Female Friendly?

14 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/114430223/

Aleks talks about Eidos getting lower than expected sales on Tomb Raider: Underworld, and as a result saying they’ll possibly make Lara Croft more “female friendly”. What on earth does that even mean? Do Eidos have a clue why North American sales were so low compared to expectations? Have they tied that to American women not buying it?

I don’t know, but it’s a sore point for may gamers and developers, with the industry and especially publishers hung between what a rare piece of good reporting in the Daily Mail (really, of all places) calls the “Pink Plague“, and shallow appeals to heterosexual men.

Commenters on the Guardian Gamesblog piece point out that Lara always was a female friendly character to them:

It’s funny because the original tomb raider on PS1 did appeal to women. For many women (and older people) I know Tomb Raider was Playstation, it was a family game. She was an intellectual young woman travelling the world solving puzzles.

There really is a lot of potential to make Lara into a female role model rather than a sex object, but every chance most game companies will still screw it up. Other comments are tragically piercing and hilarious:

Going by previous games industry efforts, the next instalment will be Little Pet Shop Raider: Pony Sanctuary.

-Instead of killing tigers you have to dress them up in beany hats and necklaces. If they dig your style they wont attack. If you style enough animals correctly you unlock a fashion show.

– Sometimes Lara will refuse to unlock doors or lift items because she is having emotional issues with her bf. To prevent this Lara can use her in game mobile to chat inanely to her girlfriends raising her stats.
Medipacks are replaced by heat magazines and hot chocolate.

– Lara’s quest involves hunting a rare bangle that Grazia named their hot pick of spring 2009.

– Lara will refuse to walk anywhere, instead she can ring her ingame bf to pick her up and drive her through the temples.

– Extreme humidity will result in Lara’s hair going frizzy. If players cannot find hair straightners within a set time limit, Lara will throw a hissy fit and refuse to continue the mission

(CC image by Orin Optiglot)

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Burger King Breakups

12 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/titoslack/352585215/

Burger King continue to pursue unusual interactive projects, this time with a facebook application that promises a free burger if you unfriend 10 people. The 10 get notified that you’ve done so, unlike when you normally remove someone on facebook, in whcih case they may notice their friend count drop by one but don’t receive any notifications.

Imagine being worth 1/10th of a burger to someone? It’s pretty brutal, but no more grotesque than the way many people assume they can or should act on social networking services.

(Via Infovore. CC image “Burger King Breakup” by Tito Slack ™)





Companies Request LittleBigPlanet IP Whitelisting

7 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/sillygwailo/348769786/

LittleBigPlanetoid brought this very interesting nugget to my attention on Monday: Companies have been asking Media Molecule to add their IP to a whitelist for LittleBigPlanet, meaning that rather than being treated as copyright infringement, works based on their things will be treated as fan art or free marketing, and allowed to stay in place.

Sony have taken a very cautious approach so far: that nuking things from orbit is the only way to be sure. At first there were complaints of overly zealous moderation, and lack of explanation for it, but MM/Sony have worked with the fan community to improve this immeasurably. It’s very pleasing that they seem to be just as amenable with companies too; LittleBigPlanet is so polished that people want their IP to be in it.

Merely squashing copyright infringing user generated content is often a terrible step to take, as it’s generally non-profit making, and those who put their time and skill (of any level) into creating it tend to be the fans who care the most.

There’s a story from the Unreal modding scene I often use when talking about these things, but it seems like pretty much all of the blog, forum and news posts about it have rotted away as it was about 8 years ago (Blimey. Link rot could get a lot worse than we expect…). A modder named Patrick “BadKarma” Fitzimmons was making a Star Wars map pack for Unreal Tournament, and repeatedly got cease and desist letters from Lucasarts’ lawyers. After (IIRC) several years of justifying it as non-profit making, sophisticated fan art, and getting people to sign petitions on his behalf, Lucasarts eventually stopped with the threats and started tacitly backing them, with it going on to become a fully fledged mod.

