It’s All About the Games, EA!

Image Source: https://www.dexerto.com/business/ea-shares-plummet-after-battlefield-v-delay-announcement-151830

Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.

The Customer is Always Right

“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.

The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.

Andrew, no. Just no.

I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.

Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).

The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment

While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.

Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?

In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!

Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.

In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

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Game Mode On: Weekend Gaming (3 Aug. 2018)

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Man with a Playstation 4 controller in his hand looking at a Playstation 4 Menu Screen. Image Source: YouTube.com (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MZ1Hn260SQ)

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 23 (+1)
    Goal = 3 Pages a week. 20/20 Pages (for artist). 23/32 pages (for completion of 1st issue)
    Actual = 2/5 Pages done so far this week.
    Wrote a story page last night. Reorganized the project so that it shows Issue 1. Also started putting down Acts and Scenes for a Screenplay version of the story.
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

So, this weekend I’m hoping to do a little gaming (fingers crossed), but before I do, I wanted to update you all on my gaming efforts last week. Before I do that, however, I also want to note that this is the first Saturday of the month.  I will be sending my artist the comic book script pages that I’ve done so far and will be sending it to him (along with a collaboration agreement which he asked for–although he did ask for it after we send the proposal to the publisher but I found one that I really like). And now, on to the games:

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

So I didn’t really get very far on this one–I was able to do a couple of “Main Story missions, but didn’t really get to do much in the way of the “side missions.” I have one “main” mission remaining and then it is only the side missions for that province and then I should be finished with that particular province.  I estimate that I’ll have about 5-6 more provinces (all 5 star difficulty) remaining, but unfortunately, only playing once a week, there’s only so much that I can get done on such a large (& long) game.

Final Fantasy XV

It really is true–when I get stuck on a game, that’s my brain’s way of telling me to take a break. I failed the mission that had me stumped a couple of more times (mostly due to boneheaded mistakes on my part & relearning the game’s controls), but I was able to get past that mission and back into the open world. There was another fairly long “side” mission that became available and I almost took it, but decided that I’d been away from the story long enough, so I wanted to do the story and (hopefully) come back to it a little later. I was surprised because I spent the better part of a day trying to get past that mission the last time I played.

Call of Duty WWII

Finished this game (single player) a while back, but I try to dip into the multiplayer (Team Deathmatch) once a week just to try to keep up my CoD skills. I’m probably going to be playing this game for a while because I’m not planning on buying Call of Duty: Black Ops IV (I refuse to use Treyarch’s inane numbering IIII for IV. Not only is it moronic, it also confuses the issue–I’ll probably use 4 from now on when referring to it). I’m not buying the new CoD because I’m not buying multiplayer only games anymore–it must have a single player component to rate a purchase and this one is foregoing the single player mode.

Costume Quest 2

So, I made significant progress on this game. I keep feeling that I’m close to the end on this game. It is actually a larger game than it seems. I now have a “younger version” of the antagonist in my party and I assume the younger version will have a hand in reclaiming/defeating the older version, but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen in terms of the narrative, so I’ll just keep trucking along until I see the End Credits screen. Hopefully I close, but if not, it is an enjoyable game and not a slog, unlike Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.

Well, that’s all I have time for right now, so I’ll talk to you next week! Have a good weekend and happy gaming/writing!

Sidney




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E3 2018 Conferences Review

E3

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 3365 (+324)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Changed the way I write.  I moved back to Scrivener in order to utilize the word count tracking feature in the program.  I tried to find a web version (& I did), but it seemed silly to try to wrangle three different websites when I have an all-in-one solution in Scrivener.  Once I did, I was able to to get writing done.  I also reconfigured my workspace so let’s see if that helps.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3) (somewhere in 700s in terms of page count–more than half way finished.)
  • For School:
    Rhetoric in the European Tradition by Thomas Conley (A Book on the History of Rhetoric)
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

I wanted to read Oathbringer over the summer break before classes started again, but BS said that it might be helpful to read a Novella entitled, Edgedancer, before starting on Oathbringer.  I finally found a copy at MTSU’slibrary and I’m reading it now.   Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Game Mode On (What I’m Playing); Updated Weekly (Mondays)

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands (Ubisoft Multi-platform): Open World, Third Person Tactical Shooter–About ¾th of the way through.  Special Ops/Military combat in a fictional Bolivia taken over by a Mexican drug cartel.

