Tag Archives: Destiny

Consideration in 3 parts

There are several things playing and I think it is only fair that I jump a little this time around. In the first jump I will take us into the realm of technology. First the hardware where Keith Stuart gives us ‘is it worth a £100 upgrade?‘ This is a valid question, yet in all the issue is not merely the £100, it is more so “Microsoft has always marketed Xbox One X as an elite product for true enthusiasts and that’s exactly what it is“, which is something I cannot agree with. You see, Microsoft has refused to listen to the gamers, the actual gamers for the longest of times and with the Xbox One X, I expect (read: I hope) that they will get the pounding they have so deserved for the longest of times. The article (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/03/xbox-one-x-review-4k-console-gaming-upgrade) gives you some of the goods, but not all of the goods. You see, the £450 with a 1TB drive is a joke, it always has been. The article names a few games and there a few sources re stating that Destiny 2 is 50GB WITHOUT the 4K assets. There is no clear way for me to find a reliable number there, but with the OS also taking a chunk of the hard-drive, which will be 300Mb at least, we are looking at a console where one game takes well over 5% of that drive. Forza 7 will take well over 10% of that system, now with all the reserved spaces and mind you not ALL these games are that big, you are looking at a dozen games at the most and that is in many cases not including the extra space that the 4K libraries need, so when I stated even before the Xbox One came out (the first one) that Microsoft was not giving consideration to their gamers, I was not kidding. With the Sony PS4 (both old and pro) we have the option to switch the drive at our own expense to a 2TB drive and these things are a mere $105, so one extra cost has kept me safe and hassle free for well over 3 years. Microsoft never allowed their gamers that option, which could be seen as another indicator that Microsoft is actually not giving true consideration to the ‘true enthusiasts‘ as they label them. There are additional flaws in the OS that give less consideration that the Xbox 360 did, so there is that to consider too. A console that might be seen as overpriced, overvalued and overdue a real upgrade. There are more issues, but they are for another day, for now we await the over-hyped release in 2 days.

The second part is one where I have to show fairness (which I have always done). The second part is Assassins Creed Origins. Now, it is on my list to get as I was not trusting Ubisoft after all the things they have done in the past, with the additional embargo of any publications of the game until the day before launch, their approach was shoddy and shady at best. In this case it worked against them. I have watched well over a dozen videos with Eurogamer and IGN showing the best sides, but also leaving us with questions. Yet I had a few questions of my own and i think they need to be put into the limelight. You see, I have slammed Guillemot and Ubisoft for the longest time for not doing their job (or better stated, the job they were capable of). For relying on average scripted events and what I still label as ‘bad programming’. This is not the case in ACO (Assassins Creed Origin). Now when we pull away from the 4K events (which are close to breathtaking), we see a game that has been through quite the change and as such should get some praise, praise on several levels.

First are the reviews, they are like mine all opinions, and even though I was relentless to AC ratings in the past, from all that is clearly shown these ratings are lower than expected. I see the game somewhere between 88%-92% rated (the non PC versions), yet most remain below it and Gamespot gives it a 70% rating which I personally believe to be equally unfair. Now, we can be hard on Guillemot on a few levels, but they did get this game decent. We can argue all we like, but the team that made Black Flag made this game in a good way and I believe that this game might not be regarded as a real AC game. Origin is the start of it all and that makes it fair game, but the clarity is that there are elements that we relate to Witcher 3, Far Fry Primal and Destiny. The reality is that elements in this game have been seen before going all the way back to Ultima7 Serpents Isle, so there is no real identity linking it to a certain game. Now, I do see the elements of Witcher 3 and that is not a bad thing, whilst we need to acknowledge that this game is not some Witcher 3 game, it is truly an Assassins Creed game (whether the player is an actual assassin or not). The wildlife is more dangerous and relentless and a lot less forgiving, which is a good thing (more realistic), and it seems that as far as I can observe, the locations are as any AC game has almost always been. Graphically sublime, even if you have no 4K solution at present. Even as I have been reluctant to see this last AC as a great game, it seems that should this be the last AC game, than Ubisoft goes out on a high note, and that should be heralded by nearly all gamers.

