Content and Video Games
- Mar 12, 2011 10:40 am GMT
- 43 Comments
How do we define video game content? Do all gamers define it in the same universal way? Do game creators define it differently than gamers? Well, publishers tend to define content in numbers and this is evidenced by the things they print on their game cases. For example, if you look on the back of a game box, you're likely to see numbers such as the number of levels, the number of maps or a lower bound for the number of hours of gameplay that you can expect from the game if you play through all its content. Sometimes they are more subtle and use attractive adjectives instead of numbers to convey the breadth of content you will obtain by purchasing their games. As for developers, I cannot say. Just by looking at the diversity of games available I can only infer that there are several schools of thought when it comes to content, at least from the developer perspective. What about gamers? This article intends to answer that question.
We all have certain games that we always come back to. And I'm not just referring to our favourite games. I mean there are games that go beyond our list of favourites. There are games that we have played so much that we know them by heart, that we can play through blindfolded. I knew people that played Mario Kart 64 with their toes because they knew the courses so well that it was boring to play in the conventional way. Perhaps it is the familiarity of the game that attracts us to come back to it thus producing a slippery slope. This is the principle of radio and hit singles in the music industry. If you hear a song often enough (on the radio for example), you will like it and buy it from iTunes, let's say. However, this theory cannot capture the dynamics of what makes a game more playable than another as we choose to play games based on our own perceptions and friendly recommendations, while on the other hand music can more or less be imposed on our ears. You may choose to listen to the radio, but you do not choose what is playing on the radio. So clearly games are not like hit singles on the radio. They need to offer something to gamers in order to get them to try them or to buy them.
What about nostalgia? Can nostalgia explain why we keep coming back to certain games? I think this is easy to disprove. Consider a game like Super Mario Bros. or Pokémon. These games were both massive hits when they were first released and the fans of the originals still love replaying those games as well as subsequent sequels that capture the same magic that the old ones had. But the new games are also massive hits, indeed the new Mario and Pokémon games are still attracting new players as well as old ones. Hence, nostalgia cannot explain why these games are immortal, so to speak.
My belief is that content is both invisible and implicit. Content is something so abstract that you cannot put your finger on it; it is the stuff that dreams are made of. It is unc1assifiable and indivisible. It cannot be isolated and analysed. It is like the heart of the game; if you take it out it is no longer a heart, but just a lump of ugly meat while the game becomes nothing more than a corpse. Also, the game must be born with its heart, it cannot accept transplants. Do excuse my rude analogy, but I think it is quite fitting.
So my idea is that a game that you can play indefinitely without ever truly getting bored must be a game that contains infinite content. And what content can be infinite but that which is invisible? Explicit content is only new and interesting the first time you experience it. For example, you only watch the daily news once. Nobody in their right mind is going to watch the exact same news report on the same channel on the same day more than once. There is nothing left for you to experience; once you've seen it you've seen it. The same goes for anything else. If a game has only explicit content like a story that you follow as the game progresses, you will not be likely to come back and play it again. You already know the story, why bother hearing it again, it's old news. In order for the game to be worth replaying it must contain implicit content. Consider a game like Halo. Why do so many gamers love playing through the same single player campaign so many times? It is because every enemy skirmish is unique. It's a combination of enemy AI, level design, weapons design and balancing as well as 3d physics. These things are implicit to the game and impossible to fully describe. Thus the content of Halo is infinite. Forget about the 5 hour long campaign, the less than a dozen weapons and the 4 types of enemies. The content is absolutely infinite and this is why Halo is still such a smash hit, even a decade after the original was released. I still pull my old Xbox out of my closet just to play Halo again!
Another example is Tetris. At a glance the game appears to be content anaemic. There are only 4 types of block configurations and they fall downwards and only downwards every time. Yet Tetris is one of the most well known and replayed games in the world and has maintained relevance for around 25 years! Remember those old shareware PC games and short one level long demos? Many gamers, myself included, who were very young in those early PC gaming days used to think that those were complete games. I didn't know that Doom had more than four levels when I was eight years old! I though that the demo was the game and I played it a million times! Such games that can be mistaken for complete packages despite being demos are made of the same infinite and implicit content that games like Halo, Tetris, Super Mario Bros. and Call of Duty are made of.
So what makes a game complete? Is it production deadlines or ripened ideas that are fully realized and implicitly ingrained into a video game? Ideas cannot be quantified and they cannot be haphazardly implemented. This is why it is so hard to make a hit game like Super Mario Bros., Halo, Pokémon or Modern Warfare. Although many try and reproduce games of that calibre, too many fail and you can see this by looking at the sales charts. No game can consistently outsell those games and create new fans with every iteration of the series unless the development team infuses their game with true content; the kind that makes a gamer play a game for ten years and still counting.
So the main point of this piece is that you don't replay games just for story or for gameplay. You replay them because they immortalize an idea that you find entertaining. For example, you don't replay Super Mario Bros. for 25 years to save the princess or because it's fun to jump with Mario. You replay it because it embodies elements of freedom and risk and reward. You play it because it's different every time, because it's still challenging even if you know the game by heart. Ideas are too complex to fully describe and this is why it's difficult to understand what makes a game a massive immortal hit. If it were any simpler, we'd all be living in gaming heaven as all game makers would know how to scratch our itch. As it stands very few do and I'm starting to get real itchy.
5 Games I want to see this Generation
- Mar 10, 2011 6:01 pm GMT
- 255 Comments
I had a very long list, but for now I narrowed it down to five. Later on I'll include more in other entries. Agree or disagree with me, these are only my opinion.
What happened Capcom? There were four (main storyline) awesome Onimusha games on the PS2 and each one progressively better than the previous…where has this series disappeared to? This was one of my favorite series on the PS2. I always thought when this current generation as launched I would be playing some very awesome Onimusha games on the PS3 or Xbox 360, but the years went by and nothing...
Dino Crisis 4
Another Capcom series that needs to be revived. With all due respect, Dino Crisis 3 on the Xbox sucked but the two games on the Playstation were awesome. Dino Crisis 2 was one of the best games I've played on the Playstation. The same way Capcom revamped the Resident Evil series, the same thing could be done with this game. It's been 8 years since the last Dino Crisis game and about 11 since the last good Dino Crisis game. Dinosaur games are really lacking this generation and Jurassic: The Hunted just didn't cut it…come on…I want Dino Crisis 4!
There were two Suikoden games on the Playstation and three on the PS2. Suikoden 3 being my all time favorite game in the series. Where has this series disappeared to? It would be great to see this RPG by Konami revived to the current generation and do to the RPG crowd what Final Fantasy XIII refused to do.
Legacy of Kain
Legacy of Kain: Defiance merged Kain from Blood Omen and Raziel from Soul Reaver. The way Defiance ended left any fan of the series wanting more in terms of the story. What happened here about 8 years and no sequel? If Eidos doesn't want to give a sequel this generation, how about making some of the Playstation and Playstation 2 games available for download on PSN of XBL?
