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A New Post

For the folks still tracking me, I have a new blog post up that deals with the past two console generations and takes a close look at those generations to try and see where the upcoming next generation might take us. I tried to post it here, but it is too long. You can read the post at www.thegamingapex.com or at http://skinsman68.wordpress.com/

I hope you enjoy it.

Please also go to my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Gaming-Apex/128667987167143

Thanks everyone and Happy Holidays :)

Social Gaming: Scourge of the Industry or Source of Untapped Potential?

Social Gaming. Just say the words to the average core gamer and you can literally watch them cringe. Most of us look at Social Gaming with equal parts confusion and revulsion. But, is this a fair assessment? Is there more to this phenomenon than meets the eye? Can 17 million people per day really be that clueless? Is Social Gaming really the end of the gaming world as we know it, or are there opportunities hidden under the layers of never ending gift requests and micro transactions that should be looked at in a different light? As someone who considers himself a core gamer, but also an open minded individual, I endeavored to explore this world in the only way that made sense…by getting in the trenches and seeing what all the fuss is about. That is really what this blog post is about. It's my investigation into the phenomena of Social gaming and to report my findings from the perspective of a core gamer.

To explore Social Gaming, one need only have a Facebook profile and away you go. Now, there are many developers of Social Games present on Facebook, but one stands out as the functional equivalent of the Blizzard of Social Gaming. You know who it is. We are talking about Zynga of course. To conduct this investigation, I decided to try out 5 of Zynga's more popular games. What follows are my impressions of these 5 games collected over a period of several months.


Farmville: If Zynga is the Blizzard of Social Gaming, Farmville is certainly its World of Warcraft. In January of 2011, Farmville averaged almost 16 million users each day. That's more users each day than WoW subscribers in total. Scoff all you want at Farmville. When you see numbers like that, something big is going on. What is so great about Farmville? Not a whole lot from a pure gaming standpoint. The game's premise is simple enough. You plant virtual crops and wait a set amount of real time for those crops to be ready for harvest. You harvest your crops and for your efforts you receive currency known as Farm Coins. Simple right? Well, the guys at Zynga must know a thing or two about gaming because if you really spend time with Farmville, you will notice how Zynga has implemented various aspects of more traditional gaming genres into the formula. The real goal of Farmville, from a true gamer's perspective, is to level up. Each time you plant, plow, or harvest, you gain XP. Sounds familiar right? As you level up, more diverse crops become available, along with different animals, different buildings, new decorations, etc. And here is where Farmville excels. Avid Farmville users are always trying to add a new building, or a new crop, or something. Some people have developed farms that are truly impressive and very creative. In fact, the higher level players farms do not really look like farms at all as most of their crops have been replaced with buildings or something comparable. Farmville also has some other aspects that are popular in more traditional games, such as co-operative play in the form of co-op farming.

But, here is the problem with not just Farmville, but all the Zynga games. Certain items are only available by using the alternate currency, Farm Cash. You can only obtain Farm Cash by leveling up or… wait for it…purchasing it with real money. Farmville is a micro transaction machine, second only to something like iTunes in this area. There is far too much of this in the game and so much revolves around this. You can use Farm Cash to unlock crops and similar items earlier than you would if you ground through levels. In this way, Farmville almost demands that you take a shortcut. In this "Free to Play…but not exactly" gaming world in which we now live, this is nothing new. But, the way Zynga has disguised a micro transaction driven game as a "free game" and marketed it as something different to less experienced gamers treads on some dangerous ground. It is not that Social gamers are dumb or anything like that; they just don't know how things work like core gamers do and Zynga counts on this. The other problem with Farmville is the feeling of obligation one gets when playing it. In another WoW comparison, answering gift requests from your friends can sometimes feel a lot like being in a Guild felt for many players. But, again, 16 million users per day must not mind this as they keep playing..and paying. For me, it's a decent experience with more depth and content than one might expect. But it is a game I can only play for a few days at a time before it starts to get somewhat old.


Frontierville: Frontierville started strong but has sputtered as of late. It now boasts only about 6 million users a day. A good number but nothing close to Farmville. Frontierville is part Farmville, and part an attempt on Zynga's part to introduce some quest driven objectives to a game. Frontierville is deeper than Farmville, but not by much. And make no mistake; Frontierville can be a grind with lots of frustrating moments to it. Planting crops is only a very minor part of the game, practically an afterthought, a tacked on piece of imagery designed to attract any Farmville player. What sucks much of the fun out of it is how you have to spend so much time clearing brush, or weeds, or rocks, from your land. And Frontierville uses something that Farmville does not: Energy. Each task you do uses a set amount of energy and when you run out of energy you have to either stop playing for several hours or, you guessed it, buy some more energy with real money. Frontierville is just as micro transaction driven as its big brother, but there is just not as much good stuff to buy to make it worthwhile. Frontierville does have some fun quests and managing your energy introduces an element of strategy completely absent from Farmville. Like Farmville, it makes you want to level up, although it seems more difficult to accomplish in Frontierville. But, as you do advance, the game does seem to get more interesting and diverse. It is a decent game, but not as enjoyable as Farmville.

Mafia Wars

Mafia Wars: Mafia Wars was one of Zynga's earlier efforts and it has always been a very popular game. But, recently, its numbers have plummeted to only 3 million users a day. When core gamers see the words "Mafia Wars" we think Grand Theft Auto or Mafia II or something like that. But, Mafia Wars is not even close to that. It is a completely text driven game. Strategy? Hardly. Advancing and leveling up is really nothing more than trying to manage your energy levels and doing jobs that offer the most bang for your energy buck. Most jobs you cannot possibly fail. The Boss Fights, if you can call them that, are easy to win if you have any decent level of HP available to you. To be fair, Mafia Wars is fun and you do get a sense of accomplishment as you advance forward. The higher your level will allow you to unlock new territories where you can perform new jobs, take on new bosses, get cooler properties, etc. One thing Mafia Wars does that neither Farmville nor Frontierville do is introduce an element of PvP to it…sort of. You can fight other mafias, but this is really nothing more than either out manning a rival mafia or having much better gear than the other "family". As for micro transactions, Mafia Wars absolutely has this in the form of Reward Points (or whatever they are calling it this week). With Mafia Wars, you can purchase some pretty good weaponry with real money to make your mafia even stronger. But, you run into the same energy problems that exist in Frontierville and the complete lack of any sort of real graphics leaves one with a somewhat empty gaming experience. I think Mafia Wars is better than Frontierville, but a good notch below Farmville.

Cafe World

Café World: Café World is really Farmville in a different setting, with some simulation based aspects to it. Instead of planting crops, you are now preparing meals. The unique concept of Café World is the "buzz rating". Your objective is to try and keep your Café's buzz rating high. This keeps customers coming in, which enables you to level up, which enables you to prepare new and more involved meals, rinse, repeat, etc. Similar to Farmville, your meals will spoil if you forget to actually serve them so, like Farmville, you end up with that foreboding sense of obligation to the game very quickly. Still, there is something intangible about Café World that makes it more enjoyable than Frontierville or Mafia Wars. Café World also sports about 3 million users per day. Café World also has an interesting aspect to it that will, again, make many of us core gamers feel uneasy. To excel at the game, you almost have to use a glitch. It's not a game breaking glitch or anything like that. Still, to succeed, you almost have to trap your waiter by placing tables or stoves around him so he cannot move. What's the point of that? Because if you do this, than meals will magically appear instantly at customers tables and your buzz rating soars. If you don't do this, unless you have a bunch of waiters running around (usually not possible early in the game) you can't get to all the tables in a timely manner and customers will leave giving you a thumbs down. It's an odd concept and to be almost forced to use a glitch just to succeed feels somewhat cheap. And, of course, there are many micro transactions to be had in order to unlock things early or purchase better equipment or decorations for your Café. I put Café World a notch above Mafia Wars or Frontierville, but well below Farmville.


Yoville: Yoville is an odd game. There is no farming involved. You don't grow anything. There are quests to a certain degree. You can do jobs that are kind of like Mafia Wars, but not really. To me, Yoville seems more like a really stripped down version of The Sims….a really, really stripped down version. Your goal is to collect currency so you can put more stuff in your home. That's about it. Yoville used to be popular, but its numbers dropped so much that it is not even in the Top 10 for monthly users on Facebook anymore. As with the rest of these games, there are fun moments to be had in Yoville. If you are a teenage girl, you will probably really enjoy Yoville. For the rest of us, there is just not enough depth here to make Yoville an experience that one would want to engage in on a daily basis.


So, what did my adventures in Zyngaland teach me? On the plus side, I discovered that most of the games had more substance to them than I thought they would. Don't get me wrong. Compared to Fallout 3, Borderlands, or Oblivion, there is no depth or real gaming substance whatsoever to these games. But, standing on their own, there is more to do in all of these games than you might think. They do promote strong social networking so they live up to their name. You can certainly become better friends with some of your Facebook pals through these games. There is also a competitive element to the games as you will find yourself trying to obtain a higher level, or get better gear, or get that limited edition item before your friends do. Overall, I find that I enjoyed all of these games more than I thought I would, so much so that I still play all of them occasionally.

