Tag Archives: AC Unity

What we waste away

This is an issue that bugged me for a little while. Even though it started small, the near exponential growth of waste is now looking towards me, looking at me as I look into an abyss of squandered opportunity. You see, this is in part the Monday morning quarterback speaking, whilst in that same view I should hold a mirror to my own choices. Just like you should do.

The idea for this article started small, it started when I realised that Huawei was willing to sacrifice its Australian market share by tweaking the skewing profits they have. They are now making short-sighted decisions and as they do that, they stand to lose close to 10% of the Australian market share. So why waste that? Let’s not forget that before the P7 Huawei was almost synonymous with ‘whazzat?’ and now after the P7, which was and still is awesome, after a less appreciated P8, Huawei is close to being a global household name. Now with the Nexus being a little outdated (Nexus 6P), the 9P could have been ready to gain a decent market share, hurting both the iPhone to a lesser degree and the Samsung phones to a larger degrees. So what does Huawei do? They decide to not release the 64 GB in Australia. Now until recently, we could have expected that, yet when you consider the exponential demand for mobile games that Pokémon GO is pushing, the fact that we now see ‘Apple plans to invest in augmented reality following success of Pokémon Go‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/26/apple-earnings-pokemon-go-augmented-reality-steve-cook), whilst the players are not thinking their decisions through could be regarded as a larger (read: massive) act of wasting away opportunity.

So why is this a waste?

Until Pokémon GO, the need for storage had not been visible to the degree we thought we needed. Even I did not see this coming and I have been connected to games and gaming in excess of 30 years. Forbes (at http://www.forbes.com/sites/bensin/2016/07/25/these-photos-show-how-crazy-the-pokemon-go-craze-is-in-hong-kong) gives us a clear view with the quote “special phone plans from local companies offering unlimited data usage just for the game“, which shows the amount of users, but not the need for storage. The fact that millions of people are now getting dozens of screenshots every day (more than before) of every Pokémon they caught and even more interesting where it was caught. Of course the average teenager is also feeding the image streams on how they caught a Diglett on their boxer short, so the wildfire of images is growing. All these images require storage and this is only the first game, within a year I expect close to a dozen games with features requiring storage, because there will always be copycats. So do you really think your 32 GB phone will suffice? I think not, with all the other needs your mobile life has, buying any phone less than 64 GB from this point onwards is a massive flaw. It is short-sighted, even if you are not a gamer, this market is erupting into new fields and the chance that this will not affect you is near impossible. So as the difference should be no more than $100, sticking with the 32 GB is in my view for the nuts and fruits, the fibre based mobile user needs 64 GB, yes there is in some cases a 128 GB, yet this is except for the very few really overkill, you need to be a seriously intense user of large files to really need something this big, but by 2019, who can tell?

In my view, you need to consider a mobile phone for the next 2 years. 32 GB will not cut it, especially as Android OS is also growing and will require more space.

Now it is time to take a look at the Apple side, the Guardian gives us “The comments came during an earnings call to discuss the results of the company’s third financial quarter, the three months ending 30th June, in which the company earned $42.4bn in revenue, a 15% decline from the same period last year“, so as Tim Cook is making claims towards Augmented Reality (AR) he seems to have forgotten that Nintendo, with their 3DS got to that point 5 years ago. So, not only did he miss that entire cycle, we can conclude that 3 iterations of new Apple products were not near ready either, so he is running behind the ball, whilst someone saw the AR on the 3DS and game it a little more thought. As we see how Microsoft has been bungling some of their projects, in all of those steps Apple wasn’t just absent, they had no clue where the gaming world was, so as they are trying to pick up the pass, we see the lack of innovation and shear absence regarding the creativity of options that Apple happily avoided. Now as some ask questions we see a sudden mention of AR whilst none of the hardware is ready to facilitate innovation for this track.

As I stated that all (including me) missed the hype this caused and yes, it is a hype but one that is creating a beachhead, not one that is fading away. So Nintendo has options and opportunity here. Beyond the IP needs that are now rearing its ugly head, we need to realise that Apple is now moving to the shallow end of the pool. They moved from innovator to facilitator and until they change the mindset on what a gamer wants and what a game needs to be Apple is now the one barking up the wrong tree. In that regard evidence of their hardware is simple enough. Only the iPhone 6 started to have 2GB or RAM. The issue is that games tend to be memory hungry and no matter how good the swap architecture, the fact that you need it will drag gaming speed and swapping speed down, which makes for a bad solution. The fact that Huawei is skewing profitability by limiting storage is less on an impact, but knowing full well the impact on mobile gamers, the fact that Huawei has not adjusted it view means that they will not be able to keep up. That last one is a little incomplete for Australia, because it is one of the few places where the mobile phone providers do not offer a 64 GB edition, whilst the models do exist. Here we get that Kogan.com is the only open provider offering 64 GB phones, in the non-open field it is only Telstra that offered it (their iPhone 6S), the rest is now trailing storage land with a dangerous backlash that could come their way.

So how important is storage? It might not be that big on one side, until you run out. Ask yourself, when was the last time you deleted pictures, removed MP3 tracks and removed APPS you never use? The moment you run out of memory and as you suddenly see that you do not have enough storage you will freak out like the short-sighted PC users who used to think that 20 GB was enough for their PC. Most of those people ran out of resources less than a year after getting their PC, when they did not know how to clean up their PC they started everyone except themselves. That is what you now face with your upcoming needed Mobile, because that moment with your kids, or your partner who just made that one gesture just as a bus passes by and the water pool near her feet became the inverted waterfall covering her, that moment when you miss it will introduce you to the term ‘frustration’, which is the moment as you realise that storage was everything at some points.

