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Vari3ty Blog

Some brief thoughts about the games industry in 2013

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So 2012 has finally come to a close, and 2013 is now here. That usually means a time for reflection about industry trends in the past and present, and how they will impact the future. I'm not here to make any bold predictions: I don't believe that the free-to-play model will kill retail titles, or that mobile will destroy console gaming, or any other foolish predictions we've been hearing from the so-called "analysts" for years now. I'm just here to say that I think the future looks bright for the industry, despite some issues that still need to be addressed.

There's an argument to be made that sequels plague the industry, and to a degree this may true. I know I bought my fair share of them this year: Borderlands 2, Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, Black Ops 2... I'm guilty of enjoying sequels to be sure. But I also always make a point to try out new IPs, like Dishonored and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. New experiences are what make gaming so great, and while the industry may have been lacking the big-budget titles this year in that regard, in other areas it certainly delivered. I've recently been playing Telltale's Games The Walking Dead, the much praised episodic game zombie storytelling game (that's the most apt description I can come up with). I believe it's one of the better titles of the year, and it really shows how digital distribution can positively benefit the industry.

On the topic of digital distribution, it's inevitably going to have an increasingly large role in the industry, until it eventually becomes the only means by which games are distributed. I'll admit I have concerns about this - having to rely on companies to provide access to our games raises questions about the long-term accessibility of these games. What should happen if a company like Valve, who owns the PC digital platform Steam, should go under? Sure, the likelihood of this occurring at the moment is highly unlikely, but in the future there could be changes. Questions like this need to be addressed by companies starting now in 2013.

I've heard many people here posting the doom-and-gloom articles about the industry, which to me is unsurprising, given how often game developers like to proclaim that their method of development or money-making model is best and anything else is doomed to fail. It's a topic I've thought about considerably, and ultimately believe is quite - as I previously stated - this is quite foolish. There are now so many different ways this industry could head, the road for the industry now seems to be fragmentation, rather than consolidation. I firmly believe free-to-play and retail titles can co-exist, as can mobile and consoles and PCs. The more options gamers are given is a great thing, and if this trend continues, 2013 should end up being a great year.

Happy new year everybody. Here's to a great 2013.

Breaking the achievement addiction

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Here I was, standing outside the door of Gamestop. I looked down at the bag I was holding in my hand. Its contents were ten different games I had "beaten", but had never gotten around to fully completing. But then, what was the definition of "completed"? The answer to that question over the past three years had always been getting every single possible trophy I could, so that on every game on my Playstation 3 trophy list would have a nice "100%" complete list right next to it. But today that would change.

My mind quickly thought about what I must have thought about hundreds of times before. Could I really just give up trophies? For as long as I had a PS3, trophies were a part of it - they were always the first things I looked at before playing a game, and no game ever got traded in as long as there were trophies to be had. Trophies weren't as much as an option as they were an integral part of the game... without them, what point was there?

I can probably thank Uncharted 2 for pointing me in the right direction. I was playing through it, trying to collect all of the 100 hidden treasures scattered throughout the campaign. Watching a video guide that pointed the way to each treasure, I would watch the video until I knew the location of a treasure. Then I would pause the video, get the treasure in the game, pause the game, and then repeat the process over again. Or so I intended to.

For whatever reason, it was in that moment that I finally saw the light of day. What was I doing? This wasn't enjoyment in the least, it wasn't gaming - it was work. I had become so obsessed with trophies that I had taken the gaming as a hobby and turned it a habit - into work. I had to go back to gaming at it's purest form - to play simply for fun.

I entered Gamestop and traded in the games, earning me a fairly large amount of in-store credit. Gone were the games I didn't enjoy but had been holding onto anyway in hopes of earning all the trophies - Battlefield 3, Crysis 2, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, among others. The clerk must have seen a look on my face, as he asked me if I was happy receiving the amount of money I did.

"I didn't do this for the money," I replied.

"Then what did you do it for?" he asked.

I paused for a moment.

"Just breaking a bad habit".

The Stop Online Piracy Act

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Just a short blog this week, don't feel like saying much with finals coming up. Just thought I'd let everyone know that SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has been delayed until next year. When debate will resume on the bill, I'm not sure.

While I believe the bill is well-intentioned, the way it is written will undoubtedly impact the internet in a lot of negative ways. Please be aware of this bill, and if you can, help let others know about it. I'm not a person who often pays attention to politics, but this is just too large of a threat to ignore. So please, at least inform others who may not be aware of this bill.