    Still working my way through–I’m trying to clear out a province a week, but because I’m catching up from E3 so I only got to clear about ½ of the province I’m currently working on.  I was planning on finishing that province today, but I have far too much to do today, so I’m not going to get to play it next week.
  • Until Dawn (Sony PS4 Exclusive): Third Person, Horror– branching storyline game that features a variety of choices that affect the outcome of the story using a system call the “Butterfly Effect.”I got further along, but now I have a decision to make: do I let the “creepy” best friend die, or do I let the character’s potential girlfriend die.  I decided to stop right there.

Bethesda

Fairly disappointed in Bethesda’s conference as the games that I really want to play are Starfield and the next Elder Scrolls game, Elder Scrolls VI.  Both were teased with basically an environment and a logo, but did not show anything even remotely like a cinematic or gameplay.  They are also at least another year, probably two years away.  Their main game this year was Fallout 76, an online game in the Fallout universe.  That means that there have been (or will be when F76 comes out) two games in the Fallout universe this generation and none in the Elder Scrolls universe.  While I don’t begrudge other players their Fallout high, I’m not really a Fallout player.  I’m intrigued by Starfield as it is a new IP in what seems to be a Sci-Fi (spacefaring) setting, but as it is an unknown quantity, it is hard to get too excited for it.

C

6/19/18 Edit: I forgot that Bethesda also released a trailer and gameplay for the game Rage 2.  Having played the first Rage, I found it fairly interesting so I’m looking forward to this game, so I’m raising the score from its original C- to C.

Square Enix

So, the new Tomb Raider game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks pretty good as did the trailer for a new IP called The Quiet Man.  I’m also interested in the new Dragon Quest game as I’ve not yet played a game in that series.  Still, it was a short conference (half and hour) and its main claim to fame, Kingdom Hearts III, already had a trailer to drop before E3 started, so it was a bit of a let down.

C

Ubisoft

I though Ubisoft had a particularly good showing.  Their conference was fun and had a lot of energy and they had a mix of games that I’m interested in playing among the ones that I’m not all that interested in.  The Division 2, The Crew 2, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are all games that I’m looking forward to playing, although I’m one Assassin’s Creed game behind and I need to catch up.

B+

Sony

So, Sony showed the best games and gave the most detailed look at their upcoming portfolio for their various studios/projects, but they only went into detail about four games: The Last of Us, Part 2, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushumia, and Spider-Man.  Each of these projects got an extended look and they all look fantastic.  The problem is that Sony only showed these four major games (in addition to several lesser trailers with Control being the highlight of these trailers).  None of these games are listed as coming later than 2019 (although a couple had no date whatsoever, but I have a feeling they will also be 2019 games).

I’m guessing (and ONLY guessing) that Sony’s strange conference is due to the fact they will probably be “reloading” in 2020 with “next generation” games (perhaps even hardware–aka the “PS5”–as the system will be six years old in 2019 and seven years old in 2020).  My best guess is that 2019 will be the last major “swan song” for major releases for the PS4.  Bold prediction, perhaps, but that is the only thing that makes sense given both the age of the console and the paucity of gaming announcements at Sony’s conference.

B- (A- for the in-depth look at the games, but C for the overall showcase in general).

Winner

Ubisoft–while I didn’t like all the games Ubisoft debuted, they had the most eclectic mix, the strongest conference, and provided the most fun out of all the E3 Press Conferences that I watched.  Hopefully, Sony will get there act together next year (hopefully, with next generation games/hardware)

Sidney




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The State of Destiny (Destiny 1 and Destiny 2)

Destiny 2_trueachievements
Three Guardians on an Alien Planet, Cover Image for Destiny 2 (Image Source: Trueachievements.com, Click on image for more information)

Today, I want to quickly talk about the video game series Destiny and its current slate of games (Destiny and Destiny 2).  After a strong start, Destiny 2 is currently in free-fall with its players.  Many hardcore players are leaving for other games.  The original Destiny supposedly had a slow start, but found its footing after the release of the Taken King.  Those of you who read the blog from the beginning know that for the longest time, I had a Destiny countdown clock widget on the side of the blog.  I was an avid Destiny player.  However, Bungie, the creators have made a few mistakes that have caused me to fall away–but they aren’t the same mistakes that the current “narrative” would have you believe so I’ll cover what I think are a couple of the biggest ones.

