Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday and goodness it's been one crazy week, hasn't it? Between EA's shenanigans with Star Wars: Battlefront II and all of the gaming Black Friday ads leaked early, gamers have been busy staying up to date with the news. Here is a snippet of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news this week:

 - NPR decided to tackle the EA/Battlefront II story. You all know about the details, but I wanted to share this for the headline: Gamers See a Dark Side to New 'Star Wars' Video Game. You are free to groan at that.

- According to research recently published in Great Brittan, some video games are as good as IQ tests and can be used to measure one's intellect. The findings are a bit wishy-washy. They are using chess as a comparison, stating that those who play chess typically have a higher IQ. That's not necessarily the situation with a number of chess players - some people play because they like chess. It doesn't mean they have a high IQ. They could be really good at chess and nothing else. While I agree that some video games are brain teasers and may measure IQ differently, I don't think this study is foolproof.

- You probably haven't heard of the game Laws of War, but it will make you rethink about actual combat training. The ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, wanted to develop a game where users have to abide by the rules of war. You have to learn who is a threat, and who is a civilian. You train to help your teammates and follow orders instead of rushing into combat. The development of the game is interesting and the article is worth a read-through.

- Belgium and the Netherlands are taking Loot Boxes seriously by opening an investigation to see if the microtransactions in some games should be considered gambling. In Belgium, a permit is needed to sell an item that involves "a game of chance" and if Loot Boxes fall under that category, a lot of gaming developers will be fined. The outcome is one everyone in the industry will be watching closely.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 9 video games that let you hilariously troll other players. Let's start with the understanding that it is not funny to troll people. It's dumb. It's harassment. And you can get banned for doing it. With that said, this is easily one of the worst lists WhatCulture has ever created. You're going with a VR Werewolf game as your top pick? Really? Not GTA5 Online? WhatCulture, you have lost your groove and we are so very disappointed in you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men, We're Tired of Your Sh*t - Harassment in Video Games

Today's post is not going to be your typical fare. We need to talk about the #MeToo campaign and the fallout of the sexual harassment/assault charges against a number of powerful figures (business, entertainment, politics, etc).

Since #MeToo became a trending tag on Twitter, more of the world has seen just how much harassment women (and men, but it's mostly women) experience on a daily basis. It's not a 1 out of 3 number any longer. It's a everyone, single, woman. From an unwanted hug or cat call to full assault, every woman has been attacked sexually in some form or another. When you read stories of girls as young as 4 being sexually harassed, it's disgusting.

And we are tired of it.

I have found myself being more active in mutliplayer gaming lately and trying to utilize chat functions. And because of it, I've been reporting way more people for harassment. But there is a change that is happening. More men are speaking up and telling others to stop harassing, and reporting the behavior as well. A friend of mine saw a player in Final Fantasy XIV who was groping and talking about sexually explicit things to every female character that crossed his path. He was reported, blocked by everyone that crossed his path, and within a few days his account was banned. Instead of letting this activity continue, people took action. This is the start.

Because of #MeToo, a number of women and men have been given the courage to say something about their harassment/assault experiences. With the behavior so pervasive, we know that people will have our backs - that is one of the reason why so many stay quiet. When you're harassed or assaulted you feel helpless. You feel like there is no one there to support you. You feel like no one will believe you. Not without proof or evidence; even if the assault took place 30 years ago when cell phones and personal cameras were not available. You feel like you have no choice but to stay quiet. It's worse when the perpetrator is your boss, supervisor, government official, a police officer, the CEO of a company - someone who is in a position of power to destroy your life. And in many cases, this is how they work. They pick a victim who is easy to manipulate and string along, knowing that the victim can't do anything to retaliate because they have everything to lose.

By the Tweets above, you see what happens when someone comes forward with their story about sexual harassment or assault.

We're immediately questioned. We're called liars, cheaters, whores, sluts, and a myriad of other vulgar words. We become the target of hate and ire - which is even worse in these times with Drumpf holding a political position. Those who are supporters of Roy Moore's campaign (by the way he was removed from office twice for breaking the law), are attacking the victim's with hate, violence, threats of death, and doxxing.

And this is fairly common whenever someone steps forward with a sexual assault story against a known figure. The victims become outcasts.

This is why we don't talk about our history with assault. This is why we feel like all hope is lost. Why bother speaking up if you're going to be inundated with more harassment? Why bother stopping a man/woman from invoking more horrors onto another unsuspecting victim if no one will believe us?

