EvanescentCrow / Member

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EvanescentCrow Blog

Xbox Alive and Well

[UPDATE] Well, what do you know? Roughly 24h after I posted this, Microsoft decides to back down on the exact issues I was complaining about.

Fear the power of my blog!

Actually, it was probably just coincidence. Still, rejoice everyone... even though the Xbox One still seems like it's going on sale for 100 more than the PS4, and still has Kinect "always on", I'm sure we can all agree that the worse parts are fixed. Personally I can live with the Kinect, and the extra cost will simply make me wait for a price drop.

Anyway, enjoy my "old" rant and predictions below.

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I stopped writing blog entries on GameSpot some time ago when I realized there was little point to it, however, with E3 2013 and the shocking announcements surrounding the two next-gen consoles coming out this year, I felt I needed a place to make a sort of prediction on how this will play out - if nothing else, to serve as proof when it's time for me to say "I told you so" or "oops, my bad".

First of all, a disclaimer: I own all consoles ever released by Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sega, with the exception of the Virtual Boy and Wii U (although I still plan on getting the later). I don't play favorites, and I pity those who do.

That being said, I have a rule to never buy a console until it has, AT LEAST, 10 titles I really want to own. Starting this year, I also have a second rule, which is "never buy anything if it sends the wrong message to the industry".

With this disclaimer I want to make clear that I don't hate Microsoft, but I won't buy their new Xbox One out of principle. On the same note, I don't love Microsoft, despite the fact this text (and its title) may lead you to think I have high hopes for them (I don't).

So what is my prediction? If you read the title you can already guess what I'm going to say... Xbox One will sell and do well, despite all the hatred people on this site (and elsewhere) are showing. How I know this? Let me give you a common scenario first.

Imagine a large commercial surface, and the following conversation sprouting near the consoles section:

Kid - "Mommy, mommy! I want this!"

Mom - "What is it, Timmy?"

Kid - "It's the new Xbox, mom!"

*kid thinks mom is so out of touch*

*mom grabs console box, doesn't understand a word other than the price, and turns to seller*

Mom - "Mister, could you tell me if this is any good?"

Dude - "That's the brand new Xbox One from Microsoft! It does [insert list of features]

Mom - "Oh, what about this 'always on' thingy'... should I be worried?"

Dude - "Not at all! That's just to prevent piracy! And it makes sure you're always updated on anything, so it's a great feature!"

Mom - "Ok"

Kid - "Yay!"

*mom buys console, and feels happy she made a good choice*

*kid is happy because he got what he wanted*

*dude is happy because he made another sale*

Now, the details may vary from place to place (like, it could be a "dad" and not a "mom"), but the general point remains... the casual gamer will buy it. End of discussion.

I've seen many people here on GameSpot scream how Microsoft policies are stupid and how they are going to lose "the war", and so on, but... you know what, they're probably smarter than you are. That's why they're being paid the big bucks while you're wasting your time, raging on gaming forums.

I don't agree with these aggressive, anti-consumer, measures one bit. That's why I said early that I, for one, will not buy a Xbox One. However, I'm aware that my money will not be missed.

We can go back to the previous generation to see how the Nintendo Wii - despite being a disappointment in many ways - still sold like hot cakes. Why? Because the focus was on the casual gamer. Microsoft noticed this. That's why they flipped the bird to the so-called "hardcore gamer", and made sure their new product is aimed at casual gaming as well.

Now, one criticism I get from this is that "Nintendo Wii only sold because it was cheap". Well, you're either ignorant of the facts, or you're an idiot.

First of all, little Timmy's mom doesn't care about the price as much as you think. When it's time to buy that console for the whole family to enjoy, the extra cost won't be an issue, especially when Microsoft convinces them that the extra price is worth it, given all the extra "stuff" it does.

Second, even if the price is high at launch (a logical decision, in order to get the most from the people who can't wait to have one), the console will inevitably have price cuts and bundles that will sweeten the deal for the masses.

Add to that all the brainless morons who can't live without Halo (or whatever Xbox One exclusives happen to come out), and maybe you'll start to see the big picture.

Microsoft KNOWS they are losing a portion of their customer base. They aren't as stupid as you think they are. They are doing it consciously because they are aware YOU don't matter. You're just a drop in the ocean when compared to the casual masses.

I wish I'm wrong and that the Xbox One will fail miserably. However, I can't ignore my knowledge of how the industry works and so, to be realistic, I have to seriously consider that their plan will eventually pay off.

More than just a matter of principle, the reason I wish for Microsoft to fail is because I know that Sony will eventually follow suit.

