AlexChec / Member

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AlexChec Blog

Finally!

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I'm finally level 21! Man, I did not expect level 20 to take that long to get through.

An explanation deferred

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What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes, "Harlem"

The heads of GameSpot have finally given us something to chew on regarding Gerstmann-Gate.

The problem is that what they have provided is woefully insufficient given the controversy at hand.

Now, I understand completely how a company - any company - would like to put out a fire as quickly as possible. The problem with the release provided to us only adds fuel to the flames.

"Due to legal constraints and the company policy of GameSpot parent CNET Networks, details of Gerstmann's departure cannot be disclosed publicly. However, contrary to widespread and unproven reports, his exit was not a result of pressure from an advertiser.

"'Neither CNET Networks nor GameSpot has ever allowed its advertising business to affect its editorial content,' said Greg Brannan, CNET Networks Entertainment's vice president of programming. 'The accusations in the media that it has done so are unsubstantiated and untrue. Jeff's departure stemmed from internal reasons unrelated to any buyer of advertising on GameSpot.'"

Under many circumstances, that would be fair enough. Rare is the company that would go public with its decision-making processes, especially when the end result was someone's termination. Unfortunately, CNET/GameSpot's release leaves open a very large question. The paragraph before the ones quoted reads:

"'Jeff was a central figure in the creation and evolution of GameSpot, having written hundreds of previews and reviews, and anchoring much of our multimedia content,' said Ricardo Torres, editorial director of previews and events. 'The award-winning editorial team he leaves behind wish him nothing but good luck in his future endeavors.'"

Jeff had been on the GameSpot team for 11 years, was part of an award-winning team, and was widely appreciated by users. How does somebody of this status and caliber just get dropped? This isn't CNET firing some personal assistant who had been on the job two months and couldn't figure out how to use a coffee machine, this was a big deal.

Under these circumstances, normal procedure is to have some sort of tagline that's agreed upon by management and their victim, something like, "X said he achieved what he wanted to and felt like it was time to move on," or, "X cannot comment, citing the on-going police investigation." The line "[we] wish him luck" just doesn't cut it.

Furthermore, contrary to the subhead on the press release, the remaining GameSpot editors fail to address one very, very key element of this whole debacle. What happened to Jeff's video review?

If the internal decision was that Jeff's "tone" was beyond the image GameSpot wanted to project, then I can understand why the video would be taken down. But surely it goes beyond coincidence that its removal and Jeff's termination happened in one swoop; at least far enough beyond coincidence that it should be explained.

Do I believe that someone at Eidos picked up the phone and demanded that Jeff be fired, and CNET obeyed? No. Heck, I might go so far as to allow myself to believe that Eidos' financial contributions were beyond the internal logic which led to Jeff's firing.

But CNET has not sufficiently explained its conduct in this fiasco. Where is the video review? Why was it removed? And how does an employee of 11 years get dumped so quickly and traumatically that the users feel as betrayed as I'm sure Jeff does?

Does this stink like rotten meat? You bet.

Gerstmann-Gate: It's just business

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Are you surprised that Jeff Gerstmann was sacked? Of all the emotions that surround this ever-widening controversy, surprise should be the last among them.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, in 2006 there were $7.4 billion in computer and video game sales in the United States; and Capcom's 2007 annual report tagged the total 2006 video game sales in the three largest world markets -- North America, Europe, and Japan -- at $18.1 billion, with all indicators pointing to much higher sales in the coming years. As we all know, the game development market is fiercely competitive, like the gamers they cater to, and one good game can launch a developer's career while one stinker can spell disaster.

For some reason that has never quite been explained to me, there are many out there who believe that sites like GameSpot exist to operate independently of the video game market, and as such they are obligated to provide objective opinions and reporting. Even though most gamers talk openly about the prevalence of the "7-9 scale," the Iron Triangle of the video game industry, an event like the one we are all witnessing seems to be shocking to many.

Pause for a moment and think about what GameSpot really is. GameSpot is the end result of a logistical wonder. TrafficEstimate.com says that, in the last 30 days, GameSpot has received over 17 million hits, which resulted in an untold amount of server activity by way of downloads, uploads, and streamed, live conent, an operation which sucked up more bandwidth than I care to imagine. On top of this, the emploees at GameSpot have bills to pay and families to feed, thus necessitating salaries for their efforts. The money for GameSpot's operations have to come from someone, and since they don't directly benefit from the sales of the products they feature, it makes sense to turn to the people who make some of the $18.1 billion in video game sales.