This type of mindset needs to end. We need to STOP victimizing the victim. They have already lived through the assault. They are reliving it again when they speak of it in public. They don't owe anything to anyone. They are TRYING to do the right thing and get a molester, assaulter, predator off the streets. We need to support them - not blame them. And as the weight of the allegations continue to rise, we are all feeling it.

We need to do better, not only for our daughters. We need to do better for humanity.

I don't think I will ever feel safe enough to come forward with some of my stories of assault and harassment. Most I've already spoken about, but there are a few that will stay with me. Why? Because of that retaliation. I don't have the mental fortitude or the financial security to withstand it. I need my job. I need to pay the bills. I need to feel secure in going home every day, knowing that my residence, my dogs, and my family are okay. And the moment I speak out about abuse, harassment, and assault that I've seen from powerful men, that safety will go away. And these are men who have been accused before. Multiple times! By women and men who are much stronger then I will ever be. But you know what? Nothing has happened to the perpetrators. They are still in power. They still run companies, rule Hollywood, and have political positions.

There is nothing for me to gain by coming forward with my stories. It won't garner a movie deal. I won't become a movie star. I won't win millions of dollars from a lawsuit. But I have everything to lose, if I do. This is what it feels like to be a victim. Hopeless. Scared. Alone.

Gamers. If you love video games, if you care about our community, we need to make changes now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not over the next decade. Start today. We need to call out harassment, bigotry, racism, sexism, when it happens. We need to report grievances as they occur. We need to have thoughtful discussions with developers on ways to improve responses to harassment. This isn't about "white knighting." This is about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do! No one should have to worry about playing a video game and being harassed. Their only concern should be to have fun.

And EVERYONE can help in teaching men and women (because some women are attackers as well) to stop sexual harassment/assault. No means NO. Do not touch people without asking first - even hugs. Do not cat call. Do not make sexual remarks. If someone tells you to stop and to step away, respect their choice as a human and STEP AWAY. This isn't rocket science. And we can teach children early on to respect the space of others. Don't force your child to hug someone if they don't want to. Don't say "boys will be boys" because girls will be girls and I will tell a girl to kick and push that boy away. Everyone has a right to their own autonomy.

Women are tired of dealing with your sh*t, men. The age of equality among humanity has been delayed for too long. We are ready for a change. Start today and report harassment when it happens. Take the next step in helping the gaming community become the shining beacon of greatness that it should be. I too will try to do better. I will move out of my comfort and talk on a headset. I will call out harassment when it happens to anyone. I will report harassment when it happens. I will talk about why it's "not cool" to harass anyone.

Do the right thing. Don't harass. Don't assault. Don't make threats. Report those who do harass. Report those who do threaten. Support the victim. Gamers, we can do better and we should.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

GameStop PowerPass Program On Hold

This is the week that keeps on giving!

GameStop's new 'PowerPass' program has come to a full stop, 5 days before it officially launched. Customers could sign up early during a soft launch at select locations. But during this trial run, GameStop stores ran into technical problems. In a statement to Polygon, GameStop wrote:

We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service.

Those guests who have already purchased the service, we are allowing them to bring the pass and video game they have checked out, back to receive a full refund. In addition, we are allowing them to pick out any Pre-Owned video game for free.

So for those customers who have already signed up, you can get a refund and a free Used game - make sure you have your receipt because something tells me that this system issue may have lost reservations in the process.

While GameStop hasn't given details on what the "program limitations" were, but as a former employee my bet is on the archaic technology not being able to keep up with the reservation system. While some retailers have been staying up to date with the evolution of technology, GameStop was never one of those. My stint there ended in 2010, but even then I was working off of DOS. It was pathetic that a multi-billion dollar company used programs that were developed in the late 1980's to manage everything. My follow-up job wasn't much better, but at least we used programs built in 2004. Given the history of the company, I would not be surprised if GameStop hasn't kept up with the technology needed to help their stores. They are probably still using the same system I was!

GameStop stores have been asked to pull and toss all promotions pertaining to 'PowerPass' and swap out weekly advertisements to remove any mention of the program. The company hasn't killed the 'PowerPass,' yet. It's on hold until they work out the "program limitations."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More Microtransaction Troubles with EA and Battlefront II

So...a lot has happened in the last 24 hours, hasn't it? I think this is one for the history books. EA has been getting a lot of flack for the handling of their microtransaction and loot box system for Star Wars: Battlefront II. Whatever else is going on in the game, it's being dwarfed by the concern of gamers.

