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Reversal Of Fortune At #E32015

Reversal Of Fortune At #E32015

It always seems that no matter what the community anticipates, every E3 boils down to the eternal struggle between Microsoft and Sony.

You may remember that fateful E3 a while back when the two juggernauts were at each others throats prior to the launch of their respective next gen consoles. It was a fantastic time for Sony because it was a terrible time for Microsoft. The Redmond giant couldn’t get any announcement regarding the Xbox One to fire with the community, from “disc in the drawer DRM” to a purported requirement for the Kinect to be present, there was nothing that Microsoft could say or do that wasn’t picked up on by Sony, who filled their keynote with unambiguous jabs at their competitor’s gaffes. That year, it was widely agreed by all but the most diehard Xbox fans that Sony “won” E3.

Now with some water under the bridge, the consoles have been coasting along thanks to their respective fan bases. The skulduggery of console exclusives has helped each camp gain more followers: The Playstation gets some exclusive content for Destiny, while it was announced that the Xbox would get the next Tomb Raider, for example. A lot of games we’d fawned over in the past, like The Division and The Order 1886 were either pushed far into the future, or fell flat on release. Since the consoles release dates, consumers had fallen into a kind of a lull, put to sleep by a dull buzz of a tepid release schedule through 2014.

The writing was on the wall for E3 2015 was that either camp could announce almost anything and get a decent response, so I think this year’s E3 hype train left the station well in advance of the actual event. Personally, I got tired of the countdowns and the previews, but when the only way you can go is up, anything and everything is magnified. It was a “hold your breath” day yesterday as Microsoft started out in the morning, and Sony followed up in the evening.

This time, Microsoft wasn’t pulling any punches. They didn’t say anything about “television”, or even talk about “Kinect”. The social media community was giving Microsoft the thumbs up for having women presenters on stage. The biggest bombshell was that the Xbox One was getting backwards compatibility, allowing users to verify ownership of a physical Xbox 360 game and to download a version to their next gen machine. They also announced a preview system — [edit] which is very much like Steam’s “Early Access” program — for some high-profile titles. We saw Hololens in action, as they demoed a new version of Minecraft that floated above the stage ad provided a gods-eye view of the blocky world below. Of course there were the games: Halo 5: Guardians, Fallout 4, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Siege, Gigantic, a new Gears of War, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The audience learned about an upcoming collection of remastered Rare titles, and a look at a co-op PvP pirate ship combat games called Sea of Thieves. It seemed like everything Microsoft pushed out onto the stage resonated with the crowd.

Sony had a big act to follow. We know they’ve got bravado, having outsold the XB1 early on without breaking a sweat. Did they have enough this year to top Microsoft’s game? In short, no. They opened with The Last Guardian, a long-awaited title that really struck a chord with the crowd and on social media. They followed that with a strange but compelling new monster hunter style game called Horizon which featured a paleolithic-esque hunter stalking robotic wildlife on a post-apocalyptic Earth. People seemed to really like that one. Then it slid downhill. Another Hitman game. Street Fighter V. Some weird acid-trip of a game from Media Molecule (Little Big Planet, Tearaway) called Dreams that looked like a claymation studio tool. Some gameplay from the long-awaited No Man’s Sky that didn’t impress as much as I think people hoped it would. This was followed by an announcement of DLC for Destiny, and a sales pitch for a Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign which sent the social media world into a fit of irritation, anger, and snark. The bright spot for a lot of people was a brief teaser for a remake of Final Fantasy VII in what looks to be full-on 3D, on par with the most recent Final Fantasy offerings. Sony closed by showing a glitchy preview of the next Uncharted game, and that was that.

[I didn’t cover everything each company presented. Check out the recap for Microsoft and Sony if you want a bullet point list]

I haven’t seen anyone claim that Sony “won” anything this year. Their presentation started off strong and continued until they slipped into the doldrums, and emerged with some really head-scratching moments. The interlude of Final Fantasy VII was a sigh of relief, but the sad technical problem during the Uncharted presentation — the only technical issue I think either company had on stage this year — ended Sony’s show on a sour note.

Just a few years ago people sunk their teeth into Microsoft’s exposed neck and refused to let go for weeks after E3 had ended, dogging the company across the Internet for their policy decisions. Sony sat back and laughed, secure in knowing that they had “won” E3 that year. Now the pendulum swings the other way. People are happy with Microsoft’s presentation, the titles that were announced, the show they put on, and the spectacle of their technology. Sony, on the other hand, seemed passive and content, like they took the stage after a Thankgiving feast and would have rather been on a couch watching football.