On the downside though is how so many people are getting taken for lots of real dollars purchasing useless virtual items. Core gamers will spend real dollars on DLC with a lot of substance, or new songs for Rock Band, or new campaign missions, or new maps, or perhaps a new character. Something like that. Zynga understands this, has figured out Social Gamers hot buttons quite well, and they are making a ton of money off of this. Several sources report that Social Games are now pulling in as much money as AAA console titles. This is the trend nowadays. For instance, Free Realms is hardly free if you want to experience the best parts of that game and the Zynga galaxy of games is no different. The problem is that most Social Gamers are not as educated as core gamers are as to how micro transactions work so, to a certain degree, they are being taken advantage of. Buyer beware should be the rallying cry for anyone who spends a good deal of time with these games.

But, here is the tremendous potential for Social Gaming and why it just might represent a breeding ground of opportunity for the industry. Cityville is Zynga's newest game and this game feels a lot like a Sim City game. Cityville actually replaced Farmville as the #1 Social Game on Facebook with roughly 17 million daily users in January. If even 25% of those people turn into core gamers, you are looking at almost 4 million new true gamers that will come into the market. And there would likely be a lot of diversity within these new gamers as females and older individuals seem to make up a large segment of the Social Gaming pie. Statistics are also showing that Social Gamers are not synonymous with Casual Gamers. Most people playing on sites like Facebook or MySpace play their Social Game of choice at least once a day and almost all of them play multiple times per week. All of this is certainly promising for the industry, especially if the next generation of consoles are still years away, as many are speculating. The extra revenue would certainly be a good thing for the industry. Having more diversity would not hurt either. And this is not as farfetched as it may seem. Throughout this blog, you may have noticed several words and phrases that sound like MMOs or RPGs. Concepts like leveling up, grinding, gear and so forth are concepts integral to other more traditional genres that are present in Social Games, but very subtly disguised. Social Gamers are gamers…they just don't know it. Certain Facebook games seem to be trying to bridge this gap by providing better, deeper, and more substantial content. Don't believe me? Try out the game Kingdoms of Camelot. This is a real game, complete with depth and strategy, on a Social Networking site. It is a Facebook RTS in every sense of the word and it truly illustrates the potential for where Social Gaming could possibly go. There has been a lot of talk about a Civilization game coming to Facebook and you know that any Civ game, regardless of platform, is going to offer a substantial gaming experience. Yes, Social Games will likely always be micro transaction driven, but I really think that Social Gaming will evolve into something quite different than virtual farming or text based gang warfare. Once that happens, we may very well see the emergence of a new, and potentially powerful, gaming platform. Like it or not, it looks like Social Gaming is here to stay…and that may not be so horrible after all.

The Top 10 Bands Who Deserve Their Own Rock Band or Guitar Hero Game

With a new Guitar Hero game set to release on September 28, 2010, and Rock Band 3 slated to drop on October 26, 2010, it would seem the music genre, after being relatively quiet this year, is poised to try and make a comeback. In June, when Green Day Rock Band was released, there was quite a bit of debate about whether Green Day deserved its own full on Rock Band game. No one really questioned that The Beatles deserved one and no one really complained about Metallica getting a GH game of its own. With the Warriors of Rock set-list now released, I started to wonder what other bands out there deserve their own RB or GH game. I came up with my Top 10.

A caveat here: In compiling this list, I took a long look at what is already out there for many bands as far as DLC are concerned. In doing so, many worthy bands were eliminated from consideration. For instance, many have said Nirvana deserves their own game. But, probably 75% of their music has already been released through DLC. Even if a compilation was made, such as Guitar Hero Grunge, and you used Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, a ton of those bands music is already out there. The same can be said for bands like The Foo Fighters, Queen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and The Who. Also, some of the newer but popular acts, like Linkin Park, Muse, or The Offspring don't really have enough out there to justify a full game. I figure you need at least 30-40 songs to put on a disc to pull a full game off without pulling a GH Van Halen type of scenario where you have great Van Halen songs mixed in with a bunch of stuff that makes little sense. The one band/person I left off that might be really worthy is Jimi Hendrix. Obviously, he is one of the all time great guitarists. But, when Axis Bold as Live was released as DLC, it probably made it so that you could not get away with a full Hendrix game. Maybe if they put some Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani on there and really delved deep into their libraries, then you would have a true Guitar Hero game. There are other close calls, such as Nine Inch Nails, KORN, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, or Social Distortion that could possibly be considered as well.

With that as a disclaimer, here is my Top 10 (in reverse order):

The Doors

10. The Doors- With the introduction of the keyboard peripheral in RB3, a Doors game is now quite plausible. Right now the only Doors title really out there is "Love Me Two Times" and that is a pretty sad representation for one of the best voices in rock history, Jim Morrison. There are some really great songs that would be fun to play, such as "Break on Through", "Light My Fire", "LA Woman", "Back Door Man", "Roadhouse Blues", etc. A Doors game would also be fun if the story mode was wrapped around the life of Jim Morrison. Rising to the top only to spiral into an avalanche of drugs, booze, and women, is certainly going to run the risk of an M rating, but I think music games need to embrace the M rating anyway. The Doors are #10 on my list.


9. AC/DC- Yes, I know there was an entire Live track pack of AC/DC released. But, I always had issues with this. For one, you could only get the track pack from Wal-Mart and it has never been released as DLC. I, for one, do not relish the thought of going into Wal-Mart for my gaming needs. Second, while the track pack is excellent, a lot of the songs aren't up to par when compared to the studio versions. Songs like "Dirty Deeds", "You Shook Me", "Hells Bells", "Highway to Hell". Etc, are OK as far as the Live versions go, but the studio versions are probablybetter. "For Those About To Rock" is another one. Plus, there are some really great AC/DC songs MIA. Songs like "Problem Child", "Let Me Put My Love Into You", "It's a Long Way To The Top", "Who Made Who", "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution", etc., are missing and would be fun to play. And, let's be honest here guys…who doesn't want to play "Big Balls" with their friends. OK…that came out sounding weird, but you get the point. AC/DC is #9 on my list.


8. KISS- A KISS RB or GH game has a ton of potential. If it is set up like Beatles or Green Day RB, you can chronicle the history of one of rock's most iconic bands through the past 30+ years. It would start with the early makeup days, then go through their unmasked phase, the return to their makeup, super-heroish roots. KISS has always had great stage sets and I can see Harmonix or Neversoft having fun here. From a skill level, KISS songs are probably not the most challenging, but there is some great music out there, nonetheless, that we have not had a chance to play yet. Many of KISS's biggest hits are already out there ("Rock & Roll All Nite", "Detroit Rock City", "Love Gun", etc) but lots of others are missing. For instance, "Hotter Than Hell", "Deuce", "Heavens On Fire", "Tears Are Falling", "God Gave Rock And Roll", "Black Diamond", and many others, combined with the real "story" potential of a KISS based game, put KISS #8 on my list.

Black Sabbath

7. Black Sabbath/ Ozzy Osbourne- True, Sabbath and Ozzy are not one and the same. But, a game based on the Ozzy led Black Sabbath that would then segue into Ozzy's career really makes sense. Pretty much all the Black Sabbath songs we have seen so far, such as "NIB", "Paranoid", and "War Pigs" have been cover versions and not the originals. We have not had a chance to play "Iron Man" as a full band as it has not been revisited since the original GH. Other great Sabbath songs are missing, such as "Snowblind", "The Wizard", "Changes" and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath". You could even through in "The Mob Rules" from the Ronnie James Dio days just for good measure. But, when the game transitioned to Ozzy's solo career, there is some real potential here. OK, yes, "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" were on GH World Tour. But beyond that, it's like an abyss. There is nothing from "Diary of a Madman" out there. No "Over The Mountain", "Flying High Again", "You Can't Kill Rock & Roll", etc. Other solid titles like "Shot In The Dark" are missing. "Bark At The Moon" was sort of redone for GH Smash Hits. But, there is a lot of great music from Black Sabbath and Ozzy that could be used to create a solid RB or GH title. Black Sabbath and Ozzy get the #7 spot on my list.

Pink Floyd

6. Pink Floyd- There are 3 bands in my Top 10 who have absolutely nothing out on either RB or GH and if you are a fan of the genre, it's quasi criminal that these bands have nada out there. Pink Floyd is the first of these bands. Now, Pink Floyd does not appeal to everyone and I know that. But, an album like "The Wall" needs to be released either as DLC or as part of a full on Pink Floyd game. Beyond that, songs like "Money", "Brain Damage"and "Wish You Were Here" are all worthy of inclusion in a RB or GH game. Beyond that, the presentation of a Pink Floyd game would be a lot of fun. If you have ever seen the movie version of "The Wall" you can relate to what I mean. Even some of Floyd's later stuff, such as "Learning to Fly" is worthy of release. Pink Floyd is one of those enigmatic bands that defined what rock was all about in the late 70's and early 80's and for this reason, Pink Floyd draws the #6 spot on my list.


5. R.E.M.- Here is another tremendous band woefully underrepresented in either GH or RB. Basically, you have "The One I Love", "Losing My Religion" and "Orange Crush" and a couple of other songs that are not nearly as well known. But, where is "Radio Free Europe" or "It's the End Of The World" or "Stand" or even "Hurt"? R.E.M is one of those bands that has been around forever and has released a ton of great material, but not much of it has been put out yet. Their library is deep enough, and diverse enough, to warrant a full game and I, for one, would welcome a R.E.M. based GH or RB game. R.E.M. is #5 on my list.

