Much Like the Kinect, Microsoft’s Latest Decision to Take the Control of Games out of the Gamer’s Hands, Will be a Failure

 

I may never get a chance to do so elsewhere, so let me pay tribute to one of my favorite critics, the late, great Roger Ebert, by paraphrasing his famous review of the film “North” to convey my feelings on the news that the next Xbox will likely require you to always be online.

I hate that idea. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Hate it. I hate every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting implication of it. It hate the sensibility that thinks anyone will like it. I hate the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

While still not the official Microsoft statement, the recent, and soon to be infamous, tweets of Microsoft creative director Adam Orth on the subject seem to imply that if Microsoft isn’t already committed to the idea of making a console that requires an internet connection, they’ve certainly considered it.

Specifically he summed up the notion of a console that requires an internet connection with three simple words.

“Deal with it.”

Used as a rebuttal to every befuddled complaint thrown his way, Adam Orth would like it very much if we never dare question the motivations or intentions of Microsoft again. Because of these outlandish and insulting comments, Microsoft is now the ones who have to “deal with it,” as they scramble to make sure everyone knows that the views of Adam Orth “Do not reflect the customer centric views we take to our products.”

If you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to laugh at that statement. You can either laugh at the implication that the creative director of Microsoft’s views somehow do not reflect the company he works for, or have a chuckle at the fact that the problem isn’t his viewpoints necessarily, but rather that he couldn’t say them in a more PR friendly manner.

Whatever you do though, don’t take this situation seriously. I do not mean to expect these rumors to turn out to be false (they most likely aren’t), but rather do not join the legions who will suddenly give credence to the notion of an online required console as a possible evolution of the medium, or attempt to play the devil’s advocate on the subject by attempting to analyze the notion as an inevitability.

For supporting this idea, Microsoft  is simply wrong. They were wrong when they released consoles that died more frequently than a light bulb, and they are wrong again in creating a new system that once again suggests that purchasing a console and owning a game does not guarantee your ability to use either.

There is no logical argument that exists to support a DRM system in the current state the technology exists in, for anyone not on the corporate take. While there are an abundance of logical arguments against the system, none should be used to entertain this particular notion. Instead, if you are opposed to this idea, please just laugh uncontrollably at it anytime a Microsoft representative brings up the idea publically, in order to pay the same respect to them, that they do to you by supporting DRM.

If the next generation Xbox is online only, it should also come with a statement that all owners must sign, have notarized, and officially submit to a court of law. That statement will read:

“We hereby wave our right to ever complain through any available medium regarding any technical issues that may arise preventing us from using our systems. We have weighed our options to choose rationality and common sense against blind allegiance, and have chosen to deal with it.”

Five Reasons 2013 Will Be One of Gaming’s Greatest Years

While individual  game releases will always (deservedly) get most of the love, there is nothing like a truly great overall year of gaming. Even though it’s never an intended effect, it’s amazing when a group of independent properties come together to create an incredible 365, or 366 if we’re talking leap years, days of gaming. Years like 2001 (“Halo: CE,” “Grand Theft Auto III,” “Final Fantasy X”), 2007 (“Bioshock,” “Portal,” “Mass Effect”), and, of course, the greatest of them all, 1998 (featuring the holy trinity of “Metal Gear Solid,” “Half-Life,” and “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”) represent some of the best times ever to be a gamer.

And 2013 has the potential to join, or even exceed, all of them. Thanks to some fortunate timing, and a few delays, it’s looking to be a landmark year of video gaming that will be remembered for many, surely lesser, years to come. While there are many, many reasons for this, here are five that lead me to believe that 2013 in gaming will be one for the ages.

Mobile Gaming is Coming Into Its Own

“Serious” gamers may look down on the mobile gaming market, but it’s time that all gamers realize that we’ve come a long, long way from “Doodle Jump”. Now, instead of being an outlet for puzzlers, tower defense titles, and slightly lesser console ports, mobile gaming is producing intriguing and inventive titles at a rapid pace, due in large part to a sea of developers making use of the simpler programming on mobile devices, and the still interesting touch controls, to provide a constant, and often cheap, flow of amazing games on the go. Since the explosion in tablet sales over the last couple of years, we’re even starting to see more titles developed specifically with their larger sized screens and more powerful abilities in mind.

