Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Twilight of the Seventh Console Generation: Top 5 Lessons Learned

The 7th console generation of 2005-2013 is slowly coming to a close with the release of the Wii U and the imminent Fall launch of the PS3. For gamers, developers, and publishers now would be a great time to do some introspective thinking and learn from the past mistakes while keeping the great innovations.

Here are the top 5 things we've learned from the 7th Generation of the Wii, Xbox360, and PS3:

Number 5
Recognize Fads and Don't create new ones

Everyone knows fads sell and that they work. Looking at the views of viral videos alone shows that a fad can be an extremely powerful device. The problem with fads are they aren't sustainable. All the great fad products of the 80's, 90's, and 00's are gone because the hype is over. People are done with it. It's like the Chia Pet or the Sham wow; once you see it and it looses the wow factor, why invest more or buy more?

Similarly Nintendo destroyed the competition in this last console generation but only through fad gaming. If motion controls were the future, the PS4 and WiiU would implement them. Sadly we all realize it wasn't and it was a gimmick that was taken advantage of. The Wii definitely outsold the competition but at a hefty price, the loss of this new console generation.

There are hundreds of articles out now abut how the Wii U sales are flopping, in its first year of production; something that every console maker cringes to hear. If the WII U becomes irrelevant, largely because of the WII fad, Nintendo will have no one to blame but itself. It needs to think sustainability first, before gimmicks  Sadly the new controller for the Wii U shows it hasn't learned its lesson.

Number 4
The Internet Exists

Xbox, a company owned by Microsoft that lives with the idea of the Internet and communities, quickly took advantage of the internet when it was launched. PS3/Nintendo ... not so much. It took til the Wii U until Nintendo finally realized there was an Internet and started including staples like Netflix and better online mutliplayer play.

PS3, along with the hacking scandal, early on really didn't invest in the proper infrastructure for multiplayer gaming and made some bad bets like putting their weight behind the Bluetooth headsets that were notoriously known for going awry.

Luckily by the latter half of the 7th Console generation, the PS3 learned its lesson and created the Playstation plus program which by all accounts greatly dwarfs Xbox's own LIVE service. The chance to earn free games every month, without any other incentive, has been a key selling factor for the plus memberships, and all the benefits of Playstation's online services have trickled down to the free users which can game without being forced to buy a membership.

The eight generation will not put up without a proper online framework and this realization is what has lead all companies, including the internet wary Nintendo, to pump up their online presence.

Number 3
FPS Genre is Waning

FPS games, aka First Person Shooters, are a great genre of gaming. But the Generic FPS has been a long fad that is finally, after a long half-decade of insanity, slowly dying down. Now it's not enough to simply make a good shooter. You need a good story, you need compelling characters and fresh unique game mechanics, and you need more than the name "Call of Duty" on your cover to keep up with record sales.

The Fallout Series is a great example of howan FPS can be reinvented, revolutionized, and made amazingly fun. The generic FPS doesn't cut it anymore and as hardware has gotten better and coders have better engines and video cards to work with, FPS games don't have any excuses for not adding new, unique, and compelling content.

No one wants the FPS genre to die, only to stop being so generic, and sales numbers for the New Crysis and Call of Duty show that if the great beasts of the FPS genre are showing waning sales numbers, of course the little guys are hurting too and gamers want more. Gamers will not simply accept a good run and gun game. They need it to be worth every cent of their 60 hard earned dollars.

Number 2
Hardware wars are over

Because hardware is extremely cheap now, and a Gaming P.C can be bought for only $800(Less if you build it yourself), the days where we spend hours arguing over specs should be over.

For the last console generation, it was very annoying to have to use multiple discs simply because Microsoft had adopted the standard 9 gig DVD9 and PS3 had Blu Ray at 20+ Gigs. The processors, video cards, and other peripherals were also mentioned in millions of articles. Those days will be on the decline as even the Wii U boasts monstrous numbers.

Great hardware is now easy to obtain and the difference between the new consoles, when it comes to hardware, will be insignificant. The only worry Xbox may have is if they hold onto their DVD9 standard which is way passed over due. Something tells me though Xbox will either fully buy HD-DVD or create its own standard, rather than paying Sony to use their patented Blu Ray technology.

Although hardware was extremely important in the last console wars, it will be less so in the 8th edition of the battle. The video cards and processors of both machines should be epic enough that we end the Middle school arguing about which console is more powerful than the other.

Number 1
The Story is King

From 2005 til now the best games of the years have always had one thing in common, if nothing else, and that was a compelling story with compelling characters, and a reason to keep gaming. This is something that won't change in the coming future as gaming has evolved in such a way that gamers demand stories on par with blockbusters in the Cinema's.