In the Battlefront subreddit, user TheHotterPotato calculated out how long it would take to achieve one of the hidden characters that is locked behind an in-game currency pay wall. This was some serious math work to find out that it would take a person a minimum of 40 hours to unlock the top tier of Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. Which means to obtain both characters requires 80 hours of game play.

80 hours. To unlock 2 characters. In 80 hours I could have played South Park: The Fractured But Whole 5 times, and spend the remaining hour and a half on Final Fantasy XIV working on my end game gear. Image if Street Fighter did this with Ryu or M. Bison and you had to play for 80 hours in online matches to unlock both characters. Fans would be livid.

The response to the data was swift. An EA Community Team member answered the comment.

"Heroes earned through Credits: The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch."

That one post from EA has become the most down-voted in Reddit history. -520k and still growing, and this was only a day ago!

Just shy of 2 weeks ago, EA did announce that it would be tweaking the progression and loot box system. The feedback from the beta did not go over well, with rare cards and items hidden in crates that would easily make the game a pay-to-win model. Cards must now be crafted, and better gear will drop at the end of matches so it can be a more even playing field. But this change did not affect rare characters, still set up behind the game's paywall. It's also very possible to do a pay-to-win scenario. Kotaku broke down the details of the game's changes and how one can easily boost their levels to win if you plunk down the cash for it. There are still some restrictions in place, such as how much in-game currency you can earn a day/week.

But this new uproar is an entirely different beast. As a Star Wars fan, I don't want to wait 40 hours to play as Darth Vader. I don't have the time, the patience, or the care. I can play as Darth Vader right now in dozens of other Star Wars games without jumping through hoops. The comments on Reddit echo many of the same concerns. When you hold down a 40-50 hour job, have kids, and try to maintain a social life of some sort, you only have 2-4 hours a week to play a game. It would take over 2 months to unlock 1 of those characters in Battlefront and we do not have the time for that.

EA has backtracked in response to the Reddit thread, the myriad of news articles, and the unfortunate death threats against their employees (okay dudes, I know you're upset at EA. I am too. But that is no excuse to threaten the employees of EA and DICE with violence. People who have NO POWER in making the decisions regarding loot boxes. The shaders and environmental artists don't get a say. Please stop threatening people with violence.) The top heroes credit purchase will be reduced by 75% so you can play as Luke, Leia, or Darth much sooner (even the game's single player protagonist was behind this pay wall).

While this will temporarily appease fans, Battlefront II is bringing the microtransaction issue to the forefront. Once again, EA is making it difficult to enjoy a game without plopping down additional cash in order to win.

What do you think of the recent change? Is it enough to keep you invested in Battlefront II or are you ready to jump ship?

Monday, November 13, 2017 Least One Dev Gets Why We Hate Paying for Loot Boxes

Randy Pitchford, the divisive leader of Gearbox Software, opened up on Twitter his stance regarding Loot Boxes - specifically the ones that we pay for to get an edge in a game. For those who are not Randy fans, his response may help you feel that there is still some sanity left in the gaming industry.

Here are a few snippets of his Twitter roll:

I am generally very much against predatory monetization schemes in F2P games for consumable goods and even more so against them in premium games. I tend to oppose such techniques both as an artist and creator and also as a customer and a gamer. Evidence of my position is that we never sold Golden Keys (an arguably consumable good) in the Borderlands game. We had non-trivial levels of demand from customers to do so, but we did not relent. We chose to only give Golden Keys away via social media and partner relations. 

Contrarily, I tend to be very supportive of post-launch monetization of durable goods as DLC in *almost* any form.

I do, however, object to some of the arguments and language being used to fight against the predatory monetization schemes I have just derided in the first post in this thread. 

As an artists and creator who very much *loves* the nature of the “loot box” as it appears in our Borderlands games, I’m concerned that the words “loot box” are being used as short hand for a practice I am not in favor of. Can we find another term for what we object to?

First off, yes to a new term for the "pay to unlock" Loot Boxes. When I first think of Loot Box, my brain goes to Borderlands, where it's a giant chest of cool stuff! It's been altered over the years to become a catch-all term for any type of package where you have to pay to unlock the content. This could be real world or in-game currency. It'd be nice to have microtransactions called out for what they are.

