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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Asymmetrical Gameplay

 (When you enter the virtual world you want as much of the real you as you can to take part. Asymmetrical gameplay is a way of playing to your strengths and taking advantage of your enemy's weaknesses.)

Everyone has an intrinsic way they love to fight or compete. Asymmetrical Gameplay takes advantage of that. People that love weapons or magical powers that give them faster attack will gladly play that way even if it means having to play with less health.

Game designers often take advantage of this fact and allow complex arrangements of play to take place each giving one player a distinct advantage and weakness over the others. Although one player may be able to quickly kill the other, his speed may be directly affected. People that love to play those slow tanks, will still gladly do so and slowly trug along, knowing if they can get their hands on the opponent, they will easily make up their lost time and mow through the enemy lines.

Asymmetrical gameplay gives everyone what they want. The players can play with a distinct advantage over others while the opponents can try to take advantage of that players inherent weaknesses. In this way, games like League of Legends, Left 4 Dead, and more recently, Primal Carnage, have thrived.

Asymmetry versus Power Creep

Asymmetrical Gameplay solves a long had problem of Gaming which is power creep. In games that are multiplayer and are constantly played like W.O.W and Starcraft, the developers are always updating the game with new content and are always having to tweak some mechanism, weapon, or object to balance the game.

This is very tedious and sometimes by trying to balance the game you could make a new character the new king and make it very hard to beat that latest character. So how would a developer solve the issue of making characters too powerful over time or accidentally ruining balanced play?

The best way to do that is unbalance the play from the beginning. Allow a number of different weaknesses for each character, and give each character a unique upper hand over the rest. The chaos this seemingly creates causes a very interesting type of harmony.

Although each player is significantly better than the rest, they all each have different weaknesses, and different teams and tactics will be formed to take advantage of these weaknesses. Maybe if a fast character never has enough of a chance to get to the enemy, ranged units can be combined which can pin the enemy down, and then the fast units can go after their pinned foes and easily pick them off.

To defend the other side can try to rally behind 1 tank and break through the ranks of the ranged units trying to then fight 1 on 1 and break up the wall of ranged weapons.

None of this is possible without Asymmetry. Assuming every person was generically good, generically fast, and with generic weapons, you all die around the same period, and it becomes a game about teamwork, rather than tactics using your strengths against their weaknesses.

This explains the Call of Duty crowd, where most anyone has a good enough gun to kill most anyone, at a significant range. This forces people to use Teamwork and tactics based on that teamwork. Although even these games have their level of Asymmetry it's nowhere near an FPS game like Planetside which gives much stronger advantages to one side over the other.

We're all Unique

The other benefit to being able to play Asymmetrically is that we're all unique. Why try to fit us all into one type of game play style if we like playing differently? There is a friend I will never forget that was the greatest Tank driver I've ever seen. He was amazing at helping me get good shots off and trying to avoid the enemy, getting us the best chance at winning the base ahead of us.

He didn't kill anyone and he didn't care. He would drive and drive for hours just so a better shooter than him could do the extra damage necessary to succeed and push forward. Games that allow players to really take advantage of their hidden potential are games with staying power and games that won't easily be forgotten.

Some people really love to fly, and even if they can't do much damage in the air, the reconnaissance they provide along with the transport can really save the day for their team.

A task I hate myself but that's essential in every RPG is the healer. I hate being a healer, I can't stand doing it, but every team dies without one. Every so often I meet a person who is an amazing healer and can really turn the tide in battle.

Symmetrical, boring, generic gameplay would never allow these people to succeed. It's this uneven type of fighting where each wields powerful influence, that allows these dynamics to kick in and a lot of fun to be had.

I've already mentioned a bunch of asymmetrical games above but if you get stuck I'm sure there are a bunch more out there you have yet to find. Find your play type, love the role you play, and kick butt doing it.  :)

If anything, asymmetrical gameplay may be the way of the future.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Top 5 things that make a Bad Video Game

 (Sometimes Game Developers think they're making games for rats rather than Humans. We're quite a bit more pickier and are a little more complex.)

It's very hard to pinpoint all the reasons a game is good. Sometimes what makes it good for one person has no effect on another. It seems like the best way of figuring out how to make a good game is to look at the ways of ruining a game and then analyze how game designers can avoid such mistakes in an effort to create good games. This list could probably include more than 20 points but just to make it easier to digest and to start a conversation on the topic it's simply best to go over the top five. These are the best ways a developer can ruin their game:

Number 5
Too many Glitches

Sometimes gamers want to beat games or actually get past the first level. Pretty original idea right? :D . But seriously, why do game publishers have to apply so much pressure on game developers that they end up shipping games half complete. You can't expect gamers to enjoy a game that isn't smooth, crashes their console, kills them randomly, or stops them from completing the game because of a glitch.

All developers have to do is sit down and debug their software but sometimes the allure of money is simply too much especially when you're weeks away from completion and exhausted from the months or years of work you've done. Simply put, Game Developers, don't release unfinished games. Here are some funny videos with some of gaming history's best glitches.