We had:
The Walking Dead
Red Dead Redemption
Fallout 3
Heavy Rain
Grand Theft Auto 4

All great story games and all very immersive. There may be the nay-sayers that mention games like Call of Duty, but there are always exceptions to the rule, and 1 game not known for its story can not get rid of the fact that 90% of the Game of the Year winners were all great because of their story. Take the story away and some games become generic while others die altogether such as The Walking Dead.

Final Thoughts

We have a lot to learn from the previous game generations and a lot of mistakes made in the past. Hopefully we can get rid of the mistakes and keep some of the great innovations. Things look bright in terms of gaming, online play, and hardware, so the next generation should really be unique compared to many of the past that struggled with polishing games and hardware.

Now that games are polished and the formulas for making good tutorials, level design, and mechanics have been learned, we can get to the business of enjoying great new experiences and games.

A prediction for the 8th generation is that games and their uniqueness will be all the rage. The more unique and compelling the game, the more it will shine. Generic games are done for and while they still will exist, they will fail to get the type of coverage they used to; even though our Gaming journalism is still in the pockets of the game companies. This will largely be due to the fact that gamers have had enough. Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Don't Starve Review - NO SPOILERS!

(Exploration without the kid gloves. It may hurt a bit at first to play but it's impossible to describe how rewarding the game is. You learn things in one way, trial and error.)

Sandbox games are some of my favorite types of games because they give you the freedom to explore, take chances, find new things, and have unique experiences. I think the days of linear gameplay are slowly coming to an end or at least being revolutionized in such a way that gamers never feel the gameplay itself has become linear. Don't Starve thrives in this environment where the creators plop you into the game and wish you the best of luck.

Don't Starve is one of a jumble of games that have been testing that out lately, just throwing gamers in and letting them figure things out on their own. Journey does something similar, and through sheer will and intellect, the player through trial and error, will stumble to the right answer.

That feeling of success, when you don't know what to do, but you're playing the game intuitively, thinking about what you should do, and wondering if the game will play along, is amazingly thrilling. It's important to note though that you do get subtle hints at crucial moments, such as when you experience your first night and the game says "....(play the game to find out :) )"

Don't Starve technically hasn't been fully released yet and is still in Beta, but it seems to be following the success of fellow indie game Minecraft. One of the hallmarks of the early Minecraft was constant updates on a tight schedule that propelled the game forward and rewarded the players with new goodies encouraging them to buy the game early and support the developers. Like Minecraft as well the final release date isn't as important as watching the game grow before your eyes.


You get a lot when you buy Don't Starve. For 12 dollars you get two copies of the game, each with Steam keys that are unlockable immediately. This is for a game that I have played for almost 8 hours, including 40 minutes with the Demo, and barely scratched the full End Game. The amount of sheer value here is phenomenal given that most $60 dollar game releases charge 10 times more than your 6 dollar license and barely scratch 8 hours on average on the story campaigns. That's 10 times the value of regular games I've already received without mentioning the regular addons that will keep adding content to the game.


After you get past the amazing amount of content that the game exudes you have an amazing presentation placed in front of you, with beautiful art direction that makes me reminisce on games like SuperBrothers: Sword and Sworcery.

It's one thing to enjoy a game's mechanics, enjoy the story, and enjoy the adventure, but it's a whole other thing to enjoy the presentation, art form and graphics. You simply can't knock the art direction of Don't Starve, as even small  objects are focused on with minute detail to give the world a grim, rugged, and happy look that makes the game both beautiful and unique.


The sound is wonderful and has trigger that go off depending on your actions. If you're right about to hit someone or get attacked, the fighting music initiates and gives you a real sense of excitement. The sound effects of the spiders and creatures really make the game jump out at you and immerse you in the environment.

At times the game does get a bit silent, and it's why I slightly knocked the sound score a bit, but I'm hoping as newer updates are released, more sound effects, creatures, and music will be rolled out. Again like Minecraft, the music knows that it takes a backseat to the gameplay, sound effects, and immersion, and so it only kicks in when it's needed, so as not to distract you.


The gameplay isn't entirely unique but it does bring a lot of elements of gameplay together that haven't necessarily seen themselves in the same place at once. Sure you can create items like Terraria, but those items will degrade just like Minecraft, and unlike both games, there are recipes for the most important items and mystery's to be solved for the rest. The game also rewards and punishes you for discovering new things, as you go on your adventures, forcing you to be on your toes as you try to survive.

