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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Dying Novelties, Part 1: Introduction

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Tuesday July 31 2007 at 5:17PM
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It's been a while since my last entry. I got banned for seven days (I don't call myself Jimmy Scythe for nuthin'), played a whole lot of Zelda: Twilight Princess and read the Watchmen graphic Novel. I recommend both Twilight Princess and Watchmen BTW. If you own a Wii or Gamecube, run (don't walk) to the video store and rent Twilight Princess for a week or two. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. I highly recommend that you find a copy of Watchmen and read through it twice regardless of your interest in comic books. Aside from that I've been working. 

My job isn't very mentally demanding and requires no interaction with others. As a result, I spend eight hours of my day thinking about what ever subject happens to cross my mind. For the last two weeks that subject has been the video game industry in general. Specifically I've been thinking about the split between "hardcore" and "casual" gamers as well as the industry's new attention to making "casual friendly" games. To condense a very long series of thoughts into a one sentence conclusion: Video and computer games are a novelty. 

I'm not the only one that has come to that conclusion either. During some after work poking around on the internet, I came across David Wong's blog entry entitled "Life After the Video Game Crash." Go ahead and read through the whole thing so that we're all on the same page here. Done? Yeah, that's some pretty depressing stuff he's dishing out there. That blog so completely agreed with the conclusions I had drawn over the past two weeks that I ended the day feeling more miserable and defeated than I have felt in a long, long time. Cheer up though, I've had time to think even further on the subject and the future isn't quite as dark as Mr. Wong imagines. On the flip side, it's not as bright as some would have you believe either.

To start off, I'd like to clear up some things about the aforementioned blog that some of the more eagle eyed among you may have already caught. To wit: 

  1. Yes, the Xbox lost Microsoft 4 billion dollars but.... - The PS2 and Gamecube both made money. While there is concern about the future of the XBox brand, this could actually be the first year that it makes money for Microsoft. Speaking of the PS2, Mr. Wong correctly points out that the majority of PS2 units didn't sell until after the first price drop. What he doesn't tell you is that Nintendo had sold 60 million NES units in five years, Sega moved 29 million Genisis consoles in five years and that the original XBox had sold 24 million in five years. IN JUST TWO YEARS SONY SOLD 30 MILLION PS2 UNITS!!! I think they were doing just fine on their bottom line, don't you?
  2. The Crash of '83 was an American phenomenon - The industry in Europe was based on home computers like the BBC Micro and ZX - Spectrum. Japan's video game market was completely self contained with exclusively Japanese consoles like the Sega SG-1000 and the MSX computer. Furthermore, the Japanese video game industry didn't really begin until the crash in America.
  3. Speaking of computers..... - The article never once talks about competition from the fledgling home computer market. Never once is it mentioned that Commodore had a rather extensive ad campaign that targeted video games by asking parents why they should buy their kid a video game when a computer could get their kid into college. Commodore also instituted a program where you could trade your old video game system in for a discount on a Vic-20 or C64. Finally, Commodore also went out of their way to put their machines into department and toy stores which were the traditional distribution channels for video game systems. During the two year gap between the crash and the rise of the NES, many game companies got started by making games for the home computers of the time. Electronic Arts, Sierra, SSI, they all started out on the Commodore 64, Apple II and TI-99. Video gaming didn't die. It just changed mediums.
  4. Atari did not run unopposed - At the time of the crash there were no fewer than TEN video game consoles on the market (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Colecovision, Intelivision, Emerson Arcadia 2001, Odyssey 2, Vectrex, just to name a few). To make matters worse, there was nothing even remotely resembling software licensing. Anyone could make games for any system provided that they had the money to make the cartridges. This meant that all the console makers were not only making games for their own system, but for everyone else's as well. At one point Quaker Oats made a division to manufacture games!! Yeah, the market got flooded. Flooded with shitty games.

 

Aside from these minor points though, Wong is dead on the money. If games aren't a novelty, why do they keep carting out new consoles periodically? Why are new graphics cards introduced every six months if games have timeless appeal? Yeah, there is a problem here. 

The good news is that video games can outgrow their novelty status. After all, in thirty years comic books went from the campy adolescent stories of Spider Man to the the genuinely mature and thought provoking Watchmen. If only video games had made a similar transition rather than going from a pixelated Link to a slightly more realistic Link.....

Next week I'll swing this car around and discuss how this all relates to MMORPGs and the week after that I'll make a few predictions about where all of this is taking the genre. Until then, keep on trukin'.

I'm Killing the Video Game Industry!! Ask Me How.....

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Wednesday July 11 2007 at 6:56PM
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After reading an in depth article about the state of the video gaming industry over at Firing Squad, I've come to a realization. I'm contributing to the death of the industry. All this time I thought I was just being a wise consumer of media..... Alas, I was (and still am) killing the thing I love.

You see, there are certain rules that I follow so as to get the most out of the gaming dollars that I spend. Every one of these rules is damaging to the industry in one way or another.