Yet these were not the only parts, just the directly visible ones.

There are more options and several are being missed out on. I am currently sitting on a billion in revenue, yet until the right person comes along. I can’t afford to move towards it without leaving it open for others to pick it up. I just need to get lucky. In that same way, some game developers are sitting on optional IP, some are now finding its way towards us in other ways, some through redesign, some through the mini console gadgets, yet they are coming. Is it enough? That depends on your point of view. For those coming with the mini console, it is a way to cash in on old IP in an easy way, a way where the seasoned gamer will get joy from. Just remember that this $99 solution, with the original games which would have come at a price of almost $1900 when the games were initially released, yet I digress.

You see, the need for gaming is still growing and it is moving away from consoles and moving towards the mobile realm of gaming needs. AR is only one field and it is not the only field. Ubisoft had initially created a small wave with a brotherhood app, one that interacted with the console/PC games and soon thereafter stuffed it up with the AC Unity versions by not proper testing and considering options. Yes, that Ubisoft! Still, they are not done! Consider the options they still have. For one, they have the IP of Just Dance. How long until they get the idea to push songs to the mobile and kids in schools and colleges start holding a little Just dance marathon? Sydney of all places is one place where a dance app could make it big not just in the parks, but on the streets too and summer is coming!

How long until that Just Dance would evolve to work in selfie video mode, so that you can get a rating? This would require storage and some of these speculated options could be just around the corner. Even though Ubisoft dropped the ball initially, they are leading the way of combining gaming with mobile gaming. So there are more options that AR games, even if everyone is running that direction (which is not a bad idea), it will require an open mind to find something that could create the interest that the tsunami of Pokémon GO gamers crave. I will let the developers work that out.

The final part can be seen outside of the economic requirements of technology. It is found in the overly eager acceptance of ‘speculative estimation’. It is not based upon what could be, it is not set on the prediction of what already exists, it is seen in the quote “Shares plunge 10% as revenue falls short of analysts’ estimates amid modest gain of 3 million users“. In this case it is Twitter, you know that great tool. A connectivity tool that link you to existing interests, both professional, personal as recreational. No matter that it is limited to 144 characters, it enables you to get the information you care about. An invention that is profound and its value drops as revenue falls short of what a limited group of people expects it to make. So as we see a solution that is making “Twitter forecast current quarter revenue of $590-$610m“, we get the cold shower because some people claim that it is “well below the average analyst estimate of $678.18m“, so we have half a billion profit and someone says it is not enough. This is the waste, reduction in value, reduction of what those who do not create anything is just not good enough. Yet, this picture that the Guardian initially paints is not accurate either. We see should consider this when we take into account Revenue and Profit, no matter what the profit was, it did beat the expectations of some, making me wonder why analysts cannot get their act together.

Some of those are pretty much the same types who would increase the value of Nintendo by 10 billion, even as Nintendo themselves did not make Pokémon GO. Those same category of people who seem to expertly know that Twitter is supposed to have up to $70M more in revenue, did not realise that “Tokyo Stock Exchange has plummeted 17% in one day, apparently due to investors belatedly discovering that the company doesn’t actually make Pokémon Go, the latest mobile gaming phenomenon“, even as we all knew from day one that Niantec is an American development company in San Francisco, they were not making any mention when Nintendo stock went through the roof. So is this just plain playing the field or just short-sightedness? Even as shares went up 13 cents per share (up 3 cents), they had no good news on Twitter. It seems to me that there is a massive waste coming from analysts predicting values, setting targets that are a little too weird even as Twitter had achieved 20% revenue gain, it still missed targets (according to analysts). The pressure on false targets and fake values is dragging down people and it is dragging down quality of life for those who still made well over half a billion dollars. How is that not a waste?

It seems to me that we need to make large changes, not just on the way we think, but on the way we accept certain values. How is pushing by externals in any way acceptable? Let’s consider the following parts. These analysts we all about predicting the ‘opportunities’ for Greece in the era 2009-2012, even as we saw misrepresentation in more than one way. How did that work out for the Greeks? Brexit was never going to happen, they did not catch on to that part until the day of the election, how again did Wall Street overreact? Now consider the following definitions: ‘Slavery existed before written history, it continues through such practices as debt bondage & serfdom‘. Now consider debt bondage, where we see ‘a person’s pledge of their labour or services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation‘, our debts, our essential need to work, the pledge of labour as analysts seem to chasten Twitter (and many other companies). Serfdom is another issue. It is not the same as it was. As the description might be seen as: ‘Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the lord of the manor who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence‘, many might deny that this still exists, yet in an age with high levels of unemployment we seem to push out own boundaries to do whatever it takes to keep levels of ‘protection‘ (read: not being unemployed) and ‘rights to exploit your position‘ (read: additional work requirements), even as we might disagree with parts of this (which is fair enough) the similarities are close to undeniable. In all this we see an iteration of analysts changing predicted needs, raising expectations, after which their errors are released through waves of managed ‘bad news’. Now, this might be just my speculative error of insight. Yet the evidence is all around you. In that regard, many analysts also get it wrong the other way. When we see Facebook exceeding ‘expectations’ by 59%, can we at that point agree that the analysts making the predictions have no real clue? In this age where we can all miss a trend, the fact that we see a 60% miss is not as much as a miss, as it is a massive inability to read your market, which is how I would see it (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/27/facebook-ad-sales-growth-quarterly-results).