I grew up playing Shinobi III on the Genesis. I was ecstatic when Shinobi was released on the PS2…and I easily mastered the game despite the insane difficulty. Nightshade was somewhat the sequel and I mastered that game too. I'm surprised Sega didn't capitalize on this franchise this generation yet with the success of fast paced hack and slash games like Ninja Blade, Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. Even if it is ridiculously difficult, I want to see a Shinobi sequel.
Thanks for reading!
The Rise and (Ongoing) Fall of Bioware
As the title of this little piece of writing indicates, this blog is going to contain some harsh comments about the gaming company that remains, to this day, my favorite one in the gaming universe. Therefore, before I begin in earnest I urge any humble gamers of good heart who cannot stand to hear such a revered name in the RPG world maligned in any way to agree to disagree with my stated premise and depart in piece. Failing that, I take no responsibility for any butt hurt feelings you may incur from here onwards.
- Mar 8, 2011 5:59 pm GMT
- 150 Comments
Still here? Very well then. Be advised that there is turbulence incoming and I, your humble captain in this endeavor, have turned on the "Fasten seatbelt" sign for this little ride.
Let it be known that this blog has been a long time coming, and is the result of many small pieces of dissatisfaction that have, over time, caused me to come to the brink of heresy and declare that Bioware may no longer be on top of the WRPG world. This is a big deal for me to say, but while it may be true that all the big things in the world are composed in some measure by a bunch of little things that make up the big things, there is one central cause of my complaint against Bioware that I come to you with this day:
It is the acquisition of Bioware by Electronic Arts. I firmly believe that all of my grievances towards Bioware can be firmly traced to this one progenitor event. Call it "The Big Bang" of my little theory if you will. It is the first cause.
I say this because I honestly and truly do not feel that Bioware has been the same company that I have known and loved for so many years since this acquisition took place. Before that happened, if you told me that I would be treated to five (and counting) major Bioware releases within a single video game generation (indeed within a three year timespan!) I'd have happily traded my left testicle for that gift. But we have been. So far within the current generation we have had no less than five major Bioware released games.
Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age: Awakenings
Mass Effect 2
And now Dragon Age 2
Of these, I have played three of those games a minimum of four times each, Awakenings once and the demo to Dragon Age 2. The first two games were already in development prior to the EA Acquisition. Not coincidentally, the first two games are widely held to be far better than their successor titles.
The acquisition of Bioware by Electronic Arts was greeted with a wide range of emotions by the RPG community. Many felt that Electronic Arts' history of killing the very qualities they purchased by over-interference would be a death knell in the long run for Bioware. The most optimistic among us (of which I at least attempted to be one, even if my cynical side told me I was an idiot) hoped that Electronic Arts would have learned from their past mistakes when buying out new developers and leave Bioware alone to do their thing only with greater resources at their disposal. From a passing glance, it almost seemed like this would be the case. Both Mass Effect and Dragon Age Origins were exceptional games. More to the point, they were exceptional ROLE PLAYING GAMES. With multiple new releases promised in a relatively short time period thereafter, hope persisted that the model that gamers hoped for (funding but non-intervention) on the part of Electronic Arts would come to fruition.
However, with each subsequent iteration of Bioware games since, the rumblings have grown that not only was this NOT the case, but that Electronic Arts was following the same pattern that they always seemed to in the past whenever they have bought a highly successful company to supplement their yearly dose of repainted sports games. Specifically, each new release since the games that were already in development by Bioware at the time of the acquisition has gone further and further away from the "Bioware Way".
The games that have been released since (or are in development...like the decision to shelve a true Knights of the Old Republic 3 and release KOTOR MMO instead) have been rushed, dumbed down, "casualed" or in some other way compromised to appeal to the mass market and not Bioware's traditional fanbase. There is a fine line between reaching out to a wider audience and abandoning the folks that brought you to the dance in the first place, and each step Bioware takes seems to be closer and closer to leaping over that line completely.
Dragon Age: Awakenings was truly a canary in the coal mine. Released less than a year and a half after the original Dragon Age, it was characteristic of everything that Electronic Arts has been at its worst and Bioware had never been previously. It was a rushed title that had poor pacing, forgettable characters, plenty of bugs (one of them game-breaking) and the overwhelming stench of an infamous "cash-in" title. This isn't to say it wasn't an overall very strong game in my opinion, but what it was not was a BIOWARE game.
When one thinks of Bioware and truly understands their history, this is very obvious. Multiple times in the past, when they were under their own control, Bioware passed on timelines publishers asked for to avoid sacrificing quality. When Atari wanted a sequel to Neverwinter Nights before Bioware was willing to commit to, they declined and Obsidian was tapped. Ditto for when Lucas Arts wanted Knights of the Old Republic 2 in a timeline that Bioware wasn't willing to commit to.
In both cases, Bioware passed on releasing unquestionable cash-cow sequels because they were unwilling to sacrifice the core of the reputation that they had earned over the years. Their reputation was that when they released a game, then by god it was going to be an excellent game. There were no compromises. Bioware was the gold standard for not only "good" games but for releasing masterpiece games. Their fanbase, like myself, eagerly awaited their next offering with the same sense of delight that the art of the great masters of previous generations was probably received by their audiences.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Shakespeare would now like to read a few passages out of his new play called 'Hamlet'"
"And now Homer will entertain us with a few passages out of his new book titled 'The Odyssey'".
This was how I awaited each new Bioware release. If an "Extra Awesome" special edition of a Bioware release was to be found then I bought it the day it became available. Now? Well, I have to play through the full game of Dragon Age 2, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Bioware is edging closer to being off my "no questions asked" preorder and buy list of developers.
So what are the principle crimes that I am attributing to Bioware in specific terms? Getting beyond the generalities, what am I upset about?
Most prominently I am upset that Bioware's RPGs feel much more like shooters/action games these days than, you know, ROLE PLAYING GAMES. This was a bit to be expected with at least the Mass Effect franchise, but the degrees by which traditional RPG elements are being stripped out are frightening.
Let's start with things like skill trees. In both Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2, the skill trees are far stripped down from their predecessors. Proponents of these changes will call them "streamlines" or "optimizations" but I do not. They are cutting back customization options that I love. In Dragon Age Origins for instance there was a dozen different ways the build a viable mage main character. Whether you went for a damager, buffer, support healer or some other role, the options at your disposal were far beyond what its sequel now offers. Similarly, you had far more freedom of choice with your Mass Effect 1 Shepard than your Mass Effect 2 one.
Getting beyond that, we get into inventory and item management. Some will say reducing the number of items you can obtain and manage is a good thing. It lets you stay in the action and wastes less time arranging your backpack. To these folks I say, "Go play a shooter title! There's no shortage. Hands off my RPG inventory management! Some of us LIKE equipping Sten with ten different types of armor before deciding which has the right combination of stat bonuses and pleasing aesthetics. Or some of us LIKED the thrill of wandering around the various shops in the Mass Effect 1 galaxy to find a rare Colossus armor!"
