Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Five-Point-Exploding-PR Technique

For the second year running, EA has been voted the “Worst Company in America” in a poll by the Consumerist. Is it possible that publishing bad videogames is in fact a worse sin than ruining the economy, murdering sea life or giving millions cancer?

Aside from the sample bias that people participating in online polls are more likely to play a lot of videogames than they are to own equity, swim in the Gulf or watch MTV respectively, EA's problem isn't actually an inability to publish good games. Seeing as they own half the industry's AAA developers at this point, a great many of the games they publish are in fact excellent. No, their problem is largely one of PR.

When SimCity failed to be playable by many at launch due to always-online DRM and dodgy servers, what was their immediate response? We made our game so fun that too many people just couldn't stop playing! (See, it's totally your guys' fault!)

In similar fashion, the response to the consumerist poll includes a beautifully laid out list of reasons why in fact you are stupid (and homophobic) for hating them. So enlighten us EA. Let's go through this sucker point by point:

-Point #1:
"Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme. It’s not. People still want to argue about it. We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period."

Except that it totally is DRM. If the online features were not merely implemented to combat piracy, there would have been an offline option for the billions of people who do not have internet connections, sort of like every other SimCity game ever. (SimCity is not an MMO and never has been.) I also like how they're dubbing it the “Always-On function” since it conjures images of a product that is always ready to go when you need it rather than the complete opposite of that.

-Point #2:
"Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam. 45 million registered users are proving that wrong."

You know what? I'm a registered Origin user. You know why? Because a ton of EA games require you to register and be logged into your account in order to play them (thanks to that lovely Always-On function). Do I use Origin for anything else? I suppose I gripe about it in blog posts. Admittedly that's a service Steam hasn't provided me yet.

-Point #3:
"Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming. Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games."

Tens of millions of people also love Hollywood movies, but that doesn't prove that they all need to be teal and orange.

-Point #4:
"We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really… "

Initially I actually agreed with this point... until I saw the new Madden NFL cover:

Disclaimer: not actually the new Madden NFL cover.

-Point #5:
"In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games. This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America. That last one is particularly telling. If that’s what makes us the worst company, bring it on. Because we're not caving on that."

Thank you EA for championing equality and inclusiveness by having 99% of your games star straight white male protagonists (along with the rest of the AAA industry, sadly).

I know times are tough financially EA. I understand that it's not easy being the most hated company in America (it's quite impressive actually when you consider the competition), and I sympathize that you feel the need to take extreme measures to combat piracy, but I feel like both might be resolvable were you to show a little more humility, benevolence and good faith and perhaps, just a thought, try to include features that make your games better than the version the pirates are offering rather than worse.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Teabagging for Cthulhu

Okay so I know it's not hip to care or talk about Halo anymore, but check it:

-As a small child, I played the Macintosh game Pathways into Darkness in which you navigate an ancient ziggurat attempting to defeat a slumbering Lovecraftian god. (I thought the dead Nazi lying out front was a turtle.)

-Shortly thereafter, Bungie released the Marathon trilogy in which you play a reanimated cyborg who may or may not have memories which resemble the events of Pathways into Darkness (which also happen to be summarized in garbled form in a computer terminal). Also more Lovecraft.

-Half a decade later, Halo descends from the heavens containing countless connections to the Marathon series. For example, both games feature a company on Mars named "Misriah." (Also the Marathon logo is plastered all over everything in sight.)

-Which leads me to the inexorable conclusion that the Halo franchise is in fact part of the Cthulhu Mythos. (In fact I'm certain there's a bit about the Flood in the Necronomicon somewhere.)

This connection also melds the Halo-verse to quit a few other things including Conan the Barbarian and uncomfortable racism. (Though of course it could all just be in Tommy Westphall's imagination.)

I guess what I'm saying is, if they ever do make that Halo movie, and they cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Master Chief, it wouldn't be out of place is all.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Last Door Chapter 1 Review: Beyond the Veil of Crowdfunding

Good horror games have been a bit thin on the ground ever since the AAA industry apparently misplaced the recipe, but in inadequately-dark times like these one need only turn to the indie scene for delicacies like The Last Door. I've always been a big gothic horror fan, and the sensibilities of Poe and Lovecraft are put across strongly with retro-minimalist graphics that leave most of the horror to your twisted imagination.

In chapter 1 you receive a cryptic letter from an old friend and decide to pay a visit to his creepy mansion because you fear something is amiss. (Spoilers: something is amiss.)

Gameplay is standard adventure game fare. Puzzles are fairly basic and logical, but the emphasis is on mood, which is made all the more chilling by an excellent musical score that contrasts pleasingly with the otherwise retro aesthetic. The horror is more subtly chilling than panic inducing. There are a couple of jump scares, but they are deployed effectively and used as a spice rather than a crutch (to mix old and limp metaphors).

Mostly I'm posting this because I want to spread the word for selfish reasons. Currently they need about 6k in donations to make Chapter 2, and I want to find out where the story goes dagnabbit!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gamifying Education

Someday I want to teach game design in an academic setting, so I've been doing Toastmasters to get better at public speaking and presentation. Here's video of my 10th speech, which I'll be giving again at the Calgary area contest next week.

I took the idea of reverse grading from this Extra Credits video and the baseball analogy from this excellent TED Talk. Thanks also to Iris Talbot for her coaching, support and camera.