  1. I never purchase at launch - This mostly applies to consoles and MMORPGs. In the case of consoles, the price will probably go down in a year or two and by then I'll be able to browse the game library to see if it's worth my time. The Wii and the DS were exceptions to this rule since they were both cheap enough that it didn't really matter. With MMORPGs, I want a trial. I don't want to pay for the trial. I require seven to fourteen days to decide if I want to invest any more money in the game. Most MMORPGs don't offer trials until after the first year.
  2. I buy used or off the bargain rack - In the rare event that I actually BUY a game, I go out of my way to not pay more than $20 or $30. This is actually pretty easy with console games since used games can go for as low as $5. PC games can't be resold due to CD-keys, so I generally wait until a game drops to around $30 or lower. I would be really pissed if I spent $50 on Battlefield 2 at it's release plus $30 for the Special Forces expansion ($80 total), only to then walk into Best Buy and see the BF2 Deluxe Edition for $28. If a game is really any good, there will still be people playing it once the price drops.
  3. I rent console games - I have an account with Gamefly that costs $23 a month. If I rent a new RPG that takes between 40 and 80 hours to complete and play an average of two and a half hours a night, I can beat it before the month is up and spend less than half what it would cost to buy the game off the shelf. I can also pay $6 at the local BlokHussle Video to keep any game for seven days which is more than enough time to beat most action games in single player mode.
  4. I usually don't play any MMORPG for longer than three months - The last MMORPG that I actually laid down money for was City of Heroes, just before the release of City of Villains. I played the two week trial, bought the box ($20 at the time) and bought a two month card ($30). I got one month with the box so I played for about three and a half months total. This was long enough for me to level a character to the cap and get bored with the game. Of the other MMORPGs that I subscribed to (Ultima Online, Asheron's Call, and Anarchy Online), none lasted more than three months or cost me more than $60 total.

I thought about throwing in the fact that a play a lot of freeware games like Neverball, Vega Strike and Cave Story, but I'm not sure if that can technically considered directly damaging to the game industry.

If you're scratching your head at this point, let me explain. The gaming industry has only one means of income: retail sales. Used games don't send a dime to the publishers or the developers. As far as my research has been able to find, game rental outfits only pay for the games themselves and don't dish out royalties to the original publishers or developers. Read the above Firing Squad article to find out why paying less than $50 dollars can cause even a good game to lose money. That also goes for console sales since the PS3 is losing about $300 per unit sold and the Xbox 360 is losing around $125 on every unit sold. On the up side, the Wii is making Nintendo $50 on every unit sold ;-P

Swinging this back around to MMORPGs, the overhead of keeping them running requires not only a set number of subscribers, but a set amount of cash per subscriber. The added strain of those free trials doesn't come cheap. Korean MMOs go by a different model that requires an average of about $60 per player across a population of millions. Western MMOs couldn't survive with the kind of turnover that would bring with the subscription model.

In the end, the system is way broken. The "solution" to this problem seems to be digital distribution, but that will simply push people like me to the fringes of gaming if not to piracy or simply quiting the hobby altogether. Personally, I think it's time that the publishers and developers got back to basics with smaller development teams, more tightly focused game design, shorter games, basically just scale everything back to an almost arcade level. Games that are cheaper to develop and distribute may actually lead to an industry where the profit margins don't sink five or six development houses a year. Imagine that! A world with decent profit margins <cue the relaxing music and cloud montage>

Dumbed down Controls??!!

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday July 1 2007 at 4:04PM
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I'm going to kick off this rant with a bit of heresy: A complicated interface alone does not make a game deep.

 

Got it? Get it? Good.

 

I say this because I notice that whenever the subject of MMOs on consoles comes up, someone always has to point out the difference in controls. There seems to be some odd belief that a 4 axis, 12 button controller is not as "smart" as a 110 keyboard and mouse set up. Personally, I think it's a load of bullshit.

 

For starters, some of the deepest PC games I have ever played required nothing more than pointing and clicking. Sim City, Heroes of Might and Magic, Civ3, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, XCom, etc., only required a two or three button mouse. Yes, BG and NWN did allow you to use the keyboard, but it wasn't an absolute requirement for getting through the single player campaigns. It really wasn't a requirement online either. Even some of the more recent RTS games don't require you to learn more than 12 hotkeys.

 

Let's take this in another direction. Let's put Street Fighter on the Keyboard and mouse control. Actually, let's just put it on the keyboard. Now, rather than having to pull off a complicated button combination to perform a special move, you just hit a hot key and the special move plays out. Is the game better or worse? Does it take more skill, or less skill to play? Obviously, the keyboard does not really add anything to the game other than a longer learning curve for the player that has to remember all the hotkeys. Once that's done, the game becomes a skill-less button mashing contest.

 

Now let's turn our attention to Diablo. Now we all know and agree that the PSX version of Diablo sucked. However, this development house, under the name of Snowblind Studios, applied the Diablo formula to four games for the PS2. These games were Baldur's Gate: Dark Allaince (1&2) and Champions of Norrath (1&2). What's really interesting here is that the controls actually expanded on the Diablo style of gameplay by adding the abilities to jump, actively block, and instantly switch between ranged and melee weapons. furthermore, you could also quaff health and mana potions on the fly in the same way that you could in Diablo.

 

Oh, I almost forgot!! The most popular PC game of all time was simply point and click! The Sims never required that the user punch a single key on the keyboard. The player interacted with the game through a series of context sensitive radial menus. That's a pretty simple and intuitive control scheme given the amount of actions that a player can perform in that game. This idea of maximizing the level of interactivity in a game while, at the same time, minimizing the control scheme is actually central to Nintendo's current marketing strategy. Funny thing is, it seems to be working.

 

Go check out Advanced Wars: Dual Strike or Age of Empires 2 DS if you really think that the actual controller determines the depth of gameplay. Both games are very deep and require no more of the gamer than to point at the screen. Or go download Virtual Villagers, Geneforge 2, or Oasis for the PC. The ability to point and one or two buttons are really the only thing required.

 

A games depth is ultimately determined by the number of options available and the mechanics behind the way those options interact. Just like your car; it's not the steering wheel, but the engine and the tires that define the quality.

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