Thanks.

I'm a serial car-killer

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My question to you, dear friends, how has your experience been with cars?

Within the past 6 months, I've gone through 3 of them. Of course this may be attributed to me being a college student and not having the money for a good car, but still, it is rather unlucky.

First I had my dad's old Astrovan, which I decided not to have fixed when the transmission broke down. Then there was the Dodge Neon, which broke atfter about two weeks. And just last week, the Ford Taurus I got met it's end when the engine went bad.

Now I'm stuck driving an 8-passenger van that gets horrible gas mileage. But at least it works, I guess. For now anyway.

So have you been lucky with cars? Have any bad luck like me? Let me know in the comments. :D

I Just Want Something New

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So wow, it's December already. First semester of college is almost over, fortunately. 2011 is coming to a close.

I have to say 2011 was probably one of the best years I've ever had playing games. It started for me in January when Mass Effect 2 came to the PS3. I know it was a year late, but never having the chance to play it before I decided to get it. Turns out it is one of my favorite games of all-time now, and easily the best I've played all year.

That was followed by Crysis 2 in March, which was a disappointment to me, but one bad apple doesn't mean the rest are spoiled. Portal 2 was followed by that, a game that felt very different to most games today, and I enjoyed the thinking challenges it provided.

LA Noire was next, a very different and unique game that had an interesting plot, but overall lacked something to it that I cannot quite put a finger on.

This fall has been game crazy, as I'm sure most of you know. The games I got this fall were the Team Ico Collection (which allowed me to catch up on some classics I never played on the PS2), Dark Souls (hardest game I've played in a long time), Battlefield 3, COD: Modern Warfare 3, Batman: Arkham City, and the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. All of them pretty good games, and certainly ones I will be sinking dozens of hours into the future.

For all the great games there have been, however, I feel like my choices are getting slimmer. Sure, there was no shortage of great games this year, but many of them I have left me with the "I've done this before" feeling.

Other than LA Noire, every game I bought this year was a sequel or spiritual successor in some way (or an HD remake, in the case of ICO). Dark Souls, while a fantastic game in it's own right, left me unsatisfied as I felt Demon's Souls was better. Battlefield 3 didn't feel mind-blowing like Bad Company 2 did. Modern Warfare 3 was what I expected, but after having bought the last three games in the series I can't help but wonder if my time with the series is over. Skyrim is great, but also the fifth entry in it's series. There's not necessarily anything wrong with this (as I can't blame companies for making profits off of successful franchises), but I wish there were more new titles on the market.

Next year also looks slim for new IPs, but I suppose that can't be considered surprising, as the current console generation is starting to wind down. One game I would like people to keep on eye on is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a singleplayer RPG with an artistic art style that looks like it could be a very good game. If you like fantasy RPGs, do yourself a favor and keep the game on your radar. Supporting new franchises like it are the way to make sure we keep getting at least a few new games a year.

That's about it. Do you agree, disagree? How was 2011 for you as a whole? Were you please, disappointed? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks. ;)

A New Beginning

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Hey everyone. Or anyone I should say, don't really expect many people to read this. Anyway, this isn't really going to be much of a blog - just something I've wanted to say.

I've been on this site for a little over two years now, and it's been a great experience. I love browsing the forums, listening to the latest Gamespot podcast, and checking out what's new on the Soapbox every now and then. Overall, I've loved it, but yet I feel something is missing - that is, a sense of community. Of course, I blame this entirely on myself - I have a almost blank profile with few blogs. I've tracked people on the site, but even though we have the status of "friends", I really don't know anyone remotely well.

From today forward I hope to change that. I aim to make at least one new blog post per week, and I also plan on reading other people's blogs more often, so I can to know you guys a little bit better, even if it's only things like what kind of games you like to play or what kind of music you like to listen to. Just knowing the little things, I think, would be nice to know about you. I'm not trying to be creepy, I just want a sense of community, something I really haven't felt here.

I hope I don't sound like I'm begging for friends, because I'm not. I just want to be a person that can sit back, relax, and chill with some fellow Gamespotters. ;)

If you've actually read all this, I thank you. I know it's my fault I haven't utilized all the community features, but hopefully this is a start towards changing that.