The final part is not a game. I am also getting less convinced that this is merely a leak. We could have accepted to the smallest degree that the Panama Papers were a leak, yet the amount of data that was leaked leaves us with the larger question on how stupid a financial adviser needs to be to endanger billions of dollars in revenue. I have gone back into time checking on a dozen corporations only to find that there was a healthy dose of paranoia in each and every one of them. Some were paranoid from the start, some were pushed by IT as they wanted the latest of the latest and pressing the ‘leak’ button seems to have worked each and every time. So whilst we have been in the sunshine with newspapers giving us Panama Papers on a daily basis, I found it particularly interesting to see the revelation of the Paradise Papers. So when I read “the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth”, I am not surprised. I have written about the failing of legislation on a global level for long before the Panama Papers and the Tesco affair. As we are told ‘obtained by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung‘ we are not asking the right questions. Obtained how? Who gave them? You see, earlier this year we saw some mention of certain players, yet again and again the media have seemingly steered clear of certain parts of the evidence and it is time to mention it. In March we saw a few papers mention on how Barclays, RBS and Crédit Agricole had a sort of Tax Haven set-up where they had to pay a mere 2% in taxation. I think that this opened a door to some players. I think that the Paradise papers is not a leak, I personally believe it to be an attack on these three players as well as an attack on a few others too. The BBC is giving us part (at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41876939), with the mention of the SIBUR shareholders, we see that there is an issue as the corporations are facing US sanctions, but the individuals Leonid Mikhelson and Gennady Timchenko are not. They represent a wealth that is roughly 50% of what is Microsoft nowadays. It is making a few people more and more nervous. I personally believe that the Paradise Papers is not a leak it is an American corporate ploy, possibly even with the assistance of Rothschild wealth management (a speculation from my side) to push changes that are a lot more interesting to America. Can I prove this?

That is partially the issue. You see, without the clear data on the leak it might never be proven. it is merely too weird that this happened three times in a row (yes three times, I will let you look deeper into certain places to find the first instance). You see the most interesting part is casually shown at the end of the BBC article. With “a huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, which reveal the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders“, this is showing not to be a leak, this is a data gathering by a select few and the combination of large data sets. You see, multiple sources which is clearly seen through the use of ‘mostly‘, and added the ‘19 tax registries‘, shows this to be an event that is precise, it is an act of data gathering and filtering. As such, I see this as a precise strike, more likely than not from financial players who have seen certain bank (Credit Agricole being the most visible one) to grow beyond certain measures and that was not the acceptable mindset of the players who want a different shedding of wealth. This is one of the reasons that I have been keeping tabs on Credit Agricole and that is why they have been in my blog several times. Yet, in all this I did not see the Paradise Papers coming and the clarity we see now, is one where we need to consider who is playing us all, and the media most of all. The Guardian gives us more and more mentions of ‘Tax Avoidance’ and as I mentioned a few days ago. It is not illegal, it is perfectly legal. Most papers will hide behind ’emotional’ parts to cry outrage, but in the end they too are not outspoken on pushing to adapt legislation to change this and to push for clear corporate taxation needs, whilst we see that they are all on the second largest data drain set at 1.4TB. So after the Panama Papers, do you think that banks, especially banks of these kinds, banks that rely on such paths to ensure themselves of a good income. Do you think they would hesitate to invest a few millions into hardware that keeps it secure? No, we see more and more technology, more and more Cloud solutions failing to keep data safe. The BBC gave us in April 2016: “In other words, your data could get lost, wiped, corrupted or stolen“. It seems that not enough people are really listening, happy to embrace the marketing of Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, whilst there is a real concern on safety (for now). Yet, is that how the data was acquired? It is all good and fine to blame a party whilst the data was somewhere else. You see, those IT people (at Appleby’s) would know better, yet when we see the Irish Times (at https://www.irishtimes.com/business/appleby-the-offshore-law-firm-with-a-record-of-compliance-failures-1.3280860), we see “Appleby has transformed itself into a global institution with more than 700 employees across nearly every major tax haven from the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, to the Isle of Man in Europe, Mauritius in Africa and Hong Kong in Asia“, in that there is no doubt in my mind that IT would have had (or needed) a much higher visibility on their security profile. I wonder, if I got to investigate their non-repudiation systems and logs, what failings would I find. I can personally guarantee you that with every passing check-mark in place, we get to see more and more clearly that this was not a leak, I would regard this as a precision strike to shift billions from one place to the other, because just like we saw with he Panama Papers, when the super-rich get nervous, a lot of them can be manipulated a lot easier than ever before and in my mind there is no doubt, in this Rothschild is likely to be the one true victor and the one party who had the most to win.