But even these changes (among many other scalebacks...like scanning from orbit in Mass Effect 2!) would be something that I could tolerate and accept if the rest of the core of Bioware games were not messed with. And by this, of course, I mean immersive storyline, character development, and non-buggyness.
These are areas where the current corner cutting measures by Bioware are being felt the most keenly by their true core fanbase. Whether it was the shocking cold water feel of playing Awakenings and needing to glance at the box to make sure I wasn't playing a buggy, rushed Obsidian game, a Gamespot review for Dragon Age 2 which says "Main story lacks focus and drive" or the DWARF Sigrun saying "BRILLIANT" in a game by recycling the same sound clip the HUMAN Leliana used in a previous game, all the markers are there of a developer abandoning their core principles.
Perhaps I sound bitter to you, patient reader, who has stuck with me through this long of a blog?
I am bitter. I am bitter and sad and frustrated and angry that it has come to this. I'm bitter that, one after another, compromises are being made. The video game industry is mainstream now, and that has positives and negatives like it did for the movie industry and every other industry that came before it. I have grudgingly watched and sighed in resignation as other developers ranging from Atari to Obsidian have stated their intention to focus on more casual gaming and multiplayer. Bioware was one developer that I never thought, in my heart of hearts, that I'd really lose.
Now? Well, I'm not too sure any longer. I find myself looking across the Atlantic Ocean and making teenage girl eyes at a certain Polish developer and saying "Help me CD Projekt Red...you're my only hope!"
Maybe I am too melodramatic about this. Maybe this is, like acne, just a phase that the gaming industry is going through. Maybe Square Enix will release a true sequel to Dragon Quest VIII (a.k.a. "The Best JRPG of All-Time") and not make multiplayer such a big deal like they did DQIX. Maybe Bioware will eventually split off from the corroding, corrupting and unhealthy influence of EA and go back to doing what made them so beloved in the first place.
Maybe five years from now we won't all be taking my movie industry metaphor one step further and hating our new "Romantic Comedy" overlords while pining away for the "Golden Age" of gaming that so many of us have been willing to sacrifice on the altar of the industry's "progress" towards acceptance within the gaming mainstream.
And maybe my wife and Scarlet Johannson will wander into my man-cave while I'm playing video games one day declaring their desire to be my joint sex slaves for the next ten years while Scarlet's movie salaries support us all for the rest of our lives.
Yeah, these things could happen.
Looking back - Dreamcast
- Mar 8, 2011 2:25 pm GMT
- 26 Comments
It's hard to believe, but it's been more than ten years since the Dreamcast came out. Boy, I feel old...
I was finally able to nab one of the little plastic white boxes in late 1999, after having a chance to see it on different occasions. The game shown was always some sort of fighting game, but I knew there was much more to it. My new system came with Flag to Flag, the (now deceased) CART Championship Auto Racing Team game, Sonic Adventure and for some odd reason, Monaco Grand Prix. The first two were my choices, and the third, my father's. He thought he'd get into games again, so he got an F1 game for himself. His mistake. What an awful game to get back to - no official license, it pailed in comparison to Flag to Flag in just about every way. On the other hand, Flag to Flag was awesome, even though it was broken to no end in the fact that you could 'bump-win' your way through every race and take out literally the entire competition.
Anyway, before the Playstation 2, the Dreamcast really felt like a "new gen" console, a step above the then current crop of games. Graphics were a huge improvement from past systems, and for a while, it seemed like there wouldn't be a match to Dreamcast games in terms of presentation and feel. Even today, Dreamcast games look very good, specially when hooked up to a VGA monitor using the special adapter, and it's one of the few consoles that emulated almost flawlessly various arcade games.
I won't get into the history and the sad events of the Dreamcast's life, mainly because I'm just lazy to write about it, and since so many people will be doing the same, I'll leave it to all the other write ups about it. I'm here to remember it, hell, be reminded of it, since I still own my original system and it still works perfectly. The Dreamcast is the only video game I consider to collect games and items for. In 2003, after years of procrastination, I started my collection when I bought an original, nationally produced Shenmue game. Shamefully, up to that point, I had owned only a handful of legit games, with a bevy of burned copies I downloaded off the internet. But upon buying that Shenmue copy, something clicked, and since then, I've been building a healthy library of games and accessories. The rarest of the bunch are my Shenmue II European copy, which took lengths and lengths of effort to obtain and Garou: Mark of the Wolves that I bought while visiting New York last year. While both aren't exactly rare on other gaming system options, they are cool games to own on the Dreamcast for sure. Among the paraphernalia of items, I've managed to get one of the awesome arcade sticks from Sega, a Dreamcast keyboard, Seaman and even a mouse. Somehow, to me, the Dreamcast feels like something worth collecting and playing, even if it was killed off too early. I don't consider myself a collector, far from it, since I play every game I ever got for it and hardly keep them in shrines for 'mint condition'. My game collection has spread so far that it practically occupies an entire shelf in my room, among other assorted game crap there.
Link to my shelf - sorry about the flash, it's a rainy day. Sorry for the mess, I'm just a lazy bastard. If you look at the bottom left corner, you can see the box in which my Dreamcast lives nowadays. The left-most column is my extremely slim Sega Saturn library. And yes, that's a James Bond VHS collection in the upper shelf.
It's worth mentioning how well the Dreamcast was supported in Brazil - TecToy, the local distributor, had a great line of games out for it, and to top it off, at reasonable prices. Unlike the current crop of games sold off at ridiculously overcharged prices, Dreamcast games were reasonable purchases, making it a good, current game system to own at the time. Sega had a great history with the Master System and Mega Drive in the past, supporting both way past their life cycle, to this day even, bundling both with built in games still found in stores, but it has been a bit different with the Dreamcast, as it's a rare find in stores, if at all. Either way, I'm thankful for the treatment it's been given, even going as far as owning a few of the nationally released titles like Vigilante 8 and Blue Stinger.
Am I sad about the history of Sega post Dreamcast? To be honest, no, not really. They had an incredible console in their hands, and messed it all up with the consumer. They took their main mascot and trounced it with awful games. But in that wake, they brought out a great little new series of games with Yakuza (Ryu Ga Gotoku), which to me is almost enough to clean their name.
What's important to remember is not the series of mistakes Sega as a company made over the years, even though it's one hell of a laundry list, but how awesome the Dreamcast was and still, in a way, still really is. You doubt it? Look past its ridiculous name, and pop in a game or two, you won't regret it!
The past, present and future of games
- Mar 8, 2011 7:01 am GMT
- 27 Comments
I'm old enough to remember playing Pong when it first came out. I recall adventure games having no graphics at all. My first computer hooked up to a TV and programs were loaded from cassette tapes. My second computer was an IBM PC Jr. and didn't have a hard drive whatsoever, only dual(!) 5 ź" floppies. Arcades were still hugely popular and that was the place to go for the top-of-the-line games. And today, decades later, I wonder just how antiquated current AAA games will look a few years from now.
