Archive for May, 2010

You are perhaps wondering why I haven’t posted here lately? My other blog posts, let me show you them.

I’ve been busy doing lots and lots of hands-on and interview work for Joystiq lately — E3 is in a few weeks, and so last week, the very talented and impressive Chris Grant (my boss, basically) came out to Los Angeles as a Game Critics’ Association judge to preview all of the big games, and he kindly let me tag along with him. As a result, I’ve gotten to play most of the big titles of the coming year, only I can’t really tell you about them until around June 15th, when the show actually starts. But I can tell you that they were mostly awesome. Especially this one I saw — oh man, if I hadn’t signed a little piece of paper making me promise not to tell you about it until they let me, you’d think it was awesome.

The embargo for a few has already come up, and here, in fact, they are:

  • Before the E3 Judges week, I visited Activision’s HQ in Santa Monica (just minutes from my apartment!) to play Blur, and I liked it. It’s coming out this week, but as I said on Twitter, I’m not quite sure if I want to give Activision sixty dollars. If I could give the money straight to Bizarre Creations, I’d do it, but Activision has made some choices lately that I’m not all that into supporting. But the game’s good!
  • I went to a Skate 3 event at beautiful Venice Beach and interviewed the game’s developer.
  • I talked to the Audio Director on the upcoming Crackdown 2. We bonded over my Audio Production major in college.
  • And thus began the pre-E3 events. First, I saw a presentation by the Art Director on Deus Ex 3. Game looks great, and man they thought a lot about how it should look.
  • I interviewed Patrick Curry from Wideload Games, who I actually knew from Chicago (since their studios were one floor up from the PR agency I used to work at). Guilty Party was actually a lot of fun — if I regularly had people over to play video games, it would be a good time for sure.
  • I didn’t write these, but I am mentioned in the hands-on of the Lara Croft downloadable game, and I asked a few of the questions in the interview. One of my favorite games of the show so far, providing some amazing co-op gameplay. The fact that it’s a downloadable title is just icing on the cake.
  • I played Toy Story 3: The Video Game, and while it wasn’t something I’d buy, I’m sure there are plenty of people who were interested in knowing how it was.
  • I got to see Enslaved for the first time, and it was awesome. This one should be big — the story and the characters really stand out already, and if it’s done correctly, I could definitely see it being a contender for game of the year.
  • And I played Puzzle Quest 2, and had a long and really enjoyable conversation about game design with the game’s creator. Maybe it’s just me being egotistical, but I think we both really enjoyed the chat — he’s a really smart guy, and I’m a big fan of his game, so I think he was really excited to get and digest some direct feedback from someone who’s poured hours into his game. And I was excited to pick his brain a little bit, and find out some of the reasons behind the rules in the game I’ve played with for so long. If you liked Puzzle Quest, you will love PQ2, and if you didn’t play Puzzle Quest, seriously, go do it.

That’s it for now, but there will be lots more in the next few weeks. As for posting here, I will do it when I can — I meant to write up a big thing about the finale of Lost, but everyone is talking about it now, so that’s kind of passe. I’m also meant to be putting some time in on an actual book, seeing as I set a personal goal to start working on it during May. But I just haven’t had any extra time to write lately, much less put something original up over here. If I get the chance to do so, I will.

Let’s do this! Do you guys care about reading this at all? I don’t know how much attention this little deal is getting any more, and obviously I’m a little busy lately. If people want to read it, I’ll keep doing it, but given that there’s not much to pull me in until Cataclysm (at least), I don’t know if I’ll keep it up or not. Anyway, I have a little bit of time tonight, so on with the show:

