Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Popular vs Niche - The Gang War Of Gaming

As with everything that is made for sale in this world, a video game can become the hottest thing around, get a cult following or just pass through as if it was never released. The problem that this poses to the gaming community is that it has divided a significant part of the community in two "gangs". One of these groups are the ones that are so pro corporate that they will accept anything that gaming companies throw at them and will say that it is good, because it is popular and successful. The other group see themselves as some kind of terminator movie style resistance that refuses to support anything that has reached the millions just because it is "too mainstream and dumb". Been these two groups the way they are, let's just call them "corpies" and "hips".

Some of my older articles would seem to imply that I somewhat support the "hips", but the truth is that I think that both of these groups are stupid and I will proceed to take them apart one at a time.

Corporate Gamer

The Corpies
This type of gamer is the one that will become a fan boy of whatever the companies make without using any common sense in their judgement, becoming sort of the "yes men" and "yes women" of the gaming community . You will find corpies as been the ones who spend tons of money for useless (and most of the time unfair) DLC content, applauding when ever a game franchise gets simplified to a point where it is no longer fun (Resident Evil, The Soul Calibur series, etc) and will cringe at the very thought of anything (like characters, storyline or references) that came before 2006 (for them that stuff is "weird"). These people believe that everything that is decided by the big shots in business suits is a good thing and classify it as the "evolution of gaming" without giving it any thought whatsoever.

What is wrong with them.
The very first aspect where the corpies drop the ball is in giving gaming companies the chance to do whatever they want, regardless of what gamers think. By pouring money into everything, they have given the impression that the corporate people behind the games we play are doing the right thing every single time, while in reality some of their decisions are just awful. Second thing they do wrong is to trash entire gaming franchises just because it is a dated concept (I am not implying that we should force them to like some games in particular, but if you see how some corpies express themselves on many gaming media sites you will understand what I mean). The worst thing been that they do this even if the game in question is still fun to play, which makes no sense and tells us that this type of gamer has been enslaved by trends.

The funniest thing is that the corpies do in fact go into some kind of berserk mode where they defy they corporate masters, but they do it for the most trivial of things. If a game is delayed by a day, if the game servers for some game had any kind of problem, if some DLC content will not be released or if a game has less resolution and frame rate than maximum capacity, they could start a flaming war that can surpass even the most rabid "hip". They focus their energies on the "I paid money" premise and forget that game development is not an easy thing to do and all sorts of things can and will happen as the gaming community gets bigger and more difficult to please, especially when they are dealing with new technology.

Hipster Gamer

The Hips
This side of the war is composed by gaming hipsters in denial. They are like some "virtuoso" musicians that say that simpler music genres suck because "they are too easy" and will try to impose their arrogant and snub attitude in which they think that they know better than anyone else. This is the type of gamer that will limit him/herself to playing only what he/she considers to be in their small scope of worthiness and will not give a chance to anything that looks too popular or "mainstream" to them. They believe that if many people play it, it is because the game is too dumb for them.

What is wrong with them.
First of all, they are limiting themselves for a stupid reason. The fact that a game has sold really well or has many fans, doesn't mean that it is crappy and simplistic. Good games followed by good marketing often become popular so their criteria is based on sheer prejudice. It is true that some franchises have gone the casual way and have basically gone bad from the inside out, but this is not always the case and "hips" must realize that. In fact, some of the old school games that they seem to favor have been pretty popular on their day, so like some friends like to say... Their argument is invalid.

Another thing about the hips that defeats their own purpose is that they sometimes remain silent even when some of their favorite games get released. They like to talk a lot about hardcore gaming, but many times when a hardcore game comes, they don't put their money where their mouths are and just let it breeze by, just to complain and whine at a later time when the franchise gets canned because of low sale numbers.

