Spoiler Alert

spoiler_alert

It’s Tuesday morning, you get to work, you have yourself a cup of coffee and you start talking to your work mates about the latest Game of Thrones episode (yes this happens on Tuesday in Europe). Next thing you know, you find yourself on the floor, 200 pounds of sweating, angry, colleague on top of you – Terry Tate style:

 

Terry+Tate_dfd153_3697566

 

“NO FUCKING SPOILERS IN THE OFFICE!!”

Hands up who has had this happen to them (minus the Terry Tate tackle perhaps). Hands up who has been told to not talk about a film, book or game in a social environment because you might be revealing spoilers. I bet most of you have been in this situation.

And you know what? i think it’s fucking bullshit. Take Game of Thrones. People who don’t watch the latest episode on the day of release (Sunday or Monday depending on where you live), expect a large part of the population who have watched it, to keep quiet, to not discuss it, to essentially refrain from referring to it at all. And if those who have not seen it come across a spoiler, no matter how tiny it might be, they react violently, often out of any proportion to that fact. Heated arguments, tears and (in some rare cases) actual violence follow.

And for what? A bit of entertainment?

Realistically lets look at this, because i understand that everyone wants their entertainment as spoiler free as possible. We all love to discover things on our own, see the twists and turns, see the plot reveals and find out what happened next. I can see that someone telling me ahead of time that Rob Stark was going to die in the Red Wedding could have been a downer (of course that would have had to happen about 5 years ago or so – when i read the book).

But at the same time what do those people who hate spoilers expect? That the world stops until they catch up with all their entertainment products and sports events of choice? That social media enforces a black-out, nobody is allowed to post? That people can’t have water-cooler moments at work and are only allowed to discuss the weather? Or at the very least that we have to wait until we have these water-cooler moments until everyone and their dog have caught up with the shows they watch.

That simply is not going to happen, nor should it! People have a right to post, blog, tweet and say anything they want about any entertainment product or sports event that has been publicly broadcast and has been available for consumption. Those who are in there first, those who watch shit as it happens, as it is broadcast, should not have to shut up or consider those that come behind. That is just stupid.

If people can’t be bothered to pay for SKY or HBO to watch Game of Thrones, if people can’t be bothered to pay 10 Euro to watch a film in the cinema, if people can’t be bothered to pay full price for a new computer game and if people can’t be bothered to get up at 5am to watch a sports event on the other side of the globe, then that’s their own problem really. Those of us who do pay for entertainment or who go the extra length to experience these things as they happen should not then be gagged by those who are not as committed or fanatical. Essentially those that are not there first simply can’t be bothered enough to be there first. So why should the rest respect their wishes for a spoiler free environment?

So in essence what i am saying is: if you don’t want spoilers you have 2 choices. Firstly you can actually show enough interest in something to ensure you are there when it happens. Secondly, if you can’t be there when it happens (for whatever reason, including if it’s not your fault at all), stay clear of all social media. Don’t read the news, don’t read forums, don’t read reviews. Stay clear of anything that could mention something about a program or event which you want to consume later on.

But don’t expect people to shut up about something that they are clearly excited about, something they want to discuss, something they are burning to discuss the moment it finishes – often times something they are burning to comment on via social media while it happens, because it is so good and so exciting and so amazing.

If you cannot consume at the very moment something happens, it is up to you to stay clear of spoilers.

There is only one exception to all of the above that i can see, and that is if people deliberately post spoilers so that others can see it, for no other reason than to be a dick. I.e. someone goes on a friend’s Facebook page and posts the plot for the latest GoT episode, knowing fully well that his friend has not seen it yet. Since it is posted on the friend’s wall, it can’t really be avoided – so that is a dick move. Deliberate spoiling like that is wrong, no question about it. But these, i think, are rare moments and to be honest, if you know people who are dicks like that: you should avoid them altogether.

 

Notplayed review: Wolfenstein New Order

RoW_Gunner-noscale

Developer: MachineGames

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platform: 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC

Release Date: 20th May 2014

Well then, it’s been a while since there has been an actually review on this site. No game really has tickled my fancy enough to write a pre-release review. But Wolfenstein New Order certainly tickles my fancy. It appears to be a dark horse this year. While there has been some marketing buzz about it, and quite a big presence both at E3 and Gamescom last year, this has tapered off a little bit over the last few months, potentially because the game got yet another delay and marketing money might have started to run dry. So i think it’s worth having a look at this game, the first release of fabled MachineGames, a studio full of high profile developers (it essentially being the offspring of Starbreeze Studios).

Wolfenstein is a classic for me. The franchise is one i grew up with, and i actually enjoyed the last installment in 2009 (released the same year MachineGames was founded). So when i heard that some of the devs who had worked on amazing games like The Darkness and the Riddick series, were working on the next installment of a Wolfenstein game, i was well excited. I was expecting over the top gameplay, killing Nazis, taking down the German Reich single handedly, wrapped up in probably the industry’s best through-the-gun experience and with great AI. All in all – i was expecting a total hit, a game that would be an all time great, an amazing debut game by yet another fantastic Swedish Developer.

And in a way New Order delivers on those expectations, at least somewhat. It is a solid and fun shooter, with over the top brutality, an interesting idea for the story, decent AI and above all great guns.The problem is, that with few exceptions, the game never really goes above and beyond. By any modern day standard, the game is average. Which does not make it bad, but it also does not make it special. In many ways the game appears to have been made in the 1990s with some truly awful and clonky gameplay elements coupled with questionable level and game design decisions. The game has fun elements and charm, but it certainly does not stand out.

The player takes on the familiar role of BJ Blazkowicz and once again the task is to thwart the plan of the evil Nazi empire. And this time round, there really is an empire. New Order mixes things up nicely story wise right from the start and instead of going full throttle occult like the 2009 outing, MachineGames opted for an alternate history approach. In New Order, Germany’s technological advances helped win the war and the Nazi empire extends far beyond Europe.Expect robot dogs, mechs and giant alien looking mechanical constructions.

In a prologue mission BJ gets a big ole knock on the head and ends up in a mental institution. Years go by and it takes a brutal event happening in front of his eyes to wake him up from his stupor.

But wake up he does and what follows is one of the most fun and satisfying as well as one of the most boring and frustrating experiences computer games can deliver.

BJ himself has not changed much. Macho, gung-ho and stereotypical as ever, he has not evolved much since his first inception, down to the one liners which might have been fun 20 years ago, but will only entertain a small and geeky crowd in the 21st century (“Fuck you moon!” he exclaims when realizing the Nazi’s won the space race). This is a missed opportunity by MachineGames as they essentially created a blank slate for themselves by creating an alternative history. Yet they completely fail to capitalize on this opportunity and do nothing to drive the character or franchise forward in that respect, maintaining that one (very flat) dimension. Sure, you might ask how much personality a character really needs when all he does is shoot Nazi’s, and you’d have a point. I just feel that given the way the story of the game goes, the opportunity would have been there to do more.

Waking up in the mental hospital the player quickly gets down to business. The knives come out and Nazis soon die left right and center. And once the player starts picking up guns, that’s when the fun really starts. One of the best new additions is the option to dual wield pretty much every weapon in the game – a sheer sign of mad brilliance by MachineGames, who understand the core of fun, arcade first person shooters. Give the player the tools to have fun, and let him have fun. Wolfenstein New Order definitely ticks that box. Running around with 2 heavy machine guns, pumping tons of lead into nazi soldiers puts a massive grin on your face. The guns feel meaty, the feedback feels amazing, the audio is perfect – it is a joy to fire these virtual weapons and every single one feels slightly different and the variation is great.

But that smile on your face can just as easily become a frown, the fun turn into frustration, when clunky ammo and health pick-up elements rear their heads. You run out of ammo too fast, obtaining ammo and reloading, as well as getting health packs (yes, health packs…) is another thing that does not seem to have moved on in the last 20 years. It feels awkward to pick up ammo, to pick up health packs and to reload. It takes too long and it distracts from the fun to be had. MachineGames gives us the tools to have fun with, but every so often, like a stern (german?) teacher, they seem to shout “nein nein nein BJ, zis is enough fun! You must pick up some ammo now, ja? We can’t have you shooting all ze time!”

Guns, awesome as they may be, also get in the way. Dual wielding everything definitely sounds like a great idea, and for the most part it works, but when the guns are bigger than a persons leg, it can become an issue. Wielding 2 massive weapons, both with particle effects like muzzle flashes and even fancier stuff, at times can mean you have no clue at all what is going on. You can literally not see past your weapons. And in environments which are semi dark on a lot of occasions (why do Nazi’s prefer the semi dark?), levels which are constructed partially unreadable and for which you will need a chaperon to help you through, as well as enemies which often blend into the environment (hello same colour palette!) this can be an issue. If you really want to see stuff, and want to know where you are going, i recommend you just stick to your knife! MachineGames seem to think the same, because they made a knife-kill an especially gruesome and detailed experience – almost as if to say: this is what you should be doing all the time!

