Monday, February 27, 2017

Twitch Streamers to Sell Games

Twitch is taking the next big step in the game market by turning itself into a retailer. Since the purchase of Twitch by Amazon, it was just a matter of time until the streaming service began to peddle gaming wares. Starting this spring, Twitch will begin selling games and in-game content through streamers, allowing viewers to buy from predominant retailers as well as independents. Partners will get 5% of sales, and 70% to the content creator.

People who buy through Twitch can also, potentially, get exclusive in-game items (because we need more exclusion in gaming) as well as Twitch-related items. A "Twitch Crate" if you will, that includes badges, emoticons, and Bits. Games will be available in English first before localization.

A number of publishers have already signed up, but you may see a few of the bigger names absent for a while. Notably EA Games, which has their own service, Origin, that is a direct rival to this type of program, Square Enix, and Activision/Blizzard. But Ubisoft and Telltale Games are on board, so that's a start. The current most popular games to stream, such as Counterstrike, DOTA 2, and League of Legends are absent as well. Hopefully deals can be worked out to make these games more easily accessible to the Twitch audience.

It could upset the balance with other platforms like Steam, that offer a direct conduit to gamers. Twitch is a bit of a different market. While wildly popular, you have to go through streamers to get your products sold. This could prompt developers to pander more to streamers to ensure their products have greater visibility on Twitch. It's not exactly the healthiest mindset for marketing. Twitch will have to be very careful about this if they don't want to hit legalities. Their rules need to make it clear that streamers playing games for money, paid by developers, need to be open and honest about it. They can't talk about how much they love a game and get paid under the table, less they want to run into another Shadow of Mordor incident.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

If you see some changes to icons and images, don't be alarmed. My YouTube page is getting an upgrade to better match my Twitch Channel and reflect the content I'm producing. It won't affect The Geek Spot.

But enough of that. Let's get to the Weekly Link Round Up. Where we'll have some of the best, worst, and strangest gaming news on the internet, available in one stop! Here's what we've found:

- Kotaku wants to show you all the creative ways to throw your controller. They came up with 13 of them. Thirteen! Why? I don't know. Slow news days? Destroying your home seems a bit extreme...

- CulturedVulture would like to present 7 games that could break the video game movie curse. The list includes Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid, both having been confirmed and picked up as movie options. So toss those choices off the radar. But The Legend of Zelda and The Last of Us? I don't know. Those games tell magnanimous stories and are already pretty touching. Trying to remake them into movies could easily cause a rift between gamers and Hollywood.

- BioWare released another teaser for Mass Effect: Andromeda, this time with actress Natalie Dormer of 'Game of Thrones' fame. If you are a GoT fan, and you see Ms. Dormer wearing an N7 hoodie, you kind of freak out a little bit. Like I did! Dormer voices Dr Lexi T'Perro, the ship's doctor. Curious to see how she incorporates her personality into the character. Hopefully not like Margaery Tyrell.

-  Some classic NeoGeo games are available through XBox Live and the XBox One for...reasons. I don't know what the reasons are, but nostalgia is a pretty hot seller right now. Currently available at World Heroes, a 1992 SNK production that looks like Street Fighter, and Neo Turf Masters, a local co-op golf game that was one of the few to re-produce actual courses from around the world. More are expected to be released in the upcoming months if you are a Geo fan.

- The Smithsonian is starting a program to help preserve the legacy of gaming pioneers. Yea! This will include oral histories to be recorded, papers, artifacts, and personal items. Games are more then the final product; they include the people behind them. Hearing their stories and seeing their early sketches are worth saving.

- Whelp, it's almost official. The robots are taking over. The AI nicknamed 'Philip' developed by MIT has bested humans in Chess and Go. Now it's beating people at Super Smash Bros. Unlike the other games that have thousands of resources and strategies online that can be easily dissected, this isn't available for Smash. The AI had little to study with, and had to base their decisions off of the opponent's reactions. It's an interested case to look at. While some argue that the AI was too fast, having a direct link into the system and not having realistic reflex times comparable to a human, he did manage to best a few players in a game that it knew very little about.