The gameplay is definitely punishing and you'll have to get used to dying and starting over, but there are perks to playing that stay with you from one gameplay session to the next. That's what keeps you coming back, because you do get better, your unlockables do stay with you, and your points do travel. I'm being vague on purpose btw, so as not to spoil anything.

The Gameplay can be extremely deep as well, just like Terraria where from the outset you don't expect it to have all that much content, until you start scratching at the surface and the idea dawns on you.

For the naysayers that may call the game too shallow, simply ask them the difference between renewable items and finite ones. That discussion alone and the implications will hugely affect your Mid and Late game in Don't Starve. Your early choices will affect that gameplay and there will be no way to go back except die and start over. This game demands multiple replays to feel its true intensity and richness.

A big issue I have with the game though is a lack of multiplayer support and I think the potential for robust multiplayer support and the potential for 3rd party mods and servers is huge.

The maps should also be bigger and a seed generator would also be nice. For those reasons the Gameplay score gets docked slightly, but still reigns higher than most games get.The best part of all of this though is the game is still in beta and like Minecraft is constantly releasing updates and new content supporting its player base.

Technical Excellence

There are very few bugs in a game this early in development surprisingly and the developers really have done their homework for the game. I've personally only had one bug occur and there was an easy fix to get rid of it which was to simply restart the game. That bug after 8 hours occurred twice and nothing since has crashed, lagged, or interrupted the immersion of the game

But because it's still in Beta, there are many features the game is screaming to add, like multiplayer, and because you will have to wait for that content, possibly for a significant amount of time, this score does get docked but will get better as the game releases more content in the future addressing these issues, any other bugs that may be out there, or any other player concerns about the general gameplay.


For any serious PC gamers, such as myself, this is a must own. The value, the lack of really fun survival games, and another open world Goliath all call out to the gamer. It's a beautiful game to enjoy just for the Art, to enjoy for the thrill of survival, and to enjoy for the exploration. Most of all this game will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment and will reward you for every day you tick onto your total.

It keeps the gameplay fresh by adding challenges as you go, and you add challenges yourself as you explore and try new things. The sheer amount of time you sink into the game before it even gets a whiff of staleness is also impressive, with the promise that more content is being added, and a strict release schedule is counted down on the main menu of the game.

The game is a must buy, thoroughly enjoyable, and will be beloved by anyone that played and loved games like Minecraft or Terraria. It's a solid A and at the very least you should give the Demo a try here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Perfect MMO - A Guide to Creating it

  (There are important elements to an MMO that current games studios are just ignoring. Will they ignore them forever?)

Is there such a thing as a perfect MMO? Aren't people and gamers different themselves and don't we all have different tastes? How can one game appeal to all of us? How can the MMO make a comeback especially after having so many failures these past couple years and having the successful ones slowly crumble?

Wishful thinking

So yes it may just be wishful thinking but after having played a number of MMOs I think there are features that would appeal to a mass audience that are simply being neglected right now. You see some of these features in games here and there but never all in one place.

Finally after much frustration I want to go through the main elements of an MMO that should come together to create a great gaming experience.


Why are they playing this MMO? What is at the heart and the soul of an MMO? It's persistence. Persistence is what makes MMOs stand out differently than any other game. An MMO is there to persist or continue living on, long after you log off. Things happen while you're away and the game keeps your character ready whenever you want to come back to it.

Persistence is why having land is so important. Virtual land, the ability to battle for it, and the ability to have a map that shows who owns what and praises the guilds that own it, is at the heart of why people want to play and MMO.

After creating such a powerful character, you should use the character to some tangible end. Sure monsters and quests are fun and dandy but the end game has always been and will always be PVP. A way a game can address this so that non-PVPers are happy is they can have land where PVP is impossible and players not wanting to PVP can simply live there. Other players can venture forth and claim land for themselves. Having done so, they must defend it, or lose it.

Land, it's the most valuable resource in our modern world yet it's simply absent in most MMOS. There is high potential for land as a means to make money for the game and for the players to enjoy. Imagine building nice homes, collecting taxes, and coming home to a nice and warm cottage by the ocean; prime real estate other players would die for.

Games like Second Life show that people will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for virtual land. The demand is there. MMO makers NEED to fulfill this demand and create persistent maps that can be conquered and controlled. Powerful Diplomacy actions need to be present as well to emulate the real world, and alliance systems need to be put in place.

Land that you fight for and control needs to be in nearly every MMO. What guild doesn't want their own guild hall taken after a successful war?


Every item should be up for sale at whatever a player wants to sell it for. Items should deteriorate and be repairable so as to stop items from being horded and incentivize players to keep getting the items they need to progress forward.

