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Games With Gold is accomplishing the exact opposite of what MS intended

When judging Microsoft's 'Games With Gold initiative' purely from a business standpoint and focusing on Microsoft's desire for a shift in public sentiment towards the value of an XBOX Live Gold subscription, it's hard to consider it much of a success up to this point. Mixed community reaction to the game selection not only seems to have failed to help Microsoft's cause, it may have stirred up enough controversy to where it may actually be going against it. The announcement that Magic: The Gathering 2013 and the nearly 7 year old Rainbow Six: Vegas will be September's two releases has, unsurprisingly, done little to change this.

The list so far -

June - Fable III (October 2010)

July - Defense Grid (December 2008), Assassin's Creed II (November 2009)

August - Crackdown (February 2007), Dead Rising 2 (September 2010)

September - Magic: The Gathering 2013 (June 2012), Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas (November 2006)

Now, these are certainly not bad games, but attempting to promote a supposed new level of value for a subscription by focusing on aged budget / XBLA games, all while still dangling a six year old shooter (Halo 3) as the most hyped addition? Not exactly 'pre-launch damage control' Microsoft putting it's best foot forward with a program that was supposed to improve Gold's appeal against Playstation Plus.

These are a nice bonus for subscribers that aren't hurting anyone by being made available, I get that, but I strongly feel if you're going to bother with this type of marketing ploy, you either go in guns blazing or avoid bothering at all with a PR risk that could cheapen the perception of the brand. All Microsoft managed to accomplish with their half-assing of GwG thus far is placing even more of a spotlight on the value differential between Gold and PS+, as well as throwing their intentions further into question going forward in regards to providing more notable value for subscribers by evolving Gold beyond being a mere pay wall for core console features.

In its present form, Games With Gold is turning out to be a massively squandered opportunity to start a game of catch-up that should have began long ago. It's 'value' has amounted to a couple of monthly releases whose physical versions could usually be had for cheaper than the monthly subscription rates. And with the program currently being planned through just November of this year, there is little chance for any real turnaround, which for many will most likely leave a bitter aftertaste that could certainly fuel skepticism for similar programs that MS may try in the future.

Microsoft did little, if anything, with using GwG to help maintain or add subscribers leading into the console launches this November. What exactly was the point if this was how they were going to go about it?

Dark Souls 2 and the broken mentality of AAA publishers

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When Namco Bandai stated last week that they'll be going in "guns blazing" and handle the upcoming sequel to their niche cult-hit Dark Souls as a "massive, massive" AAA release, it immediately put many Demon's / Dark Souls fans like myself on notice in regards to its future. The escalating potential of the series ultimately succumbing to a similar fate as that of Resident Evil, Dead Space, and all the other grossly misguided, bloated and compromised AAA commercial "failures" released over the last few years has become a bit disconcerting for a good chunk of it's modestly-sized, but passionate fanbase.

In a recent post, Jim Sterling of The Escapist puts the legitimate fears of the game's fans and the broken mentality of AAA publishers into perspective quite well: click here for the video link.

The video pretty much covers most of my own thoughts on the matter. While I do cling to some hope that Dark Souls will somehow find a way to stay the exception to the same old tired industry trends, I'll admit it's getting harder and harder to ignore the writing on the wall. Deep down I always knew the surprising success enjoyed by the series up to this point was like blood in the water that was only attracting corporate sharks who would inevitably seek to devour everything that made these games what they were.. all for the faint chance of being the next mainstream approved clone of the current western-developed cashcows. 

Aside from their growing number of overhyped failures, there is one thing that I can say AAA publishers have consistently succeeded at these days: making it loud and clear to any niche title's fanbase that their loyal patronage will simply never be enough. They've firmly established that it's just more important to them to risk everything in an effort to appeal to larger audiences that'll never actually give a sh*t about their games, than it is maintaining the fixed audience that actually does. To them, why settle on the revenue their franchises can realistically produce, when they can shoot for a grander piece of the pie they can never truly have outside of their own personal delusions?

Gaming's future will be shaped by how well the industry is reminded of its place

In the wake of more DRM-related controversy and the last of the new console reveals being due next month it's become clear that the game industry has come to a significant crossroad, with time rapidly drawing near the point where consumers must finally confront a number of proposed next-gen transitions head-on. The belligerent manner in which these looming industry shifts are being pushed forth by game publishers and console makers has become a cause for apprehension, though. Something that has led me to question whether or not gaming is heading anywhere gamers might actually want to go.

If the last year or so of drama involving the likes of Diablo 3, SimCity, and ex-Microsoft creative directors is any indicator, quite a few following the industry have also come to share this concern.

A growing number of gamers are not particularly happy with the current course being taken by major publishers and hardware makers, and it's easy to understand why, their arrogance and delusion have hurt the industry more than any used or pirated game ever could. It's not really a mentality that is conducive to a glowing future for 'any' industry let alone a callow one already amid serious growing pains.

At this stage of its development, the balance of the game industry is way off where it needs to be for the type of service it provides and to whom it is being provided. This imbalance has led to a growing number of poor business practices that will only continue to undermine its future if left unchecked. It's safe to say that how these practices are, or aren't, addressed will play a large role in defining the medium in the years ahead.

What exactly has led to the business side of gaming to become so brazen in their aggression, though? What role has the various groups of gaming played in allowing the medium's culture to devolve to the point where this approach is acceptable?

I looked at a few possible culprits:

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My first focus was the short-sighted greed of bumbling game publishers and it's toleration by a number of passive gamers, which has led to eroding consumer rights and confidence over the last generation.

This particular topic has become quite frustrating to debate over the years, primarily because it's become the same predictable cycle time and time again. It seemingly always begins with 'internet outrage' that leaves as quickly as it came over the latest example of the industry attempting to overstep it's bounds, with most participants either becoming distracted by the next trend to prattle on about or just losing interest altogether. This, of course, is followed by complete surprise when the next instance arises and they find that doing nothing of substance and still throwing money at a problem somehow hasn't changed the results. Wash, rinse, repeat with the latest hyped title / hardware being used as bait. 

From what I noticed, the only aspect that seemed to separate the recent controversy surrounding the Orth tweets from the usual cycle was how closely it hit home for a number of gamers who were content with ignoring the festering DRM problem because it usually just affected 'other people's games'. The potential of seeing those same problems being laid at their own doorstep (with that type of antagonistic attitude no less) through a total infection of a console they were looking forward to buying appeared to burst quite a few bubbles of intentional ignorance.

Although, the more I examined recent anti-consumerist trends, the more I realized they weren't the main cause. Consumers condoning this type of business is a symptom of deeper rooted issues.

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My next focus was the rather dysfunctional relationship between the three corners of the game industry.

Brendan Sinclair actually put out a pretty interesting article last month, Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers, that covered the bizarre dynamic between the respective groups right now, a recommended read for those who haven't sat down with it yet. It touches upon a few valid reasons why each corner carries a measure of resentment for the others and why the hostility is still persisting, and pretty much covers most of what I considered adding to the matter.

While I did agree with many of the points brought up in the article, the closing paragraphs is where the piece started to lose me a little bit. Dealing with the dysfunction will need to be much more than a 'just wait things out and hope for the best' mentality, or simply asking for one of the corners to take a chance at offering respect to the others as equal participants in the business. The latter sounds great in theory, but part of the problem (the true dysfunction as far as I see it) is the two corners putting their hands out for payment seeing themselves at an equal, or higher, level of the corner that is expected to open their wallets. The need for respect is of course a given if anything is going to improve, but respect in and of itself is not enough in a service industry, it must be observed from the appropriate perspective to maintain a healthy business relationship.