I was playing the re-mastered Secret of Monkey Island games recently, and while this classic is both fun and funny, it really shows its age compared with modern adventure games such Alan Wake. In the old days, we were satisfied with games that relied primarily on humor and puzzles. The systems of the day just couldn't offer advanced graphics and music, and there was no spoken dialog… nearly everything was text. I'm curious just how many younger gamers who have no recollection of these classics could even play Monkey Island. I'd guess that they would think the game was too primitive and could not play past the first five minutes.
But just how good were the "good old days" of gaming? At the time, I think they were excellent. We loved the Sierra, Infocom and Lucasarts adventures, the RPGs like Wizardry, Bard's Tale, and Ultima, and many other classics like Star Control, Wing Commander and more. To play any of those games today might be an interesting diversion, a trip down memory lane, or a way to reminisce about our youth. But can any of those games hold a candle to even the mediocre games of today? I'm not saying that today's advanced graphics and sound make a game. But the entire package of contemporary games is just so much more complete, including the story, presentation, characters, and technology.
Another variable of games over the years is how they have matured. I'm sure this is due in the most part to the maturing of the audience. Like me, many kids grew up progressing from Ataris to Playstations, and Commodore 64s to quad-core PCs. As we got older, we craved games with deeper plots and adult-oriented material. PacMan eating pellets and ghosts evolved into Prototype destroying tanks and consuming people.
So what's next? Motion control and 3D displays seem to be the bleeding-edge technologies of the moment. It's amazing how far things have progressed in 30 years. We've gone from small, pixilated monochrome images to wall-sized monitors that push the boundaries of realism. And while it is still in its infant stages, gamers can control a game with gestures, where 3 decades ago we relied on large and clunky input devices. In the year 2040, will we play simply by thinking? Will we be incorporated directly into a global computer network? Will the images be piped directly into our optic nerves?
But it's not just the way we play games that have changed, and will change in the future. The games themselves have come a long way. Action games used to be about keeping a square pixel bouncing between two movable rectangular pixels. While today's action games can rival the best movies in their cinematic flair, complex stories and wonderful character development while giving the player actual control over what happens. Driving and flight games are no longer about moving sprites around on a screen, but are true simulations of real-world vehicles. Even the arcadeiest racing game has more realism than the best racers of 20-30 years ago.
I can't even imagine what games will be like 30 years from now. Yet when I think back on my lifetime of gaming and how much improvement we've seen over the years, I can only predict things will only get better. And when I'm in my 60's, I expect I'll be reminiscing about the "good old days" of 2011 and how archaic our games were back then.
Why reviews are (almost) worthless
- Mar 6, 2011 5:48 pm GMT
- 219 Comments
By now you may have seen the fact that Pokemon Black/White, the flagship games for Generation V, received a 7.5 on GameSpot. That's the lowest score a generational flagship Pokemon game has ever received on GameSpot; the others (Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, Diamond/Pearl) received scores of 8.8, 8.8, 8.1, and 8.5, respectively. The main reason for the low score was that, as the review put it, "It's the same Pokemon formula you've seen before." Now, I could take this time to note (as some in System Wars already have) that that didn't exactly stop Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops from getting 9s (nor did it stop, well, every other Pokemon game from getting scores in the 8s, with no clear previous downward trend). However, I'm not going to do that. Why? Simple: because that would miss the real issue that no one seems to recognize. The real issue is that all of this is completely worthless information.
That Pokemon Black/White received a 7.5 from GameSpot is worthless information. That the reviewer would have preferred it if the game were more original is also worthless information. The reason why it's worthless information becomes apparent if you ask yourself a simple question: if you were a prospective buyer, how would that information help you make the decision regarding whether or not you should buy the game? The answer is none. Zilch. Zero. Nada.
ALL ABOARD THE NO-INFO EXPRESS
"But wait a second, Gabu," you might be saying. "If a game gets 7s across the board and another game gets 9s across the board, doesn't that mean that the second game is better?" No. No, it doesn't. That means that the average reviewer liked the second game more than the first game. That is literally all it means in itself. "Now hold on," you're probably now saying, "it certainly means that I'm more likely to enjoy the second game than the first!" Perhaps. Perhaps not. That all depends on what you like and how what you like compares to what the average reviewer likes. Even if a game receiving 9s instead of 7s does mean that you're more likely to enjoy it, then it's still the case that all you've done is used the average review score as a proxy for what really matters in a review. More on that later.
Let me go to a personal example for a second. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was one of the most well-received games not only just in this generation but also of all time. It received 10s or near-10s across the board, including a much-coveted 10 from GameSpot. Reviewers couldn't stop gushing about how incredible a game it was. So that means it's a totally awesome game, right?
Nope. Not from my perspective, at least. I played it and got around 80-90 stars in it, but on few occasions did I ever actually enjoy the game in a "wow, this is awesome" sort of manner. The game felt aimless and pointless to me, and its lack of any kind of narrative, sustained focus, or internal motivation for what Mario was doing in the game made it a difficult game for me to play. If I were to give it a score out of 10 to denote the extent to which I liked the game, I'd probably give it a 7. At best.
Why do you care about this? You don't. That's the whole point: you don't and shouldn't care about whether or not I personally enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2. If you're interested in buying it, what you want to know is whether you would enjoy the game. That's what a review is supposed to tell you. Everything else is either a proxy for that information at best or self-indulgent fluff at worst.
So if all of that is worthless, then are reviews as a whole worthless? Well, no. Now we come to the "almost" in this article's title. There are two, and indeed only two, pieces of information that are actually useful for a prospective buyer in a review. They are as follows:
1. What a game promised to deliver or what the game was designed to be; and
2. How well the game delivered on that.
That's literally it. If you don't want what a game is supposed to deliver, then you obviously aren't going to care about it no matter what - even if it delivers what it is very well, you still aren't going to want it. On the other hand, if you do want what a game is supposed to deliver, then obviously of paramount importance is whether or not it actually delivers. What you don't care about is whether or not the reviewer wanted what the game was supposed to deliver. That information, despite being a pivotally important part of the review score - the question of "did I enjoy it?" is obviously crucial to one's video gaming experience* - is utterly useless information, and a review that dwells on that topic for long (and many often do so in a very subtle fashion) is a bad review, plain and simple. A good review, and one to which you should pay attention, is one that effectively and clearly provides both of these pieces of information, regardless of anything else it might contain.
Doing it wrong: a case study.