Remember when Sony had free online multiplayer and Microsoft forced a subscription? Well, fast forward to 2013, and now both have a forced subscription plan for online gaming.

So that's the rub. Whatever "works" in this generation WILL eventually become the norm in the next generation.

Anyway, now that I gave you a reality check, and basically made you all depressed, let's raise the question: is there ANYTHING we can do prevent this kind of damage to the future of videogames? Oh, yes.

First of all, don't waste your time raging on forums and gaming sites... focus on the casual gamer that doesn't visit these sites to begin with. How? Your imagination is the limit, but here are some suggestions:

First, send e-mails to your cousins, friends, etc. Let them know what you know, and remember to ask them to share the information too. Explain WHY is it important for them to share, so they feel they aren't just forwarding spam.

Second, make good use of the word "social" in social networks. Have a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or Hi5 account? Share your thoughts there. Join groups that defend consumer rights, etc. Invite your friends to do the same, but ALWAYS explain to them WHY is it important to do so (otherwise, you'll sound like you're just spamming).

Third, make videos. YouTube, Vimeo, whatever. You'd be surprised how many casual people "bump" into these videos, especially if there are thousands of them circulating around. Make it viral, if you know how.

Fourth, be friendly to strangers. I personally helped many people make choices on what to buy when I'm at a store. This doesn't mean being a fanboy or a hater (which means annoying people on how great or crappy a console is), but rather someone who calmly explains, from a neutral point of view, the implications of a choice versus the other. Always leave the person feeling they are free to make the final decision, and if they still decide to go with the "inferior" product, respect it, and don't be condescending - you'll gain credibility and be far more productive in the long run (this is especially true if you actually work at a store, mind you).

Fifth, bookmark reputable internet pages where the subject is being discussed by proper journalists (no blogs, please) so you can instantly access them and share them with the people you know (this goes hand-in-hand with any of the above ideas, by mentioning these when you e-mail something, publish on social site, make a video, or talk to someone at a store).

And finally, the most important part, don't assume that doing these things ONCE is enough. People are fickle and their memory is not to be relied upon, especially as new and better ads continue to pop on magazines and television. Do it now, do it before Black Friday and throughout the holiday season, and then do it again when the next E3 is approaching. Heck, if you want to do it every 3 months or so, even better.

All of this, of course, is based on the assumption that Microsoft won't change their mind about their policies. There's a chance (but extremely small) that they might actually announce at some point that they've "listened" to the gamers and are willing to go back to a system that won't control whether you are online or not, and won't put any restrictions on selling used copies of your games, etc. I just won't hold my breath for that one, though.

So there you have it... my interpretation of Microsoft's scheme, my predictions that it might actually work for them, and my suggestion on how YOU can help stop them in a far more effective way. Do NOT underestimate the power of influencing a SINGLE person. If a million people influence a single person, that's two million people right there.

So do your best, and best of luck.

Thanks for reading.

A Review is not an Opinion

First of all, I think it's appropriate to make a small disclaimer. While it's true that I'm writing mainly from the perspective of a regular gamer, who is on the receiving end of other people's work as reviewers, it's hard to ignore the fact I actually worked as a videogame reviewer myself, in the late 90s until early 2000s.

The most common question I get, after I reveal that episode from my past, is "why aren't you a reviewer anymore?" Well, you see, as much as I love playing videogames, reviewing them isn't as glamorous as some people might think.

First of all, as a gamer, you can play what you want, but as a reviewer you have to play what is assigned to you (depending on where you work, some level of choice may be allowed, but is usually limited by either platform, genre, and/or who else is available to review).

Second, as a gamer, you can play as much as you want for as long as you want, but as a reviewer, you're on a schedule. Do this for a few years, and you may start to hate certain aspects of videogaming completely.

Most gamers only play a few of the games that are released every year - more if you are fans of a genre and don't mind the similarities or downright repetition - but reviewers, usually, have to play a lot more so what seems or feels perfectly acceptable to you, may be downright grating for the reviewer.

This is where we begin to separate the professional reviewers from... everyone else.

Professional reviewers are constantly aware that the regular gamer doesn't have the same experience a reviewer has. The professional is also aware of a game's target audience, so even if he is a 30 year old male, he's not going to complaint about a kid-oriented Barbie title for being "childish" or "girly", even if that is what he feels on a personal level.

Bottom line is, a review is meant to inform the reader/viewer. It is NOT meant to tell you what you should or shouldn't buy, but simply let you know what the product under the scope is all about so that you, with your own head, can make an informed decision.

