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Multiplayer and its Effects On Gaming

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By now, the trend of having at least one multiplayer mode in a video game has become a staple in the industry. The general consensus asserts that a multiplayer component adds value to a game, and it's hard to disagree with that logic. Most blockbuster titles have short campaigns; not necessarily by design, but because crafting a lengthy triple-A experience is undoubtedly a costly and time consuming venture, one that doesn't guarantee better sales or a greater critical reception. It's a fickle premise from the get go, as campaign length varies by player, and besides, when was the last time you liked a game because it had a seventeen hour campaign, rather than fourteen hour one?

Not that all the reasons behind including multiplayer modes in a video game are noble and logical. There's an obvious financial element behind adding multiplayer modes to a game. Keeping consumers online and playing a particular product usually means better DLC sales and less game reselling. A map pack or bonus campaign are tough to successfully sell if most of the consumer base has resold the original game. A fun multiplayer mode, competitive or otherwise, increases the value of the video game, insuring more people will stick around long after they beat the single player campaign. It's an intelligent move, but also one that's believed to be greedy in nature.

This greed causes developers to receive a ton of ire for adding multiplayer to their video games. Tomb Raider and The Last of Us are great examples. Long before either game came out, the majority of responses from the community centered around disapproval. It's no secret that a not-so-small portion of the gaming audience hates multiplayer modes in their video games, mainly because the inclusion of said modes can be indicative of misplaced resources, motives and logic. To be fair, I mostly agree with that contention. There are many games with tacked-on multiplayer modes, and this is something that needs to stop. But what about the social aspect to having multiplayer modes in a video game?

Greedy Developers

Gaming as a culture has changed in the eyes of society over the past decade. What once looked like a nerdy, detached-from-reality pastime is now being regarded as a fun, totally acceptable hobby to have. The statistics don't lie: 58% of Americans play video games. In 1999, that number was 9%. The change isn't that surprising, if you think about it. During its infancy, many people didn't understand video games. Their purpose was clouded; by and large it seemed to be something a socially inept outcast would enjoy. The perceived appeal for video games was intended for "losers" in real life, who could be heroes in a totally different world, where they weren't judged by their actual appearance or other shortcomings. Gaming was a universe in which rejection didn't exist.

But without going multiplayer, this appeal was limited. Even for those that did play games, sometimes a reminder would pop up about how they are probably "wasting their time" by playing the game. Friends or family would regularly caution a "friendly" reminder about how playing a game is akin to being unproductive and useless. Spending time in a fantasy world was like wasting a life. I believe Minecraft developer Notch said it best, "Sometimes when I play a game, the screen goes dark and I see my own reflection in the monitor, and wonder what I'm doing with my life."

The surge of multiplayer game modes changed that perception entirely. Adding a social element to gaming has caused it to come out of the proverbial basement. Playing games with friends from all over the world is an engaging social experience, one that wasn't possible fifteen years ago, at least not in a mainstream sense. Online friendships, relationships and rivalries aren't uncommon, and through interacting with other, real humans, gaming has shed its loner-only skin. 

Gaming has become popular thanks to multiplayer modes, and that truth isn't very different when compared to gaming's single player, offline roots. How many of us became gamers only because a friend, relative or role model first introduced us to the world? Multiplayer modes just expanded this model outwards, allowing for someone who lives in a different time zone to influence us into giving the hobby a try, and this is a good thing. 

An argument could be made, in fact, that without the explosion of online, interactive multiplayer experiences that came during this current generation, gaming wouldn't have survived the economic recession that began in 2008. It sounds outlandish, but consider the number of people that became full-fledged gamers because of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or World of Warcraft. The millions and millions of new consumers (who spent money on other games, too) brought gaming into the mainstream, and without that evolution, there's a good chance it would have been doomed when our economy tanked. 

Without the eruption of multiplayer modes, it would have been hard for gaming to mainstream. Multiplayer changed gaming from an introverted diversion to a social platform, and such a change was required for it to rise in popularity. But why?

As a species, humans yearn for social interaction. Interests and careers are a way of personalizing (and shrinking) the world, which is the only way it becomes manageable. Through a like-minded community comes acceptance and comfort, something we all seek. A distraction is only a successful distraction if there are other people experiencing it, and that was gaming's biggest problem: based on biased, preconceived notions, not enough people were willing to give it a chance.

We need a community in order to allow our minds to wander into a fantasy realm. It's what keeps us feeling sane; we'd feel alone, otherwise, and that's the worst emotion anyone could feel. Loneliness is the destroyer of all hobbies, careers and friendships. The very fabric of most games would be shattered if there wasn't a community to experience it, and I'm not just talking about multiplayer concentrated games. Long before the online revolution, gaming was meant to cure loneliness. 

Multiplayer modes made curing loneliness a lot easier, through a greater scale of teamwork and competition.

Loneliness

Every task in life is either a competition or a team effort, for better or for worse, and multiplayer just added gaming to the list. Be the best at your job, get the best grades, be the most attractive, have the best body, run the fastest, lift the most weight, save the most money, influence the most people, be the most liked, do the most good, save the most lives, help the most people, sell the most of a product...what isn't a competition? Companies are just communities striving to be the best with at one the aforementioned goals.

Competition and teamwork are what our society is built upon. Most hobbies in and of themselves are competitive. Gaming, before the online outbreak, was limited in these endeavors locally. Having the high score on the arcade machine or winning the LAN tournament of Mortal Kombat were all gaming could offer, and that wasn't enough to sustain it as the years passed. Enter the convenience of playing against (or with) friends online, and a recipe for a boom in popularity was born.

Simply put, online multiplayer modes were a gateway into gaming for many people. This gateway was only irresistably alluring because gaming was better able to blend in with all of the other more accepted pastimes.

And that's why nobody should hate a multiplayer mode, no matter how much it feels tacked on. The continuing of a connected culture is vital to gaming's longevity, for financial, popularity and psychological reasons, and although most of the time multiplayer features are implemented strictly out of greed, there are unintended, incredibly great side effects that come from such a mindset. These side effects happen to be required, as well, and so long as gaming stays multiplayer focused, it should survive throughout the years.

And isn't that what we all want?

GTA V: No Female Protagonist

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I don't know if it's a sign that my views and morals are evolving for the better, or if I'm just nitpicking something that isn't a problem, but am I the only one who is bothered that GTA V has no female protagonist?

I just don't get it. As I try to wrestle with the debate in my head, I can't quite figure out why the fine people at Rockstar didn't make one of the three protagonists in GTA V a female.

It's one thing to go with a male lead if your game has only one hero...but three? 

Does having three male protagonists in any game automatically make it sexist? Absolutely not. Rockstar is by no means required to create anything that they don't want to, especially in their biggest franchise. But I can't help but wonder how the decision was made during the earlier stages of GTA V production. 

How could that conversation have gone? Surely someone brought it up, right? "Hey uh, what about a female protagonist, guys? Since we're going with three main characters and everything?"

Are there any legitimate, rejecting responses to those questions that aren't at least slightly sexist? I mean, the game hasn't come out yet, but judging by the trailers, are any of the three protagonists in GTA V (Franklin, Trevor and Michael) not stereotypical representations of male characters in video games?

Franklin, who is black, is the gang banger...well, fine, but didn't I already play San Andreas? What a buster, CJ. 

Trevor, the crazy backwoods psychopath. Because if you were creating one of those killing, no remorse kind of characters, he couldn't live in the city, right? 

And then there's Michael, the clean cut, retired criminal. He has a family, so his murderous career is in the past...for now. So he's going to be conflicted, and I'm sure a lot of his story line will include trying to keep his family oblivious of his daily activities. He will also focus on keeping them safe. Throughout the course of the game, some villain will capture them, I'm sure. Hey John Marston.

GTA V Protagonists

How very cliché.

Be honest, if you'd never seen pictures of the three protagonists in GTA V, and were only handed their biographies to use as a description, would you not come up with sketches that are similar to how Franklin, Trevor and Michael actually look?

You mean to tell me that no one could have come up with a more fresh, interesting female character? Originality, get some!

I caught this week's Jimquisition, where Jim Sterling gave praise to Rockstar for using the word "fun" a lot during the much anticipated GTA V gameplay reveal trailer. Apparently, every gameplay decision and change Rockstar made was in the name of fun. 

That's great. But what was the reasoning behind going all male for their protagonists in GTA V? Part of me wonders if that decision was made to maximize potential sales. Grand Theft Auto is one of the most popular franchises of all time, after all, and if recent stories like The Last of Us refusing to put Ellie on the back of the game cover, or about how Naughty Dog had to specifically request for females to playtest their game are any indication, going with a female (in any way) seems to be a terrible, financial idea, according to industry thinking. Let us not forget about BioShock Infinite's drama with its box art not featuring anything remotely related to the game, least of all Elizabeth.

Is there evidence that promoting your game with a female character is a bad idea? Do sales suffer? No way! Many people use Lara Croft as an example of how the gender of a protagonist doesn't impact sales. All that really matters is making a good game, right?

I admit, it's sad that Lara Croft is one of only a few examples of successful female-lead franchises in an industry filled with thousands of games. There should be more games with female heroes. Is this the consumers fault, though? Nay I say; I think the blame lies with the developers, and in this case, Rockstar.