The game can look stunning at times (using the same tech as Rage though, it does have it’s limits), but the simple truth is: a lot of times you just don’t notice it. Either through pace of action or simply because everything blends together or is obscured, a lot of the attention to detail that MachineGames have obviously put in, is simply lost. Even high quality videos of in game environments make it clear that the game was never intended as a full next gen experience. The only reason it seems to land on next gen consoles is because it kept getting delayed. And as of yet iD-tech 5 does not look stunning on next gen. Perhaps another year would have helped with that.

One of the things that stand out is the AI. Again the heritage of former Starbreeze games shines through and it is clear that opponents in New Order can think, at least somewhat, for themselves. There does seem to be some inconsistency though, both with AI senses as well accuracy. AI for example never really seem to hear you approach from behind and the ease with which knife kills are achieved appears to be slightly on the comical side. Similarly whenever the game veers into a more open setting and there are multiple enemies firing at you, their accuracy seems to be ridiculously low, giving you plenty of time to pick up the uber weapon, conveniently placed nearby, and unleash a rain of death and destruction on enemies and environment alike. The AI works best in mid to close range when aware of the player. Then they behave like proper soldiers and they can be lethal.

Overall then Wolfenstein: New Order is a frustrating title. You can clearly tell the dark and edgy story underneath is done by a crew who helped to make greats like The Darkness. You can clearly tell that guns, AI and environmental art are lovingly crafted and well designed. You can clearly tell that MachineGames understood the essence of what Wolfenstein is: a light hearted, arcade, fun and fast paced shooter. All the elements are there, but it appears to me that in almost 5 years of development MachineGames have failed to bring all these ingredients into the 21st century. It jumps from being fun to being insanely frustrating when you get lost, when you run out of ammo, when struggling with some of the dated game design elements.

The game appears to have been made by hard core gamers enjoying shooters for hard core gamers enjoying shooters. It is not a game for novices to shooters or someone who simply wants to dabble and give it a go. It is a must have for any Wolfenstein fan and for anyone looking for a few hours of fun with amazing through the gun experience. But anyone looking for more, looking for depth,  anyone looking for replay value, better look elsewhere. I think the game severely lacks in usability and i feel for that reason it will fail to find mass market appeal. It is not the Wolfenstein iteration which finally will bring BJ Blazkowicz to the masses. And i think ZeniMax knows this, which is why it tried to give the game even more time and now has coupled any purchase with a Beta pass for the next Doom game, in an attempt to generate interest. Unless you are a hardcore fan of the franchise, pick this up second hand or wait for a sale. Due to little to no replay value the first used copies should in stores within a week of launch and i would not be surprised to see special deals with this game reasonably quickly.

As a first outing by MachineGames it is an average one. With the pedigree of the studio, 5 years of development time, an established engine and the backing of ZeniMax, they should have been capable of delivering more. It will be interesting to see if this project will manage to break even and what the future will hold for MachineGames. Will they be able to try again, or will they become a porting studio for ZeniMax? If they try again, they should get some fresh, young, blood in that helps them move out of the 1990s of game making.

I certainly would not mind a true 21st century version of Wolfenstein.

 

6/10
Disclaimer: nobody at notplayed.com has actuallly played the release version of Wolfenstein: New Order. This is a mock-review purely based on material available on the internet (marketing, game-play videos, articles and interviews). 

Social Accountability

In my last post as well as some previous blogs i talked about gamers acting out, using the anonymity of the internet to their advantage to harass and threaten others. We have all seen how people behave on the internet, mainly because they don’t have to worry about consequences and repercussions.

“Don’t read the comments…” or “Just read the comments, they are hilarious…”- hands up who has heard someone say this about an article on the net in the last few years. As a developer i have heard these statements a fair bit. Comments on reviews and news articles, in the gaming industry in particular (but not exclusive to it), can be a source of frustration, anger, disappointment, joy and entertainment. The public being able to state their own feelings and emotions without any (or little) form of censorship or consequences can lead to comments which are frightening, painful, embarrassing and fun. Internet comments can show humanity at it’s best or worst. People can come together or tear each other apart.

The internet is brilliant. It connects people, it allows for instant communication across the globe, it gives information to people, it allows us to be more transparent, it allows us share data and it allows us to grow and evolve as human beings. Imagine a world where there is no internet. Even now, thinking back to about 25 years ago, when nobody i knew had access to the internet, i can’t really remember how that was. It feels strange even thinking about it, as if there was a mental block in my brain saying “No, the internet always existed. There was no “BEFORE”!” Sure i enjoy being away from all the digital noise for periods of time, being out of reach, but to contemplate a prolonged absence of all things internet is impossible.

But like almost everything in life, the internet also has it’s bad sides. Direct human interaction is reduced. It provides new opportunities for fraud and other forms of crime. It has made gambling easier than ever. Entertainment is provided effortlessly and often at reduced quality. “News” outlets spring up left right and center where contributors have no training, no moral compass and no requirement to vet their “news”. Fiction is often peddled as fact and once it’s on the internet it becomes fact, as long as enough people share the information.

I grew up without the internet. Which means i grew up having to interact with other human beings through other means, often face to face. People knew who i was when i talked to them. When i had an opinion on something, when i agreed or disagreed with something, and when i  voiced that opinion, i generally did so in a respectable fashion. Why did i do that? Simple: because people knew who i was and if i was anything less than respectable, there would have been consequences. I would have been socially shunned. My friends might well have distanced themselves from me. In short, if i had been a dick, people would have treated me like a dick.

This behavior actually is mirrored and adapted by the internet, at least to some degree and in social circles. If their real name is on the line, if their real identity is behind an interaction of any sort, if a certain accountability applies, people are a lot more conscious when they post. Facebook is a good example for this. Yes there is a lot of junk on facebook and at times it feels it was created purely for the sake of sharing cat pictures, but look at the content and form of comments people leave. The vast majority of comments is generally what i consider “clean” – free from excessive obscenity and free from threats. I have yet to come across a person threatening another with murder on Facebook (i am sure it exists, the sheer number of users dictate it exists, it is just a lot less frequent). The reason for that, i believe, is that your friends on Facebook would hold you accountable. They would tell you it’s not on to behave like this, they might even unfriend you. So there is a risk of consequences and the average human being stops and thinks before doing something, if there are potential consequences.

Now take something like NeoGaf, Reddit or any random internet gaming news site. People create anonymous accounts and there are no consequences. This is when the worst in human beings comes out. Things they would never say in front of friends and family, things they instinctively know are wrong to utter, come out in a fit of rage and anger. Anonymity on the internet removes a certain check-box. It removes the need to stop and think “what would my friends/family say”. It removes the need to stop and think about possible legal ramifications if a threat or comment was made in real life. People have been convicted for abusive language and death threats made in real life.

It is not enough to ask users to stop and think if they would make a certain statement in real life. Users won’t stop. The fact that they are anonymous is so ingrained, the power they feel about being able to say whatever they feel like, without the fear of consequences, is too alluring. Some sites and forums use a voting system to allow a certain user policing. Comments voted down will disappear from view for example, discouraging abusive comments. On a lot of moderated forums bans and blocks can be used, but they only work in the short term. Services like Twitter, in the name of freedom from censorship (which in theory is a good thing), continue to allow users to abuse other users, even issue death and rape threats. All you need to do is check Anita Sarkeesian’s twitter space. As far as i know, nobody abusing her in this manner has faced any kind of consequence so far.

As my generation is growing older and face to face interaction is taking more and more of a back seat, the next generation of internet users is growing up with this lack of accountability. It is natural for them to be anonymous, hide behind gamer handles and harass those they disagree with. In fact they feel entitled to this and they never ever are put in a position where they have to consider other people’s views, thoughts, beliefs and requirements. In short, people are getting more narrow minded rather than more open minded.

So what can be done about this? After debating my last blog entry with a good friend of mine, he planted a seed in my brain. A seed of a possible solution. So i can’t claim credit for the idea, i am just fleshing it out a little.

In theory it is possible to use the very systems that make the internet great to enforce a certain measure of social accountability. All the hooks and functionality are already in place, it is just a matter of someone having the balls, and the money, to bring it all together and form an underlying architecture will allow for a certain level of internet decorum. Many sites and services at the moment allow users to sign in with their Facebook details (i.e. Spotify, Songkick, Eurogamer etc.). This is currently mainly done to allow ease of use as well as to collect further marketing data and, i the long run, make money. But it is that very functionality, linking a user to an existing real life profile, which can enforce a certain level of social accountability!