In the grand scheme of things, however, both presentations were pretty good in terms of content. Sony had a few more “updates” to titles we’ve been waiting for than Microsoft did, but Sony also had some tricks up it’s sleeve with The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII which mean a lot to some people. What goes up must come down, and while people are still scratching their heads over the Shenmue 3 affair, remember that Microsoft was on the losing end of E3 2014. The Internet likes expressing it’s snark but has a short attention span, and by this time next year we’ll have reset the scoreboard for E3 2016.

Footnote: Obviously we don’t have Nintendo covered here. They’re traditionally scheduled apart from Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo in general is often held apart from the other two simply because they’re Nintendo. People expect different things from Nintendo than they do from Sony and Microsoft, and are generally only considered to be “in contention” when they achieve a very high “wow” factor. In a nutshell, expect the usual: more talk about Amibo, additional teasers about the Legend of Zelda game, and social media lamenting over their favorite Nintendo games they wish the company would revisit.

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Spreading Myself Thin

Spreading Myself Thin

 

If you’re like me — I’m sorry. But then again if you’re like me, then you’ve probably signed up for more online accounts than you can remember. You might only recall them when your birthday rolls around and you find your inbox flooded with greetings from networks you didn’t even know you signed up for.

Aside from the promise of some really sweet deals, I will usually sign up with a network for the express purpose of reserving my screen name — Scopique — so that no one else camps it. I consider this name to be “mine” (even though it’s obviously not), and I want the people who might be on the same, network to be able to quickly associate this new account with the same account they might know from other networks. At the very least, I don’t want people to assume that someone else with the name is me…or to have some asshat squatting the name and doing me an injustice elsewhere.

So I sign up for a lot of networks that I actually don’t use. Player.me. Ello. Probably others that I cannot remember (and my birthday isn’t for another seven or so months). My main goal is always to at least reserve my name, because in reality I can’t possibly split my attention between all of these networks.

I primarily stick with Twitter and Google Plus. Twitter is a lightning round of communication, mostly pithy, but sometimes I luck out and find some actual information buried in there. Gone are the days when we’d have raging conversations in 140 character bites, because it was that kind of behavior that drove us to  Google Plus. The ability to pick up Twitter’s slack was the big draw, and the option to attach more images, and because it’s the All Seeing Google (and we all had accounts anyway). Basically, Twitter and Plus cover the two aspects of what I think I need: rapid fire “real time” communication via Twitter, and long form, thoughtful discussion via Plus.

Why do we need another network? When a new network pops up and everyone in our circles passes the info along, there’s always those who ask that question. The answer is all the same: we don’t, but we reserve our names for the reasons listed above. And who knows…maybe a new network is actually better than what we’re working with now. Better how? No idea. Like a lot of aspects in the modern age, we don’t always know what we want until we see it in action.

Take Forge.gg. It’s a “passive-streaming” application-slash-social network for gamers. It’s and app that runs in the background, recording your supported game session while also broadcasting it live to other clients and on the Forge.gg website. When you’re done, you can clip short segments of video to create “highlights” of action for posterity. You can also use the Forge client to take screenshots, removing the need to remember each game’s screenshot key and folder location. Beyond this value-added ability, Forge is also a social network of sorts. You can friend people, post status updates, and comment and like people’s activities.

Another network is Anook. This is a pure gaming social platform. Users can create “nooks” which focus on specific games. These nooks provide their members with access to individual blogs, a forum, gallery services, video visibility, and scheduling. It’s almost like a combination between Facebook and those guild hosting sites that were all the rage in the early 00’s.

I have accounts for both, but I use Forge far more than Anook because Forge offers me something that I can’t get from my Big Two networks, whereas Anook is really just focusing on what I can already do from where I have an established presence. All of my friends are on Twitter and Plus, and while they may also have Anook accounts, there’s no reason for us to use Anook when it doesn’t differ significantly from the features we get on our established networks. Forge, on the other hand, allows us to do a lot of what we can do elsewhere — video, stream, and take screenshots — but encapsulates it into one location, as opposed to having it strewn across an ecosystem of per-game configurations and a third party applications. Technically I use Forge more for its streaming and screen-shotting than for it’s social aspects, but because I am passively routed through the social gauntlet in order to use the important features, I find myself spending more time posting status updates, comments, and checking out other people’s content. This isn’t to suggest that Forge is superior to Anook, or that Anook itself is a bad option: I just don’t have a need to be anywhere else right now. If one of my existing networks went belly-up (which is always a possibility for Plus), then I think Anook would easily fill it’s shoes.