CNET Networks posted some $387.7 million in revenue in 2006, turning a profit of $7.9 million. Where does CNET's revenue come from? Advertising -- hands down. According to CNET's Earnings Statement, it generated $336.1 million in revenue from "Marketing Services" in 2006, or 86.7 percent of its overall revenue.

Put yourself in the shoes of a sales rep for a game development company like Eidos. Here you've provided thousands of dollars in advertisement revenue to CNET for your product, only to get a ho-hum review in return. Are you likely to want to sink more money into CNET for future advertisement campaigns?

Now put yourself in the shoes of a sales rep for a generic development company who has just watched Eidos' ad strategy fall flat, and weigh whether or not you would advise to your higher-ups to spend thousands of dollars on CNET, which apparently allows for some "renegades" in its structure.

Now put yourself in the shoes of CNET's management, which now has to calm the source of its bread and butter -- CNET only attributes 13.3 percent of its revenues as being generated from "Licenses, Fees, and User," and just how much of that is derived specifically from users is not outlined -- and by extension its employees' bread and butter. The answer, really, is simple: axe the renegade.

Once again, it is advertisers, not users, which make up the overwhelming bulk of CNET's income, and so upsetting us is not nearly as problematic as upsetting advertisers.

Think of GameSpot as a retail store, and Jeff a sales rep. You, as a customer, might appreciate him telling you the truth about the merchandise on the shelves, but when the suppliers complain to the store managers and threaten to withdraw their products, would you be shocked at Jeff's being fired?

Business is business, no matter what form it takes, and unfortunately for us there is very little recourse.

Boycotting Eidos only sinks Eidos. Canceling your GameSpot subscription does not affect GameSpot's bottom line. The only conceivable thing to do would be to deprive CNET of advertising income by dramatically reducing traffic to the site, but is it realistic to expect that all of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit and rely on GameSpot will flock en masse to one of its competitor sites, sites which most of us visit anyway? No.

CNET and its 2,000-odd employees are not working to give us information out of the goodness of their hearts -- it's not that they have ulterior motives, but they, rightfully, expect to be paid for their efforts. As such, it's less of an incentive to keep us happy as it is to keep their clients and stakeholders happy, which means folks like Jeff Gerstmann are expendable when they get out of line.

At best we can expect that the uproar over Jeff's firing will move GameSpot to permit its reviewers to operate under a "6.5-9 scale," but dramatic overtures towards objectivity should not be expected. 95 percent of CNET's top 100 U.S. advertisers renewed their contracts between June and September of this year, constituting 53 percent of CNET's revenues. The "7-9 scale" is good for business.

Game developers and publishers need sites like GameSpot to sell their games and make money, GameSpot needs advertisement revenue to continue to operate, and we gamers need games and information about those games to satisfy our hobby; as such, we, ultimately, have to submit to the relationship between game publishers and game sites like GameSpot, no matter how adversely that relationship might affect the system's employees.

But even though we might have to begrudgingly accept the "7-9 scale" as the cost of getting games, are we also right to demand that the information we receive be as objective as possible? Absolutely. As long as advertisement revenues are determined based on our contributions and traffic to the website, we can hold them to certain standards; but punishing them when they fall short is a problem for which I don't have an easy solution.

It is regrettable that Jeff had to fall victim to our industry's Iron Triangle, he was arguably my favorite GameSpot personality, but business is business.

What more is there to say?

Where am I?

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I need to apologize for my absence in doing, well, anything.

First of all, I want to express my profound appreciation for having my editorial selected for the RS78 "Soapbox," and it's from that where I felt the need to apologize.

I haven't been keeping up with y'all nearly as well as I should be -- and that extends to the people who might come by here as well as those who don't. I think it's particularly rude for me to continue to make contributions to the community and then 1) not acknowledge when one of my contributions is highlighted, and 2) not give recognition to other people's work.

Unfortunately I don't have a good excuse for doing this beyond the fact that I'm just not very good at this whole Internet socialization stuff. I never have been. It's easy for me to discard a lot of what goes on here in the tubes when it's all done by "anonymous" users, and it's not fair to think like that.