Number 4
Bad Camera / Creates bad Camera angles

This issue is very reminiscent of the 1990's where developers had issues understanding how a proper camera should work and as a result, ended up failing miserably until they figured it out. While understandable back then, a long time has passed, and having bad camera issues today is completely unacceptable for any modern Game Developer.

Some games, especially platformers, require a precise camera angle so that the player doesn't fall to their death or encounter an enemy too suddenly. Given that, you can see how a bad camera can totally ruin a game.

Number 3
Artificial Difficulty = Lack of Checkpoints or saves, Cheap deaths, Not enough items / Actual Difficulty

Some games, in order to make themselves appear to be more difficult, implement game elements that frustrate the player. Games need to meet a happy medium where they balance the desire of a gamer to be challenged and feel accomplished versus being frustrated and upset.

Sometimes the cause of the frustration is due to a Game Developers need to create something I call Artificial difficulty. Artificial difficulty is created in a number of ways. The first is making it extremely hard for a person to save or creating limited checkpoints. A checkpoint is simply a place in the game where the player is allowed to retry. Some games save automatically and constantly but if you die they make you restart the whole level. The beginning of the level then is the start of the checkpoint.

If you spent half an hour to get to where you were, you now spend that half hour again. I understand making players play a portion of what they did, as a punishment, but there is a red line game developers should not cross. At a certain point the game isn't fun and you've created an artificial way of increasing the game time of a game by forcing replays. This is best experienced by playing Dark Souls or Demon Souls. The game saves frantically but you find yourself replaying whole levels simply because you died, something that can occur because of no fault of your own.

Another way to create artificial difficulty is limiting items essential for survival or not giving the player weapons that would be required to beat a certain boss.

On another note entirely a game being too difficult in general is also a red flag. Games like Superman on the N64 don't give you any room to succeed except perfection. You redo levels a thousand times because you were half a second away from reaching the finishing line. Games that don't give any mercy and leave no room at all for flexibility really take away from the enjoyment of playing. How can you expect perfection from a gamer and expect that same person to replay a level until they do it the way you want in a very short period of time?

Artificial difficulty and extreme real difficulty are two easy ways to tank your game and leave gamers never wanting to touch your creations again.

Number 2
Sloppy Controls/ Game Mechanics

If your game is an FPS shooter, than aiming and shooting should be precise. If it's a sports game then it should correctly allow you to control your player and represent the game. If you can't even dribble the ball right in a Basketball game and constantly struggle with controls, you're not going to enjoy the game.

Whatever the game is aiming to do and however it asks you to interact with the player, it needs to be solid. Game Designers need to allow a smooth interaction between the player, their controller, and the game.

Too much lag due to inputs, confusing button setups, or bad controls can easily destroy any game. A game is a game after all and if the player can't interact well with it, the game won't be enjoyable. Make sure the game mechanics are solid.

Number 1
A Bad Story

This isn't just some story you slightly regret or a game that had an ending you didn't expect. Having a bad story means you never feel immersed in the game, you don't ever get committed to the characters, and everything gets confusing when the plot is getting told.

This is why a lot of current day Final Fantasy's are suffering. Convoluted plots and complexity take the place of simplicity and a cast of characters you know and enjoy. The need to create drama or become epic stop you from ever immersing yourself.

A bunch of games get released with stories but games like Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Kingdom Hearts, or Mass Effect become great because they slowly sing the gamer a small tale, introduce them to a grand new world, and allow them the freedom to move around it and experience it properly without being jolted by random plot lines and introductions of random side characters that mean nothing in the end.

There are a lot of games with great controls, great graphics, and millions of dollars poured into them. Why don't they become instant franchises? The bane of each and every one of these games is that their story is simply not compelling enough. What makes a great game, at the end of the day, is the narrative. The story, the characters, the world, the believability of it all, the immersion, and the experience makes a record breaking franchise.

And with that, this narrative comes to a close, hopefully giving game developers some hints on how not to shoot their games, and themselves, in the foot. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Playing Video Games is Productive: A Scholarly Assessment

 (Being in a university setting, with a major in the sciences definitely affects your outlook on life. In this article I take that unique outlook on life and analyze gaming and productivity.)

Time and time again we ask ourselves if we're wasting our time by playing games. There are literally millions of websites, tweets, blogs, and personal stories of people complaining that games waste their lives. There are also people cheering and writing about how they have ditched games forever and have become more productive as a result. They feel as if they've won their life back.

I'd agree that doing anything excessively wastes life, and like wise, gaming in an uncontrollable manner is definitely a waste of time. Think about the person that spends countless hours reading fiction and non fiction, never interacting with the community or friends, and always hold up in their room. Is that person any different then an obsessed gamer? What about the athlete that trains night and day to win the Olympics, sacrificing their friends and social life, just for glory. Is that person any different from an obsessed gamer? Obsession is obsession regardless of the action.

The question here we have to ask ourselves is can a person play games as a hobby or a favorite past time and not waste time. Can they gain some tangible benefit that we can see translated in the real world. Are there any inherent mechanisms of gaming that are found to actualize humans, make us better, and work as an exercise machine for our brain, emotions, morality, or heart?

