Posted: June 21, 2013 in Video Games

Xbox Flip Flop

So as i’m sure many of you have heard the new internet sensation Xbox 180! as Microsoft has announced that they are reversing many of their unpopular features on the new console such as 24 hour online authentication, used game restrictions, and region locks.

In the 24 hours I’ve notice the response has fallen into two camps, the “We Won!” crowd, who believe that this is a perfect example of consumer power at work. That the internet, social media, and lets be honest, the most important thing, pre-order sales have convinced a giant multi-billion coorporation to change its theoretically well thought out, well planned policies.

The other side of the coin is that the “vocal minority” has poisened the general public into believing that Microsoft was basically taking away all of your rights as a gamer. That Microsoft was actually pushing the video game industry forward into a primary digital workspace which would lower costs, and allow a control on used games to put money in the developers pockets instead of Gamestop. Others lamented the loss of some of the more innovative features such as the family sharing plan, and being able to play any of your games from any Xbox.

Message not recieved

As with any argument, the answer is usually somewhere in the middle. What is really indisputable is Microsoft vastly under-estimated the backlash, and more importantly Microsoft did a horrible job explaining the benifitis of their proposed changes. Microsoft never made a convincing argument to the public that these features were a positive or upgrade to the way things have been.

Microsoft failed public relations 101. It failed to own its message. After the beginning announcement the media would ask for clarification on certain issues, one Microsoft execuitive would say one thing, and another would say something different. It honestly seemed like MS wasn’t excatly sure what was going on, so the media ran with it in a negative light.

It really all came to a head when Microsoft began discussing used games on the Xbox One. Microsoft aknowledge that you could play used games, but said they would reveal the details at a later date. The internet, which is already insecure and leery of giant coorportations viewed this as the equivalant of your girlfriend telling you we need to talk later. People immediatly jumped to the worst possible conclusion and really never let it go. Microsoft never got control of the narrative again.

There is a lesson in all of this. If you plan on changing the world, you better win the PR battle, own your message, and get in front of the negativity that comes with it. The video game community is one of the more tech savy communites around, but its also incredibility sensitive to change. Espically those having to do with consumer rights. Microsoft failed to own the narrative and produce its own message to the consumer. Through indecision, confusion, and a divided front Microsoft allowed the internet to inform consumers. Forcing Microsoft to revert to the status quo without the oppurtunity to truely sell its ideas. For better or Worse.

Posted a video after a couple hours of game play in Bioshock Infinite. You can check it out above. As I played through what was an impressive first couple of hours, my mind would drift to the thought of having a Bioshock adventure on the PS Vita.

Beyond the dream of the Vita bioshock which may or may not ever come to be, I actually got up super early this morning to continue my trip into Columbia and wanted to continue my impressions. Spoilers Below:

Sky High Contradiction

To me the most impressive part of the early game is the contradictory world that is presented to you. The city of Columbia beams with great ideals, a safe, welcoming place to those who believe. It doesn’t take much digging to see underneath the facade is a rotten, misguided value system.

Early on in the game, you are given a choice to throw an object at a tied up black woman, while a PT Barnum wannabe questions your conviction and asks if you now like your coffee black!, as the mob behind you cheers. Its quite a powerful scene, Growing up in the America south like I did, I know many people who use a greater believe system to justify there prejudices to themselves and others. When the violence erupts shortly afterwords, my new foes recieve no mercy from me and video game deaths are rarely this satisfying.

An Actual FPS

For all the wonder and story that Bioshock Infinite and Columbia provide, don’t mistake it for one of those first person adventure games like Skyrim. Bioshock is clearly an FPS and combat plays a key role in the gameplay once the ball gets moving.

I was pleasantly suprised at how involved the combat was even early on. In one situation I was high above enemies on a floating ship. The AI was smart enough to know they were in a bad spot, and actually fled the battlefield in an attempt to flank me through the skyline structure. I was able to reconize this and protect my flank with a fireball trap. It was a great to see this, and not have the enemies stand there like slaughter.

As plentiful and fast paced as the combat has been so far, it does feel a bit clunky and dated. It certinatly doesn’t have the precision of other first person shooters i’ve played, and the vigor system feels so familiar its almost repetitive. I’m hoping as I advance further, and gain some upgrades and Elizabeth comes into play, things will come together a bit more.

Mysterious protaganist

I’ve gone through these early impressions without discussing much about the main character Booker. Thats because there isn’t that much to tell at this point. Infinite has taken the less is more approach, and basically left his back story out for now. We know that he is on a mission to capture a girl to repay a debt, we get the feeling that he has done some bad stuff in the past, and he has the mark of false prophet on his hand.

Its a great bit of story telling. As we uncover all of the different layers of the city of Columbia, we uncover all of the little details about booker as well. I can geniually say that I am excited to see where things will go, and how and why booker has that mark on his hand…

Tips N4G

Recently, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello has decided to step down from his post as running one of the most important entities in all of gaming. This was met by the stock tanking another 8% upon the news, and while I don’t follow business news all that often, I know enough when a CEO leaves a company in worse shape then he got it, it is usually met with a boost in stock price, not a drop.

I am not here to talk about EA’s financial side, I don’t own stock and don’t particularly care. What is undeniable is that in the gaming community, EA represents everything that is wrong with the video game industry from a consumer standpoint. Whether its same day DLC, releasing so called roster updates for games such as madden year after year, or the dreaded Micro-transactions, EA is blamed for bringing these nickel and dime practices to the main stream gaming market.

I’m sure some people will draw the conclusion that this is related to the Sim City launch fiasco, but I don’t. Corporations don’t work like that. While Gamers maybe outraged at the online DRM, and server issues, investors looks at expectations versus results, and from all indications Sim City has exceeded sales expectations, which is what led to the launch issues in the first place.

I do think EA has a business model problem that is contributing to many of their current issues. EA recently said that Dead Space 3 needed to sell five million copies to remain a viable franchise. This is mind-blogging to me, CD Project Red can produce a game like the Witcher 2. A game that, even two years old is one of the best looking games I have ever played graphically, filled with tons of great voice acting, and longer then most any other game. It can sell two million copies and be fully viable to make the Witcher 3. What could possible make Dead Space 3 need to sell five million copies to remain viable?

This isn’t the only example, 38 Studios went bankrupt last year after releasing a new IP Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning (Published by EA) Even though KoA sold a respectable 1.5 million copies the company went under saying it needed to sell three million copies just to break even, and it was expecting to sell five million. In any business, if a company can make a better, cheaper product you’re in a lot of trouble, and EA’s stock price has shown that.

The real question is, will a change at the top going to have any tangible effect on EA going forward. That only happens if the new person in charge has an entirely different philosophy towards gamers, One who believes that making a quality game and letting a franchise breath can be just as profitable in the long term as what they’ve been doing.

As much of a pipe dream that this may seem, it doesn’t seem that the current way is making EA a stronger company overall. As outrageous as this may sound, EA’s best course of action as a business might be put their consumers first for once, regardless how alien the concept may seem to them.