Scamming should be monitored by the Game and there should be a zero tolerance policy for such acts. The Economy needs to be fairly regulated so that scammers don't take hold of it and ruin the game experience for others.

But beyond that it should be totally free and if a person doesn't research the price of their item and sells it for too little, they should have no one to complain to but themselves.

A rich and diverse economy is what should be at the heart of every MMO as well, so that these virtual items can be properly traded and people who need them can get them by trading, currency, or working. This way a players time can become currency.


New land should always be added to the map. This new land would cause tension and give the game a fresh taste as people venture out and try to claim it for their own. This new land should be both in easy to obtain areas and hard to obtain areas, this way the whole player base gets excited; not just the top players.

The best land should be inaccessible except by permission. This way players that may want to see a beautiful town or city may only be able to do so if they are part of a certain guild, have explicit permission,  or view that land on a test server. This would make that land even more valuable and exploration even more fun.

People should be both rewarded and punished for exploration. Those that are the strongest or the smartest can created groups where the costs are lowered and the benefits are easier to obtain.


The story should be immersive. Currently the player base takes little part in the lore of the game.  Imagine that the Devs of the game make an event where a person of special interest is placed in a heavily guarded fort. They create the backstory of the game, create a beautiful world, narrative, and mythos, and then the PLAYERS drive the story forward with in game events.

A camera records this fortress and whoever successfully saves the person of interest becomes part of the games lore forever. The game is shaped by you, your guild, and your choices. In this way, you feel more immersed in the game, and your time seems better used as now you've been placed in the annals of history.

These events don't have to be very often but even once a month or once every three months would be huge and they could be open to anyone in game willing to take up the challenge, helping to push the narrative of the game forward. Why can't games have a narrative that keeps going, keeps being written? Currently wrestling does this by hiring Hollywood writers to create ongoing plots. Why not have the same writers create interactive plots in MMOs?


Building and creativity is what made Minecraft, Sims, and other games so popular. MMOs don't have to allow you to destroy the terrain, but they should allow you to make a house into a home, with various items, and various ways of crafting them.

In this way, you can make unique beds, customize the colors, or shrink their size as they see fit. See games like Sims 2 and Sims 3 to get an idea of the customization I'm talking about. This game should also allow you to craft weapons and items that aren't spawned or gotten by destroying monsters.

Crafting would also label the crafter on the item and thereby raise recognition of the best creators in the land. Since items would degrade as well, crafting could be a job of its own, that one would need to train to fully perfect.

Creativity and the ability to express one's self needs to be part of the MMO in some way.

No Developer or GM interference

If you work for the game, you can't benefit from it in any way. Every game that has their Developers or Game masters openly playing it, and profiting from it, has lead to corruption. Every single game.

If you have a GM account, you only use it from 9-5 to fix issues in the game. When you get home, if you play the game, you play on another account.

The Devs and the creators play on separate accounts. The Business NEVER EVER conflicts with personal gaming lives. This leads to corruption, tyranny, and unbalanced characters because greed is a part of the human condition and humans should not constantly bombard themselves with greed.

Take yourself out of the equation, never mix the business with pleasure, and enjoy your game on a personal account. There are so many horror stories games could have avoided and so many tyrannical GM's and Devs that simply would not exist if this ONE rule were followed.
Final Thoughts

So imagine your house in this game, imagine being rich beyond your wildest dreams, crafting the best weapons in the land, and leader of the most powerful and prestigious guild on the server.

That would be a sense of real accomplishment, to use your power for good or evil as you choose, and to enter the history and lore of the game by taking part in in-game events.

Land would be up for the taking, and you would always need to be vigilant to guard your home, hiring security when needed. As new land came in, your home may be exposed to new people, which would require you to build new trust with them or build new alliances. Possibly it may lead to wars.

An ever diverse game, with a strong economy, strong player base, and true immersion is the goal of every MMO. It's time for MMOs to implement these changes, make their games more immersive/interactive, and give us the game we've always wanted.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Quarter VideoGame releases of 2013

(A great video showing all the games and their box art)

1. Jan 8 Anarchy Reigns
2. Jan 15. DMC New Devil May Cry
3. Jan 15. Sniper ghost Warrior 2
4. Jan 17. New Borderlands 2 DLC
5. Jan 22. Ni No Komi Wrath of the White Witch
6. Feb 5. Dead Space 3
7. Feb 5. Sly 4: Thieves in Time
8. Feb 5. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2
9. Feb 12. Aliens: Colonial Marines
10.Feb 21. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
11.Feb 26. Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires
12.March 5. New Simcity
13.March 5. Tomb Raider – New installment
14.March 12. God of War Ascension
15.March 12. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Storm
16.March 19. Gears of War: Judgement
17.March 26. Bioshock Infinite
18.March 31. Star Trek
19.April 23. Dead Island Riptide
20.May 7. The Last of Us

Missed one:
* Feb 19 Crysis 3 arrives

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thoughts: Sony stops production of PlayStation 2

(Selling 150 million units, the PS2's dominance is unchallenged and writ in the pages of history forever. Sony, in this way, has been immortalized.)