I'm here to put on my scholarly cap, use the thousands of dollars of scholarly articles I have access to(Thanks to my University), and investigate whether there is or isn't any productivity in gaming. Do gamers truly waste time doing their favorite hobby or are there positive experiences or lessons that can translate to the real world and can make us better people?


 Example 1

Before we can even look into whether games are a good use of time or not we have to at least establish their ability to influence us. We have to show that games are powerful in some way or another, to be used in positive or negative manners. If we find that games are not powerful and have little affect on us, (kind of like how grass won't affect how quickly we'll finish an essay), then we can end the argument here and say gamers are weak, don't affect us, and make us unproductive.

Most gamers probably won't fear this threat as they know first hand how powerful games are and how insanely focused they can make people. Even the White House and President Obama are working on ways of harnessing the power of games for good. They look at games like Just Dance as positive examples of exercise using a game mechanic. They want to use that game mechanic to do many things, besides making us exercise more.

Gamefication is a term used by many describing how a person harnesses a games power by incorporating in some way tasks they want done to reinforce actions or messages they want expressed. That's a slightly technical definition I've included so the easiest way to describe it is making games to do things you want done that is positive in some way.

A great example of this was when a team of gamers came together and used a program to solve a problem scientists had trouble solving for years.

""I worked for two years to make these enzymes better and I couldn't do it," says Justin Siegel, a post-doctoral researcher working in biophysics in Baker's group. "Foldit players were able to make a large jump in structural space and I still don't fully understand how they did it.""

Their work inspired a scientific article in one of the two most powerful scientific journals available; Nature (The other being Science). The full citation of the article is listed here for your benefit:
Cooper, S. , Khatib, F. , Treuille, A. , Barbero, J. , Lee, J. , et al. (2010). Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature, 466(7307), 756-760. 

Foldit, the program they used, allows players to work with proteins and analyze their specific shapes. These molecules are on the brink of science and no one knows how they fold properly; except maybe gamers. It's quite interesting when you harness the focusing power of gaming, the creativity it brings, the crowd and social aspect, and the puzzle solving all into one small arena for the benefit of science. Clearly gaming flexes its muscles and shows its true power and potential.

Example 2

Games can inspire and teach in ways that are getting educators excited. Rather than lecture and hope the material is learned by the student, now educators are opening their eyes to interactive gaming as a means to a positive end.

A roller coaster themed game is helping inspired teenagers to enter into S.T.E.M disciplines. Each acronym expresses an area of expertise. The S stands for Science, the T for Technology, the E for Engineering, and the M for Mathematics. Without these majors and centers of learning, we literally have no internet, no society, and no hope for the future.

Gamefication of our schools and learning seems to be an important step in getting young people to find their strengths in areas they originally thought they were horrible at. This was one of the more popular topics discussed at the Gamefication conference. The theme could be explained as "School is currently a bad game, lets make it better".

Social media seemed a fad for a while. Everyone said people would stop discussing it and that it was just something kids did to kill time. Now every corporation puts social media at the heart of its international presence. Likewise, Gameficiation can be a tool every discipline starts using to further their goals, either to enrich their students, inspire their workers, or simply work towards a better future.

I wasn't kidding about the inspire workers comment btw. In the above linked article from PCWorld, companies find they increase productivity by giving their workers gaming breaks:

"Burbage firmly believes that gaming helps the staff. The most obvious reason: "People need a break. Studies show that if you just sit at your desk all day, productivity goes down and down." He says that gaming also teaches how to think strategically, several moves ahead, and of course it helps with team building, "And hey, it's fun," adds Burbage. "After I go play Halo, I come back and I'm happy and in a good mood."

Though he can't attribute the phenomenon entirely to gaming, Burbage says that the company's culture has helped keep employee turnover at a minuscule 4 percent per year.

That leaves us with just one question: Which department produces the best gamers? Thibodeaux says that his sales department is big into shooters (draw your own conclusions on that one), but all sources seem to agree on one piece of advice: No matter what game you're playing, never go up against the IT department."


In a scholarly article titled: "The Gaming of Policy and the Politics of Gaming: A Review" author Mayer explains some of the basics of gaming and gives us an insight into how it became so powerful:
(Cited as: Mayer, I. (2009). The gaming of policy and the politics of gaming: A review. Simulation & Gaming, 40(6), 825-862.)
"Looking back at 40 years of Simulation & Gaming and other sources, it is indisputable that games have proven to be wonderful instruments for experimentation and learning and that gaming has been particularly useful to public policy making and public planning.
Regular readers of Simulation & Gaming know that simulation games can be defined as experi(m)ent(i)al, rule-based, interactive environments, where players learn by taking actions and by experiencing their effects through feedback mechanisms that are deliberately built into and around the game.
Gaming is based on the assumption that the individual and social learning that emerges in the game can be transferred to the world outside the game. This transfer is largely negotiated and not immediate, thereby making a simulation game low in external risks
and giving the players a sense of safety, which is a prerequisite for experimentation and creativity (see also Abt, 1970; Shubik, 1975a, 1975b; Duke, 1974; Duke & Geurts,
2004; Geurts, Duke, & Vermeulen, 2007; Geurts, Joldersma, & Roelofs, 1998; Mayer,
2008; Mayer, Bekebrede, Bilsen, & Zhou, 2009; Mayer & Veeneman, 2002; for the
negotiated effects of games, see also Juul, 2005)."

