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To emphasize ‘flawed’

There are all kinds of issues playing. Murdoch who admits that they benefitted from hacked emails (so what else is new), the call for the leadership of the Tories or even more annoying the battering ram of North Korean rants and counter rants and the nauseating gossip train of the Las Vegas shooter. All of that is worth a few dozen words, yet in my mind, in light of yesterday’s view of IP and gaming IP, I think it is clear that a few more words need to be spend on the category, but now on a different field.

IP is at the heart of the matter, but now we will look at another side. For those who have had a view of games and gaming, many will remember the awesome trilogy called Mass Effect. Those who went through the growth of the Xbox 360 brand will have been aware of the Mass effect trilogy, there is no way escaping it. The first one gave us something new and exciting. When we consider the Elder Scrolls and the Fallout games, we were clearly introduced to a competitor in this field and Mass Effect delivered something new, 2007 became an almost magical year. Then something new happened, in 2010 we saw the sequel, a sequel that is still regarded as one of the best RPG games that the Xbox 360 ever received. I will skip the final part in all this. So in this history, you might understand that the expectations were so high (perhaps too high) for Mass Effect Andromeda. The people at Bioware had 5 years to get it right and they failed. The game was flawed on several levels and even as we need to accept that it is not a bad game, the utter quality of Mass Effect 2 was not equalled, not by a long shot. I am not alone, many reviewers saw the game as one that does not equal the initial trilogy and even now, the interest of a remastered original trilogy is desired a lot more than Andromeda is. I finally played the game, I was unwilling to pay the full amount after being shown the most basic of glitches and issues, but when offered as a new (not pre-owned) game for $25, I gave it a go. So as I have finished the game in a week, I concur, the game is flawed on several levels. I am not going into the animation and graphic glitches, too many did this. The game from the beginning shows a flawed approach to several sides. Now, it is shown in the initial level, a level which I usually ignore as it tends to be an intro level as to train the gamer how to play the game. So after the intro movie (which is actually quite brilliant) we get to go to the first place. Here we see the impact of flaws. So after 650 years in travel we get to a planet and whatever they have we can use to reload our own weapons. We see a new opposing player and that is fine, yet the battle strategy, the weapons, the resources show us a flaw from the very core onwards. Ammunition is the clearest part, but it goes beyond that. The Nexus, the entire evolution that we play through, we can go two ways here. Either the game should have been a lot bigger with a lot more to do to grow us into the nexus and locations, or live with the assumption jumps that were made, jumps that were wrong on a few levels (as I personally see it). Now, we need to accept that things like this happen in action games and shooters, because the focus of such a game is different. Yet in RPG you can’t get away with it. The plot does not thicken, but the elements get to be a lot more questionable. The Salarian ark and the Turian ark are just on the surface of that. When we get confronted with those elements in the story we see the flaws grow. Patched stories for the sake of whatever they thought it was going to be. So when we see (from Wiki) “Mass Effect: Andromeda required a team of over 200 developers and, according to Aaryn Flynn, was given a total budget of C$100 million, which included marketing and research costs.” we get the first realisation on the bungled level of a game. My initial personal design (concept) of the sequel to Skyrim took less than an hour to construct in my mind and an additional 4-5 hours to type. So I got to be in a much better place from the get go. Now, do not take my word for it, because you never should. So instead I am going to introduce you to a group of 20 people, not having anywhere near such a budget. The team is Unknown Worlds Entertainment and their take on RPG with Subnautica is one of the best, one of the most refreshing (all that water helps) and amazing trips I have had in my lifetime of gaming. I hope that this game makes it to the PS4 and if it is still available on Xbox live in early release do it because it will be the best $30 you are likely to spend this year. The comparison is important because even in its non-final stage Mass Effect does not get close to what Subnautica has already delivered. OK, granted that if shooting is your need in Mass Effect, Subnautica might not be for you, but overall Subnautica kicks Mass Effects ass on several fronts. Three programmers outshine the dozens that Mass Effect had and that is just embarrassing. If you want to learn more take a look at IGP (the Indie Game Promoter) who (at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheIndieGamePromoter) has all kinds of videos. So take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgyCiWXPZzE&index=76&list=PLVxH6E2fftrfbnmjYAXXiCJJwleb-HZvB for a first view of the game which gives a view almost two years before the final release. You want to skip to 1:45 and skip to the start of the game. The game is very much the truest view of RPG as they can get. So the intro is not as flash as Andromeda is, but that is the only time Mass Effect wins. Now, as stated, this is not a shooter, so be aware of that. The part that should amaze you is that this game is more about survival and the basic survivalist edge is often ignored by many RPG’s.

So as I am giving you a parallel on the skips of Mass Effect and also ‘story lining‘ of Mass Effect, we need to dig a little further. Now in their defence at times we cannot prevent that in the case of Mass Effect, but consider that after a trip for over 600 years, we get to aid certain players (Salarians) ‘just’ in the nick of time. This is an issue on a few levels.

Also even as we accept that many bought it soon and the game had sales close to three quarter of a billion, which is a financial success, it comes at the realisation that the game scores 72% which at the budget given is a massive flaw, yet here I will admit that the shooting side of the game is as some stated it: “The core shooting mechanics feel stronger here than anywhere else in the series“, which was made by Scott Butterworth of Gamespot and he is right, this part they did do very well and it is likely the one reason why the game remained the financial success it has turned out to be.

Yet the QA was far below par, the delivery was wrong and in the end I personally profited by getting a decent game for $25, a mere 6 months after release. So consider how this game could have gotten closer to the $1 billion mark by getting things right? An additional twice the investment by thinking things through and properly testing it from the start, and not even requiring to think too intelligent; the basic story line debated on the flaws that they needed to avoid from after the intro level onwards. Consider that the ‘Salarian Ark’ event became a basic shooting mission, whilst it optionally represented dozens of hours of additional gameplay on several levels. So apart from the timing as a ‘just in the nick of times‘ mission that is underused and oversold, we see that the other Arks become mere wasted moments in the game. In a place that has so many shortages, leaving behind an ark that has thousands of tonnes of resources seems weird, even if it does not have any lives left. It is not as the Nexus had an abundance of resources, did it? So there we see more, just after a setting that had a revolt, shortages and deviant issues, we see every time the Tempest comes and go’s (too often because of other flaws) we see that the docking level shows an environment that equals the embassy level of the citadel itself, all missed options and opportunities. There we see the option of an additional 10% score if it was done and properly tested. So now we get from 72% to 82%. Then there is the premise that this is a game with only 5 worlds to fix?