This perceived notion that if you make a female protagonist in your game, its sales will suffer is just flat out wrong. Where is the evidence?

Are there a big enough group of gamers that wouldn't buy GTA V if one of the three main characters were female? I've yet to meet one. 

Progression and evolution as a society and as a people are only possible when people are willing to take risks. The gaming industry is no different. Go against the grain! Fight the publishers, fight the sexist developer! Stop playing it so safe. I understand that these games cost a ton to make, but I fail to see how making one of the three protagonists in GTA V could be considered risky. Can someone explain that to me?

Simply put, Rockstar missed a huge opportunity by going all male with their GTA V three protagonist lineup. They had an opportunity to silently say, "Female protagonists are fine, gaming industry, grow up!" Instead, big publishers will point to Remember Me as their evidence against female leads, and the only interesting female characters we'll ever see in blockbuster video games for the next few years will be relegated to sidekick status. Greetings, Ellie and Elizabeth.

The funny part is, those two characters are far and away more interesting and complex than any main male protagonist in any video game in recent memory.

GTA V, you let me down. Rockstar, shame on you. Here's hoping GTA VI will seize the opportunity.

Ellie vs Elizabeth

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Here comes another TL;DR blog. The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. Both are great, great games, and I know you agree. Some spoilers can be found below regarding both games.

There are many similarities between the two games. I want to compare, contrast, rate, analyze, study, and examine the most intriguing similarity of them all: the sidekick characters, Ellie from The Last of Us, and Elizabeth of BioShock Infinite. 

To call either of them a sidekick would be to misrepresent their importance within the games. I find this to be particularly true for Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite. As much as it might appear like the story is about Booker DeWitt, the plot really revolves around Elizabeth. She has the powers, which are what make the entire storyline possible, and on top of that she's the only reason you come to Columbia. So, yeah...Elizabeth is far from a sidekick. The same could be said for Ellie, but to a slightly lesser extent. The story within The Last of Us is very much about Ellie, it's true, but Joel is given a lot of attention as well. His character is pretty developed, especially in comparison to Booker DeWitt. The Last of Us' ending, in fact, has little to do with Ellie's feelings or character. It's an entirely selfish decision made by Joel, which is fine, I loved the ending, but this blog isn't about the ending to either game, it's about Ellie and Elizabeth.

Let's go in-depth, partners.

                 Ellie

Ellie from the Last of Us 

Deep down inside, Ellie is an optimist. She's in a terrible, depressing world, one that she was born into, but she's an optimist...at least most of the time. She's caring, has a potty mouth, and loves telling amazing jokes. She's also a realist. She understands killing, looting, and other immoral actions are necessary. The world is different now, but not to her. Her distrust of any stranger isn't a character flaw, or part of her armor, it's a requirement for survival. She also wants to help people. Once she discovers her immunity, she wants nothing more than to help cure the world.

Her lack of a father figure also influences her personality. She develops a father-daughter bond with Joel, which shows an underlying, perhaps subconscious desire to be loved and accepted. Not all that uncommon, but it's important to remember that, up until Joel, Ellie never had a lasting relationship with anyone, namely her parents. Her best friend, Riley Abel, died in front of her. These travesties are what caused her to grow up so fast. 

Loyalty is also a huge part of Ellie's character. Once she truly allies with Joel, she sticks with him, no matter what. Ellie is also smart, particularly at understanding a person's motives and personality quirks. She believes that a partnership between any two people must be advantageous to both sides in order to work. She must be an asset to the group, one that never slows anyone down. Her understanding of Joel becomes complete when she figures out he lost his daughter. From then on, she understands what makes Joel the man he is. This is an important distinction, because the ending involves deception; a lie told by Joel. Generally, when Ellie detects hyperbole or dishonesty, she calls Joel out on it. Though she treads softly, she's not afraid to talk with Joel about his dead daughter. She has a straightforward approach when interacting with him, for the most part. The usual subtlety most people display when covering touchy topics isn't found within her, perhaps because she was never a part of society before the cordyceps infection hit.

Being direct is the preferred, and most used way of communication for her. During the ending, though, she breaks character. Rather than apply her usual aggressive, straightforward manner of truth-seeking, she makes Joel swear he's telling the truth. What does this mean? Hard to know for sure. In my opinion, however, I believe she knows that he isn't being truthful, but chooses to accept it. This is because of their bond, and because of her sympathy for Joel. She feels sorry for him, for what he's been through. He's damaged, irrevocably so, and leaving him would be the straw that breaks him down completely. She can't do that to him.

The last thing worthy of note is the gameplay with Ellie. For me, immersion plays a factor in my ability to bond with a character. Eventually, Ellie helps you by shooting enemies, which adds depth to her character. She feels less like an AI companion, and more like an actual person. She regularly comments on something you do, like hitting an amazing shot, and she also has a few cutscenes where her interaction either saves you or helps you in a huge way. She can also be attacked (and killed) by enemies, provoking a countdown that must be stopped quickly in order to save her. These countdowns don't happen very often though, and it leads me to believe that they're mostly canned/planned. In certain levels, I couldn't get her attacked at all, no matter how much I tried. My only other complaint involves the stealth side of the gameplay found in The Last of Us. Having her being blatantly seen by an enemy is immersion breaking, and reminds me that she's just an AI companion, that's sometimes poorly coded. 

       Elizabeth

Elizabeth of BioShock Infinite

Elizabeth is the manifestation of innocence and purity. There is a Disney-princess vibe I get from her, and not just because she's locked away in a tower, waiting for her knight in shining armor to rescue her. Her personality is bubbly, filled with laughter and love of all things good. She's kind, caring, and above all else, she has a pure heart. This purity differentiates a similarity found in both games, as well. At one point, both Elizabeth and Ellie must kill someone for the first time. It is because of Elizabeth's innocence that her first kill moment is more meaningful, to me. 

Elizabeth is also gullible. She's easily manipulated, and Booker has no problem doing so in the beginning. This gullibility comes from a lack of real world experience, an innocence that can't be artificially created or faked. Not to sound repetitive, but she's been locked away for as long as she can remember. Her personality can only evolve from within her tower, which makes her character growth (before she meets Booker) quite limited. Until she meets him, she believes all people can be (and are) good. Evil isn't an irreversible sickness, it's a temporary, confused state brought on by deception and lies.

There is also a sense of adventure displayed in Elizabeth's character. Why? Because she's never been anywhere other than her tower! A place like Paris sounds incredible to her. Something as simple as a group of people dancing to music fills her with wonderment; it's a new experience that she genuinely appreciates and loves. Columbia, in a huge way, is breathtaking to her. It's like something out of a dream.

Once she discovers how potent her powers are, though, she begins to change. Comstock will do anything to recapture her, and the lengths that he's willing to go to recover her help educate Elizabeth on just how valuable she is. Booker is willing to lie to her constantly, as well, so trusting anyone becomes a problem. They might manipulate her for their own gain, so she must be careful.

At her core, though, I believe Elizabeth just wants to be left in peace. She wants to experience life, without having to worry about being kidnapped and experimented on. She wants to soak in the culture of the world, while not living in fear. She didn't ask for her powers. 

Eventually, Elizabeth's pure heart and kindness dictate her decisions during the last half of the game. She becomes loyal to Booker, once she realizes that his priorities aren't purely selfish. And then the ending comes. She realizes that, unless Booker prevents himself from being baptized completely, she'll end up destroying the world, in some universes. By having Booker drown, Elizabeth ceases to exist. This is a self sacrifice only possible by a pure, loving person. Another comparison between the endings might come to mind. Ellie was going to sacrifice herself for the good of mankind as well, except, she didn't. She is willing to live with not sacrificing herself. It may bother her, but actions speak louder than words, and at the end of the day, Elizabeth sacrificed herself, Ellie didn't.

The gameplay side of it matters, too. Though enemies would not attack Elizabeth, her interaction within the game was mostly flawless. Opening portals, throwing you ammo and money, saving you when you died...all of these features helped add immersion to her character. There were also many spots within the game world that she would stop and interact with. Not just the big, unique environmental pieces, either. She'll lean up against just about any post or pillar in the game. Little touches like that help make Elizabeth feel more full, as a character.

Ellie vs Elizabeth

So which one wins, for me? I think most people will choose Ellie, but for me, I have to go with Elizabeth. At the end of the day, the gameplay with her is far better, and her character is much more appealing/unique to me. A post-apocalyptic, hardened kid has been done before, in every medium, many times, and though Ellie is probably my second favorite video game character of all time, I can't help but feel most of her personality has been done before. Elizabeth just feels more unique. 

Beyond that, I think the biggest reason I prefer Elizabeth to Ellie has to do with the relationship between the main character and the sidekick in both games. In The Last of Us, Ellie is meant to be delivered. Throughout the first half of the game, Joel doesn't really care about her, at least not consciously or meaningfully. Eventually a bond develops, but his goal still remains; deliver her to the Fireflies.

With BioShock Infinite, your goal is to save Elizabeth. This is illustrated in the beginning immediately, "Save the girl, wipe away the debt." Granted, Booker's reasons are selfish at first. It doesn't change the fact, however, that the entire game revolves around you protecting and saving Elizabeth. There are multiple times where she's taken from you, and for me, that was huge. I felt like I needed to go save her every time. I think that's why I developed a stronger bond with her.