You are now wondering how the latter part connects to the initial part. As I personally see it, we are receiving more and more hindrance from places that make one claim, yet in reality they are mere facilitators towards profitability to ‘satisfy’ the greed of ‘investors’ on the terms of analysts. I have nothing against profit and profitability. No company forsaking its ROI will live for long, yet when we see a company surpassing the 600 million revenue and they are turning a profit, everyone seems to have this surrealistic love affair with ‘Number of Users’. This gets us to what is behind the screens, you see, when we see the blind focus on number of users, is it about the product you have, or the data you collect? Those who are still about mere virtual profit through acquisition of personal data, those who proclaim comprehension, those are the same people who were unable to comprehend the value that products like Minecraft and Pokémon GO. Even if I got one wrong, I did not get both wrong, in that same light I can see that No Mans Sky will raise the bar for gaming and even as some proclaim the word ‘disappointment’ with the initial Alpha release of ‘We Happy Few’, I believe that this game can be a lot of fun and can end up being a decent game with a 90% score. Now, it is important to mention that this view was from a reviewer with a good reputation, it is a good review and as such it should not be ignored, yet in all this, it is still an Alpha version and as such there is plenty of space for improvement. This is possible, because the initial engine does look good.

These elements are all linked, the link is imagination and creativity. Not the imagination of hope in the view of ‘I have the winning ticket‘, no it is in the path of ‘What can we do to make a change‘. It is about the imagination to employ creativity to achieve a result. In the first case it is for Huawei to adjust its incorrect (as I see it) stance of that what they make available and for which nation at the bequest of whatever Telco. This is a mere adjustment of policy, it comes with the smallest requirement of creativity and a decent comprehension of data.

The second case with Tim Cook, which requires both immense creativity and imagination (and a good development team). We can make whatever claim we want, but the reality is, is that too much value is given to reengineering, and way too little towards actual true innovation. Where is the creativity and insight that brought us the iPod, iPhone and iPad? Oh, right, I forgot, he died! Yet, should Tim Cook be any less than his predecessor? So why are they not looking at raising the bar and instigating a different mode of gaming? Perhaps the next hype is not gaming at all. I might not have the answer here, but the bringer of the next challenge that will create a real hype might know, for Apple the need of finding that person makes all the difference.

Pablo Picasso once said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”. I wonder if that is still just the case. So far I have learned that “Any innovator will soon after their first big success become the pawn of the needs of Wall Street”. If you doubt that, then consider Adobe, Apple, Coca Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Nintendo and Twitter and let’s not forget that they all started through true innovation.

 

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Wakey, Wakey

Finally someone in the Guardian tech section seemed to have gotten a clue, the title ‘Video games have a diversity problem that runs deeper than race or gender‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/10/video-games-diversity-problem-runs-deeper-than-race-gender)makes an attempt to scratch a surface that many gamers knew and until recently I was nearly the only one trying to break it to the audience. So happy hurray hurray to “a games industry insider with years of experience in a variety of studios. They wish to remain anonymous“, a singular person hiding in plurality! The quote “I don’t really care if you put a female avatar into Assassins Creed” is interesting, but also extremely wrong. Not for political correctness reasons, in that regard I can be even more politically incorrect than an ecstasy head shagging a crack prostitute in the main chambers of the House of Lords. No, this is all about innovative gaming, a female character could change the field and the quote is part of the problem as I will illustrate soon.

It is the quote “The problem of marginalisation in games development isn’t just about women, or people from different religious or ethnic backgrounds, it’s about entire genres. Marginalisation is happening in the very fabric of the design process, and this is just as damaging to the health of the industry and its ability to hold our attention” that gives a pause, because I have stated part of this for well over 2 years. You see, when Ubisoft started to claim the release of an Assassins Creed every year, which I still see as the beginning of the end for Ubisoft. They show a nice face, their books might seem nice, yet overall they have been lucky with over 50% now based on the digital channel. Yet, there is also cause for concern, first the Division is delayed again until 2016 (Q1), which if it is truly a good game will still rake in loads of capital, yet consider on how AC Unity was close to a flop, in my view the ‘sales numbers’ seem high because Unity came free with nearly every Xbox One shipped. It is one way to get the sales numbers up, but will it give contribution (you know revenue minus costs)? Now AC Syndicate and so far the game is another iteration with another location, with Prince of Persia styled chase scenes, repetitive missions and triggered events. This is part of the problem. Yet, Ubisoft must also be praised, you see, the game ‘For Honor’ is part of the stable that can revive gaming. Gamers wants something new, they want change and For Honor seems to be all that, new, smooth and challenging (as far as I could see).

My biggest issue with Ubisoft remains that success is not a formula, yes a formula does tend to diminish the chance of failure, in equal measure a true success becomes utterly unobtainable too. Add to that unrepaired glitches and a QA department that adheres to marketing regulations and a disaster is close to an assurance. I have stated it in the past on more than one occasion. The article states “Mainstream big-budget video games have been shifting towards a mechanical singularity for years, and it’s really time to ask if that’s something that might be keeping people away too“. It is not a wonder that independent developers are now starting to be the big thing in gaming. If we ignore a release date we get Hello Games, by Sean Murray with ‘No Man’s Sky’. What is interesting here is that even the gospel papers are using ‘hints at release dates’ to pull in the viewers to their site. This must be a first in gaming history too! The old games still have the pull of two generations of gamers, David Braben is proving that with Elite Dangerous. More people are flocking towards the games that offer more than a mere 10 hour trip, a game that offers more than just the chases, the views and a fake open world. Metal Gear Solid 5 is in that case unique, Fallout 4 is unique, and none of those game franchises come on an annual base. The weird part is that Ubisoft sat on a treasure, Black Flag could have been the pirate RPG Sid Meier could not make because technology stopped him and marketing relied on the AC brand to proper something that was close to utterly perfect. They got lucky because Black Flag become the only decent game on launch night of the PS4. I reckon that is pretty much the only reason why it became the success is should not have been destined to be.

