Monthly Archives: June 2013

LEVEL UP! +10 INTEGRITY TO PLAYER 1

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Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.

The Disregarded Gamer

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a1029970023_10Every year in June, I sit down and watch as much of E3 as I possibly can. E3, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo and is a conference held in Los Angeles (I watch it online). It’s basically a place for all the biggest gaming companies to show off new technologies and computer games in development.

Actually, I’m not a massive gamer. Sure, I like games. I like them well enough to have written my dissertation on the similarities between games and theatre and I also like them well enough to consider gaming to potentially be one of the most powerful and fascinating mediums for storytelling in existence. But I simply can’t afford to keep up to date with the gaming world.

So why I sit and watch E3 every year, I’m not sure. I just enjoy it I guess. I find the air of excitement alluring and I can feel the passion that comes off from both developers and fans when something new is unveiled. I find each technological innovation fascinating even if I wont actually shell out for them myself. I find it inspirational (it’s no coincidence that I was writing my dissertation at this time of year!), compelling and just generally excellent.

But, and this is a big but: I always find the commercial side of it so frustrating. I actually would go as far as to say that commercial gaming represents the very worst of humanity. Yep, big claim, but I hold by it.

Last year I was appalled by the blatant propaganda apparent in most of the games announced. I actually began making a tally of the number of game trailers which began with a white man murdering a non-white man, usually a stereotypical terrorist. In the end, I gave up because pretty much all of them were thus. Propaganda in games has always been terrible, hence why I’ve boycotted Call of Duty and the like, but last year it was so distastefully paraded that I ended up feeling a bit sick.

This year, it was to be another kind of evil: Commerce itself.

Gaming has always been a competition between a few companies. Sony and Microsoft always battle it out to become the most powerful and preferred party while Nintendo plays hopscotch in the back garden. This used to be a sort of necessary evil as companies tried their damnedest to outdo the other in terms of technical innovation and quality of games. But this seems to be changing a bit now. That is, the battle is the same, but the tactics are different and they seem to me; dirtier.

Firstly, we have the concept of ‘exclusivity’.

Each console, Playstation and Xbox (I’m leaving out Nintendo on account of them playing hopscotch and not really bothering anyone), have had exclusive titles. That is, titles which are only available on their own consoles. I find this whole concept problematic to begin with.

This doesn’t exist in any other entertainment or artistic medium in the world. Can you imagine if films produced by Dreamworks had to be viewed on a Dreamworks player? Or seen only in a Dreamworks cinema?

Now, if something is made on a specific piece of kit and will only work on said kit, then fair enough. But what Microsoft and Sony are doing are buying up as many game publishers as they can and limiting games which could easily work on both consoles to just one, making sure the buyer has to buy that one. Sure, a game might work better on one machine than the other, but it should be the consumers choice which to get. Instead, that choice is being taken away from the consumer and if they are not willing to fork out for both, then they will simply loose the ‘privilege’ of playing certain titles.

The reason I feel that this is out of order is because the companies are not necessarily doing anything to earn their sale, they’re just creating a system which forces the sale. In this scenario, it is the consumer who suffers not the companies. No matter which company gets more sales or more followers, the real looser of the competition is the consumer because s/he must either submit to buy both or be be shunned by one.

I understand that each company must make money, however they should really have to earn it, not just try to force it out of the buyer. It should be the privilege of the company that a buyer has chosen to purchase their product, not the other way around.

And on that note, I am brought to my second niggle with the whole situation. Now this one mostly just applies to Microsoft at the moment, as Sony seem to be being at least a little bit considerate of the consumer…for now.

For a while these gaming companies have been playing a sneaky game with their products. For years, the gaming community has had a thriving market for pre-owned titles. Shops which trade in games for cash or credit and then sell them on…I think we all get the concept because it has existed forever, for every product imaginable. However, now gaming is becoming a much more complicated affair in this regard.

There are already safeguards up for certain games making the buyer of a pre-owned game suffer a penalty of sorts for not shelling out on a new, fully priced product. Perhaps certain content that is free with new copies has to be payed for in pre-owned ones. Now though, things are really going awry.

Microsoft recently made a few rather vague announcements that their new console will limit the sale of pre-owned games and along with it the prospect of lending a game to a friend. It’s still a bit vague exactly how this will all work, but it looks as though game publishers will be able to choose whether or not their games will be usable pre-owned. There is a possibility that they can be, however the buyer must pay a fee. This would mean that the price of pre-owned games in the shops would go up, not really making it viable to buy them pre-owned anymore. It would also mean that a friend would have to pay a fee to borrow a game from you.

Again, this doesn’t exist in any art form elsewhere in the world. I can freely lend books, art, DVDs or anything. And again, it is the consumer who is suffering because the company wants to maximize their income. It is pure commercialism with a blatant disregard for the consumer – Actually what it sounds like, is extortion.

I’m not even going to get started on the fact that it might be mandatory to be connected to the internet for online ‘checks’ every 24 hours else you loose the ability to play games… O_o

All of this, shows the darkest, most careless side of capitalism. There is no care for the people actually paying to use these products and it really does seem as if we’re supposed to be privileged and thankful that these companies have blessed us with their technology. No, it should be the other way around. We’ll pay you for this stuff because you prove that our investment will be worth it. You deliver the very best product you possibly can, the most enjoyable and eye-blisteringly awesome games and you do it for us. Without the buyer there is no market, so why are gaming companies treating the buyer so badly?