- Pokémon fans! February 27th is Pokémon Day, in honor of the first game released in 1996. The mobile game, Pokémon Go, as well as Sun and Moon will have some events available that you might be interested in. There were also be some rare collectable toys, action figures, and the like available for purchase. Go forth and catch thee!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

SAG Strike Boiled Down to $3,300 In Residuals

Almost a month since my last post and there is still no resolution with the video game voice actors strike (SAG-AFTRA) against gaming companies for unfair wages and compensation. Several months in and the concern for additional labor disputes is rising. It may not be long until programmers and coders join the fray as unreset continues.

However, the game companies targeted in this campaign still feel that the additional compensation to voice actors is unwarranted. In the February issue of VICE Magazine, they spoke with actors, SAG, and game developers to get the full story - or as much of it as they could, and compiled one heck of an article. Game developers are still sticking to their guns, and would rather have a general pay increase of 9% across the board for voice actors instead of providing residuals for games doing well. Tommy Tallarico, a game composer and founder of the Game Audio Network Guild, said that developers won't back down because of principle. The reasoning? Coders work longer hours and they don't see additional payments, so why should a voice actor working 4 hours get those bonuses and they don't?

Sam Singer, a legal representative for the gaming companies involved in the strike, echos this same opinion. That it's "not fair" to the other 99% of people working in the industry if only the voice actors see residuals. The argument is that voice actors make up 1% of the people working on video games, therefore they don't count as much and shouldn't be paid more. They also claim that it'll cause unrest to their current staff who won't see the same benefits (which is true - even though coders are typically paid more then a voice actor, if others got residuals for a game I helped make, then I'd want in on that action too).

Aside - voice actors sure do a lot to keep us interested in games. Where would we be without the vocals for Snake, Master Chief, or Uncharted's Drake? Those actors made the games come to life on a level we never imagined. The stories were powerful; more compelling. I don't believe Halo would be where it is today if the Chief had no voice.

It's almost like they are playing out a really bad "this is how to negotiate with unions" playbook from the 1940's. Johanna Weststar, a professor who specializes in labor issues (who has also run surveys in conjunction with the International Game Developers Association) counters in the article that this "it's not fair to everyone" attitude is the general response most employers have when faced with unions.

When you crunch the numbers, what SAG-AFTRA is asking for is actually pretty reasonable. For every 2 million copies of a game sold, with a cap at 8 million units, they are asking for a performance bonus to be paid to voice actors. That amounts to potentially four session payments per principal performer. Video game companies would have to pay up to another $3,300 to primary actors for games that hit that 8 million units.

$3,300. Seriously. That's it! If you have 4 principle performers in a game, that's only $13,200. While that could be an issue for independent developers to pay up if they have a small team, it would be easy to add clauses into contracts to adjust for this. If you are Activision/Blizzard or EA Games, you can pay that residual. Don't act like you can't. And in the case of voice actors, much of their work revolves around yelling, screaming, grunting, and losing their voices in the process. Those "4 hours" of work can result in the actor losing days of potential income once their voice is gone. They can't work until it's returned and they are not on a salary. They are not making anything extra from the job. They are out. Having the potential for residuals helps make those days not feel so doom-worthy when you can't work.

I'm not saying that developers, graphic designers, and coders shouldn't also get some form of bonus for their work too. But this mentality of "it's always been like this" doesn't work. It never does! Any union in the world can tell you that. Game companies need to get out of their heads, realize the world around them is changing, and provide a solution.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Gamer Dies During Charity Stream

A well-known streamer of the game World of Tanks, Poshybrid, died while running through a 24 hour charity stream. The Virginia Beach Police Department confirmed it with Kotaku yesterday, but the cause of death is unknown. About 22 hours into his stream, the user stepped away to take a smoke break and never returned. Some assumed that he fell asleep, but several hours later a friend attempted to message him on Discord, and a response came from a police officer investigating his death. It's sad that this happened, that a young life was taken away, all while he was raising money for a charity. Fans and his game group have been leaving condolences on his Twitch channel.