Imagine if, going forward, people had no choice but had to use either a Facebook or Google+ account to sign into the vast majority of services on the internet. Twitter, news websites, gaming websites, gaming console profiles – the works. Every comment, every tweet, every reply would show who posted it. Each comment would be a public statement by the person who made it – an open public statement: “This is who i am and this is what i think!”

Additionally every single comment and interaction would be posted on the news-feed on Facebook or Google+, so that friends and family can see and read comments, statements and tweets. After all – if you post it in a public domain, why would you not want your friends, family and co-workers to know?

Imagine this in full flow. Imagine if every single comment you make online is peer reviewed by your friends and family and you are judged and evaluated on those comments. Wouldn’t that be something? This accountability would usher in a new wave of respect i feel. People would actually pause and think “should i really post this? is this how i really feel, or do i just post this because i am angry right now? what will my friends think?”. This can make all the difference.

Heavy handed policing and censorship is bad, which is why i am not totally against Twitter not taking action. The freedom to post ones opinion, regardless of what that opinion is, is important. But i think what should be removed is the ability to hide behind anonymity. If people want to post hurtful comments, if they want to rant and flame, if they want to harass and threaten others, they ought to do so when everyone knows exactly who they are. Let the internet be policed by peers. Let peer pressure work it’s wonders. I think the results would be quick and they would be permanent.

All the functionality is in place. All the hooks and systems are there. All it needs is some person or some company, or a group of companies and people, to step up and make it happen. Facebook and Google should get their heads together and work with some of the biggest names in news (gaming and otherwise). Enforce login using a verified account and get this thing rolling.

Yes, there will be people setting up fake accounts, there always are. But the more hoops you throw in the path of someone who wants to be abusive on the internet, the better. The more hassle it is for them to be abusive, the higher the chances they won’t bother.

Us vs. Them

tumblr_lvye3g4vqP1qd65vgo1_1280

I have been blogging about entitlement a few times before. Gamers feeling like they are entitled to content, feeling like they have the right to behave a certain way. We certainly saw a lot of that attitude in the last few weeks after Facebook announced it had bought up Oculus.

The outcry from gamers (many of whom never supported the original Oculus Kickstarter in the first place) was out of any proportion and even involved death threats to one of the Oculus founders. This is where we are at right now, in the 21st century, with widespread internet access and no ramifications for behavior at all.

People can hide behind their anonymity (take my own case, this blog as an example), and write/say what they want, with little to no consequences. People can make death threats and harass others via services like Twitter and won’t even get their accounts closed down, let alone face criminal charges. Prosecution is extremely rare and from what i gather it’s mostly terrorism which seems to be taken seriously. I guess this might change if a game developer  or their family actually will come to harm.

But it should not have to come to that. Why should people like Luckey and others be exposed to this hatred in the first place? What kind of action warrants such hatred, directed not only at the developer alone, but also their family, friends and even pets.

What is it that makes gamers so fanatical over an entertainment product? what is it that makes them blow up so massively that they threaten someone they have never met before, someone who works hard to produce more entertainment, with rape and murder? I honestly believe that it is this sense of entitlement which has been growing among all human beings over the last 20 to 30 years. I would argue that my parents never really felt entitled to anything. They worked hard for everything they got and i would guess most people born in the 70s and early 80s would say the same about their parents.

I was born in the 70s. By the 90s i already felt entitled, at least to some things. I felt entitled enough to consume some entertainment for free, copying video tapes (a friend of mine had all Star Trek episodes on original tapes and i copied them). By the end of the 90s it was Napster and free music download. Throughout, on my C64 and later on PCs i was playing pirated games, expecting games to be free, feeling entitled.

Now think about kids being born in the late 90s and early 2000s – bombarded with entertainment and marketing. Is it any wonder the current generation of gamers in the mid to late teens, and even early 20s, feels a personal slight when a developer does something they don’t agree with? Change the sniper rifle slightly and the gamer crowd goes nuts.

I honestly have no idea on how to fix it. Perhaps we can’t fix it. Perhaps it’s a runaway train. Consumers presented with too much choice, developers constantly trying to make everyone happy, in order to get the sales needed, instead of delivering games they want to deliver. I am not sure we can change this internet experience without consequences. Thanks to sites like Imgur, twitter, facebook and similar, it is easier than ever to spread a rumor, with no need to back it up with facts. Facts no longer matter, telling “your side” of the story no longer matters. What matters is information, “news”, regardless if they are true or not, spreading like a wildfire, generating hits, links and thus revenue. It’s much better to get 10.000 hits on a rant that  does not contain a single shred of evidence, than 10 views on a properly researched article.

So what can we developers do? Well first of all i think we developers can treat each other with respect and tolerance. Because that is actually rarely the case it seems. A bit of friendly banter and competition is natural and actually good, it keeps us on our toes and can spurn us on. But over the last few years i think this banter and competition has slipped down right along with the behavior of our gamers.

Gamesindustry.biz was (and to a degree still is) a good source of industry news, interviews and opinion pieces. But ever since the site opened up a comment section for each article, i feel the site has degraded. There are some guidelines in place and open hostility is not tolerated, but what the comment section shows is very much an ego centric attitude and open hostility to all that is “other”. There is very little tolerance for views which are different, for developers who happen to follow a different path.

Nothing illustrates this better than an article on F2P i think.  The very first comment reads:

“because you cannot have the same fun for 50 dollar in a f2p game. the same amount of fun (=same kind of round game experience) usually costs 500-5000 dollar in f2p games and these games have a less good quality in compare to AAA games. “

Grammatical and spelling errors aside, it is the absoluteness of the comment that strikes me. “cannot have”, “500-5000 dollar in f2p”, “have less good quality” – absolute statements, not really allowing for exceptions, let alone a different view. The person behind this comment lives in the extremes. That person does not consider the literally hundreds of AAA games that turn out to be rubbish, but where the player has no refund available (and there was no demo). It does not consider the hundreds of F2P titles where players can get hundreds of hours of fun in return for not a single cent spent.

In short: narrow minded. A lot of developers these days seem to be so absorbed by what they do and what they believe in, that they simply do not care about what other people think. They don’t even consider that another view might be possible, that something can be seen from different angles.

Not everyone is like that of course, and gamesindustry.biz is not all bad (also i am just using it as an example, the likes of gamasutra etc. are exactly the same). There are some moderate voices out there, preaching and practicing tolerance, understanding that game development, like the market it tries to reach, must be diverse and that there is room to for pretty much every game we can think of.

So you don’t like F2P? That’s totally fine! Nobody forces you to like the concept or even play a single F2P game! F2P games will not kill off AAA games development. All sorts of games, developed in all sorts of ways, for all sorts of platforms and with all sorts of monetization models, can quite happily co-exist.

As an industry we are reaching a wider market than ever before. In 2006 people were laughing at F2P. Today F2P has brought people into the gamer fold that would never in their life would have bought a console, let alone a boxed AAA game. As with everything else in life: how can diversity be a bad thing? How can more choice, more options, more diverse content, be a bad thing?

So what’s the moral of this post? I don’t know. I really don’t. Personally i am just fed up with this Us vs. Them attitude between a lot of developers, in particular developers who create along the lines of more modern monetization and design ideas, compared to more traditional developers. I am fed up with developers not respecting each other’s opinion and work. I am fed up with people feeling like their opinion matters above all others. And i am fed up with gamers thinking they own developers or have the right to threaten and harass them, just because they spent some money on an entertainment product.

Perhaps if developers start working together, respect each other and support each other, we can present a unified industry and ensure those we produce games for can’t act the way they do now.

Virtual Reality is here

FarmVille

Last week Sony announced the Morpheus headset. A VR device designed for the PS4 and a major step forward from the Oculus Rift. By all accounts VR was the hot topic of GDC 2014 and there was a positive buzz from everyone who got to try Sony’s hardware as well a the new Oculus Dev Kit 2. There was a hint in the air that VR of the 21st century would not go the way of VR 1990s.

There are a number of developers already busy making games and experiences for the new hardware, even though it is not commercially available. Dedicated websites are up and running reporting on the latest news and games surrounding the new tech. There has definitely been more interest and more force behind the new wave of VR.

But until yesterday it was still seen as a bit of a geeky thing, something for the core gamer and early adopter, perhaps reaching the mass market in 5 to 10 years time. Then Facebook bought bought the Rift maker Oculus for a whopping 2 billion USD (including stock options). 2 things happened:

First millions of people around the world for the first time heard of the existence of the Oculus VR headset.