Hope all you guys had a good Thanksgiving,

~Vari3ty

Analyzing the Analysts: A Look at 2011

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Hello fellow Gamespotters! Let me first wish everyone a happy new year, and may 2011 be the great year it promises to be! The following 12 months are going to be packed with new game releases as well as new improvements in technology that will continue to drive the industry foward. Which brings me to the whole point of this article: to see just what 2011 has in store for you and me: the gamers.

For the basis of this article I will be looking at Gamespot's latest update, "2011: The Road Ahead" by Tor Thorsen. For those of you who haven't read it, I suggest you read it here before you continue on with this blog. For most of you who have read it, you're either A) Believing that the analysts are for the most part, correct or B) Rolling your eyes at what you feel are, as usual, the same "predictions" that are made every year. So let's take a look at what the three featured analysts, Douglas Creutz, Jesse Divnich, and Michael Pachter have to say is in store for us in 2011. We'll start with Creutz, and then work our way on down the list.

In short, here are the 5 main predictions Creutz has made for 2011:

1. The decline in retail software sales will end

2. Call of Duty will set another record in sales; Activision will offer a subscription service

3. Nintendo will NOT announce a Wii successor

4. Social/casual gaming will continue to grow

5. AAA titles may be released for lower price points... but may end up costing more in the long run.

Analysis: I agree with most of Creutz's predictions - first off, the decline in software sales will end, primarily because of a jam-packed gaming lineup (which I will not actually begin to name for fear of being criticized for leaving certain games out). Also, with an improving global economy, consumers will be more willing to spend money. Although because of so many high-profile releases, I predict many games will be pushed back in Q1 2012 territory, especially games with releases close to the next Call of Duty.

Speaking of Call of Duty (which I will from now on refer to as "COD"), Creutz's prediction about the next COD setting a record in sales seems to be true. Assuming that the game is the inevitable Modern Warfare 3, it appears that it should easily surpass the $1 billion mark set by both Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, which achieved that mark in only two months.

Creutz also is probably correct on his predictions about the no-show for the Wii's successor in 2011. While the Wii is undoubtedly losing it's hold over the market, it will likely not see a successor anytime soon since Nintendo has lately been focusing on the 3DS, preparing for the game's launch in North America on February 26th. An announcement about a Wii successor would only hurt the 3DS, something Nintendo wants to make sure doesn't happen.

As for social and casual gaming, expect to hear a lot more about it in the future. If Angry Birds' success says anything, it shows the potential this market holds. Whether publishers such as Activision and EA attempt to gain more marketshare in this area remains to be seen.

While I did agree with Creutz for the most part, there were two points he brought up that I found to be unlikely. The first of which is his prediction for Activision to begin a Call of Duty subscription service. While this may eventually happen, for now it won't because of two reasons. Activision, adhering to the "don't fix it if it ain't broke" motto, will be unwilling to change the formula that has made it the biggest publisher in the games industry. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, Activison Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg stated that Activision would never charge for COD multiplayer.Whether the word of an Activision employee can be trusted or not has yet to be determined, yet for the moment, I have no other choice but to accept Hirshberg's words.

COD

Call of Duty continues to roll.

Last, but certainly not least as it caught me the most off guard, was Creutz's prediction that some AAA titles will be released at a $40-$50 price point, but then require $20-$30 more worth of DLC to get the "full game experience". As Creutz then goes on to say "Gamers grumble about being nickle-and-dimed but spend the money anyway, to the benefit of the publishers." To me, what he is essentially saying is "You'll be paying $40-$50 for a demo, and then $30+ more to get the whole game". I know I'm letting my rather biased opinion into this, but if this goes into practice, I can only see the gaming industry going downhill from here - if it hasn't started already. Thankfully, however, I doubt this will happen for the simple reason of the DLC. While many people do use the online features of the current-gen consoles, not every does, considering only about half of people who own an Xbox 360 actually use Xbox Live. Online gaming has not yet reached everyone, and publishers would be foolish start only putting "partial" games onto discs and charging extra for the full experience. I seriously hope (though doubtful) that gamers would boycott these games if this actually came into practice.

Moving on...

Predictions by Jesse Divnich:

1. No console price cuts

2. Increased fragmentation in the games industry

3. More dance games

Analysis: For those too lazy to read the article, Divnich basically goes on to say to expect the consoles to remain at their current price for some time. I agree to a point, however, I am led to believe that we may see a 360 price drop later in the year, maybe moving it to the $250 price range. With a rather lackluster year for exclusives and with the success of Kinect, I think a price drop would be a smart move by Microsoft to help maintain sales.