So, I apologize for doing it. I will make the effort to improve on this front, but knowing me I know there will be times when I fail and don't give credit where credit is due, or otherwise come off as something of a prick.

Opportunity

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Guess who gets to demo Guitar Hero III?

Me!

World in Sadness

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Well, it took me about 12 hours, but I charged through the single player campaign of World in Conflict. At some point I'll get on to the multiplayer for old time's sake, but I can't be expected to have a large, or long-lasting online presence with the game. The job just won't allow for it.

It is a sad thing.

Gaming Addiction Revisited

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Once again the headlines rage about a man in China who died after a gaming marathon, and so once again I am compelled to revisit this subject.

Internet and gaming addictions are fast becoming media targets of choice, particularly with the World of Warcraft phenomenon. My personal opinion is that the causes and effects of gaming addictions are poorly understood, and thus I think that, while generally well-intentioned, reports on these matters will always be incomplete and only manage to vilify either the addicted or the medium, or both.

I'm not inclined to discuss whether or not CNN's or any media outlet's coverage of the gaming community is biased or not -- as any such discussion lends itself to a tedious examination of stories with sides being chosen based on one's own biases rather than an objective examination; nor am I going to discuss whether or not Internet and/or gaming addiction is a pervasive or serious problem -- again, the discussion would be overly lengthy and not appropriate for this format.

Instead what I want to talk about is how I believe the gaming community should respond to gaming addicts, pervasive or otherwise.

On the one hand, there are the appeals of Internet-based gaming. You're exposed to a wide array of challenges in the form of human players at multiple skill levels, you can network with existing friends without being near them by sharing a common experience, and you can develop additional friendships with people whom you otherwise wouldn't have met. In short, Internet gaming allows one to basically engage in a social forum while at the same time participate in an entertainment venue.

On the other hand, however, is that the social experience is incomplete -- it's virtual and emotionless. Our human experience is defined from birth onward by our physical interactions with others: first our parents, then other children, adolescents, adults, coworkers, spouses, and ultimately our own children. It's why neglected or abused children can and do so often grow up to be something of deviants in society; their interactions are perversions of the social development that the rest of us experience.

We understand our world through our senses, of which only two, audio and visual, are satisfied by the Internet or gaming, and in no small part by our proximity to and interactions with others; and technology alone will never satisfy the very human need to be in touch, quite literally, with other humans.

I'm not denying the networking power that the Internet has, nor am I trying to undermine the bonds that can form among friends during gaming sessions. All I'm saying is that these experiences are incomplete, and one of the driving factors behind an addiction, any addiction, is the flawed understanding on the part of the addict that further exposure to that which they are addicted will satisfy his or her ever-growing deficiency, physical or psychological, when in fact they're just furthering their own destruction.

I'm not here to get into the nuances of defining addiction or dependency. All I mean to establish is that it is perfectly plausible that someone could become addicted to gaming as a perceived way of satisfying the need for social interaction.

The question then is: How should the gaming community respond to this phenomenon? Browsing the GameSpot forums, I was somewhat disturbed to see how people responded to the topic of gaming addiction. It seemed as though people largely took the idea as a joke, as though anybody who was addicted, or even thought that he or she was addicted, was either off-kilter to begin with or was trying to be funny; and the comments were, therefore, dismissive.

I haven't seen any reliable studies about how prevalent gaming addiction is among self-described gamers or Internet users in general, much less recent studies to be sure, but even if the prevalence is low, I think this is a topic which the community should be casting a more serious eye to. Whether it's a rare event or widespread, for me the pivotal point is this: The presence of gaming addicts in the community means that we are at some point deriving our entertainment at the very physical and psychological expense of someone else, while at the same time we may be just as susceptible to becoming addicted ourselves.

I believe we're past the time for outreach on this issue. If any community has the resources on hand to create a means by which gaming addicts or at-risk persons can go to be brought away from their dependencies, it's the gaming community. We number in the millions, we're spread over the globe, and we've absolutely utilized the infrastructural capabilities of the Internet.

Quite frankly, I think it incumbent upon us, the gaming community, to launch this outreach rather than end up having it dictated to us by either misguided legislation or a biased media blitz. If we don't take the steps now to address this issue, then we're going to be subjected to one "Shocking expose!" after another about our beloved hobby and story after story about gamers so far gone that they died after week-long gaming sessions; and true or not, sensationalized or not, those are going to have a cumulative effect which will only damage the industry's reputation and, by extension, the gaming community's.

