About the Jeff Thing

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If you have been watching then you likely have seen numerous "main stream" media articles about the world of gaming media and frankly some of the darker close connections between the media and the industry they cover. Still it is a bit sad when that darkness comes home to roost in your favorite hang out. Perhaps it was inevitable, perhaps it didn't have to be, but there you have it.

I know, we haven't heard the whole story. Frankly I doubt we'll ever get all the details due to contracts or just the usual corporate stuff that occurs. Yet I've "heard" enough to make me think that in fact Jeff was let go for reasons other than simple editorial disagreements. I can't imagine an editorial staff that doesn't have such disagreements. While such disagreements may be there, if the trigger for action is the almighty dollar then that is the reason plain and simple. Don't kid yourself.

I'm not sure what my plans are but I'm not sure I'll want to stick around if this place doesn't feel ... right. Right now some things feel very wrong here at Gamespot.

My 360 RRoD - 85 is the new 80 - The Epic of Dirty Dancing

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My 360 RRoD


My 360 died (RRoD) toward the end of October while playing the intense system punishing, Puzzle Quest. I was resigned that this would one day occur so I wasn't that surprised or dissapointed. At least not at first.

I ran to the Xbox.com support site and after following a series of broken links I found that I could request my 360 be repaired online. I filled out the form and was told by the website I would receive an e-mail with further instructions. A few days later I still hadn't received an e-mail. Status of my repair ticket noted they were waiting for me to send them my 360.

I called up tech support and a way cool recorded voice menu tried to help me troubleshoot my broken system. Can a voice menu really try? I unpluged the various cables, pluged them back in, no change in the problem and the computer voice sent me to a real human.

I explained to the real human that I opened a ticket online but never got an e-mail about what was up and was wondering if I was being sent packing materials and such. He didn't seem to get what I said and just jumped to the same troubleshooting steps that I just did. I humored him and told him that I had to put the phone down to do the stuff and went and got a snack then told him it didn't work.

He then read some script to me and started working on something on his computer and asked for my info and serial number. He just couldn't get something to work on his computer and kept having to put me on hold. Eventually ne announced triumphantly:

"You're already registered, that's why I can't register."

I responded "Yeah I am registered and I opened a tick..."

He interrupted me and began another process of struggling on his computer for a bit longer and announced that now the problem was that I already opened a request for my 360....

The force was not strong with this one. I explained the issue yet again. He did some looking and found that they indeed had shipped me my boxes and I should get them in a few days. Apparently UPS 3 day select shipping takes longer than three days when you don't actually give the boxes to UPS for several days. Yay Microsoft...

So I get my boxes a few days later. Within hours of the boxes arriving at my door I package up my 360 and rush it to the local UPS distribution center. It arrives at the service center in Texas a few days later.

According to the UPS tracking number and the Xbox.com website my 360 sat there at the service center for a week and a half (business days) before it ships out. $1.5 billion set aside to repair 360s apparently buys you typical customer support, 3 day select shipping, and a service center that takes forever to service anything.

I received a 360 last night in the mail. It had an apologetic note that didn't seem to be about the actual failure of the device or the time it took to fix it. Just the usual corporate double speak that probably was devised by a lawyer who didn't want to admit to anything in legal terms and just wanted to make me roll my eyes.

I actually received an entirely new 360 with the note saying that they just gave me a new system but not why. No they didn't give me an upgrade to an elite or anything like that. I'm guessing that they were behind at the service center and up and chose to send out new systems to some folks. Too bad they couldn't just have done that outright as it would have cut my wait in half. I also received a one month XBL Gold Member card. Not sure what use the card is to me as I already subscribe early and the darned thing just up and renews automatically.

I never really was all that up in arms over the hardware issues on the 360 after MS chose to up and just cover it all. Yet I have to say I'm a bit more irked about it all after the repair took a month to fix my system.



85 is the new 80

A Gamespot score of 80 used to be the area where a number of games fell into the realm where I really wanted to play them but amidst a rush of better games I knew that I would likely never play many of them. The score wasn't the determining factor. My interest in that game played a part but in general many of games that I would never get around to scored around the low 80s.

Thus comes this fall season and it seems that 85 is the new 80. With so many 90+ games and 90 with multiplayer aspects that could go on forever let along existing game backlog it seems that the line I draw in the sand needs to be propped up a bit.

Dirty Dancing

Taken from Codemaster's press release about Dirty Dancing - The Video Game.