Videogames press start and play

Whoever of them wins, we lose...
Both of these "gamer gangs" are the two sides of gaming gone wrong. One of them just lets game companies to whip them like this was some sort of weird corporate bondage and the other ones act like gaming needs to have these "elite gamer" rules that imply that we only should play like 40% of the whole gaming market, because based on their criteria, popularity = low quality. We need to stop looking to the extremes and just be a gamer, playing whatever, whenever you want, just like it used to be. We don't need rules, we don't need to be classified...We just need to pick up a game and have fun with it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

5 Things That Are A Drag To The Gaming Industry

The gaming business is really thriving nowadays (some even saying that it is growing four times as fast as the U.S Economy), but if we take it from a research and development point of view, it has become stagnant in many ways and for a number of reasons. Today we are going to see 5 of those reasons why the video game industry is dragging its feet from a technological and innovative stand point. It is important to say that there are still good games and good business practices, but the bad ones you are going to see on this article are starting to become a real drag, so let's see.

Games with less features
1) Reckless technical advancements (this for that)
We all know that several game publishers are their own version of Mr.Crabs from Sponge bob, so they will do anything if it means them saving some money. Been things like this, it means that sometimes when a game gets the modern tech treatment it doesn't really improve, but changes priorities. For example one game that gets to have the most advanced graphics up to date, can become really short, have its content to be dumbed down or suffer from crippling bugs and glitches. All this because they so often focus on novelty trends and not on the aspects of what makes good game. It is a known fact that everything in a business runs within the so called "Iron Triangle", but if they can't bend the triangle, then they should at least make a stronger effort in order to maintain the quality of their products while working within its constraints.

Fanboy spotted

2) Fan boys frozen in carbonite.
Let's get something out of the way first. Designers and developers do make mistakes and most of the time need a healthy dose of user feedback, but the ones we are talking about are not feedback providers but fan boys that loved one iteration of a game and will stay with it for all eternity, frozen in time. This type of fellow is the one that whenever a new iteration of their favorite game comes out, it doesn't matter how much their creators tried to bring new things and innovate, for them it is just awful and "lacks the excellency of the original". The games and communities that feature this kind of obsessed gamer will not be mentioned, but if you are one of them you will know and will probably be looking at the screen like this. Be aware that this isn't the same as wishing some game genres to return or stop changing for the sake of change, because the one we are talking about is more about specific games and not the whole spectrum.

3) The "a game per year" business.
The moment when companies decided to spawn some of their big franchise games on a yearly basis was the moment when quality started to go down. This is when some bad practices started to become the norm, with things like recycling the same resources year after year, making the games to be shorter and over-simplified and/or refusing to make new engines in order to make use of the latest technologies. All of these wrong doings need to stop and for that to happen we need to stop giving money to them in exchange for a half-done job. Feeding these yearly franchises not only sets gaming innovation back, but also gives an incentive to gaming companies to stop caring about new projects and concepts and stay hidden in their comfort zone. Luckily for us, sale numbers have shown that the success of franchises that are stuck in this business model is starting to go down, so it seems like the gaming community is waking up on this one.

4) The Imitation Game
Some gaming studios and companies (including some of those who used to be fan favorites) have just become trend machines and this is very unproductive. If there is something that gaming history has told us is that game market competition is done in showdown style which is 1 vs 1 and not a whole bunch of companies imitating each other and doing the same thing. It is either a showdown or a bunch of games with moderate success with no clear winner, so they should stop trying to mimic what they see as "trendy" because most of the time they won't get to be the underdog who wins it all in the end like in the Rocky movies. This has caused a lot of franchises to lose their focus and their identity in the company's effort to cash in on the success of others, even turning some legendary companies from trusted developer to the laughing stock of the gaming industry. Stick to your guns people, do what you do best and stop trying to be something you are not.

5) Treating games like normal household appliances.
The gaming market is a very complex one that has a lot of variables that need special attention before coming with a product strategy and most companies are ignoring this. Many of these are treating video games as if they were just another household appliance, with the same metrics and marketing strategies and this is awfully wrong. Selling a frying pan will never be the same as selling a console or game, but they are been treated as if they were the same thing because the higher ups in many of these companies don't know anything about games or they lack the passion that is needed to work with them.