Those working within the industry do deserve to be treated with civility, but they certainly should have known what they were signing up for when entering their fields. Any malcontent game developer or journalist that cannot get beyond railing for special treatment or using worn buzzwords like "entitled" to admonish gamers who 'dare' question the quality and packaging of products they're being expected to pay for, should really consider doing themselves a favor by finding another day job. I have very little patience for any part of the game industry resenting their fanbases for supposedly being a "bottom-less well of wanting" due to the fact that gamers routinely tolerate nonsense that you'd be hard pressed to keep a straight face hearing about other entertainment industries trying to pull, all while typically swallowing a much higher cost of entry.

But again, gamers finding themselves falling into this type of dysfunctional relationship with those colluding against them is another unfortunate result of the imbalance and not the cause.

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The Consumerist's response to EA CEO Peter Moore's comments leading up to and after their repeat winning of the 'Golden Poo' for the Worst Company in America is what caught my attention next, and in the end struck closest to what I feel is the core issue of many of the industry's problems.

Moore resorted to every diversionary tactic in the book to distract away from the fact that despite it obviously being a silly little poll, a major presence in an entertainment industry that is still relatively new to the mainstream getting this kind press coverage does not reflect well on the culture of their industry at all.

Response to Moore's pre-emptive press release:

"Gaming might be a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts the worlds biggest names in entertainment, music, and sports, but it is nonetheless treated by both the media and the business world with a reductionist shrug. Companies like EA are happy to foster the misinformed perception of your average gamer as a whiny, nitpicky loner who will complain about anything, as that image only helps to discredit those who have a valid complaint about a relatively pricey consumer product.

Heres our question to Peter Moore: If your entire industry is engaged in the production of something so trivial as to not warrant inclusion in a contest that features a poop trophy, why do you even work in it?"

Following EA's repeat status being announced:

"Moores note also marked the second time EA has tried to deflect criticism by pointing to previous winners of the Worst Company tournament, as if to mock consumers who dared to express their discontent with a mere video game publisher.

Make no mistake: Video games are big business. A company like EA and Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, and Sony, etc. merits just as much scrutiny as any other business that plays a leading role in a multibillion-dollar industry. Its only a fractured, antiquated public perception that video games are somehow frivolous holdovers from childhood that allows gamers to be abused and taken advantage of by the very people who supply them the games they play."

This.

All things considered, I feel the lingering insecurities still held by many gamers have had some of the largest impact on the business culture of the medium this generation. The level to which it has emboldened publishers and console makers has become pretty hard to ignore.

The vulnerabilities that have resulted from these insecurities and the manner in which they've been exploited have been primarily responsible for throwing the balance of the industry off-center over the last few years. The residual effects have helped pave the way for all the issues troubling modern gaming mentioned above to a quite a few others. Its effects are evident in everything from the persistent attack on used gaming, to the increasing level of heavy handed DRM, to the likes of there still needing to be a debate over game being considered art. These are all avoidable headaches that have become increasingly worse simply because many gamers have allowed them to, because for them to resist these hassles would have involved defending what they have been convinced to feel is 'just' their little hobby of buying videogames.

If we are to expect the gaming industry to grow up and begin carrying itself in a more appropriate manner, gamers must begin to grow up in the way they handle their business. Being a gamer does not somehow equal being a lower-class consumer, which more need to realize before undesirable market trends being enacted by publishers get too out of hand. For there to be any hope of an appropriately balanced future for gaming, the gaming community as a whole must find it within themselves to push the industry to accept and maintain a level of accountability that is equal to incredible amount of leeway they've been given in comparison to other entertainment mediums. Positive change will only occur when it is the only viable path for gaming to take.

At the end of the day though, there are no right and wrong answers, and there are certainly no simple answers, but I still feel it's still a discussion that all serious gamers owe to themselves to have at some point. The importance of constructive contributions from gamers of all view points on the matter should not be understated.

Still any lingering doubts over Microsoft's longterm intent with the Kinect?

When I posted a blog to the soapbox a couple years ago around Kinect's launch questioning it's unique potential for exploiting the privacy of those who buy it, I was met with quite the colorful array of posts and messages from a number of vocal dissenters who were seemingly intent on deflecting away from the issues and gaming-related examples I was specifically focusing on.

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I attempted to make it known to anyone who was willing to listen to what I was actually saying, instead of what many 'thought' I was trying to say and the excessive paranoia I was supposedly displaying, that my two main points of focus were a) the Kinect's intended demographic deserved a more complete perspective in order to make more informed choices regarding it, and b) the technology powering the Kinect had clearly stated motives that went far beyond some dancing games and Kinectimals.

It wasn't about me flying off the handle and demanding people not buy the Kinect, and it certainly wasn't about ignoring the multitude of other non-gaming oriented ways people give away their privacy. It was primarily about my belief that people deserved to know more about the capabilities of the piece of tech they were buying in this particular case and the longterm intent of those creating it.

I felt the mind-numbingly repeated "well, [insert popular technology] already can spy on you so why should I / you care or even talk about it?" argument was lazy, shortsighted apathy that in no way lessened the importance of the awareness of this topic, especially for interested buyers who weren't very technologically inclined or those who just haven't had the opportunity to become more fully aware yet. In my eyes, they at the very least deserved a chance to make an informed choice of 'their own' before automatically being lumped together with gamers who already resigned themselves to willful ignorance. 

Things eventually died down. Time passed, Kinects were sold, issue to the backburner. Unsurprisingly though, as recent headliners like "Microsoft patents tech that watches viewers" on Gamespot would indicate, the issue has managed to make it's rounds once more, and this time around Microsoft has it's eyes on an even bigger prize. In 2010, it was about exploited privacy. In 2012, it is about what tolerated privacy exploitation will be used to achieve, or more appropriately, control.

The attention is currently centered on last week's surfacing of a patent Microsoft filed in early 2011 involving the monitoring of viewers through an advanced camera, not for the sake of simple advertising, but enhanced age restrictions and media license enforcement.

via Geekwire:

"The patent application, filed under the heading Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User, proposes to use cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. The filing refers to the technology as a consumer detector.

In one scenario, the system would then charge for the television show or movie based on the number of viewers in the room. Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.

The system could also take into account the age of viewers, limiting playback of mature content to adults, for example. This patent application doesnt explain how that would work, but a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body."

Wow. The monetary exploitation of consumer privacy is being sought after to the pave way for something worse. Who could have possibly seen that coming next? :shock:

I'm not going to say the technology is in place yet to fully flesh out the ideas in this patent, but the intent obviously is. Some time, persistence, and crafty Apple-quality marketing that manages to get people to buy into deceptive advertising that portrays corporate lines like "That required facial-scan login is just hands-free convenience! Our thoughtful camera auto pauses your game/movie when you get up for a drink!" as "features" could land gamers into this realm of possibility sooner than they'd think.

It's clearer than ever that the Kinect is, at it's heart, part one of a much grander design. It is a marketing research tool and hardware testing ground for more than just 'videogames'. After a successful Kinect launch and the 360 now reaching it's twilight, the sought after knowledge in regards to consumer willingness and preference has been gathered, and the additional technological refinement achieved. One step closer towards the patented tool becoming the marketable weapon of opportunity and control for business partners. And for XBOX users, that much closer from add-on option to invasive built-in requirement.

I believe that regardless of the arguing over what something like the Kinect currently is, there can no longer be any doubt what Microsoft wants it and it's future bretheren to someday be.