The Internet allows anyone with an idea — or an idea on how to improve or refine an existing idea — to just make it happen, and that’s a good thing. Options are always a good thing. The downside is that it will probably be tough to get people to give up what they’ve got in favor of something else. In the case of social networking, it’s a lot more complex: there’s the entire social graph that would need to be uprooted and moved, and if it’s an analogous offering that involves convincing everyone that the pain of leaving an established network behind is significantly worthwhile. Unless the new network fills a void, then I’m not sure how it could be. The good news, though, is that there’s a lot of people still out there that find the current offerings lacking, or are looking for something more targeted than general purpose networks. For every niche, there’s a place to congregate.

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Real Games Have Curves

Real Games Have Curves

Games are hard. It’s part of their allure. We like to have a feeling of accomplishment in our games through learning and application. What I think we generally don’t like is to be beaten about the head the moment we set foot in the door. Not only is it humiliating, but it’s also discouraging when we don’t feel that we’re given the chance to get our feet wet without having to drown ourselves first.

The usual method is to introduce the player to just a little bit, maybe through a tutorial. Then, as they move through the game, add more mechanics until the player reaches the point where the system has shown them all the mechanics that the she needs to know. It’s at that point where the player transitions from the learning phase to the practical phase.

Some games are better than others at doing this. I personally think the mother of all accessibility is Blizzard, because their M.O. is to take an established genre and streamline it so that it’s stupidly easy to get into. They’re also really good at hand-holding until the player is ready to stop learning and start applying that knowledge.

There’s nothing wrong with making a game new player friendly when it comes to mechanics. Games are Big Business, after all, and the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” is a tried and true design passed down through the ages. But for that to apply, a game has to be easy to learn (or easy to get into), and then difficult to master, once the player understands the mechanics.

Which is why I’m sad when there are games that don’t seem to focus on the shepherding of new players through to the point where they’ll feel comfortable without the training wheels. Some of this is mechanical, like if a game doesn’t provide a decent tutorial, or a way to practice with or without other players. A lot of it falls on community management as well. We know that there are people out there who will take advantage of a situation for their own gain, whenever a situation presents itself. In games which fail to prepare new players to mingle with veteran players, or which don’t provide safeguards that allow new players to ease into the community, there’ll always be those players who beat on the new players, just because they can. I know that there are a lot of games out there that I’d love to play, but which I don’t feel provide the right style of environment that makes me want to keep playing, assuming I can get started at all. In most cases, it’s no big deal, but there are a few that make me sad because I’d really like to play.

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Playing Catch-Up

Playing Catch-Up

Last week was school vacation week, so the family and I were AFK (oddly enough, I was the only one without a laptop, armed only with my phone and my 3DS). Stuff happened during that time that seemed tailor made for blogging, so in the absence of anything else I want to talk about today, let’s set the time machine to one week ago to find a dead horse to beat.

Paid Mods And Crowd Control

I’m old, and I remember the days when modding was something people hacked into games, long before it was officially a cottage industry of hyper-interested creatives working to extend the games they loved beyond normal lifespans.

Valve (aka Vader) and Bethesda (aka Palpatine) launched the idea of allowing mod users to charge for their mods. It went over as well as could be expected: People tried putting price tags on their mods, there were some contentious issues of “ownership”, and the population revolted. Valve offered a mea culpa and rolled it back.

Creative people regularly get the shaft when it comes to earning money from their trade. I think we’ve all seen reports of artists of all kinds who have their work used without permission or even attribution — and certainly without remuneration. It’s often like artists need to have a legal attack-dog on retainer before they can even think of producing content if they’re doing it for reasons beyond “because they love doing it”.

That’s the thing about mods: they started out as thing that brought us to this point because “people loved doing it”. I’m certainly not one to deny people trying to make a living, or to get some recompense from their hard work, but modding (to me, at least) has been about doing something you love doing for the sake of doing it. At the most, modders accepted “donations” because why not? Those who can, do. Those who cannot are not denied the work that was made to be seen and had and used.

Valve and Bethesda wanted another revenue stream, and since modding has been making a come-back and was an otherwise untapped potential, it made sense that it might be a good place to harvest some dollars. The 40/35/25 Bethesda/Valve/person who did all the work split shows where Valve and Bethesda believed the credit should be due. It was never about paying modders;  Valve and Bethesda just couldn’t find a way to sell it at 50/50/0 and expect it to even have a chance on the street.