There could have been a few more, and more important, changing the way the vaults were accessed on at least one world might have made the game a little less obvious (to some extent). So here we have another 5% in the making, making the game approaching a 90% game, which is a given need when you waste 5 years and a hundred million. Subnautica, when you like that part of RPG gaming is giving you at 25% of the full price of the Mass Effect game. A game that was already awesome when I decided to get it and whilst playing the early release, the game added at least 4 more expansions to the main game and they are now part of the main game. In one part Mass Effect wins. The graphics, there is no denying that the graphics of Mass Effect were really good, but we might see that an additional 80 staff members (and 90 million more) should guarantee that part. All this and as we know that RPG’s are set over time, so we can accept that growing the impact over time as we play might have given a few more options and a few more changes to the way that the game was played, giving the gamer a better game (and optionally a much larger game).

So as I have enlightened you on some of the flawed parts, there is now the link to the previous article to set. The longevity of a game as well as the IP is the sellable part of any developed game and in that part Subnautica is all about original IP and they got the IP to grow value, loads of value. Even as we see that Mass Effect is to some extent more of the same, they did grow their IP range, but only to a fraction of Subnautica. This now gets us to the setting that is the link. In the digital age the value of the service purchased is the money we invest in the product we thought we bought. You see, as gaming progresses, we see a dependency and as such we no longer buy the property, but we lease it in some ways and rent it in other ways. The gaming industry has no choice but to set the multiplayer sides into a renting foundation (buying with an open point or termination), whilst the single playing part (the missions) will be leased for the term of the console. Now consider the satisfaction you get from leasing a game that is rated at 72%. Are you willing to go on paying the amounts we see? At this point I have now shown you the essential need to properly test a game before release. You see, it is shown in the quote that several sources gave. With: “Following Mass Effect: Andromeda’s poor critical reception and lacklustre sales, BioWare put the Mass Effect series “on ice”“. So even as we saw some sources state a sales numbers surpassing $500 million whilst there was $100 million invested, so either the numbers given were wrong, or we see the impact of greed as others walk away from a $400 million milk cow. In that part, what were the true costs and why would any company walk away from a possible $100-$250 million in season pass revenue. This part and the issues had shown from several sources that the detrimental financial health of IP and IP value is shown to be at least to a larger part to be due to the flawed quality of proper testing. Ubisoft has been though it (Assassins Creed Unity) and as we see Bioware and Electronic Arts walking away from half a billion dollars, we need to consider beyond games and the value of a gamer, we need to see that the impact of IP is not set in stone and the quality of the product (or service) is at the foundation of what we think we purchase and what we expect to receive. In this there is the clear evidence of the flawed product that is Mass Effect Andromeda and the weird part is that I saw the flaw in the first hour of the game. This now sets the premise of the wrong players (read: business parties) that were in charge within Bioware and Electronic Arts. It is my personal believe that their marketing division has either too large a vote and they looked at the wrong sides of the game. This in a setting of a 100 million invested, how weird is that?

So now we get the treasure that the Cullens, Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys give us on their web site. With “Whether buying or selling a business one of the most overlooked aspects of the transaction is the intellectual property of the business. Proper identification, scrutiny and valuation of intellectual property will have benefits for both the purchaser and vendor“. It is the issue that is really the bread and butter of growing game developers. In this the word business can mean either that or it can be set to ‘product’ or ‘service’ and the realisation of this quote which is not new, shows just how flawed (or sloppy) Mass Effect Andromeda turned out to be. Now, we look at the bad sides here, but the game has loads of good sides too. Yet it missed the boat by at least 20% (72%, instead of 92%) and I lighted up 15% in the easiest of ways. The last part we see when we dig into the world of the game testers. Now I can relate here, because I reviewed and tested games for the better part of a decade. My knowledge and skills showed me the parts I illuminated and I truly believe that there are better testers than me, so that implies that none of them work for either Electronic Arts or Bioware which is statistically near impossible, so that means that the large investment was made on a flawed infrastructure, or at least that is as I personally see it. You see, the old joke (from when I was young) has been that it takes 90% of the time to fix the last 10% of a project. At some point highly educated graduates were hired in places where the foundation of art is the core of the business and they introduced the setting of ‘linearity’ of art based projects. So that a project is done at 10% a month and the last two months of the year were for testing, which is not how it works and not how it will ever work. Now, I simplified the idea for illustration, so it is not an exact given, but the clarity of flaws that Mass Effect Andromeda shows on day one of release gives the validity of my view and shows just how breached the concept of design linearity is (perhaps you remember the Ubisoft statement of ‘every year a new Assassins Creed game’). As such, I believe that the game lost out on massive revenues.

Now consider the two headlines:

Bringing Mass Effect to a new galaxy isn’t quite the shot in the arm the series needed” or “Blown away in another universe 640 years later“. The first is IGN and the second one is one I came up with, if they had done a proper job. So would you buy the game if you read ‘isn’t quite the shot‘? Gamespot had “After the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was discouraged“, whilst Forbes gave us “I don’t think anyone will claim it outclasses the original trilogy, outside of maybe the very first game“, so a new game merely on par with a game released a decade ago. This is the setting of a flawed product and the fact that this was not seen in the beta stage of the game is questionable. So in an age of digital rights that are moving more and more from the permanent availability into a stage of temporary usage, where we no longer get to own the product, yet merely lease (read: rent) a product also requires others to realise that the game of gaming is shifting, and these players can only continue if they ‘up the quality’ of the product or service they make available. This shows in one way just how amazing a game like Skyrim is proving to be, the fact that the game still embraces gamers 6 years later whilst Electronic Arts loses the bulk of value of a product within 26 weeks. That is the evidence that shows that flaws are becoming a much larger issue for all in these fields and it shows that the players like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and others as well, need to take a harsh look at what they offer and not merely listen to their own marketeers as the value of what they bring forth is now shifting whilst a product is in development, which is the third nail in the coffin for Electronic Arts as it took 5 years to get to a very much less than perfect place they ended up. I believe that the flawed setting can be improved upon, yet the people at Bioware better realise that the stakes are raised and they are raised by a lot, in that we need to ask whether they can match the needs of a shifted market.

I cannot answer for them, and like Nintendo Electronic Arts and Bioware are not out of the game. You see, even as Nintendo bungled the WiiU, they hit back with the Nintendo Switch, which is becoming a game changer in gaming. I believe that both Electronic Arts and Bioware can do the same, the question is whether they will, time (read: the next release) will tell. Should that fail, they could always move forward by charging their fans an additional $10 for a steel box of a game. Oh wait, they are already doing that with FIFA18, ahhh how the world turns!