Linked to all this is the quote “The thing is, the recent excitement around Capcom’s decision to release a remastered version of series favourite Resident Evil 2 suggests there’s still a large audience for the original recipe“, this is absolutely true. The second one was an amazing piece of work and gamers remember that, which means that the IP can be reapplied to the new consoles. Re-applicable IP is worth a fortune, because any established IP of quality is more than a mere lottery ticket, it is the grail to a 9 figure revenue ready to be a pool of sustenance. This is why I believe that games like Ultima 4,5,6,7, System Shock (1+2) are not dead, they only await the right team to fix it up for the system of today (or tomorrow) ready to feed 50 million hungry gamers. That’s just 2 out of a dozen of IP’s ready to service a community that has a hunger that will not go away. Even as we speak, new games are coming, yet the approach that Tomb Raider took, no matter how nice it looks, it shows perfect graphics at 10% of the gaming time the first game brought. It doesn’t matter whether this was a lack of budget or vision. Gamers are offered less and less, which means that the old IP shows 5 times the gaming the new games are doing.

This is all proven in addition with the quote “Nintendo’s recent Wii U multiplayer “shooter” Splatoon provides a pretty good example of how thinking outside of the box – mechanically as well aesthetically – can turn a “core” genre on its head and make it speak to people who enjoy a slightly different way of playing games“. I think it goes beyond that. This game is worth buying a WiiU for. An original game has always had that effect. PS One with Tekken (Tomb Raider can almost a year later and truly brought sales numbers to a high), PS2 with Ridge racer V, Dreamcast with Soul Calibur, GameCube with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, the list goes on and in that regard PS4 and XB1 both disappointed. Yet overall the next gen consoles are now showing less exceptional games and the future is not super bright. Yes there are really good releases but the number of them are not great, in that regard we see a new wave, consider that many (including me) are currently more interested in the remake of the 3 Mass Effect games for NextGen systems than in Mass Effect Andromeda. That is brought through disappointing NextGen releases and sloppy QA. So far Phantom Pain is one of the few true NextGen releases that are turning public opinion about by being truly exceptional, another title in that regard is Witcher 3.

The appeal for the massive joy that playing these old masters brings cannot be ignored, yet that also brings the problem that the title gave, namely ‘Video games have a diversity problem‘, it does and until true NextGen originality comes knocking (more than 3 titles) this feeling remains. Yet, good games are coming, the E3 showed that, but gamers do not know when and the Ubisoft problem is not going away at present. The quote “A new generation of successful indie developers is currently moving into the mid-sized AA space that so many more experimental companies occupied throughout the 1990s – and they’re hiring” is the most uplifting one, because that brings more likely than not a new wave of originality (we hope) and that will get the gamers on board.

I believe that 2017 is what will make or break the current consoles, yes the PS4 is doing extremely well, yet both systems have a massive market share and as the great titles are brought that field will move in either direction (PS4 vs XB1). That struggle will keep gaming alive and as more gamers have both systems they will win no matter where the game ends up, but the winner will be decided by the best games, Microsoft learned that with the 360 and ignored that with the XB1 as the powers that be decided on some ‘family entertainment system’ a choice that nearly bankrupted the Microsoft console division. In all this one part must not be ignored. It is ‘diversity’ and the owner of that part will bring the winning ticket to a console, for a long time Sean Murray held it with his upcoming game, yet as the flawed choice of keeping people in the dark on release date grows, so will the interest in the game dwindle to anti-climactic proportions, which is a shame. What Sean forgot was that gamers do not mind waiting, as long as they get some insight as for how long. We will wait until Q1 2016, but we want to know about the delay (and for roughly how long) so that we can buy something else to play. Sean forgot about that part, the fallout will come and as fallout 4 is released people will no longer wait and just move towards another game that gives them long term pleasure. I truly hope that we get to play No Man’s Sky because I believe this to be the one new game that will give me long term pleasure, the one side AAA game marketeers just do not grasp. It was never about the price, it is about the fact that 10 hours of gaming is not gaming, it nothing more than a narrated short story we can do without.

One part the article did not illuminate.

 

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Questioning Assurance

A positive approach intended to question confidence. That is at the heart of the matter today. I have been involved in such tracks before, but in a slipping age of technology, where we see greed driven (or bonus driven) changes where some executives hide behind the excuse of giving new young Turks a start in the business, we need to wonder whether they were looking at the world through chartreuse glasses.

I have seen the stupidity (for the lack of a better word) of software firms pushing out software, some to make sure they kept some deadline, whilst the product was nowhere near ready. In a few cases they thought the product was truly ready and the QA department messed up in a royal kind of way. There is of course the third option, where a product was tested, was deemed good and things pop up. These are the three parts of QA the user faces, I have seen them all!