Some folks will say that creatives should be paid 100% of the time. OK, sure, but we’ve reached this point on the back of that not being historically the case. Why now? “Because they could” is the only option I can think of. What’s worse is that while many would argue that modders should be able to charge for their work, I think it’s putting too much credit into the hands of people who potentially have zero baselines for what their work is worth beyond a thumbs up on their mod’s official page. Got a UI enhancement? How much is that worth? $0.99? $5.99? $29.99? How is the value calculated? Based on man-hours to produce, or based on popularity of the previously-free mod? And like home-made porn, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, which is not something the General Internet is good at recognizing. When the option to charge is on the table, there’s no good reason not to charge something. 

Although capitalism says that the market will shake out the crap, I think the community does this just fine without there being money involved. In fact, ask any App Store and it’ll tell you that allowing people to charge for stuff is not going to stop crap from showing up; it’ll just be crap that people have the balls to ask for payment on, and you’ll be surprised how many people happen to have those kinds of balls.

eSports Is A Thing Because Gaming Is A Thing

The world is no longer a place where people can assert that being a geek is something to be ashamed of. For the past three years running, geek-based properties have destroyed box offices. Sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes have been hot properties in movies, books, and TV. It’s not uncommon for adults to have conversations at work about zombies or high-fantasy kingdoms, and kids are being strongly advised to read novels about young wizards and teenage archers who have to fight for their lives.

I grew up during a time when this was not so. Back then, Colin Cowherd’s now-anachronistic comments regarding ESPN’s decision to air the Heroes of the Storm championship were de rigeur. And in another parallel that should surprise no one who’s up to date with their stereotypes, those insults came from the same kind of people.

That’s why I can’t really get overly upset about this particular situation this time around. Cowherd is fulfilling his role as a sport-obsessed jock who’s picking on “helpless nerds” as if it’s the 1980s all over again. That his choice of phrasing seems tailored to generate controversy among a community who have a very thin skin to any insult from outside of it’s own ranks (especially when set to a “jocks versus nerds” soundtrack) makes the whole situation reek of attention-whoring. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that posts like this are exactly the results Cowherd’s rant were crafted to conceive.

I’m OK with that because I think that the world at large understands that no amount of sarcasm or bro-fisting bravado changes the fact that this is not the 1980s, and the world at-large is increasingly finding a wealth of excitement and entertainment that geeks have been privy to for decades. Simply put, Cowherd is trying to sound all tough-guy, but he’s ultimately out of touch with anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Bold move, Cotton.

I am also OK with the idea of “eSports”, and I think that die-hard sports fans should be as well. Look at it this way: there’s no one sport. Every sport is played more or less differently, but there are common threads in that sports are competitive, are played by two or more teams or individuals, and that the “goal” is to best the other competitor by reaching the goal first, or to accumulate the most points before time runs out. This is why people consider golf as a sport; it really has nothing to do with physicality at all. It’s all about the competition. People seem really hung up on the idea that something needs to have people moving at high speeds, hitting harder, or throwing faster for something to be a sport; I say that those are just one facet of what a “sport” really is.

In an ironic twist, the similarities between those who bemoan the dilution of “sports” by broadcasting chess matches and spelling bees on channels normally reserved for football and basketball has eerie similarities to some of the arguments that gamers get into over what is and what isn’t a game — like mobile versus consoles versus PCs. We all think alike in many ways, it seems, and I’d be willing to bet that even if Colin Cowherd doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, a lot of his listeners do. I wonder how many of those listeners, then, realize that 30 years ago, they’d be considered geeks for bring into what they’re into today.

EDIT: Mr. Cowherd might want to check out #4 on this Cracked.com post, and realize that he’s not as secure in his segregation as he thinks he is.

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The Power Of Blogging

The Power Of Blogging

In all reality, I’m the last person you want to be taking advice from when it comes to blogging. Although in some respects, I am a good case study for what not to do when you sit down and decide that “Dammit! Today is the day that I will start a blog”.

Now, if you’re considering starting a blog, then there’s got to be two things about your situation that we can surmise. The first is that you read other people’s blogs. It’s not required; my feed-reader is admittedly sparsely populated, but certainly not empty. There are some blogs that I read because their authors inspire me through their writing, their subjects, and their philosophies. Chances are pretty good that you have a stable of blogs that you read that are driving you to consider taking up the electron quill yourself.

The second is that you feel that you want to speak to the public. Some would say that blogging stems from a desire to “say something”, but really if you just wanted to write down your thoughts, you could keep a journal at home and be done with it. Blogging is really about engagement with a community through a topic of your choice, and in a format that social media simply can’t handle. Think about all of the blogs you’ve personally commented on; that’s you right now. Now think about the process from the other side of that relationship; that’s you where you want to be by taking up the art of blogging.