I can only speculate on a few matters, but in the light of the global financial industry, Bermuda, Nassau, Riyadh and Nevada are the larger tax havens. The two papers are giving loads of limelight to three of them, so where will those people go to next?

The financial industry is correlating more and more to a video game, it is all about the hardware and scripted events. When we know that hardware is not the initial flaw one remains, making the case stronger and stronger that this was not a leak, it was a scripted event, whether made specifically for certain hardware remains to be seen . I wonder if the media will ever truly look deeper into how the data was acquired, I doubt it, because that does not make for a sexy story, making them in my personal view less of a player and more of a tool, the question that remains is: ‘the tool for who?

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Are stockbrokers clueless here?

My twitter account tweeted a tweet only minutes ago that gave me pause to take a look. It is an article from Gamespot (at http://www.gamespot.com/articles/activision-stock-joins-ea-in-hitting-all-time-high/1100-6428993/), which is actually 2 days old. The title ‘Activision Stock Joins EA in Hitting All-Time High‘ was reason for the first giggle, then I decided to take a deeper look at the quotes. The result?

Well, judge for yourself!

First off we get “The video game publishing giant’s share price reached an all-time high recently of just above $26 a share–and some experts are optimistic about the company’s potential to grow even further“, which is funny in its own right, where ‘some experts‘ is a link to www.zacks.com. Now, as I see it, the fact that they rely on how Activision/Blizzard is such a success as they state it “Call of Duty, Warcraft, Diablo, and Guitar Hero franchises“, which gets an added “Along with its Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) and an expected EPS Growth Rate of 7.47%, there are three important factors to know when considering investing in Activision Blizzard” the site goes on mentioning a few titbits, which are all true, yet the foundation of the issue is one they skated around, why? It can be that they have no real sight on video games, or because they have other reasons. I have no idea what the other reasons are, yet in my view, their first tactical error is: “For the quarter ended March 31, 2015, Activision Blizzard’s GAAP net revenues were $1.28 billion, as compared with $1.11 billion for the first quarter of 2014” the second one is “Activision Blizzard’s earnings per share in 2014 was $1.42, again representing an all-time high of over 50% growth year to year“.

Before I start explaining this, let’s go back to the original article for a moment.

The next quote is “Activision has a number of projects currently in the development that investors may be looking forward to. These include Destiny’s Taken King expansion (September), Skylanders: Superchargers (September), and Call of Duty: Black Ops III (November)“. It is important to see what is up and coming, as such we see a field of particular possibilities, which gets the final added quote “the company will report earnings for its latest financial quarter on August 4th“.

So why is all this an issue?

First off, this is about stock joining EA, whilst the article is deadly numb on anything Electronic Arts in this field, which is odd to say the least.

Now for my other part, you see, investing in game stock is often massively risky, the part that these research companies fail to realise is that the value of these places are directly depending on the next upcoming failure! That has forever been the case with gaming companies, you see there is a reason why Ubisoft PC sales were down 90% in 2011 and I can tell you for certain that software piracy was NOT the cause of that!