The best-selling console of all time and the console that really defined my mid-gamer generation, is about to meet the great bin of heaven. Sony is officially, after 13 years, calling it quits with their PS2 console and is stopping production. People have rumored that the PS4 is coming out next fall and if so this may be a way to free up resources so that Sony can ramp up production and be prepared for the imminent launch next fall.

This may not be huge for retro gamers but for the children of the late 80's, like myself, we grew up on the NES, SNES, Sega, and Playstation. This is our bread and butter. To finally see it put to rest is a bittersweet moment showing that our consoles have grown up just as we have.

The PS2 also did something the PS3 wasn't able to, which is completely dominate the gaming market and create such a powerful successor that people rarely talk about the PS1 nowadays. It was such a strong step up graphically and had so many titles that to not buy one was selling yourself short as a gamer.

Sony even released a popular slim model which is currently available on Amazon for $135 dollars. That's an amazing price point to enjoy 11,000 plus titles of some of the greatest gaming moments in history. I'll definitely treasure my PS2 slim a bit more knowing that they've finally stopped production and maybe go back and play some of my favorite games from those days.
 Final Thoughts

As a final point, the loss of the PS2 shows us the important of backwards compatibility. When we pay for a game, we want to be able to play it for the next 20-30 years, and maybe longer. Consoles will not last that long, at least not with the hardware we have now, and so the only way to keep their legacy alive is to do what Nintendo is so good at; amazing backwards compatibility.

Sure there are Roms and Emulators that can bring back those memories, but what about those of us that kept the discs of our favorite games and maybe, just maybe, want to see them with GREAT graphics and Amazing new hardware on our new televisions, in the living room, on our PS3 or PS4? What about us?

This news, besides giving us nostalgia, should be a united call from all gamers to console developers that we want our games to stay with us for at least 2 decades. Humans live on average for 8 decades, and they get nostalgic for games around 6 decades. If you could shave down those 6 decades where we are older and nostalgic, to 4 decades, maybe we could move on easier or appease ourselves with roms and emulators.

At the end of the day, we love our games. That's what makes us gamers; a love, and a passion for Gaming. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gaming Award Analysis - Categories, Selection, and Philosophy

(Which awards you give is as important as the selection process of giving awards. The Philosophy behind award categories is essential for Video Game Award committees to understand.)

The mission of this column has always been to analyze gaming culture and the gaming industry and a great topic around this time is end of the year awards for Games. There are a ton of questions that come to mind and forums filled with flame wars as to which games deserve which awards but there's very little discussion on what categories there should be to begin with.

Are we missing any important categories? Do we have any now that are too general that need to be removed? Besides the issues of categories, can you have two games win the same award, or not give an award because no games earned it?

There are a lot of tough questions surrounding these end of the year gaming awards, and a lot of them that simply haven't been addressed. It's important to talk about what game is the game of the year, but it's equally important to discuss whether any game should even win an award for a particular category.

So given all the questions we raised lets try to delve in and find some answers.

Gaming Categories

What should be the philosophy behind creating a category? What requirements need to be put in place before we create a new category or remove one? This is important to address because gaming is here to stay for as long as mankind thrives on this planet. During that time, categories need to be in flux or change because over time certain genres may not become as popular or may disappear altogether.

If we keep stale old categories, their age will start to show and people will wonder "Why do we even give awards for that genre?" It's a question I asked myself and I continue to ask as gaming has progressed and the categories seem to be getting staler and showing their age. On the flip side, you may be ignoring important new categories by no reassessing the landscape and finding new genres that have emerged.

So, given all of that, what requirements should be put in place to create/sustain a category?

Sizable Market

By Sizable market, there are two different requirements that are being put forward. First there must be a large number of people that recognize and play this genre, so that it's not a small niche of gamers, and secondly there should be a sizeable amount of games released in this category every year.

Philosophy behind it

If this requirement was not put in place, we would have two problems:
  • Games with small niche followings would ask for their own categories, for their own genre and would have every right to do so, creating too many awards and too many categories.
  • The second problem would entail making categories for genres that only release a few games per year. In this way, there is very little competition, and people know which game is going to get the award. Why make a category if few games are released and there is an obvious winner amongst the few?
So for the above reasons we should remove categories that shrink and lose their sizable market status and create new categories for emerging genres with large fan bases and multiple gaming releases.