  • This is an amazing post — all 52 bosses in Wrath, rated from easiest to hardest. Very nice (and thorough!) overview of the whole expansion from a raiding perspective.
  • Here’s Saate’s latest Word Jumble, and he gave me a shout out for my shout out. Which means this post is a shout out for a shouted out shout out, I guess. Just go do the jumble, it’s fun, and I guess the answer is about me. And you can win a Spectral Tiger for commenting on that post, so do go over and do it.
  • There are rumblings that BRK is headed back to World of Warcraft, and/or that he’s already playing in the F&F Alpha of Cataclysm. Far be it from me to speculation on what BRK is up to. It would be nice to have him around the game again, although given the reasons why he stepped away, I’m sure it’s not a decision made lightly. But if he is planning on writing about WoW again, more power to him. I haven’t emailed him yet, but of course he’s welcome to come on Tipoaa with us any time.
  • Advanced classes looks brilliant — great way to provide some variety without having to build out a whole full-fledged class. Oh wait, that’s not WoW. Never mind.
  • Blizzard asked Boubouille to take the Cataclysm stuff down, and he did. Man, I could tell you stories — but I can’t. Suffice it to say that it’s almost always better, especially with stuff obtained like that, to just go ahead and take it down. As I said the other week, we’ll see it all eventually anyway, and there’s nothing you can do with information like that. Sure, you can drool over it, and pretend it’s important, but we should have learned by now that the graphics and stats don’t make the game, the actual gameplay does. As Bou says, it’s stupid to make a stand. Picking your battles is smart, especially when you’re covering a company like Blizzard, and that’s not the right battle to pick.
  • There was some new profession information released this week (See? This is exactly the kind of information that was leaking out anyway, only it wasn’t official — Blizzard has definitely learned some lessons for this expansion release, I can tell), and most of it is pretty boring. I assume professions will be the same as in the past, which means that you’ll have to level them all the way up to make anything actually useful, thereby making a bunch of non-useful items on the way. I like the little stats that add to your real character power, but of course they can’t make those too powerful. Oh well. I don’t think crafting can be improved too much further in World of Warcraft — some other MMO (or even just a game — MW2 actually has a “crafting” system in the form of weapon mods and the “Bling” perk) will have to try and do it better.
  • Scott’s book is on its way to me — I can’t wait to see it. Scott was the most regular and dedicated columnist that ever worked with me at (they were all good, but Scott stood out, as did many other folks in other ways), and he is a very smart and very clear writer. I’ve never lead a guild (and I don’t plan to), but I’m so glad he was able to work out that book deal. And I’m told my name is in it — it’s actually extremely selfish of me to be excited about that, but I am anyway. Congrats Scott! Everybody go buy his book.
  • Finally, did I link to this last week? I can’t remember. Even if I did, go look at it if you didn’t — interesting survey results. I’m not sure how applicable they are to the game as a whole, but the summary is at least some interesting reading about the sample size.

And that’s it. Thanks for reading! Let me know if you did read it — if people care, maybe I’ll keep it up. Heck maybe I’ll even post it on Wednesday! Go figure!

EA came up with an idiotic idea to raise a little money for server costs on their sports games: they’re going to charge $10 for a “one-time pass” into the multiplayer portions of the titles. People who buy the games new will get a one-use code that lets them in, but anyone buying the game used will have to pay an extra $10 on top of that for online gameplay.

EA’s case for this sounds somewhat legit: online costs have gone up, they’re doing things like constant team updates and regular online events in addition to regular online multiplayer, and they need some way to keep that going. Additionally, given that these sports games are released yearly, there’s a huge amount of back catalog used sales that they’re not making any money on, and charging for this pass is designed to let them do that. Plus, let’s be honest, they need the money. EA isn’t the company it once was, and games are more expensive than ever.

So why is this a bad idea?

It hurts used game buyers. Bare minimum, there’s a $10 fee that anyone who buys a used game has to play if they want in on the multiplayer, a feature that they used to get for free. And it’s not just Gamestop — if I trade games with my friends or pick them up on Craigslist, I have to pay that fee as well. I follow games, so I already know this fee is coming, but imagine the customers who have no idea about this change, pick up Tiger Woods from their friends for the $30 they have to spend on a game that month, and come home only to find that they can’t play a tournament online because they have to pay another ten bucks. That’s a bad customer experience, and especially if EA is talking about standard online features that most games these days come with, it’s a ripoff.

It hurts new game buyers. Obviously used owners are the ones targeted by this fee, but if I buy a game new, it hurts me, too. The second I use the code I get with my new game, it’s worth at least $10 less than what it would have been. And if I happen to have two consoles in the house (maybe one for me and one for the girlfriend or my son), we have to pay an extra fee to go online with the same game. I was planning on buying Tiger Woods 2011 this year, to play it with my friend online. And now, I won’t: buying an EA game that requires this pass will cost me money later, and could cause headaches right now. What if my code doesn’t work? What if their servers go down? What am I getting for my money?