Divnich's prediction of increased fragmentation in the industry is undoubtedly correct, and there really is nothing for me to add. The emergence of social gaming (with Facebook leading the charge), as well as mobile games on Apple's iPod and iPad devices are sure to draw in more money as publishers look to attract the casual audience. Indie games should also continue to grow, as the increase in digital services will provide independent developers with the chance to grow. To sum it up: more people will be gaming in different ways than ever before.

Finally, Divnich discusses how he believes dance games are going to be "the next big thing" in 2010. While Kinect's Dance Central may be leading the hype around dance games, I doubt they will really take off. I think it's safe to say that the core gaming crowd has no appreciation for dance games - which leaves the dance games to the casuals, whom quickly tire of certain games and move on (as evidenced by the Guitar Hero and other rhythm game mania of a few years ago).

Moving on...

Finally we come to Michael Pachter, whose predictions can be summed up into two things:

1. Premium multiplayer services hit consoles

2. The Wii-HD is announced

Analysis: Unfortunately (or fortunately, you decide which), I cannot agree with Pachter on anything. While free-to-play, microtransaction systems may be thriving on the PC, I cannot see them succeeding on consoles. Pachter states that "We may see hosted tournaments on the consoles in exchange for modest entry fees, with virtual goods or DLC as prizes". The first problem I have with this statement is the belief that companies are going to start hosting these "contests" in return for the "prizes". Maybe it's just me, but if there is some DLC that I really want, I'm going to pay the full amount for the DLC right away, rather than enter into some contest in the hope that I win it. And how many people of the gaming market are going to be willing to pay money to enter these competitions? I'm sorry, but I don't think many would do so. Would companies such as Microsoft and Sony actually promote this sort of gambling on their consoles anyway? I'm just speculating, but I'm not sure that they would. Hopefully games continue to remain about the fun, and not become fully focused on money.

wiihd

Sorry Pachter, no Wii-HD for you!

The other prediction of Pachter's is that the Wii's successor, an HD-enabled console, will be introduced. As I discussed in Creutz's predictions, this will not happen, primarily because of the 3DS. Considering Pachter predicted in 2009 that the Wii-HD would be released last year, I believe that he will (once again) be incorrect.

So there you have it! 2011 looks like it will have a lot in store for us. So whether it's the new AAA titles, the Wii-HD, dance games, multiplayer services, or even the Activision vs. EA/West-Zampella case, sit back, relax, and grab a bag of popcorn, because 2011 is going to be one heck of a ride.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Hey guys, thought I would just wish you all a merry Christmas. Hope you all a good time with your families, and I especially hope you get some great new games to play! ;)

Can you believe it's almost 2011 already? I can't.

Merry Christmas everyone,

~Vari3ty

Sequelitis

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So here we are, in the post-E3 period in the gaming calendar. The time when console fanboys have passionate debates over which console will have the "better" year (subject to multiple definitions).The time when industry analysts predict the future of the gaming industry. The time when students (such as myself) wish summer-break was over so we can get our greedy hands on the fall's newest games. And finally, the time when everyone sits back and takes a look at all the new, exciting, ground-breaking games at E3. But wait… haven't we seen most of these games before? Gears of War 3, Dead Space 2, Killzone 3, Crysis 2, and Gran Turismo 5 were just a few of the high profile games displayed that featured a number at the end of their name. And it didn't stop there – Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood are just two examples of new entries in their ongoing franchises. In fact, much to my disappointment, there were very few surprises at this E3 when it came to new IPs for core gamers – so few in fact, that I don't think I would have trouble counting them all on my fingers – Rage, Bulletstorm, and Child of Eden come to mind here, but other than those, there may have only been a couple of other new titles that weren't sequels in already established franchises.

Rage

Above: Rage was one of the few new IPs at E3 this year.

This over-saturation of sequels, which I have dubbed "sequelitis", seems to have been plaguing the industry for the past couple of years. Sure it makes sense that publishers want to capitalize off of existing franchises (Activision and Call of Duty, anyone?), but when hardly any original games are announced, one has to wonder. Surely there's not a lack of developers ready to make quality titles. So why aren't publishers taking a risk – are they just so selfish and greedy they want to maximize revenue from existing franchises without giving a second-thought to new IPs? Or perhaps is there a bigger issue at hand – has the videogame industry maybe grown a bit too big for it's own good? It may sound preposterous, but think about it. If a game nowadays costs upwards of tens of millions of dollars to develop, are publishers going to be willing to take a risk and come out with original titles? Some will, but not many.