What do you think? Which character did you like more? Let me know!

Living in 2005

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The Xbox One's reversal of policies has caused quite a stir in the gaming universe. Most people are glad to see Microsoft coming to their senses. Gamers get to play their games offline, yahoo!

To everyone who championed this movement for the past few weeks online (irony), I have only one thing to say to you: thanks for keeping us in the year 2005.

Often times when I sit at my computer and type these unappreciated, ignored masterpieces, I think, "Boy, if just half of the gaming audience stayed informed about the industry, how much better would life be for me, as a gamer?"

I tend to think this is true of all distractions in life. How much better would the world be if we were all informed about politics, religion, and everything else that's far more important than gaming?

Distractions

Alas, gaming is my hobby; my passion, and so it is here that I choose to explain how sad it is that Microsoft reversed their Xbox One policies.

First, it is important to assign fault. Microsoft might seem the culprit--they changed the policies, after all--but they can't be blamed. It is hardly an uneducated assumption to assume that they changed these policies based on the amount of pre-orders they were getting for the Xbox One. It wasn't because they cared about gamers; neither they nor Sony really care about anything other than the bottom line. It's always about the money! 

So the lack of pre-orders, which is a result of the outcry of gamers, is where the blame lies. Most of us just didn't understand the upside to a connected, digital console. To be fair, Microsoft was terrible at communicating the benefits of such a world. What one representative said, another employee's comments directly disagreed with. Add a pile of rabid rumors and a slow response time to literally every article or question, and you've got mass confusion.

Mass confusion is damaging. Most of it surprised me, though. While Microsoft could have done much, much better at communicating their vision, I believe a huge part of the problem came from video game journalists. You know, the people that are supposed to be informed about the gaming industry?

Instead, most journalists saw a gravy train of website traffic. I hate to accuse the very site that gives me this unseen, unsung soapbox, but anyone with a shred of knowledge about web analytics could see their lack of innocence. To be fair, no website took the high road. Hits are hits, and if there's anything that gets views, it's an Xbox article. 

Now, I'm not suggesting a lack of sincerity in the collective voice of disapproval regarding the Xbox One policies. I have no doubt that most journalists who wrote a negative piece about the Xbox One were genuinely honest. I mean, if you compare the two consoles just using the CliffsNotes, it would be hard to support the Xbox One. One gave you freedom, or perceived freedom, which is the same thing, while the other treated you like a criminal, and it cost more. Which one would you feel better about?

Unfortunately, there was an upside to these "restrictions" that came with the Xbox One. Family sharing, the golden feature, the key component that really separated the two consoles, was a huge, now-missed advantage. You were to be given the ability to share your games with up to ten people, from anywhere in the world. There was no catch-22, no strings attached. No two people could borrow the same game at the same time, and everyone involved in the lending had to be connected on Xbox Live. Those were the rules, if you can even call them that.

Here I am, in America, playing my copy of Dead Rising 3. It's one of two games I got over the holidays. I'd already finished Ryse, so naturally, I'm not playing it anymore. And there you are, in the UK, playing Forza 5 on your Xbox One. We're in a party chat, hanging out like best buds do. I mention to you that I beat Ryse, and loved it, and you reply telling me about how you'd like to play it. Well, click a button, and boom! You can play it. No week (or so) of waiting on FedEx to deliver, no extra fees for the shipping to and from, no worry about losing the disc in the mail, overseas. Indeed, it cannot be scratched! Go digital! How truly spectacular!

Imagine that scenario with eight other people. The sharing potential is limitless. Far and away better than the current, ancient methods. Since Microsoft's reversal, numerous journalists (who were silent before the reversal, apparently) pointed out exactly what I'm talking about. You can read their opinions herehere, and here. I highly suggest giving them a read. 

Family sharing is a huge upside to the Xbox One policies. The connection requirement/used game limitations go hand-in-hand, and both must be in place for a digital sharing system to be possible. Without requiring a check, what's to stop you from sending me a game digitally, then both of us hiding offline for the next month? We'd essentially have two copies, while only paying for one! Furthermore, since discs weren't required, what's to stop me from physically lending my game to a few friends, then having all of us hide offline? Online requirement needed, and this is why it will be quite difficult for Microsoft to add a digital sharing system to the Xbox One in the future. It's certainly possible, though highly improbable. I'm certainly not holding my breath!

Does the family sharing feature not sound very cool to you? Well, according to their latest beta client, it does to Steam. Who are they again? Oh, the kings of digital distribution within gaming? Single-handedly responsible for the continued vitality of PC gaming? Those employees over at Valve must be smart!

There is an undeniable trend that can be found in our world, and not just in gaming. It's a trend that I'm sure you're aware of: digital is the future.

Could anyone really argue how invaluable the internet is? Is there one task that hasn't been made easier because of the internet? Perhaps keeping your life private, but I digress. Look at technology for a second. What's booming? What's on the up-and-up? Streaming! Digital distribution! Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu, Steam, GOG, Ouya, the App Store, iTunes, Google Play, the Kindle Store...goodness gracious I could go on for days! 

Disconnected

In fact, calling this a trend might be an understatement. This is a revolution; one that will continue to grow regardless of our Twitter campaigns and rude forum comments.  All we've managed to do is hold gaming back. We're preventing it from evolving naturally, in the way that every form of digital media has experienced willingly.

Glad about it? You shouldn't be! The damage that will almost assuredly come from such a restraint will be catastrophic. Right now, in 2013, it doesn't seem so bad, but it is. These consoles are already archaic by tech standards. In 3 years, though? How silly will these consoles look when compared to everything else found in our homes and pockets?

The money is in a digital world for everything else, why would you think the gaming industry is any different? These connected models aren't used out of greed alone, they're implemented out of necessity, because of competition. All it takes is a company with Microsoft's resources (hello Apple, Google and Valve) to do what OnLive did, but better. If such a device is ever created, bye bye Xbox One/PS4. Think I'm just making crazy assumptions? Read this journalist's opinion. Many video game journalists, in fact, have hypothesized that this generation will be the final one for the standard gaming console model. It's really not as egregious as you might think.

The advantages and convenience created by a digital console are far too enticing, and I think that's what most people don't understand. Better sales, cheaper games, more indie releases, developers seeing more money for their work, piracy being cut down (not completely)...it all comes from going digital, and this has been proven. Would you not trade the ability to physically lend your game to a friend for a world in which those advantages exist? All you ever needed was a terrible, doesn't-need-to-be-that-reliable internet connection. Instead, SteamBox is gonna wreck the market if it ever comes out!

And you know, we wouldn't have to wave goodbye to these other consoles if it weren't for misinformed, unenlightened gamers. This is why I implore you to evolve with me, twenty readers! Stop clinging to a decades-old system of used game trading that existed long before the internet became relevant. Things are different now, and no amount of feigned ignorance will change that. Don't be disillusioned: gaming will go digital, with or without your support. 

So please...can we stop living in 2005?

Compendium On Used Games

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Well, well, well. Well. Used games. If I've spoken about anything as much, color me surprised.

The compendium for used games follows below. There's a wealth of knowledge to be found; all of it works great at dinner parties. You'll earn a date or two for reciting this information, I guarantee it.

When you buy a new game, the developer/publisher see money from it. When you buy it used, the developer/publisher don't get one cent from your purchase. This is why it's cheaper to buy used.

There are four things that combine together to make games unlike anything else in our wonderful world. Games are UNIQUE. 

1) Has no alternate, additional forms of cash flow (other than buying it new).

2) The experience is the same in any state, new or used.

3) Increasing cost to make.

4) In many ways is a service more than a product.

First, let's deal with the comparisons.

Why used games aren't like used cars - This is because of point #2. Used cars are degraded, worn down versions of new cars. Aside from the parts having a lessened life span (in comparison to new), there's a safety issue within all of this that really makes the comparison ridiculous. The vitality of a car plays a huge role in your life, and its continued existence.  When you buy a used car, you know that it's more likely to break down, or need tuneups, or maintenence, or really anything a mechanic can do. This is why you pay less for it, because it's not as pristine as a new car. It won't last as long. You're buying it "as is." This is not true for video games. New or used, you get the same exact experience, barring online passes, which of course, most people despise. Wear and tear, in fact, explains everything that's not digital media, including physical copies of books, which I'll discuss more in a minute. For the sake of time, here's a good rule of thumb: If a used product is not in the same condition as it is new, then there can be no comparison made between it and used games.

Example: BioShock Infinite is the same, new or used. Same exact experience. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference if it weren't for the price tag.

Why used games aren't like the music industry - First off, there really are no used CDs, at least not in actuality. So this really isn't comparable. But, to be thorough (this is a compendium, after all), I'll break it down for you. Refer to point #1. When a CD is made, it's a compilation of music. CDs are just one way for the artist to receive money off the music they make. Let's use my boy Justin Timberlake as an example, because we hang. The 20/20 Experience has a few singles on it, like Suit & Tie. These singles are licensed to the radio waves, and he gets money for it. Not just his singles, either. More specialized (like XM radio) radio stations will play his entire album, and the ones that came before it, and once again, this makes him money. Let's not forget about Pandora! Spotify, too. All of these avenues give Justin Timberlake royalties to play his music, the very same music that's on the CD he's selling. That's not all! Concerts make him money as well, all from the very same music on that CD. And the merchandise sold within that concert (like T-Shirts) also earns him money. It's worth mentioning that most of these other methods of cash flow exist for many, many years. Long after his new CD is released. 