Secondly the core gamers, who to this point supported Oculus and all it stood for, started taking the the internet in a wave of shock and anger.

How could they have done this! Oculus was a grassroots thing! We funded it on Kickstarter! It was meant to be all about games, our games, core games! I wanted a deep and meaningful experience! ME! ME! ME! ME!

It was, frankly, not surprising to see this happen and it’s frankly not surprising to see just how narrow minded the “core” gamers can sometimes be. They don’t care about the industry, they don’t care about long term. They care only about their own experience and their own expectations. Some of them are incapable to stop for 1 second to think about what all this actually means for the industry, what it can mean for games. No, they immediately see FarmVille on VR and, worst of all, they think they will be forced to play games they don’t want to play. Facebook has killed VR for everyone, forever.

And core gamers are not alone with this. Some developers even spoke out negatively with regards to the Facebook takeover of Oculus. Most notably Notch of Minecraft fame. “I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook.” He writes, before summarizing: “And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.”

Harsh words indeed, and definitely his prerogative to not do business with facebook. But thankfully not every developer is like that. Cliff Bleszinski wrote a great article about the news and went as far to call out Notch. “Notch, your cancelling Minecraft makes you look like a pouty kid who is taking his ball and going home. It’s a bratty and petty move and it saddens me greatly.”, he wrote. And he was not alone. Palmer Luckey responded and shed some more light on the Minecraft for VR story.

Not to diminish the effort Notch has made when it comes to the rift. His donation was generous and his publicity has helped undoubtedly to gather more supporters. But i think CliffyB was spot on when he called the reaction childish.

In particular i have a problem with Notch’s statement about investment. That argument has come up a few times in the last 2 days, quite a few people commenting on Oculus essentially funding their company through Kickstarter, building value, only to sell it off. But is that really the case? First of all Oculus did not start from scratch when their Kickstarter launched. Those involved put down their own money to found the company and get started. Secondly the Oculus Rift Kickstarter delivered all it had promised, and then some. There were no shares promised, there were no partnerships as part of the pledge rewards. People pledging do not own the company or have any rights beyond the rewards they signed up for. It was inevitable that Oculus would be bought , anyone  with half a brain should have seen this coming. Facebook might have come out of left field, but a purchase was unavoidable. What did people expect? They deliver the Oculus and then shut down again, because making a profit might have been unfair to those who pledged?

As awesome as Oculus are, as much as they have done to revive VR and bring it to the 21st century, they did not have the means to really catapult it on the mass market scene. And, as much as core gamers might hate it, that is what is needed not only for the platform to be successful but also to ensure a wide variety of content. Core gamers don’t understand this. Game developers who let their hatred for Facebook and all things commercial and social take over, don’t understand that. All they see is the next wave of FarmVille on VR. But lets look at an example using numbers (and i am just pulling some numbers out of my arse now to simplify):

Let’s assume i make a VR game. Unless i sit in a basement at my mum’s place and do everything myself in the evening, while working a different daytime job, before i even start i need to look at budget. It does not matter how good my idea is, i need to be sure i can pull it off without ending up on the street or starving. Even more so if there is more people than me involved. I am not talking big salaries and expensive cars, i am talking just the basics. Do not forget dear core gamers, we devs love making games, but we also do need to eat and keep the lights on.

So lets assume the game i make, which won’t have a lot of marketing, will sell to 1% of all people owning the hardware (and that’s actually generous considering less than 8% of console owners purchase games like CoD with massive mass market appeal and marketing). Now lets assume Oculus manages to sell 1 million units after a year or so (so far they sold 75 thousand dev kits – so again i am being generous). So with those assumptions i expect to sell 10.000 units. Lets further assume i sell the game for 20 USD (which is mid range) – i would earn 200.000 USD. Subtract engine/tools cost, distribution cost (steam is not cheap) and i will be left with about 120.000 USD. If i am on my own, that’s a good chunk of money! But even for a small team of 4 or 5, factoring in running costs, office costs etc. this chunk of money could be gone quickly.

Sure there is a chance the game could be huge and all 1 million Oculus owners buy it, but not every game is an Angry Bird. Those games that for some reason or another (no matter how simple or shit people might find them) take off, are rare.

Now lets change the playing field. Say Oculus manages to sell 10 million units. All of a sudden (1% sales still remaining the same), my units sold raises to 100.000 and my earnings to 2 million USD. All other things remaining equal, i have just made a ton of money. I can take that money and invest in more people, more games and all the funky stuff.

But more importantly, and this is what the core seem to forget (because they think we just want to make more money), i no longer NEED to sell to 1% of the consumer base. If i am alone and make my own game, i can get away with selling to only 0.1% of the installed base. I will still make enough money to survive and make more games, maybe even grow a little. And what does that mean? It means we developers can be more experimental! We don’t have to try to hit the majority of consumers, we can make games we feel passionate about and believe in, and if only a fraction of the user base buys our games, that will be enough, it means we break even and keep doing what we do.

And this is what Facebook and Oculus together can potentially bring to the table. Oculus will be able to break out from the geek niche it currently sits in and thanks to money and marketing might of facebook has a potential to reach a billion people like no other product has done before. And if only a fraction of those people who own a PC and use facebook pick up a Rift when it comes out, it will mean a much larger installment base than what Oculus could have managed on their own.

What this will mean is that the Rift will be a viable platform to develop for, for a lot more studios and a lot more developers, and not just the hard core enthusiasts.

And so what if there will be games which try to go full-on retard commercial, including ads and microtransactions? That’s the beauty of choice. There will be games for every taste and every person. Overall this purchase is a great thing. The Rift gets the funding and marketing power it deserves. Millions of people will be aware of just how amazing a VR experience can be and with the money and expertise that Facebook bring on board, i am sure the device will be extremely user friendly and probably a lot higher spec than Oculus could have achieved on their own.

5 years from now, instead of a few hundred thousand rifts gathering dust in the shelves of a few geeks and core fans, we will have millions of devices in people’s homes and we will have a new way of experiencing and making games. We might have budgets to create VR games that will blow people’s minds. I am not talking AAA budgets, but budgets that mean we can go beyond the current breed of VR games in development. Instead of going the way of 1990s VR, 21st century VR will entertain and amaze us.

And then the geeks will come out and say “I was one of the first to fund it!”.

Match made in Heaven

pixelated__scott_and_ramona_by_explosionofcool-d46e4ia

I have been playing Titanfall since launch now and by all accounts it is a great FPS game that has brought some new elements to a largely stale genre, as well as revived a few old classic mechanics that have been spurned for far too long.

It is a solid game where, regardless of how you perform in any given match, it is simply fun to wall-run and double jump (Hello Quake and UT) and magnificent when you get into your own Titan. At least for a while…

Because, if you are a player of average (or below) skill or of a casual nature, chances are you are not alive long enough to really string things together and get into the flow. You spawn into a map, ready with your burn cards and eager to try out the new gun-sight you just unlocked, just to be picked off by an opponent already in a Titan, because hey, he got a  much better burn card to start the round already strapped into his Titan. These are rare of course, but those that play a lot are favored. Or you finally get your Titan dropped, which looks and sounds AWESOME, climb onboard and are just about ready to lay waste when your alarm bells go off and you get ejected. Because an opponent is using the biggest and baddest Titan there is and before you even know what’s going on, your own Titan has gone up in flames.

In a game that hands out upgrades and new equipment based challenges and level, those that climb to the top faster get an advantage. And that advantage can be devastating. In theory unlocking upgrades like this makes sense, because everyone, eventually, can get all the upgrades – just invest enough time and you too can have the most powerful weapon, the most powerful Titan.

In theory. Because what the design did not seem to incorporate, or something that was dismissed or that was too difficult to implement properly, was a good match making system.

If you buy Titanfall right now and log in today, you are likely going to play against opponents which have unlocked everything. They are in tier 2 of ranks (post level 50) and they know the maps by heart. The game does apparently have a match-making system in place, but i have not been able to figure out just what exactly it does and what stats it takes into account. It certainly does not seem to be skill based, or even win/loss ratio based. But i simply don’t know. Respawn has acknowledged the problem, but for a studio with such a long history of making PvP shooters, how could this not have been obvious?

But Titanfall is not alone with this. I have not played an online shooter with automatic server assignment and matchmaking where it was a truly balanced affair. Games which allow you to chose servers, and some servers are labeled as “beginner” or “max level only”, work better (though you do get the occasional jerk), but automated matchmaking seems to just be broken across the board.