“Shared World Shooter” vs “MMO”

Bungie was quick to point out that Destiny wasn’t an MMO (which has certain connotations in the game community), but was rather a “Shared World Shooter” (implying that it was a shooter first and that it was a shared world between you and other players).  You could intersect with other players or go “lone wolf.”  Well, that appealed to me–however, in actuality, the game functioned like an MMO.  You needed a “crew” to do the best missions, The Raids.  The content they added changed the game and the paradigm, and they kept tinkering with the game mechanics, rather than creating new (better) content to flesh out the world.  They “sold” the game in marketing one way, but the presented the game in practice another.

“Vanilla” Destiny was actually better than “Taken King” Destiny

So this is one where the majority of Destiny players and I part ways: “Vanilla” Destiny, before all the myriad of changes, was actually pretty good.  Bungie got too involved in listening to criticisms and changed the game based on people who had left rather than those who stayed.  Their goal all the way through The Taken King seemed to be to “recapture” those who had left the game rather than on those who had stayed.  Those who stayed just wanted more story.  Had Bungie prioritized that over changing weapon balancing, fixing “cheeses” to bosses (ways of defeating boss characters in ways unintended by the developers), etc., I don’t think Destiny series would be in the position that it is.  They made a different mistake with Destiny 2, but the result was the same.  They focused on story in Destiny 2, but forgot that the players wanted compelling content for the endgame (additions that I didn’t care for, but seemed to resonate with other members of the hardcore Destiny community–such as Trials of Osiris).  Destiny 2 should have included all the major components of Destiny and added new components to satisfy gamers until the next major expansion, but this didn’t happen–they went back to changing systems and mechanics that worked perfectly fine in Destiny, such as having two primary weapons, etc.

Here’s an example of Destiny 2 gameplay (PvP) from a high-level, highly skilled player, “Ms. 5000 Watts”:

The Social Network is not always Right.

The point that I’m trying to make is that by listening to the vocal fans who don’t even play the game and trying to create a game for them, Bungie lost focus and helped to dilute the game for those who were still playing.  I no longer play Destiny because of the multitudinous game currencies, not getting enough story and answers about the The Traveler and The Darkness.  I’m sorry, but I’m not all that interested in the “Lore” of the Guardians–The Curse of Osiris DLC, I’m looking at you–I want to find out what the Traveler and why its Light is gone and how I can “heal” it and I want to find out what the Darkness is, why it hates the Traveler and what I can do to stop it.  I want to be able to do that on my own or with a team of 3-6 players (no less–sorry to inform you BungieDestiny is only fun by yourself or with a full”fire-team” because that’s how you designed it.  Those 2 player events are annoying!  To be honest, anything under a full 6 players is not really ideal, but I understand how hard it could be to get 6 players together to do all the content, but Bungie really should be designing with 1, 3, and 6 player/players in mind).

Basically, if anyone at Bungie reads this post, please stop listening to the forums and start listening to the people who actually play the game and to your own designers.  The people who have left the game and who are “slagging you off” in the comments are never going to be satisfied with what you create–no matter how good it is.  Your best bet is to follow the original creative vision you had to tell an epic story about The Traveler and The Darkness and let the fans who are really invested follow you along for the ride!

Sidney



Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: Super Cycle

SuperCycle_Animation1_C64-Wiki
Animated Gif of Super Cycle, Man Racing on Motorcycle trying to avoid traffic and obstacles, Image Source: C64-Wiki

So, Super Cycle is one of my favorite games.  It isn’t my favorite game, but it up there.  I really enjoyed playing it and wish that the series had continued into present day.  It is a racing game (which, when done right, is always a crowd pleaser with me).  It featured racers on motorcycles who raced across the country in various settings.

It wasn’t anything too special and it wasn’t very unique.  It was just a motorcycle racer, in various environments (which were really just green for meadows, yellow for desert and bluish black for night), in which you raced the clock to get to the next checkpoint before time expired while avoiding other racers and obstacles on the side of the road.  It essence, it was a motorcycle “clone” of the very famous and very popular Pole Position video game (which was similar in design, but featured a “unrecognizable” jumble of pixels that was supposed to represent a Formula One/Indy car).