So again, it's all about alternate, additional methods of cash flow. Gaming has no other methods of cash flow...it's just the sale of the game. That's it! 

Why used games aren't like the film industry - Again, used DVDs/Blu-Rays really aren't as prevalent as used games are, which is a point I've made twice now, and will reiterate again down below. For this argument, the film industry is exactly like the music industry. Alternate, additional methods of cash flow make all of the difference in the world, my friends. When a movie is first released, can you buy it? Nope! It's in the theater. Often times a movie will make a profit long before you have the ability to buy it. Is this true for gaming? Nuh uh. Even still, royalties that games don't receive come into play. Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon Prime, playing the movie on TV; all of these avenues net the creators money. Sadly, gaming isn't handled in the same way, when Gamefly buys 10,000 copies of Remember Me, they don't pay continually to distribute it. Once it's bought, it's theirs, and this is another unique (bad) reality within the gaming industry.

To emphasize, point #1 is meant to explain how vital it is (to game developers/publishers) that games be bought new. If they aren't, then that's it, they will not see any additional money from it. This is especially bad for AAA games that cost 100 million dollars to make.

Why used games aren't like used books - This one might appear to be the best example. Though used books still aren't as rampant, they do still exist, so why aren't they like used games? Wear and tear is a reason, as is point #3, but if you really need convinced, refer to point #4. When a game is released, it must be maintained, especially if there's an online component. A great example can be found with the Last of Us. When it released, it had a huge, game breaking auto-save bug. Naughty Dog hadn't been working on the Last of Us for months, it was a completed project long ago. So when the bug was found, they had to patch it. They're constantly coming into work, you know. Being a game developer isn't like being a teacher; they don't go on vacation for the summer after releasing a game. They work on a new project, often times getting assigned to something long before their most current game is released. So when they have to fix a bug, even one that isn't game breaking, this costs time, and time is money. In fact, most games receive a few, non-crucial patches after they're released. They're not obligated to, and unless it's to fix something that breaks the game, it nets them no money to do so. Yet they do it, and this isn't even touching on the online situation. Who do you think pays for the Battlefield 3 servers? The 2k servers? They do, and once again, this is a constant cost. Battlefield 3 has been out for around 18 months, and EA has been paying the costs the whole time. This establishes that gaming is a service, a service that requires a consistent amount of money, long after the product has been released. Books are not services, and once they're released, there is little to no cost involved for the author/publisher.

Understanding why used games are so important to the gaming industry - Used gaming is a staple within the gaming industry, there can be no doubt. This alone makes it completely unique. In no other forms of digital media is the term "used" so fundamentally a part of the world. Entire companies depend on the used game market. Where else can you say that? 

This is also a major part of why used games are so bad for the industry. Retailers like GameStop and Best Buy have a monopoly! Because used gaming is so intrinsic to the culture of games, retailers become wealthy. They have such a dominance on the market, and because they make almost nothing off selling a game new, they push used games hard. 

Where do the savings come from? The middleman effectively cuts out the supplier. It's despicable, and one detail proves this beyond any reasonable doubt: with the gaming industry complaining about used games for years, why won't GameStop give them a small cut of used games sales? Just a small cut! If this doesn't establish the bullying element retailers incorporate within the industry, I don't know what to tell you. 

Understand that GameStop is not providing any service to you. There are the middleman! They didn't create the game, nor is the used copy they're selling you any different from the new one sitting beside it. The only difference is that they see all of the money from the "used" version of the game, which of course, means that the developers don't see a dime from it. 

Further evidence that used games hurt developers/publishers - Season passes, DLC, and online passes. A devil's concoction!? All created to fight used games. Think about what DLC does for a moment. It adds value to a game well after its release. It's meant to keep you holding onto the game, rather than reselling it. What about online passes? Literally implemented to differentiate new and used games. Keep in mind that there is no difference between a new and used game without an online pass.

Why are used games are so important now? They weren't ten years ago! - Technology, my friend. To quote this article, take a look at Bungie's growth in team size. Halo: Combat Evolved was made with 42 people. Destiny has a team of 450 working on it. This is because of improvements in technology. To the people who say, "cut costs," it simply cannot be done, especially if you want to create a triple-A game. 

How used games are defeated - One word: digital. Steam is the best example, because there is no used market within PC gaming. When you create a digital marketplace, you cannot buy a game used, nor can you lend it to a friend. These "restrictions" that everyone is so up in arms about have been successfully around for years with Steam. In fact, these "restrictions" that Steam applies helped revitalize PC gaming from the rising damage it felt with piracy. The model works, and there are many other benefits to a digital world. Infinite licenses of the game eliminate the possibility of your game being lost, stolen, or scratched. The convenience of being able to click a button and download a full game is amazing, as well. Perhaps the nicest facet to digital distribution, however, is the rise of indie games.

Indie games circumvent the used games market, because they are released digitally. This is one reason why they're so successful. The other, worth-mentioning reason? The low price of indie games! Which brings me to my final point...

The benefit of eliminating used games - Price drops! I know, I know, the initial response from the average consumer is, "yeah right," but look at Steam. Quite often you can find incredible sales. 50% off, 75%, bundle deals, buy one get one free... every model can be found. Now, maybe you doubt consoles would follow suit. Allow me to provide you with a few reasons as to why they would.

A) PSN/Xbox Live - They regularly have sales! Not as good as Steam, of course, but I'll explain why this is the case in a minute. As of now, however, you get free games every month for being a member of Xbox Live or PSN. Steam doesn't even do this! Does this not chip away at the logic, "Sony/Microsoft are too greedy to drop new game prices"?

B) Steam is different, for now - Steam isn't forcibly allied with retailers. They couldn't care less about GameStop. Current comparisons between Xbox Live sales and Steam sales aren't valid, because the used game market still exists on consoles! Remember, used games don't exist on Steam, and until the same can be said for consoles, there are no fair sales comparisons to be made between XBL/PSN and Steam.

New game prices would have to drop - Remember how rooted used games are in the industry? Many people don't buy new games at all, because of the $60 tag. It's just far too expensive for them. Well, removing used games wouldn't suddenly cause them to be able to afford to buy new, and remember, the whole point of eliminating used games is to create more developer/publisher paying consumers. In fact, $60 isn't even the true cost of a game, it's just the number needed to combat used games. Really though! By eliminating the used games market, new game prices would drop.

What happens if used games stick around? - The death of the AAA game. It's a little over dramatic, I know, and Call of Duty will always be around, but here's the thing: AAA games are expensive to make. Very little risk is taken because of this (hi Call of Duty). Developers just can't risk doing anything innovative anymore, due to the increase of cost in technology. Games are far too expensive to make, and as mentioned above, this is a cost that cannot be lowered.

Unfortunately, costs MUST be lowered. There are only a few ways to seriously do this, and the best way (for consumers, ironically) happens to be eliminating the used games market. Other ways involve making more money off the same product, like rising the cost of games or micro-transactions. If you can't lower the costs, raise the profits. Most consumers hate micro-transactions, though. As well they should!

There would also be a rise in indie games, and this is already happening. It's less risky (financially) to release a 5 hour, $15 dollar game that costs less than $8 million to make, rather than a 20 hour, $60 dollar game that costs $100 million to make. 

Below are a list of links from developers/publishers stating how bad used games are for the industry. The first one involves Codemasters and THQ (remind me what happened to those guys?) The second link is simply incredible.

Sadly, some developers won't risk angering gamers, as the backlash would impede their sales (LOL Microsoft). They'll either avoid talking about how bad used games are, or lie flat-out with choosy wording, talking about the good that can come from it. Make no mistake: used games hurt the industry. The evidence can be found above, and from honest publisher/developers that don't care about PR.

Please note again that these are just a few links. There are dozens more.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-20022957-17.html
http://gamepolitics.com/2011/08/23/developers-respond-gamestop039s-used-games-market-comments#.Ub2imG-1FYY
http://www.gamepolitics.com/2011/05/18/fable-iii-developer-calls-used-games-market-worse-piracy
http://gametheoryonline.com/2011/12/07/used-games-video-gaming-gamestop/
http://www.gamepolitics.com/2010/05/11/developer-labels-used-games-worse-piracy#.Ub2i7m-1FYY
http://kotaku.com/5907173/yet-another-game-developer-claims-used-games-kill-innovation
http://www.1up.com/news/games-market-defrauding-industry-claims
http://kotaku.com/5897199/denis-dyack-claims-used-games-will-destroy-gaming
http://www.gamespot.com/news/volition-developer-blasts-used-game-business-6349861
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/194309/Miyamoto_Bleszinski_weigh_in_on_used_games.php

In the comments, if anyone has any further questions or things that need addressed I'll edit my blog post and answer them. I may be forgetting some of the common arguments that support used games, and I do so want this be a full compendium!

Evolving Game Tastes

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I've been gaming for nearly twenty years. 

My first, really tangible memory of gaming dates back to the NES days, playing Super Mario Bros in preschool, blowing on them cartridges like a champion. 