Why am I bringing this up? I don't want people to freak out about streaming and get caught up in media sensationalism. Charity streams are a great thing. They have brought awareness to causes and bring the community together in an impactful way. I'm seeing a few stories outside of gaming sites talking about the danger of playing games for too long. Yes. Deaths have happened before. It is a concern.

But sitting down and playing a game for 2 hours is not going to result in your death unless you have preexisting medical conditions - and even in those situations they are really, really rare and still probably not caused by someone sitting down.

If you do plan on gaming for longer then 4 hours, streaming or not, you should always listen to your body. If it's telling you to go to the bathroom, pause the game, get up, and go. If it's telling you to eat something, pause the game, get up, and make yourself a meal that doesn't consist of caffeine, soft drinks, and pizza. An actual meal can do wonders for your body. Always listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel your eyes straining, pause, get up, and walk away. Focus on other, non-digital things to have your sight readjusted. Get up and walk around for a few minutes every couple of hours so you can spur more circulation to your legs. Stretch your arms. Do a few toe touches. Whatever you want to do - it's important to move if you've been sedentary for 4 hours.

Have fun and don't ignore your body.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

That Video Game Movie Thing

Psst. Metal Gear Solid fans. Kojima may no longer be involved, but that's not stopping Konami from pursuing the movie deal set up years ago. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (whom has directed a few episodes of Funny or Die and Single Dads) spoke with Collider to confirm that the movie is still in the works. The script is underway. He even met with Kojima recently to talk about the past games. So yeah...even though MGS is not a game that can easily transition into a movie, Konami still wants to try and milk that cash cow.

At least Vogt-Roberts seems genuine in keeping the movie as close to the original content as possible and not pull a Resident Evil.

“That is a property that I will fight tooth and nail to make sure is done properly because it’s so easy to screw it up and so easy for a studio to try and make it into G.I. Joe or try and make it into Mission: Impossible or try and make it into something that it’s not. Metal Gear Solid needs to be exactly what it needs to be, which is Metal Gear Solid.”

On his mind right now are the key plot points in the script and if the movie is going to go the way of Deadpool or Logan, where the serious content bumps the rating to R and could become an obstacle for teenage fans of the franchise. If Konami has a heavy hand in the editing, the movie could be chopped up to conform to audience's tastes and then the rating won't mean a thing. It'll be a crap film.

Vogt-Roberts claims that he's a n MGS super fan. He does reference a few characters in the interview and plot points from the games that most fans would know, so that's a promising start. At least he appears legitimate in his assertions that he cares about making an MGS movie that's true to form and not...Resident...Evil. (I know I should stop picking on those movies but come on. Dudes. At least TRY to make the story in line with the games just a little bit.)

Curious to see what will be produced, but I'm cautious. Given the current movie/game environment, it's easy to give one's hopes up. And they better have some damn good dubbing in place for David Hayter. He will always and forever be our Snake.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hold Up. Let's Talk About the Switch/FF14 Rumor

The European Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest occurred over the weekend. While gamers contemplated the information of the latest expansion pack, Stormblood, some honed in on producer Naoki Yoshida's comments that they are looking into the possibility of bringing the MMO to the Nintendo Switch.

I like how this has exploded on the internet, because anything involving a Final Fantasy MMO and console use always ends with "possibility" and doesn't materialize. FF14 has been under review for the XBox One for over 2 years with no updates. So before you get all crazy about an MMO on the Switch, SquareEnix has not confirmed that it will happen; just that they are looking into it. Despite what some news outlets are reporting. Which means it won't happen, but that's the cynical gamer in me speaking. Always fact check everything you read.

Unlike most MMO's, SquareEnix has been one of the few companies to invest time, and successfully produce, cross-platform playing. Someone on PC can play with someone on the PS4, on the same server. (FF14 is also available on the PS3, but with the introduction of the latest expansion, they plan to end service for the system.) Having different companies talk to each other to allow this type of interaction to happen was groundbreaking for Final Fantasy XI. It brings a new level of inclusion into the MMO market dominated by PCs.