Rolling Stones

4. The Rolling Stones- During the era when The Beatles were rising to super stardom, the one band mentioned in the same breath as The Fab Four were The Rolling Stones. For over 40 years, The Stones have been belting out quality songs. On the virtual stage, we have only received a smattering of their offerings. We have gotten a few Live versions of hits like "Satisfaction", and "Under My Thumb" . "Paint it Black" was on GH3 and "Honkey Tonk Woman" was released for Band Hero. Beyond that, there is not much. Notably absent are great songs like "Start Me Up", "Get off of My Cloud", "Beast of Burden", "Hang Fire", "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown", "Time Is On My Side", and "Ruby Tuesday", just to name a few. The Stones have more than enough material to justify a full RB or GH game and if it even loosely follows The Beatles or Green Day RB format, it would be a very worthy title to add to your library. The Rolling Stones are #4 on my list.


3. Rush- Many of us have been asking for a full game version of Canada's finest export since ice hockey. The prog rock trio, from a musical standpoint, is as solid as they come, despite Geddy Lee's less than spectacular vocals. Neil Peart is generally regarded as one of the greatest drummers ever. What Geddy lacks in vocals, he makes up for on the bass guitar. And Alex Lifeson is no slouch on guitar. There has been some Rush released so far. Notably, all of "Moving Pictures" is available as DLC. "The Trees" is on RB2. Vault versions of "Working Man" are available. But, wow, is there a ton of great music that has not seen the light of day as of yet. None of "Fly By Night" has been released. "2112" is coming out for Warriors of Rock, but the entire "B" side of that album is still unaccounted for. Then there are songs like "Xanadu", "Freewill", "La Villa Strangiato" and just about anything else off of "A Farewell To Kings", "Permanent Waves" or "Hemispheres" that are worthy of being released. RB3's keyboard peripheral opens up songs like "Subdivisions", "Distant Early Warning", or even "Big Money". Even Rush's more recent songs would be interesting and fun to play. Rush has been around for 30 years now and their songs offer a real musical challenge. Rush absolutely needs to have their own game and they are #3 on my list.


2. U2- Here is the second band that has nothing on RB or GH yet and this is truly a travesty. U2 has been making great music since the early 80's and none of it is available. Just think of what we are missing: "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Pride", "Where The Streets Have No Name", "With or Without You", "One", "It's a Beautiful Day", "Sweetest Thing"…I could go on for a very long time. Bono is a tremendous singer and U2's music has a melodic quality balanced nicely by some technically challenging sections and songs. Their songs are catchy, poppy, and yet they still know how to rock. Many people I have talked to always ask me when U2 will be available for RB or GH. I sincerely hope the answer to that is soon. U2 is #2 on my list.

Led Zeppelin

1. Led Zeppelin- It's hard to argue against Led Zeppelin for the #1 spot. These guys pretty much made hard rock and heavy metal an accepted part of the musical landscape and none of their music is available yet. Musically, Led Zep is as solid a group as you will find. Robert Plant could sing; Jimmy Page…c'mon now…how many people play guitar with a violin bow? John Paul Jones…a great name for a great bassist. And John Bonham is one of those rare drummers who you can compare to Neil Peart. The songs we are missing just make me want to cringe: "Good Times, Bad Times", "Rock and Roll", "Heartbreaker", "Immigrant Song", "Houses of the Holy", "Communication Breakdown", "All of My Love", "Kashmir", "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and, of course, the song regarded by many as the greatest song in rock history, "Stairway To Heaven". There are so many others. A Led Zeppelin RB or GH makes so much sense it is rather scary. No band out there had as much influence on rock music as Led Zeppelin. They are #1 on the list and I know many of you will concur with me on this one.

So, there you have it. Ten bands that you could easily justify as being worthy of having their own Rock Band or Guitar Hero games. If nothing else, we should get a bunch more DLC from any of them. Many of us complain that there is no innovation left in the music genre. That may be true. But, perhaps if the music being released was better and more worthy of what many of us think of when we think of rock, huge innovations might not be necessary. In the end, when Lady Ga Ga has more material available on Rock Band or Guitar Hero then Led Zeppelin…well something is just very, very wrong with that picture.

Gaming on Trial- A Gaming Lawyers Perspective on the pending Supreme Court case.

Most gamers are by now aware that the US Supreme Court has agreed to review the legality of the law proposed by the State of California that would ban the sale of M rated games to those under the age of 18. The case is the biggest legal challenge the gaming industry has faced. It's the US Supreme Court after all. In speaking with many friends and fellow gamers, I have come to realize there is a lot of dispute regarding what the issues are and even more disagreement in regards to which side is right. As a gamer, lawyer, father, and Californian who is in the process of opening a game store/ LAN Center hybrid, I feel especially qualified to discuss this topic with you and, hopefully, to help clarify issues. First, it's time for a little bit of Constitutional Law.

US Constitution

The First Amendment

Most people are aware that the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects our right to free speech. Fewer are aware as to how Freedom of Speech has been expanded to include Freedom of Expression. It is Freedom of Expression, the right to share and portray thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints that is central to the pending case. Games, like movies or music, represent expressions of ideas, concepts, stories, etc. of the game developers and publishers. Without getting into the related issue as to whether games are art (that's for another blog), even proponents of the California Law would likely concede that games should be afforded protection under the First Amendment. Indeed, virtually every similar gaming law proposed by the states has been shut down based on the First Amendment.

It is important to understand, however, that the First Amendment does not create an absolute privilege to say whatever you want or express whatever idea you have, whenever you want. There are limits. Not many, but some. For instance, defamation (slander or libel) is not protected speech. Speech designed to incite a riot or something that looks like Left 4 Dead (without the zombies of course) is not protected. Pure obscenity, in whatever form, is not protected even though defining obscenity has been very difficult through the years. As the old saying goes, "I know it when I see it." But, aside from these pretty blatant examples of speech or expression that probably need to be regulated, big problems arise when the government tries to regulate the content of speech or expression that is not quite so over the top. We could literally spend a day or more discussing in detail content based speech regulations and the history of the law in this area, but it would probably bore most of you badly. In general, anytime the government tries to regulate speech or expression based on the content therein, the law will be subject to rather strict scrutiny. This is because the Freedom of Speech or Expression is considered a fundamental right that all of us should enjoy. Because of this, when the government attempts to pass a law regulating this fundamental right, the law must serve a compelling purpose and the law must be narrowly tailored to achieve that purpose. It can't be overbroad or vague. With this as a backdrop, let's look at the California game law and see if it passes this test.


The California Law

In 2005, California Assemblyman Leland Yee helped to author the legislation that is at the heart of this dispute. The law proposed to ban the sale or rental of violent video games that depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, to consumers who are under 18. The Governator passed the bill, but US District Judge Ronald Whyte blocked the law from being enforced finding it violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression. As Judge Whyte said in his opinion, "Serious questions are raised concerning (California's) ability to restrict minor's First Amendment rights in connection with exposure to violent video games, including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children."

As most of you know, California was not the first state to try and regulate gaming in this manner (and it probably won't be the last), and the Courts have shot down every other law. In fact, I believe California was the sixth such law to get blocked by the Courts. So, why is the Supreme Court looking at this? You have to understand that when a Court reviews a case, it does not mean they are going to reverse the lower Court's ruling, not at all. The Supreme Court is going to rule on this issue once and for all and it should be the law of the land…at least until someone else figures a new spin on this. When the case is finally argued before the Supreme Court, California will be arguing that the First Amendment does not prohibit a State from prohibiting the sale of violent video games to those under 18. California has also asserted that the lower Court was wrong to require it to show a direct link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors. California has also asserted that violent material in games should be subject to the same legal standard the Courts have used to prohibit the sale of sexually explicit material to minors, essentiallymaking "violent" video games the functional equivalent of porn. Opposing California will be a literal who's who of the gaming industry including the Entertainment Software Association (ESA…you know…the guys who put on E3) and its various members, such as Disney Interactive, EA, Microsoft, and Sony. That's how big a deal this is; natural competitors have all banded together to take on a common enemy. It's as if California is some Elite Level Monster and the ESA has summoned its Guild members to take it on. The ESA has the Constitution on its side and asserts that games should be afforded the same protection as books, movies, and music. So, who is right and who is wrong? Here is my take on this.

Thumbs Down

Why California's Law is bad law.

My opinion, as a gaming lawyer, is that the California law is not good at all and here are three reasons why I feel this way:


1. The Law is just too vague to pass constitutional scrutiny. You have to look at how California is defining "violent" video games in the proposed law to see where problems are going to arise here. California defines a "violent" game as one that depicts "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." Anyone who sells such a game to a minor can be fined up to $1,000. Well, what exactly does that mean? Is any killing or sexual assault in a game sufficient todefine the game as violent? OK, I think we can all agree that GTA may qualify, or Gears when you chain saw someone down. But, hold on now. Doesn't a game like Final Fantasy also depict the killing of a human being, or at least a humanoid like creature? You are telling me that Final Fantasy XIII should be banned from being sold to a minor? Why? Flip that around a bit and look at something like Dead Space where the entire game is premised on dismemberment of creatures that are not really human. Could Dead Space escape being labeled as violent through some loophole? And how much killing is allowed? Is it a zero tolerance policy? If only one person is killed in the entire game, should it really be banned?