It makes me sad because I genuinely believe in games. I believe that they could be the most innovative, beautiful and wonderful medium for artists and storytellers in the world. They have already proved that they really do have the capacity to transport the spectator to another world, to make the spectator’s own journey the real story of the piece. But at the time being, I feel like I’m getting kicked in the face by a business man who’s pointing at my wallet and laughing the whole time I’m trying to go on this magical journey.

A few things have been forgotten here. Firstly, art has been forgotten. There are some tremendous and wonderfully talented artists working in games today, but I feel as though their work is being bastardised by the commercial aspect of gaming. Also, the audience is being forgotten, I don’t mean the audience as in walking £££ signs, I mean the human beings who will involve themselves in the art of the game and take something from it.

To end; Jerzy Grotowski said of theatre: In order to exist theatre needs at least a performer and a spectator. These are the two most important elements bar none. The same is true for games; you need the game and the gamer. Without the gamer the game is meaningless. Irrelevant. Worthless. The gamer is the one who brings the game to life, who experiences it and remembers it.

It would do these big companies good to remember this.Porsche-Penis-extender

Lost. Found. Remembered

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picture197Last week, I decided it was about time to put some pictures up on my walls. After all, I have been living in this room for about 7 or 8 months already and I haven’t made any attempt to make it my own.

Not having the money or attention span to go out and buy pictures or posters I instead decided to open an ancient chest of old bits and bobs that I have had hidden away in the darkest depths of my room (actually, I use it as a bedside table).

As the old chest creaked open, months old dust rising from it, I found myself wondering; what on Earth was in there? I had no recollection of any specific thing I had exiled into the chest and no idea what may have appeared from within. Waving my hand in front of me to clear the air, I peered into the dark, neglected chest and saw nothing exciting whatsoever… Just creased and dirty paper, half used pencils and a spider that would make Peter Parker himself recoil in fear.

Once a small, yet epic battle had occurred and it became apparent I would in fact have to work around this eight legged menace, I set to work pulling out all the old pieces of paper, trying to cause as little discomfort to the Spider as possible.

Rifling through them, I was delighted to find sketches and scratches from an age long past, a boy almost unrecognisable. Here, were line drawings of superheroes, anime girls and Star Wars characters. There was a portrait of my very first girlfriend right behind a kick ass picture of Samurai Jack.picture190

All these, were drawing and sketches that I had done not so very long ago, and yet they had been almost forgotten until this moment. In me flashed a deep nostalgia, as I began to remember the boy I used to be, and I couldn’t help but feel gleefully childlike again.

Rooting a little bit deeper I found some super short stories I had written in Barcelona two years ago. These flash fictions were surreal and vividly colourful; a real tribute to the time I spent in Barcelona. They captured perfectly the half crazed and (quite honestly) alcohol induced haze that has settled over those months of my life. I started to pine for those steep, winding streets, for that almost nonsensical architecture and those insane inhabitants.

Among these stories was a poster for the show we had created and performed there, once again, displaying well the mindset of that timepicture195

And then, after this, I came to what I like to call; The Seemingly Endless Age of Despair and Belated Teenage Angst.

Four abstract paintings rendered skillessly in watercolour. I remember this point in my life quite well because I didn’t enjoy it much. This was a time in which I would assemble my painting materials, sit and prepare to colour some comic-like masterpiece. And then, no sooner as the paintbrush had touched the page I would toss it aside in anger and frustration that nothing creative was occurring. Covering my hands in paint, I’d scratch and punch the paper not realising quite how melodramatic and ridiculous the whole thing was.

Still, I was quite proud of this one. I call it…Rage. <_<picture192

Well, this wasn’t a particularly dark time in my life, just a time I was being particularly foolish. Even so, it’s good to be reminded of it now that I can look at these and laugh. Truthfully, I’m just glad I didn’t attempt any poetry during that time. No doubt it would have been awful, the kind which would make poor William Pratt cringe.

There sure was a lot of crap I dug out of that chest, but it’s all on my wall now, displayed proudly. Not because I think any of it is artistically strong, but because each and every piece reminded me of myself at a different stage of my life. Some were sweet, some were cringe worthy, all were wonderful.

Coincidentally, today I received a message from WordPress reminding me that I’d been here for a year. That’s a year of blogging. A year since I left drama school.

It’s a funny and rare thing when one has a chance like this to reflect on who they once were, and by degrees, who they are now, and it should be cherished. Through these old discoveries I was sent on a sort of journey through my life. I didn’t really have any great epiphany on the way, and I didn’t learn any valuable lessons, it just made me smile. Simply and plainly.

If any of you have a secret chest of old crap hiding away, I highly recommend you fight off what ever monsters are safeguarding it and delve in. Go through all your old drawings or stories or diary entries or whatever it is you did back then. See if you remember being the kid that first put them there, and be happy to be the adult who took them out again.

See if you can go on a similar journey to me. It’s fun, you’ll enjoy it. It only takes 5 minutes and you can take a cup of tea with you.

I hope it makes you smile too.