Secondly, I've always appreciated how Gearbox has handled the golden keys for Borderlands. Golden keys are in-game currency that you can stock up on and use to unlock rare weapon caches. You can earn the keys in a handful of quests, or utilize codes posted online through Gearbox's social media channels. Though the game was first released in 2009, the keys are still being posted every few weeks. There's an active player base that still redeems enough of them to make them worth the effort. It's almost like a "thank you" to gamers for still supporting the game, so here are extra keys to get those rare weapons.

Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with paying for DLC. The biggest hang-up gamers have is that some games are released intentionally incomplete and requires DLC to finish the content. When you pay $59.99 for a game and only get half the content, then gamers are right to be upset with their purchase. DLC should be additions to the incredibly story, not a requirement to finish the base game. The context against DLC and microtransactions is important. DLC for Star Wars: Battlefront was dumb. DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition helped enhanced the game, but was not required to enjoy the base story.

While I'm still 50/50 on the fad, Overwatch has one of the better managed loot box systems. You can earn them while playing matches and eventually unlock them via daily rewards, or purchase them with coins you receive. Or you can buy them outright with real money. The rewards are all cosmetic: different hero skins, spray paints, dialogue snippets, or more game currency. Overwatch focuses on your skill. You can't pay to win. The loot boxes are ancillary. You could play the game and never once open up a box!

But at least Randy has our back. We may not always agree with Gearbox's decisions, but they are trying to give players what they want.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Welcome to the end of another week! A part of me wishes I was still back at BlizzCon. At least it's above 60 degrees there. We're rounding up this week's best, worst, and weirdest gaming news for you to easily digest in your gut. Here's what we've found:

- Are video games bad for your kids? This LA Times reporter found out from a seminar at UC Irvine that no. It's not. The article is a quick read, but it's good to see that some parents are willing to have an open mind to see the benefits of gaming.

- Tencent, the Chinese investment firm that focuses on digital content, is buying more stakes in Snapchat, hoping to turn the platform into something that gamers may use in the future. The details are fuzzy on the specifics, but when you dump $2 billion into Snap stock, you expect to make an impact. What does that mean for users? Nothing right now. But don't be surprised if you see tweaks in the coming months that were influenced by Tencent.

- Have you seen this new Kickstarter project called Vortex? It's a peripheral that lets you experience video games in 4D. "Vortx is the world’s first 4D simulator that can physically recreate any virtual environment in the comfort of your home or office. It reads and analyzes audio and video data in real-time to create physical effects that you can feel to match what you see and hear; because Vortx processes live data that means it is compatible with ANY PC game title and every digital video platform." At $60 grand, I was expecting something else, but if that's what the creators want to do, go for it. Basically it's a glorified fan that reacts to the content in the game. If a bullet goes past your character on the screen, a burst of air will emit from the Vortex. If there's a gust of wind in the desert while you play Assassin's Creed: Origins, you'll feel it. It's not a bad idea, but not fully convinced it's worth investing in right now while 3D is still trying to find it's foothold in the industry.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 video games that had out attention and then lost it. I'd like to point out that the sub title is "How did EA mess up Medal of Honor so bad?" And the answer to that question is "It's EA, that's why." Easy zingers aside, the list includes Halo, Evolve, and Brutal Legend. Wait, what? While I'm not on board with the myriad of sequels for Halo (it was fine to end it at the third game), how the heck did Evolve and Brutal Legend end up on this list? Brutal was a blast! A fun mixture of action, adventure, and dynamic rock n'roll game play that made it a treat to explore the levels. And while Evolve did lose me on not providing single player, the point of the game is to work as a team to track your pray. It was a challenging game and not meant for casual players. But that is what made the title more engaging. You had to learn, you had to adapt, and you had to communicate with people. This is another WhatCulture list that has already failed.

- Hey guess what? EA bought out another studio. Confirmed in a press release this week, EA has purchased Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Titanfall. Respawn was in talks to be purchased by Korea's Nexon, who currently publishes a Titanfall spinoff for mobile games. EA wanted to keep Respawn in the "family," so to speak, as the studio was working with EA to develop an unnamed Star Wars project. No word on what will happen to Respawn, but so far all of their current projects are still underway. Though I wouldn't blame them if the team was worried after what happened to Visceral Games a few weeks ago.