Right now, one of the biggest questions with the Nintendo Switch is online game play. If it will be available at all, since Nintendo is pretty strict. At their conference in January, we were informed that the Switch would have a capture and share button for screenshots. We know there will be a monthly service fee, chat channels, and some online gameplay. The extent of that gameplay is in the air. Will that be Call of Duty levels of online, or more like Mario Kart Wii? Both are distinctly different types of online gameplay. We also don't know if Nintendo or the Switch would be capable of communicating with other platforms. If Nintendo has showcased anything consistantly in the past, it's their willingness to not work with other game consoles. They weren't jumping on board with FF11 or other MMO's or MOBA's that wanted to tackle this. So that leaves FF14 with a Switch only server. Unless SE can see customer numbers proving the time and money to invest into a Switch server would result in a profit, it's not worth their investment.

Also keep in mind file sizes. The Switch will come with 32 Gigabytes internally. Players can add on more with microSDHC or microSDXC cards. The first base game, A Realm Reborn requires 20 gigs of space. With the first expansion, another 10-12 gigs. That's all of the Switch's internal storage (which wouldn't be able to fit because you have to account for the Switch's operating system, which will take up some space). We have to think practically here that the Switch is not meant to hold down an MMO of FF14's size without you, the consumer, spending more money for additional SD cards.

And then there's the game itself. FF14 is still very pretty for something re-developed for 2013, when compared to other MMO's on the today's market. The minimum system specs look something like this:
  • Operating System: Windows Vista 32/64bit, Windows 7 32/64 bit, Windows 8 32/64 bit, Windows 8.1 32/64 bit.
  • Processor: Intel Core2 Duo 3GHz.
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Geforce 8800 Series, ATI Radeon HD 4770.
  • Memory: 2GB (4GB recommended for 64bit OS)
Here is the Nintendo's Switch's Processor and Graphics content:
  •  CPU / GPU - Nvidia customized Tegra processor
That's it. We don't know. It's "custom." This isn't to knock the Switch. It's very possible that the system can play FF14. But until we have the information, speculating is just going to cause more false rumors to fly about.

So keep your pants on. Don't get into a tissy that FF14 may be on the Switch. Until it's 100% confirmed by SE or Nintendo, it's not worth thinking about. Let's just enjoy the fact that we're getting increased inventory size for Stormblood. I know I am.

Friday, February 17, 2017

PewDiePie Media Fallout Continues

It's another PewDiePie story today. Sorry. Like it or not, the man is one of the biggest internet celebrities and many look to him as the voice for gamers. He plays a lot of games, and if he likes one, people buy it. This is why the FTC went after Warner Brothers for a series of sponsored video, one featuring PewDiePie, that didn't accurately portray gameplay. He gave it a good review, sales went up, and customers complained later that the content didn't match what the YouTube video showed.

PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) has released a 10 minute video stating that the media is falsely labeling him as anti-Semitic, specifically The Wall Street Journal. Even though the stories were released after he was let go from Disney, he Kjellberg feels that the articles are not portraying him correctly; that the media is cherry picking and taking the content out of context.

“Old-school media does not like internet personalities because they are scared of us. We have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don’t think they understand that,” he said.

Sure. Traditional media platforms are afraid for their lively hood with the rise of the internet. But they have adapted over the years and have their own online presence. That doesn't mean they outright slam every YouTube personality at every chance they can.

The string of Nazi "jokes," as Kjellberg claims, occurred over several videos in late 2016 and early 2017. The last video that caused the most controversy, included Kjellberg commenting on another video of two men who held up a sign with anti-Semitic rhetoric. According to the YouTube personality, this was just to show how crazy our modern world is, that people will do anything for money - specially with the website Fiverr, a freelance website that allows people to try and obtain services for $5.