We don't need to run out and build a gaming wing to the Betty Ford Center, we can handle this matter very simply: take a break for a while and go for a walk; call someone you haven't seen in a while and arrange a lunch; go out and meet some other gamers. Make the effort to be with people physically rather than virtually. Whether through informal, regional get-togethers or attendance at the major conventions, a person-to-person encounter and check-up can go a long way to head off an addiction that is based on a social deficiency.

The bottom line is that if we are going to use in our defense that Internet gaming is not a destructive hobby because it allows us to build friendships across the globe, then we need to start cashing in on those friendships and reach out to those among us who are in need of a helping hand. To do no less is irresponsible and exploitative of other people's problems, it is the antithesis of friendship, and to that end it will be difficult for the mainstream to not vilify us.

At least, that's where *I* thought the bottom line should be. A friend of mine and avid gamer pointed out to me after I originally aired this complaint that there are more issues at work, though, that could each be a blog post in and of themselves. Specifically she raised concerns about parenting, and a person's drive for gratification.

On the first issue, she contended that those who engage in gaming marathons to the point of fatal overdose might be the results of bad parenting. While that is a contention which is near impossible to prove or disprove, I am inclined to disagree with it carte blanche. There comes a point in a person's life where he or she is old enough to gauge for him or herself what is beneficial and what is harmful behavior. While these determinations might in part be influenced by one's upbringing, it strikes me that most healthy people -- however they were raised -- would be able to determine that sitting in front of a computer for days on end is harmful behavior. Those who can't, in my opinion, have an illness which requires outside influence to correct.

There one might find evidence of negligent behavior on the part of a parent in not recognizing the problem early on, but what if the symptoms didn't show until later in life? In the cases I have examined, the victims have been 26- and 30-year-old men from China. Whereas in Western society it could be expected that a 26- or 30-year-old man could have displayed signs of gaming addiction in his youth due to the proliferation of electronic games in our society, could the same be said for China? Or even removing the cultural aspect, what if the symptoms didn't manifest themselves until after these men moved out of their homes (as we gamers know, contrary to popular belief, we don't all live in our parents' basements)? Who is to blame under these circumstances?

On the second point my friend brought up, I do have to admit that it is a driving force of the human experience to want to feel a sense of purpose, more specifically validation and gratification. We want to know that our lives mean something not merely to ourselves but to other people. Some people might satisfy this desire by achieving a high profile on the Internet, and in so doing fin themselves caught in a web of gaming addiction. But this, to me, only reaffirms the point I have made that the community has an obligation to identify these people and help bring them back from the brink, an obligation to show them that they can find validation by other means.

A slight aside here, I am a fan of zombies. I love them. So I was quick to buy World War Z when it came out, in which there is a character who illustrates the point I am trying to make here. He is from Japan, and he defines "l33+," as he spends every waking our hacking into government networks and spilling their contents out onto the Internet. He admits that he does this in order to feel a sense of worth. However, as his friends are one by one consumed by the zombie horde, he can only feel anger that there is nobody around to congratulate him on uncovering the secrets of the government's evacuation plans. Only by luck does he end up escaping the zombie menace, but not after taking out no small amount of rage on his laptop.

What that illustrates to me in the context of this conversation is that those Internet personas we admire for their skills in games might well display other traits we could, and should, just as readily celebrate, and in so doing might help a friend come back from the brink of a fatal addiction.

Again, the points my friend raised could themselves be very long posts, but if you have read this far, I will thank you by sparing you from reading more.

New beta

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I've joined the Universe at War beta, although because there are many, many more users than the WiC Alpha or closed beta, I can't say I have the same feeling of awesomeness.

However, also unlike WiC, there is no NDA, so maybe I'll grab some video of just how much I suck at RTS.

Review Emblem

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So I'm a Top 500 Community Reviewer, eh?

I don't know who recommended me, but thank you! I am quite honored. :D

Games and Government

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There has been no shortage of media attention surrounding recent decisions regarding "Manhunt 2," from both the perspective of the mainstream media and the gaming community. I would like to address this controversy from two points of view: from a gamer's and a government employee.

