Indie Download Viability

5 06 2007

Simon Carless has posted an op ed to GamaSutra on siloed download services working against casual games:

In my view, an independent game studio should be able to make a downloadable game for the Xbox 360, sell 50,000 copies at $10 each, convert it to PlayStation 3 and sell 50,000 more copies at the same price, and do the same on Nintendo’s Wii. The incremental conversion costs should theoretically be much less than the cost of developing the game from scratch. This would all contribute to a much more viable downloadable games scene.

I understand that hardware manufacturers want to have exclusive games, but that doesn’t stop them from making it easy for classic titles, or relatively platform-agnostic indie games, to appear on multiple platforms at the same time. This point is especially important for smaller and more independent developers because they ride a very fine line between viability and non-viability right now, since they pay their own development costs.

Though it’s on a different subject, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Iain Simon’s words last August.

The Lazy Nomenclature of Games

2 05 2007

Another excellent post from Plush Apocalypse; Borut picks on lazy nomenclature.

This one came up at work as a pet peeve yesterday – fun factor. That should be self explanatory.

As he points out, the term “gameplay” is not entirely useless, because we do use verbs when discussing the quality of media. “What is Gameplay?” was one of the questions in Difficult Questions About Videogames, and though the variance between answers was stunning, most of them were useful in some sense.

Plush Apocalypse

1 05 2007

I always like to have a new blog or two in my dailies, and right now I’m enjoying The Plush Apocalypse.

There’s a review of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. up there, and it points out a glaring hole which has consistently appeared in most others:

Pretty much every review I’ve read about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. goes something like this: “There are so many terrible things about this game, bugs, bad framerate, choppy animations, problems on Vista, unpolished, blah blah blah. But you should still play it because it’s cool and has a lot of ambience.”

These reviews say more about the crappy state of game criticism than the game itself, really. They simply fail to describe what makes the game compelling. My other complaint about most of the reviews of this game is that they don’t mention the Tarkovsky movie or the book by the Strugatsky’s.

He goes on to plug both of those gaps rather well; it’s worth reading.

BBFC report on violence and videogames

17 04 2007

The British Board of Film Classification has published a report about game players’ habits and game effects, throwing up some interesting points concerning game violence and the negative effects of press coverage.

The report is based on qualitative research carried out on gamers ranging from children as young as seven through to players in their early 40s, as well as parents of young players and industry representatives.

The following is a breakdown of the key findings.

1. While children are beginning to play games at an increasingly early age, the overall age of games players is getting older.

2. There is a marked difference in male and female game tastes, with males preferring shooters and sports titles, and females generally opting for life simulation and puzzle games.

3. Male players are much more inclined to play for lengthened periods.

4. Negative press coverage has an adverse effect, with titles portrayed negatively often proving highly popular.

5. Younger gamers’ choice of games is influenced by peer pressure and word of mouth.

6. People view game playing as a risk-free means of escapism and feel in control of game experiences as opposed to real life.

7. Game playing is active and brings about feelings of achievement as opposed to passive forms of entertainment such as TV and film. Gamers are driven by achievement but are unlikely to become emotionally involved. They care more about progress than elements such as storytelling.

8. The interactive nature of game playing means players are less likely to forget they are playing a game than they would be to forget they are watching a film or TV show.

9. Gamers suggest game playing is mentally stimulating and a good way of improving hand-eye coordination.

10. Violence in games creates tension, challenges and a sense of vulnerability in players – gamers tend to focus on preventing harm to their character rather than inflicting harm on other characters. While there is an appeal associated with being able to inflict violent acts without fear of reprisal, gamers know that they are playing games and don’t misconstrue the act as real life.

The vast majority of gamers reject the notion that video games encourage people to be violent in real life or that they have become desensitised to violent acts.

Most gamers are not overly concerned about violence in games because they view TV and film violence as more realistic and disturbing, although they are aware that game violence, particularly in adult rated titles, can upset younger players.

While non-games playing parents are surprised at the violence portrayed in games, they are not overly concerned that it will negatively affect their children. Parents agree that games regulation is important but some also said they were happy to give children adult games because they weren’t real.

11. Non-games playing parents would prefer children to pursue outdoor activities as opposed to spending prolonged periods playing games. They are particularly concerned about young boys. These parents are however more worried about the threats associated with internet chat rooms.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said, “There is no question that video games are an important form of entertainment for an ever increasing number of people. As the technology improves the games will become more and more realistic and it is important that games are properly rated to protect younger players from the games with adult content, which the BBFC does.

