Female Friendly?

14 01 2009


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)

Companies Request LittleBigPlanet IP Whitelisting

7 01 2009


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)

Reduction in Reviews to Hit Indies?

13 10 2008

From the Introversion forums comes disturbing news that online game review sites may be cutting back on reviews. Money quote:

We’ve heard disturbing rumours from more than one source that major games websites are now cutting back on the number of games they review – and it’s games like Multiwinia that are getting dropped because there will always be hundreds of bigger games. If this is true and is widespread (as we are starting to believe), it has grave repercussions for all indie developers who rely on press reviews as their primary form of publicity.

Rock Paper Shotgun has a good overview of it all, including why games like Multiwinia struggle for exposure in print too, including flat out refusal from one magazine to review Multiwinia now or ever.

Both trends are extremely troubling, because while the long tail and digital tools may have ended certain forms of scarcity, much of the long tail is still pinned down to it. Development costs, even on small games, necessitate that sales migrate up the long tail to cover them. To do this requires a decent sized and intelligently applied marketing budget, and even the best marketers can’t successfully sell a game on the back of nothing. Business, even in virtual goods, is still pegged to a great many kinds of scarcity, and cutbacks at review sites threaten to recentralise a lot of trends and cultural mindshare.

For my part, as well as Rock Paper Shotgun I’d like to link to both Multiwinia and TIGsource. On the basis of things I’ve witnessed firsthand in comics, I strongly suspect that review sites are missing a trick by not highlighting the best indie games. The typical fodder of games over the past 25 years only became mainstream by the neglect of other markets. As shown at the links above, there’s a culture of people looking outside of that, and it could well become the real mainstream rather than a niche.

Press in Flames

10 09 2008

A quick update on EA’s marketing stunt from Monday:

Photos of the petrol station are on Flickr, and Games Radar has a couple of pictures of the resulting queue.

MP Lynne Featherstone has waded in and demanded an apology. One again from the BBC:

“Whilst a lucky few might have got free petrol, hundreds of residents have faced misery”.

The Liberal Democrat said: “Trying to recreate Venezuelan-style fuel riots on the streets of London is completely irresponsible and downright dangerous.

“Hundreds of local residents have faced misery on their daily journeys this morning.

“They deserve an apology for being the victims of such an ill thought-out media stunt.”

Ill thought-out is hardly the term, more inconsiderate. Even in that respect though, the whole stunt is well thought out. Localised negative effects, in EA’s eyes, are probably a very small price to pay for the amount of coverage they’ve got for this. Google is teeming with news results, some of which have video. All of them have something like “The stunt was by Electronic Arts, to promote the Mercenaries 2: World in Flames game.”

It’s hardly surprising that it got shut down early due to traffic disruption, not to mention the British Government’s crackdown on firearms over the past decade or more making it very risky to tote an imitation gun in public. Nonetheless, using a commodity to hack a common motive and attach a brand is clever even if it did annoy lots of people. Opportunities to do something that effective are rare, or at least rarely used.

(CC image by Evan Hamilton)

Inflammatory Marketing

8 09 2008

This is disruptive yet amusing. Electronic Arts took over a petrol station and gave away over £20,000 worth of fuel to UK drivers. Why? To promote a game of course. They have made national news and done something that people will talk about a lot. The resulting marketing will be worth way more than an equivalent ad spend.

There are plenty of local residents unhappy with the disruption, and plenty of contented motorists. The BBC quoth:

Prince Davis, 37, who queued patiently for a quarter of an hour for free petrol, said: “This is a genius idea, whoever thought of this should be promoted.

“I’ll definitely be buying the game, you’re never too old to play computer games.”

Louise Marchant, from Electronic Arts, said the scenes of queuing mimicked aspects of the game.

She explained: “It’s set in Venezuela, you play a mercenary and fuel is used as a currency.”

(CC image by Sam Hailstone)

Microsoft Cracks Japan?

18 08 2008

Bruce Everiss posted this morning about the 360 apparently selling well in Japan:

So the effect of Tales of Vesperia will be to lift the 360 to a higher sustained level in the market. And at this higher level, because of word of mouth and peer pressure, there will be far more organic growth. It is a step up and what Microsoft need in Japan is a series of similar incremental jumps, with the market continuing at a higher level after each one.

He’s possibly a bit eager in describing it as a triumph for Microsoft, and a commenter offers some perspective on this:

I’ve seen good 360 sales in Japan before. Notably Blue Dragon (where Microsoft ticked all the boxes for success and Japan still resisted them) and, courtesy of Namco again, Ace Combat 6. The effect is not long-lasting and we’ve had enough instances of a good week of Japanese 360 sales to tell us not to get over excited because things may (and do) calm down pretty quickly.

It’s good to see the 360 getting a little traction over there, but it’s important to consider the reduced supply Microsoft will have been giving Japan ever since the lack of interest at launch there. They aren’t exactly selling out at EU or US stock levels.