Why am I saying all of this? The reason is mostly that I see far too many people out there who take reviews far too seriously. Some take reviews as absolute gospel truth and refuse categorically to play any game that scores lower than an arbitrary level either on GameSpot or in the aggregate. Others take negative reviews of a game they liked, or positive reviews of a game they didn't, as an egregious offense taken personally to which I half expect a response akin to Inigo Montoya's in The Princess Bride. Both of these responses are completely self-detrimental. The fact of the matter, and the dirty secret of the world of game reviews, is that the opinions of reviewers really don't matter. The only thing that matters is what the game wanted to provide and how well it did so. A game that provides something well will appeal to anyone who wants what it provides, and all the 6s in the world should not dissuade someone from picking it up who is confident that that is the case.
So the next time you read a review, keep in mind the above two points. If the review provides both pieces of information, then you're set, and you have everything you need, regardless of the review score. If the review doesn't, then it sucks, and you should find a better review.
Above all, don't worry about it so much. As The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy put it:
*Of course, one could argue - as I'm sure some will - that a review can be "objective" in its scoring, and can consider such things as technical accomplishments in a fashion external to the way in which they subjectively contributed to the extent to which the game could be enjoyed. However, I would argue not only that this is basically impossible, as was demonstrated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by Jim Sterling of Destructoid, but also that to attempt to do so is being fundamentally dishonest to your readers who expect such an impetus for the score. At the end of the day, the score in a review is and will always be either a completely subjective reflection of the extent to which the game was enjoyed by the reviewer or an attempted "objective" measurement that ignores the fact that a game's purpose is to be enjoyed, and which is thus probably basically meaningless on all counts.
DLC, Streamlining, and Price Hikes
- Mar 3, 2011 3:19 pm GMT
- 169 Comments
Downloadable content didn't make a graceful, poised entrance into the gaming world. See horse armor. I laughed pretty hard when I first read about Bethesda offering cosmetic horse armor for 200 MS points. This, of course, wasn't the first DLC to be offered, but it is one of the first that most people will remember because of how hilarious it was at the time. A time in which DLC was not integral in the story, did not contain massive amounts of content, was not used to coerce customers into preordering for full price, and major DLC additions to the game certainly didn't come out at launch. DLC was reserved for fun, but unneeded additions for the serious fans to prolong the game between releases/expansions.
King of DLC
Let us step into the present time. Dragon Age II is just around the corner and there are already 19 DLC items coming out at launch. Two of those items are major pieces of add on content. One of which everyone who buys a retail copy will get for the first few months. The second is only for people who pre-ordered before an arbitrary date, all others please insert seven dollars. The rest are various items procured through a daunting process of signing up for email newsletters, playing the demo, hoping a certain number of people play the demo, purchasing items from epicweapons.com, playing a facebook game, pre-ordering at certain locations, buying Dead Space 2, and the list goes on and on. In the end, to get the "full experience" a fan of the series will have to spend hours and countless dollars chasing all the promotions before the game is even out.
I supported EA when they decided to add in content for new purchases. This way they could entice potential used game purchasers to buy a retail version, so EA sees more profit. This is totally understandable. Most fans like to buy new and support the developer anyway. Packing in a small incentive for the collector's edition is common practice as well, as is giving people who preorder a little bonus. Okay, I'm still with you EA, but this is where sanity ends. Like previously stated; facebook games, purchasing unrelated full games, buying fake weapons from a subsidiary, being a member of the EA social network, newsletters, blah blah. Combining all this together starts to turn the stomach. One begins to wish for the days of horse armor!
EA and Bioware aren't the only offenders, but DA2 makes it all too easy to use them as the prime example.
"Streamlining" is a relatively new term to the gaming industry. In other industries the word means: "to make more efficient" or "to build an ugly camper out of flashy materials and then overcharge for the name." (Airstream for the uninformed) The first is used on the business end to make more money (efficiency through subtraction). In reality, streamlining in videogames is more along the lines of the last meaning. They take what made the first game great and then cut features, redirect focus onto more mainstream game-play, up the Hollywood factor, shorten the game, and bank on name recognition to sell copies. These are touted as great things as they supposedly "enhance the flow" or "allow more people to experience the game." In other words, they enhance the flow of money directed into the producer's war chest by changing the game to suit these hypothetical casual players who were afraid of the rich game-play and story of the first game.
Streamlining in rare cases does help a game. Look at Mass Effect 2. This, however, is less of a testament to streamlining as it is to how clunky the original game was. Mass Effect 1 was never known for its deep game-play, so turning up the action was a good thing. The majority of games that are streamlined into a sequel do nothing but disenfranchise the fans who originally made the game a success. Casuals do not build new IPs. Core, dedicated players turn high quality original titles into major successes because they support games during their infancy. We see this all the time in the music industry. Core fans that supported their favorite bands while they were playing in the cellar of a bar lose interest when the corporate producers turn the band into marionettes, lines connected directly to the CEO's fingers. They call these bands sell outs, which fits here as well.
I'm not saying I do not want a sequel to be different from the first game, not at all. I want it to be innovative if they are going to change the formula. Addition by subtraction is a way to make something better, but it isn't the only technique that should be used.
Price is always a delicate balance between many factors of which very educated individuals spend a life time studying. On the surface, game prices have been rather steady this generation in terms of a retail price. PC games have seen a recent jump to 59.99 which, in my opinion, is not justified in the same way that console games were. The reason is tied to the console manufacturer taking a sizeable royalty on each disk pressed for their system. PCs, on the other hand, are entirely open and there is not an entity which demands a royalty for the system's use. It seems strange that a bump in the price of PC games is needed especially when one considers most PC games are now ports or an afterthought of a mostly console game.
The less obvious price increases are concealed in the cost of DLC, collector's editions, and special versions of the games. To get the full experience from a lot of newer games the player must purchase upgraded versions of the title. Gone are the days of the collector's editions housing figurines, maps, and other fun-to-fans yet unnecessary items. Today these upgraded versions are piled high with many hours of additional content, exclusive weapons, codes for clubs, and other content which was developed at the same time as the title. It begs the question, which version is the full game the developers originally designed before it was butchered into different tiers by corporate accountants?
I thought DLC was supposed to lengthen the experience through episodic content and mini-expansions, not create a tiered monetary structure for dividing content from which producers and developers could reap more profits from fans at launch.
I will help you on your quest, for a modest price.
Big Deal, Right?
I know some people will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Most of those DLC things for DA2 are only items anyway! You would be right. As of right now, it isn't game breaking. A purchase of DA2 without any of the DLC benefits will certainly give the player their money's worth with 40+ hours of game-play and such. This is not my argument though.
Simply take a look back in time. Step back to when Oblivion came out and then horse armor quickly followed. Now look at what they are doing with it. Pressuring people into preordering so they get all the content, packing major storylines in with collector's editions, begging for facebook friends to get an item, and the list goes on. It has only been 5 years since the introduction of horse armor and look at how DLC has permeated our buying experience. Oblivion DLC was created after the true game came out, now DLC is considered at the concept stage. Before the first wire frame is drawn, they are thinking of ways to break up the content to milk your wallet.