 

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Deadly diversification

A term that is very much aligned with finances, perhaps to some degree this is about that, but it is even more about the diversification of business. The path we see did not start today or yesterday, yet as the news releases pile up, we need to consider the impact some are creating, mostly by not making any level of an impression. The final straw became clear and visible as Eurogamer (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-12-20-crytek-breaks-silence-lets-go-of-multiple-studios) gave us the news on Crytek. The quote “Crytek had struggled to pay staff since May 2016, but a source within Crytek’s main office in Frankfurt, Germany, told Eurogamer last week that October salaries had arrived, with November salaries set to be paid this week” is at the heart of the matter and as we realise that it is end December, we feel for those people who have been without pay for the longest of times. Now I am not going to kick a person who is down, that just ain’t cricket. Yet what does matter is that if we were to believe Ubisoft, that this house, the makers of Far Cry, Ryse and Crysis is in a mess that is deeper than a mere slump.

So Ubisoft? Were they not evangelising how great a game Far Cry was and how well Far Cry had been doing? If that is so, how come that Crytek is in such a mess? From what was initially a game I did not like (far Cry 1 on xbox360 is the only game I literally threw out of the window, the disc that is) was a game that I ignored, until I got the free edition on the PS3 as part of my PlayStation Plus, so as one does not look a gift horse (you know what I mean), I had a go at it and I was amazed on how a failure had become such a good game. I even bought the 360 edition later. Yet I kept my distance with Far Cry 4 as things were a little weird and the least said about Far Cry Primal the better, although it was not a bad game (at $20 I was willing to chance the burn of a lost $20 bill).

Yet here I myself was making the initial error. You see Crytek was the initial developer of Far Cry, the rest came from Ubisoft Montreal. Far Cry 3 was awesome and what followed was basically more of the same with a few nagging issues, not bad games mind you, but continuation of the same is what was the matter with the Far Cry series, a lesson Ubisoft has been unwilling to learn. I loved Far Cry 3 because of the stealth part, there is a lack of stealth games and Far Cry 3 filled that need. Yet repetition will never be a good taskmaster so as we saw more focus on large explosions and big guns, I personally saw a decline in the Far Cry series. Everyone said I was wrong and the fact that the ratings have been in decline is to some extent evidence that I was not.

Now we know that Ubisoft sees itself as the multibillion dollar revenue titan, yet we can agree that it only remains to be a titan for as long as the games are really good and it has been lacking in that department. If Ubisoft is still breathing it is mainly due to the impressive improvement that Watch Dogs 2 is turning out to be (by Ubisoft Montreal) and the anticipated success that For Honor is showing to become (also Ubisoft Montreal). So is that all?

Nope, the other side of their gaming franchises are taking another hit when we consider the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/19/assassins-creed-film-review-michael-fassbender-videogame-marion-cotillard), when we see ‘achieves transcendental boredom‘ gets a rating of one star and scores a lot lower than last year’s remake of Point Break, we know that the bottom of the barrel had been reached. Ubisoft might not mind losing $120 million as they are approaching 3 billion in value, yet that value becomes debatable and questions whether the value of Ubisoft has been inflated when we look at the non-successes from the last few years. As for the movie? Well I personally think that other questions come to mind when IMDB gives it 8.2 out of 10, yet Rotten Tomatoes sees it as 26% fresh, making it basically 74% rotten. Where the tomato dudes and dudettes state “the CGI-fuelled end result still is still a joylessly over-plotted slog“, with a stellar cast that includes Michael Fassbender (12 years an entrepreneur), Jeremy Irons (from Brideshead Revisited to Justice League a hit) and not to forget the utterly lovely fashionista  Marion Cotillard from Orleans (which is cool as this is one of the few French cities I actually visited in the past), who some saw first in Taxi (by Luc Besson) and most remember for being the person who drive the dagger home into Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, with dozens of additional awesome gigs in between. So the cast was already top notch. So as I see the ratings and critics we can set the issue with the director and script that both might be regarded as below basement levels. In all this Ubisoft needs to be pointed at as the cause for the mere reason that you do not sit idly by as what should have been regarded as the most important franchise of Ubisoft to take a hit like that. A mistake that is not the first one (remember Unity). In this, the review Forbes is giving, as diplomatic as they could be, gives way that several high placed Ubisoft meetings are due and these board members better get a really good grasp of the risks they are now running. Although, I thought they would not last this long, the fact that they are still around can only be attributed to the hit ‘the Division’ became (it really is), the improvements Watch Dogs 2 proved to contain and the informing approach that Jason VandenBerghe has done through quality gameplay videos on YouTube showing the people that For Honor is indeed the awesome journey gamers hoped it to be. We could speculate that the life of Ubisoft would be depending to promote several people from Ubisoft Montreal to get promoted to the board of directors whilst we trim the fat with a sharp blade from the current collection of board members, whether Yves Guillemot would like to call it trimming fat or slicing off surplus weight is up to him, but he needs to do something to get Ubisoft to stand out in a few ways, standing out in one way will no longer be enough, the movie is making sure of that. Regarding For Honor, we have a small addition (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1LF52R8U_0) where the gamer himself is really not that good, yet we still get to see some awesome gameplay, making us all wonder, what damage can we, as overall better gamers do? The fact that I had this question in mind in a multiplayer setting is something I rarely have, mainly because I am not that much of a multiplayer person.

Yet let’s get back to bleeding and sickly Ubisoft. We will see how they will do and how desperate the fans will be to see the movie, yet the reviews are not great and as the AC fans have Rogue One, Moana and Office Christmas Party to see the options for the AC movie are not that great, yet we should consider that any large issues we will possibly see in the new releases could be countered by Ubisoft giving us a free download of the movie, which they can then book as sales and as negative sales (loss) keeping their tax deductibility high as well as their ‘revenue’.

We could attribute that approach to optional good CFO management, yet in that regard, the games that are lacking the high reviews they could have had, as seen by Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Far Cry Primal and the Crew. We need to wonder what else gamers are missing out on and the issue with the movie should not be linked, yet the gamers are unlikely to see it that way. With two non-hits, the movie now expected to be a flop and the AC franchise a year away from the next one, you should see this as an alarm issue for Ubisoft; in addition it is not impossible that Ubisoft could decide down the track (next quarter) to push forward the time line of the next AC game, with additional risks that the next one is another version of Unity.

In all this I am intentionally ignoring Steep. Even though the ratings are not great, I think it is a great achievement in its unique kind. Extreme snow sports are very niche, just like some sport games. The open world approach is truly cool and the fact that there is a tongue in cheek developer amongst that team and added the achievement ‘Shaked by the bell‘ is just awesome, just remember to go head firsts! I will accept that niche games like this score lower because of the niche character, but the fact that it shows something not seen before needs to be heralded, especially as I have been roasting Yves his chestnuts for not doing so in a few franchises.

