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Jul. 20 2010 — 1:08 pm | 1,477 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Do We Need Gamestop?

Gamestop is a target of much hate for gamers and studios alike in this day and age. The employees are usually notoriously dick-ish when it comes to pushing preorders or console warranties, and developers hate their sale of used games as the store makes a huge profit by selling a game again they’ve already sold once, while those who made it get nothing.

It’s the second part of that dynamic I want to talk about for a second, because as much as it pains the studio, used games are a big help for consumers. Even a brand new title purchased used is still 8-16% off the new price, and older titles sink even further in price.

But if Gamestop goes the way of Blockbuster, and succumbs to the digital age where everything is sent directly to your console, will consumers have any choice BUT to pay full price for games?

At first, the answer would seem to be no. If physical copies of games cease to exist (and within ten years I predict they will), then how does one buy one used? The consumer will be forced to pay full price for every title.

Or will they?

I think there’s a market here that has yet to be smashed open to any significant degree by anyone. Something Netflix, Redbox, Blockbuster and even Gamestop are circling, but no ones figured it out quite yet.

The demand for video game rental is huge. Far larger than anyone realizes. But unfortunately, because there is SO much demand, the supply for such a service is, for lack of a better term, complete shit.

The only real way to rent games now are through Blockbuster, which has about a 10% chance of having the game you want if it’s been released within the last two months, or GameFly, who will impress you greatly by giving you a few games in a timely fashion, but soon it will take weeks or months to get any title you want on the top of your queue.

Good in theory, not in practice.

There is a great need for a timely delivery rental system of games, be it through the mail or via direct download. Mail would be a tricky concept to execute, as Netflix’s “keep it as long as you want” philosophy wouldn’t work here. You’ll probably get around to watching a two hour movie in a week or so, but it’ll probably take you the better part of a month to put in 20-40 hours to beat certain video game titles. This would result in the same shortage that makes Blockbuster’s shelves empty or Gamefly’s lines long.

Rather, I believe in the future rentals should be done via download. If streaming gameplay becomes more of a reality (we’ll see if OnLive delivers), it could be done that way, with a time limit that a player must “insert coins” figuratively speaking if they’d like to keep playing.

The other way to do it, is a kind of self-destructing download, where the game would sit on a player’s hard drive until the rental time period was up. This would seem to be the best solution, but once you start downloading games, piracy becomes an immediate concern. The console industry has avoided mass piracy successfully unlike the movie, TV and music industries because it requires so much more work to execute. You must download and burn games (an ordeal in itself) and then illegally modify your console, the result of which can mean your banishment from your system’s internet forever if you’re discovered, successfully turning your system into a $300 brick.

There isn’t an easy answer to this problem, but it is one that needs answering. The $60 price point for games that’s been unfairly established by a conglomerate of huge corporations is nothing short of price fixing, and there needs to be an alternative to that, whether it’s through used games (which we see currently) or rentals (a market that will hopefully continue to develop effectively).

So to answer my original question, do we need Gamestop? As the industry changes quickly, unless they capitalize on new distribution methods, the answer is no, we won’t, even if used games become a thing of the past. Soon people who still cling to the belief that they need a physical copy of something will be looked at as dinosaurs by the next generation. After the disc, there will be no new physical format, only files and bits of data. The sooner the industry and the public realizes this, the better.

Jul. 13 2010 — 1:38 pm | 905 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

As It Turns Out, Girls Want More Than Kittens and Ribbons in Their Games

There’s a study out of Belgium that has turned the video game world on its head with new findings about girls and video games.

Alright, not really, as these conclusions should be obvious to anyone without a marketing degree. Girls are tired of games being sold to them in a way that appeals to a preconceived notion of what “girliness” is. In fact, they say they wouldn’t mind a little more violence in their titles either.

The study, from Belgium’s Ghent University, found girls were frustrated that there were not enough games designed for their tastes and wanted easier-to-use controls.

Girls reported they enjoyed mildly graphic violent games and were sick of games that were marketed to them like they were interested only in “kittens and pink ribbons”.

Sadly there were no results that boys are interested in anything other than grizzled space marines, so presumably every game aimed at them will still feature those.