Gamers cannot hide behind what is only currently possible forever, at some point we all need to accept accountability for what we encourage through our spending. The very way consumers are allowed to play purchased games and media is attempting to be greatly redefined by those pulling it's strings, with many willingly throwing money at corporate ploys that would allow it to.

Diablo 3's messy launch demonstrated what it's fans conceded far too willingly

Last week's long awaited release of Diablo 3 greeted both players and observers with yet another high profile spectacle that showed how it really isn't too bright an idea for fans to allow a game company to go unchecked in its bid to consolidate power through indifference and blind fandom.

As history has and will most likely continue to show, the toleration of a game's experience and value being entirely funneled through the developer's sphere of control will inevitably lead to the same unfortunate outcome: A mixture of oppressive DRM and methodically whittled down options that put gamers squarely under the corporate thumb well after they've had their fill of pick pocketing.. resulting in the paying fan not only being left wide open to further corporate greed but, as the Diablo 3 launch clearly showed, also perpetually at the mercy of corporate folly and technical issues far beyond personal control.

Only when a company like Blizzard has been allowed to completely dismantle the balance of power between gamer and game maker can a scenario occur where a large number of fans wait out years of anticipation, wade through long lines/download times, and shell out $60-$100 only to finally sit down and be met with this for extended periods of time:

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For those who never cared to pay attention to all the noise surrounding Diablo 3, inevitable technical issues on Blizzard's end or busy servers make the game unplayable in any capacity. No multiplayer or singlepayer, just gaming's most expensive menu screen for the unlucky masses who can't squeeze through in time.

This is all courtesy of restrictive DRM requiring an always-on internet connection (whose aim is every bit an effort to protect it's precious real world money auction house as it is to combat the piracy boogeyman) and across the board gutting of basic features like LAN support over the years. This longtime action RPG franchise is now locked down as tight as an MMO.. and now as unreliable as one to. (who doesn't enjoy constant vulnerability to character hacks regardless of whether or not you care to play online, lag while playing singleplayer, and pretty much all of PC gaming's annoyances with none of it's openness or flexibility? :roll: )

The irony ofcourse is that the entire mess was seen coming a mile away.

Blizzard had been gimping their games for increased control and artifically increased profit well before D3 and 'features' like the required always-on internet connection were made know well before release. Yet, despite all of this, the hype and preorders persisted with a mere fraction of the hassle given to the likes of EA and Ubisoft for similar tactics. When it came down to it, Diablo 3 was simply being the clusterf*ck it's fans allowed it to become.

Amid the aftermath of the botched launch, the three biggest groups of contributors to the passivity towards what the franchise was being turned into were content to avoid any semblance of accountability:

- Complaining buyers who showed they're pretty much all talk by still deciding to throw money at a monster they knew was growing out of control.

- Shortsighted fans of other genres who are content with looking the other way because the collateral damage hasn't hit their own favorite franchises (yet).

- Mind-numbing Blizzard apologists who seemed to always fail in realizing the irony in the time they spend complaining about those who they feel are spending too much time complaining.. as well as the absurdity of acting as if the developer deserved some sort of an award for trying to clean up the embarassing mess their own excessive greed put them in. No, as usual, there were many among this group that were more than content to aim low and target Blizzard detractors (at times with needlessly antagonistic nonsense) than question the company itself.

These are are just a few of the groups of gamers who have done nothing but help continue the undermining of a once protected belief that the consumer's expectation of being able to play a freshly purchased full-priced game whenever they desire to do so should never be allowed to be downplayed, or in the worst cases ridiculed.

I realize Diablo games have always been Multiplayer-centric, but turning an option into a 'requirement', not a one-time or an occasional requirement, but an actual dependence, while delibrately passing the misconception that always-on DRM will magically prevent potential game-ruining cheating, as well as all the exaggerated excuses revolving around the supposed lack of player desire for an offline option in attempts to justify it is ridiculous and insulting. Blizzard has simply made their problems everyone elses and pushed along 100% of the hassle onto the consumer while assuming zero accountability.

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In the end, the most disturbing aspect though wasn't a few Diablo fans not being able to play their game right away or the melodramatic arguments that ensued because of it. No, the saddest part is actually what proceeded the drama. It's what I'm unsurprisingly starting to notice as time passes and more people are finally starting to consistently play the game.. acceptance.

The growing amount of acceptance of these types of messes and adoption of the "what are you gonna do, it is what it is" attitude with the stunts pulled on a game of this scale is what will do the most damage to not only the franchise, but gaming in general over the longterm. 

Despite the many headaches Blizzard may have endured righting the server issues, they would gladly endure them time and again so long as the end result of paying customers condoning their actions stays the same.

A game like Diablo 3 has no secondhand market, it has DRM tailored to enhance exploitation, and it's basically a herded experience that forces gamers to play on Blizzard's terms and their terms alone. It's a level of control that, whether they would openly admit or not, is the absolute dream scenario that all game companies are currently striving for one layer of fan indifference at a time. All of which is why it is so vital for gamers to always consider the ramifications of whatever leeway they provide to modern game companies. Much like new laws and taxes in the real world, once a new form of DLC, DRM, or any other change to the standard in which games are made / marketed are allowed to pass.. they never really go away. They tend to only compound.

Many gamers over recent years have touched upon the war on singleplayer, physical formats, or used gaming when discussing the currently aggressive climate of the industry, but the fact of the matter is that those are merely fronts for what has always been the real war: the one being waged on the consumer rights of gamers. That is why it is as important as ever for gamers to be wary of what they allow their wallet to vote for if they care to avoid their favorite games or genres descending into depths they may not want to follow them into.

The Mass Effect 3 controversy exposed problems that go far beyond one game

Despite any of my own personal disappointment with the whole Mass Effect 3 spectacle, I can safely say that I've had my fill of discussions relating to it.. resulting in me becoming more than a little burned out in the process. Perhaps the recent statement from Bioware expressing their plans to at least try to address the mess involving the ending will allow the situation to begin dying down sooner than later, although early reports that they'll only add DLC that "clarifies" the original endings may prolong the drama a bit more.

I know there are a growing number of fans holding out hope for the Indoctrination angle, but unless they avoid prematurely giving Bioware far more credit then they may deserve and equally accept the possibility that they actually 'did' just write an ending that bad.. they're only setting themselves up for even more disappointment. Personally, as much as I admire Indoctrination theorist's efforts despite not agreeing with them on more than a few major points, I just can't shake the feeling that the "clarification and closure" featured in the upcoming DLC will run a train on the various Indoctrination theories and any hopes of fans still clinging to the belief that the ending was more outside-the-box intellectual storytelling than the rushed mess the original ending appeared to be.

Anyways, before moving my focus elsewhere I suppose I'll touch on a few things that I feel gaming as a whole will take away from the ME3 controversy long after it finally subsides, industry-wide problems and philosophical divides that I feel go far beyond the plight of a single game.. because the more I looked at all that had been transpiring across the web, the more I couldn't help but realize that Mass Effect 3 had become an increasingly smaller (if not interchangeable) part of a larger scale debate that had fully transcended it.

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GS recently asked "Who wins when Mass Effect 3's endings change?"

..certainly not the image of your fellow reviewers, unfortunately.

The controversy indirectly exposed numerous credibility concerns with the current state of mainstream game critics, and the reality that it's penchant for antagonism and sensationalistic reporting coinciding with a number of rather cozy relationships with game makers may have finally polluted the image of modern game journalism beyond repair.

What at first appeared to be another round of 'developer vs. gamer', soon gave way to 'antagonistic critic vs. anyone who dared question the choices of their ad-revenue providing overlords' alongside a storm of intently incited flame wars by traffic hungry game sites.