Crytek might not be linked to Ubisoft, the issues they face are hopefully a loud wakeup call towards Ubisoft. Diversification in gaming is a good thing, as far as I can see, Jason VandenBerghe is excellent evidence of that, yet the wrong direction and distance could hamper growth and divert attention in another direction. Any firm that has €2.98 billion in revenue, whilst ending up with a remaining €561 million in net income should realise that the cost of 10,000 employees is quite the anchor. It is hard to state whether a remaining 18% of the revenue is a good result. I might have a good grasp on games and gaming, yet the CFO side of such a firm is a close an equal to reading tea leaves. Consider that next year, the AC movie results will be in. Not sure on the producers and where the funding came from, because Ubisoft Motion Pictures is only one of the three producers, so the damage would be limited, but with the additional releases in 2017, Ubisoft needs to make very sure that they have at least 2 really good hits in 2017. For Honor seems to be a definite one, yet the other two at present announced is the South Park game and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Ghost Recon has a good track record, sales will have to show how good a game it is, of course until the final version is ready, we just cannot tell. Of course in addition there will be the games that remain unknown for now, games that will see the first light of day on June 13-15 2017 at the E3, unable to tell whether it will include additional 2017 releases, yet from my point of view, if the list does not change, there will be slimming required for Ubisoft. It would be great to see Ubisoft escape the abyss, especially as the push at present might not be entirely their fault, yet they were partly producers, giving them a slice of that expected flop too.

In the end, these are only a few parts, as stated, Ubisoft has had its shares of successes and the Division is one, with a new DLC available, those who did not take the road of the season pass will have to shell out $15 to get this DLC, giving Ubisoft another boost in revenue. In the end, do these actions matter to anyone but Ubisoft? I am going with yes! You see, we might be positive or slightly negative for the first Assassins Creed, yet there is no doubt that 100% of the fans have been 100% positive regarding Assassins Creed 2 and Brotherhood. This is the reality and we gamers, we want more of that amazement offered in November 2009 and 2010. I reckon it is that part that has driven fans (me included) to such anger as the franchise started to slide and the movie reviews so far aren’t helping either.

Yet, there is a clarity in the success that Watch Dogs 2 brought, which is a forward momentum, baby steps, baby steps.

From my point of view, Ubisoft needs to diversify as stated, yet I reckon it should be in another direction of gaming. I think that the salvation (read: stronger growth) of Ubisoft lies in new IP, in light of Watch Dogs 2 we know that the right team can salvage broken IP, we also know that the right person can create awesome IP (read: Jason VandenBerghe), so if Ubisoft can pull this off twice more, it could return back to the top it once clearly held, even more interesting for the big dude at the top of that hill (read: listens to the name Yves), possibly with a margin decently better than 18%. In that regard 2017 will be an interesting year.

 

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The second zero hour

On 11/11/11 Bethesda released a game, we know Bethesda is pretty good at what they do, so they knew they had something that the RPG niche market would enjoy. Yet, I wonder if they were even close to realising that they were clueless on just how well they had done their job? You see, I am a passionate RPG fan, so I was on board from day one. Yet, Skyrim was different in many ways. To illustrate that, consider that it’s your 18th birthday and your parents give you a new kind of Maserati, a real one, but this one has one extra option, this car allows you to drive without any speed limits, so not speeding tickets ever. How would you react?

This is what Skyrim achieved. In the first week a little over 7 million copies were sold, which is already a record in RPG land, what no one thought possible happened, Bethesda pushed RPG clear into the mainstream gaming area, they somehow got the magical formula right. So up to now there are well over 23 million copies sold making it one of the few billion dollar plus game revenue.

Now, 5 years later we get another zero hour, the same game is being released on PS4 and XB1, the people are about to go nuts again. Leaving us with the realistic prospect that this game could equal and possibly surpass Grand Theft Auto 5 sales. That would still be a very tall order as they sold 65 million copies, but it is possible and the rage and hype that is out there at present is definitely a decent indication that it could happen.

As I said: ‘they were clueless on how well they had done their job‘, which is perhaps one of the better compliments on the doorstep of Bethesda. Even with Fallout 4 surpassing all records, this one will push their records even further. I have stated again and again, if you aren’t willing to get to the edge you will never make a truly exceptional game. Bethesda went to the edge and stared into the void of the dread father Sithis. They are coming out on top!

So why is this game so amazing?

I believe that open world games are the long term trend of games and the true desire of gamers. In this game you start as being a convict on the way to execution (a wink to the previous Elder Scroll game). After a small introduction that helps you keep your character mobile and alert, you are about to get your head chopped off and that is where the world goes pear shaped on your executioners. From that moment on you have the ‘escape’ part teaching you the elemental things of the game, which takes about 20 minutes, fraught with action and after that, it will be whatever you want to do. Follow the path offered to you or seek your own destiny. That is how most RPG players like their game and this appeal has gone mainstream (meaning the non RPG population at large). A game that offers you value for money. For the same reason that I was ‘offended’ that a $90 game named Tombraider brought with 10 hours of game-play, and for the repetitiveness that some other games bring. The open sided part of Skyrim offers a long term fun that not many games offer. For that $90 on Skyrim I have had well over 1000 hours of gaming fun. That is value for money to say the least and this version will be a one price with complete game and all the DLC additions that the game had offered for Skyrim. So for the new players this will keep you busy until the New Year. For the returning players it is a different story. You see, in my case, it is the same thing, but now with upgraded graphics. In addition, the consoles will now get the option to play mods, which was until now only an option for PC players. It will be a brand new day for RPG players, and that brand new day starts at midnight as the remastered HD edition of Skyrim hits the shelves for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

In that regard, there is one additional bonus for those who went all out earlier this quarter and bought the Xbox One S, will, if they have the right TV enjoy this game in 4K, which is as far as I can tell a first (please correct me if I was wrong), which would be a nice additional feather in the Bethesda cap. Giving an additional edge to the Xbox One market. Even as some ‘gaming experts’ have stated that there is no market for it (too expensive, no games and so on), the fact that the Xbox One S at present has two clear advantages over the PS4 Pro, the setting that Skyrim now offers can (and might) drive Xbox One S sales as it is introducing Skyrim to an even wider audience. That last part is a given as pre orders are of the charts in some places. Yet all this is now pushing for another side of visibility that also needs to be said.