So why did I find this all hilarious? In the end whatever a person wants to sink their money in, it is all fine by me. Now for the backdrop in all this, because so far, my reasoning could be regarded as an emotional one, which is really bad when it comes to shares.

No one will deny that Blizzard is a place of success, I am still addicted to Diablo 3 (as I was to versions one and two), yet Blizzard is still getting over the loss of Titan, a success that would never come to truth, which in the scheme of things is not the deadliest issue, especially as World of Warcraft is still grossing a billion a year, so Blizzard has many moments of success. However, stability is not a sexy thing in the market and Blizzard requires growth to pull this off, even though there are clear and reliable rumours of another DLC for Diablo 3, which would be, if we go by reaper of souls an essential and absolute must for any Diablo fan, it would not be enough for Blizzard to propel forward to the degree it needs to (personal view), in the end Blizzard is a fine company, with a solid income, yet as I see it, the massive sales drive needed (growth of customer base) is not one that Blizzard has, it has a faithful and loyal customer base (I am one of them), yet in my case, it is set to a game I have had for well over a year with no new spending in that time.

Now let’s take a look at Activision, first the good stuff, there is no denying that Skylanders was a brilliant idea, not particularly for me, but it is making kids spend, and spend and spend (or at least their parents), these figurines are not cheap. A well thought through business model. Destiny is another matter, this game is an MMO and a FPS, which is nothing short of a hybrid game and even though I am not a fan, the game looks good on the systems, but like all games of this nature, it has a problem and a handicap. This is nothing personal, you see, whatever good it is, it is money that has been spent. In one way Destiny is a huge success, the cost to make it was half a billion, yet this game made over 1 billion, so that is definitely a win. Now Destiny joins the ranks of requiring DLC moments, and here is the first hiccup. The drive and ‘choices’ in ‘The Taken King‘ expansion, has been all over the net and the day one gamers are not happy! The new full version with DLC will come with items available only in the Collector’s Edition mean that players only chance to get those items requires them to re-purchase a game and DLC they already own, which is not a good moment, so the new players will get rare weapons and items that seasoned players will not be able to get their hands on, the playing field will now be slightly uneven, it also makes for a game where players have a case of the ‘envy’ which also does no good, you see envy bites in a gamer, until he is too pissed off to play, which is deadly to Bungie to say the least. In addition, like with blizzard, revenue will come in, yet not in the large masses it did come in, so these players need to also rely on new IP and new games to grow its customer base. In addition, when we see a review like ‘Final verdict on most expensive video game ever made is a disappointing lack of ambition’, which we can question as it is only a single view, but MMO’s have fans and loathers, there is no in-between here. I am to some extent a loather, in this my reasoning is that these games at some point get hacked and the people go in overcharged destroying a perfectly good game, in addition, you need a decent player base with gamers that play like gamers, I do not mean their skill levels, but I mean that a certain level of courtesy is expected of your fellow fight mates, that at times is just not happening, souring the experience. It is also important that these bad moments are often just moments, not constant occurring events, in addition, many MMO games are often too unforgiving to new players, in some cases players who are experiencing their first 10 minutes in a game like Destiny, I have found in the past that MMO games do not once, not ever correctly tailor to those players, which puts them off. Someone gave this as a con to Destiny “Repetitive enemies, non-existent set pieces, and terrible bosses. No new ideas and overly simplistic role-playing and customisation elements“, I do not disagree here (from what I have played) but there is one side that is not part of that ‘con’ A game that tailors to thousands of players needs a stable setting, which cannot survive on terrible bosses and simplicity, what cannot (and as far as I can state) has not ever been confirmed is how the game plays after a while, you see, these games need to rely that a person once he/she pushes past level 13 is still eager to play, repetition is a killer here, not at level 4, 5 or 6. That will impact longevity, a side the stockbrokers do not seem to understand as that part of the game will not fit into a spreadsheet.

