don’t need

I don’t see Blizzard doing this, but its definitely a possibility. They might go along the route of World of Warcraft and offer the Zerg and Protos campaigns for $40 like they do for the WoW expansions. Trying to sell players a bunch of stuff they already have seems like a way to make a lot of enemies really quick in this industry.

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The big news floating around the net yesterday concerns the Library of Congress announcing jailbreaking cellphones to be protected under fair use. This is big news for iPhone users who are now free to jailbreak their phones without fear of being penalized $2,500 and spending up to 5 years in jail. An article released by Ars Technica outlines the Library’s decision on jailbreaking along with several others including DRM circumvention for security research and cracking eReaders so programs can read the text aloud.

This development originally concerned me, because in my mind jailbreaking is synonymous with illegal app copying, but upon further investigation I discovered that this is not the case. In fact, jailbroken phones retain all of their abilities including the ability to access the App Store and purchase apps. This is probably why the Register commented that jailbreaking holds up under the four factors of the fair use test stating that, “since one cannot engage in that practice unless one has acquired an iPhone” the act meets all four requirements.”

So what does this mean for mobile games? Well, it means that we might see more people using iPhones either jailbroken or on T-Mobile which is rumored to be getting the iPhone as early as this Fall. More phones means more potential customers which translates to more sales potential for the platform. It also means that if Apple wants to keep their precious ecosystem within their walled garden they are going to have to find a way to keep the jailbroken phones out which is a lot easier said than done.

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Game journalist Leigh Alexander recently wrote a post on her blog Sexy Viedogameland about her encounter with a gamer on the subway who did not appear to be a gamer. Behind the ginormous baggy pants, askew ball cap and huge diamond stud was a man familiar with Final Fantasy VII (much to Leigh’s surprise). Neither of them expected the other to be a gamer, after all neither of them fit the “gamer” stereotype, but who does these days?

Video games are reaching that age where they have been apart of the lives of the generation about to raise their own families. I was even playing games on my parents old DOS based computer when I was as young as two and I’m on the young end. The kids who grew up playing the Nintendo and Sega have gone off and joined the working world, but they haven’t left those gamer roots behind.

At the same time, the casual and mobile game explosion has expanded the ranks of gamers across a spectrum that I would have never thought possible. My mother, a K-8 school librarian, plays Farkle and Plants Versus Zombies like nobodies business. Now your definition of a gamer might differ from mine, but I would consider her a gamer. She plays fairly regularly, when her schedule permits, and she can hold a conversation with my sister (definitely a gamer) using lingo that can make your head spin. Even if you don’t think that qualifies her as a gamer lets consider how much Solitaire she played before Farkle and PvZ. If I had to guess probably half the time my mother has spent on her home computer has been spent playing one game or another.

As Leigh plainly states, “We are proliferating. We should adjust our expectations of strangers.”

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I’m excited.

There is a new app coming out for the iPhone called Epic Win which looks awesome. It’s a ToDo list with a twist, one that has you completing task like an RPG and leveling up a character, finding loot and generally being awesome. It’s being created by Rexbox (one of the artists who worked on Little Big Planet) and Studio FungFung (who made MiniSquadron for the iPhone). It looks spectacular and a lot of fun!

I have tried a number of ToDo applications and computer programs. None of them are really my thing. My problem with them is I never feel like there is any incentive to actually use them. I start off with good intentions and slowly stop using it because I don’t have a reason to come back to it. I’m hoping Epic Win will change that by making my activities more than things I cross off a list.

Things like this have been done before in the app store, but there’s something about wrapping it up in a fantasy world illustrated by Rexbox that appeals to me. I’m also really interested in the loot they talk about (who doesn’t want a Helm of Questionable Appeal?) and seeing how they are going to pull off the app in general.

One question many people have been asking about the app is what is going to keep people from cheating? The answer is simple: nothing really, but that’s not the point of the app. While there are game elements wrapped into it, the app is suppose to encourage users to actually use there ToDo list and feel a sort of exhilaration from completing tasks. It a great example of Alternate Reality Gaming at its finest and I hope it comes out soon.

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Late last night, the Indie Fund announced it is go for taking submissions for the first round of funding. This is huge news to anyone who has a great game idea, but lacks the funding and ability (or desire) to seek traditional venture funds.

Let’s back up a bit though for those who don’t know what the Indie Fund is or where it came from. The Indie Fund spawned from a talk at the past Game Design Conference entitled Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System that Never Worked (you can view the talk by following the link). At the end of the talk the Indie Fund, created by a group of successful indie developers, was announced which is geared towards removing some of the pitfalls mentioned in the talk.

I am super excited about this and eager to see the kinds of games that come out of it.

An interesting thought, in his talk, Ron Carmel, mentions he lacks data to support how marketing influences a games success and uses that as a reason to leave marketing out of the Indie Fund model. I figure, however, that any game who receives funding from the Indie Fund and manages to ship to market won’t need much advertising because of the “prestige” it will garner by being chosen out of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of submissions by developers like Johnathan Blow, Kellee Santiago, and Nathan Vella (just to name a few) who created the fund. People will already be watching the games, unless they are not allowed to announce they have received the funding for some reason, so they will have a captive market already waiting for the Indie Fund games.

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Amidst the dying buzz of E3, which ended almost two weeks ago, La Time reporter Mark Millian made an interesting observation about one of the largest video game conventions in North America; mobile games were almost nowhere to be seen. There were certainly devices, patrons and reporters alike were spotted by the blogger carrying about their smart phones and Apple’s new iPad, but save for Disney and EA there were no booths setup for mobile gaming.

Even though smartphones are quickly becoming the highest penetrated gaming platform, their absence from E3 doesn’t surprise me in the least. As the article states, mobile gaming is really “unsexy.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that companies opted out of the “flat screens, loud sounds and big flashy graphics.” Casual games don’t belong there. I think this is why many are stating Nintendo was top dog at the convention. Compared to their showing last year Nintendo announced the return of many of the old favorite franchises (and there was much rejoicing). Microsoft on the other hand, showcased their motion controls (to the dismay of many) which cost them a lot of face among the hardcore crowd that frequents E3.

If there is a mobile developer out there kicking themselves for missing their chance to show up to E3 with their impressive new game they are doing it wrong. Mobile gaming needs new media, not old. Let the big guys flex their muscles and macho around in front of everyone. Mobile will be out back actually having some fun.

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