Jokes or not, there are some lines you do not cross. And you can't blame anyone but yourself for that. Even if you are an "amateur comic." That's not a facade you can hide behind. Even those who are not comedians know that making light of tragedies or events where people died is not funny.  It's not the The Wall Street Journal's fault that you were fired from Disney and YouTubeRed. That is all you, Kjellberg. For now, he'll continue to make his videos and receive ad revenue on YouTube. But it may hurt his annual income and his fan base from the fallout.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

There are some strange things happening on the internet. Guess that means it's time for a Weekly Link Round Up! Hosting some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet...this week. Here is what we have in store:

- Did you know that you could learn chemistry in Minecraft? A University of Texas at Dallas team is researching to see if real world science, when applied to a video game, can be more engaging. Before you answer "well yes, obviously" do remember that video games typically don't follow the laws of physics, thermodynamics, or biology. This isn't an easy task, but the group is up for the challenge. By crafting a tool/mod called "Polycraft World," the team was able to input chemical reactions into the game. Check out the rest of the article for the results!

- Want to get better at games? Tokyo-based company Youdeal is offering home tutoring services for gamers. The GameLesson program is to compliment their game production and public relations services to give customers the full gaming package to compete with on the job market. With games like Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. on the docket for $39.53 an hour, hopefully one is able to learn a lot from these tutors. That's a lot of money to spend for an hour of gaming!

- LEGO Worlds is finally launching this March. Yea! The long beta testing period is coming to an end and the next competitor against Minecraft is up for the challenge. If you like anything about LEGO's, then you'll probably enjoy this game. It even carries in the same charm as the super hero games while making it more about the building process. You can still check it out on Steam, and pre-orders for the XBox One version are now live.

- Oh WhatCulture. What have you released now? '10 Storytelling Clichés That Need To Die'? Okay. The list includes 'kill the cutie,' 'choices not meaning anything,' and 'event triggers' where you have to press or hold a button to continue an action. I don't know how those last two have anything to do with storytelling, but sure. Let's roll with this for a second. The list does bring up some good points for "story fouls" that need to be addressed. Such as moving backward to go forward, i.e. a narrative grind where you have to revisit places that you have already cleared in order to progress in the story. If your content is minimal or you have to stretch yourself to make a player go back, you should review your story. Or open world games where side quests distract you from the "importance" of the main narrative. There are some story aspects to games, like movies and television, that could use an update. But as a whole, this list sucks and lacks "storytelling clichés." It focuses more on silly game mechanics.

- The ESA is taking shots at the new U.S. presidential administration, particularly with the reckless immigration policies they are attempting to put into place. ESA president Mike Gallagher wrote a lengthy response to the new laws in the works, and what he hopes will happen for 2017. It includes a strong commitment to gamers to allow them to work socially and politically through gaming, the public showing of E3, and South by Southwest.

- Financial analysts expect the digital gaming market on mobile devices to grow to over $100 billion this year. Not just with downloads, but in spending money on in-game currency and items to continue playing the games. The current leader is developer Supercell (Clash of Clans) ushering in further growth of this sector of gaming. Particularly in China where the market continues to grow as newer, cheaper mobile phones become available. While this won't wipe out console and PC games, it's no wonder Konami wants in on the action.

- Finally on Gamerranx, a list of 10 games that changed graphics forever. Now this isn't necessarily making things prettier. Most of this list focuses on technological changes (the first game to do X) and game mechanics never seen before (destructible environments). So it's not the best list. But it is kind of cool for some quick trivia that you probably didn't know (Star Wars: Dark Forces was the first FPS where you could look up and down).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Apocalypse Now Game Starting New Crowdfunding Venture

My knowledge, once again, prevails! With only 9 days left in their crowdfunding efforts, the Apocalypse Now game has only earned $172 thousand of their $900k goal from Kickstarter. Instead of going through the traditional routes, the developers, Erebus LLC, opted to keep the game independent and Coppola endorsed crowdfunding the game. Unfortunately the jazz behind crowdfunding has dissipated in the past year. The number of games announced in 2016 on these platforms was down, as well as the amount of money pledged to these campaigns. It wasn't a good year for start-ups seeking investments from gamers, and that ripple effect pulled through to 2017 and affected Apocalypse Now.