A gamer is a very elaborate type of consumer, but these non-gamer business guys in high places seem to think that we are the same person that you would sell a frying pan to. Because of this, they feel like innovation and high quality doesn't have to be the norm because we will buy anything they throw at us. To be fair, the blame doesn't fall entirely on the business people as the gaming community is indeed feeding this practice by buying their products and falling for every one of their tricks (incomplete games, DLC that shouldn't be DLC, pay to win schemes, half baked ideas, limited content, etc). It is kind of hard to understand why so many gamers think this is acceptable as the industry itself takes a hit every time that a "frying pan" type of game has success. Stop giving them incentives for cutting corners!

Wrapping it up
Shifting resources instead of increasing them, fan boys that force developers to do the same thing over and over again, releasing a game per year even if it feels like a copy paste, companies imitating each other and treating a game as if it were something as simple as a frying pan. These things are part of what is making the video game industry to become a slow and procrastinating entity that doesn't improve itself very often because it feels like it doesn't need to. Part of the blame is on gaming companies with their shady schemes and the other part falls on gamers who accept these bad practices. Do we as gamers have to sacrifice so much in order for the industry to survive? The answer is no, so gaming companies should step up to their game and gamers who accept these kinds of blunders need to wake up soon.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

15 Cool Things Sega Could Do Even On Hard Times

Right now we all know what is happening to Sega. They recently reported a loss in profits and for all of us long time fans, the phrase "lost profits" spells certain doom to our favorite Sega franchises. Surprisingly, even with the hardships they are going through they decided to make some good things like localizing the new Yakuza game to the west, and coming with remakes of some of their classic games for the Nintendo 3DS. This is all good, but there are some things that Sega could take advantage from especially now that they decided to focus on the digital market rather than the retail one.

Note: There are links in some of the items on this list so you can see what the mentioned games/concepts are about.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of The Millenium

1) Include Phantasy Star IV in the 3DS remakes: The 3DS is good with JRPGs and if Bravely Default is to be taken as definite proof of that, then it means that the classic JRPG style thrives on this handheld. This is the reason why releasing a completely remade version of Phantasy Star IV is a good choice for them since it is the most popular one of the whole classic rpg wing of the Phantasy Star series.

2) Remaster all 3 Shinning Force 3 Scenarios and release them as digital only: The original Shinning Force formula ended with the 3 scenarios that composed Shinning Force 3, so releasing a digital only remastered edition of all 3 in one would be a good seller not only for Sega fans, but tactic rpg fans everywhere in the world as 2 of those 3 scenarios never made it out of Japan.

3) The return of Shenmue: Be it on any of the 3 home consoles and with the current trend that favors open world games, Shenmue can make a good comeback if they spice up the formula a bit and give it a little more hand to hand combat action and more stuff to do in the cities Ryo visits.

Sega Saturn Astal

4) Astal 2 made by an indie studio: Astal was quite a good platformer in its day and seen how some indie developers have made beautiful games like Braid and Dust: An Elysian Tale, Astal can also shine again and become even better if one of these talented studios takes the project.

5) The release of good arcade game ports into this generation of home consoles: Catering once again to the digital only market, some arcade games like Border Break, Initial D Arcade Stage 8 Infinity or Shinning Force Cross Raid can become addictive online experiences for any western player.

6) "Greatest hits" bundles of Sega Saturn/Dreamcast games: Storage media now permits it and because of this, some of the best games for both of these systems (Saturn and Dreamcast) can come back packaged in bundles sort of like they did with the Genesis games not long ago. Packages like these can find a home on any of this generation consoles or even on PC.

Skies of Arcadia

7) Skies of Arcadia 2: This one can be pretty much a long shot, but why not? Skies of Arcadia is one of the best JRPG games that Sega has ever made and it could be a hit, considering that the JRPG market has been starving for good epic titles for current-gen home consoles in the west.

8) Sonic Adventure 3: This is not a matter of nostalgia, but a matter of the Sonic Adventure series been the most acclaimed Sonic games since the franchise took a plunge into 3D. It doesn't have to be a AAA production, just make it as good as the previous too and it will be ready to go. I know that there is Sonic Boom to take account of, but this kind of endeavor would be something separate and quite capable of healing Sonic the Hedgehog's reputation as a franchise which would in fact help Sonic Boom.