From there, my love for gaming only grew, like a well-tended garden, or a lengthy metaphor that loosely connects with the subject matter. I would come in every morning, run into the room with the NES, and play it for hours on end. Most kids would play outside, but a few would gather around, either to play the game with me or just to watch me work. I'm like a maestro with a sword and shield, thanks to the Legend of Zelda.

As I got older, I moved on to other consoles. Many years were spent with the Super Nintendo. A Link to the Past, NBA Jam, more Mario...I'd consume anything put in the slot. I also played a few Sega Genesis games, but I can't quite remember how I ever got a hold of that console. All I can really recall is playing Streets of Rage with my friends on it, though I know I played many more games throughout the years.

After that came the PSX and N64. I had a brief stint with the Sega Saturn, playing NiGHTS and Panzer Dragoon, but mainly I spent my time on the PSX and N64. I could keep listing games, as there are many more that I played that are worth mentioning, both before the fifth generation of consoles and after, but for the sake of the blog, I'll shorten my preface for writing this piece. Before I do, however, I must give a shout out to the Dreamcast. Shenmue, NFL 2k, Crazy Taxi and Soul Calibur, heck yes!

NiGHTS

Essentially, until the original Xbox, I was a die hard Nintendo fan, with a sprinkling of Sony thrown in. Final Fantasy VII and X remain in my top 20 favorite games of all time. To add a little un-originality to that list, Ocarina of Time might be my favorite game of all time. It's close! I grew up with Nintendo, as many people did, and playing their games during my childhood was an amazing experience.

However, I'll never forget the Christmas of 2002. I was unwrapping presents, like any kid would, living the life of a winner. My mom, who loved buying me older PC games, gave me what I believed to be my last present of the joyous day. Starcraft, one of the greatest games of all time. What an innovator!

I'd unwrapped it, jumped around like a Cirque Du Soleil performer, and immediately went over to my PC to install it. I'm sitting there, in my room, playing it, just loving the world, and every entity within it. My family is still in the living room, talking amongst themselves like adults so often do. I can't hear them, and do I care? Heck no, I've got Starcraft.

My mom comes in about an hour later, as I'm furiously ordering my Protoss zealots and corsairs to wreak havoc on anything with a pulse, telling me there's one more present.

Egads! I pause the game, run into the living room and immediately spot my target; a large, colorfully adorned, rectangular box. 

I sit down, chew through the wrapping papers (very healthy), and discover what the present is: an Xbox.

Now, to be completely truthful, I'd barely heard anything about the Xbox. I knew it existed, and that it came out a year ago, but at the time I was a Nintendo fan boy, so my initial instincts were to pour acid over the top of it.

I remember thinking in my head, "Wow, an Xbox. But I already have a Gamecube and PS2. What could this possibly offer me?"

But I'm not a mean person, you all know me better than that. I smiled through gritted teeth, and thanked her with as much passion and sincerity as I could possibly muster. The performance would have impressed Daniel Day-Lewis. With the Xbox came a game: Shenmue 2.

I still believe to this day, that without Shenmue 2 I wouldn't have most of the opinions that I do, as a gamer. I'd played the first one on my Dreamcast (which coincidentally broke long before these events unfolded), so I knew of the series. I had a history with it, and I enjoyed the first one a great deal. 

I stopped what I was doing, got everything plugged in, and played it. I loved every second of it! In fact, I'm still waiting for Shenmue 3. This game was my gateway into the Microsoft console experience, which is to say, the American experience. Oddly enough, Shenmue is anything but American. Weird, right?

Halo came afterwards, and that's all she wrote. The Xbox has caused my taste in games to evolve over the years, and this isn't entirely a good thing. It is because of the original Xbox that I'm unable to enjoy Japanese games. This is a strange evolution, if you think about it. My roots are in games from the east. Almost everything I'd ever loved up to that point had come from Japan. Zelda, Mario, Final Fantasy, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid...I could go on for days, the list is endless. And now, here in 2013, I couldn't get through a Final Fantasy game if you paid me. 

For me, it all stems from storytelling. I'm a lover of RPGs, it's by far my favorite genre, and unfortunately, there are trends within JRPGs.

Namely: cheesy voice acting, plots that don't make any sense, over the top (unrealistic) boss fights, seizure inducing displays of color explosions from the use of overdrive-like moves, generic rock music on loop for the duration of the game, random, nonsensical breathing noises in between every line of dialogue during cutscenes, typically annoying characters...I could go on for days. It's all immersion breaking for me, and for RPGs, that's huge. 

Take Final Fantasy X.

"Cool, I'm fighting this huge, PS2 specs-pushing Sand Worm. Why does it exist?"

Sand Worm

These are the questions I ask myself with most JRPG games. I'm far too logical. The main story in these games are presented as believably as possible, which is to say not very much. And I could deal with all of this, by itself, but that's not the whole problem. 

It's everything besides the main story, in most JRPGs. When an enemy is created, it's created out of creativity, not out of reason and logic. Developers will spend time crafting this heartfelt main story experience, then put giant slime blob enemies in the game, in a random dungeon, and boom...immersion broke. They put these enemies in their for variety, and a unique look. It's cool, from a creative stance. Putting in a giant eagle that has a kangaroo-like pocket filled with worms, and then having that giant eagle eat them periodically throughout the boss battle is unique. But for me, sadly, it also breaks immersion. 

Even great games, like the Last Story, fall under this setback. I mean, does anyone really know the story within Dark Souls? Does it make any sense? Of course not! But who cares? It's all about challenge, and fighting large, scary, illogical bosses. 

"We already did a huge golem, in the first level."

"Then put a huge anaconda with multiple heads."

By comparison, take a look at the Mass Effect series. When you see a husk, you know what it is. It makes sense, within the game's canon. Reapers are no different, and look how big they are. 

You see, you can have huge, crazy looking monstrous enemies in a game. They just need to fit within your lore believably. 

It's not just JRPGs, either. I feel like there is a lack of innovation coming from all Japanese games. Resident Evil is a great example. The zombie killing is always the same!

Even if I knew nothing in advance, I could label a J-game with my eyes closed. I'm betting most of you can, as well.

This is my problem with Sony and Nintendo consoles. I feel they have a Japanese-first focus. Not that there's anything wrong with that. To be clear: I have no problem with people who enjoy those kinds of games.

But for me, this inherent Japanese preference is too jarring. It goes beyond the games themselves. I hate when, at E3 in California, Sony trots someone out to talk about their PS4 launch lineup of games, and they can barely speak English. I'm sorry, but that bothers me. How can you not bring out someone who speaks English? I understand the history of gaming comes from Japan, but honestly, what is the language everyone can understand at E3? English. Even worse: look at someone like Hideo Kojima, or Shigeru Miyamoto, both visionaries. They're legends, and yet, they can't even speak English. Fun fact: their games sell the best in America. Why won't they take the time to learn? Would it be so terrible to be able to communicate with your most loving fan base?

I just feel disconnected from Nintendo and Sony as a consumer. I have different tastes now. To bring it back to gaming, franchises like Mass Effect, Halo, Uncharted, BioShock, and Elder Scrolls have forever changed me. And even though Uncharted is a Sony exclusive, it comes from an American developer. These franchises prevent me from being able to enjoy a game like Ni No Kuni. 

BioShock Infinite

And that's why, despite some of the problems I currently have with Microsoft, I'm buying an Xbox One. No matter their policies, it's a console that's a better fit for my gaming tastes, because they're more western. 

Sincerely, I mean no disrespect to other cultures. I just want a console that's better suited to my gaming preferences. This is about my personal tastes, I'm not saying everyone should feel the same way.

To each his or her own!

The Xbox One - A Social Stigma

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Here's the blog that should get featured.

Recently I pre-ordered both the Xbox One and the PS4.

Knowing that the next gen was imminent, I started saving up in preparation for this very scenario many months ago. Now, some of you might call me Mr. Moneybags; a label that isn't true, but also isn't insulting, so I don't mind. I'll play the part!

Many people, however, might call me a sellout, or the reason the gaming industry is so bad, or, someone who doesn't respect consumers rights. I bought an Xbox One, after all. How could I? Their policies on used games and DRM are so draconian. If you read Tom's impassioned article about Sony's E3 conference, you'd swear it was a declaration of victory in a war. He's not alone, either; many editors feel this way, on many different websites and publications. 

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a mainstream game journalist who's positive and excited about the Xbox One. 

To the mainstream gaming media: hop off your high horse. Seriously.

I've never been so embarrassed to be a gamer. If there's one thing the Xbox One has shown me, it's that journalistic integrity is a thing of the past in the gaming industry. Appearing impartial and unbiased are old methods of reporting. 

In other words, the gaming media has become Fox News. Awesome.

faux news

The metaphor isn't that far of a stretch, especially when you consider Republicans widespread fear of being spied on, and they love standing up to the man. "We're not going to allow you to walk all over us with your used games policy! We have a say!" How very Tea Party-like. 

This anti-Microsoft agenda has been pushed for months now by the internet. It's escalated to the point where it feels wrong not to hate the Xbox. It's become a social stigma. Don't announce you pre-ordered an Xbox One, lest you be judged by "real" gamers.

Hop off your high horse, bullies. 

First and foremost, how exactly is the Xbox One so anti-consumer? Their used games policy? It allows you to resell and trade your games. Also, up to ten family members can play your games from any Xbox One with no restrictions. Anyone inside your home can also play your games infinitely. 