Games allow experimentation, interactivity, a friendly environment for creativity because of the lack of consequences to your real self, and they offer feedback mechanisms to give  you answers on the fly to all of your decisions.

The Philosophy of Productivity

Another question we want to ask ourselves is if Gaming is a low productive activity, then what should we be doing instead? What higher productive activities are so lofty, that we waste our time in our digital worlds?

Jane McGonigal gives her insights in the following videos:

Jane makes a good point asking what it is we're trying to produce. Are we trying to produce more emails, more paperwork, read more, write more? Can gaming be a way of producing more positive emotions, stronger social interactions, making us more confident, and overall making a better real us?

Jane tackles a really important issue in her second video which is the one of addiction. Games seem to be so addicting or fun because they are so good at gratifying our deepest needs. She mentions seeing the results of our actions immediately as an example, or the ability to play a hero. The social aspect is also very appealing because humans are social beings. One reason why we hate prison is because it stops us from freely interacting with other humans in the world. Jane also mentions the ability to quickly see ourselves progress and get stronger. This makes us feel more satisfied with ourselves and more accomplished. She classifies it as a sense of "Mastery".

Not all video games are perfect

This last part is a cautionary tale to explain that not every video game you play is going to benefit you. One of the most hotly contested issues in gaming, that requires its own article, is the question of whether video games desensitize you to violence or make you more violent in general.

We've learned that video games are powerful mechanics that can help us learn better, make a better world, and make us more creative. But we also need to remember that video games can have negative influences on us as well.

Doing my research when it came to violence, I found a large preponderance of the data supported the fact that video games do indeed desensitize humans to real world violence. Some of the most telling studies of this effect were:

1. Nicholas L. Carnagey, Craig A. Anderson, Brad J. Bushman
The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence
    Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 43, Issue 3, May 2007, Pages 489–496

"The present experiment demonstrates that violent video game exposure can cause desensitization to real-life violence. In this experiment, violent game players were less physiologically aroused by real-life violence than were nonviolent game players. It appears that individuals who play violent video games habituate or “get used to” all the violence and eventually become physiologically numb to it."

2. Christopher R. Engelhardt, Bruce D. Bartholow, Geoffrey T. Kerr, Brad J. Bushman
    This is your brain on violent video games: Neural desensitization to violence predicts increased aggression following violent video game exposure
    Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 47, Issue 5, September 2011, Pages 1033–1036

 "The fact that video game exposure did not affect the P3 amplitudes of high-exposure participants is interesting, and suggests a number of possibilities. First, it could be that these individuals are already so desensitized that an acute exposure to violent media was insufficient to bring about further changes in their neural responses to violence (i.e., a floor effect). Second, it could be that some unmeasured factor causes both an affinity for violent media and a reduced P3 response to violent imagery in violent gamers. In either case, the fact that playing a violent video game increased aggression for both low- and high-exposure participants, but the P3 response to violence was reduced for high-exposure participants regardless of the game they played, suggests that additional mechanisms not measured here are important to consider. Future research should continue to investigate mediators of media violence effects on aggressive behavior, especially among individuals who are habitually exposed to violent media.

In summary, the present research is the first to demonstrate that acute desensitization to violence can account for the causal effect of violent video game exposure on aggression. In short, these data indicate that a brain on media violence provides one important pathway for increased aggression."

3. Douglas A Gentile, Paul J Lynch, Jennifer Ruh Linder, David A Walsh
The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance
Journal of Adolescence, Volume 27, Issue 1, February 2004, Pages 5–22
"It was hypothesized that exposure to video game violence would be positively related to aggressive behaviors, such as arguments with teachers and physical fights. This hypothesis was confirmed. Students who play more violent video games are more likely to have been involved in physical fights and get into arguments with teachers more frequently. The relation between violent video game exposure and physical fights is stronger than that between violent game exposure and arguments with teachers. There are several possible reasons for this, including (1) arguing is less aggressive than fighting, (2) the target of arguing is an authority figure, rather than peers, and (3) there is very little arguing modelled in violent video games whereas there is a great deal of physical aggression modelled in violent games.
That youth who are more hostile also play more violent video games raises questions of causality. Are young adolescents more hostile and aggressive because they expose themselves to media violence, or do previously hostile adolescents prefer violent media? Due to the correlational nature of this study, we cannot answer this question directly. Some studies have suggested that there is a bidirectional relationship (see Donnerstein, Slaby, and Eron (1994) for a review). GAM predicts a bidirectional effect, in which personological variables such as hostility affect media habits, which in turn reinforce and can modify the personological variables. Huesmann and colleagues (Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, & Huesmann, 1972) have shown in long-term longitudinal studies that early media violence consumption habits predict later aggressive behaviors, but that early aggressive behaviors do not predict later media violence consumption habits. In the present research, video game violence exposure was a significant predictor of physical fights, even when sex, trait hostility, and weekly amount of video game play were statistically controlled. Clearly, hostility is not the whole story. If it were, then we would expect that children with the lowest hostility scores would not get into physical fights regardless of their video game habits. Following this logic, we would also expect that children with the highest hostility scores would get into physical fights regardless of their video game habits. Yet, low-hostile students who have the highest exposure to violent video games are more likely to have been involved in fights than high-hostile students who have the lowest exposure to violent video games (38% compared to 28%, respectively)."