The game developers have decided to move the project to it's own crowdfunding platform under ApocalypseNow.com. This will give them more time to gain the funding needed to continue building the game. All 459 days of it and a $5.9 million dollar goal. Ouch. The team announced the change on their Kickstarter page once they realized that the money wasn't coming in as fast as they expected.

"When we launched this campaign, we made a mistake. We forgot that many of you have been disappointed by overreaching games and overreaching promises. We had stopped paying attention to the Kickstarter world[.]"

Friendly reminder to those looking to crowdfund: don't ignore your platform. Watch the trends. See how other games have succeed and failed so you can learn what not to do. Erebus LLC did not and now they get to suffer from the fallout.

For those who have already pledged on Kickstarter, a free upgrade is being offered on the ApocalypseNow.com site if you opt to pledge again. And the game itself doesn't look bad. Maybe a bit too late given the type of gamers that play right now (or maybe this was a game that couldn't exist until today with the advances in technology?), but Apoc Now has AAA dreams and they're asking fans of a movie that's nearly 40 years old to donate. A movie that is rated R so most of the fans have to be in the 58+ years, if they saw the movie (legally) when it was first released. Not the ideal demographic of gamers.

I wish them luck. They are going to need a whole lot of it. An investor or two from a company couldn't hurt either.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

YouTube and Disney Drop Biggest Internet Gamer

PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg), arguably the biggest name in streaming video games on YouTube, has made a huge misstep that could damage his career. The internet personality is known for being crude but in a childish manner. His demographic skews younger and his content is more potty humor, less R-rated. And even with his recent slew of stunts to try and push people's buttons, they're still pretty tame.

Yesterday, Disney announced they were dropping PewDiePie from their network for anti-Semitic videos (irony!). For those who don't know, Kjellberg's YouTube Network is called Revelmode. Revelmode is owned by Maker Studios, which is a collection of thousands of YouTube channels that produce original content. Disney purchased it in 2014 and Kjellberg has been with the Disney company ever sing. In 2016, they gave PewDiePie free reign with his channel, thinking he would stick to the content that he'd been producing up until then. However since September, he's been pushing the boundaries on what's acceptable content for YouTube and Disney. He's shown clips of Hitler's speeches, posted fan art of swastikas, among other offenses that go against YouTube policy.

Maker Studios has opted to drop the star for going too far with the commentary, though PewDiePie maintains that it was all in jest to see how much people would be willing to spend/donate for him to do stupid stuff. The last video which involved two men dressed in loincloths, holding an anti-Semitic banner while Kjellberg commented on it was the end of the line for Disney.

But Kjellberg's woes are not done. YouTube is removing PewDiePie from YouTube Red. His show 'Scare PewDiePie' was renewed for a second season, and it's argued that it was one of YouTube's highest rated series - YouTube does not provide viewer numbers or advertising sales for this content. Since the announcement of being dropped by Disney, YouTube is stepping away as well. He's also been removed from 'Google Preferred' which is a search-safe verification service for advertisers. 

PewDiePie will still be on YouTube and he can still make money off his videos, but not as much as before. His channel is still active and he posted content as recent as 22 hours ago, as of the posting of this blog article. 

For those who say people are being too sensitive, that's your opinion. YouTube and Disney have content guidelines and allowed Kjellberg to get away with a lot because of his earning status. But that doesn't make him immune to the rules. Saying "death to all Jews" or even inferring it is not funny. It's scary. And we live in a jacked up world right now where what you say matters, even in jest. Kjellberg can claim that he's doing it for laughs and doesn't really mean it, but when you do it repeatedly, it's difficult to maintain that position. Antisemitism is not funny. Ever. Anything that involves harming or the threatening of death to another living creature is not, and will never be humorous. That's not being sensitive: that's being a human being.

We'll update the story as more information becomes available.