"We are proud to be a part of such an epic franchise"

Epic?

Classic 3dfx Commercials

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I recently ran across some of the good old 3dfx commercials.

Commercial 1

Commercial 2

Commercial 3 (the best IMO)

For those who don't remember 3dfx made some video cards in the late 1990s early 2000 time period. It was one of those situations where there was a ton of advertising, lots of drooling by PC enthusiasts who swore by them, and frankly very little difference between 3dfx's cards and Matrox, Nvidia, and ATI's cards except for the fact that 3dfx was way ahead of its time in pricing their video cards sky high. At least they made some funny commercials.

A Little Halo of Perspective

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With every high profile game released there are numerous editorials, op-eds and forum posts surrounding the game. These range from "You wouldn't believe what happened at the midnight release party!" to "OMG Local Retailer X is horrible, don't shop there because I didn't get my game yesterday." along with the usual predictions of the video game industry's impending doom. For the most part these are all worthwhile reads. What gets my goat are the "Game X is overrated!" complaints. Halo 3 isn't the first or the last game to receive such criticism but it certainly has gathered a lot of folks claiming it is "overrated".

I'm not saying that everyone who says a game is overrated is simply wrong. However, I think the basic reasoning behind most of these claims misses its target. What follows is my is my interpretation and comments regarding many of what I see as the more misguided "overrated" claims regarding Halo 3.

"Halo is no that great because it is just...."

This statement is usually followed by the observations that the Halo series is "just" a sci-fi FPS, and that is absolutely correct. Halo 3 is a sci-fi FPS, chances are it won't blow your mind. It won't wash my car and it won't do much more than provide you an opportunity to have a good time. Just like every other video game out there, including other truly great games.

Why Halo 3's common elements with other games should bring it down below the level of great, or even very good, is beyond me. Personally I've been burnt out on the sci-fi shooter scene for quite some time, but it's not like I can hold that against Halo. The series is six years old and I have my doubts that the story arch would hold up well if time travel was involved just to introduce a new setting, at least not until the first trilogy is completed ;)

"Halo does not live up to the hype."

Hype is an ambiguous thing. When a game is accused of being overrated it seems the hype is often mentioned. For this journal's purpose I'll consider hype is the grand sum of all the media coverage, advertising and promotional spam, and even the fanboy spazzing on internet forums and etc.

If you've ever spent time talking to some of the biggest fans of just about anything out there you probably already know that no game, product, or anything will ever live up to the heights that they hold it to, at least not to us outside observers. Halo 3 is not the first, second, or third coming of your favorite best or worst deity, even if some other folks think it is. Yet that that's no reason put down the game.

I'm a ridiculously big Civilization fan. I once hung out early in the morning at a store waiting for Civ III to arrive. To outside observers the game is not worth that kind of effort or excitement. My or anyone else's excitement, and possibly foolish actions, relating to the game shouldn't be held against the game. Holding a fan's actions against a game is the kind of reasoning you hear from some of the crazy anti gaming crusaders. That is just plain silly.

Regarding advertising and related promotional spam, as annoying as it can be I find that also difficult to hold against a game. The endless TV commercials, painful website flash advertising, and groan inducing Mountain Dew "game fuel" adverts might go as far as being downright embarrassing but that has little to do with the actual game.

Overrated in terms of Money, Success, Ratings

Let's just get one thing out of the way when it comes to sales. Like a lot of other things life sometimes things just aren't fair. Is Halo 3 worth the insane amount of money it absorbed in sales on the day of release? I don't know. Do games that are nearly as good rake in nearly as much money? I'm willing to concede that the answer is no. Even conceding that last point it seems silly to judge a game basted on its success. Sales and profits really shouldn't factor into it. We don't think less of our favorite games that didn't sell as well as they should have. Doing the same thing to games that sold better than we expect or think they should is just silly.

Perspective

Of course what this all boils down to is games should be judged simply for what they are. Factoring in hype, fanboys, crazy PR people, and profits to me seems like a good way to find something to gripe about a game that doesn't have much to do with the game itself. Such a practice would mean that just about every game is "overrated" particularly if you listen to the hired PR guns out there or happen to be surrounded by fanboys. That's not to say it is easy to ignore all that stuff. I think those of us who follow the industry are particularly prone to get a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to "system sellers" and all the info and media that we absorb. Filtering all that out and just looking at the game on its own merits can be a challenge.