Now we get to the EA side of things, yes, there is no denying that their list is good. First we get the sports games (NHL, FIFA, NBA and NFL) and there will be Star Wars Battlefront. Now the bad part, so far EA Sports will always need patches and if the previous games are anything to go by it will not be that bad. In addition, sports games have a loyal following so unless their QA department screws up, we have 4 seemingly decent going games, however Star Wars Battlefront (SWB) is another matter, no matter how it looks now, there will be issues all over the board when the population at large goes into it, it is a mere statement of fact. An open system with so many fans will optionally truly drain the internet, so as EA overcomes the first issues, it will be an important setting, because Destiny and other MMO’s (real Elder Scrolls) have made many gamers a little hesitant to go day one (except for the limited edition fans), so that first hiccup will determine how wave two will react and that will result in slacking sales, in addition, upcoming Q1 2016 games will possibly see delays and the true kicker (Mass Effect Andromeda) is not out until the end of 2016, that is if there are no development hiccups. So in all this we have a stable setting from both, yet in my view, stability does not give rise to exploding share prices and the fact that EA doubled in a year might sound nice, but that was the result of new Nextgen consoles with a population making a mandatory purchase as there were almost no choices in games, now a year later that market shifted and the true anticipated upcoming games only have SWB on its list, the rest of the desired Nextgen games are all indie developers with none of them linked to either Electronic Arts or Blizzard/Activision.

In addition, the latest ‘remaster’ joke comes from Activision, The Prototype bundle, which I was initially looking forward to is now already regarded as the worst remastering ever. A frame rate that seems to go no higher than 30, blurry graphics at times, what was original is now a game not to take seriously (either of the two games). So Activision end up with two titles on Nextgen that look worse than it did on the original consoles, who is that for a non-achievement, that failing will also impact the non-revenue side. Kotaku shows it best at (http://kotaku.com/the-prototype-bundle-for-ps4-and-xbox-one-is-pretty-sho-1718779050), especially when the Xbox 360 has a framerate of 26, whilst the Xbox One has a framerate of 24. The average gamer can immediately see the flaw here, so why release a game that below acceptable default? It also implies that when a software house goes to this length to hope for revenue, we see a side that many gamers fear, the remake of a decent game that becomes a far below average result. It tend to make them shift focus to other titles, titles that are not from that software house.

From these point, I can now state the opposite of Zack’s reason to buy, which is from a gamer’s point of view, perhaps the shareholders will see it differently (as they focus on spreadsheets) when they look at returns, so when the next set of games fall short of quality, are returns still a guarantee? Again, my emotional side does not trust the setting here and I would personally prefer to sink $100 for shares on Frontier Development or Hello games based on their beta’s then on some of the final versions that either Activision or Electronic Arts has to offer. Yes we gamers are an emotional lot perhaps that will be part of what some might regard as ‘my failed view’ here, which would be fair enough.

 

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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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The virtual reality of it all

Well, I would have expected my gaming ideas to come from many places, the Guardian was not one of them to be honest, but there you have it, we find information in all kinds of places. reason here is the other BAFTA, not the one eloquently mentioned by Stephen Fry (aka Reaver to gamers), but by the Gaming BAFTA, which will be awarded on March 12th (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/10/alien-isolation-2015-bafta-video-game-award-nominations). There are many titles that will be mentioned, many will become non winners, and remain nominees none the less and one will stand out. Let’s take a look at those categories and some of the games mentioned.

Artistic Achievement

This is the only place where we see Ubisoft shine, to be more precise their graphical teams, no matter how I spoke out against Ubisoft and how they neglected Assassins Creed, their graphical teams did not. These graphical gurus did show a level of excellence that has been from out of this world. No matter how many bugs we see in Unity, the graphics were unreal, as were they for Black Flag; it is a well-deserved nomination and a possible winner, although they will compete with their own title Far Cry 4 here.