- AM General, a Humvee manufacturer, is suing Activision Blizzard for a trademark infringement from their Call of Duty game. The lawsuit claims that 8 of the games contain Humvee's and the HMMWV logo without the consent of AM General. They believe the company is not only abusing the trademark, but unlawfully profiting by having the vehicles in the game, in toys, in books, and used in advertising. Details of the lawsuit are still unknown, but with a billion dollar company suing another billion dollar developer, it's guaranteed to be an absurd amount of money in play.

- Finally, The Game Awards will be back on December 7th with nominees announced on November 14th. This year the show will expand to more streaming platforms and internationally, including South Korea and Japan. They even plan to bring in an orchestra, and hopefully it's more then a bunch of random, nameless rappers dancing on the stage with a razor. And maybe this year the "World Premiere" drinking game can return!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Niantic's New AR Game is Harry Pottery

Hold on to your wizarding hats. Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go, are going to produce a Harry Potter AR game. The developers will be teaming up with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and their San Fransisco division to create the game. They even have a name for it: Happy Potter: Wizards Unite. It could use some work, but given that they've already bought the domain it's probably going to stay.

Using the same framework as Niantic's AR game Ingress, players will be able to learn spells and battle legendary beasts from the Harry Potter landscape, while teaming up with others to take them down. The game will also include some of the iconic characters from Harry Potter, though it won't let you be one of them.

The details for the game are limited, but Niantic is poised to discuss more in 2018. But it's safe to assume that this game has the potential to be as successful, if not more, then Pokémon Go. For those naysayers, Go is still pulling in 65 million monthly users. While the initial draw may not be there, people are logging in and catching the pocket monsters. Harry Potter could easily be another AR game that sets off the craze once more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

BlizzCon 2017 Review!

I think my brain has calmed down enough that I can provide a thoughtful review. Two days ago, the post would have been filled with "ZOMG It's Awesome!" over and over again. Not quite compelling reading, even though it does sum up the experience! The 11th running of BlizzCon opened up the doors to over 35,000 fans as they took over every square inch of the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The two-day event was one of the largest that the company has held, as they showcased their collection of games and announced new content for fans to expect in the upcoming year. I was one of those who did not get the first or second round of passes after camping them online, but was lucky enough to snag them on round three. Minus the bizarre flight home, this convention was easily one of the best I have attended.

The Breakdown:

BlizzCon began in 2005, but skipped some years (which is why this was number 11 and not 13). The event focuses on all things Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft and Overwatch. You won't see outside vendors or other games here. Not even Destiny 2, which was recently added to for PC users. This was 100% all about Blizzard games, and that was just fine by me! The content of Blizzard's games filled the halls of the convention center with ease. Other games and vendors would have dissolved some of the magic of the convention.

There were a few PC tech booths on the floor and 2-3 clothing vendors that focused on Blizzard-only items. But they also helped sponsor the event and provide equipment for demos. Their presence felt much more natural then an indie game. So if you're expecting anything outside of Blizzard here, you won't find it.

In The Know:

Repeat BlizzCon attendees definitely had a leg-up on the newbies with how the event runs. We took tips from veterans before planning out our schedule. All BlizzCon pass holders receive a virtual ticket as well to watch panels online. The best thing to do is to pick the panels you really want to see, and camp out an hour early if you want decent seats. You can watch the panels you're missing with the virtual ticket - and since Blizzard streams their own content on their platforms you don't have to worry about lag and delays from Twitch. We did this for while camping seats for Community Night and the Overwatch tournaments.

But also, pin trading is a big deal at BlizzCon. So big it makes PAX look like child's play. If you are a collector, you have to try out BlizzCon just to experience it. The space easily could have doubled in size and there still wouldn't be enough room for the pin traders.

Booze! Another thing in the know is that alcohol is served at the convention. While children are allowed in with a badge purchase, it is nice to have a more adult event where such things are encouraged.

Community Night is indeed the cosplay contest! Unfortunately the program description was missing on several panels so we had to ask around to find out the details. Community Night is more then just cosplay. Blizzard also hosts an art contest, movie contest, and a talent show. All of these culminate into Community Night. It's a lot of fun and worth the 2 hours to sit through, plus the hour to get a good seat.

Go with friends or make new ones to seat camp. Because seat camping is life. There are quite a few friendly people at BlizzCon, some of the friendliest I have met since PAX. But if you really wanted to sit in on that Muse concert to get into the pit, you need friends that will save your spot.