That other side is seen as we look at Forbes, we see that merely 15 hours ago (at http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2016/10/25/bethesdas-decision-to-withhold-review-copies-is-bad-for-gamers-and-sets-a-dangerous-precedent/) the following was released ‘Bethesda’s Decision To Withhold Review Copies Is Bad For Gamers And Sets A Dangerous Precedent‘, and in that regard, I would initially be completely on his side, apart from the fact that Ubisoft has been doing that since Assassins Creed Unity. Yet when I look at www.youtube.com/watch?v=onFm-7_wTyA as well as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mpQF-01raY we see reviews of that new versions a week ago. Of course we agree that ‘new’ is a relative term for a game originally released on the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 11 (+2000). In addition, the second video also shows that the game has a few additional effects to the Skyrim experience. Yet the issues shown, does not diminish the words we see in Forbes. The article brings good points, yet with Cam Robinson and minion having reviewed this game a week ago, my issue is not with the article, but I am stuck with the question why that reviewer had no ‘advanced copy’. It could be for any reason, but is that a real problem? This game is a new format release, the game itself still has the same missions, quests and places to visit, what is new are the mods. So the review would not have needed that much time in the first place.

skyrim-646x372So, will you get the game on PS4 or XB1?

If you loved the game the first time around, the answer is very likely to be yes, if you are new to this game than it should be yes for several reasons and one additional reason if you are the lucky owner of the Xbox One S. Also, ‘new’ gamers should remember that this game has been played and loved for almost 5 years, which is quite the achievement for any single player game.

The one thing that is a definite, is that it will give rise to one question on a global level: ‘When will Bethesda release the 6th game in the Elder Scrolls series?’

As for me, I will enjoy playing this game again and I will try not to take an arrow to the knee this time around.

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When game makers don’t get it

This is another day where we get to bash the game maker. This is not done out of malice or spite, this is done because certain ‘players’ in this industry need to wake up and consider hard and clear that they are running out of rope, out of options and out of any future. For the same reason why the malicious bashers of No Man’s Sky don’t get why it is a good game, the same reasoning why many of the triple-A game makers are now no longer producing 90%+ games.

So, this all started this morning when I saw ‘Mafia III review: how can a super stylish 1960s shooter be this boring?‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/10/mafia-3-review-1960s-shooter-gameplay). First of all, I haven’t played it. Yet, to offset this, I looked at several sources. The issue is seen in the quote: “To say Mafia III is a disappointment is an understatement. It has all of the surface components to form a great game: the writing and acting are superb, its direction and style are great, but its mechanical underpinnings are archaic and desperately unimaginative. It’s ironic that Mafia III’s predecessor had a similarly stylish open world, but wasted it by giving players nothing to do besides its main story missions. Mafia III has the opposite problem – tons that you have to do, you just don’t want to do any of it“, which gives us the main goods in all this. I played the first game on PC, a game that had more than a few issues, but overall it was original and showed a game style that was novel in those days. So when I see this, I see another issue, which I will address later. The second review is one you cannot miss if it is your intent to buy the game. It is the video review on IGN (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7mkCsJm8Lk). This is actually an excellent view on the game. It also supports the reasoning I had (I will get to that, I promise). There are a few issues that also popped up, which are not negative sides, but they are linked to this all.

IGN mentions it in the video. There are references and similarities to the generic play of Assassins Creed and for what I saw, partially to Watchdogs 1 too. In these semi-open world games, there is a need to explore the world and find things, but what is the issue when you have to get items again and again, for no other reason than to find them? I reckon there is a plus to find album covers and playboy covers, if they are the actual covers and issue covers. A little historic on one side, a little sultry on the other. Yet, if it leads to nothing, why run through the city of London, finding all the ales? In Mafia 3 and as I am from the era, finding a Jimmy Hendrix album cover would be cool and could bring a tear to my eye, remembering this great guitar player, yet, what is the point? Same for AC and finding all the chests filed with cash all over the city where everyone is in states of poverty? Apart from the ridiculousness of it all, it stopped fulfilling a purpose long ago. The same in Watchdogs. Getting all those jackets without some bonus is just emptiness of cash spent.

This is where we see the emerging issues of these games nowadays. There is no longer proper play testing and the fact that the game is only given to reviewers on release day is only in support that the game makers know this. In my view when properly addressed it could make a 75% Mafia game a 92% mafia game, with the clear option to double revenue, because gamers will jump at a 90%+ game and there have been a lack of it.

In opposition we see Ubisoft, not their generic games. No! When we see the effort that For Honor has been showing with closed alpha’s additional rounds and now the closed alpha game on PS4 with releases on YouTube. This is exactly why I foresaw that For Honor would be a high scoring game, I want it and I am not even a true fan of this game type, but what is shown is what I see, gaming on a new level, a different level. That is what makes a top game. Even as Ubisoft has been dropping the ball in several games, they have shown a multitude of evidence that they got this right! Proper play testing is all the difference and taking time to get that right is all the reason why Mafia 3 is as I can see it the non-success at present it could end up being.

 

When you lack the open world that Bethesda has, play testing is the only way to get the semi-open world and mission based games correctly. This is why the original game released on 11/11/11 was the long term success and now it is about to be rereleased on HD for consoles. After 5 years it still have the appeal it originally had. I am of course speaking of Skyrim, and now that people have had a taste of Fallout 4, the Skyrim fan base could grow even further, Bethesda achieved that chance and in likelihood, it will be one of these games that will be found gift wrapped at thousands of thanksgiving parties, especially when some November releases decide not to deliver. Even though my version of Elder Scrolls 6 will not make it to the systems, Bethesda is already looking at new projects and as we are unlikely to see them before 2018, whatever makes it will be a new game changer, just as Fallout 4 was the game changer for players on all systems.