9) Reboot of The Immortal: The Immortal was one of those hard and gruesome rpg games that captivated Sega Genesis owners in the early 90's and it could make a comeback as an alternative to Dark Souls. The game was dark, challenging and interesting and that is something many rpg gamers appreciate nowadays. Just turn it into an action rpg and it could be a hit. The only hard part here is convincing Electronic Arts to take that franchise out of its grave, but hey... It can happen!

Eternal Champions

10) Reboot of Eternal Champions: Gore has been in style again for a while now and Eternal Champions provided just that to fighting game fans in the past, even rivaling the all time favorite Mortal Kombat. A reboot of this once great fighting game could be released as a digital only game with an emphasis on competitive play. Give a short single player mode in order to show the character's storylines and let gamers destroy themselves online with all the gruesome moves and fatalities that this franchise can offer.

11) An Anime Series for any of their RPG game series: Going away from gaming a little and getting into anime, a good anime series can be possible with many of Sega's franchises and could even serve to promote a game. Phantasy Star is a very good candidate, but there could be others like Climax Landers, Legend of the Oasis, Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragoon Saga. Why a series from an RPG game? Because their stories are richer and would make for quite an interesting anime experience if done right. Sega worked as a publisher for Bleach so it is safe to say that they would know what to do.

12) Bring remastered versions of obscure titles of their popular franchises: When we think about obscure Sega games that most people haven't seen, it means games like Virtual-On Marz and Project Altered Beast which were PS2 games that were... You guessed it, only in Japan. Virtual-On Marz featured a deeper storyline which was a contrast when we compare it to its arcade style only predecessors and Project Altered Beast was a mix between adventure and survival horror that gave it a sci-fi twist to the franchise.

Sega Characters

13) Their own game portal: This is an alternative to #7 and can be even better in some ways. If there is one thing that we can't deny is that Sega as a company has a lot of first party games, even surpassing Nintendo in this endeavor. Because of this, a cool thing for them to do is to make a PC game portal, sort of like Steam and pour all of their forgotten games there while letting people play online multiplayer with them. A place where you could find and play all the first and second party Sega games from the Master System to the Dreamcast and even games that appeared on other consoles. They could sell them separately or make it a pay per month service, it doesn't matter as this could become a big hit for them anyways.

14) Get a spokesperson character again: This is something that they tried in the past and had success because of it, so they need to stop been so silent and go make some noise in the industry. A good personality that can move an effective passive-aggressive marketing campaign can make all the difference in the world. If you don't believe me ask Nintendo how well Reggie has worked for them. Just to give you a short trip to the past, back when the Saturn was going head to head against the PS One, Sega managed to keep their console alive and kicking in Japan mostly because of their spokesperson character, which was an exaggerated version of a karate master that was called Segata Sanshiro.

15) Give some love to the west: No matter which of the previous 14 things in this list Sega makes, if it is stuck in Japan it wont serve them. Their current "stay in Japan and sometimes Europe" strategy has proven to be a failure and their financial reports are proof of this. Whatever they do next, they must include the west in it because it is a market that is slowly going old school again, so after its long absence, Sega could return and once again earn the prestige that they used to have. They just need to try and for once hear the fans out, yes those fans that have been left in the dark since the Dreamcast went down.

Sega Logo

Wrapping it up:
The bottom line is that even though Sega is having a hard time right now, this doesn't mean that they can't make an effort to bounce from that. This list features some of the cool things they could do that could mend their torn reputation and even though some of them look difficult or even idealistic, they are possible and sometimes it just takes a fair amount of risk taking in order to make it big as real visionaries are a step ahead of everybody all the time. Most gamers have Sega strands on their gamer's DNA so they just have to look for a way to unleash all the hidden potential, especially from the fans.