The third one is the clearest one. Development does its work, the QA department did all the test and then some and when released things go a little awry. Weirdly enough, this tends to happen to parts of the program that people seldom use, like that weird, off the wall setting that only 0.000001% of all Microsoft Word users tend to use. Microsoft had no idea, and at some point it gets fixed. This is just a flaw. You name a product, like anything in the range of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Oracle, SPSS, Sybase or SAS Miner, they all have them. These programs are just too large to get 100% tested, and even when that happens, there is the interaction with another program, or with an operating system update that will then throw a spanner in the cogs. You only need to search for issues with Windows 8.2 or IOS 8.2 to see that things just happen. In the zero layer, we see the hardware, in layer one we get the operating software, in layer two we see the application, in layer three we get the peripherals (printer, keyboard, mouse and joystick), one massive sandwich to check! In any of these interactions things can go wrong and a QA department needs to sift through it all. Of course even if all of that did work correctly we see the fourth layer which is the user him/herself, who then decides to dunk that layered sandwich in tea. Boy oh boy can they mess up their own system! No software can truly prepare for that!

Yet in all this QA needs to have high standards, which are proven when we see the third option in all this. Options one and two are an entirely different mess! It is for the outsider often impossible to tell what on earth happened. I had the inside scoop on an event where something was marketed ready, yet the program was nowhere near that. Deadlines for stakeholders had to be met and some figured that a patch afterwards via the BBS systems would do the trick. So basically a flawed product went to the shops. I remember those days, that was long before any level of fast internet, I was a trendsetter in those days by owning a 64Kb modem, yes I was a speed demon in those days! LOL!

You see, legally the consumer is in a messy situation, product liability laws are not that strong, unless health and lives are placed in peril, beyond that, you would think that these consumers are protected when it involved fraud, yet, when we consider that part of fraud is ‘deception intended to result in financial or personal gain’, we see any case go south really fast when the defence becomes, ‘the consumer was offered a refund’ and ‘Your honour, our costs are massive! We are doing everything to aid the consumers, offering them a refund immediately’ and we see any fraud case go south. Consider part of this with the ruling ‘intentional perversion of truth’, the keyword ‘intentional’ can usually be swayed too easily, faltering the case of fraud. But in the core, getting people to sign on in the first weeks, getting that revenue on their boards can mean the survival of such a company, so some accept the costs for what happens to remain on the game board.

The other situation is where the Quality Assurance (QA) department messed up. Here is the kicker, for the outsider to tell which scenario played is impossible, without working at a place, it is an impossible task to tell, one can make estimated guesses, but that is as good as it goes. For example, Ubisoft had a net profit on -66 million in 2013, they fell from grace in 2008 from $32 to $3.80 per share, that’s a not too healthy drop of 90%. The interesting part here is that when we look at their games, we see over those terms Prince of Persia, the language coaches on DS, which was novel (especially Japanese), Assassin’s Creed II, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction and a few more. This is the interesting part, here we see a few excellent games, a Prince of Persia that would bring back to life a forgotten franchise, Assassin’s Creed II, which was so far above the original that it mesmerised a massive player population, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, which upped the ante of Prince of Persia by a lot and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which gave us even more challenges. Yet, these good games could not hinder the fact that Ubisoft had produced so many games over that time, many of them far below great that it impacted their stock. Is their value back to $16 because of their games? So what about Assassins Creed: Unity? Is stock the reason for the lacking game. I personally would state no! I think lacking games drop the stock. Yet, this is an emotional response, because stock is driven by demands and rejections, as great games are made, people want a shae of that rabid bunny, if the games are nowhere near, the stock gets rejected. In this case it is about the games, because Ubisoft is gaming! This is also why the E3 is such a big deal and even though I was not impressed with their E3, ‘For Honor’ clearly shows that Ubisoft has some gems in their arsenal, or should that be ‘had’? For Honor is a new and likely high in demand game, the presentation was extremely well received. I am not much for those types of games, but I also looked with anticipation of a lovely challenge. The issue here remains, it is online, so timing and decent players are required to make this a good experience. Yet beyond that new title, I would see it as a collection of predictable that have become indistinguishable from their other titles. Sequels sharing bits from other sequels with an interchangeable codebase. With too many triggered scripts. We remain with a blurred sense of gaming. I stated it a few years ago, by adding too many prince of Persia moments into Assassins Creed, we end up not playing Assassins Creed, if I wanted that, I would have bought Prince of Persia! So why these games?

Well, there is of course method to my madness (and my madness is purely methodical). You see, Assassins Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction were amazing achievements. I can still play these two today and have loads of fun. They had set a standard, even though Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was a step up, certain flaws were never dealt with, flaws that became part of the engine for 5 iterations of the game. You see that in the second premise, I went from new game to iteration? That part matters too! With the Splinter Cell series we went from Conviction to Blacklist. Again, it was a step forwards, but now we get the issue that QA messed up buy not properly testing the re-playability part of the game, leaving players in a lurch, making the game a mess if I wanted to play a ‘NewGame+’, it is a little thing, with a far reaching consequences. What was great became good, a step forward, hindered by one and a half steps back., which is the faltering part. Ubisoft needed a QA department with teeth, as I see it, they did not have one, or Marketing got involved. There is in all honesty no way to tell how that came to pass.