I'm about as tired as anyone by the Halo 3 media blitz. Some of the fans are disturbingly ... ravenous (nearly as much as SSBB fans). I'm not even much of a Halo fan myself. If it wasn't for the fact that the Call of Duty 4 beta ended and won't be released until November I might not have picked up Halo 3.

Having played Halo 3 I know that the Halo series still isn't my personal cup of tea. Yet that doesn't mean I can't recognize the great game that is there. A nice campaign with some impressive production value and ridiculously rich multiplayer and community features that few games even come close to offering all add up to a great game. That holds true even if I'm not quite as excited as Microsoft or the advertising would have me be, or as excited as some other people are.

Games on the Brain

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Where I work I make the schedule for my team of busy bees. The holiday schedule is always a mess so I was getting a head start on December. I was just looking over a list of employees and was looking for some info on a particular employee. I couldn't find him. His first name is Leroy. After a bit of frustration I realized my mistake. Rather than look for his correct last name I was searching using the last name Jenkins. This is not the first time I've done this either.

*sigh*

Now THAT is How You Promote a Game!

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We've all see the PR folks being interviewed at trade shows. They do their best, but when the interviewer hits them with the right question you quickly know how little they know.

In addition to limited insight into the development and even content of the game PR folk all tend to have the same enthusiasm. They have enough to keep you watching, but most of the time not enough enthusiasm to convince you that they're honestly excited about the game. Toss in the fact that everything, including totally inconsequential stats about the game, receives the same semi exciting delivery, and the same speech patterns and you've got some fairly boring people to watch over the long term.

Today's (Day 1) Live Gamespot coverage of PAX had an exception. It was a show of sound problems and fairly standard interviews until they met up with a guy promoting Haze. Now I don't know if he was from the developer, publisher, or was just a hired PR gun, but he had a lot of enthusiasm mixed with charisma, lots of charisma . . . or maybe a high blood alcohol content. It is hard to tell sometimes.

Either way it is worth watching when Gamespot gets the cached version up on their PAX page. The rest of the show has a lot of technical difficulties and games you already know about so you might want to skip to the end. I hope they don't edit out the gratuitous cursing at the end of the interview. It really wraps things up nicely.

Was it good PR? Maybe, I'm still thinking about it.

Leaked Sony E3 2007 Internal Memo!

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To: Sony Executives and Public Relations Personal at Sony Computer Entertainment
From: Sony Department of Common Sense
Date: Monday, July 9, 2007

We at the under funded Sony Department of Common Sense are writing to address public relations issues that we believe is critical to resolve before the upcoming 2007 E3 Expo. As many of you are aware Sony Computer Entertainment has had a somewhat difficult past year. The launch of the PlayStation 3 has not gone as successfully as hoped and frankly we at the Sony Department of Common Sense feel that some PR gaffes have not helped matters. Such gaffes may not be the source of the problems, but they're not making things any better either. Accordingly we have prepared this memo to provide tips that we hope will assist you avoid unnecessary missteps when it comes to communicating with the media and to a larger extent customers and potential customers during and after E3 2007.


1. Check your facts before you speak.

While we all know that the PlayStation 3 is an amazing machine we do believe that Sony has built up a bit of a reputation for aggressively touting upcoming features. Does our competition do it too? Absolutely our competition does it too, but that doesn't earn us any more credibility when we talk about features and capabilities that frankly may never materialize.

Remember the Killzone 2 trailer two years ago that was supposedly generated in real time, but in fact was not? Then there was the claim that Motorstorm would run at 1080p and 60 fps. Such claims are great if they are true, but when we fall short on such promises it impacts our credibility in the future and can result in more bad press than good. We suggest checking and possibly shelving any claims this year that we might not be entirely certain that we will be able to deliver.


2. Nobody cares what we think of our competitors.

In a recent survey of the gaming audience we were shocked to find that most people don't think that we provide a balanced view of our competitor's products. When asked if they want to hear more of what we think about Microsoft, Nintendo and their products most gamers told us to "put a sock in it" or place other items in various locations. In short they do not care what we think about our competition.

We are also concerned that raising too much FUD about our competitors casts a somewhat unpleasant light on our image as a company, and might even seem a bit "desperate" to our potential customers out there. In past years we may have been able to more securely talk about problems and concerns regarding our competitors products but now with increased competition the more we spend time spreading the FUD and less we do selling our own product the more likely it is to backfire. This is especially true if the FUD may be factually inaccurate. There are legitimate issues with our competitor's products but we suggest keeping the FUD to a minimum for now. Remember we need to sell our system here.


