GTA IV: The Current State of PC Gaming

12 12 2008

gtaiv-meltdown

GTA IV has been released for the PC, and compared to the April console releases it’s bedlam.

This blog post has a melodramatised summary of the installation procedure, but that’s still a lot of hoops to jump through: Install Rockstar Social Club, sign up for Windows Live, sign up for Rockstar Social Club, accept that it comes with SecuROM, update the various bits of software you’ve just installed, then contend with various potentially game breaking bugs.

Amazon user reviews have already plummeted to 1.5 stars out of five, and the tags are mostly “defective by design”, securom infected”, “malware”, etc.

For this to happen to one of the standout games of the year in making a transition from console to PC is phenomenal, both in terms of the developer/publisher not seeing this coming and as a look at the current state of PC gaming.

I played through GTA IV on the 360, and play it with friends online every week, and have never suffered half the aggravation PC users are having to go through with it. I was a died in the wool PC gamer for about 5 years, and because of this kind of thing generally don’t go back to it except through Steam.

The whole installation procedure, as described in the blog post above, is an astoundingly poor piece of UX design. Good software does it’s thing in the background rather than talking to you; it has a low cognitive load by not pestering the user.

Steam is a form of DRM; consoles are, in the words of Bruce Everiss, giant anti-piracy dongles. I accept this on both of these platforms, not because I’m apathetic about DRM, but because it’s an explicit condition of the platform and doesn’t shove itself down my throat.

I suspect things like Steam might be the only viable platform for PC gaming. It’s not that it prevents piracy, it doesn’t, Valve’s titles are widely pirated. However, it’s a convenient way to buy, install and play games. That’s what people are looking for, and a lot of PC developers/publishers are completely failing at it right now.

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Sense of Wonder

11 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/trackybirthday/257419001/

I’ve been slowly (too slowly) working my way through these Sense of Wonder Night videos from TGS. It’s a great bunch of strange indie concepts and prototypes, including current belles Pixel-Junk Eden and The Unfinished Swan as well as a lot of more obscure prototypes, like Depict, where you have to reproduce things with a phone camera:

and Gomibako, which appears to be a Tetris style game involving shoving litter in a bin with physics, then setting fire to it:

(CC image by tracky birthday)





Industry Figures

10 12 2008

sesame-street-flashers

Kim Pallister on another trend towards a healthier games industry. Good games industry figures are notoriously hard to get hold of:

He cited this as an example of a different attitude to sharing numbers within Hollywood. I beleived it was a symptom of supply and demand. Bigger industry, more demand for the numbers, more people figuring out ways to make money off covering that scene. I think we’ll get there over time, though a change in attitude could possibly accelerate it.





Split Streams

9 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/t_lawrie/320871693/

The Guardian have a perky report about how well the games industry is doing in the UK, which has some good observations, such as the timing of this recession being as good as it could be, falling in the middle of a console cycle when sales and resource allocations are optimal. Another is that publishers are more likely to put money into established IP than risky new projects, something that’s already the case mid to late cycle, given that new IP is a lot easier to launch with a new console.

However, the Guardian piece is still only telling half the story. “Recession proof” is a term that has been thrown around a lot in relation to games recently, and given the massive spate of studio layoffs, sales and closures that has blighted the end of 2008, it’s just not true. Of course it affects games businesses, just like others.

NESTA have produced a new report on the state of the UK games industry, and despite an improvement in the dollar rate it’s really struggling against a few factors. While work for hire is getting easier and more common, the amount of IP UK developers can generate seems to be decreasing. Meanwhile, the vast revenues being generated by unprecedented retail sales only go a limited way towards developers, passing as they do through the filter of publishers.

Edit: Even today, bad publishing news.

(CC image by TCL 1961)





Games Criticism

8 12 2008

Beyond Good and Evil

As I mentioned last week, the relationship of the games press to game developers and gamers is something that has been bothering me a great deal for the past few months. I don’t want to write a lengthy analytical missive pointing out what’s wrong and offering solutions. Opinions on it are two a penny, and mine is that the solution is yet another cultural process that is going to happen automatically.

For decades, games journalism has largely consisted of a small group of dedicated enthusiasts speaking to fellow enthusiasts. This eventually seems to terminate in large scale dedicated news outlets with a high turnover of news; often copy pasted from press releases and refed through truncated RSS feeds designed to drive ad impressions. The sum total of all that effort is to create a news source which is only worth skimming over, much as the writers seem to have skimmed over their own sources.

There are scant examples of people digging beyond press releases. Hit Self Destruct did a little digging here on recent events at NCsoft (as well as saying a whole lot about games journalism), and Wonderland mentioned the launch of Sony’s new credit card, which in itself is an horrific non-story, other than the fact not a single other place mentioned the very high APR. In the case of all those other sites, that’s not news reporting, it’s publicity.

When Leigh Alexander recently wrote about possible salary fixing in Montreal, Steve Gaynor jokingly tweeted at her: “What’s this shit, actual journalism? Come on Alexander write a preview or something”.

That’s the thing. Very few people involved are unaware of the dynamic between publisher, developer, and player, and the resulting flaws in games journalism. The games industry is kind of stuck with the culture it built, and cultural change is glacial. The uncomfortable gulf between good reporters and critics who don’t understand games and people with highly specialised knowledge of games who are stuck in the industry is closing, but slowly and naturally rather than in any revolutionary sense.

I already highlighted Tom Armitage and Offworld in the past week, and I’d like to add Duncan Fyfe and Iroquois Pliskin. Both of those posts are specifically about the industry press and criticism, and both are also excellent bloggers.

All media, no matter how long established, still has some tawdry, shallow attendant journalism and reviewing, as well as elitist circles that chatter about the necessity of audience education (Which is sometimes worthy, and sometimes nothing more than an attempt at memetic reproduction). The presence of such extremes and everything inbetween is simply an indicator of a healthy culture. Exactly the same stratification is going to occur with coverage and discussion of games. Just as with every previous form of media, it’ll take a long time. The good news is that it’s inevitable.

(Image from Beyond Good and Evil)





Offworld, Left 4 Dead Intro

4 12 2008

Left 4 Dead

Offworld was also recently launched by Boing Boing, and along with Rock Paper Shotgun appears to be a stalwart and interesting games blog that updates a lot yet is above the standard of typical games blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq.

One of the posts that caught my attention the other day was this one about Left 4 Dead’s intro video. I’d picked up on the approach it took to the game, but not that it was a tutorial. I think that’s an excellent bit of insight.

Tutorials don’t necessarily have to be interactive: give people the right information and space to play together and they’ll generally figure things out. Nonetheless, many games take the patronising approach of “This is the button to jump. Press the button to jump! Well done! you just jumped! Now creep. This is the button to creep. No, don’t jump on that. Go back and creep. I’m not letting you do anything else until you do as you’re told.”

The “shopping list” approach to the Left 4 Dead video in terms of introducing the enemies and game mechanics is the kind of thing that make s a TV show or film look lazy and unfocussed, but I think it works exceptionally well for expressing a videogame through passive media.





Death Of Leipzig Not So Greatly Exaggerated

3 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/charly-koeln/192035423/

How things change. I blogged here before about the building conflict between Leipzig and Cologne for games industry events this year and next, and at the time Leipzig enjoyed a great deal of industry goodwill and confidence.

However, CMP have now acquired gamescom owner Global Games Media, and furthermore recruited former Leipzig conference director Frank Sliwka. They plan to run GDC Europe next to the gamescom consumer event, and with that kind of power and brand respect, Leipzig is suddenly looking dead in the water.

(CC image by Charly-Koeln)