Archive for September, 2011
USA Today is carrying a story about new research that was recently presented to the American Psychological Association by psychologist Patrick Markey of Villanova University. Markey’s research attempted to demonstrate a correlation between aggressive behavior in youths and violence in video games. What he found, however, was that while violence itself had little discernible effect on aggression, certain “highly competitive” games did (regardless of whether the games were violent or not). Markey’s research echoed what many gamers have been saying all along — that violent games don’t turn people into killers, rather certain individuals are simply more prone to violence for various reasons. Markey suggests that for children who are “moody, impulsive, or…unfriendly”, violent video games are possibly ill-advised.
It’s worth noting that Markey’s study only answers one question in what is still a complicated and poorly-understood issue. Other research has suggested that violent video games may desensitize individuals to violence and inhibit empathy, the implications of which are potentially as worrisome as increased aggression. While many concerned parents and lawmakers lobby for stricter controls on the sale of violent video games, others are quick to point out that much like the movie industry, the games industry has a self-regulating body (the ESRB) to screen products for content and provide comprehensive ratings to parents. The ESRB even provides detailed descriptions of the questionable content in many new games, so parents have something to reference other than the blurbs and screenshots on the game boxes — see an example for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations here.
Riot Games’ wildly popular free-to-play battle arena game “League of Legends” released a new map/mode earlier this week called Dominion. Dominion represents a significant departure from the traditional MOBA formula – instead of trying to destroy the enemy base, players must take and hold various points around the map to win. Both teams start with 500 points, and these points tick down at a rate proportional to the number of bases held by the enemy team – the first team to reach zero is the loser. This type of gameplay is quite similar to the “Conquest” mode in Battlefield games, and the “Domination” mode in the Call of Duty/Modern Warfare games. Besides the obvious changes, the new Dominion map features new and unique items and power-ups, faster gold/XP gain, and most importantly, players begin each game at level 3. Games of Dominion will typically only last around 20 minutes, which is a welcome change for those who just want to get in a bite-sized chunk of play time.
Having put in a few hours with Dominion, I find that I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think the new map can be a lot of fun, the new items are awesome, and the map layout seems well-designed. On the other hand, the action is extremely hectic and disorganized, and certain champions are disgustingly strong picks, to the point of upsetting game balance. Champions with high mobility or long-range ultimates can either capture points very quickly, or periodically prevent enemies from taking points on the other side of the map. While I’m sure people will eventually get used to the new strategy, right now it’s like playing whack-a-mole – everyone wants to capture points and nobody wants to defend them, so no sooner is a point captured than it is retaken by the enemy.
Bottom Line: Dominion has a lot of potential, but I believe some balance issues need to be addressed and player strategy needs to mature before it becomes more than a fun (but temporary) distraction from the time-proven core game mode.
Technology blog Techgage recently brought back some interesting tidbits from an NVIDIA conference call. NVIDIA, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of PC graphics hardware, indicated that analysis of sales trends over the last several years points to an upset around 2014. At this point, NVIDIA projects that the total yearly revenue from PC game sales will exceed that of console games. They cited a number of factors contributing to this trend, among which are the rise of “freemium” pricing models, the growing popularity of digital distribution platforms such as Steam, the decreasing cost of gaming-ready home PC’s, and the large technology gap between PC’s and consoles in terms of sheer processing power and graphics capabilities.
Personally, I think the endless battle between console and PC fans is silly, because ultimately consoles are computers — ones that have been purpose-built with gaming in mind. Consoles dominated sales for so long simply because, for many consumers, the cost of a gaming PC was too prohibitive and consoles provided a cheap and relatively versatile alternative. Each year brings new advances in technology which make computer components smaller and more powerful, and yet cheaper, than the year before. As the cost disparity between PC’s and consoles vanishes, so too do consoles become more powerful and rival PC’s for versatility. A day is soon approaching when there will be no distinction between consoles and PC’s at all.
Every gamer has at least one “guilty pleasure” — one game that other people either hate, don’t understand, or simply don’t care about. For me, it was these text-based adventure games that I got hooked on when I was younger. They didn’t have good graphics, interesting characters, or compelling plots. They had poor instructions, and were quite difficult to learn. Try as I might to get other people into them, they never caught on, though personally I go back to them from time to time when I need a break from the endless stream of “visceral” first-person shooter games the industry has been churning out.
Tell us about the games you like that other people just don’t get!