There should be very little overlap between categories such that one game can't easily be put into multiple categories. A good example to illustrate this point might be if we created a category for "Best game that uses controllers". Most, if not nearly all games, use controllers and to make such a badly worded category would make it so that many different games could all be up for the same award.

There is one caveat that I'd like to mention, which is the "Game of the Year" award itself. Being that you want every single game considered, that needs to allow all games to compete, but outside of that specific category, you wouldn't want to make another category that's too general.

Philosophy behind it

If we ignored this rule and created categories that were too general, we would be left with this problem:

  • The award itself would have little meaning, as you're not highlighting how this game is better than the rest. To give an award simply for having a controller or a genre that's too broad to create distinction, dilutes the award itself. People would recognize that and not give it as much respect as games that won "Shooter of the year", a title that's often extremely competitive.

This may be the most important factor of all because often categories are not reevaluated and become irrelevant. Time eats away at them, gaming progresses, and websites lazily keep awarding games based on a category that is 10 years old and no longer as popular.

Gaming sites need to know that there are consequences for giving awards that are simply, irrelevant.

Three problems come to mind:
  • Firstly as mentioned above people can feel the category is old and needs to be removed.
  •  We include categories that have little to do with gaming, are not genres, and may just be considered "cool". More discussion will be given on these non-gaming genre categories later in this article. A quick example of a category like this would be Golden Joystiq's "Youtube Gamer Award".
  • We neglect new genres that have been created, because we don't reevaluate our awards and recognize that gaming has changed, requiring new awards, for new types of games.

Given these three principles, most award committees should be able to make different awards, think outside the box, and keep their awards relevant to the current year.

*Keep in mind that giving awards outside of gaming genres is perfectly acceptable if the purpose of it is to recognize some hidden talent or outside effort on the part of the Gaming Industry or the fans. There are good and bad ways to go about this, and one bad way, "Youtube Gamer award" was listed above. A good example would be "Story of the Year" or "Best New Game Mechanic of the Year".

Evaluating Awards

Just to show the current state of our awards I thought I'd evaluate two different Gaming award groups and analyze their categories given the three principles listed above. The two award groups I'll be looking at are the Golden Joystiq awards which are arguably one of the oldest, if not the oldest gaming award committee, going since 1982 and Gamespot which is one of the generic big websites centered around Gaming.

First lets list the awards and discuss Golden Joystiq's categories.

Golden Joystiq 2012

Best Action- Winner: Batman: Arkham City
Best DLC- Winner: Portal 2 (Perpetual Testing Initiative)
Best Downloadable- Winner: Minecraft (360)
Best Fighter- Winner: Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
Best Free To Play- Winner: Slender
Best Handheld- Winner: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Best MMO- Winner: World of Tanks
Best Mobile Tablet- Winner: Angry Birds Space
Best Racer- Winner: Forza 4

Best RPG- Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Best Shooter- Winner: Battlefield 3
Best Sports- Winner: FIFA 12
Best Strategy- Winner: Civilization V: Gods and Kings
Outstanding Contribution- FIFA (EA Sports)
One to Watch- Winner: Grand Theft Auto V
Top Gaming Moment- Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Throat of theWorld
Ultimate Game of the Year- Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Greatest YouTube Gamer Award- Winner: Yogscast


So in total there are 18 awards. Just off the back, before we analyze the problems, lets look at the categories that are obviously acceptable and then list which are problematic given the principles we listed above.

Obviously acceptable:
Ultimate game of the year (Essentially Game of the year)
Best Strategy
Best Sports
Best Shooter
Best RPG
Best Mobile
Best Handheld
Best Free to Play
Best Fighter
Best DLC
Best MMO

So that's 11 out of the 18 that can easily be understood, are large genres, or deserve recognition. Sadly that leaves 7 that are problematic; a fairly big number. Lets tackle them 1 by 1.

Best Action: Nearly every game has action and it's not as easy a category to justify when applied to games. This category may have been added when looking at Movie award categories where an action movie is more about the visual destruction, violence, or intensity of a film. In the vast majority of games, you can't avoid action.

This category clearly violates the Unique principle listed above, and what game studio would be happy to get this award instead of Best RPG or Best Strategy game. That puts you ahead of the pack. Best action is too generic and diluted a term for gaming.