Yet, this is not about Ubisoft, because Rocksteady Studios outdid it all with Batman: Arkham Knight, making Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment extremely unhappy as I see it. A game that should be heralded as a new legendary release got a 50% rating by Steam and 70% by Gamespot, these are not good numbers, they are ratings that resemble coffin nails. Not a good thing at all. In my view, this is a massive fail by their QA department. However, when we accept the statement from Kotaku.com, we get “The moment I’m inside the batmobile, it’s not surprising to see it dip to 15 frames-per-second“, did QA really not see that? So is it Marketing or is it QA? No matter what answer I give here, it is pure speculation, I have no facts, just personal insight from 30 years of gaming. No matter where it lies, QA should not have signed off on it, not at such drops of quality. Which gets us back to the non-liability of these firms. ‘Res Ipsa Loquitur’, or in slightly more English “the thing speaks for itself“, The plaintiff can create a presumption of negligence by the defendant by proving that the harm would not ordinarily have occurred without negligence. Yet, what harm? The only harm the game has is spending funds which are refundable, the only harm there is for the maker of the game. So, there is no case, what is the case is that until these firms properly invest into QA, we get to go through buying and returning a lot more. Yet, these companies realise and they take a chance that the gamers (which tends to be a loyal lot) in that they hold on to the game and just download the patch. So basically, the first hour gamers become the sponsors for the development of an unfinished game. That is how I personally see it.

In my view, the game suffered, what could have been great will soon be forgotten. Yet, what happens when it is not a videogame? What happens when it is not a game, what happens when it is business software? you see the Donoghue v Stevenson case gives us that a maker can be held responsible for personal injury or damage to property, yet, what happens when neither is the case?

It is a very old UK case in Torts, where a Mrs Donoghue was drinking a bottle of ginger beer in a café in Paisley. A dead snail was in the bottle and because of that she fell ill, and she sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr Stevenson. The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached, because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product’s safety would lead to harm of consumers. This is a 1932 case that is still the key case of torts and personal harm involving negligence. Yet, with video games there is no visible harm, there is only indirect harm, but the victims there have little say in this as the direct victim is offered a refund, the competitor missing out on revenue has no case. So as revenue is neither injury nor damage to property. Now we get the issue that if the buyer buys goods which are defective, he or she can only have a claim under contract of sale against the retailer. If the retailer is insolvent, no further claims will be possible. So, with Arkham Knight, when 2500 copies are returned, a large shop will not go insolvent, you get the idea, when the shop needs to close the doors, you are left out of money.

Here we get the crux, a maker of a game/program has pushed an inferior product to market. It will offer compensation, yet if the shop closes (that is a massively big if), the buyer is out in the cold. Now, the chance of this ever happening is too unrealistically small, but the need to set rules of quality, setting the need of standards is now becoming increasingly important. With games they are the most visible, but consider a corporation now pushing a day one product to get enough revenue to tailor a patch which the customer needs to download. An intentional path to stay afloat, to buy time. Where do you stand, when you got pushed to solution 2 as solution 1 is a month away, only to discover the flaw in the program, which gets freely adjusted in Week 23, so 22 weeks without a solution, this situation also hindering the sale of solution 1, which was fine from day one onwards.

Not only is a much better QA required, the consumer should be receiving much stronger protection against these events. That could just be me.

Now to the real issue connected to this. Assassins Creed: Unity became a really bad joke last year,

It went so far as Ubisoft offering a free game because (source: Express) “UBISOFT have confirmed some Xbox One fans who have previously applied patch 3 for Assassin’s Creed: Unity are now being hit by a 40GB download when trying to use the latest title update”. 40GB is massive, that comes down to 10 DVD Movies, it is well over 10% of the entire hard drive space, this gives us the image that one game has clear impact on the total space of the console. Also be mindful of the term ‘patch 3’, which implies that patch one and two had been applied, so is there clarity on the reasonable assumption that there is an issue with both release and QA here? In my view, delayed in addition or not, the game should never have been released to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong, with the new AAA games, the chance of a patch becomes larger and larger. You see QA can only get us to a certain distance and an issue on a console is a lot less likely than an issue on your PC (with all kinds of hardware combinations), yet the amount of fixes as shown here is way off the wall. Now we see a similar thing happening to the PC edition of Arkham knight. Warner Brothers have decided to call back the game, all sales have stopped at present. However, the issues we see on gottabemobile.com are “Warner Brothers’ forums are filled with complaints about the game including Error CE-34878-0 issues on the PS4, various issues with the Batmobile including this one on Xbox One, issues with cut scenes, Harley Quinn DLC problems on the PS4, Batman season pass problems, problems launching the game, problems with the game’s well-known Detective Mode, missing Flashpoint skin, problems with missions, problems saving the game, and more”.

Now we get the question, was this properly QA-ed? Was a proper quality test made, because the size and nature of the issues, as reported give out a negative testing vibe, which I consider to be extremely negligent! As such we must wonder, should such levels of non-functionality be allowed. Can the law allow the release of a product that causes, as alleged ‘no harm has been caused’, an industry, hoping on the users to wait quietly as a game gets finished on the consumers costs.

Now that the Nextgen consoles are all set out to be downloaded in the night, how long until games start tasking the game of ‘customer expectations’ and release a 90% game? How long until corporations will work on a business model that relies on consumer sponsoring whilst they contract even better profits. We also need to be careful, patches will always be a factor, I have no issue with that, and the list of games that needing massive patches keeps on growing, AC: Unity, GTA-V, Arkham Knight, Destiny, and the list goes on a little longer. I am only mentioning the patches over 3GB (one is well over 6Gb) and in this light Destiny gets a small pass as that game is all about multiplayer, which is a dimension of errors all on its own.  The Elder Scrolls Online wins this year with a 16Gb patch, again, all about online play, but overall the gaming industry seems to adapt the bad traits of Microsoft, which is definitely not a good idea.

For now we seem to accept it, especially as the Nextgen systems are relatively new, but that feeling will change sooner rather than later and at that point someone official needs to step in, which might end up being a lot more official that the game makers bargained for, especially as games outside of the US can be up to 70% more expensive, at that point we are entitled to some proper consumer protection, against these levels of negligence, levels that currently only exist on a limited scope.