Even games like Battlefield suffer from it, though you do notice it slightly less depending on game mode due to the slightly slower paced nature as well as the fact that unlocked guns are not automatically more powerful than previous ones. You get a rank based on individual skill, and that is supposedly used for matchmaking, however after a few trial runs (deliberately going down in skill) i still joined servers playing against the same people when choosing quick match. Checking the battlelog of those people revealed they were considerably higher skill.

And here is where my theory comes in: matchmaking in console online shooters is a scam. It does not actually exist. Working in development i know it would be easy to actually check for skill in the case of BF or even rudimentary for level in games like Titanfall, and assign players accordingly. Why is this not done? Because the top priority of the developer and publisher is to fill up servers. This serves 2 functions:

- Give the players the “optimal” experience for the map, ensure there are enough opponents and sides are evenly numbered.

- Give players the illusion that every server they join is full, or close to it, that the population is healthy and that it’s worth sticking with the game.

Now games like BF and CoD (and no doubt Titanfall) do extremely well. However it would be interesting to know the drop off rate for online players. How long do casual and below average skill players engage with the game on a session by session basis and in the long run.

My current maximum tolerance for Titanfall is about 3 to 5 matches. Because i don’t play 6 hours a day, i am not rank 50 yet and my equipment is mediocre at best. Less than 2 weeks after launch i am already at a huge disadvantage compared to the hard-core gamers. So in 3 to 5 matches i get about all the fun i can out of the game. I might get one or 2 good movement combinations, get a decent run in my Titan and rack up a few kills. Mostly i go for AI, as i know i can get some kills. After that, i am too frustrated to continue and the pool of fun is exhausted, at least for a day, perhaps longer. I love the game, i love a lot of the mechanics and some of the designs are simply beautiful, but thanks to matchmaking and imbalance, Titanfall is not the type of game where i sit at work thinking about it, not a game that makes me run home, switch on my Xbone and game for hours. It is a game i now play if i have nothing better to do.

And here is the thing. Getting the player to understand how to be better and proper matchmaking are very very simple to do. Yet no developer seems to really care.

Games like BF and Titanfall track ALL the stats needed to accomplish both. Battlefield in particular actually has it’s own battle log, where players can see their stats. Here is an independant site which has been tracking BF stats since at least BF2. Everything is there. Other sites deal purely with guns. Look at the detail on this site. That’s for ONE weapon (incidentally my favourite assault rifle). Isn’t it incredible?

Now if games track all these stats, most of which are extracted by players themselves and fed into these wonderful charts, trackers and documents, why can’t developers use these stats to make the game more enjoyable for more players?

Player stats such as kill/death ratio, win/loss ratio, hit ratio and level can easily feed into a properly designed skill stat, which is then used to actually match up people on the same server. As an added benefit, or a more elaborate system, the game could suggest to a player to change server if skill is increased or decreased beyond the margin on the currently matched server.

Player stats such as hit ratio, accuracy, kill vs. ammo used ratio etc. (tracked by sites like symthic) could actually be used by the game itself to teach the player and suggest changes in playstyle:

“Hey ZeGerman, we noticed you switched to the AK47 and your accuracy has dropped by 7%, we suggest you level up some more and get the M16. Alternatively you could unlock the grip and heavy barrel for the AK47, this should increase accuracy. Also try using shorter bursts instead of keeping the trigger pressed. According to your stats your average burst is 20 rounds. Burst of 5 or more increase muzzle drift and reduce accuracy. You could get about 2.3 more kills per round with either suggestion.”

How about that? The game tracks anyway what i do and how i do it. What if the game actually made use of all that information it tracks and exposes it in a meaningful way to the player and helps the player get better? Wouldn’t that be something!

It’s not that much work. And it could even be done offline – on sites such as battlelog, so the system can evolve over time. But no. Players are left entirely on their own to try and get better. They are given weapons with multitude of stats and the majority of players don’t understand half of it. Battlelog is awesome for stat bragging and seeing what you have achieved, but it does not tell you how to get better. The core gamer gets better simply by trying, by reading up on 3rd party websites and by playing for hours and hours and hours. The less than core and casual gamer does not do this and is left wondering why the opposition is so much better. In Titanfall this is even worse, because the opposition simply is more powerful by playing longer and ranking up more, skill does not immediately come into it.

Titanfall, in my opinion, was a great step forward for the FPS genre. I think the next big leap forward is when we see an FPS game that actually cares how their players perform, teaches their players to be better and matches them up against equal opponents.

Irrational Games Development

kenlevine

 

Irrational Games is no more. After 17 years and 3 big games, the studio closes its doors and around 100 people lose their jobs.

Massive news at the start of the week, yet the only article worth reading that i found was this: a blog post about the people who actually worked there, you know those that lost their job. Everyone else, after mentioning commiserations in passing, quickly moved on to the REAL topic: What on earth can Levine do next? O M G so exciting!! It could be awesome!!! I kid you not, sites like Kotaku and others read Levine’s rather short and unimaginative final post on the IG website and extrapolated potential awesomeness, started speculating and capitalized on a hot topic. That’s despite nothing at all being known and Levine having a track record of taking 7 years to deliver a game. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a bit early to start the Levine hype. 2020 will be soon enough.

And that, in my opinion, is exactly the problem. In my opinion it is the real reason why Irrational Games had to close down. Because it took more than 6 years to release Bioshock Infinite, it cost a massive amount of money and while it well may have broken even, it certainly did not make a massive amount of profit, nor did it push the franchise into a new market. The same people who bought Bioshock 1 bought Infinite. This is not really a bad thing, and 4 millions sales is by no means a bad achievement, but for a high profile project, a high profile “creative” and a budget like that of Infinite, it simply is not enough. It’s no surprise that 2K decided it’s time to end things. And the most valuable asset that 2K has from Irrational is Ken Levine. Not because he is such an outstanding creative, after playing all his games i would argue he isn’t. Not because he is an inspiring leader, after talking to some people who worked at IG i would argue he isn’t. No, it’s simply because he is a big name, the press love him and sites like Kotaku are already foaming at the mouth at him only mentioning a new project – Ken Levine is good PR.

I have never worked with him, but i have worked with other “big names” in the industry. Most of them made their name in 90s (like Levine) and my experience has generally been that they are not actually that good. And they are certainly not good for development. Their ego gets in the way and those that i worked with felt they could do no wrong and every idea they had was solid gold. That their vision changed every couple of weeks or months (depending on the movie they had seen or game they played) mattered little. The fact that months and sometimes years of work had to be thrown away meant little. The fact that people no longer believed in the vision, often did not even understand it even, meant little.

People like Levine, Molyneux, Braben, Black and others are great PR. They talk up a storm and the press laps it all up. They often cause controversy (none more so than Molyneux) outside the studio and chaos and terror inside the studio. Everytime someone like Molyneux or Levine make a public statement about the game, mention a feature or new idea, everyone actually working hands on in the studio and every marketing and PR person wants to strangle the lead creative.

Those big names often are indecisive, impulsive and most of the time have no actual clue about game development. They shot to fame in the 90s when making games was a much different affair and since then sat on their high seats when technology, tools and understanding of games, gamers and demographics passed them by. They took they higher budgets and used it to drag out development in the elusive hunt of realizing “their vision”. No thought was/is given to those actually making the project happen.

Look at Bioshock Infinite. It tries to tell a story, and by all accounts it’s not a bad story for a game, but it’s not nearly enough to mask the outdated core mechanics, which to a large degree are unchanged since System Shock. There were hints at new things, such as the sky-hook, but implemented half assed (it was not freely usable everywhere, which would have transformed the game in my opinion) and there was no multiplayer (which was promised at some point), so the game had no replay value and sales quickly shifted to second hand as the first wave finished their copy and returned it to the store. The story was not really compelling enough or provided enough choice to warrant a second playthrough. Levine tells a good story, but he uses the wrong medium to do it. He does not utilize the unique aspect of games: interactivity and player choice. According to his letter he seems to have seen the light, but honestly: after the last deliveries he did in 17 years, i won’t hold my breath.

All this took 6 years to make. It probably took thousands of unpaid overtime hours on the side of the team and, i am guessing here, a lot of that was down to Levine changing his vision, interfering with development and not having a clue. People slaved away, did not see family, probably could not even take sick or holidays in some cases. People sacrificed and now they got their reward. 

But it is the people like Levine who will always land on their feet, in this case even within the same publishing company. The rest of the people hopefully will find another job soon, and having Infinite on the CV will definitely help. I really hope so, because it was the team that created Infinite, not because of Levine but, in my opinion, in spite of him. They did what they could with what the had to work with, in a competitive and harsh environment.