Remember the standard earlier on: Narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, and not vague nor overbroad. Now look, I have kids and I don't want them exposed to stuff for which they are not ready, psychologically. So, I can see the compelling state interest here. But, the way California has defined "violent" creates more questions than answers. As such, the law is just too vague to be enforced.

Game Ratings

2. There is nothing wrong with the current rating system. The ESA has a very effective rating system in place already. At the end of 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report that was a call to the entire Entertainment Industry to curb the marketing of violent entertainment to children. The report addressed the movie, music, and game industries. The report was particularly critical of the music industry as the only warnings it provides to parents are the now famous "Parental Advisory" stickers. Movies have a well established rating system, though theaters rarely ever try and enforce prohibiting very young children from seeing a PG-13 film. They are certainly more vigilant as far as R rated movies go. As for the game industry, however, the FTC found a high degree of compliance with the game industries marketing and advertising rules. You may be surprised to know that retailers frequently refuse to sell an M rated game to a minor, approximately 80% of the time actually. The FTC notes that there are ways around this, particularly in relation to minors getting gift cards and ordering online. Still, the game industry is self-regulating itself better than the movie and music industries.

So, if it ain't broke, why fix it? After all, the ESA has a category called AO, or adults only. This rating is far more effective than any R rating for a movie would be. It is the equivalent of an X rating for movies (do those even exist anymore?) but if a game gets tagged with an AO rating, the publisher knows that no one except for the true fringe retailers is going to carry it. On a few occasions we have seen a game get tagged with a tentative AO rating, and then the game was tweaked so the AO rating could be removed? You rarely see this with movies, perhaps on the rare occasion where an R rating gets slapped on a movie the producers thought was going to get hit with a PG-13 rating. I have yet to see a musician or band remove one of their F-bombs becausea Parental Advisory sticker was going to get slapped on the CD cover. The point of this is that the ESA's rating system actually conveys much more information to parents than both the rating system for movies or music and that fact was pretty much recognized by the FTC. So, why does California feel that parents need to be protected from themselves? More perplexing, why is a $1,000 fine justified where I have yet to see a movie theater slapped with a similar sanction for letting a 15 year old into an R rated movie? Do parents need to be better educated about the rating system for games and what they can expect from some of the different types of M rated games? Sure, it's one of the things we are going towork onat my store. But, the vast majority of parents out there care and can certainly make an intelligent decision as to what sorts of game their kids can handle, just like they can decide what sorts of movies they can watch and what type of music they can listen to.

Kids drinking

3. Placing games into as restricted a category as porn, alcohol, or tobacco is just absurd. Earlier on I noted how California believes that access to "violent" video games should be restricted the same way as sexually explicit material is restricted from children. I made the argument at that point that California feels violent video games are the functional equivalent of porn. How ludicrous is that? Not to get into any real big issues here, but have any of us ever seen anything in any video game that is anywhere near as explicit as the tamest sex scene in practically any pornographic movie? Hell, even if you have never seen a pornographic movie, I can count on one hand the number of scenes in any video game I have played since the days of the Atari 2600 that come close to being as explicit as anything in Playboy and, no offense to any of the women who might be reading this, but just about any male over the age of 13 has looked at a Playboy. That's not the point. The point is how can anyone with a rational mind really think that violent video games can have anywhere near as big an impact on someone under 18 as sexually explicit material does?

Think about what else is restricted from sale to minors and the absurdity of this whole issue becomes more apparent. Kids under the age of 21 cannot purchase alcohol and no one really questions this issue. It is well established that alcohol causes damage to the liver, kidneys, and other body systems when it is abused. It is also proven beyond any question that alcohol impairs one's ability to operate a car. Kids under 21, particularly teenagers, have a less than fully developed prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that regulates mood and judgment. That's not me, an older guy, being a jerk…it's just a scientific and biological fact. In any event, combining alcohol with teens who are struggling with hormones and their constantly evolving abilities to make more reasoned decisions can be a bad combination and, tragically, we all see the reports of the ramifications of underage drinking and driving far too often. So, you can see where there is evidence backing up a decision to restrict alcohol sales to those under 21 (even though many of us over 21 exercise some really poor judgment as far as alcohol is concerned far too often). Tobacco is something that is generally restricted from kids under 18, the same demographic involved in California's game law. So, it stands to reason that "violent" video games must be as bad for kids as cigarettes or chewing tobacco, right? Suffice it to say that there is an astonishing amount of research that has been done documenting the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, both first hand and second hand, on people regardless of their age. Chewing tobacco and dip have been linked to throat cancer. As a workers' compensation lawyer for a public entity, I deal with lots of cancer cases involving fire fighters and sheriffs. Cancer is still a nightmare, regardless of the fact that many cancers are quite treatable if detected early enough. The point is you can see why there is a compelling governmental interest in restricting access to tobacco to those under the age of 18.

This is where I firmly agree with Judge Whyte when he demanded that California show some sort of nexus between violent video games and the psychological impact these games have on kids. Where is the evidence? Show me something, anything, to demonstrate that games are as influential on a person under 18 as porn. Prove to me, even a little bit, that games, no matter how violent, are as harmful to kids as cigarettes or whiskey. California says it has a compelling state interest to restrict access to violent video games from those under 18 and yet they have put together virtually nothing to show this to be true. Showing that gaming can sometimes promote laziness and social detachment does not cut it. To me, this is no different than in the 80's when people were running around saying that Ozzy Osbourne's song "Suicide Solution" was leading kids to commit suicide. It was nonsense. Those kids were going to take their own lives regardless and Ozzy's song had little to do with the ultimate decision. Many people listened to that song, like me, and thought, "Hey, that really rocks," and the thought of suicide never entered our minds for a second. And that is what gaming, even the most violent games, have in common here. Most of us will play a game like GTA, or Gears, or Halo, or even something like Mad World that rewards you for more brutal and creative kills, and we will think, "Hey, that's cool," or "Wow, those graphics are awesome,"…something like that. But, the number of people who are going to play those games and then feel compelled to go on a three state killing spree? C'mon! Show me anything that even remotely demonstrates even the slightest propensity for that happening.

Until California can do that, I will remain firmly in the camp of those opposing the law as an unjustified and unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of minors and gamers everywhere.

Reviewing The Reviewers

How important are game reviews? For many of us, they are vitally important, so important that we won't even truly consider buying a game until one of our favorite sites has reviewed a game and given us some indication as to whether it is worth our hard earned cash. For others, they could care less what sort of score a game gets; they are going to buy it regardless. If you are one of the people who ignore review scores, then this is not the blog post for you.

But, for those of us who pay close attention to review scores, you may find this post interesting. Whenever I look through the posts of many people I track as far as contributions, there is, quite often, some debate as to whether a game was scored too high, whether it was judged too harshly, or whether a particular site was doing a truly good job at reviewing games. Whether a games score is too high or too low is a difficulty issue to address. Games have such a subjective element to them and beauty, or beautiful game play, is often in the eye of the beholder. Sure, there are many games out there which, unless you have a possible mental disorder or are hopelessly strung out on drugs, almost everyone is going to say as one, "Now that's a great game!" But, for the most part, games are subject to a wide variety of opinions by those playing them and by those reviewing them. What I really wanted to do was to look at the more popular review sites and try and come up with a way to determine which one is doing the best job at reviewing games fairly and, perhaps more importantly, in a consistent manner. For my research here, I used Metacritic (the best known score aggregator out there and considered by many of us as the Bible of game scores), Gamespot, IGN, 1UP, Gamepro (Arguably the four most well known general gaming sites that also review games and provide scores) and X-Play (the best known video game show on TV today). With my panel of contestants in place, I now needed to find someway to compare them to see which one is doing the best job at reviewing games. But how could I do that?

I took a rather scientific approach to this. I recognized that all good experiments have a control, or a constant, that they look at when trying to determine certain things. There may be variables all over the place, but the control remains constant. What I decided to look for were two games I could compare with each other. I wanted them to be good games, but not great games, so there would be room for error and differing opinions to compare. I wanted the two games to be somewhat similar in game play and I especially wanted two games that perhaps shared a similar flaw or two. The idea behind this was that if a review site was doing its job properly, then the two games should have the same score, or at least have a low difference between the two scores. If the scores were wildly apart from each other, I felt this would indicate that perhaps the review site was not reviewing games as consistently or accurately as they should be. Makes sense right? At least on paper it sounds good. But, what two games would be proper to use for such a comparison.

I thought back to a couple of games I played within the past year or so and I found them. Both of these games were good games, not great games by any stretch of the imagination. They both had some great moments in them and were both what I would call action-RPGs. But, they both suffered from some serious game play issues and both had almost the exact same problems with the camera and how that flaw really resulted in some cheap deaths and making each game far less than they both could have been. The games I am talking about? Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (TFU) and Too Human.

The Force Unleashed

Too Human

If you played either of these games for any decent amount of time, I think you will agree with me on this point. Both games have solid stories to them, with TFU, arguably, having the better story because, well, it's Star Wars and Darth Vader, and an untold story between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Too Human's story was a bit deeper, but it delved into Norse mythology a bit too much for the average gamer. Too Human was a better loot fest than TFU and was certainly more RPG based than TFU was, in my opinion. But, both games mapped much of what you were capable of, as far as action was concerned, to the right thumb stick and neither game performed as well as it should have in this regard. Both games also had major issues with the camera. Half the time, you could not tell who you were fighting, where they were, or exactly what you were supposed to be doing. For those who played these games, am I right? I remember thinking, after going through both games, how two games with so much potential could be so flawed by the same design flaw. In my opinion then, anyone reviewing the games should have seen the similar problem with the games. Whether you were a Star Wars fan or not (and I am a very big fan of the Star Wars Universe) or whether you thought Norse Gods are the greatest thing ever, both games should have scored pretty darn close to each other. If they did not, then we would have to question what happened in the review process.