 

 

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As we trusted games

There is an interesting article in the Guardian I had an issue with to some degree. There is nothing wrong with the article itself, Keith Stuart made a good piece and it reads well (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/13/games-reviews-are-changing-from-product-assessments-to-tourist-guides), so it came out last week and I only saw it just now.

First paragraph: “A decade ago, a games publisher would send out early copies of its latest release to magazines and websites. It would arrive with some sort of embargo restricting the date of any subsequent review coverage. Then, before the game hit the shelves, there would be range of critical responses to read through. That’s how games reviewing worked for 30 years“, well apart from the embargo, which I was never got. That is pretty much how it went. I started my reviewing in 1988. The age of CBM-64,  Atari ST, CBM Amiga and the IBM PC, which had something graphically ‘state of the art’ called ‘EGA’, the enhanced graphic adapter, which added up to the 15” resolution roughly the same of the average low level smart phone today. Games were in CGA and even though the quality of graphics was low, the quality of gaming was exceptionally high (for what we knew in those days). Roberta Williams (Sierra-on-Line), Peter Molyneux (Bullfrog), Richard Garriott (Origin) and Sid Meijer (Microprose) were the titans of gaming; they are the most profound, but not the only ones from those days.

The second part is the first part I disagree with “Now, it’s so much more complicated. Publishers don’t like releasing code early. It’s not just about protecting sales of mediocre titles (though that happens): they worry about piracy; they worry about major spoilers that could put players off purchasing a game that is highly narrative driven“, I personally believe that it is about mediocre titles. The worry of piracy is less an issue, for the reasons that consoles don’t really allow for piracy any more (compared to the days of Atari ST and Amiga), PC Games need more and more internet authentication (like 99.99% of them), and there is a truth in narrative driven games. When a $50 MGS Zero can be played in less than 30 minutes (according to Gamespot), you know that there is an issue. I go for the mediocre side, because in case of Ubisoft, we saw Watchdogs, AC Unity and now Far Cry 4, Far Cry 4 might have gotten themselves a 85% rating (only 70% on Gamespot), yet this is below par (for such a triple-A title), it means that Ubisoft failed to deliver a main title with a 90% plus game review this year, which is a really bad thing. In addition, Destiny didn’t make the high numbers and on the PlayStation 4, the only titles that truly showed the rating was ‘The last of us’ an amazing game originally released on PS3. From my point of view, it is one of the worst release years in a long while. No matter how new Nextgen consoles are, there is a level of competency lacking more and more.

This links directly to the next part of the article “With triple-A releases now costing $30-50m a pop, no wonder the companies responsible want to control the dissemination of their data and messaging. As in movies, everything is geared toward that opening week – millions of dollars of marketing, the acres of shelf space bought at key retailers – everything has to work just right“, if everything has to work just right, it made me wonder why quality assurance was not managed in better ways. If we see the failing that Assassins Creed Unity shows, gaming is overdue for an overhaul, especially considering the cost of such a triple-A game.

It saddens me to say, as a Sony fan, it did hurt me to see that PS4 gamers have not met the high octane game quality I had expected, I was personally more impressed with several titles exclusive on the Xbox One.

The next part is one I do completely agree with “And then the games themselves have changed. Most new titles have intricate and extensive online multiplayer elements – or they require you to be online just to download updates and/or because publishers want to keep an eye on you“, even though in several regards online play is less and less appealing, or just plainly inferior, the updates are more and more an issue. GTA-V, which is regarded as a good game ended up having a day one 1 Gb+ update need. Which is not the worst, but it shows a level of pressure to market deadlines and not quality. Our broadband internet connections seem to have removed the need of quality testing and fixing before release.

Then we get the part that is indeed an issue “The industry is always telling us that games aren’t products anymore, they are services. You get the initial release, but after that, you get updates, downloadable content, new modes, missions and experiences … So what are you reviewing when a game comes out? It’s potential? It’s raw functionality? You are not reviewing the complete experience anymore” Keith is nailing the nail on the head with a massive hammer, we are now getting a service, not software, but if we see the option that a bought game is nothing more than a service or a potential, how can we be treated fairly as a consumer, when we do not know the full article we are buying? It is a dangerous development when we buy not a game, but a concept. We are not there yet, but the danger is slowly creeping towards the installation drive of the computer we use for gaming, and with that approach is a larger and larger danger that the PC/console will get invaded in a hostile way and how can we be protected when not the system, but the game becomes the backdoor into our private lives, because that is a danger that several parties are not yet looking at (as far as I know).