I, for one, am not going to support the model. I've decided to put off my DA2 purchase until the ultimate edition comes out at which time I will purchase the full experience for a reasonable price.
I am not against DLC adding to the game after release, but it kills me to see content created in tandem with the original game to cash in on day one.
Do you think it will get a lot worse?
Do the DLC pack ins affect your buying decision?
Do you think DLC is worth the time and money?
What Is a Game?
- Feb 25, 2011 3:16 am GMT
- 125 Comments
Foreword : I recently purchased and have begun reading the book 'Reality Is Broken' by Jane McGonigal, and while I have not read the entire book, these musings are paraphrased or taken from this book while incorporating my own point of view. The catch phrase on the rear cover is 'Reality is Broken sends a clear and provocative message : the future will belong to those who can understand, design and play games'. Based on the content so far, the book is recommended reading for any gamer, and probably non-gaming partners who want to better understand their gaming partners habits.
I've always pondered briefly why I like video games or what makes them so enjoyable. I'm sure most of us have had that moment where we think to ourselves, "This doesn't really offer me anything in my real life, so why do I keep playing?" Usually that momentary thought is quickly dismissed, shrugged aside because the answer is simply 'I enjoy them' or similar. Reading 'Reality is Broken' has opened my eyes up a little more about who I am and why I enjoy games.
The first thing to ask though, is what exactly is a game? The answer given in the book is brief and concise;
A game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unecessary obstacles.
I read that a few times, and it does seem like a brilliantly refined definition. But it gets you to thinking; Why do I want to overcome unecessary obstacles? At face value, that is a bit of a head scratcher. Who wants more obstacles in life? The answer is that a lot of the time, we actually want our brain to be engaged, and games offer us a way to do this. They do this by providing a goal, a set of rules to abide by, effective feedback and by offering voluntary participation.
Games offer us a goal, and these may be extremely varied. In golf, you need to get the ball in the hole. In chess, you need to checkmate the opposing king. In Gears of War, you need to defeat the locust horde. Whatever it is, you usually know explicity what it is you are setting out to achieve. These clear goals may not always exist in your work environment or other settings.
Games have a set of rules to abide by. In golf, you don't walk up to the hole and drop the ball in. You hit it from a tee hundreds of metres away from the hole with specialised clubs. Each hit of the ball gets added to your strokes, and you need to hit it as few times as possible. As a player you agree to abide by these rules. In todays video games the rules are complex mathematical equations that create our gameworld, from how fast we can run, what our weapon reload times are, how long our turns might take, how much experience we need to level up, how much damage we take and how soon it recovers and a great many more.
Games (at least good ones) offer effective feedback to let you know how well you are playing the game. In golf, you keep a record of all your strokes so you know how well you are doing for the round. For the current hole, you know how far away you are. In a role-playing game, you have a record of the experience you've earned and items that you have accumulated. A game over screen is a form of feedback; it lets you know that whatever you did was not effective, and you need to improve or change to complete your goal.
Games are voluntary. You play them because the goals and rules appeal to you; they are a challenge that you have decided that you want to overcome. We don't want to be forced to accept challenges. We want to be able to make the choice to participate.
I think an interesting phenomenon amongst video gamers in particular (though can relate to all gaming) is that some of us add even more unecessary challenges for ourselves. If none of us have witnessed one, I'm sure all of us have heard about speedruns for games where time taken to complete isn't even a factor or usually measured within the game. While video games come with their own sets of rules, some players make up new ones that weren't even in the game, just because they want to make the game more challenging. Examples include role-playing games where they complete the game 'naked' (without any equipment), action games where they complete the game while using the least amount of force possible (I'm sure I've read there are Resident Evil 4 playthoughs that fire only a handful of bullets for the entire game), or in my case I attempted to play the Halo 3 campaign while only using melee attacks and grenades (for the record, I made it a few levels in before I got bored, so I don't know if it can actually be completed this way).
Why would we do that? Because we feel like we have already gotten the most out of the games normal rules. The thing we want most from games is to be engaged. Once we master a game, we lose that engagement. We always want to be on the edge of our ability, not quite the master of it. While we aren't quite there yet, we feel a pull, a desire to better ourselves. Once we know we can't do any better, we lose that drive, and throwing in some extra or interesting rules can give us back that drive. And the fact is that hope of mastery brings us happiness, not mastery itself.
It's interesting that games, particularly video games, can engage us so quickly to almost the maximum of our potential, because the feedback is almost instantaneous. It's also interesting to note that according to the book that the reason schools are failing to educate our children effectively are because the majority have been brought up with games, and that teaching methods are archaic and far and away from the engagement and feedback systems we have for games... but that is another blog.
Have you ever pondered why you enjoy games? Is it for the reasons above, or do you think there is there more to it for you?
Have you ever added extra challenge or rules to a game on top of that normally applied in the game?
Something that bothers me about Sony
- Feb 13, 2011 8:57 pm GMT
- 8 Comments
I've been reading a lot of articles about the New Generation Portable.The NGP has a lot of cool featuers: 3G, touch screen (no stylus required! *cheesy grin*), two analog sticks (something the PSP should've had), HD graphics, and so on and so forth. All these features made me think about a recurring problem with Sony, however. For years, Sony has been trying to what the ridiculous looking Snuggie blankets did. "One size fits all!" (For those who don't know what a Snuggie is, look it up on YouTube.) Thank goodness they don't advertise those things anymore... or do they?
Anyway, let's back up a few years. Sony took its first jab at the "one size fits all" mumbo jumbo when they first released the PlayStation 2 by allowing it to play DVDs. It was actually quite convenient because you didn't have to get behind the TV and get funky with the cords in order to re-connect the DVD player. I actually purchased a PS2 recently, and it's niceto have a built-in DVD player because now I have a way to watch movies in my bedroom (I have a TV in my room).
Sony took this a step further with the PlayStation Portable. It had the ability to store and play music, watch movies, and you could even browse the internet (albeit in a very annoying, limited, and sluggish fashion). "Game over, Gameboy," right? Not exactly. By the time the PSP was out, theNintendo Dual Screen was already out. The DS didn't have any fancy features (at least not until the DSi), but it hadsomething extremely important thing over the PSP: games. People, myself included, didn't care that the DS didn't have as good of graphics or the ability to store entertainment. They liked it because it had a bucket-load of awesome games. That's not to say the PSP has terrible games. It has Final Fantasy spin-offs, Kingdom Hearts spin-offs,varioussequels and additions to popular series, and various remakes/ports of obscure PS1 games. In spite of this, the DS is still more popular and offers games that portable gamers enjoy more such as Pokemon, Professor Layton, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, The World Ends With You, and so on.