4. Fraser, A. , Padilla-Walker, L. , Coyne, S. , Nelson, L. , & Stockdale, L. (2012).
Associations between violent video gaming, empathic concern, and prosocial behavior toward strangers, friends, and family members. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 41(5), 636-649.

"As mentioned, violent video gaming has been linked to lower empathic concern and prosocial behavior separately (Anderson et al. 2010), but these studies have not taken into account the relationship between empathic concern and prosocial behavior. Thus, the current findings extend existing research by suggesting that violent video gaming is not only linked to prosocial behavior and lower levels of empathic concern, but also linked to prosocial behavior through lower levels of empathic concern. Theoretically, this provides support for the GAM (Bushman and Anderson 2009), showing that during emerging adulthood in particular, the arousal brought on by media violence may gradually influence the internal state or personality of the player, which is then associated with decreases in helping behavior. Again, we would note that associations were not particularly strong, nevertheless they were statistically significant. It is also important to note that the cross-sectional nature of the current study precludes causal inferences; but given past experimental research suggesting causal relationships between violent video gaming and reductions in both empathic concern and prosocial behavior, future research should continue to examine empathic concern as a mediator between violent video gaming and prosocial behavior."

"Despite the limitations mentioned, this study highlights the associations between violent video gaming and prosocial outcomes during emerging adulthood. Our findings add to the extant research by further exploring the associations between violent video gaming and prosocial behavior, specifically by highlighting one mechanism (decreased empathic concern) through which this process might function. Emerging adulthood is a highly exploratory time, when identities are formulated and relationships are redefined (Arnett 2004). Although it seems that many emerging adults greatly enjoy playing violent video games, playing may be associated with negative consequences not only on strangers but also within close relationships. Thus, the current study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that the target of the prosocial behavior is important to consider, and highlights violent video gaming as one potential socialization influence that might impact prosocial behavior differentially as a function of the target. "

As an academic I looked at the preponderance of evidence and even spent extra time looking for articles to support the opposite side that violent video games do not desensitize us. The fact remains though that there is little literature that supports that.

Games aren't perfect and they have their downsides too. If you were to watch a person in real life being murdered slowly, a thousand times, it would affect you negatively.

It's only common sense that watching the same movie or same story over and over again bores us. In the same way, exposure to violence, especially at a young age when we're more impressionable, seems to desensitize us. Gamers should keep this in mind and realize not all games or all experiences are good for us.

Final Thoughts

We've found games to be powerful, thought provoking, creative, and essential in some ways to our future. We've also tempered our hope with a bit of reality showing that there are darker sides to gaming as there are with anything.

But to say that all gaming is unproductive and to ignore the boundless opportunities gaming offers to the world; ignoring all the positive results that have come about, is reckless.

That type of negativity is defeatist. Nothing in this world is perfect. Even if gaming may have its worries with addiction and violence, it also shares those same imperfections as other hobbies. There are no perfect choices out there or perfect hobbies.

Even gardening, a seemingly mundane task, if taking to an extreme, has a negative impact on a person. Improper gardening is what lead us to the drug war, where plants became a way to make money, create a black market, and ruin the lives of millions of individuals.

But do we tell people to stop gardening? No. Of course not. Without gardening there wouldn't be life. Similarly, gaming has its benefits and pitfalls and the objective of an unbiased human should be to take the benefits and avoid the pitfalls.

Like everything else in life, gaming can have wondrous beauty, amazing creativity, and lead to worlds never imagined. We need to cultivate the best part of gaming while limiting the darker sides.

But to say that all gaming is unproductive flies in the face of the facts. Gaming nurtures our souls. As long as we feed it positive energy, it will work to uplift us. It, like electricity, social media, and the internet, can uplift us in ways we never imagined, if we only grasp its hand.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Digital Games are not Physical ones and shouldn't be priced as such

(Gamers have a right to be treated fairly. If they buy a lower quality item they should pay a lower price.)

I read a very interesting article on the BBC's site about how humans are born fair and how the idea of fairness is really unique to humans.

Now we know the world isn't fair and we've come across a lot of things that shouldn't be, but that doesn't mean we give up and allow rampant murder throughout the streets of the world.

We do our best to try to get as much justice for people as possible, so that we can live as fairly as possible. What does all of this have to do with gaming? The game industry is charging us the same price for a digital game as it would for the physical copy. That's like a slap in the face to the regular gamer. Literally, we're all being slapped and have been for years now, and no one seems to be speaking up about it.