I think that besides the violence issue, the note about simpler controls is something to note as well. I’ve tried to teach a range of different girlfriends how to play a first person shooter like Halo or Call of Duty. Even ones that claimed to be “veteran” players of more old school games like those for the SNES, Genesis or 64 could not grasp this new control system of “one stick moves your head, one stick moves your feet.” They’d often just end up staring at the sky, spinning around, or moving awkwardly, only able to employ one stick or the other at a time.

I don’t mean to suggest that all girls are unable to perform such motions, as I’m sure they could all learn if they didn’t get frustrated and quit on me immediately, but it does speak to the rise of “casual” games which have more easy to use controls with only zero or one joysticks to worry about. New players, male or female, are more likely to grasp that kind of scheme quickly.

As for girls wanting their games to grow up, I can’t blame them for that, and someday, I dream of a world where we can put gender differences aside and all frag in harmony.

Jul. 7 2010 — 1:02 pm | 1,331 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Blizzard’s War on Anonymity Will Have Casualties on All Sides

Blizzard dropped a bomb on its community yesterday, and it’s one that might not just have ramifications for its customers, but for the entire internet, depending on the results of its little experiment.

They’ve done away with anonymity in their forums completely, and in the future, all posting MUST be made using the members RealID, ie. their actual first and last name they inputted with their CD Key when they installed the game. They maintain that the boards have grown too rife with trolls and flamewars, and they believe this move will effectively stomp all that out. Needless to say, this drastic move is…controversial.

Here’s the official word they put out on the forums yesterday:

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

I have to be honest, my first, initial, unadulterated reaction to this news was glee. Why? For years now, I’ve been writing with my real name for the various media outlets I work for including this one, and in return for expressing my ideas and having them attached to my own name (in on True/Slant, face), I’ve been endlessly flamed with personal insults from commenters hiding under the veil of a fake username and e-mail address.

It doesn’t seem fair that I put myself out there every day with my writing, only to routinely be torn down by anonymous idiots who I have no recourse against. I’ve long dreamed of an internet utopia where everyone is responsible for what they say, leading to a much more civilized discourse overall. Have you ever read the comments of ANY YouTube video? It’s like if a horny thirteen year old boy was genetically spliced with homeless man with Tourettes. Surely, by forcing users to post only with their real name, stupid people would keep their mouths shut, and the internet would instead be filled with intelligent debate and thoughtful contribution instead of trolling and profanity.

But it didn’t take me long to realize that was just a fantasy, and instead the idea of taking anonymity away from the internet would have very serious consequences for everyone.

If we even just examine the Blizzard situation for a few seconds, problems jump out of the woodwork immediately. Among them:

- Job Hunting: A potential employer could immediately be turned off by the mere fact that you are in fact a gamer, as evidenced by your posting on a World of Warcraft board about raids and mounts and loot drops. It may not be fair, but many companies will have an innate bias against such people, as gamers are still a much maligned segment of the population, despite how much the demographic has grown. A simple Google search could cost you a job just because of a harmless leisure activity you enjoy just because you look like a dork.

Yes, I love this game, but I don't necessarily want the world to know that.

- Vengeance: Many disputes in a game can get people extremely worked up in real life. With the availability of real names, hunting someone down IRL (in real life) would get much, much easier, and I doubt it would be long before virtual conflict led to physical retribution in a way that could range from sending 100 pizzas to you house to actually murdering you in their sleep. And I guarantee both would happen at some point.

- Girls: You think it’s hard to find a girl playing Starcraft now? Just wait until they’re all chased away by the fact that they must now publically reveal their sex to the entire community by using their real name. If you think sexual harassment will be stamped out entirely by this new policy (as the men must use their real names as well), think again, the reverse would likely be true and the potential for real-world stalking grows infinitely higher under these new rules, even if the female in question is merely trying to be an active participant in the community.

A girl? GET HER!

- Slippery Slope: If this policy did catch on with other sites with forums and comments, it seems like the first step in a big brother policy of internet usage monitoring. A Google search would turn up a complete list of the sites you frequent and communities you participate in, and some would surely have info you wouldn’t want others to see.

And that’s really a big issue. I used anonymity as a negative when describing commenters earlier, who use the privilege to insult and slander freely. But what about the flipside of that? What about someone who uses that freedom to say something that’s on their mind and close to their heart, but would never do so if their name was attached to it? What if a closeted liberal in Alabama wants to post anti-war sentiments on a CNN news post without his family seeing? What if the son of hippie parents wants to express his love for automatic firearms on a gun forum without a lecture? Yes, we might slay the trolls, but at what cost to the civilian population?