Best Downloadable: Since they already have a DLC award, what is this category? DLC stands for Downloadable Content, so why would you make a separate category dedicated to downloadable. It seems from looking at the games they awarded, one category recognizes additions to games which they label DLC and the other category recognizes games that don't come on discs and are downloaded.

There's one problem with this, because of sites like Amazon and Steam, most games can be downloaded without a disc now. They can be bought before launch day and downloaded the hour it's released; all blockbuster triple AAA titles. So this category breaks the principles of Relevancy.

Outstanding Contribution: What is this category? Contributed to what? It was even given to EA, a company that's notorious for bad business practices with their consumers. This award reeks of an insider scam. This breaks the principle of common sense.

One to Watch: Awards for games that haven't even come out, and are just being hyped up is never a good idea. Anyone remember L.A Noire? Rockstar is good at making games, but giving the game to GTA 5, without knowing if it's good yet, is not what Gaming award committees should do. It doesn't benefit the gamer, the companies, or help to distinguish the best games.

Best Racer: This is a great example of violating the Sizable Market principle and Relevancy principle. In 2010 the game was given to Forza, and in 2011 it was given to Gran Turismo and then in 2012 back to Forza again.

Racing games used to have a large niche, especially with the Need for speed franchise. But since then, amazing new original racing games, and the genre as a whole has been dying and shrinking.
We have to recognize this and let this category go. We can't keep giving free awards to a few games, that dominate a small niche of the market

Top Gaming Moment: Since games on average are 5-8 hours long, this category is a near impossibility especially since you end up comparing apples to oranges. How do you compare shooter moments to RPG moments or great story arcs to great gameplay moments? This is such a daunting task it essentially violates the Unique principle defined above. There are too many moments in games, and different types of games, to justify a Top Gaming Moment.

Greatest YouTube Gamer Award: This award is more of a popularity contest award and probably there to make the award ceremony seem "hip, cool, and trendy". Youtube is an amazing video website that lets you share all types of content across the world for free but gaming commentators are not games themselves. Although they may provide a lot of value and people may love to watch them, they are a secondary part of gaming.

It would be like giving a movie award to movie critics. You never see awards like that given at movie award ceremonies. It definitely relates to the topic at hand but it's a secondary concern. Most likely, as mentioned above, this was added to make the ceremony seem more on the cutting edge, hip, and with the times. In reality, we shouldn't be giving awards to people that play games and share them on youtube. Most true gamers would agree with that.

Gamespot 2012

Genre Awards

Fighting Game of the Year
Action/Adventure Game of the Year
Role-Playing Game of the Year
Shooter of the Year
Strategy Game of the Year
Racing Game of the Year
Sports Game
Platformer of the Year

Platform Awards
PC Game of the Year
PS3 Game of the Year
PSN Game of the Year
Xbox 360 Game of the Year
XBLA Game of the Year
Wii U Game of the Year
Handheld Game of the Year

Special Achievements
Game of the Year

There are 16 awards this time, not counting 12 random awards given under special achievements which will be discussed separately.

I enjoy how Gamespot separates the different awards into Genre, Platform, and finally in their special and Game of the year category. This really helps navigation and helps people understand where each award fits.

Of the 16 awards, not counting the special awards, there were 4 I take issue with which is a better ratio than the 7 out of 18 that were lacking in the Joystiq awards.

Action/Adventure: Just looking at the nominees shows how broad this category is. You have a Puzzle platformer of Darksiders 2 up against a more strategy/adventure/survivor like Lone survivor, and then you throw in a sneaking game like Dishonored into the mix. Just to add more variety they tout the open world game Sleeping dogs.

This category again violates the Unique principle and doesn't allow games to be classified properly. A lot of games have action and adventure and to try to make one category with a jumbling of completely different games causes confusion, dilutes the award, and creates flame wars on forums.

 Racing: The same issues were raised above in the Joystiq awards. Also, wouldn't you know it, but that they choose Forza. Quite a surprise right? This is a category that is just too old and needs to go as gaming has progressed passed it.

PSN/XBLA: A DLC category would have been better. Why does it matter if one game is better simply because it's on Xbox live. Have the games go head to head and create a nice DLC category where only the best games, either on PSN, or on XBLA can go at it and survive.

By separating these categories, a better PSN game may get robbed of the crown of best DLC because it has to share the award with those in the XBLA category, EVEN if the PSN game is better. The same may happen to an Xbox live game.

Special Achievements: I like the idea and concept behind this because it gives awards for specific achievements and greatness that's hard to put in a cookie cutter box. They gave awards I completely agree with, like one for Dear Esther, for its amazing storytelling and unique game mechanic. They did the same with Walking Dead because of its emotional storyline.