Physical Distribution

It takes months to prepare to mass release millions of physical copies of games and hundreds of hours just to make the discs, print the instruction manuals, get the plastic cases, and make sure it's all working and it's all transported across the entire globe!

It's frustrating, time consuming, and frankly it's why publishing companies exist. Besides putting up the cost of marketing a game, a publishers job usually includes paying for the manufacturing costs. These costs are significant and include managing things like logistics which is simply the art and science of moving things across the world efficiently and in a timely manner.

Game companies earn every penny when they sell us that physical copy and they get it to us whether we're in Europe, Japan, America, or Korea. They work hard and long hours and put in lots of quality control mechanisms to make sure their game launch goes off perfectly.

Digital Future

 Digital games require NONE of this. There is much less planning needed about launch day besides making sure all the servers can cope with the downloads.

Literally, all you do is upload the game to all the servers, make sure they stay up, and allow everyone to download it. No DVDs that cost time and money to produce; no covers; no instruction manuals; no painstaking hours of logistics because the whole world is already connected by the internet.

Yet for getting rid of the game publishers headache, customers willing to buy the digital copies of a game pay the SAME exact price as if they bought the physical one. Not a penny less. 

What's worse is EA, one of the largest gaming companies, and the only gaming company currently listed on the S&P 500 says gamers are trending towards buying more digital games then physical ones. They're saying this is the future. This decade is simply the end of the long headache that game publishers have had for the past few decades.

"EA Labels President Frank Gibeau has told GamesIndustry.Biz that he believes EA will be a “100% digital” company in the future.
“It’s inevitable,” says Gibeau. “It’s in the near future. It’s coming. We have a clear line of sight on it and we’re excited about it.”"

The game industry is definitely thrilled to see this transition. Everyone wants to live as easy a life as possible and the stress that goes with launching a game is exhausting enough without having to worry about juggling physical copies around the world to your millions of fans.

 Punishing Gamers

But while the game industry celebrates the common gamer is left only to be punished. For sacrificing our cherished physical copies of games we're giving up a lot.

Here's a small list of what gamers give up when they go digital:

  1. Right to re-sell game as used. Sacrifices 20-40% returns on initial costs if consumer had resold game.
  2. Shrinks the supply of used games - making gaming more expensive as it gets harder to find cheaper used games.
  3. Loss of instruction guide and artwork.
  4. Right to play your game without internet. Hard to travel with your game:
    1. Overseas: You can take an Xbox with games and play it anywhere. But that can't be said by installing Steam overseas without the ability to validate it in counties without internet. Even if you got a signal, you still have to download every game you want to play. Most games are very large and take hours to download on a fast connection. On a slow one or medium one it can take the whole day.
    2. Hotel: You go on a road trip and you're at a hotel room. You want to play your games but you can't since internet there costs extra. Had you brought an PS3 with games, you'd have been set. Or even if the hotel has internet, it may be slow, and it may take you hours to re-download the games you want to play.

These are just a few problems associated with digital games and just the fact that you can't resell your game is reason enough to be wary of it.

 So understandably, if the consumers are willing to make a large sacrifice and actually buy the digital download of a game, the game should come with a huge price drop. But the fact remains that it doesn't.

The whole digital gaming industry is in on this and has made it standard practice. From Gamefly to Steam to Amazon, all retailers sell brand new games at physical copy prices. There isn't enough competition to force one of them to turn against the others and it has been this way for years.

Gamers Choice

Gamers have a choice to make about their future. If they want to be treated fairly and pay fair prices for the games they love they need to start speaking up and letting the game companies know that this business practice is simply wrong, unfair, and unjust.

It's no wonder people are rushing to consoles when there are so many issues with PC downloads. The other added bonus of Consoles is that they also don't have the same nagging D.R.M issues that P.C's have when downloading digital games.

If we are willing to make the lives of the gaming industry significantly easier, we should get a reward as well, and that means significant price reductions on digital downloads from their physical siblings.

You can't sell a stripped down version of a product for the same price as the full version. Sometimes this is followed up by tacking on DRM, making the whole experience even more stressful.

If this situation doesn't change boycotts may come into effect, especially as the issue gets more traction and gamers realize exactly how much they are being punished.

This information will spread and game companies will eventually be called to account for what they've done. If not now then eventually one day. To gain back a loyal customer is much harder than to keep them in the first place. It makes financial sense to be fair from the beginning with your customers. Game companies simply need to do what's right, not what's most profitable in the short term.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Downloadable Content Analysis DLC's - The Good, The Bad, and the Very Very Ugly

 (A custom picture I made showing the clash between physical media and digital downloads. We want the best of both worlds but currently DLCs are digital download only.)

So what is a D.L.C? Simply put, it's an extra add-on to a game that the game didn't originally come with. It doesn't have to cost money, as many free DLCs have been released before, but in general because the content costs money to produce, Game studios tend to charge for it.

Depending on the company, you either love, hate, or ignore DLC content altogether. Some companies have hard and fast rules against using DLCs and others revel in it, wanting customers to spend more money on downloaded content. 