As for me, and utilizing how I think Metacritic would transfer my review score into a Metascore, I would give Star Wars a 69 (6.9) and I would give Too Human a 67 (6.7). Both games would score in the "yellow" range on Metacritic's color chart, which is rather consistent with what both games actually did score on Metacritic. On my own website (I don't want to give out the address yet as I am still working on many aspects of the site and, for those who actually track me and pay attention, I would not want anyone to be disappointed) for games scoring between a 6.0 and a 6.9, here is how I describe those games:

6 – 6.9: These are games that can really be considered average at best. While these games are all decent titles, and many of them may have more than their fair share of fun, exciting, and enjoyable moments,if a game scores in this range, you can rest assured that your gaming dollar might possibly be better spent elsewhere.

That's a pretty good description of both games, although both are in the higher range of that general range. By contrast, I describe games in the 7.0 – 7.9 range as follows:

7 – 7.9: These are all good, solid, titles, but they may not be for everyone. These games may also give you that sort of "been there done that" feeling. Games scoring in this range certainly get our seal of approval, but there are a few problems with the game that results in it getting dinged down into this category.

So, TFU and Too Human fall somewhere in between the two and I feel that is a pretty accurate place for both of them. So, by my own scoring system being morphed into a likely Metascore, the difference between scores is a 2. Not bad and I was rather pleased to see that I myself am being pretty consistent with my own methods for scoring games. But what of the other sites I mentioned previously? How are they doing? Let's find out. Please note that for the sake of consistency and because Too Human was a 360 exclusive, I am using the 360 version of The Force Unleashed for this comparison.

First, let's look at Metacritic.


Many people love it; many others hate it. Unlike other sites, Metacritic does not independently review games. It aggregates scores from a wide variety of sources and, using its own formula, comes up with a Metascore that gives gamers an idea as to whether a game is great, good, average, or lousy. While many of us, myself included, love Metacritic, many others say their scoring system is flawed and is not a good representation of a games true value. Well, using our two games, let's see how close Metacritic comes. Metacritic gave The Force Unleashed a 73 and it gave Too Human a 65, resulting in a difference between scores of 8. That's not too bad. Given the wide range of review scores many of us have seen, I am thinking that if the scores of the two games are within 10 points of each other (using Metascores across the board) then the reviewers are doing their job pretty well. So, is Metacritic an accurate gauge of how good a game is? Based on this experiment, I would have to say it does the job pretty well. So well, in fact, that for the remainder of this discussion, I am going to use a games Metascore as a means of comparing reviews for the other reviewers we are reviewing (yeah, say that 10 times real fast). By doing this, we are adding an additional level of consistency to this experiment. Onward then.

Let's move on to Gamespot, where many of you will be reading this, and the site at which I have been a member longer than any of the other ones.


Gamespot gave TFU a 75, but gave Too Human a 55, a difference in scores of 20. That is a pretty wide discrepancy. To its credit Gamespot correctly described TFU. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it's not much fun. But, Gamespot seemed to give the game a much better score than Too Human based on its lineage as a Star Wars game. I can accept that a decent Star Wars game should score better than a brand new franchise. But, a 20 point difference is a bit much. Gamespot noted the fun elements of Too Human, but noted the problem with ranged combat (which is also quite present in TFU) and seemed to really ding Too Human for the story. That's fine, it deserved to be hit. But TFU should have been hit equally hard for pretty much the same problems. I think the 20 point difference has to be of some concern for a gamer that is looking to Gamespot as a source for a solid review. I really like Gamespot and I have a lot of respect for the reviewers and the staff. But, I was a bit surprised to discover this much of a difference.

Let's look now at IGN, another great all around gaming and entertainment site.


IGN gave TFU a 73 and it gave Too Human a 78, a difference in score of only 5. Now that's more like it. You have to give the guys at IGN some real credit because they called TFU for what it was, a good action game that allowed a gamer to control The Force like no previous Star Wars game and wrapped it around a great story. But, they also recognized all too well some real level design flaws and the repetitive nature of many of the battles. Story was not enough to save TFU in IGN's eyes. As for Too Human, IGN recognized the aspect of the game that Too Human is quite a bit better at than TFU, the RPG elements. The skill tree makes a big difference in Too Human, perhaps too much so as your character tends to become too powerful and this result in the systematic and somewhat unchallenging beat down of anything that dares oppose you. While I disagree with IGN that Too Human was the better game, the small difference in scores tells me that gamers can be rather confident that the IGN reviewers are getting it right.

Let's now move to 1UP, another excellent all around review site.


1UP did not like either of these games as it gave TFU a very low score of 50 and it gave Too Human an even lower score of 42, a difference in score of 8. In my mind, that is pretty consistent. Remember, we are not looking at whether someone scored a game too high or too low; we are looking for consistency in reviewing two games that are very similar in their strengths and weaknesses. 1UP was clearly disappointed with how the use of The Force was actually implemented and was equally disappointed that TFU did not, in any way, live up to its potential. I think that may be a bit harsh, but 1UP is certainly not the only one's who felt that way. As for Too Human, 1UP was even harsher. But, did they ever hit the nail on the head with their criticism of the problems with the right analog stick and that the game relies on it far too much. While arguably scoring both games a bit too low, you have to look at 1UP and acknowledge the fact that they were very consistent in finding both games to be rather bad. As such, gamers should feel relatively confident in the accuracy of 1UP's reviewers.

The last web based (primarilly)reviewer I am going to look at is Gamepro, yet another excellent gaming site( and magazine).


Gamepro gave TFU a 70, while it gave Too Human a somewhat surprising 80, a difference in scores of 10. In my mind, that puts Gamepro somewhat on the outside looking in as far as reliability and consistency are concerned. It gets confusing why TFU got only a 70, even though the reviewer at Gamepro noted it was a fun game, despite its flaws, but Too Human got an 80, primarily due to the co-op aspect of the game. I agree with Gamepro that co-op is something TFU does not have, and Too Human deserves some bonus points for that. But, with all the other problems that Too Human has, wouldn't a score of 75 have made more sense? Again, we go back to the fact that you can't notice the fundamental game play flaws inherent in both games and find one game to be 10 points better than the other without those of us who are in the know raising an eyebrow and going, "Hmmmm…" The 10 point difference is not offensive, but you have to look at it and put Gamepro a notch below IGN and 1UP, but a notch above Gamespot.

The final reviewer I am going to review is G4's X-Play.


Now, look, I really enjoy X-Play. I think it is one of the more informative gaming shows out there and some of the hands on demos they get a hold of really whet my appetite for some games. I have a lot of respect for Adam Sessler and I think he is very knowledgeable. Morgan Webb is too MMO grounded and I think this taints a lot of her reviews. With that caveat being said, however, X-Play gave TFU a 40 (2 stars out of 5), but it gave Too Human an 80 (or 4 stars out of 5). For those keeping score, that's a difference in scores of a whopping 40 points. That's simply wrong. X-Play demo'd both games leading up to their release, but they were clearly more smitten with Too Human. X-Play's score for TFU is the lowest recorded score on Metacritic and it makes absolutely no sense. They note the great story. They note the very good character development and the very good graphics. Then they rip the game apart based on game play and bugs in the game. OK. Fair enough. But, in scoring Too Human as high as they did, they ignore the exact same problems in game play for which they eviscerated TFU. If they had given TFU 3 out of 5, which likely would have translated into a 60, I could live with that. But, a 40 point difference is just not acceptable and gamers should probably be careful if they are relying solely on X-Play to tell them whether or not a game is good. X-Play claims they give brutally honest reviews and, more often than not, I agree with them. Here, however, they are just brutally incorrect.

So, there you have it. Excluding my own review (which I would not blame any of you for discounting and saying that I was just trying to show how smart I was by coming up with my own scores with a difference of only 2), we have IGN as the most accurate reviewer, followed up with a tie between Metacritic and 1UP. Below them are Gamepro, followed by Gamespot, with X-Play bringing up the rear. I am sure this experiment I have done will be ripped to shreds by many people (I brace for the comments from any of the staff here at GS whom I may have offended....just making an honest observation guys and gals)and I am fine with that. It was never an exact science, which is why it's called opinion and why I have limited the post to the "opinion" category. I do hope, however, that for those of you who take reviews seriously, you have found this entertaining, informative and, perhaps, a bit enlightening.

Has Forza Left Gran Turismo In The Dust?

Recently, we all received the not so surprising news that the long awaited Gran Turismo 5 had been delayed...again. Instead of having the eagerly anticipated racing game in our hands by early spring, now no one is really sure when we will see GT5 grace store shelves. While many of us are disappointed, the boys at Microsoft are giddy as their own stellar Forza motorsport franchise remains unchallenged a while longer. But, it got me thinking. Is Forza now the superior franchise in the racing game genre? Its a topic worthy of some discussion and it is made all the more sexy by the fact that GT is a Sony exclusive and Forza is a Microsoft exclusive. Fanboys on all sides....start your engines.