Enter the PlayStation 3, a console that had a built-in Blu-Ray player (plus Blu-Ray quality games)and sold for a whopping $600 dollars at its release. Sony had a lost a chunk of exclusives, but it was okay because the system had Blu-Ray... right? No. Absolutely not. The Wii and Xbox 360 were doing a lot better than the PS3. Why? It's because of the games they offered. The Wii offered games that appealed to the whole family (even some bloody stuff for the older kids). The Xbox 360 and PS3 shared the multiplatform games that used to be exclusive to Sony's consoles, and the Xbox 360 was cheaper. Plus, the Xbox 360 still kept its major exclusives. Another thing that hurt the PS3 was that the PS2 was still getting new games. In its final years, it got games like Rogue Galaxy, Persona 3, Persona 4, and various third-party games. Why? The PS2's fanbase was stronger than the PS3's. Why? The games! It's all about the games!
This now brings us to a few months ago when Sony and Microsoft came out with newmotion control add-onsin an attempt to get in on the motion control action that the Wii was offering. Sony came out with the silly-looking PlayStation Move, which was like the Wii, but you got to play with disco sticks (I bet Lady GaGa liked it). My family purchased an Xbox 360 just a few months ago, and what's funny about that is we purchased four controllers, the Kinect, and a Blu-Ray player, and it was cheaper than the PS3 with all the controllers needed for the Move and to play regular games.
You guys may be getting the impression that I'm simply a Nintendo fanboy and that I'm bashing on Sony, but that's not the case. The PS3 still has some worthy exclusives such as LittleBigPlanet, Ratchet and Clank, and God of War. The point of this blog is to say that I think Sony is putting too much focus on the "one size fits all" gimmick. Video game systems are made to play games. Nintendo still has yet to offer a system that offers more than Netflix in terms of entertainment, andthey're doing just fine because oftheir games. (Last year the Wii had an incredible holiday line-up.)
Sure it's cool that Sony is trying to cram so much into video game consoles, but they need to focus on what video game consoles are originally made for, and that focus should be on games. Nintendo's had this focus ever since the beginning, and they're still going strong. This is why people are more excited for the 3DS than they are for the NGP. The focus on games is what made the PS2 the best-selling console of all-time. Innovation is imporant, but trying to cram entertainment on a machine intended for video games is not innovation. Cramming entertainment on a video game console simply leads to a high price and low sales. Need proof? Look at the PS3's sales at its first launch.
Those are my thoughts. Disagree if you wish, but flaming this will simply make you look immature. There's a fine line between them, you know.
Social Gaming: Scourge of the Industry or Source of Untapped Potential?
- Feb 12, 2011 11:50 pm GMT
- 79 Comments
Social Gaming. Just say the words to the average core gamer and you can literally watch them cringe. Most of us look at Social Gaming with equal parts confusion and revulsion. But, is this a fair assessment? Is there more to this phenomenon than meets the eye? Can 17 million people per day really be that clueless? Is Social Gaming really the end of the gaming world as we know it, or are there opportunities hidden under the layers of never ending gift requests and micro transactions that should be looked at in a different light? As someone who considers himself a core gamer, but also an open minded individual, I endeavored to explore this world in the only way that made sense…by getting in the trenches and seeing what all the fuss is about. That is really what this blog post is about. It's my investigation into the phenomena of Social gaming and to report my findings from the perspective of a core gamer.
To explore Social Gaming, one need only have a Facebook profile and away you go. Now, there are many developers of Social Games present on Facebook, but one stands out as the functional equivalent of the Blizzard of Social Gaming. You know who it is. We are talking about Zynga of course. To conduct this investigation, I decided to try out 5 of Zynga's more popular games. What follows are my impressions of these 5 games collected over a period of several months.
Farmville: If Zynga is the Blizzard of Social Gaming, Farmville is certainly its World of Warcraft. In January of 2011, Farmville averaged almost 16 million users each day. That's more users each day than WoW subscribers in total. Scoff all you want at Farmville. When you see numbers like that, something big is going on. What is so great about Farmville? Not a whole lot from a pure gaming standpoint. The game's premise is simple enough. You plant virtual crops and wait a set amount of real time for those crops to be ready for harvest. You harvest your crops and for your efforts you receive currency known as Farm Coins. Simple right? Well, the guys at Zynga must know a thing or two about gaming because if you really spend time with Farmville, you will notice how Zynga has implemented various aspects of more traditional gaming genres into the formula. The real goal of Farmville, from a true gamer's perspective, is to level up. Each time you plant, plow, or harvest, you gain XP. Sounds familiar right? As you level up, more diverse crops become available, along with different animals, different buildings, new decorations, etc. And here is where Farmville excels. Avid Farmville users are always trying to add a new building, or a new crop, or something. Some people have developed farms that are truly impressive and very creative. In fact, the higher level players farms do not really look like farms at all as most of their crops have been replaced with buildings or something comparable. Farmville also has some other aspects that are popular in more traditional games, such as co-operative play in the form of co-op farming.
But, here is the problem with not just Farmville, but all the Zynga games. Certain items are only available by using the alternate currency, Farm Cash. You can only obtain Farm Cash by leveling up or… wait for it…purchasing it with real money. Farmville is a micro transaction machine, second only to something like iTunes in this area. There is far too much of this in the game and so much revolves around this. You can use Farm Cash to unlock crops and similar items earlier than you would if you ground through levels. In this way, Farmville almost demands that you take a shortcut. In this "Free to Play…but not exactly" gaming world in which we now live, this is nothing new. But, the way Zynga has disguised a micro transaction driven game as a "free game" and marketed it as something different to less experienced gamers treads on some dangerous ground. It is not that Social gamers are dumb or anything like that; they just don't know how things work like core gamers do and Zynga counts on this. The other problem with Farmville is the feeling of obligation one gets when playing it. In another WoW comparison, answering gift requests from your friends can sometimes feel a lot like being in a Guild felt for many players. But, again, 16 million users per day must not mind this as they keep playing..and paying. For me, it's a decent experience with more depth and content than one might expect. But it is a game I can only play for a few days at a time before it starts to get somewhat old.
Frontierville: Frontierville started strong but has sputtered as of late. It now boasts only about 6 million users a day. A good number but nothing close to Farmville. Frontierville is part Farmville, and part an attempt on Zynga's part to introduce some quest driven objectives to a game. Frontierville is deeper than Farmville, but not by much. And make no mistake; Frontierville can be a grind with lots of frustrating moments to it. Planting crops is only a very minor part of the game, practically an afterthought, a tacked on piece of imagery designed to attract any Farmville player. What sucks much of the fun out of it is how you have to spend so much time clearing brush, or weeds, or rocks, from your land. And Frontierville uses something that Farmville does not: Energy. Each task you do uses a set amount of energy and when you run out of energy you have to either stop playing for several hours or, you guessed it, buy some more energy with real money. Frontierville is just as micro transaction driven as its big brother, but there is just not as much good stuff to buy to make it worthwhile. Frontierville does have some fun quests and managing your energy introduces an element of strategy completely absent from Farmville. Like Farmville, it makes you want to level up, although it seems more difficult to accomplish in Frontierville. But, as you do advance, the game does seem to get more interesting and diverse. It is a decent game, but not as enjoyable as Farmville.
