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Netflix Can’t Tell Bad Attention From Good

September 19th, 2011 by
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At least, that’s how it feels these days. The DVD-rental giant stole the headlines today with another restructuring announcement. Netflix is undergoing a sort of corporate meiosis where it splits into two daughter businesses, each with half the parent company’s traits. One daughter company will retain the name “Netflix” and inherit the increasingly popular streaming service. The other daughter has been dubbed “Qwikster,” and will inherit the Netflix DVD-by-mail business. As usual, the users are not amused.

Netflix also drew user ire earlier this year by dividing its DVD and streaming services into separate payment packages. This changed the fee structure, making the combined services more expensive.

As interesting as it is to watch a household company pull a Michael Jackson on its own face, it’s not really topical to this blog. However, it turns out that the newly minted Qwikster will carry video games, a long-requested feature for Netflix’s efficient shipping service. Details are scarce at this early juncture, but game rentals will be handled as a premium account upgrade like Blu-Ray. So you can pay more to get games WITH your movies, but you can’t get games alone. I suppose we’ll have to wait for the Qwikster meiosis before that option comes up.

In the meantime, Qwikster will be competing against established rival GameFly. GameFly is the cheaper option if you just want games, but the Qwikster upgrade is cheaper than a standalone GameFly subscription. Add to that Qwikster’s inherited shipping juggernaut, and GameFly is really only distinguished by its more mature collection and established user base–gaps Qwikster is probably working hard to close.

It’s hard to predict exactly how this will play out. Qwikster has more resources and better infrastructure, but GameFly has the better collection and doesn’t have a PR meltdown. Either way, I look forward to the show.

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New Video Card

September 15th, 2011 by
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Dear Internet,
We’re friends, right? I write you article after article and you reply with deafening silence. Well, today I come to you for a favor.

My old video card, an EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GTS passed in the night. I write you this blog post on my iPod, because my poor computer is reduced to a MSI880, like some kind of animal. I just can’t bear to see it like that, and it can’t bear to play Deus Ex for me.

I’ve done a little preliminary poking around, but then I remembered what a pain in the ass shopping for video cards can be. It’s like a delicious alphanumeric salad of version codes, except that some of those codes are actually deadly poison.

I thought it might be prudent to ask somebody who already understands this stuff, because I am waaay behind on this stuff. To give you some idea, the last time I seriously thought about video cards, I think the 9800 chipset was unreasonably expensive.

So in case you have some good recommendations, I thought I’d supply the criteria:

1) nVidia chipset: I’ve been bitten by ATI a few times, and while I’m sure they’re very good, I fear and mistrust their driver software.

2) Video capture: I’ll concede this one might be pie in the sky. Is capture a feature they integrate into video cards these days? I’ve messed around with dedicated capture cards before to grab screenshots from console games, but they introduced unplayable lag into the system, which was kind of a dealbreaker. It’d be nice to have some kind of robust integration.

3) >Nvidia 8800: Not that there’s anything wrong with that chipset, but I figure that the minimum requirements for Deus Ex are a good metric I’ll need to exceed for games in the future.

4) $200 Budget: Man, I don’t even post google ads on this site. You think I have any money?

So yeah, that’s the hope. Let me know what you think.

Thanks, Internet.

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Valkyria Chronicles Review

September 12th, 2011 by
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Valkyria Chronicles distinguishes itself as the most callous time-waster I’ve played. This is a terrible shame because there’s about five hours of genuinely good strategy mired in the cruft, load times, gotchas, and overlong story. I suppose a briefer experience would waste the game’s magnificent take on cell shading, but so does this drudgery.

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Ambassadorial Privilege

September 5th, 2011 by
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It appears that ambassadorship comes with both perks and red tape. At least, that proved to be the case when the first of Nintendo’s 3DS Ambassador games dropped last week. The program, an apology to early adopters for the recent price drop, delivers 20 downloadable games by the end of 2011. It’s too late to sign up, but even if you’ve cleared the first hoop, it might not be clear how to cash in your new games.

When you accessed the eShop some weeks ago, Nintendo noted your console’s ID and flagged it as ambassadorial. On Aug 31, they flipped a switch, and now you’re the proud owner of ten of the promised twenty games. Mind you, there’s no notification and no reference on you 3DS, but they’re yours. You just have to jump through another hoop or two:

1) Open the eShop
2) Select “Settings/Other”
3) Select “Your Downloads”
4) Click “redownload” for each game

Basically, this is the process you’d use to redownload a game you’d previously purchased and then deleted. It’s a little cumbersome for ten games at once, but the greater sin is Nintendo’s eShop infrastructure. The ambassador program is a reminder that the 3DS eShop can’t distribute download codes, deliver notifications, or even recognize the owner who purchased software. So you lose your DS, you lose your ambassadorship.