Let's take a trip down memory lane as history is always useful to gain perspective as to the present and future. As we all know, GT did not invent the racing genre. But, in 2001, it redefined it with a vengeance. This was when Gran Turismo 3 came out. While the original GT and GT2 were fine games (the sheer number of cars available in GT2 were somewhat mind numbing) it was GT3 that was the first driving game on the PS2 that really showed what that platform was capable of. With over 30 meticulously detailed tracks and close to 150 stunningly recreated cars, GT3 blew many of us away. How many of you remember the first time you experienced the glare of sun on asphalt and said, "Wow!" I know I did. GT3 added an amazing amount of realism to the physics behind the cars, but it was the endless tuning options that made things so interesting and genuinely unique each time you played it. With so many racing events to play through, the quest to unlock more cars and better parts never got old. If you weren't a fan of the racing genre, you were after you played GT3.

Fast forward to February of 2005, the last time we all got a true, full version of a GT game. That was when Gran Turismo 4 came out. Before I go on, think about that for a moment. It has been 5 years since a true Gran Turismo game was released. Talk about resting on your laurels! Anyway...GT4 one upped GT3 in almost every way imaginable. It had more than 50 tracks and a still incredible 700 cars to choose from. The graphics were even better this time out, even for the PS2. The physics were improved and tuning your car became more intuitive and seemed to make more sense. The career mode was even larger than before and there were mini-missions, rally events, even drag races to play around with. But, GT4 had its issues. It was delayed several times before finally being released (sound familiar?). And, its biggest flaw? No online play. True, the PS2's online capabilities was rather lame most of the time. But, so many of us had wanted GT4 to have an online component, and we had heard for so long that it would (in fact, that's why many of assumed the delays were necessary) when it released with no online play at all, it was a major disappointment. But, lurking on the horizon, Microsoft was about to launch a new franchise that would challenge GT in more ways than we thought possible.

Three months after GT4 came out, Forza Motorsport debuted on the original Xbox. Forza was not the first driving sim for the Xbox and games such as Project Gotham Racing and PGR2 (both excellent titles in their own right) had demonstrated what the Xbox was capable of as far as driving games went. But, Forza was different. Though not anywhere near as large in scope as GT4 had been (only about 230 cars for example), Forza was more user friendly than GT4 was. The game seemed more forgiving than GT4 for folks learning the ropes (like me). A big plus for the game was the graphics. As good as GT4 looked, the vastly superior power of the Xbox as opposed to the PS2 came to light when one compared Forza to GT4. All of that eye candy, however, was not the biggest advantage Forza had over GT4. The big advantage was the fact that Forza had online play through Xbox Live and GT did not have any online play. Again, please note that Forza was not the first Xbox racer to have online play (PGR 2 had it earlier for instance). But, Forza had been designed with XBL in mind the entire time and in really showed whenever you went online to play. It was never perfect (when is online play ever really perfect) but the online experience was very, very solid. The Xbox 360 was about 5 months away, but as the past generation was about to end, Forza had, arguably, surpassed GT already. Others would say that the online play did not matter much because GT had Forza whipped as far as modes and just the sheer depth of the games. Most of us figured that the issue would likely be decided when the next gen consoles came around.

As things would turn out, we would have to wait about 2.5 years to get our first indications as to how this would play out. About 2 years after the original Forza was released, Forza 2 came out on the 360. It improved on the original in about every way we could have expected. Obviously, the technological advantages of the 360 made forsignificant graphical improvements, but we also saw an improvement in the AI over the original game. Beyond that, the game had a more GT feel to it with more cars, more tracks, and many more modes than the first Forza had. The online play was improved and the online events were unlike anything we had yet seen in a driving game. There were online tournaments and, in a nice touch, your online performance would generate cash that could be used in your offline career mode. So, as of 2007, Forza had taken over as the racing game to beat and many of us wondered if/when Gran Turismo would respond.

In reality, GT5 had been talked about since the PS3 launched. Gran Turismo HD had been a teaser for many of us since the PS3 first hit the market. Thus, we all waited patiently for an official launch date for GT5. What we got instead was GT5 Prologue. Released in April of 2008, Prologue boasted only 6 tracks. But, those 6 tracks were amazing. From a purely graphical standpoint, Prologue was superior to Forza 2 with each track recreated with mesmerizing detail. Little things like store fronts on some of the tracks made the tracks something special. The game looked and felt like a GT game, but with some nice new features. Ferrari made its long awaited debut in a GT game. And, for the first time, a GT game had online play. But, the online modes felt tacked on and somewhat unfinished. Still, it was a nice appetizer for the main course, even though it felt like a glorified demo more than anything else. For GT fans though, it heightened the anticipation for GT5 considerably. But, instead of GT5, Forza stepped back in and went for the knockout.

At the end of October of 2009, Forza 3 was released and as good as Forza 2 was, Forza 3 was even better. Taking virtually everything Forza 2 did well and tweaking it to nearly the point of perfection, Forza 3 set the bar for all driving sim games that hope to supplant it. This is particularly true with the online aspect of the game where modes such as drag and drift have been honed to perfection. Yet, what Forza 3, and for that matter the entire Forza franchise does so well, is it continues to be so accessible to driving fans of all levels. Forza specializes in a customizable experience where you can make the game as hard or as easy as you like. This intangible quality is what, in my opinion, gives Forza a leg up on GT, at least for now.

So, has Forza left GT in its dust? Even the most ardent Gran Turismo fan would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. Forza came out of nowhere on the prior generation of consoles and truly challenged GT's supremacy; with this generation, it has surpassed it.In this current generation of consoles, Forza has delivered with two stunning games while all GT has given us is a demo version of GT5. Yes, Gran Turismo PSP is an awesome game, especially for a handheld. But, it is mostly tracks and cars we have seen before. Until GT5 comes out, I believe the only conclusion one can draw is that Forza is now the racing franchise to beat. GT5 has tons of potential. If it can integrate a full NASCAR season mode into what I am sure will be a fantastic GT career mode, we could see a truly stellar title. And, if the online play is refined a bit over what we got in Prologue, GT5 should be every bit as good, if not better, than Forza 3. With GT5 being delayed again, however, who knows when any of us will get to draw that comparison.

Until then, I'll keep playing Forza 3...and loving every minute of it.

The MLG & EA Connection: Why Competitive Gaming Is In Good Hands.

My first blog post here at Gamespot dealt with competitive gaming and e-sports. Recently, I attended an event that made me want to revisit this topic.A few weeks ago, I attended the MLG Event in Anaheim. True, I have attended virtually every California event MLG has had since they formed back in 2003. But, this event was different as it was the first West Coast event that showcased the recent collaboration between MLG and EA. Having mulled things over for a few weeks now, I wanted to write about this event because I really feel that competitive gaming is on solid footing and the promise of continued growth of e-sports is very promising.

I feel quite qualified to comment on this because of my direct involvement with MLG for many years now and my indirect involvement with EA through my either running or being involved in Madden and NCAA football leagues for almost as long. For the better part of 6 years I have felt very strongly that a collaborative effort between the premier competitive gaming league in the world and, arguably, the biggest developer of competitive games anywhere seemed like a natural fit. Perhaps too natural as EA did not make this union an easy one for MLG to accomplish. Having acquired the exclusive NFL license, EA was none too eager to let anyone not physically branded with an EA logo too close to their flagship game.

Several months ago, things changed and this natural union came to fruition. For someone like me, MLG Anaheim was a dream event come to life. Why? Well, ponder this for a moment. Since 2003, MLG has perfected the art of how to turn multiplayer FPS games into an actual sporting event. Personally, I think if not for MLG, the Halo series would not be as popular as it is. For about as long, EA has perfected the art of how to host Madden tournaments. The annual Madden Challenge had become a rather huge event in it's own right. Though MLG specialized in Halo and EA excelled at Madden, both companies were quite adept at other games too. MLG got proficient with Gears, Rainbow Six Vegas, and even WoW. EA was hosting NBA Live Events and Fight Night events all over the place. Both companies knew what they were doing and they each did it well. Put them together and the possibility of something really special was quite real.

And that is precisely what we got in Anaheim. First some East Coast bias from a former resident of DC who has called California home for almost two decades now. Would turnout for this event have been better in say NYC or DC or Philly? I believe so. Was the turnout in Anaheim really poor? Not really. Turnout is always an issue with the West Coast events. Regardless, you have to look at the event on it's own merits and once you do that you begin to realize how unique and progressive the event was. Why do I say that? Because of the fact that this was the first event I had been to where the biggest games in gaming were all being played under one roof...at the same time. Consider this for a minute. You had people playing Halo 3, Madden '10, World of Warcraft, Fight Night Round 4, NBA Live 10, and Gears of War 2 all at the same time, all at the same venue, and all at the highest level possible! That is a tremendous accomplishment, whether you buy into e-sports being a truly legitimate sporting event or not. What was even better was seeing some of the cross-over that was taking place. People who usually only play shooters were wandering over to the EA section to check out the sports games. Meanwhile, Madden junkies would mill around and check out what Halo and Gears were all about. Add to that MLG's top notch event production and you couldn't help but leave the event thinking that competitive gaming was going in the right direction.