The others (Ubisoft, 2K, Square Enix) have issues to some extent, in some cases the issues are not big of massive, but they are still the reason that a game makes 80% instead of 91% and in this business 11% is not a margin, it is the reason that people wait for the game to drop 50% or more in price. In my view Far Cry4, Assassins Creed Syndicate, Assassins Creed Unity, Far Cry Primal, and this list goes on are all games that suffered such blows. I think for me Infamous Second Son remains one of the best examples. The game that started great became bland, repetitive and too linear. It is hard to point the finger at a single reason yet the elements tend to be their marketing department, the timeline pressed upon them and the vision of the people behind the game. That last elements is shown when we think back to Jason VandenBerghe when he gave a glimpse at E3 2015. This is not whether he should or should not have done it, he gave a glimpse and at E3 2016 he showed stuff, I think what he showed wetted the apatite and in 2016 we became thirsty for the real deal, which is now a mere 15 weeks away. More important 15 weeks with increased game play testing and movies that showed more and more final quality in a near flawless gaming interface. He showed vision, he did not just show a game, which set him apart from a lot of game producers. He also looks like he is the adviser for the Baltimore Stegmer Brothers on how to make a Skull Cleaver (just kidding, the Stegmer Brothers are experts in their own right with any kind of forged weapon). Here we see the issue, as explained in ‘When they get it right‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2016/07/30/when-they-get-it-right/), so when you consider these elements and take into consideration the multiplayer movie (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r59DAyolTyw), we see how a multiplayer game is not that ‘simple’, not because of game play, but because of the required tactics. So multiplayer will require people to team up, because for single players in a team match will have no chance to survive an actual team. Giving this game more than just a little edge. As I personally see it a quality play test crew is what made the difference (beyond vision and good coders). Yet the latter two were not the most important players. In my view, those two elements were present with Infamous Second son, well at least the good coders. Proper play testing and evaluating the game and post adjustments could have resulted in at least 11% more. When such a margin impacts the revenue to the degree we have seen in several games, the need for proper overhauling a game studio becomes apparent and the fact that this is either not happening or not having the desired effect, is now cause for concern (it should be for the game developer). You see, that part is shown in Mafia 3 (especially in the IGN video), because apart from all the nice little Easter eggs and other little titbits, the fact that we see “tons that you have to do, you just don’t want to do any of it“, is likely to limit sales and it will push people towards other games. In light of all the clips and advertisement we have seen in the big cities, that seems to be a massive impact on a game that would have had an 8 figure development cost. The weird issue in addition is that these game makers want a success, they want to be known for the 90%+ game they made, so partially, the road not taken is not making sense at all.

So we see that there are more games coming this year, the question becomes how good will they be? I am holding my breath for a few of them, including one that even as extreme snow sports was never my thing, this game has piqued my interest. Ubisoft is releasing the game Steep in December, so far it is the most ambitious and the most appealing snow based game I have ever seen in my life. The in game quote “Challenge cancelled, no death allowed in this challenge” is just hilarious (and you better realise that elbowing with a rock tends to be a terminal choice). One video titled ‘How an Open World Changes Action Sports‘ is exactly the issue. As written before, I have never been this excited over this type of game before, even when I was excited on playing SSX, when it got released with the PS2, it never came close to what I thought a snow game should be about. This game is it, yet, when we see the movies, which do look great, how much play testing did the game go through? We see the Ubisoft version of how smooth things play, and that might be so, but individual or independent are lacking. How many play testers went to the top of one mountain, just skiing to the very bottom? Ignoring all the tracks and challenges, just an open world ski trip, seeing if the game rears its ugly heads with a glitch?

The few I saw were all the same track and that is not what is supposed to make the game great. So, when we see the actual open area, what will it be then? (Not attacking, just actually asking). Like me, many others acted really positively on the initial parts we saw. The map implies that there is a massive amount of area’s to see and to explore. The game shows 4 ‘play modes’, which is not a given. From my point of view, there is a lot more that they could add, especially when the dynamics are already in play. In the lower area’s cross country skiing (not exciting, but a completionist option) and the way that reaching points could open up markers, I would have considered sleigh and bobsled tracks. Again, it is a completionist idea and adding this might give the game a feeling of completeness, especially when you are not multi-playing (which would be the driving force in a game like this). My idea’s will not make it a better game, it might make the game a lot worse, the question is what was considered, what was done and how was the game play tested? What is the impression a professional boarder has when looking and playing this game? Parts that I have not seen published or I missed it). The reason to ask these questions is because until December there is still time, for Mafia 3 it is too late to make a good first impression, for Steep there is time to get the upgrades done if required, depending on the time needed this game might miss thanksgiving and would need to globally rely on Christmas, which is not a bad thing. What is important is that the not extreme snow sport lovers are considering this game, implying that Steep could make a massive splash (revenue wise too). As to the verdicts of certain games, we will need to see the release of quality reviews, what is a given is that no early reviews is no longer a tool to get a better revenue, too many gamers have felt the impact of that flaw. Ubisoft lost a lot of cloud and 2K is getting hit as well soon enough, the question is what these players will do to up the game and get the gamers back to their fold. Time will tell, however in this year, there are a few too many games being released, so those hoping to see this level of revenue, would face the risk of losing their revenue being used to pay for games like Dishonored 2, games that have already proven themselves and are already showing to be equal or better. Some will even be holding on to their cash for the coming quarter, because Q1 2017 shows at least 3 games that are setting new levels of game play, and buying a wannabe for $49 is a lot better than the same anticipated title for $99. So make sure you get to the actual quality review goods BEFORE you buy the game you thought was going to be great.

 

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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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You decide!

I have spoken out against the (bad) choices that Ubisoft has made in the past. On November 16th 2014 in the blog ‘How the mighty can fall‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2014/11/16/how-the-mighty-can-fall/), I wrote “Gamers are about done with Ubisoft, ratings that seem decent, but game expectations had not been met. Watchdogs fell short of expectations (rated 8 out of 10); Bug fest (we mean Assassins Creed Unity) launched on all major platforms. (7 out of 10); The last one became Far Cry 4 with 7 out of 10”, issues from gamers and other not so small considerations, Ubisoft failed to deliver a legend status for all of their AAA game. 2014/2015 is to be considered a disaster. Now at E3, we see that some parts are getting delivered, the Division is now a 2016 release (which is not that much delayed when you consider this to have been a 2015 release), yet, again, Ubisoft does present their games really well, which gives them time, yet, relying in a place like the E3 on DLC’s for a 65% game is not a good thing either. I refuse to be negative on a game like ‘Just Dance’. It is not my game, but plenty of youthful gamers (some not so youthful too) reserve a place in their heart for Just Dance, which is fine by me. Questions on the phrasing on the interaction with mobile phones need to be made, as no one (at present) have asked the questions involved. What is novel is the option that could propel the game forward are the streaming service on PC and Nextgen, even though no pricing information is given, it should not be about the price, it is about keeping a game novel and Ubisoft delivered that with this title.