It’s desperate. EA needs to raise money? Fine, raise it on features that are new, not features that we’ve had for years. Come up with something worth charging for — Mass Effect 2 already did this (and it’s actually kept me from buying that game so far), and instead of marking it as a must-pay fee, they’ve turned it into a way to release new free content. Almost all of the DLC items so far have come out for free, making that $10 that I would pay with a used game actually worth something. But just charging $10 to play online, something that we’ve already had for years, is dumb.

And if EA needs to charge for money for the same thing because they’re not making enough on their yearly sports rehashes, maybe they should invest their money more wisely.

Does any of my complaining matter? Probably not — people who buy Madden new will still buy it new, and they’ll never see the $10 charge (they’ll just put in their pass and go). Sports is a weird genre in video games, too — for all I know, most of the people who buy used EA games never bother to play them online anyway, so maybe they won’t even bother paying the $10 fee even if they’re asked to. I’m sure there are guys who buy last year’s Madden who don’t ever bother to play it online, just want it for a few football parties with their friends at home.

In other words, this will probably work (and like Mass Effect 2, we’ll see it implemented on more EA titles, and even other companies’ games in the future). But as always, I’ll vote with my wallet — if you don’t think EA should pull stuff like this, you need to make the choice not to buy their games and not to give them money. Companies keep doing what sells, so if you’re angry about a decision made by a game company, you need to look at your library first and see how much of your money they’ve made. I’m not organizing a boycott or anything — you do what you want to do, and if this type of thing flies (ie, people pay the fees), it’ll keep showing up. But I pay money for games and deals I think are worth it, and this isn’t one of those.

I thought this was interesting — was organizing my music tonight, and took a look at my “Mike’s Top 200” playlist in iTunes. I made it a while back — it takes the top 200 songs according to plays and puts them all in one playlist. Unfortunately, as far as I know, iTunes doesn’t register plays from a shared computer (which is actually how I listen to my music most of the time: I have the library saved on my Mac mini, and I use that as a kind of server, listening in via other iTunes installs around my house), but it does register plays on my iPhone and iPod, and that’s probably a good 60% of my listens anyway. So it’s a pretty good list of what I have been listening to. And I decided to sort the songs according to plays, and then list out the top 10 bands. Quite a few bands appear more than once, because I often just put albums on and listen to those all the way through, but I took the first 10 bands that showed up on the list in order. I got this:

1. The Shins
2. The Hush Sound
3. The National
4. Imogen Heap
5. The Mountain Goats
6. Vampire Weekend
7. Fountains of Wayne
8. Arcade Fire
9. Okkervil River
10. Rilo Kiley

Which is pretty darn trendy, if you ask me. It’s interesting, because when people ask me what my favorite music is, I usually tell them The Police, Cake, and Bad Religion — those are definitely the bands whose entire catalogs I enjoy and (at least I thought) that I most listen to. But this list is way different. In fact, while I do see three Cake songs in my top 200, I don’t see any Police or Bad Religion.

Timeframe is another factor — I wore out my old Bad Religion tapes, and I own Cake and The Police’s whole catalogs on CD, so this list is definitely an iTunes product. The earliest song I entered into my library on iTunes is back in September of ’05, and I probably did do most of my listening of those other bands before then. Strangely, the latest song entered into my top 200 is Metric’s Gimme Sympathy, which I put in my library in April of 2009. And before that, I have to jump all the way back to December 2008 (when I put the Son Lux album in).

Of course, songs have to be in my library a while before I listen to them enough to make this top 200 list (in fact, I wonder what a top 500 list would look like … ). But it’s interesting to me that the actual stats about my listening are so different from what I expected them to be.

Here’s a rundown of what I’ve found interesting in the world of the World of Warcraft this week.