“This research provides some valuable insights into why people play video games and what effect they think playing has on themselves and friends. It has also highlighted parental attitudes to video games. We hope that it will provide some food for thought for the industry, and everyone who has an interest in the impact of games and we will be taking the research outcomes into account as we review our games classification policies over the coming months.”

If there’s anything overproduced by the game industry, it’s unconsidered rants.

28 02 2007

Just discovered Magical Wasteland a annoymous blog with some very insightful posts.
I will be posting some extracts here over the next few days for those who cannot be bothered to go and read the long but rewarding posts.

On the Problems with the Manifesto of Manifesto Games

Over a year ago, a company called Manifesto Games was founded with the idea that it would aggregate and sell low-budget but innovative games and by doing so help to advance the state of the game industry. While I have yet to see a new genre of games spring from this site, I do generally like and agree with the idea of invention as an essential but under-explored component of interactive entertainment.Unfortunately, for all the talk of revolution (or even incremental improvement), the level of rhetoric actually displayed on the site is quite disappointing. The hyperbole in the actual Manifesto of Manifesto Games may be explained away as a stylistic choice, but the tract often crosses over into statements that are simply untrue. I believe it’s imprudent to base the foundation for a revolution, or even simply a new company, on such sloppy thinking

Breaking down some of the details:

“The large publishers’ desperate quest to reduce risk paradoxically makes it harder for them to find the best-sellers they need.”Actually, the “desperate quest” is called a strategy, and it works almost disappointingly well from a business standpoint: ask Mr. Kotick of Activision, or look at their quarterly results for the past ten years. There is no evidence I am aware of that suggests otherwise.

“Today, most games are developed in massive sweatshops by hundreds of people over three years or more.”

As before, I don’t have data readily available, but this statement strikes me as an emotional accusation that is not exactly borne out by the true state of things. It may describe some Electronic Arts projects or a few massively multiplayer online games. But to boldly state that “most” games are developed this way plays with the truth in a rather elastic way.

BME – ‘Negative’ Game Characters Critiqued

20 02 2007

An article in Black Voice News has been published, offering a highly critical view of the videogame industry’s portrayal of minorities. Penned by Richard Jones, the article begins, “Negative video games reinforce poor self-images in Black youth.” It points out the overwhelming majority of games-makers are white, while surveys suggest that African American and Latino games players spend more times with consoles than White players.

Kansas State University psychologist John Murray is quoted, “If Blacks and Latinos are always portrayed as the villains, or as the victims who get killed often and easily, that is code for powerlessness. These image persist because too few minorities are in the industry. Roughly 80% of video game programmers are White.”

The author, who criticizes the Grand Theft Auto series (pictured) adds, “The video game industry is all about money. No one really cares about your skin color or gender if you are a well-trained video game designer or illustrator. The problem is that our youth and adult players see themselves as players and not designers or illustrators. Therefore unless they’re motivated to get on the business end versus the player end of the video game phenomenon they will continue to be portrayed in a negative light and also miss out on a ten billion dollar a year industry.”

via Joystik, and Next-Generation

Article here. Spotted by Joystiq.

Games industry hiding behind the figures

18 01 2007

Jon Jordan “What I found significant was the headline ELSPA chose for its press release of the wonderful news – “2006 interactive software sales thrash previous years”.

Now, this must count as a classic case of being economical with the truth. In term of their value, sales clearly didn’t thrash previous years. An extra £10 million is chickenfeed, considering software sales in the week prior to Christmas were worth £91.5 million ($180 million).

The total number of games sold – 65.1 million units – was up significantly, by 7 percent compared to 2005 however.

Whether this counts as ‘thrashing’ remains open to debate though. OK, so I’m being a bit fussy. I’m a columnist. That’s what I do. Nevertheless, I think this behaviour hides a wider issue; that the games industry lacks confidence when dealing with the non-gaming world.

Maybe because we’re constantly being hit over the head with complaints about violence and addiction, the powers that be only feel safe communicating from a position of strength, which in the lack of any cultural confidence, generally means pride in commercial success. Hence obvious commercial success needs to be manipulated, whether supported by evidence or not.

Of course, in this case, all that was needed was a bit of analysis. Both 2005 (where UK software sales by value rose 0.7 percent), and 2006 can be counted as transitional years in which everyone expected sales to be flat, at best. That sales are up, even slightly, is positive, but we can’t expect the wider media to understand that if we don’t provide the context for them.

And if we don’t, the result will be stories about games being “bigger than films” and 2006 “thrashing 2005″; both examples of how to lose a kernel of truth in a tissue of white lies.”

spot on as ever