This issue is splitting many on the internet, and even within Blizzard’s forums. Yes, the majority opinion is that this is an awful idea for many of the reasons I’ve listed above. But some have had enough with the flamewars and think desperate measures like this are in order. Will this work? Honestly, I don’t think so. The official comment boards will whittle down to the die-hard few, with hardly anyone willing to put themselves out there with the veil lifted. Blizzard’s mods will have an easier job, as their community will simply pick up and move to the trillion other sites that still have anonymity intact.

When it comes down to it, I think anonymity is necessary for the internet, even if it does mean venomous comments and idiocy. There’s always the delete and ban buttons after all, and this just seems like a bunch of Blizzard moderators tired of doing their jobs. Jobs that will now not exist after the entire community jumps ship.

I’ve gotten used to the negative comments over the years, and by now they’re just white noise. And really, we may think we have true freedom of speech in this country, but we don’t, not consequence free at least. Anonymity is really the only way to truly let us say anything at all, good, bad or otherwise, and that is a freedom I don’t think we should be forced to give up. Combine this with a set of very real safety and privacy concerns, and this is just a bad policy on every level.

Stay tuned to see how Blizzard handles the backlash.

Jul. 1 2010 — 12:58 pm | 1,556 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Who Will Actually Buy Move or Kinect?

As the glow of E3 slowly fades into darkness, my current mindset in regards to video games is mostly sitting around, replaying Borderlands out of boredom, waiting for Starcraft II and Halo: Reach to come out.

But with little else to do, I must continue reflecting on Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect, the two pieces of technology that are essentially replacing the need for a new console generation. At least according to their creators.

As I think about it more and more though, I have to wonder how either system believes it’s going to be a success in the current console climate, and who exactly they’re thinking will be supporting this new technology.

The way I look at it, there are four main groups of people that make up the vast majority of the market who will all not buy Move or Kinect for different reasons.

The Family that Only Owns a Wii – Their kids aren’t that into video games, or else they’d have other consoles. They bought a Wii thinking that it would be a good family activity, but now rarely play it.

Why won’t they bite? – If they don’t care much for gaming to begin with, do you think they’ll really drop $500 for a console, a motion control system and a game? Though these people might have bought into the motion control gimmick initially, you won’t fool them twice.

The Hardcore Gamer – These are the kinds of people (like myself) who own either a PS3 or 360 already, and have been laughing at the Wii for years, or bought one a long time ago for Super Smash Bros. or Mario Galaxy and have not really played it since.

Why won’t they bite? – They think that some of the tech is decently cool, such as voice controlling a DVD with Kinect or complete 1:1 movement with Move, but with the current slate of upcoming games for both devices being mainly Wii Sports clones and dancing titles, there’s no reason to drop $150 at this point. But even once games we like start employing the tech, it’s going to be hard justifying why they’d rather play Gears of War in mime for hours on end rather than simply using a controller.

Yeah, how long can you keep that up?

The Family Who Owns a Wii AND Another Console – It’s clear this tech is aimed mainly at families, so we’ll head back in that direction. Some families are more gaming oriented, and they might actually have sprung for more than one console for their kids

Why won’t they bite? – This might be the group most likely to buy either piece of tech, but I don’t think it will work. If they already own a Wii, it’s going to be hard to justify paying the extra cash for something that is really only a slight upgrade to their existing motion control set-up.

The Non-Console Owner – A family or an individual who has avoided the entire new generation of consoles. Either they’re still rocking an N64 or a PS2, or they just don’t have an interest in games, and Microsoft and Sony are hoping their “anyone can play” systems will lure them in.

Why won’t they bite? – If they weren’t seduced in by the sensation that was the Wii sweeping the nation with its promise of video games for all, they won’t drop double the cash for a similar system now.

So who does that leave? I really only see two groups who will buy either system.

The Hardcore Gamer/Technophile – The gamer with a bit of cash in his pocket who wants to have all the latest tech, regardless of how much he actually uses it a month from now. Has all three consoles already, might as well get all the latest add ons for them.

The Family with Only a 360 or PS3 – Since they don’t have a Wii, they figure it might be a good way to turn their son’s 8 hour Call of Duty binges into family time by purchasing Kinect or Move for a more casual experience. But if they hadn’t gotten a Wii by this point, I don’t think they have much interest in casual gaming, and the parents are content to let their kids do their own thing.