So what can we as gamers do about it? Not much really. But we can suppor tand encourage publishers to take chances by at least considering new IPs like Rage and Bulletstorm before we just dismiss them without ever taking the time to research what they offer. If a new IP looks promising to you and you think you may like it, why not try it? The worst that could happen is you rent the game and you don't like it, and you lose a few dollars in the process, but at least you tried something new. As the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life". So look at new games with an open mind – who knows, you may find something you really like.

Corporate Strategy: Kill Used Game Sales

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I've never been one for buying used games. Heck, I haven't bought a used game in my life, nor even rented one for a few days. While some people like to buy low (hey, saving money is always great) or rent a game for a few days to determine whether it deems a purchase, I've always been one to lay down the hefty $60 for a game I really want. Granted, its a steep price to pay, but I always like to know that a game will work once I put it in my console. With that said, you would think that I wouldn't be concerned at all for stores like GameStop, which focus on used games as one of their primary sources of income. However, in an industry where changes are being rapidly made, the issue of buying and reselling games is one that concerns me a great deal.

Up until recently, any used game purchased from a store like GameStop was essentially the same as buying a new game, just at a lower price while perhaps sacrificing the quality of the disc's condition. I remember recently when my cousin and I went to purchase Modern Warfare 2 (used) from the GameStop, and after paying our forty dollars, we went home and immediately hopped online to play against other people, and we were free to use any of the features of the game we wanted without additional cost to us (multiplayer included). That was only in November of last year, but already in the past few months of 2010 we are witnessing more publishers deciding to take action to discourage, and perhaps even permanently wipe out, the used game market.

gs

Will stores like GameStop exist in the future?

The movement of this destroy-used-games movement surprisingly seems to be spearheaded by Electronic Arts, who of late seems to have been in gamers' good graces compared to its archrival (Activision). An example of this is Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the much-praised first-person shooter which was published by EA. While the game may have shined as a whole, one slight blemish could be seen with the introduction of the so-called "VIP Codes" which are used as one deterrent to buying the game used. Under the VIP code system, any game that is purchased new comes with a code that can be used to unlock the extra multiplayer content that is already included on the disc (a rant for another time). However, the code can only be used once, so once it's entered it is rendered useless. Thus, when a player who used the VIP code sells the game to a place like GameStop, the game is without the code needed to access the extra content. If a person were to then buy that game, not only would they have to pay for the game, but then it would also cost them another $15 just to get the code to access the extra content. Now if you're adding that all up, a used game such as Bad Company 2 costs around $40 or so, plus add in the extra $15 for the VIP codes and you've got yourself up to $55 already, almost the price of a full game. See the corporate motivation behind it? Now EA has an extra $15 in their pocket, not to mention they've lured in a potential DLC buyer as well.

Want to join the battlefield? You'll have to pay extra first.

Bad Company 2 is just one piece of evidence of a sign of changes to come. EA Sports has also implemented a similar system for all of its 2011 video game titles, as a "Online Pass" is the newest step in the wrong direction. Same as the VIP codes, gamers who purchase the game new will get the code with the game, while used buyers will have to purchase the online pass for another $10. If they choose not to pay, they will then find themselves in the following situation as stated by EA - "You will be unable to play multiplayer online game modes or use your downloaded content in online game modes".

So you might be asking yourself, "Why should I care?". You might be like me and never buy used games, you might hate GameStop and their prices, and you might even love paying $60 for a new game (that's sarcasm), but the fact is this move will come back to impact every gamer in some way. In my opinion, it's not so much about the used game sales that disturbs meas it is about the increasingly frustrating actions corporations like EA are taking to increase their revenue. I understand that yes, they are a company, and the bottom line is they have to turn a profit. But we as gamers who already put down sixty hard-earned dollars to buy a new game, and yet today we have to put up with more garbage from companies than ever before. With DRM, overpriced DLC, the so-called VIP codes, and a gradual shift away from physical copies of games to digital downloads, the landscape around the videogame industry is shifting dramatically, and not in favor of the gamers.

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