So i don’t get this Levine or Molyneux or [insert other famous developer name] hype. Because, from personal experience, i think they are not actually that good and in many cases actually are a block to development. Real creative leadership does not come from promising the moon and constantly talking about a “vision”, which changes every few months. Real creative leadership comes from an understanding of the team that actually delivers the vision and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both team and tech. Understanding what can and can’t be done. Realizing where to push the boundaries and where not to. And also it comes from understanding the potential target audience and realizing that any budget available needs to be recuperated from that target audience. Of course people like Levine, Molyneux and Braben don’t care about this. All they care about is to realize their vision (which some of them might have had for 20+ years but never had a chance to work on ). Because they know if they fail, if the game gets binned or never sells well, they won’t be affected. They move on to the next thing, while the grunts on the ground are left with the ruins. Their names guarantee another top job. The grunts are not so lucky.

But thankfully not every studio is like this, not every creative lead is a Levine. One has only to look at Naughty Dog among others, delivering amazing games every 2 years or so. Innovating, telling stories and entertaining a much broader audience. Despite personally not being a big fan of their games, i have to concede that this shows creative leadership as it should be. I doubt we will see Nate Wells post a letter citing the “desires to do something new, with a smaller team”  or “leaving over creative differences” anytime soon. I doubt we will see Naughty Dog closing it’s doors, leaving behind 100+ exploited and emotionally as well as financially drained grunts.

FREE to play

dungeon-keeper

 

“Dungeon Keeper is a hard game to review. That’s because any critique of this remake of Bullfrog’s 1997 PC hit can’t help but slide down the slippery slope towards being a critique of free-to-play gaming in general, and that’s when people start banging the table and raising their voices and it all goes a bit Jeremy Kyle.” Writes Dan Whitehead in his Eurogamer review of the latest Dungeon Keeper, a free to play title for iOS and Android.

Can’t help to slide down critiquing free to play games in general. What a perfect way to set up a review for a free to play game. Is it any surprise the game gets a 1 out of 10 review? I think not.

About a year ago Martin Robinson reviewed Real Racing 3 and used the opening two paragraphs to slam the monetisation model built into the game.

Both reviews proceed, at some point at least, to laud the actual game itself. “An extension of Firemint’s deservedly popular racing series, this continues the good work of its predecessors on track, and it strives yet further to back up the ‘Real’ part of its racing.” Robinson wrote about Firemint’s Real Racing 3. “And, credit where it’s due, EA’s Mythic studio has revived that gameplay style very accurately. The viewpoint is loftier, the art style more cartoony, but almost every feature from the 1997 game remains in place.” writes Whitehead about Dungeon Keeper.

Yet the majority of their “reviews” centers around the money aspect of both games, using vague attempts of humor and sarcasm to slam a game model which they are obviously not fans of.

Let’s leave aside the fact that someone who does not enjoy F2P games should not really review them, or at least someone who hates F2P models should not be allowed to review them by any respectable publication, and instead concentrate on what F2P really is and what it’s there for. Because i think a lot of people, particularly a lot of hardcore gamers and industry people, even so-called games journalists, still fail to grasp the concept.

Free to Play games are FREE TO PLAY! how about that? You pay NOTHING to download the game and play it. Nothing, not a penny. Zilch. What a concept! People spend a lot of time, love and money on a game and give it to you completely for free!

But of course those developers also need to eat, have a roof over their heads and perhaps they even want to buy something for themselves from time to time to time. So somehow these developers need to recuperate the cost, and perhaps even make a bit of a profit.

I know, i know, you are thinking “HOW DARE THEY!” – but stick with me! You are right of course, you, the valuable customer, the hardcore gamer, the veteran journalist, you DESERVE free games. After all you already spend hundreds of dollars every year on big blockbuster titles for consoles and PC. Surely based on that you should be getting at least a dozen smaller games for free each year, that you can get hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of. I mean it’s only fair right? If developers want to make some money, they should just make some big blockbuster title that you just have to buy!

So that out of the way, hang with me. Let’s look at how a free to play title can make some money. There are plenty of models.

Advertising is one option. Many F2P games use a form of advertising to generate revenue. The more downloads, the more people play a game, the bigger the revenue for advertisement. The great thing is it actually means the game is completely free to a user, they never have to spend a dime. But oh GOD it is so annoying to see all these pop ups all the time! I just want to get into the game as quick as possible, not look at an ad for 30 seconds! COME ON!!

Microtransactions are another option. Games like League of Legends, one of the most popular (and in my opinion one of the best done) F2P titles has chosen that route. Cosmetic upgrades, character models, anything that does not unbalance gameplay unduly. Sometimes, in single player games, this includes package deals for in-game currency or upgrades. But even here you can get consumer to complain about how unfair it is that some rich kids can get better looking characters because they get daddy’s credit card.

Little helpers are quite popular, in particular with puzzle games. Stuck on a level? Get a powerup for only 50 cents and get passed it. Buy a few coins to get get a free spin on the wheel of fortune, you might get the powerup you need. Games like Candy Crush and Bejeweled fall in that category. Again, people seem to have an aversion to towards those that actually do spend money.

Then there is the so called “pay to play” system, or really more accurately the “pay to speed things up” system. This is what Real Racer 3 and now Dungeon Keeper user. An in game currency that is used to speed up certain game mechanics (repairs, building etc.). This seems to be worst offender. This is what both Eurogamer reviewers seemed to spend most of their articles on. How dare the developer put a break on the gaming experience. How dare they force us to spend money.

Here is the thing though: Advertising aside, all of these things that players can spend money on are completely optional. That’s right! You do NOT have to use any of these mechanics. You can simply just play the game completely for free and never spend a single cent on it. I have not played Dungeon Keeper for long yet, but i certainly have not felt i need to spend money. I have played Real Racer for more than a year now, getting enjoyment and entertainment for well over 200 hours and i spent 30 dollars once. Not because i had to, but because i felt it was fair to pay for my entertainment, as i would for a boxed game.

There is no developer standing behind me with a loaded gun, forcing me to spend money. There is no break in the game at some point, where i am forced to spend money or i can no longer play the game, ever. These games are designed to entertain us. They are also designed to tempt us to spend money. But they never force us to. NEVER.

There are  thousands of free to play games, and there are many different ways of doing them. Some, like League of Legends, allow users to play for long stretches at a time and bank on a small percentage of their many users to spend some money on microtransactions. Other games, like Real Racer and Dungeon Keeper, hope that some users want to speed things up and spend money on that. But whatever option is used to monetise a game, it never really takes away from the fact that you can download a game and play it for free. That you can get hours of enjoyment from something that other people spent time and money on creating.

The key thing to remember is that these games are free and most of them are ideal to be played in small chunks. Get entertained on the bus, the train, while sitting on the toilet. They are not necessarily mean to to be consumed for hours on end in one sitting. Many of these games you can still play for prolonged periods anyway (like bejewelled etc.), and beyond free to play there is a ton of other choices. If you want several hours of mobile gaming fun, consider other titles, such as Warhammer Quest. Small, up-front, payments and no interference after. Play as long as you want. Or get yourself a boxed copy for your PC or console. Experience the 6 to 8 hours of single player fun for full retail price, with no replay value, that often is on offer these days. If that’s what floats your boat.

Personally i enjoy playing games like Real Racer 3 and so far i am enjoying Dungeon Keeper. 20 to 30 minutes of gaming at a pop, never a need to pay anything.  That’s not for everyone. Not everyone will enjoy a F2P title, even if they want to. But guess what? YOU DID NOT PAY FOR IT!

It is stunning to look at reviews and comments from people who complain about a game that is entirely free, for which they did not pay anything at all. And, as is evident in the 2 “reviews” by Eurogamer, they are not actually complaining about the game itself – they enjoy the game, the laud the game (at least in parts). No, it is simply the monetisation they complain about. And that just leaves me baffled. All I can surmise from that is that people want games they like and be able to play them for hundreds of hours and not pay anything for it.

Never mind the people who actually make the products. We all love making games after all, surely it’s so much fun we can do it for free! Because we certainly don’t need to eat, pay our bills or heavens forbid, actually have some entertainment ourselves.

Next time you review a free to play game, or even dare to comment on one, consider the actual game. Consider what it is meant to be. Consider the mechanics and the execution. Don’t consider monetisation. Particularly not if you are not actually paying anything in the first place. Just because you have nothing better to do in your life than play a small (mobile) game for 8 hours a day, does not mean that’s what it was designed for. Most of them are designed to fill a gap, give enjoyment and pleasure for a short while, and if you play them that way, trust me, you won’t just have fun, but you’ll also never feel the pressure of paying for it. Perhaps, if you are a somewhat decent guy, after a few months or so, you’ll do what I did: actually make a conscious purchase because the game is worth it and the developers deserve to be paid.