There is little doubt that MLG and EA knew what they were doing when they decided to join forces. I have no doubt that the continued combination of MLG and EA will be successful. For what its worth, though, here are my suggestions as to how to make these events even better and to, in my humble opinion, break down the few remaining doors to having e-sports go truly mainstream:

1. EA needs to figure out a way to make Madden a bit more sim based. I don't expect them to eliminate money plays and things like that. But when everyone is running toss plays and screens all game long, it really takes away some of the excitement and makes it much harder for the the average viewer to suspend their disbelief.

2. EA needs to add NHL '10 to the circuit. NBA Live '10 is a fine game, but that too was really nothing more than people running alley-oop plays ad nauseum. There is a reason why the NHL series has been so successful the last few years. Yes, the NBA is a more popular sport than the NHL in the USA...but NHL '10 is a vastly superior game.

3. MLG and EA need to get a competitive Wii game on the circuit. True, that is easier said than done because the words "good, competitive, game" and "Wii" are not all that synonymous. Still, there has to be a way to tap into the immense popularity of the Wii and attract that fan base over to the world of competitive gaming. Perhaps the Conduit is a good choice. Or maybe Mario Kart Wii. Or maybe a game will be released in the near future that accomplishes this. Whatever the case, I think both companies would be wise to keep an eye on a solid Wii title to add to the circuit.

4. MLG needs to add a solid racing game to the circuit and Forza 3 or NFS Shift would make an excellent addition to the competition. In the early days of MLG, Gran Tursimo 3 was a mainstay of competition. I feel a solid racing title would add a valuable component to the Pro Circuit.

5. MLG needs to get a 2nd PC title to legitimize the PC Circuit. WoW is a great game, no doubt. But, if you don't know how to play, watching the WoW competition is like watching a foreign film without sub-titles. There are some great PC games out there that could be added to the mix that would really strengthen and expand the PC Circuit. Counterstrike seems like the most obvious choice for now. When Starcraft 2 finally drops, MLG would be very wise to take advantage of that title and get it into the PC Circuit as soon as they can.

6. MLG needs a good fighting game back on the docket. When MLG went through its big rise to popularity a couple of years ago, the inclusion of Super Smash Bros. Melee was a big reason for that. Now, certainly I don't advocate adding Smash Bros. Brawl to the lineup as it is not comparable to SSBM. But, there are some really excellent fighting games out there that could be added to attract those fans, such as Street Fighter IV, Tekken 6, or even the under-appreciated Blaz Blue.

7. Lastly, MLG and EA should really ponder adding Rock Band or Guitar Hero to the show. Have we been flooded with too many music games as of late? Without question. Still, there is no denying the huge popularity of these two franchises. If done correctly, a Rock Band or Guitar Hero competition that rewards showmanship, in addition to raw score, would be something fun to see.

8. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 really needs to be added as soon as possible.

As I said at the beginning, I think competitive gaming is in great hands with EA and MLG at the helm of the ship. The 8 suggestions I made are just observations I have made over the years (as well as things that have been told to me by others close to the competitive gaming industry) that I think would make the events into mega-events that the mainstream media, as well as casual gamers, would have to take notice of. I see a bright future for e-sports. In many ways, what I witnessed in Anaheim might only have been the tip of the iceberg.

Why Gaming Matters

For this blog post, I want to step away from the obvious, no matter how obvious the title of the post may be to most of us. After all, for gamers, gaming matters...it matters big time (yes, I stole that from Wayne's World). For most of us hardcore gamers, gaming is our preferred mode of entertainment, what we would rather engage in than many of the mundane other activities out there. Instead, I want to look at why gaming matters to the mainstream folks out there, including the many people who have not yet embraced gaming, This is a topic that has been written about previously, but I wanted to do something a bit different.I want to look at three (3) key areas and one additional area where gaming can be an even more effective medium to those of us who consider ourselves hardcore gamers.

1. Social Interaction: OK let's all be honest with each other here. There are lots of gamer stereotypes out there. Another Gamespot member posted an excellent blog post about this not too long ago. The truth of the matter is that there are lots and lots of people out there who still think gamers are acne ridden, reclusive hermits, who wear thick glasses, and bury themselves in their basements for 12 hours a day playing their favorite game. Well, there may be a few gamers out there who fit that description but, like the old Virginia Slims ads used to say, We Have Come A Long Way Baby! Most of us gamers are pretty well rounded individuals who have lots of interests other than gaming, carry on healthy relationships with other people, hold down jobs, manage responsibilities, raise families, etc. Nevertheless, there are still many people who might be classified as a "geek" by modern standards who turn to gaming to fill a very specific void. This void os called social interaction. I am 40 now, but I remember how difficult my teenage years were. I imagine many people feel like I did, unsure of who they are, unsure of who they are supposed to be, shy and timid around the opposite sex, and not real strong as far as public speaking and interaction was concerned. For people like this, gaming can be huge, especially now. With the emergence of XBL or PSN, these same individuals can confidently carry on conversations and be socially interactive with people from all over the world. I hear you. You are saying it's no big deal to hide behind a gamer tag and boast how great you are from the safety of one's living room. That may be the case much of the time, but for people like the ones I described earlier, I completely disagree. For people like this, being able to do something competitive, to excel at it, and then be able to talk to others about it is huge. Or, take a game like WoW, where someone who could not carry on a conversation with a girl without doubling over with stomach cramps in the real world can be the leader of a powerful Guild with an impressive presence in the WoW Universe. What happens, eventually, is many of these same people gain much needed confidence from their virtual successes and this carries over into the real world. They come out of their shells and confidently stake their place in society. I know many people to whom this happened, myself included. So, the first area where gaming matters, in my opinion, is it can teach social interaction to people who need to learn these skills.

2. Anyone Can Play: Perhaps more so than anything else out there, gaming can be enjoyed by anyone. Think about it for a moment. What other form of entertainment currently in existence can be enjoyed equally by all people, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, physical disability, etc. I think this is most noticeable as to gender. I have been involved with MLG for many years now and I have personally witnessed the rise to prominence of the female gamer. Females not only play games, but it is becoming pretty routine for many of them to be better than males are at games. For instance, look at a group such as the Frag Dolls. Tell me what other entertainment medium would provide an opportunity for a group like the Frag Dolls to not only exist, but to thrive. Then you look at the age differences of many of us. I am 40 and I still love to play games. I know there are many people in my age group who game on a regular basis. But, the really unique thing here is that a 40 year old like me runs an NCAA 10 Online Dynasty with a guy older than me, a few guys in their 30s, and several others in their early 20;s or late teens. Nowhere else would something like this be able to exist. Now add in to all of this the ability of online game play to bring together gamers from all over the world, and allow them all to compete together even if they speak different languages, and you have something distinctly unique to, really, anything else out there. Gaming is the only game in town that accomplishes this and for this, perhaps more than anything, gaming matters on a globally significant scale.

3.Remembering The Forgotten: An area of gaming that I feel needs to be explored in much greater detail is how gaming can truly improve the lives of our senior citizens. I see this first hand whenever I go to visit my 101 year old grandmother in a convalescent home. As I walk towards her room, I see many, many people literally wasting away physically, mentally, and emotionally. I often wonder and firmly believe many of these peoples' lives could be enriched by something as simple as a Wii or a DS in their room. Many of our senior citizens suffer from arthritis or other similar conditions that inevitably lead to severe muscle atrophy or other orthopedic problems. As low impact as something like Wii Fit is, I can't help but feel that many of our elderly citizens could greatly benefit from a fitness program involving Wii Fit, or EA Sports Active, or any of the myriad games now flooding the market under the new banner of the Fitness Genre. And, how about Brain Age or Professor Layton for the DS. Wouldn't these games help to stimulate the minds of many of our seniors who would otherwise do nothing more than watch the mindlessness that pervades most daytime TV programs? But, perhaps more importantly, I feel gaming could introduce something to many of our senior citizens that goes missing from their lives all too often in their golden years: The feeling of being young, of being alive. Through gaming, our elderly can experience thrilling adventures, engrossing stories, and deep strategy that will challenge their mind, body, and spirit, but in a safe and productive way. I have seen many rest homes already follow the lead here and place Wiis in their therapy centers. I can only hope many others follow suit.

For The Rest Of Us: Lastly, I feel gaming represents a unique opportunity for many of our most beloved franchises to live on for many, many years to come. Look at the recent Ghostbusters game that, for all intents and purposes was Ghostbusters III. The Wanted franchise did this as well. I see a ton of promise here, particularly for the Star Wars universe. While there is no denying that games like KOTOR and the Old Republic have their place in the Star Wars Universe, why stop there. Lucas Arts could make many games that take place after Return of the Jedi where the likeness of the character most of us associate as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo can be replicated to near perfection. Maybe the voices won't match up completely. Maybe Mark Hamil or Harrison Ford would sign on for the project. Who knows. The point is that through gaming, franchises such as Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings, etc., can live on and ciontinue to thrill us with rousing adventures. Also, gaming can bring things back to life that would be impossible to do wih movies or music. Look at the Beatles Rock Band. In that game, John Lennon and George Harrison live on. In Guitar Hero 5, Kurt Cobain lives on. Why not make a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game featuring The Doors, or Jimi Hendrix, or some of our other lost icons. The possibilities are fascinating once one puts their mind to it.

There you have it. My theories on why gaming matters. There are many more points I could make, but I wanted to hit the ones that matter the most to me. Besides, I can't write all night.