It didn’t have the depth as some of the racing games that I bought and enjoyed, but I always enjoyed putting the disk into the C64’s disk drive for a good while and I always remember that I had fun with it even when I wasn’t doing so well (crashing and the like).  I think the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been more stages/environments.  I think the C64 version topped at 3–meadows, desert, and night (although I could be mistaken).  Regardless, I don’t remember it being able to capture my attention long-term (for hours) because of the quickly repeating stages/courses.  Still, I remember it fondly and it is one of the reasons why I still gravitate to the racing genre in games even today.

Here is a YouTube Video for the game (ah, that intro music really brings me back) 🙂

The game was developed by Epyx, a studio that I don’t know too much about–they were never really profiled in magazines like hot new studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Imagic were at the time (I suppose I can do a google search and report back on what I find at some point), however I remember the few games that I got from them–I know I have at least one more–their games were pretty good–always above average in terms of quality and fun factor.  Like Super Cycle, I wish they were still around and programming/producing games as a Design Studio.

Well, that’s all for today.  Have a great day!

Sidney
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The Death of Single Player Games?

eashutsdownvisceral_YouTube
EA shuts down Visceral Studios, Image Source: YouTube

So last week was a bad week for gaming in general and the single player game, in particular.  Two of the largest gaming companies, EA and Activision, both had stories hit the media that showed that they are not necessarily committed to the development of strong gaming experiences for their player base (especially players of single player games–like myself), but may be using the games a “vehicles” to increase their own war chests with anti-consumer practices.

To be brief, EA shuttered a well known & respected gaming development studio that was making a Star Wars single player game. They moved the game over to another division in order to (paraphrasing) open it up to better reflect their players’ wants in a game.  Activision, on the other hand, had a patent discovered by players, that could be used to match players together, not based on skill, but on the purchase of extra content and could match players with “premium” content with those who had not yet purchased the content in order to create an unfair skill gap between the players and incentivize the non-purchasing player to go out and buy the “premium” content to stay on a level playing field.

So why does this matter?  Players were incensed last week with these revelations and decried the death of the single player video game.  The problem is that this situation was made BY THE PLAYERS years ago.

“Knack is Kack”
I still remember this statement made by staff member of the Official UK Playstation Magazine on their podcast when the Playstation 4 was announced at Sony’s reveal way back in 2013.  Knack was a platform game that was developed to show off the potential of the hardware.  It was a good game, not great, but it was widely and roundly criticized in the media and online as being “old game design” and “antiquated.”  Now I personally liked it so much that I earned the Platinum Trophy for the game (do all of the in-game “requirements”) which shows how much I enjoyed it.  But if I had listened to the critics and the online community, I wouldn’t have given the game a second look as they considered it a waste of development time.  This attitude continued and now (in 2017) there are a dearth of good, triple A platforming games–their all either shooters or open world games.

The Order 1886
Here is another example of the market deselecting a type of game.  The Order 1886 was an alternate history game that full of promise and hype when it was announced.  However, that hype turned to bitterness and vitriol online when it was discovered that it was a short (5-8 hour) gaming experience and that there was no multiplayer involved when it was released in 2015.  What once was a darling of the press for its unique setting became an also-ran and a dog for its short campaign in regards to its price tag.  And based on the pricing models of games in 2016/2017 that are the same length (Ratchet and Clank remake and HellBlade) which are in the 29.99 price range instead of the 59.99 price range of The Order 1886, perhaps the price of The Order was too high, but the critical reception for both of those games (as well as the online reputation) is completely different that it was for The Order and that response to The Order was noticed by game development companies and (more importantly) game publishers.

Yes, last week was a bad week for gamers who like to play offline, single player games, but we have to remember that it is our choices as gamers that ultimately drive the market.  By being so dismissive to the single player experiences in 2013 and 2015, we gamers shouldn’t be surprised that publishers no longer want to fund or make these types of games in 2017.  Much like real life, if we say that we want diversity in our experiences, we actually have to show that we value that diversity.

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