Despite a choice few maintaining a more professional front in response to the frustration displayed by the Mass Effect fanbase, a number of critics from major game media outlets largely came off as abrasive, disingenuous, and out of touch.. more instigator than impartial commentator. If there were any gamers left who had lingering doubts on where the commercial game critic held their allegiance when things go south, or the kind of insulting antics sites will resort to for the sake of traffic, they got a pretty blunt answer.

The DLC debates heading into launch got things going at first, but it was when a multitude of gamers began showing their displeasure with the ending in waves that the real sh*t storm of animosity began. Childish diatribes and insulting articles aimed at those who felt they deserved more for their time and money than they EA/Bioware gave them were commonplace, even critics who openly admitted to 'not even playing the game' could not hold back the ire of their uninformed opinion and resist condemning the supposed insolence of the average gamer who dared question EA or Bioware's "vision". (which unfortunately seems to be an all too common theme among detractors)

The argument could be made that as the debate dragged on the number of professional articles/videos that questioned the complaining gamer greatly outweighed the number of those that questioned the ending and it's developer.. the part of the industry they are supposedly looked for and paid to examine. While there was a seemingly unending pile of rhetoric blasting gamers for expecting too much, very little was written towards clarifying what opposition exactly felt the fans were actually 'allowed' to expect.

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I couldn't help but notice how the professional focus on the problems with the modern industry were vastly more outward than inward:

No expanded articles on the conflicts of interest created by including employees of game critics into the very games they are publicizing reviews for, no clear reasoning on why so many of the game's glowing mainstream reviews largely ignored the very evident problems that were the focus of the controversy that followed the game's launch, not even any real amount of articles pointing out the nonsense used by various critics in their attacks on fans. (Unsurprisingly, the only major news sites that pointed out any semblance of hypocrisy utilized by game critics and provided an actual balanced take on the fan's situation were those that were 'outside' the usual gaming circles and not wholly reliant on ad revenue from the game industry)

The ignoring of ME3's glaring story-related problems in the majority of reviews is the least defensible in my opinion.. especially since problems with the ending are not merely about interpretation, but very clear lapses in quality and cohesion. The game's deus ex machina epilogue had bizarre series cheapening plot devices and plot holes that any honest professional reviewer would drive a truck through. (Hell, the bizarre post-credits scene felt longer and more direct amidst it's DLC peddling than anything featured in the actual ending)

Looking past the story element in a 'Mario' game would obviously be understandable, but with a Bioware RPG the story element is indisputably the main event. While the gameplay of Bioware's games have certainly come a long way over the years it's still not to the point of being a front-page focus on it's own merit, especially when compared to competition that still do it better.. and certainly not to the point where any major story related failures can be overlooked.

If the ending of any Bioware game is horrifically botched, let alone a trilogy ending finale, the game overall is a disappointment regardless of how good it may have been leading up to that point (much like how even if a new Mario game a quirky story element, it would still be considered a failure if the platforming was bad). Mass Effect 3 was far from a bad game and did plenty right, but in no way does the quality of the 'ride' completely make up for the road unexpectedly leading right off a cliff in the end.

To say the mishandling of the game's most important advertised features is basically inconsequential thanks to the sum of it's less important parts is kinda ridiculous IMO.. and apologists making the excuse of "well, everyone shouldn't have the end overshadow all the good leading up to it" only makes it WORSE. It's basically the equivalent of "oh well, at least they were great up until when it mattered most". :?

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Which leads to next problem fully put on display: The industry's obsession with indiscriminately placing the "entitled" label on any and all dissenting fans.. effectively trying to dilute and distract away from legitimate complaints and courses of action by attempting to group them with immature whining.

As I alluded to earlier, many of the major sites showed just how willing they were to direct the focus on questioning the motives of a gamer-enacted movement instead of exploring any possibility of it being justified. It's seems it is simply easier to dust off angry gamers as being nothing more than a minority of spoiled brats than entertain the notion that 'maybe' a number of them are actually trying to be a responsible consumer in the face of a business that got a bit too cute after taking their money instead of whining for the sake of it.

While I strongly believe it's for the best to just move past the Mass Effect 3 ending as I discussed in my previous blog, I still can't help but understand where angry fans wanting a new ending are coming from.

Most of the ME3 gamers intent on wanting a new ending are just passionate fans who simply want a competent end to the investment they have sunk plenty of time and money into, while not having their intelligence and opinion insulted in the process. Yes, over the top melodrama and lawsuits should be considered an out of whack sense of entitlement, but those gamers who simply making their displeasure known to a company that they feel willingly took their money while practicing questionable ethics and advertising should not, contrary to what many may try to make gamer's believe.

I don't see how a medium that has been so centered around modifying the user's experience over recent years can justify being so resistent to even the mere possibility of this type of fan supported change on appropriate occasions. So many are attempting to bring in parrallels from the more linear entertainment mediums in efforts to shield Bioware from fan scrutiny behind the skirt of artistic integrity, but I feel more should realize trying to fully hide a developer's mistakes behind that excuse can actually do more to stunt gaming's growth as interactive art than help it.

When it comes to 'commercial' art, especially a contemporary medium like gaming, the paying fan should not be told to hold back their displeasure any more than the developer should be told to change their ending. When the accepting of consumer money is involved, it opens a two-way street that can't be selectively closed when trying to drown out any expectations of quality.

I agree that developers should not automatically cater to every fan demand on a whim, but it would be wise to allow themselves to take proper advantage of the unique relationship between creator and player at the core of gaming and acknowledge the importance of at least hearing the fans out in a respectable fashion.

Most importantly, it's just good for business. It shouldn't be overlooked that the same lack of obligation that prevents developers from having to make changes also applies to gamers not having to open their wallet to them in the future. Refusing to be receptive towards fan input on any level is financial suicide.

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Lastly, one of the main parts of this entire drama that I personally had the hardest time digesting was how truly easy it was for EA/Bioware and their defending critics to literally pick and choose their side of the "business vs. art" angle whenever they saw fit, regardless of how ridiculous and contradictory their logic became.

Is Mass Effect 3 more about business or maintaining artistic integrity? Well, if we learned anything the past few weeks, it's that the answer apparently relies on which specific brand of bullsh*t that is attempting to be excused at a given moment.

At first, a good chunk of the game media was eager to point out that the game industry is a business, not a charity. If Mass Effect fans didn't like how 3 was being marketed or chopped into DLC, they needed to just get over it and realize that the purpose of these games was to make EA and Bioware money.

Of course, while they proclaimed that EA's business decisions should be respected, any attempts to question them on the grounds of being a unhappy consumer is apparently wrong.. even when dealing with the industry's own entitlment issues with what they feel they are owed through their contrived DLC, online passes, and the war on used gaming. Despite the industry's increasing demands and active pursuit of the fan's money, it is apparently entitled of the 'gamer' to think that they are owed anything at all for what they spend, let alone any appropriate value in return. Apparently game makers aren't charities, but they are expected to be coddled by revolving door wallets as if they are one. :roll:

Shockingly, the whole angle changes when fans began demanding a better end to the product they purchased if EA/Bioware wanted business to continue as usual. At that point Mass Effect 3 apparently transformed from 'product' to 'inalieanble art and creative vision'.. and now critics who could never settle on whether or not a videogame could be art in even the slightest sense months and years beforehand all of a sudden where now treating a game in ME3 as if it was high art beyond reproach.