Still, free games, so get ‘em while they’re a privilege. Here’s the list:

The Legend of Zelda
Metroid
Super Mario Bros.
Yoshi
Wrecking Crew
NES Open Tournament Golf
Donkey Kong Jr.
Balloon Fight
Ice Climber
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

August 31st, 2011 by
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Deus Ex Human Revolution isn’t as much a sequel as it is a remake. It takes the principles that made Deus Ex a landmark and recontextualizes them in modern design. The result feels familiar and polished, which is a narcotic mix for gamers of a certain age. It’s a bit worrisome to see the franchise so static a decade later, but it’s hard to argue with compelling play.

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PAX Starts Strong

August 26th, 2011 by
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I may not be at PAX this year (curse the early ticket sell-outs and tightened media restrictions!), but skipping the show floor does offer some benefits. For instance, I actually have time to browse Twitter and discover Zeboyd Games will resurrect Penny Arcade Adventures. The episodic RPG followed a 1920′s version of comic celebrities Gabe and Tycho as they battled cthulhuoid horrors to avert apocalypse. However, doom came shortly after Episode 2 when Developer Hothead Games dropped the franchise to work on DeathSpank.

No really. I don’t understand it either.

However, PAA has fallen into good hands, because Zeboyd has some experience satirizing otherworldly horrors. The independent dev’s credits include C’thulhu Saves the World, and Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, both of which were notable for accessible RPG play and smart writing. Both are also 16-bit-style RPGs, which would be a significant change for PAA, but hardly a bad one. The game is currently due in 2012, and I simply cannot wait.

*Photo from RPGamer

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Gamestop Pulls Coupons, Games From Shelves

August 25th, 2011 by
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I always thought it would be nice if retail games shipped with codes to download their digital counterparts. It wouldn’t be profitable for the company, mind you, but I’d certainly be pleased.

Gamestop apparently doesn’t share my dream. When cloud gaming service OnLive packed a freebie coupon into copies of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Gamestop corporate issued a memo ordering retailers to crack open those units and remove the coupon. Moreover, when fan backlash reached fever pitch inside 24 hours, the company simply pulled Deus Ex from its shelves until publisher Square Enix delivers new units sans coupons.

The behavior seems utterly childish until you realize Gamestop’s stake in digital delivery. The company already makes significant bank selling scrip for digital purchases and is developing brick-and-mortar sales technology for digital content. Furthermore, according to the same memo with GameStop’s marching orders, the company is working on a competing streaming service to counter OnLive. So free OnLive games pretty well undercut GameStop’s business plan. With all that in mind, it’s only a little childish.

Publisher Square Enix doesn’t appear particularly outraged by the decision, saying it “respects the right of GameStop to have final say over the contents of products it sells and to adjust them where they see fit in accordance with their policies. Square Enix invites gamers who want to purchase the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution without additional coupons to buy the game at any one of over 4,000 GameStop stores in North America or purchase a digital download copy online from www.gamestop.com.” The company makes a valid point, though it’s hard to ignore Gamestop’s clout while reading it. OnLive has yet to comment.

In the meantime, if you want to get your augmentation on, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.

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Games Industry Alignment Chart

August 22nd, 2011 by
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Behold the games industry alignment chart (credit to BurtWolfie) that’s been making the rounds on the blogs. It’s cute and it might be fun to quibble that Carmac should swap places with Molyneux, but I think this little meme has a greater meaning. Let me navel-gaze for a moment (or rather gaze at greater navels than my own) because I think this is is a sign of the times.

This is a list of industry ringers and rockstars. From top left to bottom right you have Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Brothers), Gabe Newell (Half Life), Tim Schafer (Psychonauts), Peter Molyneux (Fable), John Carmack (Doom), Markus “Notch” Persson (Minecraft), Bobby Kotick (Activision Blizzard), Fernando Melo, (Dragon Age), and Mark Pincus (Farmville). Melo is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll bet you can identify each photo or at least recognize the names.

Video games have come a long way since the Atari days when developers had to sneak their names into games as easter eggs. Nowadays, the industry trailblazers are actually pretty recognizable and diverse group. Not really ethnically diverse, but there are really a lot of perspectives on what gaming is and what to do with it. And they’re doing it RIGHT NOW.

This isn’t just a smarmy critique, it’s perspective.

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An Open Letter to Nintendo Re: 3DS

August 17th, 2011 by
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Dear Nintendo,

I hear you’ve had some problems recently. The 3DS didn’t sell at your asking price, and third party devs are cancelling and and delaying games until they’re sure the release will pay off. You’ve had to slash the price until you’re subsidizing each console like a common gaijin. Somewhere along the way your stock kinda lost 20% of its value, and now your investors want you selling games on the App Store. I’m no professional analyst, but I’m pretty sure that means they want you to close your hardware divisions and follow Sega into the echo chamber. Even I’ve had doubts. I customarily give you a year to argue your latest INSANE idea, because you’ve pulled it off so often. This time though? 3D? The desperation play that movie studios make every time they have a midlife crisis? Add that to the sales, the uncharacteristically steep and early price cut, and the stock price, and everyone can smell your blood in the Blue Ocean.