What is your favorite item of the list? What other cool things you think that Sega could do? If you have any ideas share them with us in the comment section below.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Unstable World Of Gaming Criticism

Since the very first post was published on this blog, Most of the articles roam around gaming topics that can be looked at an angle. It is sort of like one of those strange gaming conversations that you most likely have with some of your friends from time to time. If you have been following the articles you may have noticed that there is a little bit of everything except direct judgement over games and there is a good reason for it. The reason behind this decision is that direct gaming criticism is something that has lost its accuracy and neutrality, becoming a weird thing that is very unpredictable and tends to steer gamers towards loving or hating a game instead of sparking a sense of critical thinking. Following this line of thought and to support my previous statement, I will today show you how unstable the world of gaming criticism really is.

Note: This is NOT an anti-reviewer stance. I respect their work and acknowledge them as good sources of information. This article is all about game criticism from a neutral perspective and not meant as direct criticism to anybody.  

Game Characters Time

Time is an all powerful force.
Time is the one thing nobody can escape from and this is especially true with games and more specifically game criticism and public opinion. As time passes, the gaming industry changes and gets to favor some trends over others. Because of this, a game concept that would had been considered perfect 10 years ago, could find itself struggling for acceptance in this day and age. On the other hand, concepts that were ignored or underrated in the past could come up as great contenders on our present time if they are properly presented. This means that time is influential when somebody criticizes a game, but not all of us are devout followers of the latest trends so our opinions may greatly differ. One of our beloved franchises from the past can get destroyed nowadays the same way that concepts that we didn't liked in previous eras can become superstars overnight. In both cases we should try them before we say anything because the industry's collective thinking doesn't necessarily has to be our thinking.

Eat Sleep Game

Daily life makes all the difference in the world.
Is your life really busy or are you still in that blissful point in where you can still eat-sleep-play like there is no tomorrow? Regardless of your answer, you know that this is something that can change your perception of games and the same thing happens to critics. Most of them live busy lives even if all of their work is game related. This may have an impact in how they see certain games as their personal time for gaming may lead them to have a slight bias toward some experience over others. Some people can be comfortable with complex games and 60+ hour epics, others prefer simpler games in the average 12-15 hour range while some others are more into the "just play online until I get tired of it" attitude which obviously focuses on the online multi-player element of gaming. What all of this means is that the type of life the critic is having at the time of passing judgement over a game may not be the same as yours, so once again opinions may differ.

Gaming Pleasing Everybody

Personal taste and when biases collide.
Everybody has their own taste for gaming and this causes a lot of controversy when criticizing a game. A good game critic is obviously someone who loves games, but at the same time it is inevitable for them to have their favorite genres, platform, styles and concepts. The thing is that not every experience will be a sweet ride through one of their favorites as some times they will be stuck with games that are not part of their most favored ones. When this happens we know that most of them try to be as neutral as possible, but in the end anybody who has good reading comprehension skills can notice if they love the game or they are just in a kind of "meh" mood while playing it. The most important thing about this aspect is to be aware that their taste in gaming may not be the same as yours, so be wary of this before accepting or discarding a game after reading a review.

Dandy Mott Hates a Game

Trolls and whiner goblins.
When a game is announced and/or released, any one of you will able to find a great deal of information about it, but other than professional game criticism is the overall opinion of the gaming community itself through forums, comment sections on articles and social networks, so now we are not focusing on a lone critic, but the community itself. The problem here is that while there are a lot of people who write their concerns in a civilized manner, there are others that are just trolling, hating or just pouting over the simplest of things and when these kind of picturesque characters get too high in numbers they may give the wrong impression and lead many people to discard a game without even trying it. It is kind of understandable to a point, because after all this is your money we are talking about and you wouldn't want to spend it on a bad game, but at the same time you have to learn to spot the whiners and trolls or else you will often find yourself making a bad decision and probably missing out on a game you would had liked if you had used your own criteria.

Einstein on Game Criticism

Wrapping it up
The bottom line about all this is that you as a gamer can't solely rely on external game criticism to make your call about a game. On this article you read about 4 things that make the whole game criticism scene to be influenced by many factors although there are a lot more. I am mostly sure that most of the people reading this blog entry are not the kind of gamer who would let themselves to be led by the opinions of others, but if you are, then the next time you are curious about a game read the review, see how the general public feels, but don't let them choose for you.