As a consumer you really have no right to complain about anything other than what is promised to you for your money. If you don’t pay anything, you can’t complain either. If you pay money and you do not receive what was promised, by all means, complain. Until then: shut the fuck up and enjoy the game which is given to you free of charge.

A note to reviewers like Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Robinson: if you don’t like F2P or have an aversion to that monetisation model, don’t fucking review F2P games. You won’t be objective (not that you ever really are) and you are not providing your readers with the service they deserve.

With Dungeon Keeper in particular, to anyone who thinks along the lines of “What have they done with my franchise!?”: it’s not your franchise. The franchise belongs to EA. They can do with it whatever the fuck they want. You can chose not to consume it, but you certainly have no right to complain (particularly not if you don’t pay for anything in the first place).

Final Note: Yes, some monetisation systems are better than others, some are less intrusive, and some are cheaper. EA seems to have a knack for being a bit heavy handed, but, as someone who played both Dungeon Keeper and Real Racing 3, even those games are fully playable without ever paying anything. In the end it does not matter what system is used and how it is implemented. Designers should always try to make it as natural and non-intrusive as possible, come up with clever ways of enticing the player to pay. Design monetisation into the game well. But at the end of the day it is what it is: a way to get the most money of consumers as possible to fund a project, pay those that make the game and hopefully be able to make more games. 

Harassment

428684_148468445332338_83854890_n

Complete and utter douche-bag sends inappropriate messages to developer.

That is the headline i might have used, if i had actually wanted to cover a story on the incident in the first place. Which incident? You know the one that Kotaku blew totally out of proportion and turned into a “men hate women in the games industry and all women in the industry suffer harassment” article.

In case you have not actually seen this flood the internet, the short version is this. Some complete and utter douchebag (gender: not important) wanted some inside scoop on a project and used facebook to contact a developer (gender: not important). The 2 had met twice, the developer in question worked at a different studio – the whole thing was a thin lead to begin with. But games journalists often don’t deserve the title “journalists”. A lot of times they are barely more than glorified bloggers. I met a lot of them, and a lot of them will go to great lengths to stick up from the vast sea of people writing about our industry.

This particular one not only was chasing after a thin lead but was also a warped human being. Using comments of a sexual nature towards the developer. Obviously the comments were not appreciated.

I don’t blame the developer on how the conversation was handled. I don’t blame the developer for going public. Quite the contrary – it was a perfectly handled situation. But what followed was typical to the current climate, particularly when it comes to our industry – and that was and is a farce.

Anyone who actually dared to disagree or at the very least want more information, was immediately slammed and branded. David Scott Jaffe (@davidscottjaffe) has been quite vocal from the start and has since faced, for a lack of a better word, harassment himself on twitter.  He never once defended the journalist in question. He just wanted more info before passing judgement. More info came and he quite clearly spoke out against the offender. Again: he never ONCE blamed the developer.

The Kotaku article uses an interview with the harassed developer as a jumping point to shine a light on just how bad women have it in our industry apparently. Rachel Edidin lists numerous (anonymous) sources that claim harassment and state how bad the industry is. Feminist blogs spring up, claiming how widespread harassment is towards women in our industry, seeming to support the Kotaku article.

I don’t doubt that cases exist, in fact i know they do. I have heard, from friends, about some cases. But, and i am saying this at the risk of taking as much flak as Jaffe: unless all the facts are known, unless both sides of the story are heard, all those anonymous sources tell us is their (biased) side of the story.

The original case is a lot more clear cut. It’s obvious the journalist in question was out of line and is a questionable human being to say the least. There is clear evidence in this case and I am sure there are plenty more clear cut cases.

But i would argue 2 things.

Firstly: Why do we only ever hear about women being harassed? Is there no cases of men being on the receiving end of harassment (sexually or otherwise)? Personally i have talked to a lot of games press, and a fair few female games journalists. I recall 2 occasions were comments could have been interpreted a different way. The last was at a major show in Europe were a journalist told me “You should do a show in our region, the girls are stunning!” I shrugged it off, i did not really register it – but now, thinking back on it, what do the stunning girls have to do with the game i was trying to promote? If i was inclined that way, like others clearly are, i could take it the wrong way.

What about men being harassed at the workplace (by both men and women)? That happens. I have witnessed cases, i know men who have experienced it. But it rarely, if ever, is reported. In fact the only thing that does seem to gain traction in the media is when men harass women. And boy does that get media traction – regardless if all facts have been established or not. Women harassing men, women harassing women, men harassing men – none of that is of interest. We certainly seem to live in a “blame men for everything” environment.

The reality is, harassment is gender neutral. Some people are just assholes that feel like they can dominate others, verbally or physically. Sexual harassment can also go both ways. Men seem to either have to deal with it or be quiet about it, while women are actively encouraged to speak out about it. A case of a woman being verbally abused in the games industry is big news, resulting in an international call to arms to end male oppression of female developers.

Secondly: It’s all about attitude and perception. The case of the reporter and the developer is very clear cut. The reporter is an asshole, the developer got harassed. But not every case is as clear cut, and that was really all that Jaffe pointed out (and got slammed for). I can give you an example, a personal experience. I tried to grow a beard during “Movember”. It was hideous. A female member of staff told me “Well you are not gonna get laid much this month.” I thought it was funny, and she most certainly was right. But if i was of a different mindset, if i would see sexism and harassment in every shadow (like some of sources i linked above, or some of the people attacking Jaffe), i could well have taken that comment differently. I could have taken it personally and i could have felt harassed. If i was to use the exact same line on some female members of staff, i would probably be sitting in a meeting room with HR the same day.

Women, in our industry and in general, are fine to talk about cocks, compare men and even go as far as objectifying (there is that word again) them – i have witnessed this. I have experienced this. The difference is, i don’t take it personal, it does not affect me. I might not necessarily like the person, but as long as it’s not a personal attack on me, why should i care? And if someone was to harass me, personally attack me, i would speak up. I would confront the person and at the very least get their side of the story – try to straighten things out. 

Sometimes a comment is just a comment. Sometimes something someone says is not meant personally. Some people can’t take feedback or criticism well, sometimes an innocent comment, meant in jest, goes down the wrong way. Some people feel personal insult everywhere.

The games industry is full of diverse and colorful people. A lot of creative people. A lot of people who speak their mind. A lot of studios have hundred people or more. Not everyone will get on with each other. Many personalities will clash. At times tensions also run high, the industry can be a stressful one. My tip to you, if you happen to hear a comment you don’t like: question where it came from, question what was really meant. And question if it actually was directed at you in the first place. If in doubt, ask the person who seemingly offended you.

Running to HR, going public, crying harassment, and doing so anonymously, without giving the other party even the chance to tell their side of the story, is cowardly and self-serving. It does nothing to create a better, more open and friendly, work environment. All it does, in the long run, is create a poisonous environment and one where the accuser might well face real harassment because attitude towards that person might shift.

If you truly face harassment, regardless if you are a man or a woman, do what the developer in the story did: stand up and name the culprit who harassed you. Naming and shaming those who are assholes is the only way to deal with them. As a lot of the recent articles and blogs point out: being quiet and hoping it goes away does not work. But neither does making anonymous accusations and generalizing an issue and playing the gender card. That just makes you look petty.

And before you go on a crusade against those of us who dare to think different than you, consider if your actions might not actually end up being the same thing you deplore in the first place: harassment. Don’t be an extremist – on either end of the spectrum.

Extremists

earthfirst

So my last blog has gotten me a few replies via mail , some discussions at work and an interesting discussion on facebook. Interestingly most responses actually did not involve a discussion on Objectification or try to counter any of my arguments in that regard. Most responses were related more to me apparently being against feminism and pro-exploitation of women. People seemed to think that because i did not agree with the sticker on the ad in question, i must be against equality and against “the norm” becoming better.

It’s really prompted me to think about this some more and perhaps clarify a few points. Whenever it comes to discussions on topics such as these,  topics that people are passionate about and have strong feelings on, it can be a bit tricky to properly express a view. I certainly did not want to step on people’s toes, or convey the idea that I don’t care what other people think. Nor am i against equality or against change on how human beings (men and women) are depicted in the media. I expressed my view on things and at the same time wanted to make sure that even if the current climate might scorn my view, I am sticking to it.

So to clarify I figured I’d do another post. You see I have no problem at all with feminism, and (as mentioned before) I am absolutely for equality (in all areas). Same as I have no problem with religion in it’s basic form for example. I have a problem with extremism, regardless if that is extreme feminism, religion or environmentalism.  And i have a problem with extremists on both sides – pro and con. I consider myself a liberal-moderate. The post below is primarily focused on feminism/sexism and gaming, but i feel the same about any kind of extremism really, so it also applies to religious fanatics, eco-terrorists etc.