3. Be careful how you say what you say.

In addition to suggestion number one, we should be considerate of how we communicate our message. There have been a large percentage of articles published about our grand company over the past year that could be described as negative. Regardless of whether we feel this is fair or not the result is that we need to be selective in what we say. Sure there are those folks who will twist whatever we say into some negative pretzel, but at times we don't help matters and some comments only feed the fire.


4. Improve the Presentations.


The last item is not so much a PR gaffe as it is an area for improvement. When surveying gamers and members of the media we found that amongst those who watched last years E3 presentations they most enjoyed watching Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime. Reggie Fils-Aime's presentation was followed in popularity by Gamespot footage of a parking meter, then a baked potato, then all the other presentations including our own. That is not good.

We certainly appreciate that many of those people who have spoken at our E3 presentations in the past are experienced presenters. However, we submit that the experience earned in "captive audience" presentations such as board or staff meetings might not translate well into a presentation where we need to get the media and games excited about or products. Attach ratios, and similar stats just don't generate the buzz that we think we're looking for at E3. Additionally we suggest having an engineer discussing the finer technical points of the cell processor might be worth skipping this year, if not forever.


Conclusion

As we noted in our opening statement these suggestions certainly won't address every challenge that Sony Computer Entertainment faces today. However, those suggestions may at least make our lives bit easier and over time by avoiding such missteps they could add up to an improved public image in the minds of the media and our customers in this competitive market.

Thank your for your time and attention,

Sony Department of Common Sense

Who are the Gaming Folk?

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The Nintendo Wii has had some incredible early success both in Japan and here the U.S. I even bought one despite writing off Nintendo consoles after my coma educing experience with the Gamecube. If there is anything I've learned from Nintendo's success so far it is the following:

I have absolutely no idea who my fellow game players are and I do not know why they buy what they buy.

Sure I know that a game like Halo, Madden, Pokemon or the latest dreadful movie tie in games are going to sell like hotcakes. Is that really due to some deep understanding of the gaming audience or just the recognition of an obvious pattern?

I spend a fair amount of time on gaming forums as I'm interested in what other people are playing, what they think about the games they are playing, and etc. I don't recall anyone predicting the demand for the Wii that has been seen to date. This leads me to assume that most of the people who play games (at least that I see) also don't have the best grasp of who else plays games and why they buy what they buy.

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of opinions and theories about the Wii's popularity. Hit any gaming forum out there and you'll find that there is bound to be one or two active threads where users proclaim various reasons for the Wii's success. On top of how confidant about their theories everyone is it is interesting to see the variety of theories:

The Wii has a low price point.
The Wii is different than the competition.
It's a gimmick!
The Virtual Console is crazy fun.
Nintendo is manipulating the supply and using scarcity to drive up sales.
The casual crowd has come to play and there are lots of them buying Wiis.
Screw traditional games, all we need are mini game compilations!*

*Ok, nobody actually said the last one. Note that Nintendo.

So those are just the main points of a few theories. There are endless variations reflecting each person's opinion. Heck I suspect even the theories are driven mostly from each person's own opinion of the system rather than any actual data. I have my doubts as to how many folks out there have broken out their spreadsheets and poured over demographic numbers. Personally I suspect the first two theories have something to do with the Wii's success, but then again that's why I bought a Wii. Beyond a hadful of friends I don't know why anyone else bought it.

Now the people who might have some real data about who makes up the population of game players sometimes share a tiny bit that info. The folks at the ESA have a nice page of numbers. Amongst other things they tell us that the average game player is 33 years old. I feel I have to take some of this info with a grain of salt. Currently the political climate is fairly anitgaming and I think it would be in the industry's best interest to note that most gamers are adults and not children. Also as another user on the Gamespot forum often asks: If there are so many older gamers out there, then why are most video games still released altogether around the holidays? Hummm.

So there we go. Even when someone is nice enough to drop some numbers in my lap I'm skeptical. Even if I buy into those numbers they really don't explain much at all about the Wii's popularity, or why game players buy what they buy. For all the editorials, pod casts, talk and rhetoric out there I have to wonder who actually knows anything about game players?

I think I'll go fill out those two surveys from Nintendo sitting in my inbox. It seems they want to know too.