Audio achievement

There is one title that stands out, more important, the title itself is an achievement that many will have waited for, for a long time. It is Alien: Isolation and it puts the SEGA logo back on the screen in a most wonderful way. This alien game is not about blasting, it is about staying alive. This is the one perfect horror survival game that places the genre in a new light whilst remaining true to the atmosphere of the original Alien movie. The Evil Within scratches the surface of this genre, Alien: Isolation breaks through the skin and leaves you sweaty with possible heart problems, just like the original movie from 1979. The game truly takes you to the nerve wrecking ordeal of sharing a spaceship with an alien in the most unwanted way. The audio is every bit as important as the graphics and the audio team delivered like nothing you ever faced before.

Best Game

Is always a hard nut to crack, many games stand out in their own way, for various reasons, SEGA is the strongest nominee here, but a truly exceptional game delivers on many fronts, as such all titles deserve to be there, personally Destiny is as I see it, the least likely title to win, as it depends too much on multiplayer events, yet, this does not take it out of the race, I wonder how the silent title in the back (Monument Valley) will do. It is a silent gem, the use of the masterpieces of M. C. Escher are not to be ignored. There is a mesmerising element in this game that is as addictive as a game like Minecraft ever will be. As I mention addiction, I must warn you to stay away from nominee handheld game ‘Threes’. what seems like a simple game of addition, will turn from one second into the next into a game of addiction and your next set of threes is only one little swipe away. I reckon that in this category it will be a fight between Monument Valley and Threes and either should be seen as a worthy winner.

 

I can go on but you will have to take your own look and see what you think should be the right one to win. The important element here is that we see two parts of gaming that are now clearly impacting business. The first one is quality, yes, I started with the good side of Ubisoft as their graphical teams truly deserve it, but overall Ubisoft bungled the ball and an event like this, where they should be in domination, they are only attending in the most minimalistic of ways. The critique on several levels for Far Cry 4 and the massive failure Assassins Creed: Unity has shown to be, should be a clear indication that Yves Guillemot needs to clean up his divisions and he needs to do it no sooner than 5 minutes after the gaming BAFTA’s have ended.

The second part in all this is originality in gaming. SEGA is showing that in no small matter, in addition, we see Minecraft mentioned a few times, but the stellar part is that silent achievement Monument Valley, developer Ustwo under guidance of fearless leader Neil McFarland shows that independent developers are the future in more ways than one. The Creative Assembly (those behind Alien: Isolation and the old EA sports games) are not indie as such, but they are a far stretch from a massive developer like 2K and Ubisoft, which in addition show those larger developers that the true gems are in the mind of a person and not in the massive visibility of a division.

It will be interesting to see who is elected winner in these BAFTA’s for the mere reason that those who decide might not be the group that largely play these games, the one part that will be interesting to see is that the audience might see the real Ellie (Ashley Johnson), it is always nice to meet the person you kept safe in a digital world, even if she looks nothing like the digital character, an issue Jonathan Irons who will be portraying Kevin Spacey won’t face any day soon. I am eager to see Cliff Martinez on the stage, hopefully for winning the BAFTA for Far Cry 4, which was an excellent piece of work. I have been a fan of his work since Solaris and Contagion, two of his many created master works. As a debut game, Hitman Go definitely takes a shine. They changed a shooting assassin into a tough puzzle game with pawns shaped like Sebuteo figurines, but in the style of Hitman 47 and the goons he goes after. However, in that same category we see Shovel knight, a true retro game, based on the best of the best old style console games, whilst looking new fresh and fun to play. It is a fun achievement for both the new and the seasoned gamer.

So we will all be looking forward, or in some cases dreading this awarding evening. The only worry might be that the people who casted their votes and enjoying a horror survival stealth game is too low, which might impact SEGA to get a decent amount of the 6 nominations it received. We will see it all on March 12th and no matter who wins, I feel certain that the winning views will entice several players to take a look into nominated and winning games they had not considered playing before, that in itself will make the gaming BAFTA a great event for nominee, winner and gamer alike

The full nomination list can be found at http://www.bafta.org/sites/default/files/uploads/baftagamesawardsnominationslist.pdf

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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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