But there are also some in here that are just pathetic like "Persona 4 Golden" for "proving Persona 4 is still awesome"..... Really Gamespot? Really? There are some other bad ones like an award for FTL simply "for keeping its promise after getting funded". I thought keeping promises is what every human is supposed to do? When did we start giving awards to people for not lying to us?

To give or not to give, that is the question

Another question about Gaming awards is whether to give them for a category or not. What if in the last year no games really reached a level or quality deserving of the title?

Does that level of quality even matter? Could it be the award is given to a game regardless of how bad the playing field was? Is it that these games are so competitive for sales that this is just a theoretical problem that won't actual surface as game designers fight tooth and nail for quality?

A lot of unanswered questions. To sum it up it may be best to say it's hard for a gaming committee to not award a game. In the history of gaming awards this has rarely if ever happened. Even if the year sucked and had very few high quality titles, the awards seem to still be there for the grabbing.

If I were on a committee would I vote to keep an award empty? If the year were bad enough, I just might. Being honest with ourselves here though, this seems a rare possibility, but given how weak 2012 was for gaming, we may have this issue come up in the future. So for now, gaming award committees should include this possibility but in all likelihood we probably will find at least one candidate worthy of a particular title.

With that, we'll have to put our analysis to a rest and I hope this article raised some questions in your head and allowed you to look deeper at gaming than the everyday news or updates Kotaku spits at you.  :P

Thanks for sticking in there and see you all next week! :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Are Games Getting too Easy? Do Easy Games sell better?

(So yea, Gaming hasn't improved, it has simply gotten simpler so we imbeciles can enjoy it. Right? Wrong!)

Commonly in Video Game culture there comes a discussion of how games today are just far too easy and they've developed this way to make it easier for the masses to play games. This idea perpetuates the notion that gaming has only gotten bigger because it has dumbed down so that non-gamers(Whoever they are) can get excited about playing games.

There are two main reasons why these types of ideas are just plain stupid. Firstly it's actually offensive to gamers to say that more people play now because games have gotten "stupid" enough for the majority of "stupid" society to play along.

Believe it or not, Pokemon, Paperboy, and Super Street fighter were never hard games. It's true that there are a number of series early on in gaming that were extremely challenging but looking at the "Golden" era of gaming shows a plethora of games you could consider laughably easy.

IF ANYTHING there are MORE challenging games on the market from 2000-2012, then there were from 1988-2000. As gamers grew up, game designers were forced to keep their audience and code for better and better games more centered toward growing audiences. This has lead to more challenge over time rather than more games like Asteroids.

So just to clarify my first point, there were tons of easy games back when Gaming was developing in the golden era which people seem to so greatly cling to. Ignoring them and saying we have too many easy games today is just ignorance about Gaming history.

Secondly, games have gotten more efficient over time and game designers have been working their butts off trying to makes games more approachable and easier to understand for decades. To ignore their hard work in how they seamlessly integrate tutorials into the game or provide subtle hints to push the player forward CAN lead to someone THINKING a game is more easy. In reality it's Game designers who have become incredibly good at their jobs.

Games that used to stop and teach you a new game mechanic and then force you into the fire may have seemed harder than the current games which slowly ease you into a new game mechanic and only make it necessary once you've had time to master it.

This just means games are less frustrating and are fairer, rather than throwing you into the fire randomly or improperly setting up the game. Why would we want to go back to games that were badly designed?

Hard Games have always existed

Now pointing all this out isn't to say that hard games didn't exist, they definitely did and the hard ones in the 1990's are probably harder than the hard ones we have today. But to say that we don't have games that are difficult now, or to say that people only love gaming because it's dumbed down is insulting to all gamers. We're not imbeciles and society as a whole isn't filled with droves of idiots that like to randomly mash buttons.

Button mashing games exist, as do correctly designed games like Pokemon. Pokemon, just given as an example, is a game that has depth, but can also be easily played by most children. The game design is supurb and explains why it has gone on to sell millions of copies.

Similarly, most current day games have learned the mistakes of the passed, become the wiser, and are more approachable and easier to  get into than games of the past. This doesn't make them easier, only better built, and this increased efficiency of play is a boon that has lead to many millions more people getting addicted to the gaming bug.

Our Games are as great as they've always been, we should recognize that, praise the talents of game designers, and acknowledge that we've learned from the past's mistakes. To simply throw that all away and say games are "easier" is essentially a slap in the face to all gamers; especially when you follow it up by saying gaming only has mass appeal if it's dumbed down.

Don't let their ignorance about Gaming's history taint the hard work of countless game production studios, designers, programmers, and the community at large.