But as with every new change in Gaming we should be responsible and ask questions about it first before jumping in wholeheartedly. Firstly, how should the game industry be treating DLCs and what practices should they follow? Secondly, do DLCs have a place in gaming and if so what is that place and what lines should the industry not cross? Finally, which companies have adhered to these principles and which are out there to simply make more profit?

We'll start off with a company that loves DLCs and analyze DLCs in general as we go along.

(For some companies, DLCs are angels sent from Heaven, regardless of how you distribute them.)

The first extreme example we have comes from BioWare who had their popular Mass Effect 3 game packaged with a day one DLC. As the name implies, if you're willing to pay extra for it, in this case it was 10 dollars (800 Microsoft points), you could get additional content that would make your gaming experience better.

Later on it was found that large parts of the DLC were on every disc sold to consumers and required a special key to unlock on the disc. The DLC was also found to be integral to the story of the game and interwoven into the whole second half of the game as well. 

To analyze the issue better though we need to speak more about DLCs in general.

Here is the first central rule to DLCs:

Principle 1 "Spirit of a D.L.C"

This is an unspoken rule in the gaming industry that implies if a DLC comes out it must not be central or vital to the core of a game. A game must be enjoyable and finished completely without a DLC, or it's like your charging customers extra for a piece to finish their unfinished game. Doing that reeks of a scam and smells of fraud because no one likes to be scammed and forced to buy unfinished games. The Spirit of a DLC is that it only provides fun content after the fact that tacks onto a game.


Bioware actually admits to this central tenet of DLCs. 
Casey Hudson Executive Producer of Mass Effect 3:

"The DLC, whether it’s day one or not, is always going to be sugar on top, the extra,” he told VentureBeat. “You know, the extra little bits of content that tell side stories.”

“But it’s always optional. We would never take stuff out of the core game and only have it in DLC.”

The whole gaming industry knows of this unspoken principle because they don't want to be labelled scammers or fraudsters. They don't want their customers to think of them as greedy tycoons out to suck ever penny out of them. But we have to remember that actions speak louder than words.

Some people break this rule and claim they don't; the key to remember is to analyze their action. So let's do that, let's look over the evidence with Mass Effect 3.

1. Day One DLC: The day the DLC is released is important because it tells you when the development company was working on it. If it's released on the same day as the game that means they were coding it, debugging it, and making it part the story of the gaming from its inception. It's very very hard to tack on extra content when at the same time you're making the game itself. There is a slippery slope that you may include something in the DLC that would make it critical to having it.

Also think of it from a game companies perspective. If this content is completely additional, why not just wait til we finish the game to code it and sell it a month or two later? We don't put these things in boxes or on discs so distribution and production is next to nothing.

Day one DLCS are really an issue because, as we saw with ME3, the DLC was vital to experiencing the game. Most Day one DLCs tend to have this issue and very rarely are small additions because they've been worked on for months alongside the game itself and a lot of planning has gone on behind the scenes.

This isn't my opinion, this is what Bioware says, and it completely agrees with me. When asked why large parts of the DLC were on the disc and why it seems like the game was built with it Bioware answered:

Mike Gamble of Bioware
“Because the plot of ME3 is so richly interwoven with the character interactions and moments, you simply cannot use a DLC module to ‘insert’ a new character,” he said. “As we’ve mentioned before, that character has to be planned and the framework has to be established ahead of time for us to build off of with the DLC module.”


Erik Kain from Forbes Magazine makes a great point about this topic:

"Imagine a band releases a 12-song album for $14.99. On the same exact day the same band offers a downloadable extra that has three songs not included on the album for an additional $4.99. Then the band says that those extra songs are just “sugar on top” and that they’re trying to release “awesome music” so fans should just stop complaining because “they don’t know what it’s like to record music.”
Now imagine that the same band had, in previous years, released 15 song albums for $14.99."

So as has clearly been decided by gamers, Day one DLC, while idealistically can be acceptable, tends to make games worse off as the DLC tends to be vital to the game itself. It's very difficult to create a cherry on top when you're making the cake at the same time.

So for the gamers sake developers need to know to release their DLCs and produce them at a later date.

2. On the Disc: As mentioned above, when a game is included on the disc or large parts of it are interwoven into the game, you know you've got a problem on your hands.

Theoretically you could still fashion a game from scratch that was only an addition and put it on the disc but this rarely occurs. The temptation by producers to make a chunk of the game that is vital to the story is increased, than if they were to create the DLC after they made the original finished game.

By then they had already created a finished product. There's no threat of adding on more content if you've already worked your hardest finishing up the original game.

3. Price - As a side note:  The price of a DLC is also something that should be scrutinized. Since it adds to a game and isn't a game in and of itself and requires that you buy the game to use it, the price is critical, regardless of how much content you provide.

Most games do not require other games to play. Even Mass effect 3 can be played if you've never owned Mass Effect 2. But this isn't the case with DLCs. You can never sell DLCs as they're always connected to your account, and you never get a box or a disc for them. They require an upfront $60 dollar purchase of a previous game and they should not be integral to the story or the playing of the first game. They are the digital cherry on top, so to speak.