Now, in comparison to Sony's policy, sure, there's more to be desired.

How about in comparison to PC gaming? Oh wait, there is no PC used games industry. No trading, reselling, or buying used, or letting friends borrow your games. Nothing at all? REALLY?

Uh...so, Microsoft's policy is better for used games than the PC. This becomes obvious with a casual glance at PC gaming's non-existent used games market.

Tom, I expect to see an impassioned article calling for gamers to require this to change. We must all be allowed to let friends borrow our PC games! WE HAVE THE POWER!

And please, I understand that Microsoft is dictating this policy, whereas on PCs it's up to the publishers. Ignoring that Valve and EA are really the culprits (and thus my comparison is fair), publishers always make these decisions, regardless of whether it involves a console or PC. Microsoft even said as much. Hell, Sony did too. "It's up to publishers."

Maybe you think the Xbox One's check-in policy is the cause for anarchy? Essentially, if you don't have an internet connection, you're screwed. Well, they invested 300,000 servers into Xbox Live; that's twenty times more than the current amount. Cloud gaming, which BOTH Microsoft and Sony are investing in, can improve your games. Not everyone is sold on just how much cloud computing can improve your games, but I look at Forza 5 as an example. If cloud computing makes the racing AI more human-like, I'm on board. That's an amazing thing. 

Of course, this check-in policy isn't just about using the cloud. It's to make sure you're not pirating, or scamming the system in some other way. Many people feel that the check-in policy displays Microsoft's lack of trust in its consumers. Perhaps this is true. Why wouldn't they trust gamers? What follows below could be a reason.

CD Projekt Red: Owners of the Witcher franchise and GOG. Consistently loved by the internet, they always say the right thing! "DLC is bad, DRM is wrong," blah, blah blah. The Witcher games are LOVED, both critically and by fans. GOG is exactly in the same boat of love, too. For those that don't know, GOG removes DRM from old games and allows you to play them on newer operating systems/graphics cards. Can you think of something that's more appreciated by gamers? After reading all of this, one fact should be clear: CD Projekt Red is adored by the gaming masses.

Further proof: The Witcher 2 has sold over 5 million copies. Within that same article, however, is a more depressing statistic. The Witcher 2 has been pirated over 4.5 million times.

WHAT!?!? You mean the company that is absolutely worshipped by gamers, and includes no DLC, no season/online passes AND no DRM in any of their products gets their most recent Witcher game pirated nearly 4.5 million times?

The Witcher 2 was pirated by more people than those who bought Heavy Rain and Demon's Souls COMBINED.

CD Projekt Red and Pirates

(Fun example of hypocrisy: CD Projekt Red, champions against DRM are releasing their next game, the Witcher 3, on the Xbox One. The hypocrisy trend continues below).

Now, am I excusing Microsoft for their check-in policy? Absolutely not. I feel it's the only thing they MUST change about their Xbox One console. But one thing people fail to realize is that these consoles aren't being made just for the year 2013.

You simply cannot predict whether or not piracy will be easier (and more rampant) on consoles during this next generation. 

Would their check-in policy prevent that? Who knows! You can't say for sure one way or another, but if it's ANYTHING like Diablo 3 or SimCity's system, then it's highly likely Microsoft's policy would prevent piracy. Both of those games stopped piracy, and there can be no debate about that.

All I'm saying is that a check-in policy hardly makes the Xbox One the worst console ever created. It's not enough for me to label Microsoft as anti-consumer, and it's certainly not reason enough for the onslaught of biased reporting.

Besides, many people have internet connections. And for those that don't, don't buy one. Don't buy an iPad, either. Many modern devices are basically useless without an internet connection.

For me, consoles are all about exclusives. And you know what? The Xbox One is more appealing in that regard. Imagine that! The console that isn't for gamers actually has more unique games on it. Crazy!

Video game journalists: wake up. Your lack of unfiltered bias is disgracing the industry you claim to represent. Want to make a stand? Don't buy one, then, you hypocrites. 

I just find it funny that every single one of these journalists who so consistently trash the Xbox One are going to buy one, citing that they have to, due to their job. Says who? Hire someone who isn't blindly hating on Microsoft to review their numerous exclusives. 

I'll do it!

E3 Question Blitz - 5 Questions for Microsoft and Sony

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Can you feel it? E3 is getting closer. 

This year's E3 promises to be the most pivotal one in recent memory. It's the clash of the two juggernauts, Microsoft versus Sony. I'm excited, more so than usual, aren't you? The next gen is right around the corner! 

Here are five questions for Microsoft and Sony that need answered during the E3 extravaganza.

Microsoft - Xbox One

1) Used games? - This is the most vital question for Microsoft. Many gamers won't even consider buying an Xbox One if they're not allowed to sell their used games. Now, amid the several, clashing-with-one-another rumors out there, one detail has managed to stay consistently confirmed: you will be able to sell your used games. Still, there's not enough solid information to go off of, and until Microsoft completely explains their policy, gamers will be turned off to their console. Will there be a fee? Do publishers get a cut? Will it cost more to buy used games? Will you get less money selling them? If there's one thing that Microsoft has blundered, it's their used games policy. 

Used Games Xbox One

2) DRM? - Again, Microsoft's biggest error is how they've combated misinformation and the spreading of rumors. They cannot be blamed for untrue, fabricated claims involving the Xbox One. They can, however, be blamed for not clarifying anything about their console. Their policy with DRM is a grand example of this misstep. Several rumors, all of which again, seem to contradict one another, have stated that Microsoft will, in some way, employ DRM with the Xbox One. You don't need an always-on connection, but the Xbox One still requires an internet connection. What? Specify! What does that even mean?! Some of the rumors suggest that you'll need to check in once every 24 hours. If that's the case, tell me why I need to do that. Will I need an Xbox Live subscription? 

3) Games? - Microsoft's Xbox One conference consensus: "...but what about games?" To their credit, Microsoft did say that the conference was all about the hardware, and that they wanted to show the console's new features. E3 would be their gaming showcase. Well, it's E3 time! Show me some of those exclusives you promised during the conference. With 15 exclusives, Microsoft might be in a position to defeat Sony on the gaming front, at least at first. Being able to show even half of that number at E3 would be incredible. If it's all about competition, being able to say that your console (which is tagged as not being gaming focused) has the most unique exclusives is a huge punch. The more games you show, the better!

4) The Cloud? - This would also help the Xbox One shed its image as a non-gaming console. Many gamers point out that, based on the specs, the PS4 is more powerful. Then there were reports that with driver updates, and time, the Xbox One would eventually be more powerful. Not wanting to stop the rumor train prematurely, reports then surfaced regarding Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service. The findings suggest that, when combining the Xbox One with the cloud, it is considerably more powerful than the PS4. These claims are bold, and disputed by some, but the trend still bears its head: we need more information. Microsoft should explain it in depth at E3.

5) IllumiRoom? - This technology would help to differentiate the Xbox One from the PS4, while also displaying that it's a gaming console. During the tech reveal, the one glaring omission was the IllumiRoom. Showing gamers how it will be incorporated would be huge. Will it be on many Xbox One games? How does it interact with the Kinect's lighting preferences? Is IllumiRoom the next advancement towards full in-game immersion? Is it the answer to the Wii-U's tablet, and the PS4's Vita controller? Without information, that's the conclusions I've drawn about it. The IllumiRoom will be used to more strongly immerse players into a game world. It can also be used to display information, like your inventory, saving room on the TV screen. But maybe I'm wrong! How can I be sure without any information? Do share, Microsoft. Do share.

Microsoft IllumiRoom

Bonus Query!

Kinect specifics? - This is one of the more thoroughly explained features with the Xbox One. Many privacy concerns are still present, and the exact nature of its requirement is still unclear. Yes, I know the Kinect is required, but what exactly does that mean? More importantly: How much do I need to use it? There will be games that don't incorporate it. Certainly movies and TV shows don't use it. As far as I can tell, the Kinect is mainly used to navigate and control your Xbox One. So when I'm not navigating its entertainment options, how vital is it? Can I put it on "hibernate" while I play a game that isn't using it? Essentially, Microsoft needs to show the Kinect in use, particularly debuting the privacy control settings.

 

Sony - PS4

1) Used games? - Sony has mostly stayed out of the fire on this hot button issue, choosing to shirk the topic altogether by pinning it on publishers. But astute gamers already knew that publishers were the reason why used games are in jeopardy in the first place. After gamers voiced their concern on Twitter, some Sony higher-ups replied with an even less informative statement, "We're listening." Really? Then you could have just said the PS4 doesn't limit used games. Much easier, right? Obviously, that means something was being planned regarding the limitation of used games. Did the gamer outcry cause them to change their policy? Sony has the chance to deliver a massive blow on this topic, pending that they head in the opposite, assumed direction Microsoft is heading. Not doing so would be a missed opportunity.

PS4 controller's real use

2) DRM? - Sony's biggest problem is that no one really knows anything about their console. They've stayed silent since February. The DRM question is a great example of how making one, solid statement would really benefit their console. It's been confirmed that the PS4 doesn't require an always-online connection, but the same can be said for the Xbox One. Can the PS4 be played offline indefinitely? This is another chance for Sony to get the upper hand against Microsoft, but again, this is obvious, so why don't they just come right out and confirm it? Perhaps it has to do with the requirement of subscriptions? Speaking of which...