Yet, did anyone else notice that the applause in the audience during was good, but not great? Compared to Bethesda, who blew the roof off the house! We saw many introductions with cut scenes, and even if the Division showed game play, with an interesting closing twist, which makes the entire view great. Also, the gameplay on ‘For Honor’ (4×4) was very good, but what if online play is not your thing? In addition, it is competing with Evolve, which is an excellent game. That does not diminish For Honor. The people saw gameplay and a smooth one at that. I liked the act that I had stayed away from any gossip or screens on that, so it was all new and it did not disappoint. The same could be said for Rainbow Siege. It is better, more realistic tactically speaking (as far as I saw) and graphically far above the norm. It will not be out until the end of September, but so far it looks like a good product. Just this is also the issue with Ubisoft. The presentations were good, not amazing! It did not blow me away like Bethesda did, more than once I might add. And off course there is Assassins Creed Syndicate. It looks smooth, but what the demo also shows is what we have seen too often in the previous moments. The game story depends on too many scripted moments. The coach chase, the tumble over the bridge then the train, a too strong a smell of scripted events. So as Yves Guillemot closes the presentation with the introduction of ‘Ghost Recon Wild land’ with an awesome movie, we need to consider that the words from Yves “surprise you with revolutionising our beloved franchises“, this sounds nice in theory, but that has not been achieved. Some are a strong step forward (Rainbow 6, Ghost recon), some are more of the same but as I see it, none showed true ‘revolutionising’ steps. A quote from a marketing department that now hangs like a chain around the neck of Yves Guillemot with the weight of a tombstone.

The IP they have is diminishing, trying whatever they can to revitalise the games that have missed their target. It will soon be about the reception of new IP (For Honor), it is holds up, that would be great for Ubisoft, if it falls short (gamers can be a merciless audience), the value of Ubisoft will take another pounding. It is not done yet. The consequences of AC: Unity are still felt. When we read (source: Softpedia and several others) “The latest thing to come out of Ubisoft’s riot machine is the announcement that the upcoming instalment in the publisher’s acclaimed action adventure series Assassin’s Creed, titled Unity, will run at 30 frames per second and in 900p resolution on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Of course, this type of polarizing announcement can only widen the gap between the fanbases of Sony and Microsoft, and so it did“, or Forbes where we see “Ubisoft is at least saying something regarding the tech/embargo issues. In terms of technical fixes, Ubisoft didn’t go so far as to apologize to fans for the early troubles, but they did say they are working on fixes past what was already fixed during the day one patch. In another fix patch, they’re taking on glitches like Arno falling through the map and getting stuck on things, and in future patches, they’ll turn to collision problems and framerate issues“, an apology came too weeks later. Yet, this is not about slamming Ubisoft (yes slamming a billion plus company feels good on the ego). This is about the future of gaming. Microsoft has also been active, the XB1 is now backwards compatible with a twist. there are downloadable titles and they did clearly state that you need not pay for titles you own, so that might sound great, but now consider that ‘live’ implies downloading a full game, which means that your 500Gb hardrive will fill up really fast, apaprt from the question is, whether ‘your’ game is on that list. It is still a step forward, but at 4-13 Gb (6 Gb being the average size of a game), with around 250Gb free for content, and of course space needed for other games, you are looking at perhaps 40 games, which of course need to be downloaded too. It is still a nice option to have, but let’s face it, why let go of your Xbox 360? This is about market growth and the Xbox one, which is increasingly hard as Sony v Microsoft consoles is currently set at 2:1, so two PS4’s for every Xbox One. The release day scare tactic (as I saw the Xbox One announcement in 2013) has hurt Microsoft a lot, the fact that they only realise almost two year later that their 500Gb, just does not hack it is equally unsettling.

So where do you the gamer stand?

I personally believe that it has never been about the hype, but about great gameplay. This is exactly why Infamous Second Son came up short, while it had all the elements to be truly great. It feels such a shame to see an 80% game, which could have been a 92% game. Watchdogs has similar issues, but in that case, it is a new game, a first, like Assassins Creed 1, the second game of that IP could blow us all away, it takes only one visionary!

Tomorrow will be the defining moment. Bethesda delivered and exceeded, Ubisoft did not and Microsoft stayed on par, showing a few exclusive teasers, so now it will be up to Sony. If they blow the roof, Xbox will lose a lot of ground, yet we must not forget that Microsoft delivered last year and it still surprises, that part is seen in the game beyond eyes, which could indicate that the exclusivity on Xbox is more than a delay for Sony, it could be reason for people to switch, or to get an additional console and buy games there. That view I hope to give tomorrow, but for today, I can only confirm that the bar set by Bethesda was not surpassed and their games are coming to PS4 (and Microsoft too). Yet, exclusivity is not a fight of Sony vs Microsoft, which is not set by Elite vs No Mans Sky, that part will only set the pace of getting the additional PS4 vs getting the Xbox One too. It is the still waiting population which gives us whether games like Ion and Elite will push the people towards Xbox One that will be partially settled tomorrow, the Tombraider presentation was too much of scripted sequences with times responses. It is the one part of Tombraider I never cared for, what was great, became average. No matter how I feel about Tombraider, you must decide what you like, where your gaming view resides. The upcoming challenge for Sony will be a harsh. They are equal to the task, but will they have the games to make it? You see Microsoft kept the best for last. ‘Rare Replay’ is the trump card from the left field. The very best of gaming that Nintendo 64 offered now on Xbox One resolution. Missing is the Donkey Kong parts with is Nintendo IP, but some of those games are not, which means 30 games for $30, which is a killer option!

To be continued!

 

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Redo from start?

I have been considering the games that are, that are soon to come and those we wish to see again. I feel that I am not unique, I am one of many who feels the same way many gamers feel. It all started with a simple pre-order notice I saw at JB-Hifi. The order was not for Mass Effect 4, but for Mass Effect, which seemed a little odd. Soon I found a few less reliable mentions of a possible upcoming re-release of Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 for Nextgen (Xbox One and PS4). I got excited, because overall the Mass Effect series are nothing short of a marvellous achievement. Consider that Mass Effect is one of the earliest Xbox360 releases, it still hold a storyline that was amazing to play. Yes, we will replay and we will know certain key parts, but that is still not an issue for those who love Mass Effect.

The revamped version of the last of us seemed to have instilled a desire for games on Nextgen that should make developers happy. Is that because the lack of good games or is that because the new games are leaving us cold? I think it is a little bit of both. As studios tried to play the ‘marketing game’ they are now learning harshly that playing that game on gamers is a sure way to see your product get smashed. The outrage that Assassins Creed Unity brought is only one of the elements. I will go one step further, a relaunch with upgrades to the story of Assassins Creed 1, 2 and brotherhood would very likely be more successful than the next Assassins Creed. This for the simple reason that the makers seem to have lost their way (the fact that Unity is regarded by many as the worst Nextgen release does not help any).