Extremists

Let’s take games, because this is above all a games and development related blog. On the one hand you have people like Anita Sarkeesian and her staunch followers who think the majority of games have sexist content and that content exploits women and portrays women as objects (simplified for arguments sake). On the other hand you have people (mostly male gamers, but not exclusively so) who think it’s absolutely fine how all women are portrayed in games and who think Anita and others will ruin gaming for everyone, forever, incidentally the same people who continue to harass and bully her and others (again simplified for arguments sake).

Neither side is right. Both sides bring forth valid arguments at times, but it is their extremism which blinds them to reality. And on both sides you have people who simply like to stir the shit, get attention and potentially benefit financially from it.

Anita Sarkeesian does have some valid points, she has done some good research after all. Some of the examples she lists in her videos really do show a blatant disregard for women (GTA among others) and those games can and should act as examples on what not to do. But at the same time she lists a lot of games which, at least in my opinion, don’t do anything wrong, or at the very least where it is really up to interpretation by the player. I have given a lot of examples of that in an open letter to her and a few other posts since; you can read that if you are interested.

I think she, as well as those that hang on her every word, go too far though, often without realizing the context, development process, design intent or implications. In my opinion (and please do realize that all of this is really just that: my opinion) every artistic creation (including games) can be interpreted in many different ways. Extremists like to take things out of context and are very selective in what they present, while at the same time generalizing and making it appear an issue is widespread.

If the reviewer’s intent is to find sexism, it can of course be found; everything can be interpreted and manipulated to suit a view. Just read through this article were Kat Bailey links an element in the game to rape. The intention of the developer was clearly different that her interpretation and Kat jumps to a conclusion based on her view, based on what she wants to find. Here is a more realistic view on the same game (including some tweets from another reviewer, looking at the same build).

Miss Bailey goes in with a certain mindset and of course she finds what she is looking for. She looks at a scene, presents it out of context and makes it suit her needs. Those of us who don’t constantly see rape, murder and sexism around every corner and behind every word, look at things the way they really are. I would argue that the majority of people who play this game won’t think about a rape connection, will not get an idea that it’s ok to rape a young woman and then proceed onto the streets to re-enact what they saw on in the game. That’s just a guess though.

In this sense I think Sarkeesian and her followers are actually doing more harm than good to the industry (no they are not going to ruin games for everyone, forever). She has gotten a lot of media exposure, particularly in the games media, and in the last year I have seen many many reviews and articles on games, pointing to sexism that either was not present, or was at worst perceived by the reviewer in question. Objectivity went out the window (not that gaming press had much objectivity to begin with, but that’s another story). The sexism/feminism bandwagon has rolled in. Riding the wave of a currently popular topic, and thus gaining attention and exposure, articles and reviews analyzing games with a view to find and report sexism, popped up like mushrooms. Nothing can be viewed anymore “as is” – everything has to be analyzed to see where a potential, tentative, link can be made to sexism.

And this is having an effect, but not necessarily one that is good. I wonder how many games are currently being re-worked, touched up and re-written because some panicked CEO or marketing guy fear that an extreme feminist reviewer might slate the game and generate negative press. Sarkeesian supporters will no doubt say “but surely that’s a good thing if there was sexist content in it!” – well yes, in theory. But what if there was no actual sexist content in it? What if the intention and actual portrayal of a scene is more akin to the Castlevania example, but people are overreacting and censoring just to avoid POTENTIAL bad press? This then changes the vision, it changes what people really want to create, only to be more politically correct and avoid negative press from extremist sides.  It removes the creative freedom we must have in the industry.

It is, in the end, down to the gamer. Some people play games and think nothing of the content, others feel disturbed and perceive elements they dislike. It does not matter, in the end, if the perceptions are correct or not, it’s enough that there are perceptions. We are not perfect in the industry. Hundreds of people working on a game. There are cases where some individuals with a far more liberal view (or in some cases a more disturbed mind), create content others might find (perhaps just vaguely) offensive. There are things we can do better and there are things we must do better.

I strongly feel that change must come from within. I strongly feel that we must look at games like GTA and others that clearly do have sexist content and we must take them as examples and change things. We must make sure that all game characters are created as characters first and foremost, that they have meaning (where applicable depending on game type) and that we portray them fair, regardless of gender, color of the skin, religious affiliation or sexual preference. In short: we must treat game characters the same way as we treat other human beings, or how we should treat other human beings.

Because obviously we don’t always do, do we? Sarkeesian and Co are extremists on their end. But there are of course extremists on the other end as well. There are those who cannot or won’t treat human beings with the respect and dignity they deserve. There are those who threaten and bully people like Sarkeesian. And this behavior only fuels the fire, because they themselves are the very examples Sarkeesian and Co can use in their arguments in turn, keeping the wheel ever spinning.

So in my opinion the problem really comes from the extremists, those people who feel the need to enforce their view on things onto others, and going to great lengths (even threats, defacing and destruction of public or personal property and even acts of violence) to make their point. But most of these people are extremely narrow-minded; they only see their side of the story. They twist and turn every element of a story to fit their needs and make it fit their worldview.  They cry in outrage when something goes against their view, spouting angry comments (and the internet is a great place for that). Even a comment heard in passing, on an elevator or subway, not even directed at them, can get their blood rushing – and minutes later the world will know.

They are a small percentage of the population, they sit on the fringe, yet they often get far more attention than should be warranted. The average human being is far more objective and can logically look at each issue independently and objectively. The average human being can make up their own mind, and does not need an extremist (from any side) to come to a conclusion.

In the long run our games will evolve; some great games will lead by example (and already are). The average gamer will purchase these games, the market will respond and more good games will be made. Design will evolve to take note of the shift in gamer demographic. We don’t need people from the outside (often with no clue about game development) to tell us how to make games and what content to put in. We don’t need extremists from either side to tell us what we need to do, and how we should do it.

A friend of mine raised a good parallel argument using environmental issues. I am quite green minded and he said “But surely you want everyone to be more mindful of the environment?”  To follow that line of thought I would argue that  eco terrorism (i.e. occupying a power plant, breaking in, blowing stuff up), while gaining a lot of short term media attention, does little in the long run to change people’s mind. What does change people’s mind is someone leading by example. Live a normal life, use energy conserving light bulbs, recycle, buy local food, things like that – show people that your lifestyle is great and best of all you save money over time. You will find more people will come around through that.

Extremists really are people we should feel sorry for. Their outbursts are a cry for attention, a cry for help, often for very real personal issues. And while they might, at least short term, gain media traction, in the long run they will not convert a lot of others, and it will still (usually) leave extremists angry and dissatisfied, with the same issues they had before. We should pity them really. Extremists can’t actually enjoy life. They can’t go open through life and meet people. When they meet someone they will inevitably categorize them: With me or against me? And woe to those that are against them. They will even turn on each other, as Erin Pizzey can probably talk about – one of the earliest active feminists in modern times and largely responsible for creating women’s shelters for domestic abuse. She later created a shelter for men and promptly started to receive death threats from feminist extremists. Violence, or the threat of violence, is not restricted to just one side. Both extreme sides of any argument are the same. They use the same tactics, they use the same methods. They are all hypocrites.

In the long run we have to ensure that every person on this planet is treated equally. We have to convince 7 billion people that this is the right way forward. That treating others with respect and dignity is the only way to go. This includes giving others the space to express themselves however they want, as long as no laws are broken and nobody is harmed. This is slow work. Change is always slow. And it has to come from the inside. The problem with extremists is that they want change, change to their point of view, immediately. And they are not afraid of going to extreme lengths, using extreme methods, to achieve that change. Extremists can not live and let live. This, of course, includes extremists on all sides. They have the same rights as everyone else. They should be treated as everyone else. Their freedom includes the freedom of speech. But it is important, though unrealistic, that they learn to extend those same rights to others as well – even to those they disagree with and often hate. I am not saying that extremists are wrong and should be shut up or locked up. I am saying that extremists, while often coming from a great ideal and having some great arguments, use often deplorable methods and tactics in an attempt to silence opposition and would would gladly deny their opposition rights they want for themselves. Essentially they want their cake and eat it. 

To all extremists: try to focus on the real issues, when people are mistreated, when people are abused, when people are not treated with respect and dignity. But check the facts. Is this really the case or do you only perceive it to be the case, based on your view of the world. Don’t force your views on others.

In closing: as always i invite debate and discussion. I would ask you do it on this site, though of course twitter and facebook is fine – just not everyone will see the responses. As always: keep it civil.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers