Monday, June 3, 2013

Gladiators Assemble: What To Expect From The Big 3 At E3

Now we know all the gladiators that will be duking it out in the arena to crown the next winner of the console generation. The Wii U is the only one who’s seen battle and he has the scars to prove it, having taken big shots from developers and sales reports. The PS4 is stepping into the arena holding high the banner of community, depending on the arena crowd to give it’s social features and “SHARE” button the strength it needs. The Xbox One comes in hoping that a strategy of integration will allow it to fit seamlessly into living rooms and gain strength from a massive install base. The gladiators put on brief displays of their capabilities through small press conferences before going off to the side. The crowd is already in a fever pitch, taking their bets on who will win the war, but only a fool bets now before we've seen the most telling sign of a console’s success, the element that has supported the champions through the generations: the games.

That, my countrymen, is why talking about winners now is useless, because only a fool bets before E3.

Many people have been disheartened about the next generation with all the talk of features and little to no discussion about the games. Wii U has been out for six months without any real news of major game releases past what’s already been promised, leaving fans to comment on potential instead of substance. The PS4 gave a good indication what it’s launch lineup will be like, but showed nothing past a few trailers and the promise of more reveals at E3. The Xbox One reveal concentrated on the console’s features and left next to no information on what kind of games it might play, including a rather bizarre Call of Duty presentation talking about how fish scatter and action shots of a dog’s mouth closing. What people seem to be missing is that the lack of games is all part of the strategy. Everyone is holding back and this looks to be one of the most important E3’s in history.

The biggest announcement about E3 so far is what’s not going to be there: a Nintendo press conference. Yes, Nintendo looks to be forgoing the usual spectacle of the big stage for a more Direct approach, discussing a number of core titles such as Smash Brothers, Mario Kart, and the next Mario on 3DS. This approach has the risk of getting lost in the shuffle of shiny that is E3, but that does mean it can potentially pull the rug out from under the entire event. Really, does Nintendo need an auditorium to get us excited for their IPs? Would the announcement of a new Mario, Zelda, or Star Fox game truly go unnoticed by the gaming press and public were it not broadcasted on a giant screen? It feels like Nintendo is going to let the software do the talking with this style of presentation and it could be their secret in the long run in a generation more excited about tweets and voice commands than core gameplay.

Sony is still going to have a big press conference full of all the glitz and glamour one would expect from Sony revealing anything, but they’re in an interesting spot. They have already shown off some of the heavy hitters for launch day such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son. What they haven’t really shown yet, however, is gameplay (or their system, for that matter). Yes, Killzone and Watch Dogs got to show off a little gameplay, but that’s pretty much it. The big challenge for E3 is not only showing off more gameplay, but how those games are going to be interacting with all the features of the PS4. E3 might be a good time to let some of the press not only play some of the floor demos, but let them press that Share button to flood YouTube with PS4 footage.

Now we come to the big One. The Xbox One (or the Xbone, as everyone should call it forever) was revealed to the world less than a week ago and gave us next to nothing game-wise. Why should they? E3 is right around the corner, why not save all your biggest game reveals for the biggest game industry trade show on the planet? All that talk about voice commands and exclusive NFL deals was just an introduction for E3. They didn't reveal anything in that launch lineup that would be considered a “system seller,” so I’m looking for them to try and come in with at least one huge game reveal to try and get core gamers to ask Santa for an Xbone this year. Actually, he’ll think you’re some kind of pervert. Stick with Xbox One for that.

We've got two big systems launching in the fall and Nintendo looking like they've got nothing to lose. It’s almost time for the gladiators to duke it out, ladies and gentlemen. This coming E3 is going to be a beautifully bloody battle with the early lead in the next console generation on the line, but only one can stand tall. Who among the big three will win E3? Perhaps a fourth warrior will step forward and pull a huge upset, like the Ouya or a debuting Steam Box? The fight begins in a week. I promise that you will be entertained.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Nintendo's Ignorance Is Costing Them Youtube

Nintendo has taken steps to “protect” their IP by claiming Content ID on various Lets Play Youtube videos. Now naturally this has led to many crying foul about Nintendo being a big meany blocking out all that ad revenue from those poor Lets Players, but lets sit back for a second and think about this. Does Nintendo have the right to issue content claims on video and audio they created? Of course they do. Now, is it really that bad of an idea to issue copyright claims on your work that someone else is profiting off of?

Yes, yes it is. It’s a catastrophically bad idea in ways they don’t seem to realize yet. In order to understand why this is a bad idea for everyone involved, we first have to understand how YouTubers make money on their videos and how Nintendo’s actions affect them.

YouTube has a revenue sharing program for videos that become popular or users that are apart of it’s YouTube Partner program. The gist of it is that when you upload a video that has revenue sharing enabled, an ad will be placed to the side of the video or one will play before the video starts. When someone clicks on that ad, the content creator and YouTube share the profits from that ad click. When you have only a few hundred viewers, this is usually a rather small amount. Get your video viewed over 500,000 times though and your profits become a sizable chunk.

What Nintendo has done is become apart of YouTube's Content ID system which allows them to find copyrighted Nintendo audio and video clips and tell YouTube what they want to happen to those videos that are using their content. What they've chosen is to allow videos to stay up that have Nintendo content, but anything gained with revenue sharing will now go to Nintendo instead of the original uploader of the video.

In an effort to explain their actions, Nintendo gave an official statement to Gamefront

“As part of our on-going push to ensure Nintendo content is shared across social media channels in an appropriate and safe way, we became a YouTube partner and as such in February 2013 we registered our copyright content in the YouTube database. For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property.” 

Take special note of that last line where Nintendo compares themselves with other companies who would instead block certain videos. They've taken a moral high ground where they’re the user-friendly company who will let you post your Legend of Zelda walkthroughs without fear of reprisal. They do have a point about how restrictive other companies are (The WWE was so strict on YouTube that uploaders started reversing images and using code names like “Cheese Souffle” to try and stay under WWE’s radar), it shows how ignorant Nintendo is of why people watch videos from these YouTube personalities.

You see, people don’t follow people like JonTron and Zach Scott because they’re using in-game footage and audio. They've gained an audience by being personalities that are fun to watch. Nobody is watching these guys for the Nintendo games, but because people want to know their take on a product, what jokes they have to offer, and what insight that may have gone unexplored by others. Now that Nintendo is starting to take away ad money, these personalities are afraid to post anything related to Nintendo, which means Nintendo is now missing out on hundreds of thousands of views of their content they wouldn't be getting with their own trailers. YouTubers lose out on ad revenue and Nintendo misses out on free advertising for negligible profit. This kind of lose-lose situation is especially sad when you consider how this could have been a far more profitable opportunity for Nintendo.

There are many game companies who understand what an untapped market YouTube can be for them. EA has tried to promote Battlefield and Dead Space using popular YouTube personalities while Muse Games invited people like PBG, Angry Joe, Criken, and Totalbiscuit to play in a Battle Royal to promote their Guns of Icarus Kickstarter. Hell, Sony is putting a “Share” button on the PS4. It’s easy to see why popular YouTubers would seem appealing to an advertiser. Not only will these YouTubers do the bulk of the work for you, but the communities that follow these personalities are very dedicated and loyal. If they see one of their favorite users playing a game and having fun with it, they’ll be more likely to consider that game than if they simply watched a commercial. Not every effort to monetize YouTube views is successful, however, so what could Nintendo do to not only win back the YouTube community, but work with them to increase everyone’s profits?

The vague nature of YouTube's Content ID system is what is causing the most problems, so why not create your own system to regulate videos based on your product? Nintendo could create a program of their own to let YouTubers become official Nintendo reps and give incentives for creating videos for products that could use a boost of public awareness, such as a smaller or new IP. At the very least, Nintendo could allow videos to go unaltered as long as they follow specific guidelines about how much footage they can use, what kind of videos they can be presented in (such as no LPs, but top 10’s are okay), or even how far YouTubers are allowed to Lets Play a game for (something like no LPs that go past a certain point in the story if the game hasn't been out for X number of years). Just having a list like that would help clarify what is and is not okay with Nintendo and help ease YouTubers back into celebrating Nintendo instead of viewing it as an omnipresent entity looking to profit off of their hard work.

It’s always a thin line when it comes to policing your fans. Nintendo is showing a very old school business mentality of looking after their trademarks with the tenacity of a hundred wolverines, but the modern world is one where that’s become impossible. They think they've found a middle ground where they “reward” loyal fans by taking away their video profits, but this lack of understanding about the YouTube community will only serve to alienate their core fans even further and blind them from the opportunities of working together with people who know how to draw a crowd. They may not have blocked any of these videos, but Nintendo has blocked themselves out of YouTube. What a shame.

In Memoriam Lucasarts, My Oldest Friend

When I got the news on Twitter, I was devastated. I learned that one of my childhood friends was gone. I can’t say I didn’t know they weren’t doing well, but I always held out hope that they would get better and their glory days would return. Unfortunately, someone came along and pulled the plug. They were just gone one day. No last hurrah, no blaze of glory, just a quick article about their death. I can’t help but look back at the good times we had and how you were my only friend at one point in my life. You will be missed, Lucasarts.

It’s hard to admit that when I was little I didn’t pick up many social graces. I had just moved to Washington State after leaving my lifelong home in California to pursue my father’s new job and I was constantly switching schools. I had lived a pretty sheltered life and it did me no favors as my awkwardness and shyness lead to constant bullying in any school I’d drop into. For the first couple of years I didn’t have a friend to my name as my parents continued switching me from school to school hoping something would stick. During that time I took a liking to computers and I had tried a few games, but nothing really stuck until my parents bought me a copy of Sam & Max Hit The Road. This game was different from the usual shareware fare my loving mother would give me. These characters were talking directly to me and they didn’t mind that I tagged along in their adventures. At the time, they were the only friends I had.