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Was ME3 still about "art" when it's story and characters were intentionally being dissected to squeeze more money out of fans? Was it about preserving artistic integrity when they decided to kill an existing news reporter character in order to shoehorn IGN/G4's Jessica Chobot into the game? How about during publicity stunts like having a fan vote for the default female main character design? Or when Bioware was photoshopping stock photos? Or is ME3 really only about 'art' when it's convenient for it be?

Idealy the developer's intended creative vision truly would be preserved from the start of a game's development to long after it has launched, but the unfortunate irony of the matter concerning a game like ME3 is that the corporate machine funding the process of creating it had already lead to the compromising of it's integrity numerous times over to pacify the powers that be.. LONG before it hit the store shelves where the complaining fan was accused of endangering it. Funny how the 'spoiled fan' ended up being the soley casted villain in the fight to preserve Bioware's intended vision, isn't it?

I mean, you really have to love media spin when it comes to something as subjective as artistic integrity. One occurence of the fans pleading for Bioware to right a significant blunder capping the series they have long loved and supported is loudly characterized as unprecedented entitlement and whining.. while routine occurences of EA imposing their will on Bioware to fragment or dilute their work simply to appease their desire for additional monetary gain is quietly shrugged off as just being a part of the status quo.

At this point, when considering the circumstances surrounding the development the ongoing debates involving apologists defending the integrity of an 'entertainment product' whose owners have so willfully and repeatedly undermined it, it all has really just come off as a bad joke.

But I suppose all of this is the entire Mass Effect 3 controversy in a nutshell, the industry sticks to a specific angle or sides with the fan only when it best serves their agenda and image. When EA/Bioware exploits the passion of their fanbase for money, allows them to defend it's games, or simply needs a scapegoat to distract away from the real issues.. they're more than welcome. When the fanbase dares have their own seperate opinion and doesn't sit back and say "thank you" when thrown a sh*t sandwich, the passionate fan is merely relegated to being an '"ungrateful" incovenience.

Frustrated ME3 fans, it's for the best to just move on

*******BEWARE OF MASS EFFECT 3 SPOILERS*******

If there is a way one could sum up the past 12 months for EA it's that, despite some scrappy competition the past few years, they've certainly reaffirmed their place in gaming as the premier leader of exploiting and alienating fanbases. Everything from the drawn out Dragon Age II debacle, to the increasingly shameless handling of The Sims franchise with turning what was previously $30 expansion content into a couple of rehashed $40-$50 expansions and a handful of $20 DLC packs, to even questioning the average gamer's disposition for virtual child murder while beginning to shove Origin down their throats through Battlefield 3.. it's been a year long road of controversy that led to the 'cherry on top' that was the launch of Mass Effect 3, and they saved some of their worst for last didn't they?

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When looking over the headlines amidst the time leading up to and including the launch it felt like I was reading off their checklist on how to systematically infuriate the very gamers they're trying to hit up:

Spend an exorbitant amount of time focusing on how fans will only get the "full experience" if they plunk some money down towards one of the most expensive lineups of launch DLC in the history of gaming? Check.

Insult the intelligence of fans while trying to prod along more of that lovely day one, "partial on-disc" DLC? Check.

Have a half-a** follow through on the long awaited face reveal of a masked fan favorite character by making it seem like an unpaid intern was sent out and given 20 minutes to photoshop a random stock photo? Check.

Have the Executive Producer completely contradict himself by having the game ending be exactly what he led fans to believe it wouldn't be?:

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Check.

Follow the "army of sentient giant space robots intent on cutting down those they deem too big for their britches" theme of your cash cow series by unleashing an unprecedented fleet of pocketed critics to take swings at gamers who dare question your 'critically acclaimed' product and policies as well as completey miss the point when attacking those who are understandably pissed about ridiculous narrative choices made in the supposed finale? Check and check.

Personally, it wasn't the contrived MP component or DLC absurdity that got to me the most.. considering EA is the pioneer of the modern approach to DLC and online passes the overload wasn't remotely surprising. The From Ashes controversy wasn't much of a surprise either, if anything it at least had some comedic value for how overblown it has become. I mean, someone should really take a moment to explain to EA / Bioware that if they treated it as a free online redeemable bonus for buying the game new (as they did with Zaeed for ME2) instead of charging an additional $10 for it while dealing in semantics and half-truths to defend it, the blowback would have been a mere fraction of what it ended up being.

The sparring between critics and displeased fans that occured was another unsurprising matter. Fan discontent flooding the internet and subsequent disagreement by antagonistic contrarians amongst the game media regardless of any questionable logic used to do so, or even the legitimacy of the mass complaint, is an inevitable cycle of modern gaming politics.

Hell, despite being an embittered Silent Hill fan I'm even a bit numb towards the increasingly bastardized series becoming more 'mainstream friendly' (this is ofcourse made sadly ironic by the fact that I have a copy of newly released Downpour beside me as I write this).

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No.. the part of all this ME3 melodrama that I, and from what I have noticed the past week many others as well, took the hardest was without question 'the ending'. Up until that point I was successful in avoiding all the sideshow antics distracting away from the fantastic story driven experience and greatly enjoyed the ride leading up to it. I won't go too in-depth as to why I found it so bitterly disappointing, there have already been quite a few others that have voiced in appropriate detail sentiments that I also hold on the matter, some more humorously dramatic than others ofcourse.

The fan outrage that I also share has nothing to do with dismay over the lack of some campy fairy tale ending, but the egregious amount of clumsiness and laziness in which the ending was executed.. something completely uncharacteristic in relation to the rest of the series.

An ending so bizarre that I can't help but view it as being far less to do with any allusions of maintaining artistic integrity in regards to how the team in their right frame of mind may have wanted to end this story, and much more to do with a combination of a rushed developer's indecision, overzealous remnants of the old lead writing staff falling FLAT on their face in attempts to give the series an unforgettable end by making it so for all the 'wrong' reasons, and the gimping of what should have been a natural conclusion for the sake of future plans to artificially continue milking the franchise.

All rampant fan speculation to make any sense of it aside, one thing I feel 'is' clear: getting the ending's full context will most likely require more than what was shipped with the base game.. which means it will potentially only get worse for fans who naively thought EA would let them off the hook with just a one time purchase to any get any desired amount of closure with this series.

The manner in which the ending was handled is also one of many reasons why I can't help but call bull**** when hearing others attempt to downplay the mass disappointment with the last 10 minutes of ME3 as nothing more than bellyaching from insatiable crybabies who wouldn't be satisified with any ending Bioware could come up with and are simply 'looking for things to complain about'. This is without question one example of that characterization being completely incorrect.

Over the years there have been many notable games that featured tragic, highly interpretive conclusions that have become celebrated by it's fans.. the likes of Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Shadow of the Colossus are prime examples. The difference is that those endings also had a level of quality and refinement that not only allowed it to seamlessly blend with the journey leading to it, but helped add an immense level of depth that allowed further appreciation of said experience instead of cheapening it. The other notable difference is ofcourse the fact that players received a complete ending without having to worry about any part of it being DLC.

Even if one wanted to put Mass Effect 3 on a different plateau due to it being a years in the making anticipated 'finale', I'll make more of a similarly circumstanced ending comparison:

Metal Gear Solid 4

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Several games, two decades, 27 hour dramatic epilogue that, while feeling as longwinded and convoluted as the series it was capping, left fandom completely fulfilled and fond memories of previous games intact.

Mass Effect 3

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3 games, five years, completely undermined in 10 minutes. Met with an end so nonsensical and inconclusive that it caused the questioning of not only time spent with the franchise, but gaming as a hobby in general.