I have games to play.

Has GTA had a bigger impact on gaming than Super Mario Bros.?

As a 40 year old core gamer, I know I am in the minority here as far as the prime demographic is concerned. Nevertheless, my advanced years do give me a certain insight into this fabulous industry. So, the other day I read where someone said that Super Mario. Bros for the NES is the game that saved gaming. That may very well be true. But, I started wondering something. If you look at this industry now, the one segment of the economy that seems recession resilient (don't kid yourself...nothing is recession proof), one has to wonder how we got to this point. And I keep coming back to the same 3 letters: G-T-A. So I wonder: Has GTA had a bigger impact on gaming than Super Mario did? Think about it.

I started gaming on the Odyssey some time in the 70's. Gaming was just starting to get going but it was nothing yet. Then Space Invaders hit the arcades. For the younger folks here, man I wish I could explain what that was like. It is so easy to take the graphics we have now for granted, but back then, as fugly as the graphics were, no one had seen anything like Space Invaders before, as simplistic as it is by our standards today. Then Pac-Man hit and it was good night, game over, drive home safely for a nation. Atari sought to capitalize on the craze and put a 2600 in everyones house. And, the games were not really that good. They looked nothing like what we had in the arcade, especially games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Space Invaders. Nobody cared. Everyone was so thrilled to be playing Pac-Man in their homes, even if it looked more like Pac Monster. With the exception of Combat and Adventure, the list of stellar titles for the 2600 was pretty thin...and still nobody cared. Intellivision improved on this a bit, at least as far as sports games were concerned, but by the time Colecovision (remember that one) hit, the market was flooded with so much crap that everyone finally woke up and realized the gold they thought they had was just pyrite. Once ET came out, it was all over, even though there were already games worse than that floating around at the time. Gaming went into a long coma. Sure, the computers were still fun. The Commodore 64 had a few good games out. But, when the most exciting thing is playing strip poker on the Atari 800? Yeah...exactly.

So, its 1985 and here comes the NES with Super Mario Bros, and the sleeping giant is awoken. Now lets look at Super Mario. No question, this may be the greatest game of all time. We have all played it. But Super Mario's legacy is measured not by that one game itself, but by what it led to. Think back if you can: Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Contra, and Double Dragon all came out shortly thereafter. Then the original Metal Gear and the first Dragon Warrior here in the States. Oh, and some franchise with a elf looking guy with a green cap. I mean the Legend of Zelda may have even been a better game than Super Mario was. It was like the polar opposite of the market just before the Crash. Now the market was flooded with good, and quite often great, games. Super Mario has to therefore be looked at not just as a great game, but by what it led to. Did it resurrect the gaming industry? Absolutely. Without Super Mario, we would never have seen the SNES, Genesis, N64, the original Playstation, Dreamcast, or PS2. This website would not exist but for Super Mario. But, is it the most important game in the history of gaming?

I offer this as thought. Now look, I like GTA and I have played all of them since GTA III. But it is not my favorite series of all time. Personally, I think the Halo series is just as good, maybe a bit better. Be that as it may, has GTA made a bigger difference to gaming than Super Mario did? OK. Stop laughing. As an attorney, I will lay out the evidence before you and you decide. GTA III launches in October of '01. The PS2 has been out for about a year, a tad less actually, and those of us who have one note the significant difference in graphics and things like that. But, many of us are still playing our original PS games, even if we are now playing them on our PS2s. When GTA III hit, it was like the shot heard round the world. Nothing has been the same since. Since that game was released, the gaming industry has been on overdrive and it has never looked back. Think about it. That game may have been solely responsible for the still staggering PS2 install base. Because of that install base, and the stunning revenues being drawn, we saw Microsoft and Nintendo wanting to get in on the action, which led to the original Xbox, which in turn led to Halo, which then led to the 360, which led to the Wii, etc. Thus, while Super Mario resurrected the gaming industry, GTA sent it into the stratosphere. Gaming has now surpassed movies in total revenue. Why wouldn't it? $60 will barely even cover the cost of going to the movies anymore...and its all over in 2 hours or so. Games can last anywhere from 5-100 hours. And games offer a real opportunity to do things movies cannot. Games are interactive, make you think, are challenging, and can be enjoyed with your friends. Best of all, characters do not have to age in games, unless the developers want them to. Movie franchises can see an extended life through the development of games that enhance, or add to, the original story, such as with the Force Unleashed. This is why you are seeing the new Wanted game being touted as a sequel, or the new Ghostbusters game being called Ghostbusters III. The reason this is possible is because GTA III, and its progeny, broke down all the doors, generated all the money, and led to the development of machines and technology that made all this possible.

So, is GTA more important to gaming than Super Mario. Certainly not from a purely iconic standpoint. Sorry, but CJ and Nikko fall very flat when compared to the Italian Princess saving plumber.But, for what it has led to, and where things will go in the future, one cannot minimize the tremendous impact the GTA series has had on gaming. With the first GTA game for the DS being released, this seemed like a good time for a thought provoking question for everyone.

Let the debate begin8)

The Rise Of Competitive Gaming

I have been thinking of starting a blog about gaming for a while now, so here goes. Some people may recognize my gamertag as one of the very first forum members at Major League Gaming (MLG). Others may recognize it from some of the local lead in tournaments I have helped to organize in Bakersfield, CA. Others might recognize me from some of the Madden or NCAA Leagues I co-commish. Or some (probably most) of you don't know who I am and could care less:lol: Its all good. I am a 39 year old attorney out here in California who has been playing games since the days of the Odyssey. So, I have seen a lot of things gaming related in my advanced days. For mys first blog entry, I wanted to write about a fast rising segment of this industry we all love...competitive gaming or E-sports.

MLG....wow, how they have grown since the early days. I remember when they first started out and it was Madden '04 and Halo CE. There was no Video on Demand...we would post threads on the forum after getting updates on AIM or the telephone. Now look at them. There is a map based on an MLG arena in RSVegas 2. Halo 3 now has official MLG gametypes. ESPN is sponsoring the 2008 season. It is truly amazing to see this all happen. But I, for one, am not surprised at all by the recent surge of competitive gaming. This has been building for some time now and it just makes sense. You hear so many naysayers opining that E-sports are not real sports and gamers should not be confused with athletes. Why? You hear stuff about gaming promoting laziness. However, in a 2006 report from the Entertainment Software Association, the following information was revealed: "Gamers devote more than triple the amount of time spent playing games each week to exercising or playing sports, volunteering in the community, religious activities, creative endeavors, cultural activities, and reading." Many gamers did not even know that although I am sure many of us who read that will know that they fit that bill as well. Scratch that myth in any event.

"But games aren't real, its all virtual" So? Games still teach teamwork, sportsmanship, strategy, the same sorts of qualities that are present in so-called "real sports." I especially like pointing out to skeptics that gamers have tremendous reflexes when compared to many who do not play and are also almost always quite advances with respect to logical thinking and problem solving skills. And, unlike certain sports, gamers do not need steroids, HgH or performance enhancing drugs to excel at what they do....unless you count copious amounts of Red Bull as a performance enhancer:lol: Now, that is not designed as a dig at traditional sports because I am a huge sports fan. It is just meant to prove a point, namely that E-sports are just as real as traditional sports and the guys playing them are most definitely athletes in their own right.

And that's why competitive gaming is now on the upswing. When I was young, I loved sports but I had asthma pretty bad back then so playing sports was hard for me. I took refuge in games. Not everyone can be like Mike, or A-Rod. We all don't have God given talent like Reggie Bush. For many of us, games take up the gap and for many of those who seek games as a means to an end, they discover that they have talents they never knew existed. As their talents grow, they discover others with similar talents and similar interests. Teams are born, friendships grow, and, in some circumstances stars are born. But it is not easy and nothing in life that is worthwhile ever is. You look at a championship gaming team, like Final Boss. When you read the interviews they give, and you gain an understanding of how much time and effort they put in to being the best they can be, doesn't it sound like the same time and effort that professional athletes from traditional sports put in to become the best they can be? There must be something to it or else why would an All-Star like Gilbert Arenas go to the effort of sponsoring Final Boss, and MLG as well.

But E-sports also offers unique differences that differentiate it from anything else out there. You look at the different genres and see that to excel in the competitive aspects of the genre, you need to have different skill sets and be multi-faceted. If you play shooters, you have to know how to be a team player, know your strengths and weaknesses, know weaponry, and know that map like the back of your hand. If you are a sports gamer, you not only need stick skills, you need to have some knowledge of the strategy behind the actual sport you are playing to really excel (well, most of the time anyway). If you like driving and racing games, quite often you need to have some basic knowledge of physics, aerodynamics, and tremendous hand-eye coordination. If you play fighters, you need to know your character inside and out, but you need to know what your opponents character can do as well. And if you play RTS games, you have to be quick with the mouse and keyboard, know the best way to quickly amass resources, get your base built (most of the time) and have a strategy for either going on the offense, or playing more of a defensive posture. If you are into Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you need great reflexes as well, but knowing the song (similar to knowing a map) is almost as important. In many ways, each genre is a sport unto itself and the opportunities being created are very encouraging.

Eventually, more and more people will come to realize these facts and when that happens, E-sports will really take off. It is already well on its way. And one thing that I think all of us agree on:

I'd rather watch a good game of Halo 3 than a poker game any day of the week8)