In a way, blogging is about power. Not the “volcanic lair and Persian cat” kind of power, but the power of creation, of expression, community, and if you’re lucky, you get the bonus of influence. Those three elements are really what drive people to blog, and the bonus objective, I think, is a carrot for a lot of people.

One of the best parts of blogging for me is the act of setting up the blog itself. Sadly, in the age of mobile and tablets, a lot of the presence of a blog is lost, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter! First and foremost, a blog is your home. It’s where you feel comfortable, and like any home the design reflects who you are. People do come to the desktop version of the site, and a good first impression is always important, but ultimately it’s about exercising your creativity to make a space you’ll be proud to shop around.

Expressing yourself to the public is never easy, especially on the Internet. Blogging for friends is like having a conversation. Chances are you’re pretty comfortable with those people, and they know your mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Blogging for acquaintances is a little tougher, because you might end up revealing parts of yourself that you hadn’t brought out before, for reasons. And blogging for total strangers…that’s tough. We’ve all been advised to “not read the comments”, and we all know that those kinds of people are just one keyword away from finding your blog. They could be insightful and thought provoking (which is gold for any blogger), or they could make you rue the day you decided to set out your own shingle.

The thing is, no blog blossoms right out of the gate. Like any garden, your blog will take time to grow, and part of that growth will require cultivation of your readers. Your titles and content will bring them in, but ultimately it’s your personality and your voice that will make people return. Over time, you’ll shed the haters and collect the people who matter. In essence, you’ll grow to inhabit your own corner of the community that you serve, and as a result your blog will gain momentum as it’s shared through social media, trackback links, and good old fashioned habit among regular visitors.

Conventional wisdom will tell you that you should write for yourself. Don’t go chasing delusions of grandeur because the minute you feel that goal slipping from your grasp you’re going to get discouraged and want to quit. Writing can be therapeutic, an exercise to improve your writing skills, and a great way to meet new people. But sometimes it happens that a blog takes off and starts getting a lot of regular readers. Maybe it’s referenced frequently in other blogs. Maybe you catch the eyes of people in the industry you’re writing about, and your popularity soars. What then? Great power, great responsibility and all that. Few bloggers are considered to be influential among their peers, and fewer still are considered to be influential within the industries they cover. If you ever find  yourself in that position, keep in mind that you’re writing out of love of the subject; you’re now part of it’s life support.

The ultimate payout is, like most any endeavor, based on what you put into it. Some days (maybe most days) you won’t like your writing, and that’ll discourage you. Some days you’ll see no traffic on posts you really loved, and that will discourage you. Some days you won’t be able to think of any topic that you want to spend time writing about, and that will discourage you.

Some days you’ll see a spike in traffic. Some days you’ll read back through your older posts and be astounded that you wrote the awesome posts that you’re reading. Some days you’ll get a lot of social media traction, pingbacks, and comments. Those days may be fewer than the days when it seems no one knows your blog exists, but the good days outweigh the bad by orders of magnitude. During those good times, don’t be afraid to get critical and analyze the differences between the high traffic posts and the low traffic posts. Don’t be afraid to break that fourth wall between creator and consumer for feedback about what readers like. Remember, you’re both providing a service, and putting yourself out there through engagement. Anything you can do to make the experience better for others and for yourself is a win-win situation.

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At The Speed of Blogging

At The Speed of Blogging

The content of a blog is important. Writing about a popular game will certainly get some Google results in front of eyeballs, and being a source of useful and insightful info on a game will help to get return readership. General blogs a a bit more tricky, as they tend to shotgun the author’s current interest onto the page, so a regular readership never knows what the topic-du-jour is going to be, whether it’s interesting to them, or something they really don’t care much about.

What’s also important is the delivery window, and that’s a question I have for people who read blogs: what day, time, and frequency is best for you?

Some people have amazing stamina that allows them to post excellent posts every day. Some people build up their momentum and unleash a torrent of verbiage when they’re fit to burst. Others are more casual, opting to produce content when the spirit moves them. I’m thinking of going back to my Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 AM EDT schedule which worked well for me, but for any blogger, it’s difficult to determine if their writing schedule is a good fit for a wide audience.

When do you read blogs? Do you keep an RSS feed, checked daily at a specific time (or multiple times per day)? Do you rely on notices in your social media stream to “remind you” to visit a blog? Do you block off some time during the day to make the rounds of the blogs you bookmark? And how often is too often, or how little is not often enough for your interests?

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