Yet, besides all of this nonsense being incredibly disheartening for various fans, especially for those who invested plenty of time and money in the 5 years since the first Mass Effect came out, the fact remains that it would be wiser for fans to think about their reactions logically. Even with all of my own complaints.. I realize that what's done is done, there is no real way that Bioware can undo their mistakes or even pacify those unhappy with the ending without things being taken down a road fans would eventually greatly regret.. whether it be due to the further eroding of the integrity of the franchise or even higher levels of exploitation.

I'm in no way saying that all those frustrated with the sideshow or the ending should sit back and take it, what I am saying is the likes of clamoring for an actual 'new ending' through forums and petitions will only compound the problems that led to all of this in the firstplace -

"All signing a Mass Effect 3 ending petition does is send a message that you care about the universe and are receptive to buying DLC/sequels."

- Jeff Gerstmann Twitter post

While I very rarely agree with what this toad has to say, this is one thing I can say we are in agreement on. For affected fans to truly push forth change, they need to express their displeasure through what they choose not to buy, not what petition they choose to sign. Even if you are among those that are fine with the ending but are disgusted with the way it's being marketed, throwing money at it is not going to fix the problem. Giving a company the impression that they will continue to enjoy the same level of attention and money regardless of the mistakes they make or the arrogance they display is the worst message a consumer can possibly send.

When examining the alternatives, it really is for the best to just move on and regroup. The reality of the matter is that it's EA and Bioware's game.. it's their 'product' to manipulate as they see fit. A fact that they and any critic defending them conveniently only seems to reiterate when trying to excuse unpopular decisions involving it.. and well after your money has already been taken for it.

As hard as it may be, the less time spent dwelling on what could have been with an already finished game and the more time spent assessing where future gaming dollars are directed will have a greater influence on projects going forward.. thus providing a much longer lasting resolution for what caused the mess surrounding Mass Effect 3 than settling for any "Sorry We Picked the Worst Time to Get Cute" patch or "Pay for Our Reactionary Fan Response" DLC ever could.

As for me at moment: That copy of Downpour I mentioned? Borrowed. Any future Silent Hill added to my collection will have a nice big "used" sticker on it until Konami gets their act straight regarding the franchise. And as far as EA and Bioware? I'll allow the internet the pleasure of providing me any alternate/extended storyline for this game without having to condone additional EA nickel & diming, I consider the money spent on that special edition of Mass Effect 3 the last time my fandom allows my wallet to be held up by them until they start cleaning up their act as well.. from what I've gathered, it's well past due.

Any room for more GOTY awards in your holiday stocking?

Amidst the industry currently trending towards a growing amount of exploitive gimmicks that center around the likes of contrived and overpriced DLC bridging annual sequels, online multiplayer being used as a crutch as opposed to a companion piece to a game that actually makes sense having MP, and an overall heavier focus on compromising the integrity of a franchise for the sake of gaining more gullible fans.. it can be hard to avoid becoming disenchanted with how gaming sometimes carries itself.

With that being said, I've always been one of those gamers who sees things health bar half-full. When going over my own picks for the year's best games, I began to realize just how much good still managed to break through the modern industry's often toxic environment.

At a time when the only thing scary about the horror genre is how content most of it is with wallowing in mediocrity while nonchalantly alienating it's core, it's certainly relieving to see one of my other favored genres, RPGs, producing more than it's fair share of faith restoring experiences.

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Despite controversy over the eggs genre mainstays like Bioware and Square have laid recently, this year has been proof that the often considered dying genre by the mainstream is more than strong enough to endure those two's struggles. It's a genre that has been thriving across all regions and platforms.The RPG the past couple years has also in large part been a shining example of how it's truly in the best interest of the gamer to avoid stubborn platform loyalty that robs opportunity.

Using the year this genre has had as an indicator, quality releases on everything from the usual suspects to the often overlooked PSP/Wii, I have urged loyalty only to quality to allow the best possible gaming. I feel constantly debating what plays better on what or when something will supposedly be obsolete are distractions that have narrowed perspective as the only real reward.

Most importantly though, the quality gaming I have experienced the past year even beyond the RPG genre has shown me that there is still enough positive to make the negative worth dealing with. Perhaps it is best if gamers collectively reexamine the best use of their time and effort put forth on the medium, and establishing a better balance between dwelling on the industry's antics/platform wars and actually paying attention to what is being done right.

As with anything else in life, don't bother wasting breath complaining about the bad if you're not doing anything to support the good. If you're a part of those gamers who are busy making sure they have all their memberships paid up as they're waiting in line for the midnight launch of the latest generic shooter, but get the likes of a Team Ico game secondhand and torrent copies of titles like The Witcher 2.. look in the mirror when complaining about the way many game companies are currently going about their brazen attempts to milk.

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Alright, time for the games of the year themselves. Before I go about my list I'd like to touch on two of the more intriguing GOTY contenders of mine, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dark Souls.

Skyward Sword, an obvious point of discussion due to all of the rating controversy that anyone reading this has no doubt come across at least once(this site's own review is an example). The melodrama surrounding the review of a game like Skyward Sword continues to amaze considering how obvious it is that a Zelda review is seen as bait, and will always be one of those statement reviews for critics that allow them the greatest opportunities to showcase their agenda with larger fanfare.. feeding the industry's ever growing review beast(one that certain reviewers realized does bite back).

Why anyone would be personally offended by a complete stranger's view on something as subjective as a personal experience with a game is beyond me. I actually welcome insightful opinions presented in a mature manner and would see the value of the discussion even if the view greatly differed from my own. At the end of the day though, my feelings on a game will be soley based on my own experience and preference.. forcing my opinion onto someone else or having an outside opinion subjugate my own is not a part of the process.

Personally, despite the GC Twilight Princess(the last proper gamepad Zelda for some time) still being my post-N64 era favorite and some early skepticism about the controls and art design.. I still think SS turned out to be a good Zelda game. Am I completely happy with the series motion controlled future? Quite honestly no, but it still didn't stop me from enjoying what the game did right, at least so far.

As far as all the constant commenting on the 'Zelda design', I really couldn't care less. My lifelong Zelda fandom is no secret, but neither is my indifference to critics who routinely poke and prod the series while trying to push their distaste onto those who continue to enjoy the games. My only real point of annoyance with negative reviewers? Inconsistency.

The Zelda design is far from the only formulaic approach leaned on by popular games throughout the industry. I can't help rolling my eyes whenever I notice a given critic breaking out their monocle when a Zelda game hits their desk only to give more of a free pass to flashier titles who have a bit more smoke and mirrors to distract away from worn formulas of their own.

I've never been one for blind loyalty. I'll admit that moderate progression wouldn't kill the modern Zelda franchise, but claims of the series' stagnation tend to be as exaggerated as some accuse it's esteem of being. All agendas and critical antagonism aside, the games are still managing to be legitimately 'good'.

If recent titles became short, lazy, glitchy, or chopped up into DLC maybe I would be more receptive of certain criticism.. the absence of those levels of problems just make habitual critics seem like they are vindictively splitting hairs. It's as if to say, "hey, I've enjoyed too many finely crafted 30-40+ adventures the past several years and you're not making a contrived enough effort to force the latest cliched design conventions into the series to sufficiently distract me between shooter reviews".

Natural change never hurts. I'll give the Zelda team the benefit of the doubt when deciding when and how to bring about the right changes at the right times so long as the games continue to maintain quality. The last thing anyone needs is forced change for the sake of it making way for Zelda's own Metroid: Other M debacle.