There hasn’t really been a truly noteworthy traditional handheld gaming system since the Nintendo DS, but thankfully an ever growing community has slowly turned a platform that was only used for brief sessions of “Snake” in your downtime, to one of the most exciting fields for surprising high quality video game releases. Expect this to continue in 2013.

The Next Generation Begins

As the Wii U is proving, a new console doesn’t have to blow minds to still produce some genuine excitement and huge sales numbers. While nothing from the other major gaming companies is official, it’s looking more and more likely that 2013 will bring gamers the next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles (even if it is only a preview at the least). While that means that gamers will have to soon be plucking down some serious cash on new consoles, accessories and games (not to mention still trying to keep up with the releases still to come for the previous consoles), there is nothing more exciting than the promise of a new gaming generation.

Soon battle lines will be drawn once again as gamers choose their alliances, and new specs and features will again re-shape what we thought was possible in the medium. This has been a great console lifecycle, but it’s gone on for longer than usual, and it’s time for a new day to begin.

People Are Choosing the Games They Want, and What They Want in Games

One of the biggest changes to gaming over the last year or two has been the influence of sites like Kickstarter (or more recently Steam’s “Greenlight” program). Now, developers have open forums where they can present their ideas and let the community decide their interest in them, and even help by directly funding the titles. Even though the road to success is not guaranteed, it’s now easier than ever for a good idea to see life, and for gamers to help make sure the games they want get a chance.

But this isn’t just about sites like those. It’s also about events like “Mass Effect 3′s” optional new endings, or “Bioshock: Infinite’s” alternate cover. Now, more than ever, gamers have the ability to directly influence the decisions of major developers, and have a word about the final product. While this is a controversial move, the fact that the average gamer now has so much power to directly influence the titles available to them will have some major, and intriguing, implications in the coming year.

Influence of 2012’s Biggest Games

2012 was not one of those all-time great years of gaming I mentioned, but it did have some all-time great games. It’s natural to build off of what came before, and in the case of 2013, that could mean some exciting and sweeping changes across several genres.

Particularly, look for the success of “The Walking Dead” to lead to a revival of the traditional point and click genre, as well as a greater focus on the effect of storytelling in games. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the indie hit “Slender” put horror game developers back to the drawing board to come up with some fresh ideas for the genre (and veer it away slightly from the growing action elements), and if the praise that “Far Cry 3” is garnering expands the aging FPS market into more of the sandbox gaming territory.  Other less likely, but equally welcome innovations would be if more all-star developers got together on independent properties like in “Dishonored,” or if other long dead franchises get exciting resurrections like “XCOM,” or even if “Journey” inspires people to look towards developing with art, and not violence, more in mind.

Whatever the final influences may be, 2012 showed there are still some exciting places for gaming to go. 2013 might just take us to all of them.

That Lineup…

Oh sweet heaven, the amazing lineup of 2013. While you can never guarantee that any game will be great no matter how it may look, with 2013 set to deliver no less than “Grand Theft Auto V,” “Bioshock: Infinite,” “Last of Us,”  “Watch Dogs,” “Crysis 3,” “Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time,” “Simcity,” “Command and Conquer Generals 2” and the new “Tomb Raider,” it’s very likely that we are going to get a host of instant classics.

Of course, that’s just some of the games that we actually know about. Many of the best games of this year came out of nowhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the best game of 2013 is one that no one is talking about yet. Even in an ever expanding industry, at the end of the day games are still king, and the games set for 2013 are some of the most exciting that I’ve seen in a long time.

Obsidian Announces Project Eternity

It hard not to think of Obsidian as the “little brother” of the video game world.

While made up of competent and experienced developers, the company itself often piggybacks off of the successes of big brother development companies like Bethesda and Bioware, with titles such as “KOTOR:II” (someone remind me to do something about how much I hate that game…), “Fallout: New Vegas,” “Dungeon Siege III,” and “Neverwinter Nights 2.” While they’ve proven they have the ability to take the ball and run with it, they’ve yet to come up with something impressive of their own doing.

Of course if there’s one advantage to riding on the shoulders of RPG giants, it’s that you gain a real great lay of the land.