The rest of the article, you should just read on the Guardian site. I do not completely agree, but Keith gives a good view of his reasoning and it is sound and well worth reading. The question becomes where will we go next? There is more and more indication that people (gamers), are less and less interested in the MMO/multiplayer experience and more into a quality solo play game. There is also a feeling from many that Multiplayer is more and more about micro transactions and less about quality fun. Most will accept micro transactions in free multiplayer games like ‘Blacklight’ and ‘War frame’, we can accept micro transactions to get the weapons that really pack a punch, yet with $90 games, people are not interested in additional charges. Even though in the situation of Black Flag, the additional $4 to get the weapons or technology advantage is nice, and the option clearly states that the upgrades can be gotten in the game whilst playing it. It is left to the person to choose. There is nothing bad about it, but when we see AC: Unity, where micro transactions can get up to $100, questions should be asked, even if those parts can be unlocked through playing. Now, I am not judging the $100 micro transactions, but there is a worry why such a purchase is even offered, how much can be leaped through? The worry is not with Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed: Unity, but after the ‘lessons’ many players were taught through Forza 5 how unsettling micro transactions were. Yet, in all honesty (as I am not an Xbox one user), can they be normally unlocked? If so, the issue is not really there, yet the value of high end cars, when we consider that in Forza 5 you get driver payouts of 35,000. However, some cars go into the millions, you need 285 level updates to be able to afford the 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO and that is only one of many cars, which seems to be an unacceptable way to push people towards micro transactions, it left many players with a bad taste in their mouths. If we look at the issues we see, no matter how we feel about a game, there are sides we’d not agree with and there are sides we are truly against. This varies per player, and as such we need to balance view and feelings, because there is no denying that gaming and games are all about emotions. We go for the games that drive our passion. I myself have been a massive RPG fan, yet when I look at the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) game, I see little interest to continue this path, yet when I look at Mass Effect 3 and Diablo 3, I see and I experienced the best multi-player ever. To illuminate, ME3 has micro transactions, yet the boxes can be gotten by playing multi-player games, each round gets you credits and the higher leveled you played, the more coins you would get, and then you buy a box with random stuff, some good, some amazing and some average. Diablo has no micro transactions; multi-player there is just great and makes the bosses harder, which gives you better loot. There are not the only good games, there are more, and there are many games are nowhere near this good.

In the end it is about good gaming and plenty of games have it, but my issue is as mentioned earlier, overall quality is down, more often not properly tested, whilst as Keith Stuart states it, newer games seem to be about buying the concept, not the finished product. How games get higher in graphical quality, yet not in gaming quality. Is it just about the new systems, or are we faced with a new level of designers, that cannot stand up to the older titans, the actual visionaries. Titles like System Shock (1+2) can, when graphically updated, compete with the RPG games that were released almost 20 years later. If you want to consider First Person Shooters, then in my mind, Metroid Prime 1+2 are top notch achievements that have not been equaled. They were released on a system inferior to the PS3 and Xbox 360, so why are there no games of that calibre? Well, that would not be honest, they have games of that calibre, but they are equals at best, two games, and the first one 12 years old.

This shows the issue I have with the statements some make. ‘A new game each year’, now we must allow for the fact that marketeers will make wild statements at any given place to keep the press at bay and well fed, so we should not overly ‘analyse’ that part. An example can be found when we look at the Tomb raider series, a series that has seen highs and less so. The series also illuminates a flaw in the gaming industry, when we consider the earlier games we see an amount of gaming that is unparalleled, especially when we consider the first two games. No matter the graphic levels, the games were truly large in comparison and some of the levels were amazing in design. The cistern in the first one and the ship in the second one show a level of design the last one cannot even compete with. What took days in the first two games, took a mere 15 hours in the last game. I will agree that the graphics were amazingly unreal in that game, the game looks large but the levels are in the end small. I saw it as opportunities missed on several levels, but not for the quality of graphics. the interesting side is that Tomb Raider shows the gaming industry as it moved from storyline and innovation towards graphics and narration, which is not that big a mystery. Yet in that shift we have lost levels and game time. Which is why the appeal of RPG is vastly growing, the option to play long times, to visit places and go it your own way and speed, not hindered by narration, scripted events and scripting is more and more appealing to the gamers at large.

Even though many are focusing on the next generation of systems, the next level of gaming is not ready. As I see it, 2015 will show a large rise in quality of gaming, but the true gems will not come until 2016. Mass Effect 4 could be such a game, but will we see true innovation, or will we see a sliding line as the Assassins Creed series have shown. This thought also has a drawback. Good gaming is based on vision, a franchise is about evolutions and forward momentum, but visionary is not a given, but for good gaming an essential need. This is where the wheels tend to come off the wagon. God of War 3 brought that, the AC series did not, it brought iteration. Mass Effect might, and so far, the hype of No man’s sky is likely to bring new boundaries in gaming, but the reality is not always a given and as such, we can only wait and keep faith with the developers, which is why their change and their approach to gaming is so essential to us. There are of course issues with other approaches too. Even though the title ‘Whore of the Orient‘ sounds appealingly original, but will it be so? Time will tell! The danger isn’t what will be good and what won’t be. The issue is that we know how rare visionaries in gaming are. The last proven one was Markus Persson (maker of Minecraft) and Microsoft bought his idea for a mere 2 billion (it’s not that much when you say it fast), which is the highest amount paid for a gaming IP EVER! Consider Microsoft paying that much for one title and you know how rare visionaries in this field are, which is exactly why games are not set in one year increments, and why franchises seem to be key for gaming, but there is a new iteration that some forgot. The upcoming release of Elite, a revamp from the original game decades old, shows that good games are rare and will stand the test of time. The initial interest for Elite could be regarded as proof for that.

So is this about trusted games, trusted developers or new endeavours?

I have one thought, but I keep it to myself, it is important that you the reading gamer make up your own mind. I have given my thoughts on that what I experienced and what I value. I ignored some parts as they are not my cup of gaming, which we all have, out there are leagues of GTA lovers; I am not one of them. I do not debate the 90%+ score, gaming is for gamers and there is space for all of us, no matter which part we run to, from Silent Hills to Mario land. there is space for all of us, some will slaughter in the world of Unity, some crush in the lands of Diablo, we have our preferred places, yet the overall issue is not where we play or who we play as, but the quality of what we play is now in question, it has been in question for some time now and it seems to be getting more and more visible as the industry is pushing for revenue on 5 systems. My direct worry is that we end up with a product based on a 60% effort, which is something none of us had signed on for.

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