(CC image of the Akibahara by heiwa4126)

Google Game Ads

14 08 2008

via Nicholas Lovell comes a rumour that Google are nearing a release of the in-game ad service they’ve been testing for a while. It’s most likely true given the recent release of Lively. Also, as Nicholas points out:

the opportunity for independent and smaller studios who fall below the radar screen of Massive, IGA or Double Fusion will be huge.

The current players of in game advertising are all chasing the short head while they struggle to create a big enough market, and it’s entirely possible that Google will eclipse them all with the long tail.

The Image of Social Games

8 08 2008

A few days ago, Keith Stuart wrote an exceptionally good post on the Guardian Gamesblog, about the current advertising Nintendo are putting out for the DS.

It’s not just targeting older gamers and families, but now everyone, and with a slightly different approach. Very little gameplay footage is shown compared to social interaction, and this is sending a very different and positive message about games out into mainstream culture:

What he doesn’t mention is the way in which the relationship forms the focal point of the ad, not the game. It’s the same with the other adverts in the series (and the earlier versions which appeared at the end of last year), all of them based around warm, playful friendships in which the handheld console becomes a social/conversational facilitator. The message is, games aren’t something you slope off to do in private, they’re something to be shared. They’re normal.

The ads are also interesting in their use of a documentary-style presentation – they appear unscripted and ‘natural’, as though we’re peeping into private moments, as though Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters really do share a love of brain training software.

Go and read the whole post now 🙂

E3: Retail Rituals

15 07 2008

E3 is now in full effect, which actually means reduced effect since it’s been shrinking for the past few years. So far, this quote is by far the most interesting thing:

“Science is a really powerful brand that no other entertainment property is trying to grab,” said Wright, after complaining that modern chemistry sets “are so nerfed that you could probably eat all the stuff and it wouldn’t make you feel sick”.

It is of course Will Wright talking about Spore, and he’s correct. Spore isn’t exactly going to teach hard science, but it’s based on extensive reading of it, and one of the first things in years to sex it up a little.

Will also claims that Spore now has more species than Earth, but that’s no doubt a bit of PR spin: while about 1.75 million species have been catalogued, estimates range from 5 – 30 million (source).

(Edit: Rock, Paper, Shotgun point to a video of Will’s talk. He spoke accurately on numbers of known species, but it was misreported as all species. The talk is well worth a watch, and only a few minutes long).

Announcements are starting to trickle out, with Nintendo upgrading the Wiimote, and Microsoft announcing avatars and an all round spruce up for XBox Live. Nothing seems to have come from Sony yet.

Most of the content from E3 each year seems a little tepid, yet the event itself has legendary status in the games industry, outside of any big announcements. Developers and journalists we’ve known have studied the event itself rather than the content, with the massive sensory overload leading Idle Thumbs to refer to it as “the balls kneeing robot”. That’s a pretty big contrast to GDC, which is still overwhelming, but the people there are very focused on the content and each other.

I think Tadhgk Kelly nails it at his blog:

It strikes me that if you’re going to do the conference thing then surely the thing to learn is some stagecraft? Don’t put the timid exec on stage if he’s not good in front of a crowd, for instance. Find someone to do it for you with confidence, even a celebrity if you have to. Don’t talk about how exciting things are: show how exciting they are. Don’t trot out lists of features as a replacement for content. In the end of the day, there are better ways to present this stuff but ultimately what it comes down to is charisma, and most of these people doing the conferences are no doubt very talented at their jobs but they comes across as nerds talking about their science project at the head of a bored class on a hot summer’s day. “Exciting!”

A lot of conferences have some pretty unsavoury characteristics, and that may just well be a consequence of gathering many people together in one location, but there are certainly a lot of tricks that game developers are missing when it comes to presentation.

(CC image: Willi_Hybrid)

Google: Lively

10 07 2008

Google have finally launched a virtual world. People have been talking about this since the first google maps mashups, Sketchup and again with Google Earth.

What’s there so far seems pretty high quality, there must be some fairly powerful content creation tools to allow users to generate many of the rooms on show (there’s already a Linden Lab one).

It works with individual rooms, somewhat like Metaplace, rather than a consistent world ala WoW, which will almost certainly give it a lower bandwidth and processing footprint than a typical MMO. Everyone better watch out… not just Linden Lab, but Sony, with PSHome and Virgin with A World Of My Own. A lot of these offerings seem very similar, but I expect Google’s advertising model could crunch right through the competition.

I’ll be interested to see how consistent worlds stack up against the polyphony that’ll be found in things like Lively and Metaplace. I suspect that consistent worlds that people can become really absorbed into will still be able to command subscription fees, while the more random offerings will lead people to expect them to be free or ad supported.

Everything in Lively seems rather stylised and consistent from room to room at the moment, and I do wonder if that will survive in the torrent of user generated content. Will siloing things in individual rooms lead to consistent styles emerging, or will general taste still make it look like Second Life?

(CC image of Lively by ialja)