  • Have I linked you to my interview on Rawrcast yet? We talk about WoW quite a bit on that one.
  • Blizzard made the news today (Joystiq’s post is still upcoming) by talking about their RealID system and how it works with Facebook. This all seems like old news to me — I’ve seen this stuff in action in the StarCraft 2 beta, and it’s not that big a deal. It’s basically a Blizzard login that tracks what you’re doing in Blizzard’s games. EA’s done the same thing for years, and Steam has done it even before that, but of course this one will work across the realms of Warcraft, so that’s the biggest draw for people. I share concerns that a few others have voiced — obviously I won’t want everyone I know to know where I am all the time. But I trust, from my experience with StarCraft 2, that I’ll be able to turn it off whenever I want — if I don’t want to be disturbed for any reason, I don’t think I will.
  • The Friends and Family alpha is officially underway, and even with the leaks (Deathwing’s model got leaked, and surprise, it looks exactly like what we saw in the trailer), I’m still not seeing anything super intriguing there. Blizzard is doing a little better job keeping things under wraps, so good for them, and they’re also sharing a little bit more with their Screenshots of the Day from Cataclysm, but none of that stuff really entrances me either. It looks like more WoW, which isn’t a bad thing — never a bad thing — but I’m far more excited about other titles this year than I am about Cataclysm so far. They’ve got plenty of time to build up the hype, and hopefully I will see something that really intrigues me, but so far, it looks like the same old game in a few new places.
  • It’s probably no surprise, then, too, that I haven’t been playing much lately. But that’s not really because I’m disliking the game, it’s more of a factor of time. I still plan to slave away at Loremaster, and hopefully even get it on my Paladin before the expansion. We’ll see. I’m hoping to take some of the day off for my birthday tomorrow, and while my focus has been on FFXIII lately, WoW may get some playtime.
  • Spinks has a good post about damage meters. I’ve never really been against damage meters — they do make things more fun as a DPS player, and even when I don’t top them (which is often), it’s helpful to see who is and look at their gear and rotations. But I guess they’re troublesome enough, with the bragging and comparing, that Blizzard doesn’t want to officially bring them into the game.
  • Another Word Jumble. I think these things are great.
  • Here’s something interesting: No more 10/25 man raid differences, basically. Raiding 25 will still give you more loot, but not any better, and no difference in respective difficulty. That is interesting, though I wonder why they’re even bothering with 25-man raids anyway — why not just go 10 normal or 10 heroic? Honestly, I don’t think this will change how the game is played much — people who have the 25-man groups will still raid 25-man, and they’ll just get the best items they can get. But I almost think this is Blizzard cutting back content — it takes a long time to design different items and different abilities and different difficulties. And if people aren’t using them (and you can get more money by selling virtual items, ahem), then why put the time in? I don’t see this change as driven by customers at all — rather, I think Blizzard is deciding to cut costs where they can, not because they’re losing money, but because they want to focus on other functions of the game.

Thanks for reading!

Update: And the floodgates, they open wide.

Hey there! You’re probably wondering why there haven’t been many posts here lately. I’ve been busy. In fact, let me show you:

  • A few weeks ago, I went to a conference called 360iDev in San Jose. It was an iPhone developers’ conference, and among other things, I saw one of Apple’s engineers speak. I spent a lot of time there writing about that and the rest of the conference for TUAW.
  • Last week, I went to a 3D Gaming Summit here in Los Angeles for Joystiq, and I even got to moderate a panel. Fun times.
  • Last weekend, I flew out to Seattle, and visited the Voices that Matter iPhone deveopers’ conference for TUAW. Here’s a quick panel writeup that I did, and here’s a great story about a really smart kid who’s making amazing software.
  • Earlier this week, I went to a game preview for Joystiq … that I can’t actually tell you about yet. I got to play an unreleased game, but the news is still under embargo, so we haven’t posted about it quite yet. But it was fun, and I got to take a quick trip down the coast here in California.
  • And on Thursday, I visited the LA Games Summit at Hollywood’s beautiful Roosevelt Hotel (I’m told one of the rooms we were in was where the very first Academy Awards were held). I wrote about both Vivendi considering digital distribution for WoW (something I’ve thought about for a while), and a quick interview with Playdom’s CEO, along with a few other short tidbits from the industry summit.

So I’m glad to say that my plan, conceived all of those years ago, to come out to Los Angeles and hit the events scene is paying off big time. I’ve done a ton of event coverage already this year, and it’s only May. And it helps a lot that I really enjoy going out to events and doing interviews and meeting people — it’s a lot of work, but it’s also a very concentrated writing experience, and I love doing that.

I will definitely write here when I can, and when I’ve got something to say. But that’s why things have slowed down here again: just because, as is usually the case, I’m busy elsewhere. is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.
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