3) Subscriptions? - Based on the PS4 reveal conference, Sony has went "all in" with online features. Streaming your game while playing, Vita remote play, taking over a friend's game and playing for them, downloading a game while you play it, streaming PS3 games to your PS4... all of these new features require a high speed, stable internet connection. Many gamers love the PS3 because they can play online for free. But based on Sony's silence on this issue, and their large investments towards online services (like Gaikai), the PS4 could very easily head in the same subscription direction as Microsoft.

4) Exclusives? - In seeing the Xbox One labelled as a non-gaming console, Sony came right out and said the PS4 is for gamers. Awesome! Use E3 to show me how many exclusives you have lined up. Given that third party titles will be released for both the Xbox One and the PS4, the only thing that will really show the PS4 as a gaming console is exclusives. The PS3 was undeniably the king of exclusives this generation, but given Microsoft's recent "15 exclusives" announcement, their reign at the top might come to an end. Exclusives really are console sellers, so Sony would be wise to come out during their E3 conference and show off a handful of exclusives. At the end of E3, if Sony and Microsoft are aligned in their used games, DRM and online policies, exclusives will be the deciding factor.

5) Other Entertainment? - It is absolutely confirmed that Sony will talk more than just games at E3. After both Microsoft and Sony show their game lineup, some consumers that are on the fence might look at the two consoles and see the PS4 as feature lacking. Being able to play games is great, and if Sony shows a bunch of exclusives, their need to show other things that the PS4 can do might not be so strong, but it will still linger. Especially depending on the pricing, it will be hard to justify buying a PS4 if all it can do is play games, when the Xbox One can do that and much more. Thankfully, the PS4 will do more than play games, and they will use E3 as their platform to show off everything else the PS4 can do. I'm just wondering how much they'll focus on other entertainment, as I know they don't want to alienate their gamer fan base.

Bonus Query!

What does it look like? - Sony still hasn't shown what their console looks like. Does it matter? Not particularly, but it's the perfect metaphoric representation of their biggest struggle. The PS4 has this "for gamers" identity, but the problem is, there's almost no information out on the PS4. Many of the complaints surrounding the Xbox One could very well be true for the PS4, as well. Though most of it is unconfirmed rumors, the Xbox One has had volumes written about it steadily for the past month, which only highlights how little we know about the PS4. No information can be just as bad as misinformation. I would be beyond surprised if they didn't show their console at E3, but it's still worth noting.

Below is a concept drawing of the PS4, designed by a fan. Sadly, it will look nothing like the actual PS4.

Fanmade PS4

 

There you have it! You'll notice I didn't ask about a release date, or the pricing of either console. I highly doubt either of these questions will be answered at E3. 

Regardless, when E3 comes, information is the name of the game! It's make or break time for the both Microsoft and Sony. 

Our Fear of Futuristic Technology

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I recently went on a Ted video binge. For those of you who don't know, it's essentially like YouTube for smart people. Ted is a collection of talks that come from prominent, boundary-pushing individuals within every major industry. Science, technology, business, medicine... people from all of these industries and more give you the latest, most intriguing information available about what's going on within that world. There are plenty of videos that discuss various topics. You can learn advanced information about wooly mammoths, nuclear fission, the importance of creativity in schools, and autism, all from people who've dedicated their lives to the subject matter.

Tonight, one of the videos I watched featured Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and he was talking about the motivation behind Google Glass.

Google Glass is Google's latest tech gadget, which hasn't been released to the public yet. For those that don't know, Google Glass can most accurately be described as a pair of glasses that act as a smartphone. You can call people, take pictures, record video, text, Google search... you get the idea. It's very futuristic, and from what I've seen, it looks incredibly cool. 

The talk itself was intriguing, but it isn't what my blog is about. After watching the video, I checked the comments, as per my usual routine with any website, fully expecting to see a lot of fascination and intrigue surrounding Google Glass. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Most of the comments were negative, with various complaints that encompass issues like privacy, safety and the degradation of one's eyesight. 

This collective concern, though surprising, caused me to realize that there is a trend to be found within technology, and its future. A question immediately popped into my head the moment I became aware of the trend.

Why do we, as humans, so greatly fear the technological future? The answer, I believe, revolves around one word: paranoia.

Take a look at the Xbox One. It has been confirmed that every Xbox One will ship with an improved Kinect, Microsoft's tech that allows you to use your body as a controller. 

The Kinect is an intelligent camera, capable of seeing, hearing, and understanding you. Of course, it can do much more than this, such as being able to calculate your heart beat based on your skin tone and transparency, but that's irrelevant for this discussion. That's pretty cool, right? Wrong.

Most people's reactions: Kinect is ALWAYS WATCHING you! Big Brother! 1984!

Many people, based on their comments, won't buy an Xbox One because the Kinect is "required," and thus, it will always be watching you. See its connection with Google Glass?

Now, let's ignore the good that can come from such a powerful piece of tech, outside of gaming. The new and improved Kinect will soon work with computers, just like its predecessor currently does. An article discussing its potential use as health technology (found here), sadly isn't relevant. 

Privacy is the issue at hand! So when multiple articles come out that discuss how the Kinect can be turned off completely (found here), or how when you're not using the Xbox One the only thing a Kinect is capable of listening to is the command, "Xbox On," (found here), you'd think a lot of the privacy concerns people have would disappear. Facts always help clear confusion up, right? Wrong. Sadly, this also isn't relevant.

We're talking about fear and paranoia; two words that exist only in willful obliviousness of logic and reasoning. If facts mattered, this Kinect privacy issue would be cleared up. The same goes for Google Glass!

Instead, we choose not to believe the facts. Why? I'll answer using facts.

Certainly not because we know more about the Kinect than Microsoft. After all, they designed it. And not many people will know more about the inner workings of the Kinect than the people who created it. Besides, why would Microsoft even release such a gadget if it were secretly monitoring your every move? Surely we can agree that there will be a few consumers who do understand the mechanics of high tech cameras. Microsoft surely knows this, too. Wouldn't someone eventually highlight the privacy loopholes? Why would I, if I'm Microsoft, release such a product if it's going to be publicly hammered over its lack of security, and lack of privacy control. That would be devastating! Lawsuits ad nauseum.

Lesson: our fear isn't based in knowing the core architecture of the Kinect. What about history? They say it has a way of repeating itself. What about history? They say it... just kidding.

It's reasonable to be wary of being spied on if it's happened to you before, in a similar way. So, how many big companies have ever been caught watching the masses through the use of a tech gadget? Show me the link!

That's a "no" to both of our potential reasons for being afraid of the technology in the future.

Here are two possible reasons.

Hollywood! Movies, TV shows... all of it. We've all seen too many movies where a computer kills the entire world, all because someone wasn't paying attention. Machines usurping man is actually quite a common theme, and it would explain our fear and paranoia. No one wants to accidentally start the robot revolution!

The other reason, which I sincerely hope isn't a possibility, is that a lot of people are committing illegal acts within their home. I mean, that would explain everything. Criminals do so hate to be monitored. 

Unfortunately, I don't believe either of those reasons are behind why the Kinect fills us with fear.

The real, most plausible reason (as I suspect many people who exhibit paranoia and fear towards the Kinect haven't thought very deeply about why they feel that way), has to do with our distrust of big companies.

Most people simply feel that Microsoft, Google, and other big companies cannot be trusted. That they're all evil, and only interested in getting our money. They don't care about us! And if spying on us will aid them in some way, they'll do it. 

This is the most important question I ask, then: how would spying on us aid Microsoft? I'll eliminate all reasonable ideas.

Advertisement possibilities? As in, they see you're wearing a Nike hat, so they load your dashboard with Nike clothing? Nope, not possible. First off, unless they struck a bargain with all of these clothing, furniture and TV companies (things found in your living room), Microsoft would not see any money from enticing you to buy anything that they didn't own. Maybe you're a super conspiracy theorist, and believe all of these companies would conspire together, all for your precious $20.00. If that's the case, then it doesn't matter, as I suspect you're not very susceptible to the persuasive powers of advertisement. Based on some of the reactions I'm reading, I'll talk more about targeted advertising down below in the comments.

Perhaps they're listening in for terrorists? Nope. The back and forth exchanges between players in a Call of Duty match eliminates that possibility immediately. Threats, curses and hate are all common in such a game. Even still, how would this benefit Microsoft? Unless the government is willing to pay them per convicted felon/terrorist/attack averted... to which I'd reply, how is that a bad thing? Go Microsoft! Keep saving lives!

To completely destroy that possibility in its lesser form, there's no way they'd be interested in catching every person that illegally smoked weed or worse. If you go to jail, you can't give them your money, and remember, they're purely evil, so that's all that matters to them.

This blog is getting long, so allow me to just defeat this fear and paranoia once and for all with some good old-fashioned truth.