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Now, I'll come right out and admit that while certainly in the running until the very end, Dark Souls didn't end up being my GOTY. Regardless though, it never fell below 1-A for me. Despite the initial heartache that actually caused me to wonder if I hated it, when I came around to finishing the game after a grueling first playthrough I knew that despite it's pitfalls Dark Souls was near the peak of what an epic action RPG should be.

Unlike so many titles in the action/rpg genre, From didn't undermine their vision by settling on softer, more mainstream friendly formula choices in a vain attempt to overcompensate for the doubled edges of their design. The game world wasn't chopped down to a recolored enemy grind from one enclosed area to another, no hiding a lack of non-linear exploration and sluggish combat behind a compelling yet occasionally hammy story centered around the illusion of choice, and not another example of epic boss battles being relegated to quick time events and other limited mechanics.

I'm not trying to bash games in the genre that do settle with these elements, I'm just saying that glazing over the game's rough spots with these approaches would have been a detriment to the character of the experience. Working through the ups and downs of the design and mechanics is a part of the ride.

It seems to me that a good amount of emotion and impatience tends to lead some towards characterizing Dark Souls as shallow tedium for the masochists of the genre.. a gross oversimplification of a game with it's meticulous design, deceptively deep story and immense open ended scale featuring some of the most rewarding gameplay and novel implementations of multiplayer elements this generation(in a genre where it can be quite difficult to pull off no less)all with a compelling artistry that escapes confinement to typical JRPG/Anime or western cliches.

The game is not without its quirks, the camera and framerate can be problematic at times and the stacking curses is something I can say was taken too far. Like Demon's Souls, new players won't be used to the concept of just one difficulty, with the game not being divided into Dark Souls lite, medium and veteran.. and some genre fans will continue to find frustration in not being able to hide behind the safeguards of typical JRPG or PC RPG gameplay.

In the end the game is stern, but not heartless. Dark Souls, like it's predecessor, is an engrossing experience that brings out the best of those playing and expects nothing out of the player that some perseverance, skill and actual strategy beyond Rambo or camper won't ultimately overcome.

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2011

Game of the Year

Nominees - Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Winner - [spoiler] The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi) [/spoiler]

Platform Awards

Multi-Platform Game of the Year - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Best PS3 Game - Uncharted 3

Best XBOX 360 Game - Gears of War 3

Best Wii Game - The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Best PSP Game - Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Best DS Game - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Best 3DS Game - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Best PC Game - The Witcher 2

Genre Awards

Best Action/Adventure - Batman: Arkham City (multi)

Best Thriller/Mystery - L.A. Noire (multi)

Best Horror - Dead Space 2 (multi)

Best Shooter - Gears of War 3 (XBOX 360)

Best Platformer - Rayman Origins (multi)

Best RPG - Dark Souls (Multi)

Best Fighter - Mortal Kombat (multi)

Best Racing Game - DiRT 3 (multi)

Best Sports Game - NBA 2k12 (multi)

Best Puzzle Game - Portal 2 (multi)

Best Rhythm/Music Game - Patapon 3 (PSP)

Best Strategy Game - Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)

Best Compilation - The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection (PS3)

Best Downloadable Game - Bastion (multi)

Best Piece of Downloadable Content - Old World Blues, Fallout: New Vegas (multi)

*Fallout 3 may have been the better game overall, but New Vegas clearly had the single best piece of DLC. With a neurotic, mug obsessed mini-securitron and a homicidal toaster.. how could it not be?

Special Achievements

Best Graphics, Technical - Battlefield 3 (multi)

Best Graphics, Artistic - Ni No Kuni (PS3)

Best Story - To The Moon (PC)

Best Ending - Portal 2 (multi)

Best Atmosphere - Batman: Arkham City (multi)

Best Writing/Dialogue - Portal 2 (multi)

Best Voice Acting - Batman: Arkham City (multi)

Best Sound Design - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi)

Best Original Music - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi)

Best Licensed Music - L.A. Noire (multi)

Best Competitive Multiplayer - Battlefield 3 (multi)

Best Cooperative Multiplayer - Gears of War 3 (multi)

Best Original Game Mechanic - Advanced facial animation tech, L.A. Noire (multi)

Best Boss Fights - Dark Souls (multi)

Best New Character - Wheatley, Portal 2 (multi)

Best Use of a Creative License - Batman: Arkham City (multi)

Best Original IP - Minecraft (PC)

Most Improved Sequel - Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Multi)

Most Surprisingly Good Game - Catherine (multi)

Honorable Mentions - The Last Story (Wii), LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3), Alice: Madness Returns (Multi), Outland (Multi), Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

*Xenoblade = 2010 release

Dubious Honors

Most Surprisingly Good Game - Driver: San Francisco (multi)

Best Downloadable Game No One Played - The Binding of Isaac (PC)

Most Disappointing Game - Brink (multi)

*A shallow technical mess that launched with a horrific amount of online lag and bugs.. falling well short of it's potential.

Least Improved Sequel - Stronghold 3 (PC)

Worst Game of the Year - Hulk Hogan's Main Event (XBOX 360)

*The Kinect library has managed the impossible by securing a circle of gaming hell lower than Wii shovelware.

Worst Level - Blighttown, Dark Souls (multi)

*Have I mentioned the suspect framerate of Dark Souls? Nowhere is it more unbearable and dangerous than in Blighttown. Mixing in a slideshow with the level's design and it's brutal array of enemies will make the first few runthroughs an unrelenting nightmare. My chosen undead had to sit on an icepack for a week after my first attempt.

Worst Cover Art - Jimmie Johnson's Anything With An Engine (multi)

Worst Piece of Downloadable Content - Horde Command Pack, Gears of War 3 (XBOX 360)

*More unlocked on-disc content garbage. Epic wasn't winning me over with it's obnoxiously priced weapon skins as it was, then they decided to pass this insult along.

Clumsiest Major Release - Battlefield 3 (multi)

*Needless Steam drama, a glitchy beta that raised far more concern than hype, official forum mods calling the game's community ungrateful, and an executive producer questioning the darker side of gamers.. all topped off with numerous server issues launch month? EA is going to need both a new PR team and better executed gameplan before it can truly threaten CoD's sales dominance.

Year In Review

Best Trend - Comprehensive 'free' updates/DLC (Portal 2, The Witcher 2, etc.)

Worst Trend - Online Passes Restricting Single Player Content

*I was set to give these 'season passes' the nod, but after seeing games like Rage and Batman: Arkham City(games with little to no online elements) take the wretched online pass to it's inevitable step of progression by locking out single player content, I was thoroughly disgusted. At the rate these passes in all their forms are gaining momentum and being largely met with indifference by far too many consumers.. I would not be shocked to see even the endings of games being at risk in a few years.

Most Surprising News - Nintendo slashing the 3DS pricetag by 40% within 6 months of release

*The surprise wasn't that it happened, but when it did. It was a given that the original 3DS pricetag was far too bloated for it's intended demographic, but sluggish sales forced Nintendo's hand quicker than anticipated. This led many to claim that cheap iOS/Android games to be the primary factor hampering demand, but any unbiased analyst would tell you that the price, Nintendo saturating the market with several versions of its previous handheld leading up to the 3DS release, and a very underwhelming launch lineup were the true culprits for the slow adoption rate. A 200% sales increase post-price drop leading in a holiday slate of games helped show that.

Least Surprising News - A shaky start for Zynga's hyped IPO

*While Zynga certainly made a good chunk of change.. investors recognized the same concerns many within the industry have been pointing out for some time. Zynga is far too reliant on Facebook, and a growing number of competitors to go along with FB's fickle handling of it's game policies make the company a questionable longterm investment. Much of current social and mobile gaming design seems great in theory, but when you try to bring money and inevestor's into the equation one starts to realize how long that part of the industry has to go towards creating a proven and sustainable market for consistent investment.