Sure Sam and Max may not have been the most ideal friends for a seven year old, what with their fascination with wanton violence and collecting of dismembered hands, but it was all I had. The time I got to spend with the pair of freelance police officers made my constant school hopping and run-ins with bullies just bearable enough to get to the next day. I must have spent over a year completing that game, getting stuck at certain points and trying to find “clues” in the scenery. I was convinced that the smudges on the wall outside of Sam and Max’s office was a vital clue that would blow the bigfoot case wide open! Eventually though, I actually did wrap up the case and finished the game. I remember being genuinely saddened that my adventure with my two friends had finally come to an end. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to Sam and Max, but I was comforted in the idea that maybe there were more games like this; games that would invite me into their world full of people with a joke to tell. I decided the best place to start was with these Lucasarts guys from the Sam and Max box.

It was through this search I discovered the other great games of the Lucasarts library. First I got Day of the Tentacle and teamed up with Bernard, Laverne, and Hoagie to stop a rogue tentacle from world domination. After I thwarted the evil purple tentacles plans, I jumped into Monkey Island and helped my buddy Guybrush Threepwood fulfill his dream of finally becoming a pirate. I would then use all the skills and sword fighting insults I learned on Mêlée Island to stop LeChuck from achieving his revenge. All of these wonderful games and their incredible worlds drew me in and made me feel like I was apart of them. What had started out as stumbling onto a game about a dog and rabbity thing solving crimes became something more. These characters, Guybrush, Bernard, Governor Marley, Sam, Max; we were all a family. They were all characters I could turn to when I needed a place to go and have a laugh. It didn’t matter if it was just raining outside or if I had faked sick again to get away from the bullies at my school, they were always waiting with a line of dialogue I had never heard before or a joke right when I needed it.

Eventually things started to settle down as my family finally found a house and a permanent school for me to go to. The bullies there were just as bad, but I was also able to find my first two real friends. We had bonded together because we were the kids who were picked on the most and would retreat to each others houses to find solace from the harsh treatment from our peers. One guy had brothers who we’d play football with. One guy had an Amiga and an imagination that wouldn’t quit. Me, I had Lucasarts. The first time I shared The Secret of Monkey Island with them was like introducing my new friends to my old ones.

Lucasarts would continue to be a fixture in my life when my friends and I discovered Star Wars. My experience with Star Wars: TIE Fighter would make me fall in love with the space sim genre and finally allowed me to see the universe from the point of view of the Empire.Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire would be a constant contender for attention when I’d play N64 with my friends. We managed to turn what was a single player game into a party experience, laughing as we’d lead stormtroopers right into the claws of a rampaging Wampa and racing each other to see who could bring the AT-ATs down the fastest. Later on, Star Wars: Battlefront II would dominate our gaming nights as we would dogfight in our X-Wings and TIE Fighters in epic clashes over the moons of Yavin. Though these games didn’t bring me into them the way that the old adventure games did, they were still creating the worlds that enthralled me and let me and my friends create the memories we still have today. Lucasarts had now taken a step back and began telling us all the old war stories, allowing us to put ourselves right into the middle of the action.

Now I’m in my mid-twenties and I have a close circle of friends, but I was worried about my old friend Lucasarts. It had been a rough few years with a constant stream of mediocre titles that opted to recap the Star Wars films in lego form and having Han Solo dance for your Kinect’s delight. Lucasarts was more than happy to tell all the old war stories again, but in it’s old age the stories had started to get confused and, at times, nonsensical. Lucasarts would introduce people like Starkiller into his stories like they were there the whole time, tossing around TIE Fighters and bringing down Star Destroyers with the power of the force. Darth Vader could do all this too, but chose not to when Luke was going down the Death Star trench, I guess. The rambling stories were bad enough, but the worst part was how much Lucasarts seemed to hate me interacting with the stories the way I used to.

Everything became about the spectacle and moral choices at the cost of the characters I had grown so close to in my youth. It wasn’t the Lucasarts I had known, but I still loved it anyway. The writing was on the wall when Disney bought Lucasarts for an absurd amount of money, but I didn’t want to believe it until the plug was officially pulled. Just like that, one of my oldest friends was gone.

I’ll be the first to admit that I felt a little empty inside the day I heard the news. All of the old family was still around for the most part, having primarily taken residence with Telltale Games, but Lucasarts represented more than simple games. For a year of my life, they were the only friends I had. They were always there for me when I needed them. The jokes they told me helped me developed the humor I would use to get the friends I have now. In a way, they taught me how to make friends. After teaching me that, they selflessly stepped aside and made game worlds designed for me and my friends to create our own memories in. I’ll never forget what Lucasarts did for me.

In the adventure game of my life, there is an inventory slot that can never be filled again. Rest in peace, old friend.