Given all these facts we can deduce what DLCs should cost. I'll make this my second principle of DLCs:

Principle 2 "Price of a D.L.C"

We can all agree that charging the same price as a full game is completely unethical as you're not getting the same value as a full game. Even half the price of a full game is unheard of because DLCs do not add critical gameplay elements to any game; explained already because of principle 1.

So the red line in the sand for a DLC should be half of half the price of a game. Another way of putting that is 1/4 or 25% the price of a full game. Currently that's $15 dollars.

That doesn't mean every game should charge that much. It only means that should be the upper limit and no one should pay a dollar more. Only the best DLCs with the most content should even attempt to pay this much.


BioWare Verdict

So given that the DLC was day one, that large parts of it were on the disc, and that the DLC was integral to experiencing the game which violates the spirit of a DLC, BioWare completely botched their gaming experience and as a result paid for it.

They also botched the ending of the game and as a result had to give gamers a new set of endings that actually ended the game off properly. Hopefully Bioware has learned from its mistakes and other companies can learn from them as well.

(For other companies, DLCs are like this ugly dog; kept at a distance.)

The other extreme side of the spectrum is the gaming juggernaut Nintendo. The statements they've made leave hardly any room for discussion:

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata
 “Nintendo, as a software maker, does not plan to [run a business] where our consumers cannot know in advance which [product] will appear as the result of their payment,” Iwata said. “As a software maker, Nintendo believes that its packaged software should be sold to our consumers in a form so that the consumers will know in advance that they can enjoy playing the software they purchased just as it is.”

Reggie Fils-aime, President of Nintendo of America


Nintendo seems to be worrying about the slippery slope with DLCs and how game companies might start off with good intentions but might end up selling incomplete games with DLC.

Nintendo's zeal for their customers is impressive and even if it's only a P.R gimmick it still feels good to know a company wants to do everything they can to give you a fulfilling experience.

But Nintendo does need to realize that DLCs are here to stay and we are buying them because sometimes they're done extremely well and are extremely fun.

Some best selling well done DLCs are listed below:

Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare

This game literally added another 8 hours or so of a side story to the game of the year winner Read Dead Redemption. It also added a new mode to multiplayer that was survival oriented. It's simply the closest a DLC has ever come to a standalone game and it was worth every penny for those that bought it. Nintendo has to understand that a world without DLC would mean a world without this amazing game.

The 5 Fallout 3 DLCs

For a lot of people, it was Fallout 3 that introduced them to the idea of DLCs. Fallout 3 really popularized the idea and showed the hidden potential and profit for companies willing to take on the endeavor.

Broken steel became a must own when it continued the story and increased your level cap and Point lookout gave us a real taste of the south. If that wasn't enough, how about going on an Alient spaceship? Even if the first two were not must owns, the last 3 were extra experiences that gave the game hours more fun and another round of Fallout before Fallout New Vegas came out. Again if Nintendo owned the gaming industry, these gems would never have seen the light. 

Skyrim Dawnguard

As if Skyrim didn't already have enough content, we had even more added on top of it! I have to say though, the price of the addon was excessive at 20 dollars. But then again, you get so much content with Skyrim to begin with, in the long run, you've already made your money twice over. Skyrim definitely deserved more than $60 when we purchased it.


There are a ton of other great DLCs out there as well. GTA IV has two very popular ones and many of you have in mind examples of other great DLCs not mentioned. DLCs have a proven track record and while not every developer is good at making them, the fact that some can do so very well means that for gaming it's a product that will be with us, and should be, as gamers enjoy these add-ons.

Nintendo has seemed to sense this and in the middle of 2012 announced their first DLC for New Super Mario Brothes 2. It was inevitable that it would happen but no one knew that it would come months after the strongly negative statements they made at the beginning of 2012. So in that sense Nintendo is a bit hypocritical but it's all in the past now.

We all want Nintendo making DLCs and we know they'll raise the standard high because they refuse to release games that are unfinished, as we've seen with their statements. As DLCs did better and people saw their potential, companies like Nintendo had to realize that this was a market they had to get into and was what gamers demanded of them.

Final thoughts

So we've gone over the companies that hold DLC up like a holy grail and we've also gone over the very pessimistic ones like Nintendo. We've learned the two most important principles when making a DLC and what game makers should price them at. The future is bright for DLCs as it's an industry that has just started and been barely dabbled into.

Hopefully companies can get more creative with the ways they add onto games and possibly gamers as a result will hold onto their games longer knowing a DLC is imminent

What we need more of in DLCs is extra content from the games we love. What we need less of is gaming companies pawning off parts of their games and selling them unfinished, especially as Day One DLCS.

At the end of the day if game companies remember the key spirit of DLCs, they won't go wrong:

Spirit of D.L.Cs

An unspoken rule in the gaming industry that implies if a DLC comes out it must not be central or vital to the core of a game. A game must be enjoyable and finished completely without a DLC, or it's like your charging customers extra for a piece to finish their unfinished game. Doing that reeks of a scam and it smells of fraud because no one likes to be scammed and forced to buy unfinished games. The Spirit of a DLC is that it only provides fun content after the fact that tacks onto a game.