It's not up to me, or anyone else, to tell you "hey kid, buy this, but stay the heck away from that!" That would be arrogant, if not abusive. There are, of course, exceptions.

One exception is the comedic reviewer. In this case, the goal of the "reviewer" is to be funny and entertaining, not really to be informative as such. Some YouTube users have become internet celebrities for this very format, and they are commonly known as "reviewers", even if that's not really an adequate definition of their activity.

Another exception is the activist reviewer. Not so common as some might wish, but some reviewers feel that they have a duty towards the public, and that their role is more than simply to inform, so it's up to them to help shape the industry too. This kind of reviewer tends to be more opinionated, not for personal reasons or tastes, but for the benefit of the whole - in this case, gamers in general. This is the kind of reviewer that might warn you against money making schemes, like pay-to-play subscriptions and paid DLC, or tries to educate his/her public to the social and/or psychological benefits of increased acceptance for nudity in modern day entertainment, like videogames.

In the end, though, reviewing has become more of an art, not a science, so what you get nowadays is a group of people who simply talk about a game, by trial and error, until they find a "style" that they feel comfortable with. Some are more opinionated than others. Some are more informative than others. Some are both and some are neither. This is the reason why an increasing number of people don't just look for a review, but instead look at several reviews, usually paying more attention to the reviewers who earned their confidence, while disregarding those who always seem to get it "wrong" (in relation to their own personal opinions, of course).

As long as reviewing is approached as an art form, there will never be a winning formula. Like discussing what makes good music or a beautiful painting, what some like, others hate, and vice-versa. Yet, I'm not saying that facing reviews as a science is the best option either... it's an option, definitely. It's there, if you want to embrace it, but... be prepared to be called "boring" (or worse) by those who are just there to be entertained.

You just can't win, can you?

Before wrapping it up, there is one last area regarding the subject that needs to be addressed, though: the numbers (aka scores or ratings).

The main issue here is that there are just too many people who look at a review's score, make an interpretation of a product's value based on it, and disregard the proper review completely. True, this is a sign of how lazy some reader/viewers are, so it's natural to notice they are the most misinformed of the lot, but I believe part of the problem comes from some reviewers not being clear enough about what they are trying to achieve with their scoring system.

Traditionally, a score is NOT meant to tell you if you are going to like a game or not, let alone if you should buy it or not, but rather how the game rates when compared to other games of its genre, for the selected system or platform.

For instance, when a game is ported to a different console, it's common for the "new" review to have a lower score than the original, if it's just a straight port. In alternative, it might actually have some improvements, but the score of the new review ends up being the same as the original. Some people tend to interpret this as the reviewer playing favorites (first case), or not recognizing the improvements (second case), when in reality it's really just a matter of a year (or more) going by, and that particular game not being as impressive in the present, and any improvements are what keep it leveled with its older version.

This is an important detail to keep in mind because, ever since the internet gave "Joe" and "Jane" the ability to make their own reviews, and present them to a wide audience, we got these misinterpretations of what a score should be, reinforcing the trend of writing "opinions" rather than "reviews".

Let me give you a personal example: I recently gave a rating of 8.5 to the original Alone in the Dark game, for the 3DO console. Most will look at that and think "ah, he must really like that game!" Actually, you'd be wrong. On a personal level, I consider it a fair game, so I'd probably rate it a 6.0, but that would be unfair (no pun intended) because, deep down, I know the game is worth more. It's definitely a great game for the platform, and it's a great Adventure title overall. Since I'm publicly rating it, I prefer to give it a realistic score instead, but you won't find it in my videogame collection or wish list.

Finally, what is a good scoring system? Something as basic as a "good", "bad" and "so-so"? Or as complex as a percentage system... with decimals - afterall, a game rated 89,9% is better than the one that got 89.8%, right?

What about the annoying "school-grade" systems that some countries use, even though they make no sense to the rest of the international community (A is good, F is bad)? The answer isn't written in stone. For one, it really depends on what is being reviewed to begin with, and how many levels of quality should there be for a proper assessment of said product.

For me, though, as far as games are concerned, I enjoy the "0 through 10" system, where a "5" really is the middle of the scale. It allows me to associate a product to eleven different levels of quality, which feels wide enough without ever getting overly complex (by this I mean, it's not hard to justify why a 7 is not as good as an 8, but it would be harder to justify why a 7 is worse than a 7.5).

So what would you pick as an ideal scoring system, and what form of review do you prefer reading/watching? Funny and entertaining, socially-aware and industry shaping, or regular informative and straight to the point? As you become more experienced in product reviewing, and develop a more professional approach to it, the more the answer will become clear to you.

Thanks for reading.