If you’re not familiar with these terms, prepare to be enlightened. Preorder bonuses are special extras — goodies that can be used either in-game or in real life — that you can get from certain retailers for ordering copies of games before they are released. Sometimes retailers offer the same goodies, but most often they are unique to the retailer. For example, ordering a particular game from Amazon.com might get you a cool sword, whereas ordering from Best Buy gets you a nifty book of game art, and ordering from Gamestop gets you a sweet model helmet. As a consequence, many gamers are now deciding where to buy their games based on these bonuses rather than on pricing, brand loyalty, or other factors. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but when the bonuses are lopsided (i.e. one store clearly has the best offering), it’s going to have a big impact on sales for the other stores.
DLC, which stands for downloadable content, is just what it sounds like. It can be new maps, new missions, new loot, or all of the above. Some kinds of DLC seem more like full-on game expansions in terms of amount of new content added, whereas some are purely aesthetic, like new “skins” for characters and other similar goodies whose impact on gameplay is negligible. Here’s where things get sticky — sometimes DLC can also be a preorder bonus. Certain games which have come out recently or are coming out soon (Battlefield 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to name a few) have offered some really significant DLC from specific retailers. This DLC is so good and so enticing that people preordering from other retailers might feel like they are getting incomplete games. Now, to be fair, most of this content will be released to everyone for free in time, but for a few weeks to a few months, only people who picked the “right” stores to order from will get these fantastic bonuses. What do you folks think — is this unfair, or good business? Tell us what you think!
Every game tells a story, although not every game tells a good story, and not every game tells it well. It is primarily storytelling however, and not graphics, which has the potential to elevate games from mere diversions to bona fide works of art.
The simplest stories are the stuff of fairy tales — the brave hero must rescue the damsel in distress by vanquishing the evil scientist/robot/king/what-have-you. Some stories are complex, woven through with the threads of conspiracy and told from multiple perspectives. These stories can make us laugh, cry, feel afraid, or even angry. They can inspire, and they can teach…for better or for worse. The pantheon of classic games is home to many which are remembered for their addictive gameplay, or for purely nostalgic reasons, but the ones that really live on in our heads and hearts are the ones that told a great story.
Think about games you’ve played with stories that made you feel some emotion very strongly, and share them with us!
“Free-To-Play” games, often shortened to “F2P” games, are slowly becoming some of the gaming industry’s most successful titles. Some titles, like the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game League of Legends, were designed to be F2P from the beginning. Others, such as Lord of the Rings Online, and very recently the hugely popular MMO World of Warcraft, began as pay-to-play but have since transitioned fully or partially to F2P payment models. Today we’ll attempt to answer a few of the most common questions about F2P games. Mainly, we’ll attempt to answer whether or not these games are really free, and try to explain why game companies do this.
First, the big question: are F2P games really free? The short answer is “yes…technically“. Most F2P games can be played and enjoyed without the player spending a single penny. However, it’s important to understand that the people who make these games aren’t running a charity — they are businessmen and women, and like any of us, they need to eat and pay the bills. The primary way that F2P games make money is via what has come to be referred to as “microtransactions”. These are exactly what they sound like — small transactions. F2P games typically have some form of cash shop which allows players to buy in-game items either directly with cash, or by first changing real money into a virtual currency such as “gold” or “points”. In cases where goods are bought with virtual currency, F2P game developers often use clever pricing schemes to ensure that players always have a little virtual coin left over after a purchase, but not enough to buy more goods without exchanging more cash. While these items are by no means required to play, they often bestow the player with benefits that could not be attained otherwise.
Now let’s try to answer why game developers make F2P titles. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. Some gamers will pay $50 to $60 for a new PC or console game without breaking a sweat, but others are on tighter budgets. Pretend that you’re a thrifty gamer looking for something new to play. You’re choosing between one game that costs $50, and one that costs nothing but looks to be about the same quality. There’s a very good chance that you are at least going to give the free game a try. If it turns out that you like the free game, you may be willing to spend a little money on microtransactions, say $10 to $20 — and why not? After all, didn’t you save $50 by choosing the “free” game in the first place? This decision-making process is precisely what F2P game developers bank on.
Some final food for thought — nearly every F2P game is multiplayer. How does this help developers make money? For one, multiplayer games are social. They encourage players to invite friends, and often reward players for doing so. The more friends you have playing, the more likely you are to keep playing, and keep spending money on microtransactions. Finally, while Playfin does not endorse software piracy, many people view it as a way to “try-before-you-buy”. Because F2P game developers are not counting on selling a certain number of games to turn a profit, they are effectively immune to software piracy. F2P games make good business sense for some developers. With that said, I’ll leave you with the below comic strip, courtesy of Penny Arcade.