Looking Ahead

Most Anticpiated Game of 2012 - Bioshock Infinite (multi)

Most Anticipated Hardware - AMD/nVidia 28nm GPU's

Thanks for reading folks, happy holidays.

(2010 & 2009 awards)

Is it my turn to hand out trivial awards yet?

Once again it's that time of year when gamers of all backgrounds enjoy bashing each other over the head with their take on game of the year selections. Even with the slightest of glances past the user comment sections when voting on various categories I was welcomed with well more than a years worth of the painfully repetitive "your picks suck" / "my picks are indisputable!" / "you like__ too much" / "you don't appreciate __ enough" nonsense.

I must admit that even after all these years it still continues to amaze me how even the most seasoned gamers can sometimes fall into taking these yearly game awards a bit too seriously.. as well as forget that dispensing any significant amount of time and energy trying to force ideals and preference onto other fans of probably the most subjective of all modern entertainment mediums is rather superfluous.

Anyways, I've had more than my fill of gaming related annoyances and headaches this year.. which is why I am planning to take a bit of a break. But before that I suppose I shall grace the internet with the 2010 Old Skoolies ;) . Happy holidays.

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2010

************************************************************************

GOTY Nominees: Red Dead Redemption (multi), Mass Effect 2 (multi), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii), God of War III (PS3)

My Game Of The Year - [spoiler] God of War III (PS3) [/spoiler]

Platform Awards

Multi-Platform Game Of The Year - Mass Effect 2

(Only exclusives are eligible)

Best PS3 Game - God of War III

Best XBOX360 Game - Halo Reach

Best Wii Game - Super Mario Galaxy 2

Best PSP Game - Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Best DS Game - Dragon Quest IX

Best PC Game - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Genre Awards

Best Action/Adventure - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)

Best Thriller/Mystery - Heavy Rain (PS3)

Best Horror - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)

Best Shooter - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (multi.)

Best RPG - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)

Best Platformer - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Best Fighting Game - Super Street Fighter IV (multi.)

Best Racing Game - Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)

Best Sports Game - "Tie" NHL 11 & NBA 2k11 (multi.)

Best Puzzle Game - Limbo (XBOX360)

Best Rhythm/Music Game - Rock Band 3 (multi.)

Best Strategy game - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC)

Best Downloadable Console Game - Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX (multi.)

Best Piece of Downloadable Content - Minerva's Den, Bioshock 2 (multi.)

Best Expansion Pack - Awakening, Dragon Age: Origins (multi.)

Special Achievement Awards

Best Story - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)

Best Ending - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)

Best Graphics, Technical - God of War III (PS3)

Best Graphics, Artistic - Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)

Best Atmosphere - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)

*Horribly under covered by mainstream media

Best Sound Design - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)

Best Original Music - Heavy Rain (PS3)

*One of the defining soundtracks of this console generation

Best Licensed Music - Rock Band 3 (multi.)

Best Voice Acting - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)

Best Writing & Dialogue - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)

Best Competitive Multiplayer - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (multi.)

*I actually enjoyed the Vietnam expansion even more than the base game

Best Cooperative Multiplayer - Halo Reach (XBOX360)

Best Boss Fights - God of War III (PS3)

Best New Character - John Marston, Red Dead Redemption (multi.)

Best Use Of A Creative License - Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (multi.)

Best Original IP - Heavy Rain (PS3)

Most Improved Sequel - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)

Most Surprisingly Good Game - Deadly Premonition (multi.)

Most Memorable Moment - Revealing of the Origami Killer's identity, Heavy Rain (PS3)

Honorable Mentions - Xenoblade (Wii), Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (multi.), Fallout: New Vegas (multi.), Bayonetta (multi.), Super Meat Boy (multi.)

Dubious Honors

Best Game No One Played - Vanquish (multi.)

Most Surprising Game to Make It Past Aussie Censors - Splatterhouse (multi.)

Most Disappointing Game - Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)

*All of the franchise's flaws and cliches with none of it's execution and charm

Most Annoying Characters - Vanille, Hope, girl Cloud, etc. Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)

Least Welcomed Genre Introduction - Corridor RPG, Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)

Least Improved Sequel - Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (multi.)

Worst Game - Fighters Uncaged (XBOX360)

Worst Game Everyone Played - Final Fantasy XIV Online (PC)

*Getting the hint yet about the kind of year Square Enix had?

Worst Piece of DLC - Sinclair Solutions Test Pack, Bioshock 2 (multi.)

*Less to do with quality, more to do with paying 400 MSP/$5 to activate a very modest amount of on- disc content.

Most Despicable Use of In-Game Avertising - Energizer + Verizon, Alan Wake (XBOX360)

*Anyone who played the game for more than 15 minutes knows this won by a landslide.

Looking Ahead

Most Anticipated Game of 2011 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi.)

Most Anticipated Piece of Hardware/Accessory - Sony PSP2

Most Important Trend to Continue - Strong support for Indie gaming

Which Trend Should Be Done Away With First - Paid DLC overload (especially "Day 1" DLC)

Motion gaming.. simply a trojan horse?

"We can cater which content we present to you based on who you are. How many people are in the room when an ad is shown? How many people are in the room when a game is being played? When you add this sort of device to a living room, there's a bunch of business opportunities that come with that."

- Microsoft's Dennis Durkin discussing Kinect's ad revenue potential at an investor meeting

1984-movie-big-brother.jpg

Anyone with a modest amount of technical insight will already be aware of the possible privacy / security related ramifications of having a online enabled videocamera containing advanced motion, voice and facial recognition capabilities being paraded around as simply a consumer toy, so considering how informed my blog's usual audience is I'll spare any in-depth explanations. I simply ask those reading this to take additional statements from Durkin and try to read between the lines a bit -

"Kinect actually brings an interesting opportunity as it relates to that. Obviously with Kinect, it has facial recognition, voice recognition... we can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.

That gives the system the opportunity to adapt the content it suggests depending on who it sees in front of it: Your wife in the future might get a different set of content choices than you, because we have a smart device that knows her preferences are different than yours"

Beyond providing the option to immediately log a gamer into their specific profile via facial scanning, predominantly unannounced local and online storage of a player's facial and voice structures, as well as their gameplay area to create more appropriate advertising err.."features" is apparently a planned part of the equation to.

Hmm, I wonder how many families playing with their Kinectimals and riding rafts in Kinect Adventures are aware of (or are even able to properly comprehend) everything they truly bought into when purchasing a product such as this? One could only imagine how the consequences of longterm uninformed consumer usage and continued indifference to Microsoft's plans for the technology could inevitably play out.  

As far as the mainstream take on the matter for now and the forseeable future, though? I imagine this little blurb I noticed in the comment section of the Wall Street Journal's article on the Kinect's possible privacy exploits not being too far off.. -

"hate? a console accessory? time to check your priorites.

On a more rational note. How freaking cool is this thing? I can't wait to get it." (sic) - anonymous poster

Yes, 'anonymous' user, the cool factor of a product is the real priority, not that silly little modern epidemic surrounding the growing amount of exploitive products and services being painted as simple technological conveniences and recreation that are contributing to the electronic demise of personal privacy one hyped fad at a time.  

For most mainstream gamers who embrace ignorance as bliss, deflecting away from the potentially serious issues that may arise down the road and downplaying complaints and concerns as simply more paranoia or brand wars is what is truly important and worthwhile discussion.. isn't it?

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