I figure this is the closest you’ll ever come to a teachable moment, so I hope you’ll read this letter through. Everybody says Apple is eating your lunch. This much is true. They also say it’s because video games cost $1 now. That part is bullshit. Let me explain.

You built your earlier dominance on the Blue Ocean strategy. It was a crazy idea that everyone would like games if they weren’t so expensive and hard to play. This part worked and worked well for both consoles and portables. In fact, when Apple decided to integrate a digital distribution platform into their iThings, gaming was finally mainstream enough to explode. Tap twice and pay a buck? I’ll try that. Maybe Apple planned it that way and maybe they were lucky, but they certainly capitalized on the phenomenon.

Developers and publishers both saw easy money in the app store and started developing for it. Right around the same time, Satoru Iwata was shooting his mouth off about how Nintendo doesn’t WANT “garage” devs. And so all the talent that’s driving the bazillions in digital income went to the App Store. And Steam. And PSN. And (god help them) XBLIG.

When Apple swam into your blue ocean, they didn’t steal the fish; they stole the algae and the krill. Your ecosystem is losing producers, and the the whole thing will collapse if you don’t get them back. Nobody is talking about you because everybody is talking about Angry Birds, or Infinity Blade, or Ms. Splosion Man.

So you need to do two things. First you need a digital store for the 3DS that actually works. It needs to be shockingly easy to find, buy, and talk about games. That crazy user interface team that made the Wii? Find their software equivalent, and set them working on a way to make the store amazing. Don’t say no when they suggest that you tie game purchases to some sort of account. Building the infrastructure will be difficult, costly, and dangerous, but you can’t really get around it. I mean, unless they come up with some INSANE idea that does the job.

Second, you need to choke on your hubris for a minute and start courting some smaller developers. They make small scale and relatively inexpensive projects that are perfect for digital distribution. There are a lot of small developers who share your outlook that premium game content is worth paying for, and they make projects to match. Most of the successful developers I’ve met make their games cheaply and fast, which is the pace you’ll need to get the ball rolling. Best of all, indie developers know the digital market, which is a place where you sorely need some pointers.

Most of the indies I’ve met make games that would be perfect for you. Both Brainpipe and Aaaaaa!! were practically made for 3D. Osmos is a perfect touch game. Whatever happened between you and Team Meat, maybe you can fix it. If it helps, I have Dejobaan on the record saying they’d love to port Aaaaaa!! to 3DS. Those are just the games from successful developers; right now somewhere there’s an indie team that would sacrifice a goat for a little promotion and a platform with some name recognition.

You don’t need to swallow your pride with the hubris, though. Put the young hopefuls through the QA ringer until they meet your quality standards. Negotiate with the freelance pros. Do the work to make a store where it’s easy to buy the best games on the market, and you’ll find that the customers and eventually the big name third parties will come with it. Regardless of what you do, try to remember that you sell a console with its games. So get some games on the 3DS before it vanishes into irrelevance. There’s still a holiday season before the console really strikes out, you can do this.

Best,
Pixelsocks.com

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How Retail Got Its Long Tail

August 16th, 2011 by
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Don’t panic, it’s just a fable. There’s a new startup in town with a brilliant, revealing, and stupid idea. It’s simple one too: Postal Gamer wants to cut publishers in on used game sales.

It works like a hybrid between the Netflix and Gamestop models. When you want to sell an old game, Postal Gamer sends you an envelope, and offers to credit you, say, $15 below market for used. Postal Gamer takes eight of those dollars in profit and turns them over to the publisher, keeping the rest for its war chest. Being a mail operation, they don’t have any of that retail overhead and can turn a profit on meager margins. The brilliance is that you get a better price for your used games, the publishers get a long tail from their brick-and-mortar retail sales, and GameStop gets a kick in the teeth. Everybody wins.

It’s revealing that Publishers haven’t just jumped on the free money. It turns out that GameStop is in the top five buyers for new games, which makes them one of the biggest customers for every publisher. With all that money at stake, they can get away with selling used games just below MSRP, wholly consuming whatever long tail a publisher might want from retail.

Truthfully, it’s probably a good thing that publishers already fear the big bad GameStop too much to move. The industry is already in a too-big-to-fail bubble. Publishers dump millions upon millions onto each project until it MUST be a breakaway success to keep from scuttling the company. The hope of a long tail would only really give publishers a chance to further overextend themselves on the hope they’ll make a return in the long tail.

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