On the former, I am a strong believer that gaming represents an interactive art medium. Some pieces of "art" are better than others, there's no doubt about that, but the underlying principle of gaming isn't to merely entertain, but to express, in the same way that the purpose of traditional art media is not to simply to be admired, but to represent elements of the human character. Games have the unique ability of not merely demonstrating emotions, but allowing "viewers" to interact and indulge in those emotions. It's a powerful ability, and I believe in no small part why gaming can become addictive.

Even games which may have no apparent "artistic" value can still create within the gamer the most basic feelings of victory or defeat, accomplishment or failure, and then all the emotions which are attached thereafter.

Because of these things, I am very defensive of the gaming community's right to be exposed to as much material as can be created, whether or not I would personally indulge in those games. This is a medium which needs to be protected, not punished, because ultimately it's not the games which are hazardous to players, but the players who cannot distinguish between reality and fiction who are then exposed to this medium are the danger to themselves.

And, let me be clear, the addictive factor which I brought up earlier is in turn a threat not to the casual gamer who maintains a healthy lifestyle outside of his or her electronic hobby, but to the gamer who is emotionally deficient, for whatever reason (I think this is why we have the stereotype of the gamer who is an overweight loner who lives in his parents' basement, because exchange gaming for any other hobby, or no hobby, and you have the stereotype of a person who is simply socially deficient).

So from the perspective of a gamer, I think that a government entity would go so far as to ban a video game from commercial sale while so many other social hazards remain commercially viable (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, guns) is offensive. To me it suggests that the government thinks I'm not able to make informed decisions, and because of the perceived risk that the game (and, by extension, I as a person who may indulge in such gameplay) poses to other people, I have to be cut off.

Now, from the perspective of a government employee, let me state that few if any elected officials want the government to become the in loco parentis for an entire nation. However, the government has a responsibility to promote and maintain the general welfare of the citizenry. In many cases this conflict results in a lose-lose situation for the government: If the government does not take action on an issue in order to preserve the citizens' right to make fair judgments and something goes wrong, the government gets blamed for inaction; however, if the government perceives a risk and takes a proactive measure, it will be blamed for being heavy handed.

What then results is that, when issues such as this arise in the public consciousness, the government has to make what is often times a very crude risk assessment. What are the chances that this problem, real or not, if left unchecked will damage the general welfare of the citizenry?

It is an unfortunate fact of our society that sometimes children or people with poor judgment are left unchecked when it comes to their personal indulgences, and it is too common that sometimes these people come into contact with materials that they shouldn't; and in too many other cases it so happens that the people of poor judgment are the parents of the unchecked children.

Now, whether or not a child who experiences prolonged exposure to games such as "Manhunt 2" will ultimately become violent is the subject of ongoing debate (although it has been made clear that, yes, aggressive games can result in at least temporary aggressive behavior), but I think that, as a matter of general concern, it is unwise to have young children exposed to such materials, not only because they have yet to completely recognize the boundaries between reality and fiction but because they also lack a great deal of judgment.

And so here comes the risk assessment: Given the undeniably violent nature of this game, and given absolute certainty that this game, if generally marketed, will fall in the hands of children, whether by accident or negligence of any party, and given the uncertainty of the long-term impact that this game might have on those children, would it be wise to prohibit this game from being marketed at all?

The answer in the U.K. was, "Yes," and from the perspective of a government employee, I can understand that. The government, in this case, saw a risk and was compelled to step in, which is an entirely different event than the government wanting to step in. It did not ask for this controversy, but it was presented with it and was in turn compelled to take action.

So if you have read this far and are wondering how I can be both offended by and understanding of the government's decision in this case, allow me to be clear: Nobody is compelled to like everything that he or she may ultimately come to understand. Just because I can see the government's logic in this case does not mean that I necessarily agree with it.

Would I have liked to have been given the chance to argue about the very low probability that a child would become a deranged killer after playing this or any other violent game? Of course. Would I have liked to have argued that, on the whole, a decision like this does more to punish responsible people than it does to prevent harm from coming to society? Absolutely.

Unfortunately, the government cannot in every case cater to these kinds of arguments on the chance that it might be found to have been inactive on what could, however improbably, become a public hazard.

I am not saying that we should necessarily agree with the judgment, but at the least I think that we, as a community, should at least understand the arguments of the other side of this debate and be tempered in our outrage. It's not fair, I know, but that's life.

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