The entire struggle threw the issues into very stark relief, with a protracted fight between Lucasarts and BadKarma that led to a lot of head scratching. At the time, Twentieth Century Fox had also gained a reputation for threatening and generally stamping on all mod makers who infringed their copyrights, to the extent that the verb “foxing” was invented to describe it. Conditions laid down on an Aliens mod for Half Life were basically: “Cease work, hand over all assets and copyright to us, delete all of your own copies of your work, and we reserve the right to still sue you even if you comply”. The problem with this is that the fans have put a lot of time, effort and love into their creations, and the companies are engendering disillusion by attacking their strongest devotees.

LittleBigPlanet is actually quite a nice compromise, acting as a sandbox that, hopefully, will keep the lawyers happy too. The news of whitelisting is excellent, and it seems likely that EA are on the list given some of the levels that have been permitted to exist there. Impressive, for a company that used to be regarded by many as the evil empire of the games industry.

(CC image by sillygwailo)





Gaming Data

17 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/isriya/1786868715/

I find most press releases very ignorable, but according to this one on MCV today, Everton Football Club have licensed the football manager database from Sports Interactive, apparently allowing them to search through 340,000 or so players.

This is a very intersting by-product of such a popular game, and strikes me as related to a couple of interesting finds from the past few weeks: Aftershock, a game about earthquake preparedness based on a USGS report, and the fact that Google search results for certain terms strongly parallel flu outbreaks.

How many data sources are there out there that would readily plug into entertaining and useful game mechanics? While it’s by no means ubiquitous yet, games driven by data are going to become more common.

(CC image by isyria)





Encroachment

12 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/stoic1/2741922393/

More news of non-games companies moving further into videogames this week. Tomy announced that they have a 50 year old catalogue of IP, and intend to take it into games publishing for current consoles and handhelds via a new Tomy publishing label. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that toys and non-electronic games are exactly where Nintendo started and worked before going anywhere near videogames.

Meanwhile, a new patent by Apple reveals, potentially, that they may incorporate motion control into the Apple remote. As that VentureBeat piece points out, it’s wouldn’t necessarily be a huge technological step to start offering games though the app store and Apple TV, and it makes sense when the Wii has created a market.

This could go in all directions. Places like the App store can encourage indies to work via digital distribution, but a proliferation of more traditional businesses could also lead to an explosion in work for hire (and another cycle of publishers marketing departments thinking they can design games…) as well as exposure to new markets.

(CC Dingbot photo by Stoic)





EA Terminates Casual Label

7 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/jlsotillo/2712496117/

Electronic Arts confirmed today that they will roll up their casual label, with president of it Kathy Vrabeck leaving and the label itself along with the Hasbro license being merged into their Sims label (as reported by Gamsutra). This quote is particularly interesting:

“We’ve learned a lot about casual entertainment in the past two years, and found that casual gaming defies a single genre and demographic,”

EA Casual was an expensive prototype with interesting results. It makes total sense that casual players have all kinds of tastes and come from all demographics, but it’s the kind of insight many people only have retroactively. For several years, the casual player has been thought of and talked about as a bored mid-thirties housewife, but this isn’t necessarily true.

(Apologies for the neglect over the last two weeks. We’ve been at the London Games Festival where we ran more events than we’ve ever done before, so things have been quite busy).

(CC image by Cosmovisión)





Reebok and Monumental Partner

21 10 2008

Monumental Games are in fine form at the moment, partnering not just with the tech strategy board and University College London, but now Reebok too. Partnering with so many people to do something so specific, yet popular, will be a primary way to compete in an MMO market dominated by Activision/Blizzard.

In game ads are of course nothing new nowadays, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how this particular deal develops. Approaches to in game ads I’ve seen so far have treated them as a commodity, much like web and print: “Here’s the space for ads, go get some from anyone who’ll pay us”. Games have bumped into a bit more of a problem in terms of making sure the ads are appropriate to the game world. On that front, Monumental’s deal with Reebok is more progressive than anything I’ve seen presented at conferences: Instead of commoditising, it seems to take a long term, partnership oriented view.

(CC image by Xavier Encinas)