You will walk a ton. I'm glad I brought my 3DS with me both days to cull up loads of street passes. Got new countries and finished several puzzles!

The best day for merch is Thursday, or Day 0 as we say at anime conventions. The lines are longer, but we only spent an hour waiting by the time we were able to go through. At one point the line was capped because the systems were down! Yikes. But once everything was working again, it was a quick process. Buying everything on Thursday made it easier to enjoy the rest of the convention without having to lug around pounds of stuff. And we didn't miss out on the content we wanted to see.

Cosplayers and photographers: if you want nice photos stay outside at the fountain. Due to BlizzCon's very archaic photography rules, no DSLR's are allowed inside the venue. I even saw several point and shoots that were turned away at the door for looking "professional." So if you cosplay, stop at the fountain at the main entrance and get a few pics before you sequester yourself inside. Unfortunately we missed out on the cosplay gathering because of this (which also wasn't listed anywhere) but it was a good note to remember for next time.

Needs Improvement:

Their food and drink policy is about on par with most large convention centers, but you can bring in water as long as it's in a clear container. However, in some areas of the convention you can't have any drinks at all. Even if you purchased something IN the convention center, you better drink it fast because it may not be allowed to go to any other halls. This was beyond aggravating to have wasted money on a drink only to have to dump it a few minutes later. The biggest issue of this was at the registration/vendor room. It's list as a no food or drink zone. But once you enter there is a concession stand full of food and drinks for you to purchase. So much for that logic! BlizzCon needs to review that policy and have some leniency on it. If you're in the con center with a drink, it follows the rules or was purchased on site. Let people roam with it.

Program descriptions. In many situations, such as Community Night and Writer's Panels, the content was blank. It was difficult to know what the topic was covering where there were no panel details. If this was a mistake or an oversight, it's a fix for next year. But if this was intentional, it should be addressed. I, as a first time attendee, would have had no clue what Community Night was without asking around. The info should be on the schedule.

The antiquated photography policy needs to be updated for 2010. Not even 2017! So the rule states that no professional photo or video equipment is allowed inside the convention center unless you are media that has been approved by BlizzCon. No tripods. No monopods. No lighting equipment. The problem is, what the staff deem as "professional" has been standard for most consumers since 2010. No DSLR's. No mirrorless. And not even some point and shoots are allowed in if they seem "professional." This was beyond aggravating. I wanted nice pics to capture memories of the event and had to do it all from my phone with a sub par camera. Sorry phone. Love ya but your camera is only okay. The problem is, most consumers can buy a DSLR for $299 or less, the same price as a nice point and shoot. Walking around Downtown Disney and we saw nearly every couple, family, or group with a DSLR. The basic lens that came with the camera and that's it. They were not professional photographers. They only wanted nice photos of their time at Disney. The same can easily be said for BlizzCon attendees. The convention can keep the no tripods, monopods, and lights rules. But at least make it feasible for your fans to take in their cameras without hassle.

The Cool Stuff:

The arenas for the tournaments were some of the best I have seen. I thought QuakeCon had a good setup. BlizzCon blew it out of the water. Each hall was sectioned by games. World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, etc. The stages were decked out in the style of the games, along with cool artifacts to help make each one distinctive. The Hearthstone stage looked like a tavern straight from the game.

They also made sections of the convention center feel like you were involved in the games themselves. There was a Darkmoon Faire setup with facepainters, tarot card readings, and other fun games you can play in World of Warcraft. The Hearthsone room also had a live tavern that you could walk though, play with the dev's, and order food and drinks.

While the convention staff was less then desirable on their attitudes, the Blizzard staff was fantastic. They were attentive and always helpful. When convention staff were trying to block me from going into the cosplay room for assistance (though I was in costume, but it does look a little casual if you were going demon hunting I guess?), one of the Blizzard staff members jumped in and helped me out. Many thanks to the gentleman holding down the room on Saturday mid-day. You made this cosplayer happy. Unfortunately the convention staff were very quick to say no and block people before they could ask their question. At least Blizzard staff made up for that rudeness.

Opening ceremonies was a blast! In all my years of convention-ing, I've never been to an opening where they put effort into making a statement. It's usually pretty dull. Guests are introduced, sometimes. Maybe they'll play a video with the convention rules, or put on some dull anime music while the owners rabble on about policies. BlizzCon turned this into an event giving everyone a preview of what to expect on the show floor. We got all our big announcements from it and we were able to playtest everything right there! It was full of everything fun that an opening should have.