Even a relaunch of System Shock (1+2) is likely to draw in a much larger crowd than the likely disappointments new PS4 RPG’s are going to bring. The added issues is not just the game, the problem is for the most the marketing division for these developers; a decent example is the Division by Ubisoft. My issue is that so far the game might look good and could even become great, but in their approach to feed the hungry hordes of journalists and to remain ‘visible’, the people at E3 2014 got to see something that is now not coming until 2016, even the Q1 part here is currently under debate, so as the gamer is promised a game that is now 19 months from its initial ‘presentation’ the people are wondering whether to trust the game because of the mental link we all make between presentation and delivery. It leaves many of us with the thought ‘how many bugs do they need to fix‘? Now, that thought might not be the correct one, but when 10,000+ people think it, some outspoken nitwit will scream it on YouTube, which results in many players moving away from what could be a good game. An example here is Elder Scrolls online, which is a marketing disaster, yet when we see the review from ChaosD1 (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2082&v=csY7RYF4rKQ), which is excellent and might change the minds of those who walked away from Elder Scrolls Online.

We the players now want to move to games we know, we trust and believe in, which gives added weight to relaunched games. Let’s not forget that Borderlands, The Last of Us and God of War 3 were excellent games. There is however another form of relaunch, one that is not actually a relaunch, but a new evolution of the game. Elite, the legendary game from the BBC Micro B, might have made its fame on the CBM64, it is the upcoming console version which left some parts intact that is now the talk of many towns and even more gamer communities. It shows a new air and an approach to a ‘sandbox’ world many are eager to get onto. As Elite upped the game by mapping the galaxy, with the added wink to legendary science fiction moments, which they did by adding Vulcan and the Leonard Nimoy Space Station as well as Pratchett’s Disc Starport. It is still many years away (as he is in good health), but the moment will come when we will get a place like Badger’s station or the President Lampkin’s station of justice as Mark Sheppard joins the legendary ranks in Elite: Dangerous. You might wonder what does it matter, but it does! You see, as the gamer identifies with moments of his own ‘reality’, the things he/she is passionate about! The game becomes more fun and we will see that people connect more to a game. The danger is that when the threshold lowers and too many ‘legends’ are added, it could drive down the sentiment overall, but the sentiment remains! This will not hinder the upcoming No Man’s sky and both titles will very likely appeal to many players. In that same air we should see the upcoming Shadow of the Beast. What was a scrolling game with slashing on the Amiga/Atari ST, is showing itself to be a Nextgen blood dripping slice and dice extravaganza. This is a new group where the makers can relaunch their original idea and many gamers will love them. So, as the ‘new’ games don’t hack it, the gamers will get treated to a game that did and will do so again. The benefit here is that game makers will need to up their game by a lot to get out there. In the end the gamer wins no matter what! (Don’t you just love that?)

So they will pray at the ‘shrine of Pong‘ to replay System Shock, which does not hinder others either. When we consider Paradroid, or even some games for a chosen crowd like Sierra Entertainment’s games called Manhunter New York and Manhunter 2: San Francisco. They were well above average games then and could now get vamped into truly awesome games tomorrow. Perhaps we will actually live to see the conclusion of part 3 in London. It will be up to Activision to decide and as I see it, it just takes one visionary view within Activision to unlock that revenue! That same feeling is there for the Ultima series. Even though game 10 was an experience released too soon, the idea of an ‘Elder scrolls World’ that is Britannia could be massive. The fact that a developed ‘world’ is scanned and transferred to a first person environment complete with quests, side quests and upgraded storyline could give way to a new generation of gamers, let’s not forget that those who played the original are now regarded to be in the ‘old’ section (yes, that includes me), whilst the young section will experience something completely original in a new jacket. A world where you get Ultima 4, 5 and 6 in one game on the same world with the challenges to master is not only new and novel, pulling it off would raise the bar of gaming considerably. Something all gamers desire!

We became complacent in gaming as we played the Assassins Creed series, which for the most was just ‘more’ (specifically 2, Brotherhood and Revelations). Shadow of the Beast and Elite: Dangerous are now showing that ‘more’ can be an entire new range in evolution, a part many gamers (and developers) have not truly contemplated. As those behind the developers, learn to look behind them on what was and what can be great again, we learn, actually as I see it, it is the gamer taught the developer that games can be recycled.

Yet, we must also consider that it is not about the open world part, a trap I myself tend to fall into. The immersing part of being trapped in a house and surviving it, or as some will call it Alien: Isolation is basically redoing what was great and leaving the player with a replayable challenge. Which is the holy grail of gaming! I believe that more could be coming. I still regard Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 (GameCube games) as one of the most amazing games Nintendo ever released, they did on 3” DVD what many developers could not achieve on a 4.7” Blu-ray, which is truly amazing.

On the other side we see the failures, the hype that was Watchdogs is regarded by some as a failure and a joke. I do not completely agree, but overall the game is not the titan it was heralded to be, but it could be the introduction to a second game that is really awesome (Assassins Creed 1 + 2 are evidence of that), I am just willing to see the glass half full in the case of Watchdogs and I am willing to give Ubisoft a little slack in this game, especially as they do not deserve any slack for butchering the Assassins Creed series (yes, I am slightly obsessed with that). On that same line I tend to set Thief! It was not great, but decent, I do not regret getting the game when I did.

What will come next? Well, that is the question, so as many stare at the horizon for Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 4, we should not hesitate to look behind us to see new (and hopefully improved versions) of Tenchu and Mega-lo-Mania. In my view as all the developers are focussing on multi-player and micro transactions, they forget that the bulk of ALL gamers need moments of escapism, where they need not weigh anything, but focus on just having fun. This is why Minecraft is so bloody addictive. Diablo again shows levels of fulfilment. It is basically why people on Facebook keep a game like Zombie Slayer around. It has no mental need (minimal) it has decent graphics (images) and it shows progress. I will take it one step further, especially as I am not that much of a zombie fan. It is in my view one of the reasons why some of these games will always survive, when we add Pokémon to the mix we see that part even further. It is only because of the technological flaw that Sapphire and Ruby could no longer be played, yet now, with the 3DS editions, we see the power of that formula. Those who played before still love what can be played again, so as some stare forward to the horizon of new games due to technology, do not forget about the treasures behind us. Now some do not feel that ‘vigour’ when they play Colonization, a Sid Meier masterpiece, because it is board like and turn based, but what happens when the mastery of Colonization gets blended with the freedom of play that Seven Cities of Gold on the CBM-64 brought? Evolution, re-playability and challenge all in one go! I would really be curious to see such a result. I believe that within 95% of all gamers is a casual gamer that just wants to have fun, which is why Diablo and Minecraft will survive forever, we will do the multi thing in Mass Effect 3 for periods of time (best multi player experience EVER!), yet we will always return to the games that mentally satisfy, the part that scripted games cannot deliver, a niche market with long term gaming fun many developers seem to ignore.

Let the games begin!

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