Mafia Wars: Mafia Wars was one of Zynga's earlier efforts and it has always been a very popular game. But, recently, its numbers have plummeted to only 3 million users a day. When core gamers see the words "Mafia Wars" we think Grand Theft Auto or Mafia II or something like that. But, Mafia Wars is not even close to that. It is a completely text driven game. Strategy? Hardly. Advancing and leveling up is really nothing more than trying to manage your energy levels and doing jobs that offer the most bang for your energy buck. Most jobs you cannot possibly fail. The Boss Fights, if you can call them that, are easy to win if you have any decent level of HP available to you. To be fair, Mafia Wars is fun and you do get a sense of accomplishment as you advance forward. The higher your level will allow you to unlock new territories where you can perform new jobs, take on new bosses, get cooler properties, etc. One thing Mafia Wars does that neither Farmville nor Frontierville do is introduce an element of PvP to it…sort of. You can fight other mafias, but this is really nothing more than either out manning a rival mafia or having much better gear than the other "family". As for micro transactions, Mafia Wars absolutely has this in the form of Reward Points (or whatever they are calling it this week). With Mafia Wars, you can purchase some pretty good weaponry with real money to make your mafia even stronger. But, you run into the same energy problems that exist in Frontierville and the complete lack of any sort of real graphics leaves one with a somewhat empty gaming experience. I think Mafia Wars is better than Frontierville, but a good notch below Farmville.
Café World: Café World is really Farmville in a different setting, with some simulation based aspects to it. Instead of planting crops, you are now preparing meals. The unique concept of Café World is the "buzz rating". Your objective is to try and keep your Café's buzz rating high. This keeps customers coming in, which enables you to level up, which enables you to prepare new and more involved meals, rinse, repeat, etc. Similar to Farmville, your meals will spoil if you forget to actually serve them so, like Farmville, you end up with that foreboding sense of obligation to the game very quickly. Still, there is something intangible about Café World that makes it more enjoyable than Frontierville or Mafia Wars. Café World also sports about 3 million users per day. Café World also has an interesting aspect to it that will, again, make many of us core gamers feel uneasy. To excel at the game, you almost have to use a glitch. It's not a game breaking glitch or anything like that. Still, to succeed, you almost have to trap your waiter by placing tables or stoves around him so he cannot move. What's the point of that? Because if you do this, than meals will magically appear instantly at customers tables and your buzz rating soars. If you don't do this, unless you have a bunch of waiters running around (usually not possible early in the game) you can't get to all the tables in a timely manner and customers will leave giving you a thumbs down. It's an odd concept and to be almost forced to use a glitch just to succeed feels somewhat cheap. And, of course, there are many micro transactions to be had in order to unlock things early or purchase better equipment or decorations for your Café. I put Café World a notch above Mafia Wars or Frontierville, but well below Farmville.
Yoville: Yoville is an odd game. There is no farming involved. You don't grow anything. There are quests to a certain degree. You can do jobs that are kind of like Mafia Wars, but not really. To me, Yoville seems more like a really stripped down version of The Sims….a really, really stripped down version. Your goal is to collect currency so you can put more stuff in your home. That's about it. Yoville used to be popular, but its numbers dropped so much that it is not even in the Top 10 for monthly users on Facebook anymore. As with the rest of these games, there are fun moments to be had in Yoville. If you are a teenage girl, you will probably really enjoy Yoville. For the rest of us, there is just not enough depth here to make Yoville an experience that one would want to engage in on a daily basis.
So, what did my adventures in Zyngaland teach me? On the plus side, I discovered that most of the games had more substance to them than I thought they would. Don't get me wrong. Compared to Fallout 3, Borderlands, or Oblivion, there is no depth or real gaming substance whatsoever to these games. But, standing on their own, there is more to do in all of these games than you might think. They do promote strong social networking so they live up to their name. You can certainly become better friends with some of your Facebook pals through these games. There is also a competitive element to the games as you will find yourself trying to obtain a higher level, or get better gear, or get that limited edition item before your friends do. Overall, I find that I enjoyed all of these games more than I thought I would, so much so that I still play all of them occasionally.
On the downside though is how so many people are getting taken for lots of real dollars purchasing useless virtual items. Core gamers will spend real dollars on DLC with a lot of substance, or new songs for Rock Band, or new campaign missions, or new maps, or perhaps a new character. Something like that. Zynga understands this, has figured out Social Gamers hot buttons quite well, and they are making a ton of money off of this. Several sources report that Social Games are now pulling in as much money as AAA console titles. This is the trend nowadays. For instance, Free Realms is hardly free if you want to experience the best parts of that game and the Zynga galaxy of games is no different. The problem is that most Social Gamers are not as educated as core gamers are as to how micro transactions work so, to a certain degree, they are being taken advantage of. Buyer beware should be the rallying cry for anyone who spends a good deal of time with these games.
But, here is the tremendous potential for Social Gaming and why it just might represent a breeding ground of opportunity for the industry. Cityville is Zynga's newest game and this game feels a lot like a Sim City game. Cityville actually replaced Farmville as the #1 Social Game on Facebook with roughly 17 million daily users in January. If even 25% of those people turn into core gamers, you are looking at almost 4 million new true gamers that will come into the market. And there would likely be a lot of diversity within these new gamers as females and older individuals seem to make up a large segment of the Social Gaming pie. Statistics are also showing that Social Gamers are not synonymous with Casual Gamers. Most people playing on sites like Facebook or MySpace play their Social Game of choice at least once a day and almost all of them play multiple times per week. All of this is certainly promising for the industry, especially if the next generation of consoles are still years away, as many are speculating. The extra revenue would certainly be a good thing for the industry. Having more diversity would not hurt either. And this is not as farfetched as it may seem. Throughout this blog, you may have noticed several words and phrases that sound like MMOs or RPGs. Concepts like leveling up, grinding, gear and so forth are concepts integral to other more traditional genres that are present in Social Games, but very subtly disguised. Social Gamers are gamers…they just don't know it. Certain Facebook games seem to be trying to bridge this gap by providing better, deeper, and more substantial content. Don't believe me? Try out the game Kingdoms of Camelot. This is a real game, complete with depth and strategy, on a Social Networking site. It is a Facebook RTS in every sense of the word and it truly illustrates the potential for where Social Gaming could possibly go. There has been a lot of talk about a Civilization game coming to Facebook and you know that any Civ game, regardless of platform, is going to offer a substantial gaming experience. Yes, Social Games will likely always be micro transaction driven, but I really think that Social Gaming will evolve into something quite different than virtual farming or text based gang warfare. Once that happens, we may very well see the emergence of a new, and potentially powerful, gaming platform. Like it or not, it looks like Social Gaming is here to stay…and that may not be so horrible after all.
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