Everything you own with a camera or microphone that's connected to the internet has a chance of being used as a portal to watch you. Your smartphone, for example, could be used to hear your conversations. It could also use the camera to watch you. The same is true for laptops with webcams. Or just normal computers with webcams. Your smartTV "learns" you. Targeted advertising is all that ever comes from these "intrusions," and even then it's nothing you're not used to. Chances are, if you browse any one of the top ten most trafficked websites you'll fall victim to targeted advertising. It's almost unavoidable. In fact, one might argue that targeted advertising is the reason that website is among the top ten most visited. If you view an ad on your dashboard (of your Xbox One or PS4), you've just opened the window to be targeted for advertisement. This is nothing new; it's been around long before the internet. If I'm setting up a vendor stand at a carnival, the last thing I'm going to try to sell you is car insurance. If I put up some advertisements up on the TV's I have in my gym, what kind of ads do you think they'll be? Brands of protein shakes or carpet cleaning service? 

Plus, the logistics of spying on millions of people is, to be blunt, quite impossible. This is, of course, if we're not talking about targeted advertising. The logistics become impossible if Microsoft's intentions go beyond targeted advertising. Remember, we're talking about watching millions of people every day through their Kinect. Even if you could group a hundred people onto a few screens to be watched, per employee, you'd still need at least ten thousand employees to work around the clock! Do you really think Microsoft has that many people that are purely evil, and out to get you? And as far as the sound goes, you'd need one person per Xbox One owner, otherwise the sound would get all jumbled up! Now we're talking about MILLIONS of evil Microsoft employees necessary to commit such mass spying. Microsoft doesn't even have a million employees!

Unless... all of the recorded sound was logged onto a supercomputer.. which listened only for key words... key words that would allow Microsoft to...

They're after me! I GOTTA GO!!! 

 

P.S. A supercomputer wouldn't work for video or sound recording, as the amount of data recorded would far excede the space available on any amount of servers. Just one full day of ten million people's conversations and video captured living rooms would be thousands of terabytes in size. One full month's total data amount would be way too high... the internet would EXPLODE!

Understanding The End Of Used Games

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Lately Microsoft has come under fire over a multitude of rumors circulating the web regarding used games.

Essentially, the rumors state that Microsoft will no longer allow people to share games with one another. On top of that, the Xbox One will regularly check your game copy to make sure it's legit. When you buy a game, the only thing you can do with it is resell it at a Microsoft approved vendor, whereby publishers, developers (likely) and Microsoft (unlikely) will get a cut of the sale. 

It's important to note that Microsoft has confirmed none of these rumors. It's also important to note that Sony has mostly remained mum on the matter. They, in fact, have said almost nothing about the PS4 since their press conference three months ago. What they haven't said is telling, though, and what also seems to be true for Microsoft, is that the world of used games will forever be changed during this next generation of gaming.

And if you read the Microsoft article, most of the reactions are filled with anger and hate. Everyone despises the idea of not being able to lend their friend a video game, without some form of taxation, fee, or limitation in general. 

I'm here to explain why used games are, for the most part, getting axed. And to be clear, though this is completely my opinion, and nothing for either Sony or Microsoft is confirmed, I'm willing to guarantee that the demise of used games is imminent. Why?

There are a few vital reasons, and the biggest one has to do with retailers like GameStop bullying publishers and developers out of money from their games. However, that issue has been covered to death by several people, all of whom illuminate the problem retailers create far better than I ever could. Instead, I'm going to talk about the other side to used games. You guessed it: I'll be talking about piracy. 

Before anyone breaks their monitor over hearing that word again, allow me to explain. This is the next generation of consoles, so that means more features, right? Microsoft's console is basically taking control of your TV, and Sony is heading in a more focused streaming and social direction. But what do both consoles have? A built in web browser. 

This is nothing new, both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have a web browser. But there's one difference: Both next gen consoles are built on x64 architecture.

This changes everything! In many ways, it's great for consoles to be more like their PC counterparts, but unfortunately, this fact almost assuredly means they'll inherit the inherent problems within PC gaming; namely piracy. 

Let's make one thing crystal clear: piracy is already an issue on current gen consoles. Thankfully, it's not running rampant, though it's still available to do if you try hard enough. Jailbreaking and modding (piracy) within the console world isn't very popular, especially in comparison to the to PC game pirating, but that's mainly because of two things: the architecture and lack of connection requirement.

That's right! The one thing everyone hates as much as having no freedom with used games happens to be, no pun intended, connected. 

Within gaming, there is one known law that has only one exception: Anything can be pirated -- unless a vital part of a game is dependent upon servers to run. Servers that you have to connect to (internet) constantly (or at least routinely) in order to experience the game. Without these servers, the game is incomplete; it falls apart, it cannot be continued or completed. This is the ONLY way to stop piracy, and, in my opinion, it will always be the only way.

Quick examples? Diablo 3 and SimCity. Neither game is capable of being pirated. Seriously! Why? Because huge parts of their games are reliant on a connection to their servers. Without connecting to them, the game breaks! 

Using this method, there is no way to pirate. The only thing you can do to circumvent online servers is to emulate the servers themselves, the ones that have all of the essential game data. You would then play that game using your own emulated server. This of course, is very difficult to do, as obtaining the data files from the game's servers isn't simple. Developers don't just hand you the files. So how can you emulate a server if you don't know the EXACT data it has? Back in the day, server emulation could be found in certain MMOs. Alas, technology has caught up, and even this loophole (emulated servers) isn't really possible anymore. You can thank developer ingenuity for the breakthrough. 

So why does this matter? What does it have to do with used games?

Well, remember the fear behind Microsoft's always-online console? Everyone went CRAZY with rage! This was likely Microsoft's plan from the start -- to make an always online console. But due to negative feedback, they went in a different direction. Even if this assumption is wrong, the end result is still the same: Microsoft understands that on an x64 console, piracy will inevitably become a huge, huge problem. If they can't make being online a requirement, then the only other step is to require validation for the games you buy, new or used.

And that is the other reason why used games are being hindered. No longer is borrowing a friend's game an option -- why? Because that means the console has to remain indifferent to the games being played on it. For instance, if I go and rent Beyond: Two Souls when it comes out, my PS3 will not know if I own the game, rented it, or borrowed it. Unless there's an online code (what EA used to do) I will get the FULL experience of Beyond: Two Souls. I would be able to experience EVERY part of the game regardless of whether or not I actually paid a cent for it. (Side fun fact: this is why pre-order incentives, DLC, online passes, season passes and tacked-on multiplayer were invented, developers will do ANYTHING to get you to pay full price for a game, and then keep you holding onto it). This is not a good situation for developers to be in. After millions and millions of dollars, years of work and continued effort, a fairly sizeable portion of the gaming community gets to play their creation for FREE. Used games, in this respect, is a form of piracy. Without all the illegality!

In other words, consoles can no longer remain indifferent towards whatever you're playing.

And keep in mind, both Sony and Microsoft are building their consoles for the long haul. At least 5 years! So if you're unconvinced about the ability of pirates, think about the future. 

Even if piracy could somehow be currently prevented, who's to say in three years (after well over 20 million units of your consoles have been sold) a method isn't discovered that allows people to pirate games? A simple software update would NOT work, just look at PC gaming. Everyone knows consoles are sold at a loss, the only way to make money back is through the steady purchasing of software (games) over the years. In other words, a potential hack found in three years would be devastating for both Microsoft or Sony.

The last thing that needs said involves the state of the gaming industry, financially. Does this not paint a clearer picture for you? Piracy really is a huge problem, as are used games. Everything costs more, now, because of the improvements in technology. Several developers/publishers have went bankrupt or shut down, and even the ones that do good aren't sitting comfortably. You must understand that this isn't because they release terrible games, or because they implement DLC, it's just the nature of time. Does anything cost the same as it did twenty years ago? How about ten years ago? The fact is, a continued survival (much less regular success) in the gaming industry is a hard thing to achieve, and as the years pass, it becomes harder. There is no known perfect formula. 

Here's the ultra bad news to those who hate everything I'm talking about: both consoles will employ some approach to blocked used game in some way. If you think Sony won't follow Microsoft, then take a look at their finances. No company needs to improve their gaming department profits more than Sony does. If Sony does nothing, it would almost invariably mean another console generation filled with financial losses for them. Except, in 2013 the stakes are higher. Everything costs more than it did eight years ago! Furthermore, the startup costs of a new console are expensive, regardless of what decade we're in. Make no mistake: ensuring profit during the next generation of gaming will be the main goal for both Sony and Microsoft.

You may say, "But look at all the backlash Microsoft is getting. If Sony made their system 100% used game friendly, everyone would buy it, and they wouldn't lose money!"

To which I would counter: that's not completely true. Sony would most assuredly sell more consoles if they didn't restrict used games at all, but they need another component to assure those sales: games. Developers and publishers make games. They're the ones that are pushing for used game control in the first place.

Now you may say, "Developers wouldn't stop making games for the PS4 if it was being bought by the majority."

Really? What's the most popular device (barring phones) to play games on? Computers. How many games don't get PC ports? The truth of the matter, however, is that it would never come to this. When it's all said and done, only two outcomes are possible.

1) Microsoft and Sony both implement ways to restrict used games.

2) Microsoft and Sony both allow used games to be played without restriction.

Now I know, you may be hoping for option number two, but keep in mind, as evil as we all believe EA and Ubisoft are, they're still the companies that make our games. We NEED them to be successful, don't pretend otherwise.

So what are your thoughts? Still hate Microsoft? Will you hate Sony if they do the same thing? Is Microsoft the end of the world? Can you at least understand where their concern is coming from? 

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