And BlizzCon fans are really freekin' nice. It's easy to find someone to chat with while waiting in line, or see people trading off pins and patches they didn't want without asking for anything in return. Yes there are bad eggs in the bunch (some people had their patches stolen). But as a whole people were nice, helpful, and willing to lend a hand when we had questions.

Final Thoughts:

If you are a Blizzard fan, even if it's only for one or two games, this is an event you need to experience. This rivals PAX East as one of my favorite conventions. Blizzard took their time to craft an event for their fans, and it shows at every demo and every tournament stage. I am so ready to go back for another round. And maybe I can finally make a Warcraft costume!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Single Player is Not Dying - Stop Being Dumb

There's been a push-back lately from writers across the internet about the future of video games. Specifically the single player games. Ever since an op-ed appeared on Forbes that AAA single player titles are dying out, dozens of the biggest gaming news sites jumped on board to either agree, semi-agree, or deny that the game mode is on it's deathbed. Some of the articles are click-baity so I'm only linking the ones that hold a purpose to this piece, or are worth the time to read.

If you've read the title on this post, then you clearly know the position of The Geek Spot. To claim that single player games are on the decline, including AAA backed games, is dumb. Plain and simple.

Here are some of the single player games that were released in October, receiving high praise from reviewers and gamers: South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Super Mario Odyssey (there is a single player and two-player mode), Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Fire Emblem Warriors, The Evil Within 2, and Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. These are just some of the highlights. October was a busy month for game releases. And November is ramping it up even more, with more DLC for Horizon: Zero Dawn, Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, and the highly anticipated Nioh.

And the next year is looking even better. Dragon Quest XI is on my list, and it's a franchise that has produced some of the best single player RPG experiences. Even Hearthstone, the card game based on Blizzard content, will be releasing an expansion pack early next year that is a single player dungeon crawl!

Needless to say, the Forbes op-ed is way off the mark. Single player games are doing just fine and thriving. While yes, there has been a push lately to have more multi-player, online content, there is still a strong need for a single player experience. Remember when the reboot of Star Wars: Battlefront was released? Remember the number of articles that appeared blasting EA for the poor choices they made with the game by removing single player? The original Battlefront was released on a system that didn't have online capabilities. It was a game that thrived on the single player experience and made it one of the most played N64 titles, right up there with GoldenEye. What made Battlefront so great was not the action nor the war between the Rebels and the Empire. It was your journey with the main characters. Removing that mode from the reboot was a disservice not only to fans, but to the original game.

Single player games are part of the gaming experience. The climate for them will never change. There will always be a need for single player content. People crave it. Developers keep delivering powerful content for it (The Last of Us is a fantastic example of an incredible, heart-wrenching single player experience that is vastly superior to the questionable multi-player, online mode). So to those who are announcing the death of single player games, stop being dumb. It is here to stay.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Microsoft Shifting Focus From Console Sales to Game Development

Okay so the experiment to try and post from the Blogger app was met with technical difficulties. Go me! Apologies for the messy post. For some reason the app crashes whenever I attempted to upload a photo so it lost half of my text during BlizzCon's opening ceremonies. But a post is better the no post. We'll try again next round. Onto today's post!

Microsoft is looking to shift their focus from console production to gaming. The company is planning to increase in-house development of games and software by either producing it themselves, or buying companies (like Bungie) and having them create products only for Microsoft. XBox-in-Chief Phil Spencer spoke about the change in direction during an interview last week. Just a few years ago, Microsoft was content with buying a studio and closing it down. “Our ability to go create content has to be one of our strengths. We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment.”

The history of gaming at Microsoft has been confusing. It's never been a core focus for the company since the business does so well with creating and servicing operating software for computers. The launch of the first XBox pulled enough sales and interest to warrant additional systems as the years passed, but Microsoft still thought of gaming as a side-business. In 2014, Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella stated that gaming was an important market, but not at the core of Microsoft's mission. As gaming has grown over the years to a billion dollar industry, Microsoft has decided it's finally ready to try and play in the big-leagues.

Microsoft is now tracking how gamers are spending their time with their products. They are seeing average game times, eSports trends, and XBox Live usage versus in-game play.

What does that mean for us gamers? More content from Microsoft going directly to XBox Live or Microsoft branded games from studios that we know. The downside is that we may be seeing less independent developers as more of the big names buy them up for producing their content.