It's totally different, we swear!

But even if these two groups jump on Move and Kinect, the sales of either aren’t going to approach anything close to the numbers the Wii has managed to put up.

This begs the question, how far are Sony and Microsoft willing to go with this tech? Do they truly believe that motion controls are the future of gaming? Will they devote massive amounts of time and resources to make sure that all future games start to move toward using that tech instead of say, focusing on building an entirely new console?

And I think that last part is really the answer. We need a new console generation, or for at least a new console generation to be announced. The Xbox 360 came out in 2005, and it’s clear we’re going to head into 2011 without even a hint that a new version of the 360 or any other console is on the way.

I just don’t see myself, or many gamers like me, ever springing for this tech as an add-on. But make it a standard part of an entirely new console with massive processing power and next-level graphics, and I’m on board, I’d pay $400-$500 for that.

Motion controls have unfortunately stalled what should be the natural evolution of video games, and now we’re actually moving backward in terms of progress. Yes, the tech is a step forward in a lot of ways, but the games themselves are three steps back, and are little more than minigames or party activities at this point. I’m not saying there isn’t a market for that, but it can only take you so far. And once motion controls become a MANDATORY part of our favorite games (like in the upcoming Wii Zelda title), there might be something of a revolt within the industry.

Sony and Microsoft, just be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket. As you’re flailing your arms and legs around in your living room, you might knock it over and crack them all open.

Jun. 22 2010 — 1:45 pm | 1,485 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

How Much Will It Actually Cost to Play 3D Games on PS3?

There were two big stories this year at E3, one of them is motion controls, a subject I have beaten to death with a Wiimote for a while now, and the other is 3D. I actually think 3D, when properly done, would be a cool addition to many games, but there are currently two directions the industry is taking with the format.

I want to first examine Sony, which is releasing 3D games in conjunction with their new line of 3D TVs that will be on sale shortly. But since the tech is new, just how much will you need to spend to properly play 3D games in your living room?

40 inch Sony LED LX900 TV ~ $3,000 est.
1 pair TDG-BR100 3D glasses – $133
1 TMR-BR100 IR emitter – $55
1 Playstation 3 – $300
1 copy of Killzone 3 – $60

And if you want a second player?

1 pair TDG-BR100 3D glasses – $133
1 Dualshock 3 controller – $55

And if you want Sony Move capability?

1 Move controller – $50
Second half of Move controller – $30
Sony Eyetoy – $30

And for two players?

1 Move controller – $50
Second half of Move Controller $30

So, final rundown:

3D for just you – $3,548
3D for you and a friend – $3,736
3D with Move for just you – $3,658
3D with Move for you and a friend – $3,871

Give or take a few hundred for when the final price of the 3D capable TV is released.

I understand that Sony is trying to go after early adopters with 3D, and someday, 3D TV will probably be the norm at the current pace, but all of these price tags are far beyond anything the vast majority of gamers can afford, and I have a hunch that they might be in for a world of hurt when all this stuff is launched initially. And people really do still hate those glasses.

Which brings me to my second set of numbers. Nintendo showcased the 3DS at their E3 keynote, a 3D version of their DS that doesn’t require glasses to create a 3D effect, presumably because it is powered by magic.

So how much will it take to experience 3D tech from Nintendo?

1 3DS – $249

That’s it. That price point I estimated, as it hasn’t been officially announced, but Nintendo has never debuted a system above that price, and due to their mountains of cash from Wii and DS sales so far, I highly doubt they’ll start now.

Yes, it’s true, this is a handheld and Sony’s is on a giant screen in your living room, but the price disparity does not narrow that enjoyment gap to a level that makes the PS3’s 3D seem reasonable. Careful Sony, you might be in over your heads here.

[numbers via Engadget]

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    After rising to blogging fame as the University of Michigan's answer to Gossip Girl, I took the EIC job at a student blog network spreading my wealth of college experience across the nation. My passion project is a movie/tv/gaming site called Unreality and I'm a movie news editor at JoBlo.com. I'm new to this business, and I think I'm a part of the first generation of journalists to skip print media entirely. When I started out, I had zero idea blogging could be a career, but I've learned more in the last ten months than I did in four years of college. What exactly did I major in again?

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