Which is why it’s so exciting that the company has announced a new independent Kickstarter project under the name “Project Eternity.”  From what is known about the game, it looks to bring back the classic, western, isometric perspective RPG genre, complete with the traditional party based, paused combat system seen in some of the Bioware classics of yore. If you really want an idea of how much inspiration Obsidian is drawing for this title, you only have to look at their own description, which lays some serious hype on the game:

“‘Project Eternity’ will take the central hero, memorable companions and the epic exploration of ‘Baldur’s Gate,’ add in the fun, intense combat and dungeon diving of ‘Icewind Dale,’ and tie it all together with the emotional writing and mature thematic exploration of ‘Planescape: Torment.’”

If you’ve never played those games (shame on you) then let me assure you that is a tall task even for a group of aforementioned giant riders. It’s certainly an intriguing concept however, especially considering that the concepts presented in those games mentioned have influenced the RPG genre as much as any others, and this style of title hasn’t been done well in a long, long time. Throw in the fact that much of the Obsidian development team worked on some of those titles mentioned, and maybe you can understand why it’s time for classic RPG fans to start getting excited.

Obviously, when you’re trying to get people to throw money at something that you’d really like to do (which, by the way, quite a few people are already doing) there is an understandable tendency to exaggerate. That being said, though, I’m such a big fan of those style of games that I still want to see how close they can get to fulfilling their promise, and I’m willing to put aside my seething, blinding hatred of “KOTOR: II” to give Obsidian the chance to also prove themselves worthy as developers of independent properties.

Besides, this is the same company that’s managing to make a “South Park” video game look unbelievably incredible. So I wouldn’t dare tell them there isn’t anything they can’t do.

How Valve is Making Sure Gamers Get the Games they Want, But Only if it Helps Children’s Charity

Valve may be my favorite video game company in the world.

It really has nothing to do with their games either. I mean, I’m as big as a fan of “Half-Life,” “Left 4 Dead,” “Team Fortress 2″ and the rest of the lineup as anyone, but it’s more the general vibe of the company that appeals to me so much. They’re living proof that it is possible to maintain a respectable bottom line, without having to sacrifice artistic or personal integrity. Maybe it’s their supposed ‘no bosses’ atmosphere at the office, but you actually do get the impression that they make moves for the benefit of their fans and not their figures.

Case in point is the new Green Light section on Steam. In case you weren’t aware, Steam Green Light allows indie developers a forum to submit their projects to for approval to be featured on Steam. The games are voted on by the users, and run the virtual gamut of just about every genre and concept you could possibly imagine. It’s similar to Kickstarter, with the key difference being that most of these developers aren’t asking for money, but rather the kind of exposure to open consumer minds that only Steam can provide.

With any open market of this magnitude, there is naturally going to be problems. Already cases of false titles (more than a few “Half-Life 3s” have been pitched) and morally improper game concepts have been reported, plus you just have the general onslaught of pitches that leads to hard worked ideas being buried under a pile of half-hearted hopefuls.

Valve may have found a solution to the problem though, and it comes in the form of a “pay to play” type entry fee. Now for a developer to feature their idea, it’s going to cost $100 dollars. In the grand scheme of things, most developers can easily write this off as a minor investment in their own project, with the potential reward being worth far more than that figure. And in case you actually believed that Valve would do something like  pocket the money, you forget who you’re dealing with.  They’ve announced that all proceeds from this fee will be donated to the Penny-Arcade sponsored charity Child’s Play.

Only Valve could manage to solve a nightmare of a logistical problem in a way that somehow manages to help children’s charities. It’s that surreal level of forward thinking and personal responsibility the company has that even makes me believe that their newly rumored venture into the physical console market that their pet project “Steam” is slowly helping to destroy, might somehow work after all.

The Rise of “Guilds,” and the Fall of “Heroes”

As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.

Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.

Hot off the heels of that announcement comes another from the publisher of “Guild Wars 2,” NCsoft, that they will be folding Paragon Studios, and therefore effectively bringing an end to that developer’s MMO title “City of Heroes” by the end of the year.

The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.

First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2″ is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.

I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.

Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title.  However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.

In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.

Underneath it, lied a true MMO hero.

Related Posts